August 08, 2004

Internet Time Blog on Books

This is a compilation of MT blog entries from the BOOKS category.

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April 11, 2004

wider than the sky

In late March, I commented on a review of Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman's new book, wider than the sky, the phenomenal gift of consciousness. The review got me fired up. "The brain is not a logically structured organ; these processes of connection resemble the processes of metaphor more than those of logic." That's my kind of science.

I ordered a copy from Amazon. "Highly readable," wrote Oliver Sachs on the back cover. "A good roadmap for the lay reader," said Francis Crick. said Amazon. I could hardly wait.

The first learnings:

Consciousness is a process, not a thing. (William James said it first.)

The human brain is the most complicated material object in the known universe. It weighs about three pounds. If the cortex were unfolded (it's gnarly), it would be the size of a table napkin. It contains 30 billion neurons and a billion synapses (connections).

There is one simple principle that governs how the brain works: it evolved; that is, it was not designed.


One of the most basic processes in higher brains is the ability to carry out perceptual categorization -- to "make sense" of the world.

Memory is the capacity to repeat or suppress a specific mental or physical act. It arises as a result of changes in synaptic efficacy (or synaptic strength) in circuits of neuronal groups. After such changes have occurred, they tend to favor the recruitment of certain of these circuits to yield re-enactment. (In other words, memories are not stored; they're made fresh every time.)

One extraordinary phenomenal feature of conscious experience is that normally it is all of a piece--it is unitary. Any experienced conscious moment simultaneously includes sensory intput, consequences of motor activity, imagery, emotions, fleeting memories, bodily sensations, and a peripheral fringe. In any ordinary circumstances it does not consist of "just this pencil with which I am writing," nor can I reduce it to that. Yet, at the same time, one unitary scene flows and transforms itself into another complex but also unitary scene.

The term quale referes to the particular experience of some property. (Plural of quale is qualia.) The experience of a conscious scene as unitary suggests the view that all conscious experiences are qualia. In this view, the separation of qualia into single, narrow feelings such as red, warm, and so forth, while thinkable and verbally describable, does not constitute a full recognition of the discriminations involved.

Degeneracy is the ability of structurally different elements of a system to perform the same function or yield the same output.

This degeneracy business confused me later on, when the sledding got heavy. For me, degenerate brings up images of grubby guys in the alley drinking sterno. In fact, at this point, I began to experience a phenomenon that I hadn't felt in several years. My eyes were scanning the pages but nothing was sticking in my head. I'd finish a page and have no idea what Edelman was talking about. Some sentences were so laden with five-syllable words that I simply gave up.

Edelman himself acknowledges that understanding his topic is not a slam-dunk.

I have stated in the Preface of this small book that my hope is to disenthrall those who believe that the subject of consciousness is exclusively metaphysical or necessarily mysterious. It is a Herculean task for consciousness studies to rid the stables of dualism, mysterianism, paranormal projections, and unnecesaary appeals to as yet poorly characterized properties at different material scales -- for example, quantum gravity. Some but not all of this task relates to the use of language. in this account, for example, I must answer to the accusation that I have sumitted to the paradoxes of epiphenonmenalism.

Okay, if you say so. Let's go on.

This functional cluster with its myriad of synamic reentrant interactions, occurring mainly, but not entirely, in the thalamocortical system, has been called the dynamic core. The dynamic core, with its millisecond-to-millisecond utilization of an extraordinary complex of neural circuits, is precisely the kind of complex neural organization necessary for the unitary yet differentiable properties of the conscious process. It has the reentrant structure capable of interrating or binding the activites of the various thalamic nuclei and the functionally segregated cortical regions to produce a unified scene.

Lost?

A major portion of the basal ganglia, constituting input nuclei from the cortex, is the so-called striatum, which consists of the caudate nucleus and putamen. The remaining nuclei are the globus pallidus, the substantia nigra, and the subthalamic nucleus. The globus pallidus and one part of the substantia nigra make up the major output nuclei projecting to the thalamus. Their output may be looked upon in turn as the input to the dynamic thalamocortical core. In addition to the input to the striatum by the cerebral cortex, the intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus also project to the striatum....

I must have been out of the room when God passed out whichever collection of multiple intelligences is required to decipher this stuff.

Following a thirty-one page glossary and four pages of bibliographic references, the author concludes thusly:

If an insatiable reader wishes an even longer list of references, I refer him or her to David Chalmers's annotated complendium on the World Wide Web:

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/biblio.html

The exploding list of references speaks to the conclusion that the understanding of consciousness has a promising scientific future.

I arose from my bath. (That's where I do a lot of my reading.) I was frustrated.

  • Was it recognizing that in some areas, no matter how hard I concentrate, I'm just not equipped to receive the message? No, that's a lesson I learned long ago.

  • Was it because I'd paid 16 cents a page and jumped over half of them because they would have made about as much sense to me had they been written in Sanskrit? No, that's not it. You take chances. Sometimes they don't work out.

  • Was it disappointment in discovering that while Edelman has great scientific chops, he wasn't in the room when God handed out the good writing genes? Maybe a little.

When I reflect on it now, the philosophy of Don Norman cheers me on. My main takeaway from The Design of Everyday Things was that when something screws up, it's not necessarily your fault. You walk into the glass panel instead of the door next to it, that's the designer's fault, not yours. Edelman may have tried, but he didn't produce a book for the layman. wider than the sky is not a pop book like Robert Ornstein's The Psychology of Consciousness. (Most of Ornstein's readers probably got the message even though they were high as kites when reading.)

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April 02, 2004

Self competition?

Someone explain this to me.

I just went to Amazon to buy a friend a book. Amazon was asking $19.25 for the hardcover edition, not bad since I'd paid $27 when the book came out. However, next to the Amazon price were the words "42 used & new from $5.99." I ended up buying a new copy of the book from a dealer in Jersey for $9.75.

Is Amazon raking enough commission back from the merchant I used to justify forgoing its take on a direct sale? Or is this to keep people who sell discount books from nibbling into Amazon's market share?

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January 25, 2004

The Moment of Chaos: Warning


I just finished reading The Moment of Complexity by Mark C. Taylor. I picked up a few memes and some interesting tidbits. However, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't. Do yourself a favor and read my thoughts before wading into this tome's 275 pages:

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Fourth Moment of Complexity

When we left off at our previous moment of complexity, the author finally stopped dropping big names on campus (e.g. Derrida, Hegel, Heidegger, Kant) and got around to defining complex adaptive systems.

evolving complexity

My suspicions were aroused when the author launches into a ten-page review of Gödel, Escher, Bach. (A leftover from another project? A paper from a grad student?) Using the word "ant" as a transition, we're suddenly reading John Holland's observation that the economy, our central nervous systems, ecologies, immune systmes, the development of multicellular organisms, and the processes of evolutionary genetics are all adaptive nonlinear networks at heart. Murray Gell-Mann throws in culture and computer programs.

The instability of complex systems makes you consider them over time. Stuart Kauffman critiques Darwin, noting that organisms resemble Rube Goldberg machines. Kauffman's hot; without self-organization, he notes, evolution would not be possible. If you thought Holland covered a lot of territory, be aware that Kauffman's vision covers not only science but also society, politics, metaphysics, and religion. Kauffman is convinced that the emergence of order is spontaneous but not accidental. We're inevitably headed for a single, global culture wherein people, tech, economics, and knowledge all blend together all over the planet.

screening information


What does it mean if the electricity in our heads conforms to the rules of complex adaptive systems? The author doesn't ask that directly. Instead, he writes several pages worthy of Castaneda's brujo after a double-dose of peyote:

I, Mark C. Taylor, am not writing this book. Yet the book is being written. It is as if I were the screen through which the words of others flow and on which they are displayed. Words, thoughts, ideas are never precisely my own; they are always borrowed rather than possessed. I am, as it were, their vehicle. Though seeming to use language, symbols, and images, they use me to promote their circulation and extend their lives. The flux of information rushing through my mind as well as my body (I am not sure where one ends and the other begins) existed before me and will continue on flowing long after I am gone. "My" thougths--indeed "my" self--appears to be a transient eddy in a river whose banks are difficult to discern.

Wow. That's one hell of a paragraph. I read it three times. Web without a weaver. Nothing new under the sun. Reproducing, not producing. Nobody will re-engineer this one. Unless they look at it as denial of responsibility. Or taking on a new religion which submerges the individual. Or Mark smoking something.

As boundaries become permeable, it is impossible to know when or where this book began or when and where it will end. Since origins as well as conclusions forever recede, beginnings are inevitably arbitrary and endings repeatedly deferred. One of the few things that is clear even if not obvious is that all writing is ghostwriting. This work, like all others, is haunted by countless specters. The silent noise of ghosts clamoring for attention transforms me into a "colony of writers."

Gotta love this one:

Writing, it seems, is the obsession of the possessed. For the possessed, writing is a search for je ne sais quoi.

Oh, God. Kill me before I write again!

All of this takes time; thinking has rhythms of its own--it must simmer and cannot be rushed. It is impossible to know just how much time is required for thought to gel because I am not in control of this process--nor is anyone else. Thought thinks through me in ways I can never fathom. Much--perhaps most--of what is important in the dynamics of thinking eludes consciousness.

The title of Kevin Kelly's great bio book springs to mind: Out of Control.

Gell-Mann writes of cultural DNA, "borrowing a term from Hazel Henderson." Plate-o-shrimp. I'd never heard of Hazel Henderson until June of last year. She said that the economists who control the political side nationally pay attention to only four factors — unemployment, deficits, inflation, and interest rates. But the world is more complex than that. The economists are linear and therefore can’t grok complex systems. A “Post-Cartesian Scientific Worldview” sees interconnectedness, redistribution (recycling), heterarchy (webs), complimentarity (both/and), etc. Bingo! Later in the day I thanked Hazel for cluing me in to why I'd always thought economics was a crock.

