13 June 2011


My apologies for not having written in the past week or so. I have been occupied writing and doing some other things that are not so directly linked to what I imagine this blog to be about. I have also written a couple of things for the blog, but they feel even more malformed and incomplete than my typical offerings.

I have been working to understand my use of the word 'delusional' and what that entails and have written about that. This involves getting into the nature of mental models, point of view, and 'mapping,' as such. Hopefully I can get something about that before too long, but I see it is sort of a recurring theme.

I would also love to hear where people's own inquiries are taking them and if anything comes up that anyone would like to write or talk about together in this format.

31 May 2011


I was walking the other day when I encountered a shadow of myself. There was an older man walking toward me. I guess he is living in the streets. He had a scraggly beard and was pulling a small roller bag that I imagine held all his possessions. There was a line of cars at the light next to him. He was yelling at the drivers about the price of gas, the cost of their cars and the general irresponsibility of owning a car and driving around with only one person in it.

Of course he seemed crazy. As we passed one another I simply said to him "It's crazy isn't it?" He looked at me with very clear eyes and nodding said "Yes, it is."


I moved to Paris right about the time of 9/11. I was living there for about a year before I came to the US again. When I first arrived in the US, I met and had dinner with a good friend of mine who had been a client for almost a decade. He was a doctor, specializing in the nature of sleep, and the head of development for one of the large pharmaceutical companies. Having been out of the US since 9/11, I asked what it was like since then. He and his wife looked at one another, looked around the restaurant and began to tell me in whispered tones what it was like, in their experience. I could not help myself, I had to ask if the waiter was an informant of some sort. They had not even realized they were whispering.


Several months ago while taking an early train in California, I was gazing out the window, thinking and watching some miles of orchard pass. In the verge between the orchards and tracks I saw a dead body. He was lying face down, jeans, check flannel shirt, and work boots in a pool of blood surrounding his head. I assumed from this that he had probably been shot in the head sometime in the early morning, since the blood was still red and had not been absorbed into the dirt. My own surprise and dismay was very brief, followed by an analytic scrutiny and curiosity; all of this taking place for what felt an extended period, when in fact it was just moments at 50mph or so. After the body passed from my view, only then did I feel a sorrow, wondering what had lead him to such a circumstance; wondering what had lead those who killed him to such a circumstance. No one else in the train car seemed to see the body.


Occasionally I have seen a man driving through town in a very distinctive yellow truck. It is distinctive in part because it is clearly a work truck and many of the trucks on the road are clearly not work trucks. I imagined it to have some special purpose. The man himself wears a flat brimmed, western style white hat. I guess it is a Stetson. There is always a little orange and white dog sitting in the passenger seat, looking out the front window of the truck. Both man and dog sit very upright. They look like a Norman Rockwell portrait of themselves.

I noticed this man in line at the post office behind me. He turned out to be a small, compact man dressed in boots, jeans, western style shirt, leather vest, bolo tie and the hat. He may have had a pocket watch. I am not sure. I have some impression of bits of metal here and there: belt buckle; clasp knife; small chain. I recognized him by his hat, from which I imagine he is never parted. I told him that I saw him driving through town in his yellow truck and asked him about it. I was curious if perhaps it was used for dairy or something of the sort. He said that yes, he owned the truck. I commented that I thought it looked to be a very high quality truck and wondered if it had some special use or purpose. He told me that everything he owned was high quality and that the truck was used for hauling things.

Everything about the his presentation seems composed to me. I do not mean he seems a man of great composure. Indeed, my impression is that he is very energetic, even impatient and was likely offended by some random person asking him random questions in a public building full of people. Affronted. No, I mean everything about him was composed as if intentionally painted just so. Perhaps this was some vestige of military habit from his past; possibly just a sort of pride or even vanity; or again an perhaps expression of a life self understood as moral. An ordered life of great routine, presented in an orderly way. In all these ways he was an icon of a particular moment of US culture. I noticed him in great part because he looks so out of place.


23 May 2011

Letter to a friend.

This is the major portion of a letter to a dear friend of mine over the past 25 years.

Thanks for talking yesterday. I was thinking about your expressed point of view. If I understand it it is something like:

An acknowledgment that change is necessary at the planetary level of human action.

Feeling that this change could come about through:

  • crisis, possibly resulting in a vast reduction of the human population.
  • technological (and free market) breakthroughs within the next two decades
  • social transformation

Crisis is not an acceptable outcome to you. You believe that social transformation takes too long and that there is no historical precedent for such a global transformation. You therefore feel your time and energy are best spent supporting the possible success of the current system and through that the level of technological innovation required.

Additionally one of your presuppositions is that the largest social challenge is the the 'tsunami' of raised expectations around the world, wherein people have or will come to have expectations of what you called 'a first world life style' and what I would call participation in an artificial and delusional consumer based system of economy and production. You believe that the only way to deal with our current chalenges is by technological breakthroughs that allow at least some of those expectations to be dealt with in some way. In particular you feel that the current system is our only real hope of creating an abundant source of energy that does not have all the unsustainable, negative consequences of the current system.

Am I more or less understanding your view? I am quite sure I have not got it all and know I have smoothed over some of the nuance of your view. Please forgive me for that if it feels offensive to you any way. I enjoyed our conversation and respond below, consistent with some of the things I was suggesting yesterday.

17 May 2011

How does it happen?

Assume for a moment that most people in a corporation, if not all, are well intended. How does it happen that the corporation then ends up involved in things that are counter to such good intentions? This question has been one of the most interesting questions to me in my own corporate work. I spoke with many, many people in corporations, all over the world. These conversations were usually very immediate and personal, about the things that mattered most to those people. People were often hungry for a place to talk about what really mattered to them, and the corporate culture does not typically enable that. The very simplified version of this is that people do not actually spend a lot of time directly thinking about things like 'shareholder' value and such. Most people, even in the executive suite, are simply not 'motivated' be these things. They think about what you might expect them to think about and are moved by what you might expect them to be moved by: family, community, joy, love, etc.

Often the conversations I had lasted years, even decades, with particular leaders and corporations. In my experience, which is anecdotal, these leaders at all levels of a corporate enterprise, wanted to 'do the right thing' and typically had some view about what that was. It was also the case that there was a consistent gap between that desire and what was actually happening. This condition has been one of the central areas of inquiry for me over the past decades. In fairness, this condition also guided the selection of work in which I was engaged, so I have a slanted view. On the other hand, that view covers 40+ countries on every continent over a period of roughly 20 years.

My friend and colleague, Robert Hanig, often describes his work as having to do with enabling the 'proprioception' of the human system. In essence this means the system becoming self aware both at the level of the individual and the collective. This means there is a working and active correlation between the assumptions held, actions taken, and results accrued. The participants and enactors of the system hold and are informed by this awareness. Practically, this involves a whole variety of things, but this is the general idea. In the presence of such awareness the question about the ethics of the system and the individual can be meaningfully asked and correlated to decisions and actions.

16 May 2011

The Sparrow

I was sitting outside today near a water fountain. There was a sparrow on the edge of the fountain looking at it. For a moment I thought I should get up and run the fountain to give the sparrow some water. I realized that doing so would scare the sparrow away, but I thought it might come back. From where I was I was sitting I could not see into the basin of the fountain. While I was considering this the sparrow splashed in the water that was already there, as sparrows will do.

I think it is more or less all like this. The water is already there and we cannot see it, due to our active point of view, which we treat as a passive and pre-given condition. It is a kind of strategic and 'functional' blindness. We take well intentioned, even necessary seeming action based on our current inability to see the water and create all the consequences of such action. We then have to deal with all those consequences and come to treat them as if they were also pre-given.

