On the mental cost of inventing new categories.

Now that I get Seth Godin‘s short, frequent, musings sent directly to my Pocket account (via this IFTTT recipe) I’m back to reading most of what he writes.

Recently, he wrote a post called I want to put you in a category that resonated with me in terms of the Open Badges evangelism I’ve been doing recently:

When I meet you or your company or your product or your restaurant or your website, I desperately need to put it into an existing category, because the mental cost of inventing a new category for every new thing I see is too high.” (my emphasis)

In fact, given that I’ve spent most of my adult life evangelising one thing or another, it really struck home.

Godin’s insight that got me thinking about my current work is his assertion that we should make it easy for people to categorise us and the work we do. What! But what I’ve got something brand new and never-been-seen-before? Then you need to be more careful. Why? The real danger is to be miscategorised:

“What is this thing? What are you like? Are you friend or foe, flake or leader, good deal or ripoff, easy or hard, important or not? Are you destined for the trusted category or the other one?”

No matter who we’re dealing with, whether internally within our organisations or externally to the rest of the world, I think it’s important to be aware of people’s existing categories and work with them, rather than against them. 🙂

Image CC BY ecokarenlee

 

9 ideas in search of a blog post.

Lighthouse River

Last month Seth Godin posted 9 ideas in search of a blog post. Here’s my version:

  1. Formal education should probably be free up to whatever level you want (and perhaps only compulsory up to age 11).
  2. 99% Invisible is the podcast that most often makes me see the world in new ways.
  3. I still haven’t figured out how to balance my photophobia and SAD. Thank goodness for Spring (and f.lux)
  4. Tools are constraining. This is both good and bad.
  5. Learning to touch-type at a young age (I think I was about 12) is possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  6. Things I Learned This Week is back, phoenix-like, as a free weekly newsletter.
  7. There are no absolutes, only contrasts.
  8. People tend to be skeptical about non-physically-obvious medical symptoms.
  9. E-Prime blows my mind (via Simon Bostock)

Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you’d like me to expand upon any of these.

Image CC BY smlp.co.uk

 

The Pre-Digital and the Post-Digital.

Postdigital

Sometimes two pieces of writing from very different sources complement each other so well that quoting from each in the right order tells the story without superfluous words from the person doing the juxtaposition. These quotations are taken from Seth Godin’s Pre Digital (2011) and the 52 Group’s Preparing for the postdigital era (2009). All emphases are mine.

The intersection of technology and the social has often been a driver of social change. The mainstreaming and mass production of powerful digital tools has had a profound effect on the way that we live and learn. These digital tools have allowed us to speed up communication, publish our thoughts in any number of ways and allowed for new complex forms of collaboration. The speed and reach of this transition has had a profound effect on what it means to be a participant in society. The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change. We would argue the opposite. (52 Group)

School is pre-digital. Elections. Most of what you do in your job. Even shopping. The vestiges of a reliance on geography, lack of information, poor interpersonal connections and group connection (all hallmarks of the pre-digital age) are everywhere.

Perhaps the most critical thing you can say of a typical institution: “That place is pre-digital.”

All a way of saying that this is just the beginning, the very beginning, of the transformation of our lives. (Seth Godin)

The transition to a postdigital way of thinking allows for that previously coded as ‘digital’ to be woven into the wider discussion of social dialects that people bring to their acts of collaboration… Texts have been recorded in spaces like Facebook and MySpace that have previously been the content of private conversation and casual face-to-face interaction. We have the (mis)fortune of having a record of the social grooming of our time, which, sadly, is often misinterpreted as a degrading our our social intellect. It is a manifest record of the facile “Hi how are you? Fine thank you”s of the older generation, which, when recorded 6 billion times might appear facile, but is, in reality, simply a confirmation of social connectedness worn smooth in repetition. (52 Group)

Postdigital aims to throw off the yoke of digital dogma, where the language of a perceived digital elite drives not only development, but also skews innovation, where innovation is only seen as being that associated with the “latest” technology… Innovation in a postdigital era is more effectively articulated as being associated with the human condition and the aspiration toward new or enhanced connectedness with others. (52 Group)

The 52 Group were/are made up of Dave Cormier, Richard Hall and Lawrie Phipps, amongst others.

