To write a folksong is as much beyond the bounds of possibility as to write a proverb. Just as proverbs condense centuries of popular wisdom and observation, so, in traditional songs, the emotions of centuries are immortalized in a form polished to perfection.
Today the Hungarian town of Kecskemét is decorated with signs that read “Welcome to Kodály Town!” It was in this town, 128 years ago today, that Hungarian ethnomusicologist Zoltán Kodály was born. Kodály is special to the people of Hungary not only for being one of their most famous composers, but also for his work as champion of their heritage. Along with his friend and colleague Béla Bartók, he recorded and studied numerous Hungarian folk songs and stories to preserve them for future generations.
But Kodály was more than a musician. With a PhD in philosophy and linguistics, he was a strong believer in music as a language – a concept shared by many other musical pedagogues including Suzuki and Orff. But to Kodály music as linguistics was not just a metaphorical cliché. He saw music as a literal language, claiming “we should read music in the same way that an educated adult will read a book: in silence, but imagining the sound.”
Today, we’d like to make the case that Zoltán Kodály, a Renaissance Man in his own right, was also complexity scientist. Any music educators reading this post will at least be aware of “The Kodály Method,” which was actually developed after Kodály’s death by his students. Kodály himself was opposed to labeling his way of teaching music as a method, preferring the word concept. He felt it would be no less presumptuous for an individual to say they had written a folk song than a proverb. As a pioneer in the study of folk tales and song, Kodály believed great ideas – and great art – come about gradually through a process of emergence.
Another connection to complexity science is Kodály’s belief concerning the way we learn:
Singing connected with movements and action is a much more ancient, and, at the same time, more complex phenomenon than is a simple song.
So happy birthday Kodály! And thank you for the gift – not just of music, but of the linguistics of complexity.
The following interview is in Hungarian, but if you go to YouTube, some translations are given in the comments section.
Downtown Detroit has more vacant buildings over 10 storeys than any city in the world.
Early Monday morning, as a winter storm finished burying the U.S. Midwest in snow heavy enough to collapse the roof of the Minneapolis Metrodome, the ever-chipper Gordon Deal (Wall Street This Morning) announced to his predawn radio audience that Detroit had decided to cease serving 20% of its residents. “Officials bristle when their efforts are described as downsizing,” writes WSJ’s Matthew Dolan in a related article. “Their aim is to repurpose portions of the city, not redraw its borders.” But the residents of the sparsely populated neighborhoods losing police patrols, road repairs, garbage pick up and streetlights might not be so keen to the arrangement.
So it’s come to this – “Motor City,” once a thriving boom-town, now busting to pieces as it cedes almost a quarter of its municipality to gang rule, in the hope that residents will move inward – huddling together to form a more dense, possibly more productive, city. But administration officials are fighting against both the opposite trend (decades of urban sprawl) and holdouts hoping for handouts. Mayor Bing: “I don’t want people to think that, if they hold out, there’s going to be a pot full of money somewhere, because there’s not.”
Hence the denial of services in a city which has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for years. However, this decision is just the tip of an historical iceberg of events. Detroit serves as an excellent case study in initial conditions determining the fate of a system (a city). After all, it was in 1805, when the town burned to the ground, that Detroit’s motto originated:Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus (“We hope for better things, it will rise from the ashes”). Since then, the city’s history has been a rocky fractal of innovation, population growth, and violence: (Thanks to Allison Lumb’s post for some of the following facts.)