We seek to unify what is already whole. Doing so requires that we first actively fragment that whole, or relate to it as if it were fragmented and as if we have nothing to do with that. This becomes more and more layered and self reinforcing. The resulting actions and systems of apparent fragmentation and separation to interpret what is already interconnected and whole result in one aspect of what we call 'evil.' We might feel that such 'evil' is outside of us, or inside of us, but it is a product of that fragmentation and separation in either case. We relate to ourselves in a similar fashion, as if we were not whole and as if something needed to be done about that. We might attribute that 'evil' to some external source even as we fragment ourselves doing so.

15 May 2011

Considering J.P. Morgan

I confess that I am a bit confused by what I am considering... and I have things to do.  I think this is one of the things that happens to us when considering our current condition.  There is a moment when the connections, implications, challenges, structures, relationships, etc. all become very complex.  It can become difficult to understand how to get things done.  Questions about inclusion and exclusion go right out the window.  Then it seems to me that we might at some such point begin to deploy or rely on strategic coping to deal with the complexity and feeling of confusion.  The confusion itself might be a coping mechanism.  I have some form of all this going on much of the time.

I am also not a conspiracy theorist.  I mostly just consider such conspiracy theories advanced forms of blame, which is to say they may indicate some part of what is occurring, but are usually very convenient for the holder.  These things I write are not meant to be some sort of definitive research or suggest prescriptive answers.  I am simply working through what I can feel about the delusional insanity of this moment as best I can.  These are meant as reflections on that process.  If you have chosen to read these, please do not take them as more than that.

I am currently thinking about J.P. Morgan Chase.  I do not apparently have any explicit, immediate relationship to J.P. Morgan.  At the time of the J.P. Morgan, Chase merger I was working for a consultancy that was helping with the post merger integration.  J.P. Morgan was not my client, but I was writing white papers about post merger integration and working with the team that was accountable for the post merger integration and redesign from time to time.  Like most mergers that merger did not do most of the things that were espoused as the purpose for the merger.  In terms of wealth consolidation however, it was very effective, which should be the real measure and regulatory concern with mergers, since that is the actual purpose.  This incongruence between espoused ends and actual ends is a gold mine for management consultants, since most people in the corporation fully believe that they must produce the espoused ends and do everything they can to do so.  Most consultants believe this as well.

09 May 2011

Coping Mechanisms

I have several things I am working on, but I wanted to leave a short post on coping mechanisms. In short coping mechanisms are the things we do to adapt ourselves to a system functioning perfectly in a way that produces results and consequences we find problematic. "Cope" originally means 'to come to blows' as in coup d'etat. Amusingly there is an obsolete meaning having to do with 'traffic'. I ran across an example of a coping mechanism on the front page of the NYT yesterday.
"It is the urban driver's most agonizing everyday experience: the search for an empty parking place." Matt Richtel, NYT, 8 May 2011

The article went on to describe a phone app that will help solve this apparently agonizing experience. The only 'catch' mentioned in the article was that drivers might pay too much attention to their phones. It is a $20 million project in San Francisco.

This is what is meant by a coping mechanism. I won't go into a lot about that since I feel it is pretty obvious as an example. The one thing I did want to point out is our relationship to it. It is on the front page of the Times. It is considered a 'breakthrough' that we should celebrate, even as it strengthens and reinforces the dynamic it is trying to address (e.g. it encourages people to drive, it reinforces a mental model and way of life about that as a given, etc.). It takes the system producing the 'problem' as a given at the structural level and then adapts to that. It is lauded because much urban congestion, and therefore also emissions are produced by people driving around looking for parking spots. Presumably it lessens that and is therefore considered an efficiency. This makes it an interesting study in efficiency as a coping mechanism. It is both a 'free market' and a technological fix ("fix" as a noun also meaning a position from which it is difficult to move oneself or a dose of narcotics).  This simple, easy to see, example illustrates in part the difficulty with an ideology that minimizes the degree of transition and change currently needed on the basis of 'free market' or technological 'breakthroughs.'

04 May 2011

What to do, what to do?

Honestly, I feel as if my reflection has become more reactionary than reflective. It is interesting to notice. It might always be that way.

The image is a 1954 ad from Monsanto posted on Good. I clearly remember hearing an ad on my little red, white and blue transistor radio in about 1967 releasing a report definitively showing that people born after 1960 would be likely to live until 150 years of age or longer because of our miraculous mastery of chemicals. At the time, I sure hoped I had been born in time to get in on that. I checked in on this memory from time to time growing up, looking for evidence that it might be the case. Later I was convinced that this was exactly what was meant by having forgotten the Tao, and was a recipe for a short, painful life, rather than some imagined longevity and immortality.

I seem to write and talk with people a lot about what not to do. I hope it is clear that this is not meant simply as a moral injunction, or some sort of answer to something. It simply seems to me in my own life that there are things to cease, the cessation of which makes the field of possibility and whatnot available. The cessation is a kind of very simple ground for cultivation. Such cultivation can be understood esoterically in terms of simple practice, but it can also be understood as the cultivation of community and a balanced relationship to our embodied, enacted presence on the planet. Such cessation also requires a component of awareness. It is then something about an integration of state and action.

The what to do itself does not seem that complicated in and of itself. That is true for me and Donald at any rate. The complication arises in the face of what seems to me an unbalanced and increasingly complex way of being and acting on the planet together. Which is to say that complexity arises from the connectedness of structure and dynamic interaction... sometimes called life. In the moments and ways that we are unconscious of our production of and participation in such interrelatedness it can occur as if the complexity were given full blown, as a pre-condition of reality.

Here are some things to do and stop doing, from my point of view. I am not particularly good at these things. In some cases I lack the necessary skills and I have not yet done the simple things to acquire those skills. The disposition in which such things are stopped, is as important to me in many regards as stopping them. This is so much the case for me that even having successfully checked something off some list, but in a way that was consistent with its existence in the first place does not result in the fundamental cessation I am attempting to talk about here. With regard to my 'past' life I feel I have done remarkably well in many regards. With regard to the actual planetary condition and appropriate, balanced living and participation with that, I would say I am still more or less at the level of complete and utter failure. This does not particularly bother me since I view that as a necessary and important part of the process. This does not constitute a justification of any sort, unless I make it so. That may bother you.

02 May 2011


I feel it entirely possible that the fact that Osama Bin Laden has been killed, murdered, punished, etc. depending on your view, does more to justify his unjustifiable acts of violence against the US, than anything else. I have read elsewhere that the message is 'justice.' My own feelings on this are likely to be viewed as seditious by many people.

I think the message is something like:

"Don't mess with me, mine or my stuff. If you do I will hunt you down and kill you, regardless of the cost or consequences to mine or anyone I perceive as seeking to slow or obstruct me in this process. I will destroy the homes and lives not only of the people who may harbor you, but of anyone in any way deemed to have obstructed my execution of justice. I will take decades to do this if necessary. I will dedicate most of the resources of my people to this, above the need for health, education, community or environmental integrity. I will value this above life and life systems. I will murder large portions of the population wherever you are found on the planet. I will destroy the means of industry, succor, community, culture and livelihood of anyone remotely associated with your ideology, 'ethnicity,' faith or geographic location. I will destroy the fabric of your families. I will salt the earth of your civilization and burn whatever faith you may hold. I will not pursue an eye for an eye. If you take my eye, I will attempt to crush you and yours entirely. I will seek to remove the possibility of seeing not only from you, but from all of yours, for all time. Anyone of yours that I have not killed outright, I will capture, imprison and torture if I am able. I will arrange it so that I profit from my just punishment of you and yours, even at the expense of my own people, for whom I claim justice. If necessary I will run my own into the ground of sickness, oppression, tyranny and violent death, if it means your death and the death of yours. I will send my own young against you to die in numbers, forever scarred and changed in the process, many beyond any chance of reintegration or recovery. I will do so at the expense of life and any regard for planetary consequences. I will carry all this cost, fear, hatred and consequence into any foreseeable future, be it decades or centuries. I will neglect the suffering of others until I have destroyed you and yours or died in the process. I will not cease in any of this, even after your death."