Update: Also Dave White, Ian Truelove and Mark Childs (thanks to Dave Cormier in the comments)

Image CC BY gcbb

 

Innovation: where it’s at.

One of the things I love about having a blog is that it’s a space to think things through. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and so needed to solidify my views by committing it to writing. 🙂

Interest can get you a long way in life. If you’re interested in something it fires your curiosity and motivates you to do something about it.

  • People interested in photography tend to buy a decent camera and practice until they become better.
  • Those interested in collaborative technologies tend to use them with others and evangelise their use.
  • Individuals interested in endangered species are usually the ones found donating their money and volunteering.

That’s why interest leads to an increase in awareness and skill level. That, according to Seth Godin in Linchpin, makes you immensely valuable:

But.

The commonly-followed trajectory is from interest to a job/employment in that area. Which is great. What you need to make sure of, however, is that you don’t lose the relevant, up-to-date domain knowledge (green circle) in your trajectory to the right of the Venn diagram.

Good luck. 😀

 

Modern procrastination and cycling trivialities.

iPhone photo of Alcan
A photo I took with my iPhone last weekend. It feels related somehow.

Introduction

Some days it feels like someone’s trying to tell you something. At first it’s subtle, but then the coincidences stack up until you’re left in no doubt that there’s a message in there somewhere. See if you come to the same conclusion as me. Here’s what came my way in a single day recently:

1. Seth Godin on ‘modern procrastination’

I don’t know how he manages to churn out gems like these every day and convince us that everything is related to marketing:

Laziness in a white collar job has nothing to do with avoiding hard physical labor. “Who wants to help me move this box!” Instead, it has to do with avoiding difficult (and apparently risky) intellectual labor.

“Honey, how was your day?”

“Oh, I was busy, incredibly busy.”

“I get that you were busy. But did you do anything important?”

Busy does not equal important. Measured doesn’t mean mattered.

2. José Gonzalez – Cycling Trivialities

I’m fond of music by the looks-Spanish-but-is-actually-Swedish-of-Argentine-descent singer-songwriter. Last.fm, to which I’ve been ‘scrobbling’ songs for over 7 years, is fully aware of this and therefore served up Cycling Trivialities by José Gonzalez (from his album In Our Nature):

Too blind to know your best.
Hurrying through the forks without regrets.
Different now, every step feels like a mile.
All the lights seem to flash and pass you by.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Don’t know which way to turn.
Every trifle becoming big concerns.
All this time you were chasing dreams,
without knowing what you wanted them to mean.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Who cares in a hundred years from now.
All the small steps, all your shitty clouds.
Who cares in a hundred years from now.
Who’ll remember all the players.
Who’ll remember all the clowns.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

So what does this really mean.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities.

3. Correspondence

I’ve recently become a fan of the work of Alexander McCall Smith. I tend to avoid ‘popular’ writers as I’m a bit of a secret book snob (I refused to read anything written after 1950 until I was about 25…) I’ve just finished his The Right Attitude to Rain all about a middle-age female Scots philosopher and her mini moral dilemmas. My favourite series of his was actually that featuring Professor Von Igelfeld as it reminded me of Frasier (the only TV sitcom I’ve been able to bear), but I digress…

On page 123 of The Right Attitude to Rain one of the characters is left alone to deal with his ‘correspondence’. We’re not talking emails here, we’re talking hand-writing letters. It struck me that this has been a much more normal thing to do (albeit for a certain class of people) for a lot longer than emails.

Conclusion

So if you’d experienced these three things in quick succession, what would you have thought? I’ll add what it made me think to the comments below later this week. 🙂

 

Daniel Pink on motivation.