A Timeline of Detroit (Innovations, Growth, and Violence:
-1806: City of Detroit incorporated,
-1820 First Census: 1,422 (over the next 60 years the cities population doubles each decade),
-1837: Detroit becomes the capital of Michigan (until 1847),
-1840 Census: 9,102 and growing,
-1863: Anti-draft/race riot,
-1877: Detroit College founded,
-1903-1950: A period of great innovation and productivity starting with the founding of the Ford Motor Company,
-1943: Race riot over wartime factory jobs,
-1950 Census: The city’s population peaks at 1,849,568 (while the metro area continues to grow, the city shrinks in population),
-1967: The 12th Street Riot (one of the worst in U.S. history),
-1996: Michigan votes to allow three casinos in Detroit,
Last month we highlighted a speech recently given by Geoffrey West, in which he talked about “why companies fail but cities survive.” He was primarily discussing discoveries regarding scalability as it applies to that ever-popular buzzword these days, sustainability. His data indicated the existence of what he called a “finite time singularity,” which is a fancy way of saying growth which reaches an unsustainable pace…
When you have a growing city… it’s within a cultural paradigm that’s to do with a major innovation like coal or oil…. As you approach the singularity, you must innovate and start again.~Geoffrey West
This sounds great. “Refill your tank” with innovation every now and then, and you’re back on the road to success (productivity). However, West goes on to say that these finite time singularities systematically grow closer and closer together in time. “If you want to have continuous growth,” he warns, “you have to have continuous innovation. This system is destined to collapse.” Detroit seems to be making his case beautifully, reaching their singularity in the 1950′s, leveling off, and now in decline.
What’s been happening up in Michigan has people wondering if Detroit is a leading indicator of things to come in other cities. This might not be as pressing an issue, if the trend were not toward increased urbanization, but it is. The lessons Detroit can teach us are not just about innovation and growth, but also a need for population density in order for scalability to have any chance. The world might be becoming more urban, but, as West is eager to point out, it is not doing so in an organized manner. (One need only visit southern California to see a city that sprawls out for miles.)
The question remains: is city living sustainable? We’ll stay tuned to Detroit’s struggle with scale to see if they find a solution.
At the lowest cognitive level, there are processes of experiencing, or, to speak more generally, processes of intuiting that grasp the object in the original.
For those of us who have had first-hand knowledge of migraines, the conclusions drawn here will come as no surprise. Others will be left to take it on faith that this is not an exaggerated account of things we can learn from migraines about how the human mind works.
It happened a few nights ago as I was finishing an e-mail. A small blind spot appeared (or rather disappeared) in each eye, leaving a blank place on the screen. Gradually the words began to look strange, only discernible with slow careful reading, like wading through thick mud. Eventually the letters themselves made no sense to me. I could’ve been looking at Greek or Urdu characters – it would’ve been the same.
Getting in my car to head home the blind spots had thankfully disappeared (reappeared). It didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t be driving. I was too busy trying to remember the names of people closest to me. Those that I could remember I had no hope of spelling. It was as though the name was only a sound attached to an emotion. Words and letters were impossible to recall.
I made a phone call based on a face displayed on my phone. Such a call would’ve been hopeless if it required remembering numbers. Numbers had as little representative power as letters. I tried to explain to my friend on the other end of the call what was happening, but how do you say “I can’t think” and not sound insane? And the problem was definitely thinking, not speaking. It was not that sentences were composed in my mind that would not come out. Language – in any sense but sounds – was nowhere to be found.
I let my friend do the talking; what little rational mind I had was put to the task of understanding what she was saying. I found that I was able to recognize the sounds that were her words for only a moment. This, I think, was because I understood the sound not the language. It was as though I was on a tightrope with no net. The only thing holding me up to reason and rational thought was the sound of her voice. When it stopped, I fell back into incoherence.
Off in the distance there was a big box store with warm orange letters and strong-looking font. It made me remember something. The week before, I had been stranded by a flat tire (thank you Pittsburgh potholes) and a store like this one had helped me get on the way again. While I couldn’t read the words, the color and font of the letters seemed to tell me it was a helpful place with tools. I tried to phonate the letters on the sign. It would have been interesting to heard the sounds I made in trying to sound out the sign. I might have said “Home Depot,” but certainly didn’t recognize it.
I parked and opened the car door, still on the phone. All around me was a familiar substance. All of a sudden I had a strong desire to attempt to tell my friend about it. I say “strong desire” because the prospect of thinking “I want to do to describe this” was impossible. I knew the texture (soft); I knew its temperature (cold). But I knew these things not by their word representations (“soft” and “cold”) but by their literal meaning. I knew that somewhere in my mind there was a word that stood for the stuff but at this point coming up with the word “word” was is difficult is coming up with the word “snow.”
I hung up the phone and went inside wondering if I would ever be able to think again. Thankfully after an evening of nausea and vertigo my mind returned in the morning (or at least to normal). Without experiencing an ordeal like this it’s hard to explain the sheer delight of using a word at will. The night before was like cooking with an empty pantry. By contrast, the following morning felt like being in the Food Network kitchen!