Heh. I imagine that actually sounds good to some people. Like resolve or something. You know, gets you all riled up. Pitchforks. Torches. These colors never run, etc. Let's you know who you are and who they are. Nice and neat.

The official US death count for institutionalized violence in Iraq is currently 33,023. The estimated count is more like 100,000. The estimated number of Iraqis killed is around 100,000. Another 2,340 for Afghanistan coalition forces. I cannot find any sort of definitive seeming number on Afghani casualties, but it seems about 20,000 with 80,000 or so people displaced from their homes. An estimated 4.7 million people have been displaced in Iraq. This is probably about half the actual number. Displaced means that their homes, communities and means of livelihood have been destroyed... razed... salted. I have no idea how to really even begin to consider the scope of environmental damage and damage to life and planetary systems.

30 April 2011

The Foolish Decision

I have been thinking about decision making again. I think this is in part because we, all of us together, have some very difficult decisions to make and we are not currently very successful in that regard. At least it seems so to me.

Whenever we are collaborating (or contending) in groups the question, 'how do we make decisions?' is one of the first questions, though we do not tend to ask it first or explicitly. We tend to rely on habitual and often unexamined models and dispositions of decision making. Furthermore, it is often the case that we take these as 'given' in some way, imagining that our model is shared, or perhaps if not shared 'enforceable' in some way. Beginning to examine this often results in the paradox of the first decision we make having to be the decision about how we are going to make decisions together. It is important to note in this that there are various types of collectives and collaborations that do not have a decision making model as such, because they are not prioritizing decision making as an activity in that way.

I have spent a fair amount of time exploring and suggesting different decision making models and engaged in this inquiry with groups. Functionally such an inquiry can of course lead to more effective decision making, which is assumed to lead to more effective action. Efficiency in this case has to do with whatever qualitative and quantitative criteria are present, also typically taken as 'given.' In this reflection I am considering the disposition in which the decision is taken. I feel this is important to consider. A decision making model, or even meta-model including a spectrum of decision making dynamics is just that, a kind of model. We interact with it as such, with some particular 'use orientation.' For instance, labor unions will often insist on 'consensus' based decisions. It is in the spirit of unionization to do so. Within the union, however, the field of decisions possible is itself often conditioned by processes other than consensus, meaning that the consensus process is a conditioned and limited one. Additionally, the use orientation of a consensus process can often be the intent to be able to prevent certain decisions from being taken, rather than the intent that a decision be taken. This sort of use orientation is often not evident in the decision making process itself or in the choice of decision making models and process.

29 April 2011

Response to article on corporations

I ran across this article (http://www.newtimesslo.com/commentary/6002/beware-of-the-soulless-corporations/) in a weekly publication here called the "New Times." I wrote the following as a response. I even sent it to them in a moment of insanity. I think it is far too long to publish, which is good since I think it is also pretty flawed. I do not quite surround the point. I do not seem to follow up on the richness of the original article. I do not go into sufficient detail where detail is warranted, etc. The arguments themselves are incomplete.

In "Beware of the Soulless Corporations" (http://www.newtimesslo.com/commentary/6002/beware-of-the-soulless-corporations/) Jim Duenow suggests that corporations are amoral. I want to be clear that I agree in great part with the views put forth by Mr. Duenow and am grateful for such a clear, thoughtful point of view published in the "New Times." Understanding the status of the corporation as 'individual' and how that fits into various ideologies of individualism is a critical question of our time.

I agree with many of the points Mr. Duenow made in his thoughtful commentary, but disagree with basic premise that corporations are amoral. In the fourth paragraph of his commentary he basically describes a system of morality. Corporations, as such, subscribe to a morality and do so in an almost fundamentalist way. Profit itself becomes a moral imperative for the corporation as a whole and those of us participating in a global system of profit maximization and consolidation, which is almost all of us, as consumers, in the industrialized economies. The structures of this system strongly condition our thoughts and behaviors. One way we can see this is that when this morality of profit maximization and consolidation is violated there is militarized police action from nation states to 'correct' the violation. This is particularly striking when we also notice that such militarized police action does not take place with regards to things like clean water, famine, etc. This is not due to some corruption or hidden dynamic, though those are present. The dynamic is explicit. At the beginning of the past decade the World Bank released a report explicitly stating that the purpose of a modern nation state is to insure the conditions for a free market. Of course we may feel that profit maximization and consolidation are immoral. This is just an application of one morality to another.

One way to understand this is to consider George Lakoff's analysis of the morality underlying the 'progressive' and 'conservative' political agendas in the US. He suggests that there are two basic metaphors. One metaphor is the 'strong father' model. The other is the 'nurturing parent' model. These models variously emphasize different moral values, though results of such emphasis can be similar in some cases. There is a lot more to his theory including neurological analysis of these metaphors, supported by recent studies that show brain development correlated with political view, without ascribing cause. The findings of that study are that 'progressives' seem to have greater brain development in the areas of the brain used for processing complexity, interrelatedness, and ambiguity. "Conservatives" have a more developed amygdala, the purpose of which is to process threats and fear based learning. Such studies are always a bit 'iffy' in terms of use orientation, but they make no claim as to whether the brain development follows the belief or the reverse. They are merely noting a correlation.

24 April 2011

Earth Day Reflection

I participated in Earth Day yesterday. I find I do not want to write about it because I do not much like my thoughts. I feel more than a bit cynical.

Overall the endeavor of my writing can be considered a kind of reflection on the several things, from my point of view. One of the themes I find myself returning to is the shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. For the people who study such a shift it seems to be a study of the record left in and on the earth at a planetary scale. Different people seem to have different interpretations about these records. Some people start counting the shift to the Anthropocence with the advent of agriculture and the 'record' left on the earth by this. I prefer the interpretation that says the Holocene has lasted for the past 10,000 years, since the last ice. In that interpretation it is the changes taking place on the planet in the past two hundred years that create a record that will be seen 1,000 years from now as the point at which the geological era was changing. There are several unique things about this particular shift.

This shift of geological era is the first in which human beings have had the capacity to be globally conscious of the shift itself, as well as our participation in that shift. The particular importance of the Anthropocenic is that we not only have this ability to be conscious of and observe the shift, but we can understand how we are participating in and even causing such a shift. The basic notion is that we are now involved in a global, institutionalized, action that matches the scale of the planetary systems themselves and so changing the dynamics of those systems through our actions. The stored atmospheric heat of the industrial era melting the ice caps is an example of this. Acidification and thermal expansion of the oceans are examples. The mass extinction currently taking place (and the fossilized record of that) will create another example. The large quantitates of burnt earth we call concrete will make another example. There are many more examples. This is a simple, straightforward way to consider the shift that is currently taking place.

What becomes more difficult, in my view, is when we begin to consider the nature of 'structural coupling' with regard to what is occurring. One of the ways to consider structural coupling is to consider 'point of view' and the structures of attention. The basic notion here is that our individual and collective point of view is not isomorphic with the reality we inhabit. This is what is meant in the most fundamental sense by Korzybski's expression "the map is not the territory." It is also expressed in Maturana's observation that in any moment we cannot know whether what we experience is real or a hallucination. It is the basic exploration in Mahayana Buddhism and one aspect of the teaching offered by the realizer Adi Da Samraj, which he offers the evocative myth of Narcissus. This question is explored in some way by most aspects of the human wisdom tradition. Scientific Materialism is more or less a proposed, closed system answer to this question, in which one point of view expressed as a process is exclusively prioritized as a mapping. Additionally, it is often taken as an exhaustive mapping, which through the authorization of a point of view, pretends that it has no point of view. Even so this apparent dilemma is a recurring theme within that process.