I was very fortunate on Tuesday to get a last-minute invite (thanks to Ewan McIntosh) to a sold-out event at The Sage in Gateshead. The organisers of the event managed to get hold of Daniel Pink (Twitter), author of A Whole New Mind, as he came to the UK to promote his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I’d seen Dan’s TED Talk last year (see below) and found it extremely interesting. I was slightly concerned however, that he would just rehash that talk. He didn’t. 😀

The warm-up guy for Dan was Caspar Berry (Twitter), former actor, professional poker player, screenwriter, television presenter, poker advisor on the James Bond film Casino Royale, and now consultant to large multinational companies. Caspar spoke about risk and the fear of failure. His main message was that in order to be successful you have to fail many times. If we redefine failure as long-term failure then this, as in poker, empowers us to take short-term set-backs, losses and ‘failures’. I appreciated his message, but felt that his constant references to how he was fitting a 45-minute presentation into 25 minutes a bit much to take. How hard is it to alter a slidedeck and tailor your talk for a particular audience? We teachers do it all the time… 😉

I made quite a few notes on Dan Pink’s talk. I love the way he signposted, as all good teachers and presenters do, not only what he was going to talk about but also how he was going to deliver it. A good presentation, he believes, consists of:

  1. Brevity
  2. Levity
  3. Repetition

It also helped that his slides weren’t used to drive his talk but used almost exclusively for quotations from academic and business journals. I have to say that I was impressed that one came from this month’s Harvard Business Review! In addition, he had obviously tailored his slides (spellings, colloquialisms) for a UK audience. It would be easy not to do that on a worldwide book tour. 🙂

Using props and audience interaction, Dan started by explaining that we all have a biological drive that motivates us to do things – hunger, third, sex, and so on. No-one doubts that. We also have a ‘secondary drive’ that includes things like money, reward and punishment. Most efforts to motivate people centre around these two drives: we throw money at people to be more productive and more innovative: we appeal to people’s hunger and desires. A surprising study, however, by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2005 showed that, whilst financial incentives worked in a linear way for purely mechanical tasks (more reward = more productivity), if even ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’ was required, performance was inversely proportional (more reward = less problem-solving). The study, initially carried out in the USA was replicated with even more profound results in India.

Dan gave lots of examples of companies changing the way they do business in order to increase creativity, innovation and profitability. These went beyond Google’s famous 20% time, thankfully. I’ll not list them here – you should buy his book! The (false) assumption that most businesses have is that human beings are fundamentally inert, that they need external motivation to do things. Instead, Dan says, we should assume that people are active and engaged. Look at toddlers, for example: they’re always engaged! It’s actually our default setting. The third drive, then, is ‘interest’ which Dan divided down into:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy is tapping into people’s desire to be in control of their own lives. Using the example of call centres, Dan talked of how they treat people like lightbulbs: one burns out so we get another from the shelf and screw ’em! Zappos.com, a company recently bought by Amazon for close to $1bn, do things differently. They offer people $2000 to leave the company after the two-week training period, figuring that anyone tempted by such an offer would cost them more in the long-term. Once they’ve completed their training and refused the $2000 they are set to work with one message: “solve the customer’s problem”. No timers, no scripts. Revolutionary autonomy. 🙂

Mastery is our powerful impulse to get better at stuff. In fact, a longitudinal study by Harvard Business Review of many companies found that the biggest motivator for employees across a whole range of industries was “making progress”. Dan talked about performance reviews, about how they’re not often enough. Imagine, he said, if Serena Williams received only annual feedback on her tennis. How would she improve? He encouraged us to take control of our own performance reviews and goal-setting, “calling yourself into the office” at the end of the month after having planned and set targets at the beginning of it.

Purpose is being part of a project bigger than yourself. Or, in the words of a McDonald’s executive, about having ‘a purpose bigger than your product’. For businesses it’s important to sell a dream or vision other than increasing profits by X% to motivate your staff. For individuals it’s important to motivate you for the smaller tasks and activities you need to complete.