Daniel Dennett takes memes seriously. He figures they can reprogram with operating system of the brain. Memes and genes are in a coevolutionary, coadaptive relationship. Ray Kurtzweil goes further: our human software will replace our bodily hardware.

the currency of education


Uh-oh. In this chapter, the author hops on the dot-com era eLearning bandwagon. He says "education is a commodity that is distributable through telematic technologies." He repeats lines from Merrill Lynch's gushy The Book of Knowledge.

No one has been quicker to realize what the new economy means for education than Michael Milken.

The founder of Knowledge Universe was telling academic institutions "We are going to eat your lunch." (A couple of years after this, Milken had bailed, closing the doors of almost all of his educational acquisitions except Leap Frog, which has become such a big winner it has more than covered Milken's losses in the rest of his Universe.)

Bankrolled by investment banker Herbert Allen, the author founds Global Educaiton Network. His faculty critics just aren't seeing the big picture. "The most important legacy we can leave the next generation is the hope that creative change is still possible."

>hr>

This final chapter has next to nothing to do with what comes before. It's as if Mark needed another forty pages to fulfilll his book contract, so he excised parts of his business plan for GEN and his diary from that time, and just slapped them onto the end of the manuscript.

Now the "book without an author" theme which I found capivating the first time through seems an apologia, a rationalization for starting a book but not finishing it.

Mark C. Taylor's webiste at WIlliams

The website of the Global Education Network has a screenshot, an 800 number, and the words "Our website is undergoing maintenance.
We apologize for the inconvenience."

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January 23, 2004

A Third Moment of Complexity

critical emergence


The "critics" that are critical here are structuralists, deconstructionists, and worse. They argue over meaning but always make the same point, namely that, "systems and structures inevitably totalize by excluding difference and repressing otherness."

Uber-structuralist Lévi-Strauss looks at language as if phonemes and morphemes are like protons and neutrons, enabling one to construct a periodic table of the language. "I have always aimed at drawing up an inventory of mental patterns, to reduce apparently arbitary data to some kind of order." So...the world is simple, we just have yet to discover the code.

Along comes Foucault. (I'm glad I graduated from college before this crew began to publish.) Structure? Patterns? Thinking? All of this is context-specfic. Do the cultural archeology and you find that language, perception, and practice are all constructed.

Derrida, Kirkegaard, Hegel, Freud, Baudrillard. Regarding "The End of Production," Baudrillard wrote, "The first shockwave of this transition from produtction to pure and simple reproduction took place in May '68. They struck the universities first, and the faculty of human sciences first of all, becuase that was where it became most evident (even without a clear "political" consciousness) that we were no longer productive, only reprductive (and that lecturers, science and culture were themselves only relays in the general reproduction of the system.)"

Yawn. May '68. Productivity on campus. Hmmm. The month before, I started attending the eight-week Army Office Basic Course at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. My roommate and I drank beer and watched reruns of "Combat" for homework. (We'd swagger into class the next day, mouthing the World War II solider talk Vic Morrow used in the foxhole.) Then we'd play 'Nam Arty' for gunnery practice. You played Nam Arty by lying on your back behind the sofa with a handful of darts. You'd lob the darts over the side, trying to hit the target pinned to the back of the closet door across the room. The other player, your spotter, gave feedback with which to correct your aim. My roommate and I both graduated with Top Honors and Expert Marksman status. Who cares about non-production on campus? We were preparting to fight a war. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

strange loops


René Magritte, Derrida, Isaac Newton, Schiller, Hegel, and Heidegger. Remember the story about the guy who visits prison. One prisoner says "35," and the cell block rocks with laughter. Another con says "84," again followed by gales of laughter. Puzzled, the newcomer asks what's up. He is told that since everyone's heard all the jokes, they numbered them to save time. The visitor shouts "23." Total silence. Nothing. Why happened? he asked. Why aren't they laughing? "It's all in how you tell it," he was told. To which I reply "Descartes!" "Kant!" "Humberto Maturana!" I'm not laughing over this chapter.

"Descartes set in motion developments that eventually led to 'the will to master,' which has resulted in twentieth-century techno-science. Just as sociolcultural constructivism leads to a form of subjective idealism that negates objectivity by consuming the natural world, so the will to mastery issues in a 'subjective egoism,' which is ultimately destructive. " Ho, ho, ho. Those professors can really tell 'em, can't they?

noise in formation


You must understand the relationship of information to complexity and vice-versa in order to appreciate the importance of the emerging network culture. If you'd read Claude Shannon, you can skip this chapter.

emerging complexity


The task of making meaning out of randomness is what self-organization is all about, wrote Henri Atlan in his inexplicably untranslated L'organisation biologique et la thé de l'information (1972).

Defining complexity is complex. Besiders, humanity always lusts for simplicity. Newton was more metaphysician than physicist. He wrote more religious treatises than science works. One God, one way things happen.

Herbert Simon said complexity came from a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way.

Complex systems are different from complicated systems. A snowflake is complicated but it comes from simple rules. It doesn't change form until it melts. Nor is a complex system chaotic; chaos is the lack of all order, because the internal parts are not connected.

The characteristics are complex systems are:

  1. Many parts, connected in multiple ways
  2. Diverse components interacting both serially and in parallel
  3. Spontaneously self-organizing
  4. Can't be reverse-engineered
  5. Interaction of parts changes the whole
  6. Open, adaptive, evolving
  7. Emergence occurs far from equilibrium, on the edge of chaos

Large systems with many components evolve to a critical state way out of equilibrium. One more snowflake may precipitate the avalanche.

"32!" Oh wait, I meant to quote the author, saying, "A few lines later, he concludes the novel with a 'Chorous Logico-Philosophicus' which parodies Wittgenstein while suggesting the point of the tale the authors have spun:

Emergent complexity
Bear us aloft!

Don't you love it when professors talk dirty?

Complex behavior comes from the interplay of organisms, not from the action of any single organism.

For hundreds of years, we've been praying in Newton's church. Complexity is a new system of beliefs. It's impossible to build faith in complexity by singing from the Newtonian hymnal. Hence, to become polytheistic and embrace both new and old, the complexity liturgy must be repeated until it penetrates our resistances. So, one more time:

Emerging self-organizing systems are complex adaptive systems. For complex systems to maintain themselves, they must remain open to their environment and change when conditions require it. Complex adaptive systems, therefore, inevitably evolve, or, more accurately, coevolve. As the dynamics of evolving complexity are clarified, it not only becomes apparent that complex adptive systems evolve, but it also appears that the process of evolution is actually a complex adaptive system.

Jay's Ruminations

Today Bob Horn told me he's being awarded a lifetime achievement award from ISPI. He described some of his current work on "messy problems" for the likes of NASA. Since I was in the midst of my complexity readings, I said that the ISPI I had known treated every situation as a closed system. Bob's acceptance speech may address instructional design solutions to messy problems. This I'd love to see.

Reading through page after page of philosophical horsefeathers, I ask "Am I getting anything out of this?" Enough to make it worthwhile continuing, I guess. I've got about a hundred pages to go. Several evenings of speed reading and page-turning with a yellow marker in hand. That's bedtime stuff.

Earlier today I started reading Dave Snowden's papers on JIT KM. He draws heavily on complexity but makes it useful rather than a vocabulary and postmodern Euro-vocabulary test. My take on Snowden's work will pop up in other posts here.

You might compare the definition of complexity here with the one in It's Alive.

Bear with me through this trying journey. My gut tells me the complexity paradigm is vital to our understanding of the world. It also suggests immediate practical applications. Don't let my thinking out loud drive you away! This is a short journey through the abyss of academia.

"Maxwell's equations, Schrödinger's equation, and Hamiltonian mechanics can each be expressed in a few lines. The ideas that form the foundation of our worldview are also very simple indeed: The world is lawful, and the same basic laws hold everywhere. Everything is simple, neat, and expressible in terms of everyday mathematics, either partial or ordinary differential equations. Everything is simple and neat, except, of course, the world. Every place we look outside the physics classroom we see a world of amazing complexity. The world contains many examples of complex ecologies at all levels: huge mountain ranges, the delicate ridge on the surface of a sand dune, the salt spray coming off a wave, the interdependencies of financial markets, and the true ecologies formed by living things. Each situation is highly organized and distinctive, with biological systems forming a limiting case of exceptional complexity. So why, if the laws are so simple, is the world so complicated?"

Simple Lessons from Complexity written by Nigel Goldenfeld and Leo P. Kadanoff in Science (vol. 284, 2 April 1999:

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January 17, 2004

Books Update

Sellout!

The first printing of Lance Dublin's and my book, Implementing eLearning, has sold out.

Don't worry. It's at the printer now. New stock will be ready in ten days.

Lance and I are still offering a free Implementation Action Planning Template to anyone who requests it.



I just updated my Books page. It's dangerous work. (I simply must get a copy of this one. )

You're more likely to find what I'm reading now here.

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January 14, 2004

The Moment of Complexity

Yesterday I stopped by Avenue Books in the Elmwood, another independent bookseller unable to withstand the Borders/Barnes beast, and found a book I hadn't heard of, The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture by Mark C. Taylor. Wow!

I'm only up to page 28, but my head is already swimming. Taylor is a master synthesizer. He grabbed my attention from word one:

We are living in a moment of unprecedented complexity, when things are changing faster than our ability to comprehend them. This is a time of transition betwixt and between a period that seemed more stable and secure and a time when, many people hope, equilibrium will be restored. Awash in a sea of information that seems to have no meaning and bombarded by images and sounds transmitted by new media, many people have lost a sense of direction and purpose and long for security and stability. Stability, secruity, and equilibrium, however, can be deceptive, for they are but momentary eddies in an endlessly complex and turbulent flux. In the world that is emerging, the condition of complexity is as irreducible as it is inescapable. Whle the moment of complexity inevitably generates confusion and uncertainty, today's social, economic, political, and cultural transformations are also creating possibilites for apprehending ourselves in new ways. To understand our time, we must comprehend complexity, and to comprehend complexity, we must understand what makes this moment different from every other.