17 April 2011

Considering the disastrous nature of the industrial era

I feel some of the most useful work I have done in the corporate context was work on safety. I should say, and I am sure this is not surprising, that I am not a safety expert. In the context of safety the work was about understanding the difference between the human system and the mechanistic understanding of systems that exists within that.. There is an entire dimension of safety on industrial sites that has to do with all the phenomena associated with attention, collective action and 'mental models.' Many accidents occur not because the information to prevent the accident, or to sense the trends and patterns leading to an accident, are not present. The information is often present.

The nature of our waking state, functional 'consciousness' is that it limits what we are aware of in order to allow us to function. This is the nature of what is meant by 'mental model' or 'paradigm' and such. Scientific materialism and the mechanistic views of reality that follow from that are extreme examples of this. Extremely useful in very limited ways that usually have many unintended and from within the bounds of the model, unseen consequences.

One of the consequences of this is that when we read the case history of an industrial accident we can look at the events over time and feel something like "how could they possibly not have seen this coming? Are they stupid? Evil? Corrupt?" It is not a matter of 'human error' at the level of operations or management, though aspects of that are included. The Challenger case of the space shuttle disaster reads this way. The Chernobyl case reads this way. Both the Texas City and Deepwater Horizon cases read this way. The Titanic case reads this way. The attribution about the actors as "stupid, evil, or corrupt" is usually inaccurate and not particularly helpful.

From a systems point of view you most likely would have done some very similar version of exactly what they did. Their actions were structurally determined. There is also a living dynamism which creates a complexity for which structural determinism cannot account. Furthermore, in terms of structures, we are not simply talking about the physical structures of some industrial era asset, though that is included. We are talking about the structure of thought, emotion, identification, etc. in the human system.

13 April 2011

Understanding the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Disaster of 2012

Consider for a moment the nature of meaning as a contextual phenomena. Meaning is for the most part not self-evident and self arising.

I feel Marx may have gotten something right when he suggested that our consciousness is defined by the forces of production. This is not consciousness in the sense of consciousness itself. This is consciousness in the sense of the conscious mind, or our awareness. It is consciousness in the sense of a limiting activity that allows us to function. The consciousness, in this sense, of a marketing organization or an asset based organization within the same corporation are very different. The people in those organizations think about time and space very differently. They consider risk and benefit very differently. The culture arising from this, or dynamically conditioning and perpetuating this is very different in either case.

The physical assets associated with the global means of production of the industrial era have a history. As with all histories, these are both written and read contextually. The nature of these assets is that they are both powered by, and constituted of contained explosions. They are manifestations of a process in which the planet is viewed as an object. Breaking the fundamental bonds that give that assumed object its coherence releases energy. This is accomplished through fire, collision, explosion, etc. We then 'harness' that energy, often in order to create the basis for more contained explosions. We use the energy to form other bonds in order to create and maintain an artificial environment for life, based on the assumption that the world is hostile and must be controlled in order to attempt to insure some degree of security, longevity, and happiness. We conflate security, longevity and happiness with consumption. We amplify all of this to be expressed and reinforced as the maximization and consolidation of profit. A lot more can be said about all that, and I have written about it elsewhere and will post some more soon.

What I am interested in today is when the container fails. Almost all industrial disasters can be understood as an expression of the container, associated with an unnecessary and artificially created explosion or associated process, failing. The Challenger space shuttle disaster, Texas City, Deepwater Horizon, Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima can all be considered in this way. I have written elsewhere about the difference between emergence and emergency. These become an emergency because the arising phenomena are at a scale and scope that exceeds the container and all the systems required for that. This is not simply a mechanistic question. The reality of such containers is not merely technical, but also an expression of a human system. Confusion about this can be considered one of the primary contributors to such disasters. Again, a lot can be said about all this and I have written some things I will post later. It is worth considering this from the point of view of the carrying capacity of the planet, or the planet as a naturally occurring container for life and life processes.

11 April 2011

On 'no', growth and resilience

I have mentioned elsewhere the art of saying 'no.' Earlier this year I was in a dialogue on this where I was asked about my views. We spoke about about this together for some time and I suggested some of the basic things:
  • be clear about the commitment that serves as a context for saying 'no'
  • say 'no' in a way that honors the commitment of the person to whom you are responding
  • recognize the general condition wherein the systemic inability to say 'no' undermines the authenticity of any 'yes'
  • act to enable authentic choice in the system
  • make room for others to meaningfully say 'no'
  • etc.
I wanted to cover another dimension of this. It has to do with resilience. One way to think about resilience in a system has to do with the space in the system. The ability to say 'no' can create space in a system. Th inability to say 'no' can eliminate space. This is pretty straightforward. Maybe in the system of human interactions there is some value such as 'efficiency' 'growth' or 'performance' being optimized. Requests are framed with respect to this value. The value even becomes a matter of morality. Saying 'no' to requests in such a system is then experienced as a moral violation. Naysayers are traitors, or some equally negative value with respect to the social contract. Even when we do not ourselves agree with the morality at play, we may feel our survival is at stake since we feel this morality. 'No' will be punished.

07 April 2011

On Utility and Incompetence

If it is not yet clear to you by now, I am more or less incompetent at many of the simplest things in life. Many things that seem simple and normal are often quite difficult for me. On the other hand certain sorts of things that are considered complex and even difficult are relatively simple for me. At least it seems this way. I wanted to say something about the 'utility' of my incompetence. It seems to me the case that for all of us our areas of greatest functionality often create some of the darkest shadows in our lives. There are various theories about this. It is also seems to me to be the case that areas of learned helplessness and incompetence themselves have strategic value for us. By this I mean that we strategically hold to these because they are actually beneficial to us in some ways. I have explored this in my self and with teams and leaders in many organizations. Let's call this 'ego utility.'

I was working with a particular team inside one of the larger multinationals. They were accountable for the global strategic development and implementation of IT for a large global business. This involved technology strategy and implementation in a variety of areas including communications, knowledge management, energy efficiency, safety, product/process innovation, and all the things you might normally associate with IT for a large complex business. It was about a 7 person team. In order to act on their responsibilities in these areas it was necessary for them to develop a comprehensive strategic view, not just for the business, or technology, but with respect to global trends and patterns that included a point of view on climate change, energy portfolio, socio-political market shifts, etc. I will say that having worked in many different parts of that organization this particular team had one of the most comprehensive and challenging strategic views in the organization developed considering a 50 year time frame and then backcast progressively into the near future. I say this to indicate that they were a highly effective team with the capacity for strategic reflection and decision making in the face of what many would encounter as overwhelming complexity and ambiguity. One of the pieces of work we did together was on ego utility and how that manifests in such a process of strategic development and implementation.

03 April 2011

The Times

There is a particular strangeness to the times. In this strangeness the simple seems complex. The complex seems self evident. Reading accounts and considerations from the past several thousand years persuades me that something like this often accompanies our attempts at civilization. I cannot help but feel that the magnitude of this strange condition is currently greater than what I seem to encounter in those accounts, but this could just be an illusion of perspective.

Yesterday I overheard a conversation in a cafe where I often sit and write in which a young man was saying, "Money is just so abstract. It becomes an abstract object and we lose track of what is important." I take this sort of naturally emergent statement as very positive. I do wonder though what he might be doing with that realization in his own life? I wonder this about myself. The anthropic systems of the moment are mostly a function of his insight. In my own experience, there is great resistance to acting on this realization. I don't just mean a resistance we might encounter within ourselves, though there is that sort of resistance. There is a resistance in the systems where the abstract value of money is taken as absolute. When questioned we might be able to recognize that money is abstract. We might even feel something about the economy of finance as completely artificial and divorced from the planetary systems. However, in a consumer society can we imagine happiness in the absence of money?

As such an abstract system takes more and more and enacted priority over planetary and life systems, this imagining becomes harder and harder.

29 March 2011

Reflecting on Transition Towns

Transition Towns are based on one insight and one question. The insight is that the fundamental challenge of this moment is how to successfully address climate change, energy descent, and social inequity. The question is how can life be better in the process and as a result of addressing this challenge.

