Luke Naismith Uncovered as an Acronym

October 28, 2008

I’ve been having some conversations lately about whether it is easier to observe your behaviour through other people’s eyes or your own.  I find it incredibly valuable to gain the perspective of trusted others.  And so when I was in Melbourne recently, someone described me using the letters in my name as the first letter for a word or phrase.  I think it is quite an accurate description!  And perhaps it is a better CV for me than my current one as I look now at the next stage of my career.  I have adjusted some of the descriptions for it to be a bit clearer.

L is for Levity – doesn’t take himself too seriously

U is for Upbeat – sees opportunities, not obstacles

K is for Knowledge Management – of course

E is for Experimental – always doing something different when facilitating

 

N is for Networker Extraordinaire – using Web 2.0 stuff like wikis and blogs

A is for Alternative Futures – of course

I is for Investment Logic Map Champion

S is for Stirrer – likes to stir the pot

M is for Magician – pulls strategies out of his hat

I is for Innovative – a round peg in a square hole in the public service

T is for Thinker – am I asleep or just thinking?

H is for Happening – never a dull moment with Luke around!

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Unleashing energy in organisations

October 27, 2008

Following on from my previous posts on knowledge energies, I was interested to read this statement in a guest blog on the Cognitive Edge site.

Each network develops structure as a complex of agreements, procedures, institutions, culture and material circumstances, which channels interaction. Without structure there is no added value. Structure is the tissue which gives shape to living processes. Maintaining structure requires energy, but the balance is positive if more energy is released by the interaction enabled by the structure.

Having worked in multiple bureaucracies, I have seen how too much structure can stifle interaction and deplete energy. Work suffers as a result as people act like machines, doing what they are told without using their own initiative. There is little meaning attached to the work, little passion.

I was also interested to read another energy equation recently in Theory U (page 423). My KM equation is, of course, E=m c squared where the energy created is a result of the personal meaning in the work and the connections between people and between people and technology systems. Thie Theory U equation was E = D m where personal energy is a function of making a difference and something that matters to me. The m is the same in both – that of meaning. Their D is one of autonomy – in being able to do something that has some effect.

It’s fairly simple really – provide some loose structure, get some talented people, give them meaningful work, connect them with each other and let them loose on something where they feel they can make a difference.


Knowledge and Networks

October 22, 2008

There has been a rich discussion lately on actKM following their conference.  Unfortunately, I missed out on this conference, the first one that I have missed out on for a number of years.  Being a few thousand kilometres away in Dubai does not help.  Hopefully, if I can get to the KM Asia conference next month, that might be some consolation – even if it is nowhere near as collaborative.

Greg Timbrell concluded one of his posts with the statement “The knowledge is in the network”.  Serena had earlier commented about the notion of distributed cognition where human knowledge and cognition are not confined to the individual but instead, distributed by placing memories, facts, or knowledge on the objects, individuals, and tools in our environment. 

These comments are ones that I agree with and why I enjoy working in the field of KM so much – that knowledge is out there – its communication is diffused through the relationships we build. 

I chuckled when I read Greg’s comment.  I misread it as “The knowledge IS the network” (my emphasis).  Maybe that misread is the more accurate description!  Maybe that lies closer to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s description of the noosphere, the ‘collective consciousness’ of human-beings that emerges from the interaction of human minds.


Greed and “Enoughness”

October 18, 2008

A respected former boss of mine commented the other day that about his time in Andersen when the whole firm was brought down due to greed by a few partners on the Enron account.  A chapter of the book, Flirting with Disaster, is devoted to this collapse and is painted as caused by the toleration of an unusually high degree of so-called aggressive accounting practices. Andersen relaxed its historical ethical standards which had spared it from the 1980’s Savings and Loan crisis.  In the conflict between its two values of accounting integrity and growth, the 1990’s saw it favour growth. 

And so today when reading an article in The Age, I noticed this quote:

In Enough: True measure of money, business and life (soon to be published in the US), John Bogle recounts a conversation between now deceased writers Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, overheard at a party. Vonnegut asked Heller how it felt to know that the man across the room had probably made more money the previous day than Heller made from Catch 22 during all the years of its published life. Heller replied, “I have something he will never have — enough.”

While the current financial quagmire is more due to the inappropriate risk instruments than overt greed as such, it does call into question the notion of ethics in business deals.  This has been debated ever since mercantilism took hold and no doubt beforehand when tribal groups were trading handicrafts. What constitutes a fair deal as compared to when someone is taking a greater share than is warranted?  And what is it in our make-up that we can tolerate having enormous wealth while others nearby live in abject poverty?