My first reaction, upon reflecting on all of this, was to think of what I had lost during the episode. My impression was that without words we cease to exist – almost literally. Our identity seems wrapped up in our ability to communicate, and communication without language (thought, spoken or read) would be near impossible. I pondered the meaning of a world without words or rational thought. This may be one of the reasons some cultures don’t view infants as fully human until a certain age. A baby can see what it wants to describe (snow) but can only make frustrated sounds until it either correctly imitates the adults’ sound or stumbles on the right sound and is praised. I shuddered to think of such a helpless, lonely existence.
But I was wrong. Language and rational thought are certainly useful human abilities, but there is still more. Cognitive scientists tell us the oldest part of our brain (so-called reptilian) is actually the part of our brain that makes decisions. We may rationalize decisions after the fact (using language) but the decision itself was made by the part of my brain that went on functioning the other night as language faded from my grasp. Names were remembered because of emotional attachments. Colors and font shapes sparked memories. Sights, sounds, smells… all these things were still intact with a network of meaning apart from language.
I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world… And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.
~Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spent last night in the 19th century prison that held playwright Oscar Wilde. Both men arguably imprisoned for making public what the authorities deemed private, unspeakable. This is not a defense of either man; neither is it an attempt to vilify them. It’s just an interesting parallel: that two writers, a century apart, should wind up in the same prison for “letting the cat out of the bag.”
As The Importance of Being Earnest continued to play to eager audiences, its creator sat in Wandsworth prison for… being earnest. Wilde had made public what most in that day would have thought should be private – or not at all. For Wilde, it was important for this information to be public. For the other party involved, it was a private matter with devastating consequences, should the public know. Wilde, with disregard for the other party, leaked the information and a libel suit ensued. …sounding familiar yet?
Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.
~Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 1
As Wikileaks continues – even today – to publish new information to eager audiences, its creator sits in Wandsworth prison for… leaking. (Ok, let’s acknowledge he’s there on other charges, which we aren’t trivializing. At the same time, let’s not be so naïve as to deny the real charge is leaking classified information.) Assange had made public what most think should be private – not known. For Assange, it was important for this information to be made public. For the other parties involved it was a private matter with devastating consequences, should the public know. Assange, with disregard for “national security,” leaked the information, and a battle for extradition ensued.
The aim of Wikileaks is to achieve just reform around the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency. Our particular view on the mechanism of transparency is to selectively go after material that is concealed. Because organizations that have material and want to conceal it are giving off a signal that they believe there will be reform if that material is released.
It is fascinating to listen to the talking heads – yesterday and today – salivating at the thought of receiving the latest round of juicy gossip from Wikileaks. At the same time, with grim tones, they condemn the man who provided them with more compelling news stories in a couple of weeks than they would have dug up in years. It is Thanksgiving for reporters, and the guilt-ridden gluttons feed on the information as on a steroid-laden turkey.
But everyone is asking the wrong questions, when they ask questions at all:
“Should he have released the information he had access to?”
“How will this impact foreign relations?”
“Why didn’t the government shut him down? He gave them warning.”
…These are just a few of the questions gushing from reporters about the leaks. All of these, and more, seem focused on damage control. But such questions are disingenuous; let’s be earnest.
In the Knowledge Management world there’s a debate between being “robust” or being “resilient.” That is, should individuals, communities, companies, and governments (we’re fractal, remember) focus on being strong and secure or able to quickly respond and adapt – to leaks, attacks, etc. But, at the risk of offending people we hold in high esteem, ultimatums always prove to be fallacious. What if there’s a third option? What if, instead of asking how the leaks could have been prevented (robustness), or how we should deal with the fallout (resilience), there is a more complex third alternative?
The policies of the Homeland Security’s TSA of late demonstrate this same “grasping at straws” strategy:
Robust: they pack us like sitting ducks into insecure security checkpoint waiting lines in order to ensure security.
Resilient: they check only the areas terrorists have already tried (shoes, underwear, what’ll it be this Christmas?) rather than thinking innovatively about the next attack.