What distringuises the moment of complexity is not change as such but rather the acceleration of the rate of change. Everything moves faster and faster until speed becomes an end in itself.

Taylor's introduction rapidly brings up Derrida, Duchamp, Warhol, Mies van der Rohe, Robert Venturi, Frank Gehry, Foucault, Kant, Hegel, Claude Shannon, Norbert Weiner, John Holland, Stuart Kauffman, Murray Gell-Mann, Chuck CLose, Stephen Jay Gould, and Daniel Dennett. It's going to be quite a trick to meld these characters into a coherent story.

A back-of-the-book blurb by William Mitchell, Dean of MIT's School of Architecture and author of the delightful City of Bits, says "Somewhere inside Mark Taylor's head, worlds collide; Kant and Hegel run smack-bank into cyberspace. The result is an incandescent asteroid show of ideas."

Has anyone else here read this tome? Please leave a comment telling me what you think.

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January 05, 2004

Inevitable Surprises & Scenario Learning

Inevitable Surprises by Peter Schwartz

Hang on tight, for we're all going on a roller coaster ride. Science? Politics? Culture? It's all going to change so much you won't recognize it. The gusher of new information doubles in volume every year. Networks reach out to one another, connecting at an ever more furious rate, to the point of merging disciplines. Biotech, nanotech, and the human cognome are fusing. It's all codes and nodes. Our cycles have higher ups and lower downs, and both are relentlessly coming on faster and faster. Amid this turbulence, lots of us are looking for stable ground.

Peter Schartz, a fellow resident of the People's Republic of Berkeley (we live atop the same earthquake fault), offers an enlightened view of how we ought to think about this.

Surprises are the norm. There will be many more moments to come when the assumptions you’ve lived by sudden fall away—inflicting that same queasy feeling you get when an elevator drops a little too suddenly, when an airplane hits an air pocket, or when a roller coaster moves past the top of the curve and lurches into its descent. There will also be beneficial surprises to come—when impossible, unthinkable opportunities and technologies suddenly become real, for you (or someone else) to cultivate, develop, and use.

Historically, upheaval is not a new condition. To be sure, there have been some relatively surprise-free centuries in human history; life for most people in medieval Europe was much the same as it had been for their parents. But since the scientific discoveries of
the seventeenth century, complexity and turbulence in the world at large have been facts of life, looming larger and larger in people’s concerns until today there is hardly anyone unaffected by them.

At the same time most of us still feel emotionally that things should be stable and certain; that once we’re over the next hump of crisis, life will naturally return to tranquil normalcy. And there are things we don’t want to see strapped into a roller coaster: Our country’s security. Our companies and jobs. Our retirement accounts.

Is there a better way to live with this tension than just to hang on for the roller-coaster ride and react to every new surprise thrust at you? Yes, there is. There are still certainties—still facts and factors that we can rely on and even take for granted. There are many things we can rely on, but three of them are most critical to keep in mind in any turbulent environment.

  • First: There will be more surprises.

  • Second: We will be able to deal with them.

  • Third: We can anticipate many of them. In fact, we can make some pretty good assumptions about how most of them will play out.

We can’t know the consequences in advance, or how they will affect us, but we know many of the surprises to come. Even the most devastating surprises—like terrorist attacks and economic collapses—are often predictable because they have their roots in the driving forces at work today.

In the coming decades we face many more inevitable surprises: major discontinuities in the economic, political, and social spheres of our world, each one changing the “rules of the game” as it is played today. If anything, there will be more, not fewer, surprises in the future, and they will all be interconnected. Together, they will lead us into a world, ten to fifteen years hence, that is fundamentally different from the one we know today. Understanding these inevitable surprises in our future is critical for the decisions we have to make today—whether we are captains of industry, leaders of nations, or simply individuals who care about the future of our families and communities. We may not be able to prevent catastrophe (although sometimes we can), but we can certainly increase our ability to respond, and our ability to see opportunities that we would otherwise miss.

Next, Schwartz echoes Eamonn Kelly, the current CEO of GBN, the firm Schwartz co-founded. This is not the time to stick one's head in the sand. Denial and defensiveness skirt the problem and leave us totally unprepared to deal with the inevitable surprises. As Darwin wrote, it's not the fittest of the species that survives, it's the most adaptable.

Personally, that's why I'm putting energy into nurturing the Edinburgh Scenarios. They may be a little out of alignment, but it's better to ask the question than to act like a know-it-all.

When an inevitable surprise confronts us, there are two different types of natural reactions. Both of them can lead to poor decision making. The first is denial—the refusal to believe that the inevitabilities exist. The second natural reaction to any turbulent crisis is defensiveness. This is a kind of opposite to denial. People take the inevitable surprise so seriously that they freeze; in their minds there is no viable way to act except to find a safe place, hunker down, and wait for it to all blow over.

Unfortunately, this strategy also tends to produce poor results. You are making one of the riskiest moves of all: to do nothing in the face of uncertainty.

How about heading over to the scenario planning exercise on the Learning Circuits blog?

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January 03, 2004

What's Next?

What's Next? is a compendium of thoughts from fifty illustrious members of the Global Business Network. Their thoughts dwell on the world ten years from now, the same timeframe as the Edinburgh Scenarios.

If you're not familiar with GBN, just reading the membership list will be a treat. Where else are you going to find the likes of William Gibson, Laurie Anderson, Jaron Lanier, Eric Drexler, Doug Engelbart, Stewart Brand, Danny Hillis, Bill Joy, Michael Porter, Clay Shirky, and Michael Murphy in one place?

At the heart of scenario thinking is the importance of challenging our own assumptions about the present and the future by seeking out different, provocative, even unorthodox perspectives from “remarkable people.” This term, coined by philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, described “someone who stands out from those around him by the resourcefulness of his mind and knows how to be restrained in the manifestations which proceed from his nature, at the same time conducting himself justly and tolerantly toward the weakness of others” (Meetings with Remarkable Men).

GBN’s president Eamonn Kelly sets up the interviews by making a convincing argument that complex times call for deeper understanding to underpin our decision-making. "This in turn, is key to gaining adaptive advantage: the ability to anticipate and sense change, and the capacity to respond quickly and coherently."

Everywhere I turn recently, I find myself tripping over complex adaptive systems. Business flows, everything is connected, we don't see the whole picture, surprises are on the way. I'm tempering my view several months back that the "science of complexity" is simply another way of saying "You don't get it." Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah-nyah.

The "new terrain" posited by What's Next? is composed of these categories, which also organize the chapters of the book:

    People
    • Cutures & Socities
    • Values & Belief Systems
    Planet
    • Civilzation & Infrastructure
    • Environment & Sustainability
    Potential
    • Technology
    • Science
    Power
    • Economics & Finance
    • Geopolitics & Governance

Constructed largely of 500-word quotes from GBN members, What's Next? is perfect bathroom reading. Unless I succomb to diarrhea, I won't finish reading it until mid-month.

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December 28, 2003

Business Process Change, 2


This is a continuation of my notes from Paul Harmon's Business Process Change.Business Process Change cover

Paul walks us through the notational schemes for modeling organizations, processes (where the top swimlane is always reserved for the customer), and activities. Why the differences? Because each is at a different level of detail, paralleling the Rummler-Brache model. (An excellent summary of the model appears on page 160.)

Harmon thinks that managers of the future should be as fluent with business processing modeling tools as today's managers are with spreadsheets and organization charts. Work gets done in processes. Managers are responsible to see that work gets done in the processes they manage. This involves planning processes and managing processes. Planning involves setting goals and expectations, estalishing plans and budget, providing resources and staff, and implementation. Controling has to do with monitoring the process, reinforcing success, diagnosing deviations, and taking necessary conrrective actions. Process measure derive from general measures of customer satisfaction with the outputs of a process. From these measures, we work backward to measure how each department might contribute to customer satisfaction.

Six Sigma has evolved into a systematic approach to process improvement.

Business Process Reengineering earned a bad reputation when people came to view it as a heartless tool for Chainsaw Al's, a euphemism for downsizing. The activity itself, drawing an ideal process on a blank sheet of peper is still a worthwhile thing to do. It's called for in major reorganizations, simplifying how things are accomplished, eliminating non-value-adds, and closing gaps and disconnects. Paul suggests a "business process redesign pattern" for each of these.

Paul credits Tom Davenport's Mission Critical: Realizng the Promise of Enterprise Systems with helping popularize packaged software apps for improving and integrating systems. SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle refer to their apps as "best processes," although by definition, there are average processes. When I read Davenport's book, I missed the point, thinking this was the way you'd want to do things no matter what; I didn't appreciate that any of this was new.

Installing ERP apps is backwards compared to the blank-sheet-of-paper idealism described earlier. You start with a solution and then modify your processes to accommodate the software. ERP software is not that simple to change; if you expect to make major changes, perhaps you shouldn't be considering ERP in the first place.

Chapter 13 gives a history of software development that I am not going to go into, save to say that these days lots of development is driven by models rather than coders.

Important development framework for enterprise software architecture was written by IBM's John Zachman in 1987. (See here.

I found this a very enlightening book, although I'll admit to leafing through the last 1/3 rather rapidly. No matter. This one will be on my reference shelf.

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December 13, 2003

Thinking about Books

Books

Disclosure: I am a bibliophile. No, make that book addict. My house is filled with overflowing bookcases. Books are my friends. I never leave home without one.

Nontheless, I am beginning to wonder if the nonfiction book isn't becoming an anachronism. The world flows; books are still.

  • Books end but new insights never stop coming.

  • Books freeze the content but there's always room for improvement.

  • Books don't take advantage of feedback; they assume the author got it right the first time.

  • Giving the author sole authority runs counter to the belief that "All of us are smarter than one of us."

A couple of weeks ago, I completed writing a 100-page document on the metrics of corporate learning. It's a file. I labeled it an "eBook." My promotional copy says, "I pulled together my thoughts on measuring results, added some how-to material, stole items from past white papers, listed the best sources I know, and packed 30,000 witty words into an eBook, named Metrics."

