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Cogs in networks

We use models and metaphors to make sense of our organisational structures, understand them, make predictions, apply change.

Blog_beehive

Bee hive - via Bridging the Gap

Some well known models are:

  • Ants in colonies
  • Bees in hives
  • Apes in jungles
  • Humans in neural networks
  • Organisations as machines
  • Hierarchies, wierarchies, holocracies

Models are not reality. Models are an abstraction of reality. Same for metaphors. They help us tell and understand a narrative.

We are not apes, ants, or bees. We are humans. As Jonathan Haidt explains at length in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, I am struck by all the noise humans put on the system: “We are all hypocrites” and “We are the rider (the conscious/the ratio) ànd the elephant (the unconscious, feelings, instincts, genes). Most models assume the rider is in charge. The rider is not in charge.”

Structural change leads to structural behaviour change. Structural change needs high quality connections and flows.

“A high quality connection is one where information transfer is rapid, reliable, and noise free” says Tom LaForge.

But in real life, this information transfer is NOT noise free. Maybe in some nirvana love relation, but usually not at/for/within work.

Noise comes from the motivations of the elephant (the unconscious), some examples:

  • Reciprocity
  • Prestige
  • Self serving biases
  • Power
  • Hypocrisy
  • Arrogance and entitlement

In most re-orgs, people look at the motivations and incentives for the ratio, the rider. They ignore the elephant. They forget the rider is not in charge.

High quality connections need something else than speed, reliability of noise-freedom.

There should be some dimension/ambition/alignment of “Spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement”.

In this category, we find standards and appreciation for:

  • Care
  • Tradition
  • Craftsmanship
  • Beauty
  • Proportion
  • Sacredness
  • Infinite games

See also my own post about Kevin Kelly’s qualities created at the transaction, which is more about qualities of resulting products and services than qualities of structure: https://petervan.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/sine-parole-19-apr-2017/

And then there is governance

hierarchies

Simple Google search on organisational hierarchy

The simplicity of the hierarchy works well on a slide or a hand-out. You can document it in a spreadsheet, or box-diagram and so on. But all these representations do is framing the conversation in an illusion of simplistic 2-dimensional structures. It’s the specialty of management consultants to think and present in two dimensions. It’s making it easy for executives to understand.

But if you are used to a 3-dimensional view of reality, you can’t understand why the flatlanders don’t see what you see. As long as you are primed in 2D you won’t see what the other dimension sees.

A better picture/metaphor for an organisational structure would be something like this.

escher

Relativity – 1953 Lithograph by M.C. Escher – 294mm x 282mm

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_Barcelona_Spain_The_Gardens_24-1440x968

Ricardo Bofill – La Fabrica – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

It’s messy. At many moments you don’t know anymore where you stand. The perspective changes all the time. You get disoriented.

There is somewhere a general definition for Robots:

Robot = sensors + mind/computer/algorithm + body (hardware).

But humans are not just: senses + brains + body.

Computers are not like brains. Brains are not like computers. Our human models are different from machine models. Machine understanding is different from human understanding.

Humans are not just nodes on a network/grid that can be governed by coded social contracts, blockchains and AI. If you do that, humans are just cogs in another machine. Humans become cogs in a network.

The obvious case is of course Uber, which is an economy of extracting value vs. the so-called sharing economy. For Uber, all the drivers are already cogs in a network for the sole benefit of the monopoly.

Being cogs in networks is an insult for humans. But we are just getting started:

But does it still matter at all these days? We already are in a new world of “Alien knowledge, when machines justify knowledge”. Check out this fantastic long read by David Weinberger

Alien Knowledge

Via David Weinberger - Illustrations by Todd Proctor / YouWorkForThem

“The paradigmatic failures seem to be ones in which the machine justification has not escaped its human origins enough.”

Organisations are not models/buildings/boxes. They are like rivers with information flows. Building skeletons, where the structure of the building guides traffic and connections.

David Weinberger talks about models created by machines. Models that machines can understand and we don’t. It is very much as he concludes:

“It has taken a network of machines that we ourselves created to let us see that we are the aliens.”