The challenge is not one of these three conditions, but the occurrence of all three at once. The assumptions about our economic condition are included in and may even precede beliefs about these conditions and challenge. With respect to that challenge it may be necessary to go through a kind of process of inquiry. Such an inquiry can involve traversing an emotional and cognitive landscape that does not itself necessarily lead to insight into how such a process can lead to a better way of living together. Including the question of how life can be better, even in and as a result of the process of transition, as we inquire into this moment and our shared future, is one of the distinctive qualities of the Transition Town approach. The approach also seems to have a deep appreciation of the potential for emotional and cognitive incongruence along the way.

Perhaps we can consider this together. Perhaps we can consider something about the process of inquiring into this. What does it involve? Maybe we could start by asking about each of the elements, though one of the major aspects is that all three are occurring at once. In general with respect to these conditions there are two extreme views: Doomers and Skeptics. Because of the way in which our 'mental models' function, neither a Doomer nor a Skeptic hold their view as a belief system in which they are participating, but rather view it as a type of self evident truth.

22 March 2011

the morning

Do you ever notice your own process of waking up in the morning? Do you ever watch what happens? This is interesting to me because in such a process I can see the active construction of identity at work. Haha. Hoho. My identity is so interested in itself!

Perhaps there has been some change in my life. Maybe some fundamental aspect of my life with respect to my work, place of living or key relationship has suddenly changed. Just to make this clearer let's say that I am upset by this change (though this is by no means necessary). Perhaps I am very upset and even view it as a crisis. I am not sure what to do or how to be. I may experience it as extreme grief. If I am able to sleep such grief may even wash over into my dreams. When I am asleep and not dreaming however, it is simply not there. 'It' does not exist, where existence means distinct with respect to a background. What happens in the process of waking up from such a sleep?

In my own experience, if I am watchful, I notice that grief, trauma, etc. is not fundamentally present in this moment of waking up. The memory of my identity happens very quickly so I must be watchful. I have 'practiced' noticing the first moments that I am able to notice. This is different than noticing the re-presentation of my own noticing that might take place in language such as "oh, I am noticing this or that." I realize this is problematic since it asks the question 'who is noticing?' That is specifically why it is interesting to me.

21 March 2011


I used practice a particular form of prayer for some time. I think it comes from Theophan the Recluse, but I am no longer sure of that. The basis of the practice is to contemplate a condition in which you are owed nothing by anyone in any way. Because of our modern nature we tend to first think of this in terms of commercial debt. To us the 'literal' sense of being owed has to do with money and debt. In my experience this is a useful surface, but does not really get to the underlying condition.

Consider the word 'ought.' What does this word mean to you? 'We ought to do this.' 'They ought to do/have/be something.' 'It ought to be this way or that way.' 'Ought' is a past tense form of the verb 'to owe.' 'Should' has a similar meaning and related origin. One possible consequence of this is that anywhere we have a complaint - in any moment of suffering - we are experiencing a moment of feeling we are owed something. In any moment of offense or conflict we are likely to have some frame of being owed something, though it may not occur for us in this way.

20 March 2011

This seemed an interesting article to me addressing what I referred to as the 'arrogance' of our belief in our own models.


At the bottom there is a link to a Taleb article that is more detailed, but to my view also very interesting.

19 March 2011

Which Road?

There is so much happening right now, in such an immediate way, that I have not been altogether sure what to write about. I live about 15 miles from an operating nuclear reactor, on a fault line, in a place where there is pretty much only one road out... if I had a car, which I don't. It is my fervent hope that the current events will cause a suspension of the re-licensing process now underway at that plant and cause it to be closed. I really do not even want to go into the massive amounts of rhetoric now prevalent in public discourse about all this. It is mostly artificial. Instead I would like to move laterally to consider this.

I have been thinking about roads. I think about roads a lot for some reason. The very first time I was in China I went overland from WuZhou to Guilin by bus. The road was under construction for almost all of the 200 mile trip. In that 200 miles there was one piece of construction equipment, aside from trucks and even trucks were not plentiful. All of the work was being done directly with human labor. I had been in Asia almost a year by this time, but this was striking and I still remember it vividly. This was 25 years ago and of course much has changed in that time.

Consider Mcluhan's "the medium is the message." The notion here is that the communication is embedded in the medium in a way that the medium then effects and becomes the communication. This is a dynamic relationship occurring within the structure of the system, taken as a whole. Historically roads are the primary medium of communication for land empires and civilizations. The roads represent the structure of communications. The Roman Empire is an example of this, but it is no less true in other empires (the Great Wall is also a road). The Roman Empire was extended and stabilized through its roads, which allowed the movement of information, commerce, and military. The Roman 'postal' service was an intelligence agency, among other things. The relationship between the roads and this communication was dynamic, i.e. an interrelationship through which all 'components' are effected. The 'rule by law' which we more or less inherited from the Romans was affected in great part by the roads. The roads in this sense are not a passive infrastructure, but an active medium. All built infrastructure functions in this way, though we typically treat infrastructure and its effects as a passive or given condition. Eventually we come to believe in the infrastructure as necessary.

09 March 2011

the current condition pt. 2

I was emailed this today. Perhaps take a look if you are so moved and then consider a reflective process similar to the one in 'the current condition pt. 1."

07 March 2011

the current condition pt. 1

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to speak at universities, conferences with teams, organizations, governments, academics, etc. on the topics of sustainability, sufficiency, resilience, change and transition. Before I say anything else I typically say:

"I do not really know why you have asked me to speak to you. I do not know anything about these topics you are considering. I have been involved in a number of efforts related to these topics, read a fair amount on the subject, spent time with people who are experts in these areas. Let me say what I do know about. I know how to fluently participate in a globalized system of objectification, extraction, burning, manipulation, consumption and profit. I am, culturally speaking, quite skilled at this. I consider myself an industrial era refugee, though when I consider the vast majority of people on the planet living in that condition, as a result of these globalized systems of the industrial era, I recognize that such a view of myself is not supportable."

I might then go on to talk about the nature of the industrial era as a paradigm or enacted point of view, rather than a given condition of reality. This might involve something about the nature of meaningful deconstruction and 'non-action.' None of it is useful and much of it is offensive. On the other hand, since such conferences in the US and China are often attended by people participating in and enacting those very systems as a day to day way of life it can also be liberating in some ways.

It seems important to me to say that I am not simply saying these things in some facetious way or strategically speaking for some effect. It is more or less the truth for me. I do not experience myself as particularly competent, possessed of any special knowledge or expertise or useful in any meaningful way. Of course such speaking has contained within it the implication that most people involved in such activities are themselves involved from within the context of the industrial era and its systems and may share some of these qualities. It has contained within it my feeling that such efforts and expertise are not particularly useful and can even be damaging.

06 March 2011

Considering the Heroic

"Currently I feel as if the habituated sense of the heroic may actually erode something about 'sustainability' efforts. A socialized heroism often consolidates and sublimates what is 'unsustainable' in a lived system." - excerpted from a correspondence with a permaculturist and proponent monomythology (willi Paul), who then asked me to say what I meant by that.
The image is from "Orpheus and Linead" by Adi Da Samraj

Two years ago when I was in Beijing a Chinese NGO contacted some friends of mine and asked us to consider a dilemma they had. Some years prior to that, a local district in Yunnan had decided to engage in a local sustainability effort. Such efforts around the world are often undertaken with the purpose of 'raising the standard of living' of some particular group of people. Often this intent is held by someone not actually from that group of people, on behalf of those people. This particular example did not suffer from all the complications of that sort of formulation.