At least one in five buyers sends me a snail mail address so I can send them the book. How can I get the point across? I sense we need a new term for "living book." I never intend to print this book. Several reasons why:

  • My topic is open-ended, so anything I write is but a draft for a better version. The reader who buys the current version receives the next as part of the deal.

  • Readers will make the book more useful, by asking questions, providing examples, and questioning my logic.

  • Updating prolongs shelf life.

  • Commitment to future versions provides an avenue for forming relationships with readers over time.

  • My work will increase in value over time.

  • Uncertainty engages the mind. A few typos improve retention.

  • In time, improved versions will lower the relative value of pirated and stolen copies.
  • Interested in how to measure the results of corporate learning? Buy Metrics. Since I bear no printing and shipping costs, I can sell it for $25.

    Gutenberg

    In 1970, Uta and I lived in a high-rise apartment building in Wiesbaden, across the Rhine from Mainz. Naturally, we toured the Gutenberg print shop and museum.

    The concepts of moveable type and the printing press bring automation to mind. Seeing a Gutenberg Bible up close brings you back to the reality that medieval times were manual. Printing was but an intermediate step in preparing a bible. Next came the artwork. Color was applied to "illuminations" by hand. Books were revered as art objects. Furthermore, you weren't about to stuff one of these tomes into your pocket to read on the plane. (Paperbacks were not invented until four decades later.)


    Gutenberg Bible, print run of 183 copies, 1452-55

    The Internet Archive Bookmobile

    Contrast this with the Internet Archive Bookmobile. The bookmobile is "a mobile digital library capable of downloading public domain books from the Internet via satellite and printing them anytime, anywhere, for anyone." These bookmobiles are traversing India and parts of Africa. They can download, print, and package any of 25,000 titles for "a buck a book."


    Brewster and his son on tour with the bookmobile.

    What is a book, anyway?

    For most of us, book conjures up an image of a physical thing. The dictionary's first definition reads

      1 a : a set of written sheets of skin or paper or tablets of wood or ivory b : a set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together into a volume c : a long written or printed literary composition d : a major division of a treatise or literary work

    The Columbia Encyclopedia notes that the physical aspects needn't be books' defining characteristic:

      the very definition of a book as a collection of sheets of paper has also been challenged, as books recorded on audio tape and CD-ROM have become increasingly common and electronic books (small computers designed to display pages of books on their screens) have been introduced.

    What should we call a book o' bits?

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November 28, 2003

Books for ID Team

A reader asks:

    Hi Jay,

    I'm looking for a mix of books for my ID team, which comprises junior learning designers and more senior folk such as myself. I'm interested in the learning design/learning model side rather than the technical side. Currently, I'm not too interested in books dealing with companies implementing e-learning strategy (I have some of these already). To give you some ideas, I'm already considering:

      New e-learning approaches (ish) - for me to learn more

      Sims and the future of e-learning - Clark Aldrich

      Digital game based learning - Marc Prensky

      More standard texts for junior staff
      E-learning and the science of instruction - Ruth Clark
      Michael Allen's guide to e-learning
      (n.b. especially the CD of sample programs)

You've made some excellent choices right off the bat. I like all of these.

I probably wouldn't turn to books since the web has such good stuff, e.g. Boxes and Arrows, eLearningPost, old LineZine articles, Big Dog for background, First Monday, MIT Future of Learning Group, Learning Circuits, George Siemens, CIO, HBR, the Learning FAQs, Stephen Downes' pointers, and my own Internet Time. Links to most of these are on my eLearning Jump page. The web is currently the only place to read and/or order information about Workflow Learning.

Of course, it's presumptuous of me to recommend books for people whose background and job responsibilties I know not, so I'll simply list books that have introduced useful frameworks and ideas into my thinking.

    The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid

    Blur by Stan Davis and Chris Meyer

    Future Perfect by Stan Davis

    The Future of Knowledge by Verna Allee


    The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

    Things That Make Us Smart by Don Norman

    Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

    The Springboard by Stephen Denning

    Don't Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor

    Serious Play by Michael Schrage


    Visual Language by Robert Horn

    Information Architecture by Louis Rosenfeld & Peter Morville

    The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper


    Emotional Intelligence or anything related by Daniel Goleman

    Education and Ecstacy by George Leonard

    Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

    Designing World-Class Learning or something similar by Roger Schank


    What Every Manager Should Know About Training by Robert Mager

    Living on the Fault Line by Geoff Moore

    Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training
    by Dana Gaines Robinson, James C. Robinson

    What Mangement Is by Joan Magretta and Nan Stone

    The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas A. Stewart

    Intellectual Capital by Thomas A. Stewart

    No Significant Difference by Thomas L. Russell

    Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman


    The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

    Mindfulness by Elizabeth Langer

    Mindful Learning by Elizabeth Langer

    The Cluetrain Manifesto by Chris Locke, David Weinberger et alia

    any three by Peter Drucker


    The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes

    Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

    Architect for Learning: Using the Internet as an Efffective Educational Environment by Philip J. Palin and Kari Sanhaas

I believe in wringing the ideas out of books. After I jotted down this list, mainly by touring my bookcases, I realized that I've talked or corresponded with more than half of these authors. Not that we're pals. Simply exchanging a few sentences with someone seems to plant their lessons more firmly in my head.

I also highlight books with yellow markers (I prefer the lemon-scented ones) and make marginal notes as I read along. Soon after finishing a book, I generally write a synopsis of what I want to retain. (You'll find reviews of most of the books on the list at www.internettime.com ).

Most designers would probably better spend their time learning about the business they are in than finetuning their design skills through reading. For many years, I worked with financial services training. I read American Banker every day. I read Mayer's books on banking. I read every page of the Bank Analyst's Handbook. I read banking magazines. I talked with bankers about their concerns. The greatest designers in the world won't have credibility, or understanding, if they don't know the territory.

What books have you found essential?

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November 11, 2003

Simulations and the Future of Learning

Clark Aldrich has written a personal story about developing a new genre of leadership development program. He takes you along for the ride as he becomes disenchanted with eLearning, quits a prestige job to find a better way, surmounts numerous hurdles, and ends up with Virtual Leader, a product you can buy today. Unlike most books on learning, Clark's is well written and witty; it's fun to read.

"What would the world be like if eLearning truly worked?" If eLearning could bestow understanding and the ability to control things, the training organization would be more important than the lawyers. I'd be bragging about last night's learning experience.

Of course, eLearning has not lived up to its potential. It's mainly virtual classrooms and online workbooks. The lessons have been degraded to the lowest common denominators of bandwidth, packaging standards, and generality. eLearning is sometimes no more than the pre-reading in a "blended" solution.

There is an exception: the learning of people who must perform. Life or death. Soldiers, pilots, nuclear power plant workers, and Wall Street traders. They learn from simulation.

Clark posits three forms of content: linear (most of what we're exposed to), cyclical (hitting balls on the driving range), and open-ended (with multiple paths and outcomes).

He recounts the early days of eLearning from his perspective as the chief analyst in that space at Gartner. Vendors visit with dog-and-pony shows, some tripping themselves up irrevocably in the first ten minutes. Hundreds of companies and not one that was sufficiently compelling to inspire him. Or others. eLearning is to learning as fast food is to nutrition. It's all linear. It's crap.

Next Clark quits his secure, prestigious job at Gartner to create exemplary eLearning, the best-of-breed that the eLearning vendors never showed him. He?s out to build a 'concept car' that will guide the industry.

His chapter on "The Myth of Subject-Matter Experts" skewers leadership gurus mercilessly. They don't have the three forms of content. They don't have very deep models. They have anecdotes. They want a fortune to have their grad students cook something up. At a leisurely pace. If you're thinking about taking content from nationally-known authorities, read this chapter first.

After months of research, reflection, blind alleys, and enough tid-bits to cover the walls with Post-It Notes, Clark and his mates arrived at a model of leadership that had the ring of truth. Leadership is "Getting a group of people to complete the right work." This is great stuff.

I should know. Six years ago, my firm's EVP told me our clients needed a program on leadership. Could I come up with a model that could be the foundation of a workshop? Something compelling. (Worldwide, a million bankers had participated in our workshops. We considered ourselves the crème de la crème of bank training.)

I jumped on the project with gusto, reading Bennis, Kouzes, von Klausewitz, Peters, Drucker, my former professor John Kotter, and dozens of others. Eventually I boiled leadership down to a model of leadership and management accompanied by a page of bullet points.

I appreciate Clark's model and methods because they are so much better than what I came up with. Clark would call my results "linear," the ultimate slur. Clark's model is good enough to become a Harvard Business Review Classic.

About a third of the way in, the book totally changes direction. Clark takes us into the nitty-gritty of constructing the Virtual Leader simulation. We learn about principles of simulation, set design, character creation, animation, speech generation, control of movement, and magically making the cast autonomous, like Pinocchio turning into a real boy and wandering out of Gepetto's workshop. Some of this was fascinating but other parts of it read like Popular Science. The story from the first third of the book had turned into a how-to talk. This section was well crafted but it wasn't what I wanted to learn.

The final third addresses what happened when they flipped the on-switch, the futility of grades, why there aren't more simulations, and < a href="http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/">what's wrong with schooling.

Summary: Almost all training is linear. The world is open-ended. This is why almost all training fails. Simulations are open-ended. They are expensive but they work. Simulations are the way of the future.

Many readers will enjoy this book: there's a lot of substance. But I don't expect many people will enjoy it thoroughly. You see, it's more like three books bound in a single cover. Even though it's pricey ($50 at Amazon), I'd buy the book for the first third alone. Only a fool would try to create a sim without reading the center section. Were I either buying or marketing simulations, I'd read the whole tome but the last third would ring my chimes the loudest.

Thanks for letting us ride shotgun, Clark.