Dan said he could sum up his message by saying “human beings are not horses”. Here’s how he puts it in a recent interview with Seth Godin (who also has a new book out called Linchpin):

Stop treating people like horses and start treating them like human beings. Instead of trying to bribe folks with sweeter carrots or threaten them with sharpen sticks, how about giving them greater freedom at work, allowing them to get better at something they love, and infusing the workplace with a sense of purpose? If we tap that third drive more fully, we can rejuvenate or businesses and remake our world.

Amen to that! I’ll definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity. 😀

 

#blogsilike

CC-BY-SA mrhayata

I’ve banged on long enough about my opposition to the Edublog Awards. So I’m turning a negative into a positive. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Consider the blogs you’ve come across in 2009 that you like.
  2. Write about why you like them on your blog.
  3. Tag your blog post blogsilike and publish it.
  4. Link to your blog post on Twitter using the hashtag #blogsilike

Here’s my contribution:

  • I really like Harold Jarche’s blog (http://www.jarche.com) and his work on the Sackville Commons. Inspirational stuff.
  • I’ve been impressed at the way Tom Barrett moved effortlessly into his new home at http://edte.ch and has set up a really engaging blog. He’s also adapted his blog writing style to be even more relevant and collaborative. 🙂
  • After reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes I subscribed to his blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com) via email. He is full of good ideas, that man!
  • Some people who attend EdTechRoundUp regularly have begun to blog – people like Zoe Ross (http://www.zoeross.com), Nick Dennis (http://nickdennis.com/blog)and Kerry Turner (http://kerryjturner.com). Not have these three begun to blog to reflect on their own practice as educators, but are self-hosting their (WordPress-powered) blogs. Great stuff! If you want to do likewise, I highly recommend Bluehost to make it a simple, one-click process!

Why not help this become a meme and contribute your own? 😀

 

Beyond Creative Commons: uncopyright.

CC badges

Background

Jonathan Lethem (via Harold Jarche):

Copyright is a “right” in no absolute sense; it is a government-granted monopoly on the use of creative results. So let’s try calling it that—not a right but a monopoly on use, a “usemonopoly”—and then consider how the rapacious expansion of monopoly rights has always been counter to the public interest…

Seth Godin:

So, how to protect your ideas in a world where ideas spread?

Don’t.

Instead, spread them. Build a reputation as someone who creates great ideas, sometimes on demand. Or as someone who can manipulate or build on your ideas better than a copycat can. Or use your ideas to earn a permission asset so you can build a relationship with people who are interested. Focus on being the best tailor with the sharpest scissors, not the litigant who sues any tailor who deigns to use a pair of scissors.

Leo Babauta:

This blog is Uncopyrighted. Its author, Leo Babauta, has released all claims on copyright and has put all the content of this blog into the public domain.

No permission is needed to copy, distribute, or modify the content of this site. Credit is appreciated but not required.

Terms and Conditions for Copying, Distribution and Modification

0. Do whatever you like.

Motivation

Be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi)

Response

I’m here to change things. Do what you like with my stuff. It would be nice if you referenced where you get your ideas/resources from, but no longer necessary. From now on, my stuff is uncopyrighted.

CC BY laihiu

 

What I learned about leadership from Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’.

TribesSeth Godin’s book Tribes reads like a coherent narrative version of his blog. It’s organized into nice, easily digestible sections. The whole thing is only 131 pages long. It’s nothing if not concise. I managed to read it comfortably in one session and I’d highly recommend you do the same!

Whilst I was reading it I was lulled into a sense of it seeming a bit obvious. It was only on reflection I realised how Godin’s clever use of storytelling and reinforcement had left me feeling empowered to make a difference in the world.