Everything is before or after the fact. Again, let’s be earnest. While there is a certain utility to creating the impression of security (in the military, for instance), for extremely complex problems this posturing/damage control approach doesn’t work. The Renaissance Mob argument is that responsiblity should be placed into the hands of individuals.
This may sound like a defense for Mr. Assange’s tactics, but… not necessarily. In some ways, what’s being suggested here is more radical than Assange, who simply leaks classified information. Data cannot replace experience, and the cumulative experience of the public, intuition (as discussed in our last post) trumps the knowledge of a small group of government leaders.
How refreshing – and at the same time terrifying – would it be to have Ms. Napolitano come out and say, “Help! We’re in over our head! We need you – the individual – to be our eyes and ears.” Would such a thing cause panic in the streets? Or would faith in humanity be justified?
They’re all around us: on the side of the road, in the coffee shop, living room, library, art gallery, theater, on our wrist, on the cornea of our eyes and attached to our heart (for some)…. This very blog post is being typed on one; podcasts recorded using them. Human artifacts extend and augment our natural capacities, giving us leverage to achieve unnatural accomplishments and unimaginable destruction. Our ability to create and improve artifacts is just one of the reasons humans are unique. (Anyone seen a squirrel make a tool to crack a nut? How about an injured animal cauterizing its wound?) Even if a prehistoric squirrel could have dreamt of flying someday, his best hope would be to evolve wings over many, many, many generations. The Wright brothers, on the other hand, accomplished the same feat in one lifetime, by creating artifacts. There is, however, one possible human artifact almost entirely overlooked as such: intuition. In this post we’ll take a brief look at intuition as a possible artifact, its role in human society, and what it means for problem solving and knowledge management.
Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan was known for his polarizing views on the “electric age.” As one of the most influential figures in media ecology, he foresaw many of the technological developments we have witnessed since his death in 1980. He coined the term “global village” before there was an internet, and predicted an electronic, personalized delivery of literature long before the Kindle or Nook were even considered possible. It was in his Understanding Media
that he made his most famous insight: “the medium is the message.” That is media, extensions of man, define the way the message will be received and understood. These “extensions” are sometimes called artifacts.We usually think of artifacts as tools or weapons made by some ancient civilization and removed with the delicate brush strokes of an archaeologist in some remote desert. The fact is, we are more dependant on artifact today than at any other point in history. The word “artifact” comes from the Latin ars=art and factum=something made. In this one word is found both art and craft; an ability to – at one and the same time – self-actualize and provide. While our earliest artifacts were designed to meet basic needs for hunting, cutting, building and cooking, there were also some made purely for aesthetic expression. A month ago Geoffrey West, of the Santa Fe Institute, gave a talk at the Techonomy Conference entitled “Secrets of Scale: Growth and Sustainability from cells to cities and corporations.” This title is an excellent summary of his lecture, in which he discussed the scale of mammals, from the shrew that fits on the palm of your hand to a blue whale as big as a building. He then went on to compare this scaling to human society, from a mitochondria within a single cell to a huge city. A shrew might look very different than a human or elephant, but “are we just scaled up versions of one another?” asked West. Though he never said it in his lecture, what he was talking about was the scalability of human artifacts. Humans have the ability to go beyond the natural limits of scale to become bigger and more powerful than nature ever intended (if, in fact, nature “intends”). One of Wests main points was that “all life is governed by networks.” He claimed our ability to build houses, companies and cities is a result of our interacting with each other, highlighting the fractal nature of networks (from cell structure to lungs to cities). In other words, our ability to innovate, when it comes to upscaling artifacts, is only limited by our ability to network effectively.
Innovation is a fascinating topic, but is not what we often assume it to be: an individual having a “eureka moment.” As romantic as that idea may be, the reality is that great discoveries are more often than not accidents (Saccharin, Pacemakers, Radioactivity, Penicillin…). West is right: to have scalable innovation we need networks. Acting alone we can do very little. That does not, however, mean that the individual is not important. Individuals can provide a more accurate sense of an organization than groups ever could, using intuition.
“Intuition is nothing special,” claimed Dave Snowden in his KM speech last week, “it’s just compressed experience.” Other variations of the same quote end “… just well-digested experience.” Snowden explained that there’s no replacement for ritualized, human interaction. That it’s the “micro-narrative” heard around the water cooler that tells an organization’s story best. Going to conventions will always be better than teleconferencing. Cognitive science tells us there is something about face-to-face human interaction that beats the chat room every time.
