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.