If we don’t want to end up as cogs in networks, we need to aim for structural advancement at a spiritual, moral, and aesthetical dimension.

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I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

 

I ask myself often whether organisations can change – really change – at all. I recently spoke to an HR person of a big worldwide corporation, and her answer was a strong “yes”. I am not so sure. Or maybe I am confused.

As organisations are made of people (humans), would you have the change the people in order to change the organisation? Is there another way? Some people say “you can’t change people, but you can change their behaviour”. Are we fooling ourselves with such statements?

I am seduced by the Robert Fritz’ premise that structure drives behaviour. Or Leandro Herrero‘s thesis that behaviour drives culture. And Jean Russell’s “Cultivating Flows“.

Robert Fritz for managers

There are plenty of metaphors to illustrate the relationship between structure and behaviour. From race cars, the team and the driver, to heroes hacking their way through forests (My friend Leda Glyptis wrote this excellent piece on the oscillating patterns – “Acts” in her post – that innovation heroes have to go through).

I am starting to think about a metaphor based on architecture, and the notion of “patrimony” of a building, which has to do a lot with knowledge stored as inheritance material in physical objects (Thanks, Tom Laforge for the insight).

kanaal solos

Kanaal Site – Axel Vervoordt – Old malt factory - Wijnegem, Belgium

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_La_Catedral_Barcelona_Spain_1-1440x592

Ricardo Bofill – The Cathedral – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

 

“Patrimony” is an interesting term. The Dutch word “Erfgoed” maybe captures it better. “Erf” means inheritance, value that can be transmitted across generations. “Goed” stand for “good”, both as 1) something tangible, an art-i-fact and 2) something good, of value/worth/wealth/culture/DNA to be carried forward.

Both sites above are a good illustration: Ricardo Bofill’s “La Fabrica” and Axel Vervoordt’s “Kanaal”.

The architects decided to respect the patrimony, strip it to its essence – its skeleton – and create new perspectives and flows. They did not decide for “disruption”, aka breaking down the building and creating something completely new. They combine old and new, they combine tradition/patrimony/erfgoed with new flows, new structures.

The structure is not only the brick and mortar building itself, but includes the whole site, the landscape, the empty spaces, the social contracts, the tacit and non-tacit agreements of flow.

The structure comes alive when people live in it, add furniture, decoration, color, organise their areas for work, for creativity, for reflection.

What is the skeleton structure of the building, what do we need to keep, where do we need to create new perspectives to cultivate new flows of water, traffic, connections?

The metaphor building/organisation – like any metaphor – works only to a certain extent.

Haidt happiness

What’s missing is what makes us human and our motivations. I am reading Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, and am struck by all the noise humans put on the system. Some salient wisdom:

  • “We are all hypocrites”
  • “The rider (ratio) is not in charge”
  • “The elephant (the unconscious) is not motivated by happiness but by prestige.
  • “Most stories/narratives are confabulated after the facts”

So back to my initial question: can organisations change? Maybe the better question is: what quality of change are we aiming for? Or the more critical question may be: why would people change?”

Fritz’ suggestion is that if you have the right structure, people will naturally change their behaviour and the flows of information.

What are your thoughts?

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I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

The Drama 2 cropped

Re-interpretation of The Drama. Acryl on cotton canvas stitched on wooden panel 120x80cm.

original croppedpixels cropped

Artschool 2017: 4 week colour study
Original by Oskar Kokoschka “Girl with doll” and
Pixel painting by Peter
All colours are self-mixed.
Handmade.
No computers.
Acryl on cotton canvas stitched on wooden panel.
About 90x100cm

Greetings to you, your friends and your family! Hope you are doing well. It’s about four months already since I started my long-term sabbatical as Petervan Productions.

lucian-freud

Lucian Freud Working at Night, 2005
Photo by David Dawson/ Private Collection

 

A quick update:

  • Artschool continued at +/- 9 hours per week practice in the art studio of the art academy. Getting nudged by my coach to do more focused image analysis, and be more concentrated and relaxed. Pretty happy of these two recent paintings.

the-containers-by-petervan-croppedthe-drama-cropped

The Containers” and “The Drama” – Petervan artwork
Acryl on cotton canvas stitched on wooden board – 122 x 82 cm
  • During Jan/Feb 2017, I spent some significant time writing the script for the performance “Tin Drum Is Back” (see details below).
  • I visited some great art exhibitions and had some very pleasant conversations with art curators.
  • I am still reading and making plenty of notes that may end up in some blog post or essay soon.