It’s important to note that we’re not talking about ESP or supernatural abilities in this discussion of intuition. The definition we’ll use is “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” What we’re exploring here has more to do with the work of Karl Weick in the 1970′s, who developed what he called “sense-making” to address uncertainty within organizations. Because of it’s focus on narrative and outliers (also known as Black Swan events), Snowden and other complexity scientists are now using this idea of employing fragmented stories to give meaning to experience.
If intuition is not a supernatural phenomena, we can ask a couple of questions about it…
Is intuition an artifact? It’s certainly not a physical artifact. No future archaeologist will ever excavate it. But if it is truly “well-digested experience,” then one could make the argument that it is something created by humans for either a practical or aesthetic purpose. Granted, it is not a tangible thing, but it is in a sense a utility just as much as a bowl or a knife. It is an extension of ourself as it helps us make quick decisions, perceive danger and understand others. Also, as an experience-based utility it remains with an organization long after the originator is gone.
[Think] of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place . . . Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.
Grand’s insight can be seen as a metaphor for the way intuition is passed on in the life of an organization.
Is it scalable? Referring to West, the answer is it depends on the network. Most systems in nature show a fractal quality. To quote Mandelbrot: “A cloud is made of billows upon billows upon billows that look like clouds. As you come closer to a cloud you don’t get something smooth, but irregularities at a smaller scale.” Why wouldn’t the same be true of intuition? As an artifact, intuition’s ability to scale is only limited by the strength of the network. With a strong network, intuition should be able to be developed and improved just like any tool or piece of equipment.
Does intuition have something to do with the way we make decisions? According to Simon Sinek, it has everything to do with the way we make decisions. In the following TEDx video Sinek explains how our brains are made to make decisions, not based on rational thought, but on an older part of our brain:
In upcoming posts we’ll be looking at the practical implications for intuition as an artifacts within human complex adaptive systems. We’ll explore ways intuition can be developed and improved as a scalable resource. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comment section below, so we can learn from each other.
I have found that in just about every area of life “control” is a type of illusion built on chaos.
Jacob Marshall, passing through Pittsburgh on a farewell tour with his band Mae, graciously agreed to the following interview for The Renaissance Mob. In addition to being a skilled drummer and founder of Mae (Multimedia Aesthetic Experience), Jacob is a true polymath and social entrepreneur.
RM: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Jacob. One point of interest for this blog is how one deals with the unpredictable nature of life. Some of the events which happened to you, leading up to the formation of your band Mae, were out of your control and impossible to predict. What insights can you share about coping with chaos in your life?
JM: Thanks for including me, I love what you are doing with this project and I’m honored to be a part of it. I got my first understanding of chaos on the ski slopes as a kid. It’s perhaps metaphorical to think of it in those terms but unless you surrender to the force and “chaos” of gravity you will never enjoy the freedom of riding. I have found that in just about every area of life “control” is a type of illusion built on chaos. In the grandest sense, our universe is built on the chaos of quantum mechanics and (potentially) m theory. In the most personal sense, our experience of the world arises out of the chaos where physical sensation meets mental perception. The mind’s ability to aggregate all of those vibrations into a perceived “reality” is truly remarkable. If you have had the pleasure of reading Oliver Sacks you know how delicate that experience of “normal” perception is.
“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”
~Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
RM: The name of your band stands for Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, and you’ve done some innovative things like spraying your CDs with scents and using multimedia in your concerts. What has been Mae’s goal or driving philosophy behind this multisensory appeal?
JM: In 1911, a Russian painter named Wassily Kandinsky wrote a book titled Concerning the Spiritual in Art . He had an elegant way of describing different forms of art as different languages trying to tell the story of truth. He is often credited for inventing abstraction in art and used his experience with synesthesia as the basis for visualizing music in his paintings. The idea for MAE came out of a two year research project I did back at Old Dominion University on the various relationships between color and sound. I believe that the emergent result of synergistic multisensory expression is just starting to be appreciated and art is evolving more and more in that direction.