In the end, it comes down to a concept called ‘enoughness’. There is the classic study that has been conducted which tests people with the following question: Would you prefer to get $100,000 a year if everyone else is getting $150,000 or would you prefer to have a worse living condition and receive just $70,000 but in a situation where everyone else gets $50,000. Most people answered the latter. They prefer relative financial wealth over absolute wealth. They want to be better than others even if they are not as well off (so long as they have their basic needs met).

Different people have different notions of when enough is enough.  But having a limit and realising that one has reached a boundary is critical to overcoming the excesses of greed.  Most Baby Boomers and an increasing proportion of Gen Xers in the Western world had reached that state (owning own home, some investments, retirement pension) and were beginning to explore other sources of meaning in life (travel, sport, meditation, conversations, etc).  The transformation from greed to enoughness only occurs when one gains the understanding that the existential problems of life are resolved (that is, when one understands the concept of enoughness and is able then to free up energy to explore new avenues and new issues).


Hitting weak signals for environmental scanning

October 17, 2008

Dave Snowden has been writing some interesting live blogs of late, including one of Peter Bishop’s presentation in Singapore.  Peter is a fellow futurist who I have met at a couple of foresight related conferences. 

The art of environmental scanning is the detection of signals which are not obvious with the aim of reducing the impact of being surprised.  Dave quotes Peter as saying that we should aim to be surprised in small ways, not big ways!  The hard part is that these signals are weak and early.  And that in identifying these signals, we will find it hard to separate those that are actually signalling change from those that are false positives.  Peter suggests that there is a sweet spot between maximising real signals and minimising false positives. 

In a book that I have finished called Flirting with Disaster by Marc Gerstein, he makes the point that following up weak signals is essential in implementing high-relaibility workplace safety, despite the desire to ignore these weak signals to save money.  He calls these weak signals of potential danger “free tuition” and notes that the biggest fallacy is to wait for an accident to be certain before taking action. 

With complex systems, it is often impossible to determine if a weak signal will be self-corrected by the system or if it will put in train a series of events that will create dissonance.  In these circumstances, it is essential for the human scanner to make an interpretation of the signal and its potential effect and then continue to monitor the system to see if the impact of the weak signal has been ameliorated, whether it has created tension which may cause change down the track, or if it will work in conjunction with other weak signals to change the dynamics of the system.  Hence, scanning begets scanning and does not work in isolation but feed backs upon itself.  And that there is a spectrum between false positives and actual change signals rather than a simple dichotomy.


The End of the (Rest of the) World is Nigh!

October 11, 2008

Following on from my last negative article on the mess of our financial system, I thought I would continue the theme with the mess of our broader society!

Being a strategic foresight practitioner, one of the main reasons for our role is to help others understand their environmental context and create viable forward views for their future. But what if the future view is not viable? If in looking forward, all we can see is imminent collapse due to an inability to change in sufficient time.

This article by Richard Hames, When Empires Decay, is one of the more cogent dytopian outlooks I have read for some time, and one that I think I agree with in my emotional state of trepidation, uncertainty and alarm. Has our society reached the stage where, no matter what we do, there will be some form of collapse? Have we squandered the riches above and beneath the soil to fuel our desire for conquest and ever-increasing economic growth? Do we have the ability to turn the ship around or are we so close to the edge now that all we can do is wait, watch and berate ourselves for our mindless stupidity as a species?
Richard outlines the essence of the problem in this cruel paradox:

The system we must destroy in order to create a more sustainable and abundant society is the very thing we need in order to achieve that goal! This is a paradox that is insufficiently understood. But it helps explain why current attempts to change the world are simply making matters far worse.

He further outlines that his pessimism is based on the whole system change we need requires a fundamental change in cognition and the way we use knowledge.

Above all else it is to do with our thinking: particularly the frames and assumptions we use (both intentionally and inadvertently) to sense and make sense of reality. It is about the countless meanings we then construct and how we rationalize conflicting hypotheses. It is to do with how we seek out, comprehend and integrate new insights. And it is about how we explain and communicate our convictions to those who may have startlingly different versions of reality. That is where the real changes have to occur. And we’re not even at the starting line!

He concludes by stating that since the political processes are controlled by the corporate elites, and that the systemic response required to individuals is at odds with these corporate organisations, that change will not occur until it is too late.

Witness what has happened recently with the financial meltdown as a leading indicator. Although some people had predicted that there were problems with the network of debt instruments, the system was not able to address its now-realised false assumption that that the broader you spread the risk and the more people you have participating in the risk, the lower the risk.