A couple of updates on the performance

tin-drum-design-brief

Imagery from Günter Grass film “The Tin Drum”
Used as part of the briefing for designers

What is it?

  • A 45 min “one-man” trans-media show and experience, possibly in episodes
  • With only authentic, original and self-crafted visual artworks, soundscapes, poetry, and staging
  • High quality end to end production from invitation till post event
  • Showcase for 21st century corporate narrative to enable deep change

What is the narrative about?

  • A journey through maturity levels of change agents
  • Discovering the unexplored talents ànd barriers for real change
  • Delivered as a number of vignettes for different change agent archetypes
  • Each vignette has a “what is/could be” stage, going deeper and deeper into the change agent persona, making the change agent more vulnerable, but also more open for high quality connection
  • The ambition is to resonate with the audience at an aesthetic non-cognitive quality, to make deep connections, and sending an invitation to create deep change together

What’s next for the performance?

  • Funding and sponsoring (sponsor deck available upon request)
  • Overall sensory identity (detailed designer briefing ready)
  • Build, iterate and dry-run the performance
  • Location scouting for the performance
  • There is a load of material ready to move into produce now, but it’s going to take more time to get this funded and delivered with the high production quality standards envisaged from the start.
  • The performance “Tin Drum Is Back” is now targeted for end June

 

la-fabrica

Scouting - La Fabricà – Refurbished cement factory by Ricardo Bofill

Petervan Productions ambition update:

I have fine-tuned a bit the ambition of Petervan Productions from “to architect and create high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences and deep change” into “to architect and cultivate high quality feedback flows to enable immersive learning expeditions and deep humanistic change”.

That may feel like semantic detail, but I think it is not. It is the result of an iterative process:

  • Scripting the performance “Tin Drum Is Back” has been somewhat cathartic in the sense it is a further reflection on where I come from, where I am, what I am meant to be. It makes me think deeply about what is the essence of Petervan and Petervan Productions. The performance feeds back into the ambitions of Productions and the other way around.
  • I feel grateful for some high quality conversations on “deep change” with a private collective of thinkers, experts, artists, designers, and curators during Jan and Feb 2017. Those discussions may lead into some body of work articulating what we mean with “deep change” and what are the levers and accelerators to make that sort of change happen in organizations of all kinds and sizes.
  • I was deeply influenced by Jean Russells latest book “Cultivating Flows. How Ideas Become Thriving Organizations” (Amazon Affiliates link) which I strongly recommend.

flows-cover-lo2_1_orig

 

So, what’s next?

During March – April 2017, the plan is to work on:

  • The production aspects of the performance (see above)
  • Build and expand the collective of leaders, visionaries, artists, craftsmen, designers and producers

As you can notice, I am still relatively well focused. One of the tricks is to use the Morning Monk Style:

Between when you wake up and noon:

no meetings, no calls, no texts, no email, no Slack, no Internet.

You instead work deeply on something (or some things) that matter.

In the meantime, I kindly reject any requests for consultancy, speaking engagements, etc. I have 1-2 leads that want to work with me as their architect for immersive learning experience events. But I am not in active prospection mode.

If there is something worth reporting, next update is for May 2017. Looking forward to hearing from your latest adventures as well.

Rebelliously yours,

petervan-signature_transparent_black_version2

Sine Parole – 22 Feb 2017

img_3072-crop

Artschool 2017: V1 of new painting “The Drama”. Acryl on cotton canvas stitched on wooden board  – 122 x 82 cm.

Network Blitzkrieg

The way we think about change, disruption, and transformation (or whatever you want to call it) is going to be completely different in 5 years time. The speed of change is so big that our thinking itself is getting disrupted. The underestimated and ignored exponential power in all of this is the “power of networks”. This post is a follow of the post “Fintech 2017 – Quo Vadis?”

