Archive for the 'Politics' Category

It hurts to think… but it’s still rewarding

I’m just babbling… so you’ll have to excuse me. I haven’t been writing in my blog lately, because I’ve actually been finding journal writing (on paper) a little more satisfying. Maybe it’s because no one hears what I’m saying. No, I’m serious about that.  Sometimes it feels better to let oneself go on uncensored. Also, I find that sometimes it’s the best way for me to work things out before I’m ready to share them with others.

You may have noticed from my last post that I’m a bit obsessed with two subjects. Change and time (sub interest = resistance to change).  I wonder if I will start to develop a crusty or curmudgeonly gait as I grow older. Sometimes it feels like the world around me resists change… despite the growing impetus for change.  Sometimes it feels that it’s all too easy to confuse people because of their dependency on technology for information… and their immediate need for information. Media is simply a teat from which we feed our incessant hunger. Just change the filter or introduce a slightly different brew or concoction into the bottle and people will react accordingly. From the past century to the present, fear seems to be the most effective ingredient. If you want people to act or ‘not to act’ simply make them afraid of an enemy or impeding crisis. If you don’t want them to panic in the event of a crisis, such as economic one, simply downplay the seriousness of the problem… or even deny that it exists.

Is it only my perception, but does it seem that people just swallow these happy pills without question? I have to wonder too how easily people are swayed by what they hear even though many proclaim themselves to be cynical about the News. Sometimes I think that sharing of poll results can have an effect on the rest of the public who did not participate in these polls. They can either give us a false sense of security that our beliefs are shared by everyone, or they can dishearten us by convincing us that we are truly alone or so small in number that any hope of finding commonality with others is hopeless.

When people say that building a truly educated and enlightened society is impossible. I simply look at children and remember that most children have the ability (maybe not the opportunity) to be ‘smart.’  I listened to a Smart City podcast called Green Buildings and Smart Children not to long ago that featured Jeff Howard, head of the Efficacy Institute, which states as their goal that” The central objectives of our work are: to build belief that virtually all‘ children can ‘get smart;’ and to build the capacity of adults to set the terms to help them do so.” Some children need less help than others, but something tells me that it’s to our advantage to make sure that people ‘get smart.’ Hmmm… less problems with financial investments, better health that doesn’t tax the healthcare system, better living choices, better income … I think these arguments and many others have been made countless times in the past. I wonder what prevents us from moving forward?

I also believe that people can be taught good analytical and decision-making skills. I admit that I myself can be easily muddled by what I hear and am spoon-fed, so I rely on help to analyze what I’m seeing and hearing. I recently found a gem of a podcast called “LSAT Logic in Everyday Life.”  I loved how Andrew Brody picked apart the whole rice shortage ‘crisis,’ and reduced it to action based on faulty assumptions.  I may be a geek and a half, and that’s why this sort of thing excites me…. being able to pick apart a problem despite the assumption that it’s too difficult or impossible to solve.  Think about it, come up with a solution, and then do something about it.  To me that’s the original American ethic (good old Yankee know how) that I will be forever proud of.

Envious Thinker

Envious Thinker

Change is Good, Change is Natural… Stasis is an abomination to nature

Excuse me while… I chew on this thought for a bit… I may wax philosophical. Things change. The seasons change. The Earth changes.   Geological records have proven that the Earth’s surface has changed many times over it’s long life. People change. Throughout history, technology has changed the way humans live, produce and interact with each other.  Do you think the emerging democracies could have occurred after the Middle Ages and Renaissance without the printing press and proliferation of ideas through books?

But why then do we so cling to the desire to ‘keep things the same?’ I’ve been wrestling with this idea ever since I can remember.  Maybe this explains my love of History. Perhaps humans naturally crave stability because they’ve spent much of their unrecorded and recorded history dealing with the seemingly unpredictable nature of the elements, disease, and natural events.  Animals respond to change via natural selection or development of instincts, but we actively try to stop change from happening or build constructs that allow us to thrive despite change.

What would happen if we had a ‘long memory’ for change?  Who would build communities or cities on a flood plain or riverbank if they had memory or records of constant floods? How would we deal with social change? Would we nod things off as just a fad that would pass or would we actually try to develop laws or social institutions that were meant to adapt to change? I’ve noticed that politicians rely on people’s limited memory of history in order to push their agendas or to get elected or re-elected into office. Sometimes I lament that we live such mayfly lives. Still, having this memory might actually cause use to become more conservative in our actions. Since we could better predict cycles of events because of our personal memories.

Someone had the foresight to build this house on stilts

Someone had the foresight to build this house on stilts - Image from the Morguefile.

Resources/more stuff:

Why people resist change (from the Slow Leadership Site)

Shift happens – now what are we going to do about it?!!!!