. He had an elegant way of describing different forms of art as different languages trying to tell the story of truth. He is often credited for inventing abstraction in art and used his experience with synesthesia as the basis for visualizing music in his paintings.
The idea for MAE came out of a two year research project I did back at Old Dominion University on the various relationships between color and sound. I believe that the emergent result of synergistic multisensory expression is just starting to be appreciated and art is evolving more and more in that direction.
JM: Mr Fujimura is one of my heroes and it has been an extreme pleasure to get to know him over the last two years. He uses the traditional Japanese nihonga materials in his painting but his form is a truly glorious take on abstraction and expressionism. There are always beautiful stories just below the surface of his work. We have really bonded over the artist’s struggle in the digital age and a mutual desire to plot a new course for sustainability. We have been exploring and building a model that marries financial capital, creative capital, and relational capital.
RM: You have a huge interest in the concept of emergence, which is directly related to Chaos Theory. You recently attended a lecture with Steven Johnson in NYC, who has written a whole book called Emergence. Any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share from that event?
JM: That event was very special for me. We (mae) are in the middle of a two-month tour right now and we rarely get days off. We happened to have a night off in NYC on the exact night that two of my intellectual heroes were having a discussion about my favorite topic. Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson both have new books out that respectively deal with emergence. Kelly’s book What Technology Wants looks at the big picture of tech and makes interesting comparisons between the evolution of technology and nature. Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation looks at the types of environments that foster breakthrough ideas. He shatters the illusion of the “eureka” moment and reveals the emergent nature of innovation. To top it all off, the host for the evening was Robert Krulwich of my favorite podcast/radio show, Radio Lab. The main thing I took away from the evening was how the reality of innovation is much messier and than you might think. It’s much more like a flower slowly growing toward the sun than like systematic series of obvious steps. True breakthroughs are only ever obvious in hindsight. They require many mistakes. So when I am in the middle of any creative situation and feeling stuck, I will simply try to step back, see the bigger picture, and readjust my approach.
looks at the big picture of tech and makes interesting comparisons between the evolution of technology and nature. Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
looks at the types of environments that foster breakthrough ideas. He shatters the illusion of the “eureka” moment and reveals the emergent nature of innovation. To top it all off, the host for the evening was Robert Krulwich of my favorite podcast/radio show, Radio Lab.
The main thing I took away from the evening was how the reality of innovation is much messier and than you might think. It’s much more like a flower slowly growing toward the sun than like systematic series of obvious steps. True breakthroughs are only ever obvious in hindsight. They require many mistakes. So when I am in the middle of any creative situation and feeling stuck, I will simply try to step back, see the bigger picture, and readjust my approach.
RM: Emergence has played a big part in Mae’s activities this past year. Can you tell us a little about how your “Make a Difference” project has employed the idea of emergence?
JM: After nine years of being singularly focused on mae, we knew that this was probably going to be our last chapter. We wanted to write an ending to this story that we could look back and be proud of. At it’s core, this “Make A Difference” campaign was forum for collaboration between mae and our listeners. We wanted to take the big picture of community development and break it down to the pixel level. In 2009, we recorded and released a new song every month exclusively through our website www.whatismae.com. Listeners from all over the world were able to download it directly from us for a donation. We committed all of the donated funds that came in to very specific humanitarian projects that we chose in tandem with our listeners. Over the course of the year we were able to fully fund and build a home for a family in VA with Habitat For Humanity. We also funded a variety of classroom needs with donorschoose.org and created a community service challenge for Destination Imagination called Project Outreach.
It’s so easy to look at the problems in the world and feel helpless. This project gave us and our listeners a chance to adjust our perspective and think of our individual actions as the pixel. Since a digital picture literally emerges out of the interaction between the pixels this served as a very appropriate metaphor. People took the vision and ran with it. We released one song per month and told a story over the course of the year musically. But the real story was being told by our listeners. Every time someone downloaded our music they were changing the pixels in a very specific picture. The solutions emerged out of the interactions between people as they were inspired to contribute humble pieces to a larger puzzle. We all worked together and the story that was written is something I will always be proud of.
RM: So Mae is disbanding, but, as you’ve said, the seeds from this project will continue to grow and take on a life of their own. You’re starting a new band now called “River James,” but what is next for you in your aesthetic and social entrepreneurship endeavors?