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September 02, 2003

Leonardo's Laptop II

Finished reading Leonardo’s Laptop and appended a few quotes to yesterday’s post. Is this a great line or what?

The old business was about making a profit; the new business is about making a profit.

The morning’s email contained a note from a woman in the UK who had read Ian’s and my The DNA of eLearning and was interested in obtaining a copy of Beyond eLearning, from which it was excerpted. She came to internettime.com but all she could find was “a directory listing.” Uh-oh. I thought my minimalist menu design was lucid; she found it inscrutable.

So this morning I designed a Site Map of sorts and revamped my 404 error page.

Later in the day I dropped by Cody’s Books and Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. It’s great to live in a town with a great university, for it guarantees good bookstores and great coffee.

Rather than buy books today, I jotted down names of a few books I want to read. As a member of four local libraries, I figured I’d see if I could simply borrow these:
* The Art of Happiness at Work by the Dalai Lama
* The Order of Nature by Christopher Alexander
* Lies and the Liar… by Al Franken
* The Resilience Factor by Andrew Shatte & Karen Reivich
* Good Business by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What else? Oh, yeah, I installed the Textism plug-in for Movable Type, so you should see the difference between — and —-. These should be “curly quotes.” Dean Allen, the Textism inventor, seems a nice guy. Brad Choate, who wrote the Textism plug-in for Movable Type is an MT wizard.

Brad’s site led me to Matt Haughey’s great article on converting an entire site to MT. There goes another long weekend.

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September 01, 2003

Leonardo's Laptop

I’m reading Leonardo’s Laptop by Ben Shneiderman. Ben was a fellow keynoter at the I-KNOW Conference in Graz earlier this year.

The big message is “Computing today is about what computers can do; the new computing will be about what people can do.”

Leonardo da Vinci excelled in science and art, as he detailed in the notebooks he always carried. Today he’d carry a tablet computer of some sort. The book looks at computing in learning, business, healthcare, and government, always asking What would Leonardo do?

The old computing was about mastering technology. Remember when people talked about how big their hard drives were or the clock speed of their processor chips? The new computing is about getting people together. We’ve gone from formulating database queries to participating in communities of practice. Teachers no longer teach; they guide. Sales people don’t sell; they form relationships. Shneiderman says “This Copernican shift is bringing concerns about users from the periphery to the center. The emerging focus is on what users want to do in their lives.”

I agree that “The new computing is about collaboration and empowerment—individually, organizationally, and societally,” but it’s also the way the world is starting to work. The computing is a reflection of the users rather than some new invention.

Great line: “The shift in attention is from AI to UI.” From artificial intelligence to user interface. The UI is “you” and “I.” The desired outcome is not a HAL 9000 that replaces man; it’s more like the old Outer Limits punchline: “To serve man.”

Shneiderman posits a universal creative process:

CollectRelateCreateDonate

Then he sets up four tiers of relationships

SelfFamily and friendsColleaguesCitizens

He puts these into a grid: an activites and relationships table (ART). Seeing how the cells play out in learning, business, government, and medicine fill most of the rest of the text.

CollectRelateCreateDonate
Self
Family and friends
Colleagues
Citizens

“Memorizing dates for Napolenon’s rule, names of the U.S. presidents, or rivers of Africa is less relevant in an age of ubiguqitous information. The new education accenturates critical thinking, analytical strategies, and working with people. This goals are tied to improving communication skills and creative problem solving.”

“The case for active learning was boldly stated in 1971 by the Canadian educator Wilard Wees in his aptly titled book Nobody Can Teach Anybody Anything:
bq.Whatever knowledge children gain they creat themselves;
whatever character they develop they create themselves.

“I’ve come to see that the sound of learning is not my voice lecturing but the buzz of team discussions during a collaborative exercise.”

“Asking a good question is one of the golden keys to learning. Educational psychologists talk about meta-cognitive skills: the capacity of students to reflect on what they know and what they don’t know.”

The old business was about making a profit; the new business is about making a profit.

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August 26, 2003

The Future of Knowledge

The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks
by Verna Allee

"Why are you reading something called The Future of Knoweldge?" asked my wife. "You are supposed to be on vacation, remember?" I replied that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and indeed I was.

Verna's concepts around knowledge and the way I think about learning are completely in sync, but Verna has pushed the envelope further than I have, expanding the arena to include sustaining the earth.

These are my notes. Most are direct quotes from the book although a few of my own thoughts are scrambled in, and sometimes I've shortened or rearranged the original. I encourage you to buy the book; at $20, it's cheap.

"There is really only one management question: What do we need to pay attention to in order to be successful?" Similarly, there is only one individual question: What do I need to pay attention to in order to be successful?

Awareness of how we create our shared social reality is the most important aspect of business life we will need to learn for a successful future. (So say Nonaka, Senge, Varela, de Geus, and others)

  • Businesses are evolving into the patterns of living systems. The meta-level learning that we are all engaged in is learning to work with network principles. Decision making and knowledge creation are not rational processes, but social processes.

  • Now it is as important for managers to work as deliberately to improve the quality of knowledge and learning as it is to improve the quality of products and services. Indeed, in this economy they are often one and the same.

  • Networks are the natural pattern of organization in living systems. They are the pattern of social systems and the natural pattern of business relationships as well.

  • Our present accounting methods were developed during the Renaissance, and most of our management practices come from bureaucratic and military models that have dominated management practice for decades. These vestiges of the old order are obsolete.

  • Decisions are moving from corporate headquarters out to individual business units. Business units in turn are distributing power and decision making to self-managed teams and profit centers. Workers who used to be tucked snug inside corporate walls are roaming the roads and working from home. The action is at the edges.

  Early industrial Industrial Age Knowledge Era
Management focus Plan, organize, control Vision, values, empowerment Emergence, integrity, relationships
Structured around Functions Processes Systems
Social structure Individual tasks Work & project teams Communities
Strategic resource Raw materials Financial capital Knowledge & intangibles
Worldview Descartes, Newton, mechanical Ford, Taylor, efficient, engineering Complexity, systems theory, living systems.

When something is truly complex, all the parts work together in such a way that the whole cannot be divided without losing its integrity--and the parts also lose their integrity when separated from the whole. When you cut a cow in half you don't get two cows. You get a mess.

Every conversation is an experiment in knowledge creation/testing ideas, trying out words and concepts, continuously creating and re-creating our experience of life itself. As people move beyond routine processes into more complex challenges, they rely heavily on their colleagues and friends as thinking partners.

Verna's value mapping process:

  • Intangibles: Human capital, external capital, structural capital; Values
  • Exchange analysis, impact analysis, value creation analysis
  • Holistic model puts people back in.

With too much structure organizations can't move. With too little, they disintegrate or fly apart. Companies that have learned to keep that edge--that fine balance between tight and loose?are at their most alive, creative, and adaptable. Systems adapt best if they are only partly connected.

A business school professor once instructed me, tongue in cheek, that "Everything comes in three's." Usually, this holds true. The first columns below are Verna's. I added Bloom and my shorthand for Bloom.

Org'n
focus
Learning tools Networks timeframe individual Bloom
Operational eLearning, newsfeeds, search technology Immediate Hands Psycho-motor
Tactical Community, stories, collaboration knowledge Soon Head Cognitive
Strategic Scenarios, system maps, dialog value Future Heart Affective

Check out Verna's site. And you thought "bookkeeping" was the only word with three double-letters in a row, didn't you? www.vern aa ll ee .com

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August 02, 2003

Authenic Happiness (again)

Skip this posting if you've heard me rant about it before, but authentic happiness is so important it bears repeating. If you aren't authentically happy, you can and should do something about it. I did, and it makes me happy to share it with you.

The happiness I'm talking about is not the momentary rush of physical pleasure. Nor is it the product of drugs or sex or ecstatic religion. Rather, it's the satisfaction of doing what's right for you and for the world. That's what life's for.

Marty Seligman is a rare psychologist. He recognized that studying misfits and the mentally deranged wasn't going to explain much about staying mentally healthy. For that, you should study healthy people. From this insight, he founded the Positive Psychology movement. The story's in his book, along with the steps for achieving authentic happiness.

To be satisfied that you're doing the right thing, you have to know yourself. Most of us need some help with that. Seligman's free website offers 15 mercifully short questionnaires about your feelings and strengths. It also scores them.

For me, the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire had the most impact. This instrument confirmed things I already knew. I'm creative, original, curious about the world, and love to learn. What I didn't realize how extreme I was -- my scores on these items were among the highest ever recorded. (Remember, these are self-assessments, not objective measures.) I decided then and there that if those were so solidly my signature strengths, I had to live a life that let me express myself creatively, poke around finding things out, and feed my need to learn. No more bureaucracy for me.

Maybe you won't experience the marvellous awakening that I did, but then again, maybe you will. There's little to lose. Go to Seligman's site and click the shortcut to the Signature Strengths Questionnaire in the top left corner.

While I'm one of Marty Seligman's biggest fans, I do disagree with his prescription for clinical depression, described in a previous book, Learned Optmism. He makes a case for overcoming "learned helplessness" with logic and a bit of reprogramming.

I've been close enough to depression to know that talk and logic are not always enough. Sometimes severe depression is the result of bad chemistry in the brain. Talk alone doesn't work for people like William Styron or Mike Wallace. They take Zoloft every day to restore the serotonin balance in their brains.

It's a pity that Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Eugene O'Neill, Cole Porter, Spencer Tracy, and Judy Garland fought the debilitation of depression before medicine had come up with a cure. Needless, awful suffering. A sure-fire marker for depression is contemplating suicide. If you've considered suicide, even just toying with the idea, get to your doctor right away.

Hey, get happy, will you? :-)

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July 30, 2003

Books I've enjoyed

Jay's Amazon reading suggestions

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July 27, 2003

It's Alive

It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business by Christopher Meyer & Stan Davis.

I'm a third of the way into this book and want to record a few ideas to plant them in my head before continuing on.