I think we are in the middle of a network blitzkrieg, a big shift driven by network powers.

blitzkrieg

WW-II Blitzkrieg Stuka airplanes

But instead of the medium being the air and the devices the Stuka airplanes piloted by humans, the medium today is made of networks and the Stukas are replaced by hyper-connected computers driven my algorithms.

A lot of the reflection in this post are based on the following books and thinkers:

Kevin Kelly’s latest opus grande The Inevitable describes the 12 Inevitable Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future:

  • Becoming
  • Cognifyung
  • Flowing
  • Screening
  • Accessing
  • Sharing
  • Filtering
  • Remixing
  • Interacting
  • Tracking
  • Questioning
  • Beginning

In The Seventh Sense, Joshua Cooper Ramo talks about a “connected-age sensibility” to be able to read and understand networks:

The Seventh Sense, in short, is the ability to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection

Even as this new age advances, most of our leaders still think in terms of disconnected dangers

We have to cultivate a new instinct, one intended to make us more human, in a sense, not only more technical

Think of how often, at moments of anguish or revolution, it is the fragile-looking bubbles of philosophy or art or science that endure.

And in Whiplash, Joi Ito explains how “Change doesn’t care if you’re ready”.

This is the power of pull over push—it leverages modern communications technologies and the decreased cost of innovation to move power from the core to the edges, enabling serendipitous discoveries and providing opportunities for innovators to mine their own passions.

All these insights are of course based on big theme of “we are interconnected”. In other words, new network rules of power apply in the “we are connected” era and our leaders are not prepared for it. That became even more apparent during the main WEF Davos session on the Global Economic Outlook. I watched it live after just having read the Seventh Sense.

wef

These leaders offer a lot of lip service to the “we are interconnected” meme, but keep on playing the old zero-sum finite games and wars. Witness Fink from Blackrock at min 11:46 when he almost joyful says:

“regulation inhibits new entrants and that is not a bad thing”

But networks come with their own dynamics. In his yearly situational awareness post, Jordan Greenhall goes deep on “Deep Code”, and “Deep State”, and describes very well what I have labeled here as “Network Blitzkrieg”:

“The Deep State developed in and for the 20th Century. You might say that they are experts at fighting Trench Warfare.

But this is the 21st Century and the Insurgency has innovated Blitzkrieg.”

Jordan is describing a blitzkrieg for Collective Intelligence, being fought on four fronts:

  • Front one: communications infrastructure
  • Front two: the deep state
  • Front three: globalism
  • Front four: the new culture war

The main point Jordan is making is that the Deep State is fragmented, and so far not efficient in responding adequately to the network blitzkrieg of the Trump cohort. A lot of the challenges of the Deep State seem to be related to the problem of not being able to shift to a network blitzkrieg mode, from tight synchronisation to loose synchronization.

Last year, Venkatesh Rao (aka Ribbonfarm) did a great tweet-storm-like-post on this topic of synchronisation. He calls our age the age of atemporality.

synch

Illustration by Venkatesh Rao

“In tight synchronization, you’re on the same clock as everybody else, fit yourself into the same templates, report up the same chain, and communicate via standard protocols.

Welcome to atemporality. So long as you thrive on loose coordination rather than tight synchronization, it’s a beautiful thing.”

In previous posts and essays, Ribbonfarm even had a series on “Blitzkrieg”, where he described four categories of Blitzkrieg attributes:

  • Einheit (trust)
  • Auftragstaktik (clear mutual agreements), missionary tactical contracts
  • Schwerpunkt (strategic intent)
  • Fingerspitzengefühl (finger-tip skill) is the foundation

In The Future of Tipping, http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/12/02/the-future-of-tipping/,(a post about authoritarian command-and-control models to control the customer’s relationship to the brand, and hence tipping), he the four describes blitzkrieg attributes in John Boyd’s philosophy of warfare applied to business:

CEO sets clear intent (Schwerpunkt); HR develops strong trust culture (Einheit); operations focuses on developing strong, instinctive skills culture through tacit learning (Fingerspitzengehful); everybody manages/is managed through a cascade of mutually negotiated “contracts” that devolve as much autonomy as possible to lower layers (Auftragstaktik); the business relies on loose and agile coordination rather than tight synchronization/command-and-control.