JM: The final mae shows will be in China and Japan in February. After that it’s all a bit up in the air. That is when chaos theory will completely take over my life
I am working on a new music project called River James and you can download our music for free at www.riverjamesmusic.com. I am also slowly working on a book called “Bear t.ia mart.” Thank you for the interview, it has been a pleasure!
Those who follow @renaissancemob on Twitter have seen a series of tweets today with the hashtag “#dhfwrong“. You are invited to join in the discussion of David H. Freedman’s Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them
. We are tweeting:
Even if you are not reading the book, you are invited to share your thoughts on the book’s main topic: Why experts keep failing us – and how to know when not to trust them.
…Just remember to use “#dhfwrong” so we can find your tweets!
Also, you may notice in our blog side-bar (to the right of this post) we’ve added “Our Favorite Blogs.” These are blogs on RM-related topics (complexity, social entrepreneurship, ect.) which are particularly interesting. To highlight just a few:
…and more to come. Our favorite posts will be featured in the “Our Favorite Blogs” block (right). Let us know if you have a RM-related so we can subscribe!
Chance favors the connected mind.
~Steven B. Johnson
Innovation seems to be the hot topic of late. Our “Featured Tweeter” for November 2010 is author and Discover Magazine columnist Steven B. Johnson (@stevenbjohnson on Twitter). Last month we looked at the ideas of complexity scientist Dave Snowden, including his three criteria for innovation: starvation of resources, pressure and perspective shift. Steve Johnson’s latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, asks a different question about innovation: what environments are the most conducive (think conductive) for producing good ideas. See Johnson’s innovative video introducing his book:
In September, Johnson made an appearance at a TED talk in Oxford. He had just taken a picture of the oldest coffee-house in England, and displayed it to make the point that the Enlightenment was born in such places.
Johnson’s blog (http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/) features recent posts about:
. Johnson makes the case that innovation comes more from “the ability to share information asynchronously” than slow, deep contemplation.
Johnson also provides links to his Discovery Magazine essays, which are on the topics of thinking, emergence, planning and complexity. One of these essays (Air Purifiers for Data Smog) gives a looks at how we deal with information overload in an age of multitasking.
At the 2006 TED Conference, Sir Ken Robinson shared his observation that “every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects…. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts – everywhere on earth.” He then went on to point out how today’s educational system was originally designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution. Today, however that old hierarchy no longer works. Due to both global interconnectedness and a resulting demand for creativity, the arts (in the broadest sense) are of utmost importance. The hierarchy has been turned on its head, and the world’s education systems must to adapt to this perspective shift.In 1992, the USDA adopted the Improved American Food Guide Pyramid (shown right) as a way for the public to better understand how to eat healthy. It showed breads and cereals as the foundation of the pyramid, with fewer fruits and vegetables, then meats and dairy and finally fats, oils and sweets – which we should eat the least of. As a result, fat-free products and synthesized sweeteners began showing up everywhere, with damaging effects to our health we are only just beginning to see. Then in 2005, the USDA decided this “one size fits all” model just wouldn’t work. So they came up with a new pyramid (shown below). As you can see, the food groups are shown vertically. The people at the USDA felt this would better portray people’s food needs based level of physical activity. The old pyramid, while well-intentioned, was over-simplistic and may have done more harm than good.
In 1943, psychology professor Abraham Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of needs” in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Based on a study of the most emotionally healthy people he could find, Maslow concluded that there are five levels of needs which motivate humans to behave the way they do: Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization. Maslow believed “that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” However, like so many other hierarchies, Maslow’s might be in need of an update.Categories and hierarchies help us in learning and understanding, but they have limits. We may like to keep the peas from touching the gravy on our plate, but it’s just not that simple. The human being is a complex system. Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef says that human needs are ontological, not hierarchical (as Maslow described). In other words, instead of clear-cut categories, human needs exist simultaneously. For instance, rather than requiring Safety as a prerequisite for Love, the two might co-exist as a combined need.
As we continue our pursuit of community renewal at the edge of chaos, we must be cautious about over-simplifying ourselves. We are complex beings: intellectually, physically and emotionally.
The ant is a collectively intelligent and individually stupid animal; man is the opposite.