I read somewhere that the first Industrial Revolution (at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th) may have been a result of a surplus of educated or informed people solving mechanical problems (of course, now I can’t find the article where I read that and I may be paraphrasing it incorrectly). Also, during the Great Depression many people who would have taken white collar or higher-paying jobs went into teaching and education because of the steady pay.

So maybe the United States won’t be in such bad shape in the long run despite the job shift and outsourcing. Perhaps people who once worked at major corporations would move into public service jobs or roles where they could use their smarts to innovate new processes or products. It might actually suck that they would have to take a cut in pay. On the other hand, I don’t really see anyone in this country realizing that they need to do anything to react or prepare for the shift of even more jobs to China and India. I worked in Corporate America and my impression was that most people would just hunker down and wait and hope for the better. If they were canned they looked elsewhere, but honestly, it seems that the safe havens for the jobs we were educated and trained to do are becoming fewer and fewer.

I’ve seen the “Shift Happens” slide set about a year ago, but it frustrates me that I SEE OR HEAR ABOUT NO ONE who is working to help people in this country deal with the shift. The slide set the idea forth… “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.” That’s great… NOW DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Perhaps I’m just to far removed from what is actually happening, and there are educators or people in the system (despite the bureaucratic and political muck and mire) who are forming a plan of action. I can only hope.

If we were to do something about it. I think we’d have to take a hard look at our own educational system and see what we are doing right (and wrong). Maybe starting with the most successful and brightest young people today who are either successful and poised for success. We look at how they passed through the educational system and evaluate how we can make this happen for more or all students. In general we should look at why we’re failing to educate students…. and not just by looking at test scores. Things that are measurable are the easiest things to fix, and often they don’t reach the crux of the problem and the heart of the solution. Besides, when institutions are given targets they will often not follow logical or correct paths to meeting their numbers. They will bend and shape the numbers (students, customers, patients, etc.) so that they “appear to be successful.”

Instead of just looking at test scores maybe we should be asking questions like: Does this individual know how to solve multifaceted problems? Could this individual pass a behavioral interview at a job? Is this person succeeding at what he or she is good at (trade, skill, art, craft, etc.)? Also, we need to start making technology and the best teachers available to everyone regardless of their neighborhood or demographic. We start expecting every child to succeed not just at tests but succeed at attaining a higher level of education. Maybe it’s me, but believe that the educational system we have today has failed us and will continue to fail us. We’re all like alcoholics on the way to recovery. We’ve realized that there is indeed a problem. Now what are we going to do about it?

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhnWKg9B2-8]

Bridging the Tech Gap with Nice People

Via a search today, I just read this brief post on HBR from Tom Davenport from March: Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organizations.

He brings up a good point about:

Such a utopian vision can hardly be achieved through new technology alone. The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won’t make organizational hierarchy and politics go away. They won’t make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won’t be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone.

Recently in a conversation I had at the PDX blogger dinner. I spoke with the Director of Product Marketing of Jive Software (sadly, I was not able to stay and see the demo of their alternative to Sharepoint. Any alternative to Sharepoint gets my attention). I noted that one of the biggest mistakes we make in project management is assuming that the tools (software, spreadsheets, web aps, etc.) will take the place of hiring good people, setting reachable goals, and building good relationships between team members.

Davenport is right. Technology won’t change things alone. But people can help, and especially ‘nice people’ who are passionate about what they do. When I think of really nice people like this, I think of Josh Bancroft. I used to work with Josh in IT at my former company. Josh has a real ‘can do’ (can’t believe I used that term) attitude about sharing what he’s excited about. He actually introduced a friend of mine and me into the worlds of podcasting and wikis. He was always excited about sharing his ‘geek’ knowledge, as he called it, with others and helping them learn and discover how to use Web 2.0 technologies. He inspired a few communities within the company that spawned new movements in applying collaborative technologies, some with some pretty impressive and cool results.

Davenport openly admits that he’s being a curmudgeon in regards to the potential of Enterprise 2.0, but Curmudgeons are important too. They force us to really take things into perspective. Though we should never let any resistance, negativism, criticism or cynicism shape our view or hinder where we want to take our imagination and creativity.

Though I disagree with Davenport on the matter of structuring of knowledge in the workplace. Structured information environments don’t necessarily need to limit or hinder the sharing of information. I can learn just as much about how to process a purchasing document in SAP or what the best transaction could be by networking with my co-workers and learning how they do things. That’s the problem with creating prescriptive or linear materials and documentation for tools like SAP instead of training people to ‘think for themselves’ or even learn from each other, you get people locked into automaton mode and you don’t build a workforce that can think on their feet, innovate or adapt quickly to change.

I have hope for Enterprise 2.0 despite everyone thinking that it is or was a big. Though still we have to let the curmudgeon in us rise up every now and then and question where we’re going. Sometimes questioning when done constructively can only open up new avenues or possibilities.

Somewhat to mildly related stuff:


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