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common sese, "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the twenty-first century--it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). Ray Kurzweil

If you can figure out how adaptation is embedded in biological systems, and then broaden this knowledge into a theory of general evolution, you can effectively apply the theory to many complex systems--including business.

How would a business measure successful adaptation? In biology, the metric is "fitness," measured as the relative ability of an organism to breed successfully in a given environment.

Code is code.

This is the same lesson as the bio-info-nano-cogno convergence that Jim Spohrer's paper referred to. Crack the code, and you make gains in multiple realms.

Create, connect, evolve.

Just as physics has core principles, so do adaptive systems. The basics involve:

  1. Agents. atoms, software, people, the DMUs
  2. Self-organization. autonomous order.
  3. Recombination. don't start from scratch; have sex instead
  4. Selective pressure. Fitness is judged by the environment.
  5. Adaptation. for better performance
  6. Co-evolution. When the frog evolves a sticky tongue, flies get Teflon feet. Competition and other players define the game
  7. Emergence. mix self-organization, recombination, selection, and co-evolution and you get an ecology--or an economy.

This is bottom up. The ecology arises from the atoms up. The past fifty years have shown conclusively that distributed decision-making does a better job of satisfying demand than a centralized approach. Nonetheless, many of our businesses retain a suprisingly "Soviet" management style, using approaches developed in an assembly-line era that have more in common with a top-down mentality than with a bottom-up one.

Of course, I'd suggest that it goes back to our original programming, the fact that humankind thinks with the default settings of the brains of cave dwellers.

"The molecular world is completely outside the normal common-sense range of thinking," says Alan Kay. It is this molecular sense that, over the next decade, will become our common understanding.

The connected economy is accelerating change, raising the bar for survival, and requiring a higher degree of adaptivenss from all of us. In particular, business needs to develop a new mental toolbox based on adaptive principles and an evolving economic and social environment. As stated recently in the journal Sicence, "Our quest to capture the system level laws governing cell biology in fact represents a search for the deeper patterns common to complex systems and networks in general."

Simulation is becoming a new scientific instrument, a "macroscope" allowing us to see the structure that dtermines the behavior of human-scale systems the way the microscope began to reveal the cell.

All forms of evolution arise from the interaction of independent agents follwoing a few simple rules. See "Boids". It's not a predictable world of command-and-control but, rather, a world of constant surprise and volatility, created by the interactions among low-level rules, acting form the bottom up. Translating sex into silicon, genetic algorithms allow us to redefine our objectives, replacing narrow individual "efficiency" with a boader concept of population "robustness"--the ability to cope with a volatile environment.

Often human programmers don't understand why a solution works, only that it does. Whether in vitro, in silico, or in vivo, what matters is what emerges, not the underlying mechanisms that got you there.

Is this more than warmed over Kevin Kelley and the hive mind? I think so. For one thing, Meyer and Davis provide oodles of examples. There's the goat injected with spider genes whose milk contains "BioSteel," a lightweight compound so strong the military plans to use it as armor. Lots of folks are running bio-like sims to study organizational behavior, stock market fluctuations, and traffic patterns.

The remainder of the book promises to deal with adaptive management. I'm looking forward to it.



Stan Davis has a thing for matrixes. He was once a fan of the matrix organization. His prior books have wonderful 3 x 4 tables that make things so clear. I love these, because I can glance at the matrix and have all the ideas behind it come flooding back. Guess what? We're going to look at some matrixes. (I hate the plural matrices.)

First of all, to everything there is a season. Note the scale on this graph: 250 years. The industrial era is history.

Today the life cycle of the information age has just peaked. It's all downhill from here. Over the next ten years, the molecular age will hit its growth phase.

Chris and Stan find a pattern in the lifecycles of economies.

They take the technology adoption cycle to a higher plane. Here's the tech version, describing both markets and the culture required to thrive in each.

Learn by Search & Replace. Make these substitutions...

    Visionaries = Scientists
    Pragmatists = Technologists
    Control = Business
    Collaboration = Organization

...and you get a predictive model. Wow.

Finally, here's what you can do about all this.


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June 26, 2003

Designer, Food, Book

John Heskett's Toothpicks & Logos, Design in Everyday Life, is a beautiful book. The title, displayed in tasteful violet on a flat black cover, conjures up memories of Don Norman's classic Design of Everyday Things. The cover quotes Terence Conran saying "the best book I have read about the design process." Riffing through the pages, the paper feels good and the wide leading of the type gives a clean, engaging look. Photos of design icons such as the Aeron chair, the map of the Underground, and the FedEx logo adorn the inner pages. It's a pity that a delicious package holds so little substance on its pages. Inside is a dull, academic tract.

I highlight text as I read. In the opening pages, I marked this sentence:

"Design, stripped to its essence, can be defined as the human capacity to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives."
I kept waiting to find out more. I never did. I didn't find any other memorable material. Yuck. Don't buy this one.


In contrast, Anthony Bourdai's
A Cook's Tour : Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines
is a great read. This guy is a gonzo gourmet. Like Hunter Thompson, he's so out of control that it puts you on edge. He thinks nothing of eating a few birds' heads or fugu or some snakes, often crouching with the peasants in the marketplace to do so. All in all, a delightful book. Not recommended for the squeamish.

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February 24, 2003

eLearning by Doing

Designing World-Class E-Learning : How IBM, GE, Harvard Business School, And Columbia University Are Succeeding At E-Learning
by Roger C. Schank

Roger's a provocateur. He's brash. But if more designers took the approach he advocates, people would learn a lot more.

A chapter toward the end of the book, "Let FREEDOM Ring: Seven Criteria for Assessing the Effectiveness of an e-Learning Course," is really about assessing the design of a course. Outcomes define effectiveness, not course characteristics. I'm skeptical of packaging learning as courses. Nonetheless, the FREEDOM mnemonic is catchy, and I like the design philosophy behind it.

    F is for Failure. A good course must enable failures that surprise the student. (Or at least don't meet student expectations.)

    R is for Reasoning. A good course encourages practice in reasoning. (That's application.)

    E is for Emotionality. A good course must incite an emotional response in the student. (Use people to stoke the emotional level if it's not inherent in the content.)

    E is also for Exploration. A good course promotes exploration and enables inquiry.

    D is for Doing. A good course encourages practice in doing.

    O is for Observation. A good course allows students to see things for themselves. (Roger cares primarily about memorability. If you've visited the Center for Visual Learning here, you know I'd throw in understanding, simplification, speed, and a bunch of other things.)

    M is for Motivation. A good course supplies it. (This would be Relevance but FREEDOR is simply not that catchy.)

For the uninitiated, Roger's philosophy in a nutshell:

    The primary problem in corporate training is the same problem you have in any educational system: the idea that if you tell somebody something, they know it. It's a very sexy and appealing idea ? it's just wrong.

    Stand-up training has never worked very well, and corporations are beginning to see that. So along comes the computer, and they think maybe it'll be cheaper. Yes, it might be cheaper, but that's not what's interesting about computers. What's interesting is that you can build something that looks and feels like the real thing. Instead of telling someone to fly a plane and hoping they can do it, you can have them actually practice flying a plane.

From Inside Technology Training, January 2000

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February 12, 2003

Stephen Wolfram

This evening I took BART into San Francisco to hear Dr. Stephen Wolfram talk about the ideas in his A New Way of Science. I’m about ½” into the book and have found it a relatively easy read for a science book but not that relevant to my interests. The most engaging aspect is Wolfram’s audacious stance, that the rest of the scientific world has been barking up the wrong tree since the Renaissance, if not earlier, and he’s seen what’s been there in plain sight, that everyone else overlooked, and it forces a revision of virtually every scientific discipline from physics to economics.

Wolfram’s doing a whistle stop tour to promote the book and to lay the foundation for his new science. Tonight he spoke at the Herbst Theater across Van Ness Avenue from San Francisco City Hall.

Ron Eisenhart “interviewed” Dr. Wolfram, tossing him a dozen pre-arranged questions. I pulled out my laptop and jotted notes as the conversation progressed. Wolfram is so brilliant that he makes the complex sound simple, so I was actually able to keep up with him most of the time.

If you haven’t heard Wolfram’s story, check the Wired articlefrom June 2002. If memory serves (I read the Wired piece when it came out), Wolfram arrived at Oxford in his early teens, attended one day of first-year classes and decided he’d had enough of that. Next day, he attended second-year classes and found that below him, too. He stopped attending class. When exams came around, young Stephen scored top in his class. Graduated with a PhD in theoretical physics from Cal Tech at the age of 20. Bright kid. You might also check Michael Malone's piece on Wolfram in Forbes ASAP, God, Stephen Wolfram, and Everything Else, which was the first time I'd heard of the guy.

A discussion with Stephen Wolfram

Stephen was making inquiries about cosmology, how structures evolve in our universe, and was surprised to find that particle physics had remarkably little to say about nature. We were using human constructs (Newton’s Laws, Kepler) to interpret nature. That got him started on computer programs.

Were you to look into the world of programs, what would you say these programs really do? It’s like exploring a new part of the world, with new flora and fauna. You start with simple things, you expect to get simple results. In fact, you find that you get very complex behavior.

Here’s his favorite, rule 30:


Click for larger version.

This is really complicated. There’s no easy way to describe it. Statistical methods would tell you a line from the top down would be completely random. And this is the result of a few very simple starting rules.

Stephen looked at cellular automata for a number of years. These are simple little programs built of rules like “when you find a white square, change it to a black square unless there’s black square above it.” He realized that there’s a much larger world of possible programs out there.

One of Wolfram’s rules is that if you really need a better tool, you’d better make it yourself. This is where Mathematica came from. Having developed the tool, he returned to his initial field of inquiry. In 1991, when Mathematica came out, he just sort of “pointed it out there.” He discovered that what he’d found in cellular automata had much broader implications. He looked at physics, biology, chemistry, and so on. He found something wrong with most of these basic areas. What he’d believed simply wasn’t true.