When will we be in a position to realise that the assumptions on which our society is based are false? Assumptions like continued economic growth is good, that it is economically OK to pollute the environment, that there is always lots more oil in the ground waiting to be discovered, that worldwide population growth is manageable, and that climate change can be controlled through reducing emissions in western countries over a protracted timeframe.

Richard’s article states that there is little hope for change before it is too late. He does not answer the unasked question of what should we do? I am reading a book at the moment called “Flirting with Disaster” which makes the case that accidents are invariably a result of failures of basic design rather than implementation or human error. And these design failures arise from our inability to conduct the serious systems thinking to identify the interrelationships between cause and effect over time.

And so the answer to what to do is to start designing the next system, one that will build on the positives of the previous system but deal with its various “unintended” consequences.


The End of the (Financial) World is Nigh

October 10, 2008

Wow – where do I start with this financial crisis/mess/shambles.

  • The Aussie Dollar is being savaged – down a third from its peak in July
  • The RBA has slashed interest rates by 1% followed by similar action from other banks
  • Oil prices have tumbled 40%
  • Share prices are crashing – and then crashing again today to its worst result since 1987

So what’s happening. A quick scan of the main media analyses shows that due to the subprime fiasco in the US and the onselling of this debt as packages throughout the financial sector, we are suffering a meltdown as banks refuse to lend to each other as they are uncertain whether these loans could be repaid. And with the globalisation of financial markets, nowhere is safe from the tentacles of bad debt with the flow on effects of fear in the stockmarkets, cutbacks in investments and looming recession.

And so what’s causing it? Was it the subprime mortgages in the USA? As I was mentioning to some foresight colleagues in Australia the other day, people will try and find a single root cause, but of course, as we know from complexity principles, it is the combination of a variety of “causes”, the positive feedback loops and the lack of inhibiting forces (such as satisfactory regulation) where we will find the real reasons.
While times are good, everything is rosy. Regulation (just like lawyers) is required for the worst case scenarios. It is when the speculators run rampant and greed takes hold overwhelming productive investment (funding things that actually produce something) that we start to get a frenzy like this which always ends in a market collapse.

From a recent article I read, comes this quote:

The cruelest irony is that none of this needed to happen. Many of these structural flaws were self-evident. But neither the risk managers on Wall Street nor their overseers in Washington wanted to face reality…. To preclude a sequel to this calamity, the Congress and the next administration will need to address the root causes of our current predicament. Wall Street could not handle the risk itself. Regrettably others will now have to do so.

And this one too:

It is clear however that the present mess has been predicated on one large falsehood. That is, that the broader you spread the risk and the more people you have participating in the risk, the lower the risk. This was the rationale for CDOs, ABS, CLOs and CDS too. Look how much these derivative cocktails are fetching now on the open market.

And so an industry predicated on its knowledge of savvy risk taking has spectacularly failed to handle this risk. Leveraging against mortgage asset values by major global financial institutions allowed them to borrow money and pocket the spread between the cost of this funding and they yield on their mortgage-backed securities. To protect against the risk of a downturn in the value of their assets, they took out insurance to protect them which could not make good on their obligations once defaults started to happen. It’s not just to do with subprime as other cheap financing was provided for companies although not to the same scale.

What a mess!! And so the hard part, what is to be done to clean up the mess (if anything!). Markets always overshoot. Fear is a very nasty emotion and we have a way to go to work out who is solvent and who is not. Nevertheless, as all this is happening so quickly, we have a way to fall yet as the doom and gloom will take time to dissipate. That is really scary. It will also take some time to play out as the debt instruments that have been created continually come up for refinancing.

There will continue to be the need for government intervention to reduce the slowdown and then systemic reform so that it does not happen again. Also, there are opportunities now for counter-traditional strategic plays in different markets and many organisations are taking advantage of this crisis to buy cheap investments. For Australia, the dollar devaluation is a double whammy as repayments need to be made in US dollars and with talk of commodities exports being affected, the $A is heading south.

In the end, all us consumerists and innocent bystanders can do is watch this space. I am not an economist but I do see tough times ahead. There is still no real impact here in Dubai with lots of job and investment opportunities. And today, I am off to the best place in Dubai for a Friday brunch. Party while Rome burns? Another cognac while the Titanic sinks? Quite possibly.

And Tracey, another glass of Moet please!!

Here are some good references that I have found .

http://business.theage.com.au/business/in-hock-to-the-world-20081007-4v8c.html

http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/economics-101–what-the-global-meltdown-means-20081006-4urk.html?page=-1

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/a-shattering-moment-in-americas-fall-from-power-20081005-4udh.html?page=-1

http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=86401650-e151-401b-990a-63f589621b7e