This district in Yunnan undertook to improve their own standard of living through an entrepreneurial effort to create a local dairy farm. They imported about 100 dairy cows from Australia with the intent of creating a dairy business focused on yogurt. Of course this is already problematic since they are importing a non-native species. They distributed the cattle among the farmers of the district. This is also problematic since is constitutes a shift in the social fabric. These are the types of things that are often simply not considered in the formulation of 'sustainability' efforts, but that is only the beginning of this particular story.

02 March 2011

Paper on Learning

This is a paper on learning that I wrote for an executive team several years ago. This particular team were one level down from the CEO of one of largest multi-nationals. I have edited it a bit to make it anonymous, but have made no content edits. It compiles several of the things I have been writing about in a format for that particular 'audience.' One of the things that it shows is how my thinking has been developing over the past several years. I am also testing the use of dropbox to publish papers and cases. If you have trouble with the link please let me know.
Paper on Learning


27 February 2011

A simple experiment

One of the things that I currently do is host a workshop for professors from the university here where I am living. I have described my own intent in these workshops which have now been going on for about one year, in a variety of ways. In the last workshop we were exploring an anecdotal and topical case study about open source education. The issue is nuanced and contentious. There several kinds of systemic 'traps' involved. I have asked the members of the workshop to do the following in order to explore the question:
  • Watch this video, without reading any comments or getting any surrounding information about it:
  • Self observe while you are watching. Take notes actually or mentally if you can.
  • Take a break and reflect.
  • Google the 'author' of the video and read about him or watch other YouTube material from him. There are numerous short videos.
  • Watch yourself during this process. Take notes if possible.
  • Be prepared to discuss what happened in that process.
For those of you reading this not in the workshop, many of the participants are engineers, mathematicians and scientists of various sorts. They are all faculty members at a well known university, some tenured, some not, some department heads currently or in the past, etc. Think of the colloquial expression "rocket scientist" and you will get the picture, though I think there is only one literal rocket scientist in the workshop this quarter. I have several things written that I might post later, and I thought I might take a moment and reflect on the nature of this workshop now. There have been three for faculty and one for students and faculty over the past year. The faculty workshops have been on:
  • Change and Impermanence
  • Leadership and Leadership Models
  • Teaming and Collaboration
I am considering holding one on "Facilitation" next quarter if there is interest and it seems right to do. The student workshop was on research methods and was an exploration of 1st, 2nd and 3rd person research. If I were to say for myself what the faculty workshops have been about I would name them something more like:
  • The structure of thought and self observation
  • The nature of framing and 'mental models' with respect to agency and action
  • Pattern recognition and the dynamics of patterns and patterning

21 February 2011

Emergence and Emegency

What is the difference between "emergence" and "emergency?" How do we distinguish such a difference and what effect does such a distinction have on our state and action?

The word itself is interesting. The base form is "merge" and has the sense of 'diving or sinking in.' In Sanskrit to 'dive under.' For something to 'emerge' is for it to arise out of the condition of being immersed in this way; it comes to the surface from having been under the surface. The connotation is that what emerges is not known prior to it's arising. It may be the case that what emerges was already existing, as a prior state or condition.

From this we also get the sense of 'emergency', which means something like 'an unexpected occurrence, requiring immediate attention.'

Perhaps we could consider emergence first. This seems a really amazing notion to me. For emergence to occur, immersion is required. Immersion in what? What sort of immersion? Immerse. Emerge. It is my feeling that when we loosely talk about emergence we often mean something more like an accidental or random course of events. Perhaps this is one of the things leading to emergence becoming emergency? We have a feeling that emergence means, left to itself, something will happen. Events occur and we may re-contextualize them in some way and call that emergence. We delete the process, disciplines, structures and act of immersion. This means that in order to consider 'emergence' we must first consider what it means to 'merge' or 'immersion.'

16 February 2011

Living Lab

I wrote this about two years ago. Some of you will be familiar with it. If reading this you have interest, ideas, suggestions, corrections, etc. please let me know. The basic way of working described below is based on a process used by Gurdjieff. The ideas are as usual an amalgam. The illustration is of course Banksy.

Context & Summary
The overall context of this work is the question of a harmonized, resilient way for all of humanity to live. This can be considered as a question of harmonization of the biosphere and anthroposphere (the whole of human acting, living and relating on the planet), locally expressed in each of our lives. It can also be considered as Gregory Bateson's question, “Is consciousness a sufficient feedback system for evolution?” Much of our work and work with others over the past decades has been inside of the question of self aware human systems. This idea for a Living Laboratory is an expression of that question, now considering what is needed for participation in the anthroposphere itself as a self aware system. This sort of experiment serves as the basis for fundamental change, having to do with both cessation of habits and patterns of the current global enactment and creating a meaningful context for emergence.

14 February 2011

Cabbage Panic

I have mentioned that I am participating in a local 'food group.' The intent of this group is to answer an Insane Question created by the structural nature of this moment: How can we eat the food that grows immediately where we live? Where I am currently living we are blessed with an abundance of food. It seems to be a water subsidy, but even this is not currently as extreme as many places on the planet. There is a great amount of unharvested, uneaten food growing all around us. There are also people in this exact same area who have no food or are malnourished. We are considering that together.

In that spirit I proposed a "Cabbage Day" during which people would come together and make sauerkraut, kimchee to celebrate the abundance of the crop. It is cabbage season. Many people are of course already doing this. My intent has to do with the 'container' as much as with the cabbage. I am also interested in this as a cyclic event with various crops in season.

At present if pressed, I would say that 'cabbage day' is not likely to happen. I am suspending this opinion, since I am by no means the most reliable source for such a determination. I have some idea what it would take to 'make' it happen. I have successfully managed quite a few projects of much greater scale and complexity. If the project were simply X number of jars of processed cabbage, I am clear how that could happen, for instance. This is not the primary project for me, but rather a by-product of the primary project. The primary project, for me, has to do with social fabric and self-organization. Even from this point of view, I have a clear idea of what 'needs' to happen from within a certain model of things. I wish to tell a story about some of that.

conversations and invitations

I have been asking people here, where I am living, what they might like to talk about together. Something that is not apparent from the writing here is that the things I am writing about are part of a situated conversation taking place with the people here and elsewhere. We are talking together about these things, though the writing of it this way can make it seem otherwise. We are are practicing these things together in a loose way. Other things come up in the process of that and I write about those things, when I am able, based on that conversation and practice, over time. I have the gently held intention to post a couple of times a week, 10 a month or something of the sort. That may or may not happen.

12 February 2011


One of the things about which I feel I should be very clear is that I have no idea what to do about some anything. None. Zero. I would be hard pressed to recommend that someone read the things I am trying to write in any case, but particularly if you are imagining finding some direct idea about what to do... I am sure those of you who know me are not surprised about this. I do not mean to be arrogant by imagining that someone is reading some thing I have written imagining an answer or something. I am just not really intending to write anything useful. I am not intending to write anything that is likely to be even remotely recognizable as a solution to some problem. It is not that I would not like to do those things. I just don't think such utility itself would be at all useful, even if successfully written. I feel it might be important not to confuse this with a kind of adolescent rebellion against utility as such. Well, I am glad I cleared that up.

I am collaborating with university faculty to ask several questions together with them. Some of them have noticed that something about their dynamic together seems or feels inconsistent with the type of collaboration they might want to have in order to ask and act on these questions together. They decide to meet to talk about it. This particular meeting is just a very few people, but it is more or less impossible to get together. This is mysterious. It is not impossible to do other things. In fact we are all doing many things, which on the surface looks like the reason why we cannot meet, to talk about why we cannot meet.

One of the strange things about pattern recognition is that it is often the case that the investigation of some particular 'pattern' or habit, stimulates that very habit, in the moment of inquiry. It may not appear to be so, and is not always so by any means, but it happens frequently enough to be worth remark.


You have nothing to gain,
and everything to lose.