What’s the simple rule that governs the growth of a snowflake? He discovered an explanation. Same for explaining fluid turbulence. Is there some explanation that doesn’t call for outside intervention? Yes. Rule 30 gets you there. Things may look random but they will reliably come out the same again and again. The randomness is built-in, not added on.

Simple rules can lead to extremely complex and random behavior. Add a color and things don’t change. A new rule doesn’t make things more complicated. It’s already as complicated as it ever may be.

Wolfram, speaking rapidly with an Oxford accent, is wearing light gray Nikes, a pink shirt, black chinos and a dark brown tweed jacket. Very much at ease.


If one wants to find complex things in the world, biology is a good place to look. It seems as if natural selection must have been at work over the course of geological time. You assume it took a lot a time to develop complicated things. In reality, human engineers work on things in areas where they better be able to foresee the result. Nature is not under this sort of constraint. Nature’s not just Darwinism.

Take mollusk shells. Something quite similar to the Rule 30 diagram appears on a shell Stephen pulls out of his pocket.

Charles Darwin? There’s come to be a belief that Natural Selection is sort of an all-compelling force. But this is not really where all the complex stuff comes from. Darwin’s belief was more limited and correct than what his interpreters have passed along. One of the most important roles of natural selection is to simplify, not to make things more complex.

We all know about the fundamental unifying theory of physics. Laughter in the audience. (“I learned about it when I was a kid,” says Wolfram).

For instance, space. We usually think of space as background. But if you really want to understand space, you’ve got to look at it as something by itself. (Missed a couple of sentences here.) The collective effect of these things sort of reflect what we feel about things like space and time. (Huh? Those must have been important sentences; this makes no sense.)

If one believes the rule for the universe is really simple, it changes the way you look at the universe. If you start by asking, rule by rule, “Is this a rule for the universe?”, you usually find, “No, this is not a rule for the universe.” The universe has had a long time to go through its calculations.

Determinism? If I think, “I’m choosing to be yellow or black,” but in reality the model is dictating it… There are these issues outside of the realm of science. The concept of mathematical irreducibility, as with the predictability of the behavior of robots, doesn’t really constrain the eventual results. Remember, a few simple rules can generate randomness. Logic is but one of many modalities.

Implications for technology? If you are trying to do mechanical things, you get a tool, e.g. a hammer to pound in nails. But in the realm of intellect, the computer can go after it. It’s odd that this has had little impact on the foundations of natural science. Making a universal computer, millions of gates and lots of work in Silicon Valley, you might think this takes an amazing amount of effort. Actually, it may not be so tough. A molecule might implement these rules. That’s one direction.

Stephen sees himself producing new ways of making things. These are fundamental new elements you could use in growing new morphologies.


Stephen just spent 10 years (and 100 mouse-miles) writing the book. The guy’s into measuring things. He knows that a 40,000 keystroke-day is a good day, a 10,000 keystroke-day hasn’t been very productive.

There isn’t a “Journal of Big Ideas” where one publishes these rather rare happenings. Hence, he squirreled away for ten years to produce his book. It was probably the biggest project he’ll ever do.

The first thing Stephen is doing is recovering. Next will come building more tools. He needs them for studying other fundamental questions.

This has been sort of a one-person operation this far. How do you grow a science? He’s building a community. Lots of enthusiasm. 15,000 inbound email messages. Stephen would like to architect the new science.


Q&A. Math is simple. The axioms take but two pages in his book. The axioms are simple but the explanations are lengthy.

In the early nineteenth century, the belief was that any math issue could be shown to be true or false. Godel disproved this. His stating point was “This statement cannot be proved.”

I tried to ask a question but couldn’t get the attention of the people carrying the remote microphones in the auditorium. (I was sitting in seat A-1, the closest box seat to the stage, apparently undesirable but great as far as I was concerned.)

Had I the opportunity, I intended to ask Dr. Wolfram’s thoughts on today’s news that 96% of the universe is “dark matter.” Tough to identify those laws of the universe if most of it is invisible.

90 minutes after things kicked off, the audience applauded and Wolfram disappeared from sight.


So, is Wolfram a genius or a very confused individual? Probably the former although only a few results of his findings generalize to my work.

1. Simple things can have complex outcomes.
2. Random can arise without outside intervention.
3. Human concepts make scientific explanations overly complex.

Maybe I’ll wake up with new insights in the morning. Perhaps playing with Wolfram’s software will clear things up. Or maybe you’ve got this figured out. If so, please make a comment below. Thanks.

Ray Kurzweil's not convinced:

    Some of the phenomena in nature (e.g., clouds, coastlines) are explained by repetitive simple processes such as cellular automata and fractals, but intelligent patterns (e.g., the human brain) require an evolutionary process (or, alternatively the reverse-engineering of the results of such a process). Intelligence is the inspired product of evolution, and is also, in my view, the most powerful "force" in the world, ultimately transcending the powers of mindless natural forces.

    In summary, Wolfram's sweeping and ambitious treatise paints a compelling but ultimately overstated and incomplete picture. Wolfram joins a growing community of voices that believe that patterns of information, rather than matter and energy, represent the more fundamental building blocks of reality. Wolfram has added to our knowledge of how patterns of information create the world we experience and I look forward to a period of collaboration between Wolfram and his colleagues so that we can build a more robust vision of the ubiquitous role of algorithms in the world.

some of the historical notes from the book

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January 31, 2003

Links

This is a new meme in blogging: a persistent page. I plan to keep adding links on this page, sort of a catch-all. Also, it will soon be joined by some semi-permanent "living" pages of reference material. Life comes in more than last-in/first-out day-by-day entries.

Blogroots is home to the book We Blog. The chapter Using Blogs in Business is online, as is Navigating the Blog Universe. Don't miss the Resources Center.


infed.org, The Home of Informal Education, is simply awesome. Check out The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. As an example, see the section on Communities of Practice. The Top50 reads like a book of essentials. Includes many seminal texts. I found this site via elearningpost; thanks, Maish!

ERCIM, a quarterly journal in support of the European Community in Information Technology. Pan European. Recent issues have covered Semantic Web, eGovernment, Ambient Intelligence, HCI, and robotics. The current issue is about Imbedded Systems.

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December 08, 2002

The Muse in the Machine

The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought by David Gelernter was published eight years ago but its message still rings true: Emotions are part and parcel of thought. AI must include them.

I'm more interested in the application of this viewpoint to human learning. Gelernter posits that we think differently when attentive than when unfocused. As we turn down the focus knob:


Our thinking switches from the logical operations known to cognitive scientists and economists down to the day-dreamy, intuitive state where emotion ties thoughts together instead of rationalization. It almost goes without saying that how we learn shifts whenever we spin the dial. Intuition tells me (I’m a little sleepy at the moment) that this shift in style has more impact than the “natural” learning style instructional designers have been trying to accommodate with so little success.

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Authentic Happiness

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman

I haven't finished Authentic Happiness but half-way through, I'm convinced it's a valuable book.

Check out the companion website. You can take the self-tests that appear in the book.

Positive Psychology is so uplifting compared to the usual approach of studying crazies and depressives. It brings a smile to my face to read Marty explaining his own growth. His five-year old daughter asks him to stop being such a grouch – and he does.

H = S + C + V, translated as your enduring level of Happiness is a function of the Set range (your genetic disposition to happiness), modified by your life Circumstances (e.g. being a blind orphan in Bangladesh) and by Voluntary, that is, things under your control.

Circumstantial changes that can contribute to happiness are:
1. live in a wealthy democracy
2. get married
3. avoid negative events
4. acquire a rich social network
5. get religion

But don’t bother with these ineffectual things:
6. make more money
7. stay healthy
8. get more education
9. change your race or move to a sunnier climate

To the extent that you believe the past dictates the future, you will allow yourself to be a passive vessel and not try to change its course. I think past history in general is overrated. Savor the good and de-emphasize the bad. Show gratitude for the good, forgive and neutralize the bad.

MORE to follow

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November 15, 2002

Hoot Hoot


Hoot

by Carl Hiaasen

Normally, I love Carl Hiaasen's books, what with the former governor turned eco-terrorist who subsists on road-kill, the villain with a weedwhacker instead of a hook where his hand used to be, or the theme-park sleazeball trying to peddle a dead Shamu as catfood. Hoot is something else again.

"Has Carl forgotten how to write?" I wondered. "Too much time in the Florida sun?" Hoot is more Jerry Lewis than Dennis Miller, move Bill Murray than John Belushi. Slapstick. Middle of the road. Simplistic.

Only upon finishing the book did I notice that this was Hiaasen's first novel for "a younger audience." An Amazon review notes, "Carl Hiaasen is riding the wave of adult fiction writers down-shifting their word processors to 'Kid Lit' in the wake of Harry Potter."

I find it confusing when an author messes with his brand without informing his customers. How about a big "Kid Lit" sticker to let us know what we're getting?

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October 20, 2002

The 22 Laws... of Branding

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries, Laura Ries.

A branding program should be disnged to differentiate your product from all the other cattle on the range. Even if all the other cattle on the range look pretty much alike.

Successful branding programs are based on the concept of singularity. The objective is to create in the mind of the prospect the perception that there is no other product on the market quite like your product.

Marketing is what a company is in business to do.

That's about as deep as this book gets. The "Laws" could be termed the "Observations." Most of them say one thing, "Focus." Less is more. Don't try to be all things to all people.

Oh, by the way, don't name yourself this:

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October 14, 2002

Clear Sky, Pure Light


Clear Sky, Pure Light

Clear Sky, Pure Light is a collection of Henry David Thoreau's writings compiled by Christoper Childs. It's a beautiful little book physically, with a striking wood engraving of Thoreau on the cover, rich paper, and printed letterpress in an edition of 2000 copies. When I found it in mint condition for $4 at Pegasus Books, I couldn't resist. So for the last couple of weeks, Thoreau has entertained me whle sitting on the porceline throne in the scullery adjoining my office.