Here’s a potted version of what I took away from Tribes. I’ve collated more quotations from the book on my wiki. 🙂

1. Anyone can be a leader

If there’s one thing that Godin wants you to take away from Tribes it’s that leadership is a choice and that although it won’t be easy, in the end it’s as difficult as you make it. On the second-to-last page of the book he has this to say:

You can choose to lead, or not. You can choose to have faith, or not. You can choose to contribute to the tribe, or not.
Are there thousands of reasons why you, of all people, aren’t the right one to lead? Why you don’t have the resources or the authority or the genes or the momentum to lead? Probably. So what? You still get to make the choice.
Once you choose to lead, you’ll be under huge pressure to reconsider you choice, to compromise, to dumb it down, or to give it up. Of course you will. That’s the world’s job: to get you to be quiet and follow. The status quo is the status quo for a reason.
But once you choose to lead, you’ll also disover that it’s not so difficult. That the options available to you seem really clear, and that yes, in fact, you can get from here to there.
Go.

Godin’s reasoning is that if you’re passionate about an issue or want to change something enough, then gaining credit for that change isn’t important:

If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit.

There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. (p.115)

Leaders need followers and it’s those followers that Godin calls your ‘Tribe’. There are, apparently (and intuitively, to be honest), only two things that you need to turn a group of people into a tribe (p.21). Those two things?

  1. A shared interest
  2. A way to communicate

In these days of instant digital communications, this should be faster and easier than ever! :-p

2. Hierarchies are about management, not leadership

As a bit of a free thinker, Godin isn’t overly enamoured with structures and hierarchies. In fact, he uses them to explain the difference between managers and leaders:

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it. (p.19)

I took this as meaning that managers work within their job description and expect others to do the same. Leaders, however, see the job description as indicative of a wider truth and ideal.

To demarcate qualities of leadership from those of management (there has to be some elements of management in senior positions, after all) Godin produces a list on p.107 of ‘The Elements of Leadership’. These, handily, all begin with a ‘C’:

Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another. (my emphasis)

These are going on my wall. 🙂

3. How to effect change

The biggest enemy to change is a surprising yet, on reflection, obvious one. Stalling change is actually worse than resisting it. After all, if someone refuses to engage with a problem there’s no way you can convince them of the errors of their ways!

The largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a “no.” It’s a “not yet.” “Not yet” is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. “Not yet” gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put of the inevitable for just a little while longer.
Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late. (p.101 – my emphasis)

You could spend your whole time trying to convince others of the validity of, and need for, the change. But talking is sometimes an academic exercise. To quote a famous tagline, Just Do It!

Nobody is going to listen to your idea for change, sagely shake his head, and say, “Sure, go do that.”
No one anoints you as leader.

Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later. (p.60)

Godin says that leaders need to do two things which, to my mind, come under the one umbrella: walk the walk. First of all, leaders need to share ideas that are worth mentioning, that start conversations:

A remarkable product or service is like a purple cow. Brown cows are boring; purple ones are worth mentioning. Those ideas spread; those organization grow. The essence of what’s happening in the market day revolves around making purple cows. (p.38-9)

Second, leaders should stick to their principles by being radically different and selling that radical difference to others:

[G]reat leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful that a larger group ever could be. (p.57)

But how do leaders effect this change in practice? How do you go from being a voice crying out in the wilderness to being the leader of a tribe? Godin tells us to target the curious people. These will do the work for you!

A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.

Curious people count. Not because there are a lot of them, but because they’re the ones who talk to people who are in a stupor. They’re the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide. (p.54)

Once you’ve gathered together your game-changers, it’s time for you as a leader to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. Godin explains:

A thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer.
The thermometer reveals that something is broken.

Organizations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticize or point out or just whine.
The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time. (p.87)

Conclusion

I found Seth Godin’s Tribes to be a great read. It ticked all of the boxes that I’d want from such a book. It’s concise, it’s practical, it’s aspirational, and you finish reading it feeling empowered.

Great stuff! 😀

 
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