06 February 2011

Excerpt from "An Apology to Future Generations"

This is an excerpt from something I am working on. When you read it I feel certain you will understand why I am unlikely to finish it, but it is interesting in some ways. It has particular set of assumptions that I will not go into. I will say that the future generation imagined is 10,000 years in the future. Some of the time frames need to be cleared up a bit, but the structure should be apparent from this little piece. It is in an unedited form, perhaps even more raw than most of what I post here. I have thought of using it as a loose basis for a web-petition of some sort.

04 February 2011

Service & Re-creation

The subject of re-creation has come up several times in the past week.  Perhaps the simplest form of re-creation is a kind of pain management process.  In this process one addresses some symptomatic condition, such as a headache, by 're-creating' the symptom.  Typically the presenting symptoms will dissolve.  This is not a panacea of some sort.  It is at one level a simple, practice-able, learnable technique.  As is often the case with such techné, we can miss the greater implications of the thing 'working' at all.  30% effectiveness of placebos seems like this to me.  

I will describe the technique briefly, though living in the land of California as I currently do, I have not usually been the one bringing this up.  It is a fairly socialized practice here it seems.  (It will perhaps be wise to refrain from further comment on that.)  

The very first piece of process is an examination of whether or not I am willing to have the symptoms go away.  I have a headache, it would seem like the answer to that question of my willingness is self evident.  Not always.  Perhaps I am getting something out of the headache in a way that its disappearance would be worse than its presence, should it disappear.  It is important to note that this about my willingness, not my insistence, or even expectation.  In the case of a headache this may not seem so critical, but begin to imagine that the process described can be applied to *any* symptomatic phenomena.  The ecology of my relationship to the presence of the symptoms becomes very important.  Let me give you a specific example.

02 February 2011

How to get to Carnegie Hall...

I have now written several things on the 'oracle' and on 'mental models' which all seem so bad that I don't know what to do with them. I am going to assay another on the Tarot and the I Ching, but I wanted to say what I feel hampers those other pieces first, and that will require a small piece itself. When I begin to write them I notice a tendency in myself to try to explain where my feelings about the topic come from. I make some attempt to situate the subject within a larger systemic framework. The difficulty in both cases is one of recursion. Both topics themselves are specific sorts of frameworks and a means for understanding such frameworks. In talking about them it can seem necessary to me to lay out the specifics of that, which turns out to be very difficult and hard to read. This is difficult not because it can't be done, but rather because it simply takes pages and pages before I feel I can even get to the subject. I realize I will have to go back and re-work this as well, but I plan to post it as it is and ask your patience and tolerance... I pretend to feel better about this knowing that if you are reading any of this that it is by your choice you are doing so... and I will hold you to that. This is rambling, mostly incoherent, deeply flawed and perhaps not so useful in any real way, but I assure you it is much better than the 5 or 6 other things I have been trying to write.

In the case of the 'oracle' it seems necessary to me to create a kind of taxonomy of ways of relating to and making meaning out of the oracular endeavor. In order to do that it seems necessary to dive into developmental models of the self. In order to do that it seems necessary to explore a diverse set of teachings and frames that are esoteric to say the least. I do not assume that people are familiar with such teachings and frames, though I have no real evidence for such an assumption. I do not assume that I necessarily understand such frames. So in addition to the recursive challenge, which leaves me even less intelligible than usual, there is also the question of 'authorization.' I do not have any authorization whatsoever and do not feel particularly self authorized. I do not even want to be authorized. This makes it difficult to author something. I find that for myself I am far more interested in a kind of self-verification that serves as a basis for self-authorization. In that process it seems necessary to me to actively move in one's own life from the conceptual to the lived. This is a process of bringing something that might be a concept or interesting idea into the domain of something that is lived in one's life, as a practice, at the very least.

What we are considering is how exactly something moves from an interesting idea to an actual practice or something that can be considered a realized or lived aspect of one's life.

28 January 2011

Thoughts on Innovation

This is the rough draft of a paper on innovation that my friend Linda and I are pretending to write. We feel that the direction is sufficiently indicated to receive our expected rejection based on an abstract of this. I have considered including Tarot or I Ching references just to insure this result, but Linda assures me that such radical action is not necessary and that we will already freak out the readers.
"Your proposal is innovative. Unfortunately, we will not be able to use it because we have never tried something like that before." - Cartoon by A. Bacall

My early forays into consulting were mostly in the area of innovation and I helped create 'innovation' centers and such things at places like BMW. The pharma case obliquely referenced is my own experience. The Toyota dilemma referenced is fairly well known and socialized. Apologies for the roughness of the text. I have not included the referenced model images, but you can simply google those references and get pages and pages of model images... you know... in your free time. "Oh look! It's a systems thinking iceberg model. Shhh... let's watch it and see what it does." I find this is much cheaper than going to the movies. We will likely create a model with a kind of hierarchy of capability building and practice... apparently for our own amusement since this is unlikely to interest any of our intended audiences, I am told. If you are interested in how this develops please let us know.

On the use of pattern interruption and self observation in human systems innovation.

This paper is about a basic disposition for innovation, rather than concerning itself with 'this or that' innovation. We are considering the differences between mechanistic, prescriptive approaches and emergent, intentional approaches to the question of innovation. The basic implication is that innovation, in this emergent, intentional sense, is founded upon an identity shift in the innovators themselves, individually and collectively. This means the innovator experiences a shift in their primary 'way of being' with respect to some condition or system in which they are participating. This shift in 'way of being; provides the basis for a innovative thought and action. In the absence of this, much innovation is more a sort of adaptation where the transformative qualities are limited by the circumstances to which we are adapting. Such adaptation is necessary and useful. It is our aim to begin to distinguish between such associative activities and more generative activities. It is important to us in this to recognize that the popularized distinction between invention and innovation is a useful one; where invention is the discovery of some particular model, idea, apparatus, etc. and innovation is the socialization of that in the context of some practical service or market. This implies that in addition to the fundamental shift necessary in the innovator that all innovation is also a collaborative act.

23 January 2011

The Failure of Microfinance

The failure of microfinance in India has been much in the news of late. I am hoping to do a bit more of a case study consideration of this over time. I really do not understand enough to say much yet, but I am fascinated. I have been immersed in (obsessed with) music over the past several days and my thoughts are even messier than usual. I am just going to associatively skim the surface of this for now.

I am sure most of you know what microfinance is and probably know much more about it than I do, in many cases. For those of who do not, here is a rough picture, distorted by my own prejudices and ignorance.

Dr. Mohamed Yunus was teaching economics at a university in Bangladesh. Every day he would walk home through a village. He began to notice that what was happening in the village did not seem to match what he was teaching at the university. I feel this is important. Many of us might feel or see something about the immediate conflict that arises when 'parts' of our world come together. How do we deal with that moment of arising conflict? Consider your own strategies in the matter. Each moment of our lives is a potential moment of such reflection. Each moment. We have fragmented and continue to fragment ourselves and the world. We treat such fragmentation as our given condition. Initially moments of conflict arise when our strategy of fragmentation fails in some moment. How are we in those moments?

18 January 2011

The Bank

To readers of this who know me, which means both of you, none of the following should come as much of a surprise. I am devolving to the point of telling you what I did today. Perhaps I should switch to tweets? (I painted the flowers on me iPad.)

I went to the bank and I wanted to say a couple of things about what that was like. Perhaps it is important to know that I am a bit over sensitized to such things at the moment. I have a corporate client, who shall remain nameless, for whom I have done a couple of days of work over the past year. They have just instituted an SAP system. Such systems are typically instituted in the name of cost savings and efficiency. It has now taken them over six months to pay me for the work I did. I wrote them a longish case study and deconstruction of my experience with an extrapolation to process safety and corporate culture. I have not received a response. I do not imagine more work forthcoming. When I look at the ROI for the work, I have now invested as much of my time in the process of getting paid as I did in doing the work itself. Of course this has been mirrored in their organization as well. For me it is simply karma for all the suffering I have caused being so dysfunctional about invoicing and paper work in general. Though writing is not modern, paperwork is almost certainly a fairly recent 'innovation' in its current form. Can you even imagine life or who you might be without it? I will not share the case study with you and you can thank me for that later. Instead I will share with you the case of my going to the bank, and you can berate me for that at your leisure.