Ribbonfarm, Jordan Greenhall, and Simon Wardley all focus on situational awareness, strategy, tactics, operations and doctrine. It would be great to have them together one day in one of Petervan Productions’ events 😉

Add to all this the lack of trust and Bruce Scheier’s insight that we are moving from the Internet of things (with a build-in computer) to Internet of Computers (with things attached to it), and you get a pretty dystopian but probably very realistic picture of the future something that James Bridle coined “A new dark age”.

drone-james-bridle

Drone shadow by James Bridle

James Bridle is a British writer and artist living in Greece. His work explores the impact of technology on society, law, geography, politics, and culture. His Drone Shadow installations have appeared on city streets worldwide, he has mapped deportation centres with CGI, designed new kinds of citizenship based on online behaviour. and used neural networks and satellite images to predict election results. A New Dark Age is an exploration of what we can no longer know about the world, and what we can do about it.

It is a “great” talk about Turbulence, Big Data, AI, Fake News, and Peak Knowledge, and like many if the authors mentioned above, he is alluding to a new digital literacy and legibility. A literacy that acknowledges that in our digital state, everything can be copied, except…. Trust.

Kevin Kelly asks, What can not be copied?” and his answer is “Trust. Trust must be earned. It cannot be faked”. Our hope is in what Kelly beautifully described as “generative qualities”.

These are qualities that are “better than free”. Qualities generated at the time of the transaction aka it is all about the experience what people pay for. In Kelly’s view, there are 8 generative qualities:

  • Immediacy
    • Access to beta version for ex, or when released
  • Personalisation
    • A film without explicit language
  • Interpretation
    • A manual, explanation of free DNA
  • Authenticity
    • A signature on goodies
  • Accessibility
    • Ownership sucks
  • Embodiment
    • White cottony paper bound book, it feels so good
    • The value of a paid ephemeral embodiment of something you could download for free
  • Patronage
    • It must be easy to do
    • The amount must be reasonable
    • There is a clear benefit
    • Money will directly benefit the creator
  • Discoverability
    • A work has no value unless it is seen

palantir

Saruman uses a palantir in Lord of the Rings

So what would be the defences against such network blitzkrieg?

One strategy would be to try to defeat the enemy with the same weapons. But that assumes we are playing finite games, and I feel we only can win this battle by playing infinite games.

We should not be naïve, and drop all our common-sense defences against data-, privacy-, surveillance- and cybersecurity attacks with state of the art defense mechanisms and tools, but another strategy in defending our humanity in the long term may come from those infinite games.

Or maybe our defense in this move from enlightenment to entanglement is in dropping the separation of body and mind, feeling and ratio, form and content.

fame-and-success-hilde-overbergh

“Fame and success” by Hilde Overbergh – 2016
Part of expo “REFRAME” in The White House Gallery

Art may be inspiring here. In a recent conversation between art curator Hans Theys and artist Hilde Overbergh in the context of the expo “REFRAMED”, Hans arguments that form and content are inseparable, and that his sole criteria for assessing art are:

  • Is it well made?
  • Does it touch me?

Very much like Kevin Kelly, this is about what cannot be measured, what cannot be represented in numbers, big data, and algorithms.

In a very recent post Kyle Eschenroeder (also on Ribbonfarm) said:

The confidence created by our palantír-ish technologies is a confidence in our measurements, not in ourselves. The more minutiae we measure, the less respect we have for taste or experience

Caring puts us in the posture of playing an infinite game rather than a finite one. This means favoring “improvisation over fixed rules, internal sensibilities over imposed morals, and playfulness over seriousness.”

So our defense against a Network Bliztkrieg may be in the subconscious, where we don’t care about the fakeness our realness of the news and our reality, but more about what makes us unique as human beings: the ability to play infinite games and truly care.

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