~Karl von Frisch
Do a Google search for “The Tea Party,” and you get the following top results:
…just to name a few (but we’ll leave www.teaparty.com out of it, since they’re a Toronto rock group).
Let’s pause here to say The Renaissance Mob is not a political blog in the sense that we don’t get down in the mud villifying and demonizing political parties and/or politicians. So before going further, perhaps it would be good to clarify the purpose of this post.
At first, it seemed àpropos to publish this post before the November elections which took place earlier this month. However, while it might have been a “hotter topic” then, this post is not meant to instigate or provoke. Rather it is meant to ask: Can a mass of humans self-organize and carry out positive change? The “Tea Party” seemed an ideal contemporary case study, since the claim, among their admirers and advocates (insert any of the big name “Talk Radio” hosts here), is that the group:
1. Has no one visible leader (collective intelligence)
2. Is a “grassroots movement” (diverse sampling of population)
3. Was spontaneously organized (emergent organization)
Indeed, both allies and enemies of the Tea Party Movement seem to be in… at least semi-agreement on these claims:
If you look underneath the surface of the Tea Party movement, on the other hand, you will find that it is not sophisticated. ~Karl Rove
So the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify, specifically, what would you do?” ~Barack Obama
Many [Tea Party activists] are proud of their decentralization, which makes them feel like their voices are being heard. ~The Daily Beast
There is no single Tea Party. The name is an umbrella that encompasses many different groups. ~Matthew Continetti
…It’s actually pretty hard to find quotes about The Tea Party that aren’t charged with strong rhetoric. But if you distilled the views of everyone from Michael Moore to Glenn Beck down to the most basic elements, they all are saying the same thing about the movement: that it has no leader, that it comes from individuals, and that it is self-organizing. (True, Nancy Pelosi called them “Astroturf” a while back, but that may have been more wishful thinking since she is now talking about the things she has in common with The Tea Party.) It should be said that, while most seem to agree on these three points, not all think them a good thing. The post-election news shows a brewing battle between “establishment Republicans” and “The Tea Partiers.” In particular is the issue of leadership and control. Career politicians aren’t usually big fans of movements they can’t predict or control. But we’ll leave battle for someone else to sort out…
The interest here is how the Tea Party thinks. On the Washington Post website, Robert J. Goodwin attributes some of the success of The Tea Party to what he calls “distributed leadership:”
The Tea Party movement embodies that of a “starfish” organization. It is difficult to attack with no clearly defined leadership, and even if one cell-or candidate-is defeated, the movement lives on.
Readers of this blog may hear an echo of a recent post in which we looked at Al Qaeda’s growing use of “swarm attacks.” No, this is not meant to equate The Tea Party to terrorists. But – if it is possible to remove yourself from political views – it is interesting to see how the strategies (not the motives and goals) are similar.
Let’s assume for a moment The Tea Party is a bone-fide example of swarm/collective intelligence that works – separating yourself from your feelings for or against the movement. What compelled it to form in the first place? How can it be strengthened/weakened?
For the first question, we can go back to last month’s “Tweeter of the Month” Dave Snowden, who teaches three conditions for innovation: starvation of resources, pressure, and perspective shift. According to Wikipedia, the first Tea Party protests (imitating the Boston Tea Party) were over the 100-some new taxes being proposed in New York State. The perception was that there was a starvation of resources via taxation, the pressure of isolation of the individual from government and a perspective shift away from the two-party (or any party, for that matter) system.
As far as how the movement might strengthen or weaken, that might be accomplished by resisting or giving in to groupthink. Tea Party rallies have been described by some as a circus, with all kinds of freaks. Advocates of the movement tend to be dismissive of the “freak show” element, not realizing that it is that very diversity that gives the movement viability. Enemies of the Tea Party really may not need not do anything, because if the movement tends toward centralized leadership, it will weaken under the weight of groupthink. Groupthink is defined as “a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.” In other words, thinking is homogenized to the point of losing individuality and diversity.
This means, for The Tea Party to stay viable, it must stay decentralized and increase its diversity. A movement, then, is limited to the degree of faith it puts in its members. It is also limited by its willingness (or lack thereof) to listen to very different opinions.
The Tea Party’s Weird Science