13 January 2011

Shoes & Non-Action

I am fond of teaching stories from various traditions. I was reminded today of an Islamic story, Sufi I think, in which there is a debate taking place outside of a Mosque. One member of the community has gone into pray laying down his shoes outside. Another has removed his shoes and taken them with him. The debate is about which of these behaviors is correct. The man leaving his shoes contends that it would be an act of violence to assume that someone would steal his shoes. The one taking his shoes with him contends that it would be an act of violence to leave his shoes as a temptation for others. This debate goes on for some time involving various others who have presumably enacted one or the other of the models. After this has been taking place for some time an old man points out that while the debate has been taking place that another, older man, who in fact has no shoes at all has gone to pray and left without any remark or notice.

The first part of the story is self evident to me and a dilemma, upon the horns of which much socio-political philosophy and practice seem to be hung. It is a fundamental difference in the metaphor of the two men. The third point is a bit mysterious and interesting, to me. Perhaps you have your own interpretation? I myself most like an interpretation in which the old man is pointing out that the social debate is about shoe leavers and takers and not about god. It is a moral debate within the context of a social morality. The shoe takers and leavers could be praying, for instance, rather than drawing attention to themselves and their claim about the righteousness of their own behavior. One could also interpret it as a teaching on being possessed by one's possessions, itself a fascinating phenomena to observe.

The social undertaking involves the artifices of duality. I wish to be seen. Perhaps, I wish to be unseen, because it has some other value to me. Maybe I like to be seen in my complaint about being unseen, for instance.

09 January 2011


(The following is a romanticized journal entry. It started as a journal entry and got acquired by the blog, a phenomena of some concern, for me. Of course it changed in the process, but it still retains the flavor of many of my journal entries. Honestly I cannot imagine what it would be like to always suffer this acquisition in the way I imagine a real writer or artist might. I am only a pretend writer and artist at best, the pretense of my artistry being my most artistic endeavor... And you can see how that is. Music has never had this quality for me, which no doubt explains how I have managed to attain such an exquisite degree of mediocrity as a musician. Here is my impersonation of my journal entry. I did the drawing such as it is.

I seem to have misplaced my ground of being this morning. If you see it, perhaps you could feed it and send it home? Such imagined loss is not important in and of itself I suppose, but that sentiment itself is a quality of such a misplacement. I struggle to determine what is important. In that struggle it is likely that I might manufacture some importance or other. Something might even take on the status of a necessity or crisis. Or perhaps I will resort to the habitual. I am not anywhere. I am consensually in some particular place, but I could be anywhere, the distinction between this place and that place becoming arbitrary. This day and the next have some agreed upon name and sequence, but this has no particular meaning to me unless I consider something that I imagine I must do within that arbitrary structure of agreement. Perhaps I consider something or someone that I imagine to be missing and so locate myself. I have some desire by which I see myself. I see myself in the production of my suffering. I understand the apparent luxury of my condition. From that point of view the hermit or sadhu lives the most luxurious of lives. I am incapable of such luxury. I cannot afford such luxury.

05 January 2011

Client Assumptions

This is a list of assumptions I have used when working with clients. I have not updated in a couple of years and have been using it for about ten years. I would probably make some changes at this point and may do that here over time.

Service Models

This is an excerpt from an ill-conceived book I wrote a couple of years ago. I will post it here with some other excerpts (over time) in this ill-conceived attempt at blogging. The following essay only covers part of a spectrum that can be understood with reference to the Meadows' hierarchy of interventions, or the way in which I use Aristotle's causality as the basis for relational domains. I will post on those at a later date so the spectrum, as I imagine it, might be more transparent. I feel the essay is fairly well self contained, though some of my views have developed a bit since I first wrote it.
To operate, the armed forces need allies as consultants and assistants to the leadership.
Everyone looks up to those who are thoughtful and have unusual strategies beyond the ordinary ken, who are widely learned and have broad vision, and who have many skills and great talents. Such people can be made top allies.
Those who are fierce, swift, firm, and sharp are heroes of an age. Such people can be made second-ranked allies.
Those who talk a lot but not always to the point, who are slight in ability, with little that is extraordinary, are people with ordinary capabilities. They can be brought along as the lower class of allies.
(The Way of the General, Zhuge Liang, trans. Thomas Cleary)

The Need for a Mandate
It is important to be clear about what your mandate is as a change agent within the anthroposphere (the domain of human responsibility). You must be clear what you are serving into existence, particularly if you want to work with the leaders and leadership dynamics of these massive transnational corporations and global institutions. Whether such leaders are consciously aware of and taking responsibility for it or not, the decisions they make and the very way they relate to one another and their organizations day-to-day, even in small decisions and comments, have an effect at the planetary level. Imagine you are working with a senior executive team from one of the top ten organizations on the planet. Consider the scale of that. As a whole that organization will have one of the largest economies on the planet. The decisions they make effect the environment, entire societies, the whole network of human beings associated and interdependent with the organism of the corporation as a whole. These decisions are based on their individual and collective way of being in any moment. You will need a mandate of sufficient scale, depth and clarity to interact with this in a meaningful way. This could take many different forms, but it is required.

Consider the following business model for consulting in general. These are simply models and so grossly oversimplified, the reality of practice being somewhat more complex, but I hope they are a useful point of departure. Though we are talking specifically about a service model for work and partnership with leaders and decision makers in large global institutions, many aspects of this inquiry can be meaningfully generalized to other contexts. Imagine two basic types of consulting relationships: the epistemological and the ontological.

02 January 2011

Psychic Overhead

I use a term to describe a particular phenomena of modern life: psychic overhead. Let me give you an example. I walk into the pharmacy intent on purchasing some simple, needed item such as toothpaste. For now we will not go into the psychic overhead of the selection process or the fact that I am in a pharmacy in the first place. I have made my selection. I go to the cash register.

While making my purchase I am asked, "Do you have a 'pharmacy' card? You will save 10% on this purchase and all future purchases".

It is already too late once this has happened. Now I must consider, 'What does that mean to me? What exchange is actually involved?,' and so on. Perhaps you will say that I do not need to consider these things at all. I might suggest watching yourself closely next time some like event occurs in your own life in order to determine that. So I, for my part at least, take some moment of consideration.

The Familiar

"A man of action forced into a state of thought is unhappy until he can get out of it." -Kafka

It is morning, with all its familiarity and all its promise. Upon waking, perhaps I know or begin to know the details of my day even in the first moments of its unfolding. Perhaps I have some planned itinerary. It is a familiar, planned routine. Walking out of my room or house I feel that I know what I will encounter so thoroughly that I eliminate any possibility of encountering the unexpected. Or in the moment of the unexpected I may feel stressed, specifically because things are not going according to my imagined plan. My utility relies on the lack of the unexpected. My ability to function is based upon things going according to plan. Of course things never go according to plan, but I insist. I blur the details of what is such that it fits my plan. I usefully pretend that the sphere and infinitely-sided polygon are isomorphic. I assert this consistently and energetically, a calculus of deletion. I apply such calculated manipulation, anxiety and concern to what occur for me as deviations. They are accounted for even in their hyperbolic change. I suppress the undiscovered. I eliminate the liminal and interstitial. I suppress the possibility of the emergent in myself and seek to do so in what human being and life I may happen to encounter. What is just around that corner I have turned so many times? I already know this so thoroughly that I prevent the possibility of discovery that even one step in any direction allows.
"I had to restrain myself from putting my arm around his shoulders and kissing him on the eyes as a reward for having absolutely no use for me." – Kafka