I must say that I do not know what made me leave the pond. I left it as unaccountably as I went to it. To speak sincerely, I went there because I had go read to go; I left it for the same reason.

I learned this, at least, by my experiement: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavoers to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him,, or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the uniververse will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.



Asked upon his deathbed if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied "I did not know we had ever quarrelled."

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Color


This evening I read Bill Horton's Illustrating Computer Documentation, the Art of Presenting Information Graphically, On Paper and Online. (1991)

What a practical book! Now out of print, you can buy an electronic copy for $20 from Bill's website. Such a deal.

Most animals are color-blind. Only human beings, a few other primates, day-active birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, and bees see in color. Frogs, salamanders, dogs, cats, horses, and sheep are all color-blind. Color helps us deal with a complex, ever changing environment rapidly and surely.

Bill goes on to give lots of information about color, some of it, ah, eye-opening. What freaks me out is how little use of color one finds in books, cases, "white" papers, and so forth.

The next chapter, Enriching Graphics, describes such things as how to number graphics and captions. Captions! Authors will spend hours getting the words just right or diddling over a comma, but dash off captions as if they were a useless bother. I have news: People read subheads, then captions, and then, if they're still on board, the body copy.

Captions are some of the most important words an author can write.

Pictures are more powerful than text. When a page contains graphics, they are noticed first, studied longer, and returned to more often than text. Labels, annotations, and captions to graphics are read more often than body text or headings. Yet most page designs used in computer documentation and other technical documents treat graphics as secondary and even as an unwelcome violation of the pure design of the page.

Fortunately, ...enlightened writers and graphic designers now realize that their job is not to put words on paper or to make pretty pictures but to communicate. They are taking steps to put text and pictures together into effective pages."

So many reminders. Page design. Cultural nuances. Symbol libraries. On and on. Illustrating Computer Documentation is chock full of rules of thumb and practical advice.

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September 08, 2002

What Management Is

What Mangement Is

by Joan Magretta and Nan Stone

In 220 pages, What Management Is explains what's important: creating value, strategy, organization, the real bottom line, innovation, and managing people. Don't bother if you have a recent MBA. Otherwise, read this book.

Amazon's review nails it:


What Management Is, by former Harvard Business Review editors Joan Magretta and Nan Stone, identifies management as the driving force behind key innovations of the past century and presents a jargon-free look at the way its core principles work. Designed to promote "managerial literacy" up and down the business food chain, as well as among those who simply "want better communities and a better world for our children," the book uses concrete examples to explain fundamental concepts and practices like value creation, the 80-20 rule, and decision analysis in a way that sheds light on them for the uninitiated while providing needed perspective for the more experienced. "Think of this book as everything you wanted to know about management but were afraid to ask," Magretta and Stone write. A comprehensive exploration of the overall process rather than a traditional how-to, in its first section What Management Is examines why and how people work together; the second section shows how ideas are translated into action. With case studies ranging from Old Economy stalwarts like Ford to New Economy upstarts like Dell, along with pioneering nonprofits such as the Nature Conservancy and India's Aravind Eye Hospital, the authors explicitly lay out the basics along with a framework for employing them in a wide variety of situations.

I read this one cover to cover. Value comes from the outside. "Determining who the relevant outsiders are may be management's single most critical decision." When GE went through this exercise, it found that its customers wanted short-haul, easily-maintained locomotives, not the behemoths GE had been selling them. "...the shift in mindset from inputs to results, from product to solution, was like flipping a light switch."

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September 02, 2002

Information Architecture

Information Architecture, 2nd edition.

Yesterday I read this book online, my first pic from the Safari service at O'Reilly. My first month at Safari will cost $15 for 10 books. Information Architecture retails for $28 at Amazon. Such a deal. While it may not spread beyond the technical sphere, Safari fits my needs for computer books like eLearning is practical for IT skills training.

The book gave me the final nudge into accepting that the new Internet Time site will separate form and substance. I've begun defining new .class items for CSS, e.g. "highlight" and "summary" and other elements to add clarity and improve usability. I'm going to have the system put breadcrumbs atop each page for navigation. The plan is to do a lot of coding upfront and almost none as time marches on. I bet this eliminates 10,000 font tags.

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September 01, 2002

Surfin' Safari

It is HOT here. My office is 86 degrees and rising. So I just came downstairs to the back deck. A fat squirrel made his way along the trellice and stared at me for a while. (I don't do this often enough.) I swept the dried leaves fro the Japanese maple that shades the back deck. The noise spooked a large buck that was lolling around in the backyard. I kid Uta that we're letting the back return to its primordial state.

I'm rebuilding my website and I decided that it's time to bite the bullet and put together a new framework with cascading style sheets, consistent look & feel, templates, and other goodies that have come out since I put the original together with NotePad and HotDog.

Reading Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Flash sites told me more than I wanted to know about some of the things I'd like to do and not enough about others. (I'd really like a good default site to customize but I haven't been able to find one.)

Some of the O'Reilly books have caught my eye. There's a new version of Information Architecture out; the first edition is one of the more valuable web books of the four or five dozen I've read. There's a whole book on Cascading Style Sheets. There are PHP and Perl books. All adorned with those cute drawings of polar bears, meerkats, and other animals. I want a wheelbarrow full but at $25+ a pop, that's not in the cards.

Reading a review of Information Architecture II, I came upon an ad for Safari, an online book-licensing deal from O'Reilly.

    Get your first 14 days free when you subscribe to Safari Tech Books Online, with nearly 1,000 of the best technical books available from O'Reilly and other top publishers. Select up to ten books to search, bookmark, and annotate; cut and paste code examples; find your answers fast.

People kvech about reading on screen but it doesn't bother me that much, especially if it's a technical book I want to be able to search.




I'm still on the back deck,but now I'm reading chapter 1 of Information Architecture. It's good. This is simply too cool for words. I was thinking of going down to Cody's Books or the Engineering Library at U.C. Berkeley to grab this book. Instead, I've saved myself 45 minutes and I have five new O'Reilly books on my shelf!

What IS information architecture? The authors define it thus:

    in·for·ma·tion ar·chi·tec·ture n.

    1. The combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within an information system.

    2. The structural design of an information space to facilitate task completion and intuitive access to content.

    3. The art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information.

    4. An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.



I just finished reading Cascading Style Sheets. On line. What a snooze. I will forget most of this by morning. But I learned some nifty things that I'll put to work in the new version of internettime.com.

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August 26, 2002

Business, the Ultimate Resource This

Business, the Ultimate Resource

This one may take me a while to read. It's two thousand pages of concentrated articles and checklists and factoids that make up what Daniel Goleman, in the introduction, calls "business intelligence."

I'm becoming a fan of these Cliff's Notes business books. I've read Consulting Demons and The Witch Doctors, each of which boils down and denigrates management consulting jargon and fads. The Guru Guide heaps praise on many of the same people. I'll write a review of the utility of this new one after digging into it.

I could use some exercise, and

A New Kind of Science

by Stephen Wolfram is even heavier. A couple of thousand pages rewriting science around algorithms instead of formulas.

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August 04, 2002

In Sydney I visited an

In Sydney I visited an amazing bookstore, Books Kinokunita. Racks and racks and racks of books, and then you find there's an entire other wing filled with Japanese books and Chinese books. Deep section on design and graphics. Absolutely fantastic and if you're a booklover, not to be missed.

Doc Searles pointed me to Adina Levin's Bookblog. One way to squeeze more out of a book: read what other people are saying about it.

Another notch on the gun: On Dialogue, an essay in free thought by Robert Grudin. His premise: dialogue, even in one's own mind, is consciousness-raising and liberating, and hence that dialogue is an essential component of liberty.

"Pathways, designed for swift access from point to point, ignore the untrodden areas between and beyond them. Systems of any sort tend to grow self-protective, unfreindly to the new. Vast systems that seem just and effective can turn out to be huge conspiracies of collective ignorance, or cynical artifices of power."

"...the mind cannot be liberated from constraint until it is freed from its own inner tyrannies."

"When we see and move linearly, we are actually in the midst of another life, multidimensional and oceanically rich. Sometimes this other life makes itself visible to us, in a natural event or family tragedy or rite of passage or sudden flow of emotion. But monstly it remains hidden, obscured by the rush of our daily affairs, our lack of practice in focusing on it, our shyness in confronting its vastness. Yet this obscurity does not annul its power. Indeed, the multiple dimensions of our lives often exert a power over us that is directly propoortional to our ignorance of them."

"The dialogic mind is cosmopolitan in terms of ideas. It accepts the premise that a given idea or experience can be viewed from a variety of perspectives and that while some of those various perspectives may be mutually complementary, others may disagree with each other. The dialogic mind derives it sophistication, its play of irony and excitement, from acceptiong this variety and stress."



"Writing is a dialogic process.... Doing interludes in writing challenges and expands my own awareness, suggesting new connections and directing me into areas that I otherwise might ignore. For similar reaosns, I have allowed some chapters to dissipate into disconnected paragraphs rather than end the way chapters normally do. They may be sloppy, and it's definitely not the way wwe are taught to write by professors and editors. Essays and chapters, they tell us, should be coherent and inclusive; they should follow through.

Some subjects, however, do not always admit of inclusive and coherent treatments. They are what you might call shaggy subjects: topics so ful of contradictions and ramifications that it would be barbaric and unfair to package them in essayistic treatments. Free thought and dialogue are among such subjects."



isbn.nu will find a book and then look for the best price for it.

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July 31, 2002

Mammals of Australia Terence Lindsey

Mammals of Australia
Terence Lindsey

The monotremes, platypus and echidna, egg-laying mammals that use the same orifice for sex and defection (mono-treme). The marsupials, which nuture a barely formed young 'un in a pouch, and include roos, wallabies, wombats, quokkas, Tasmanian devils, bandicoots, bilbies, numbats, koalas, possums, bettongs, potoroos, pademelons, almost all of which we saw in Tasmania and/or the Sydney zoo. A great little pocketbook that answers the important questions like

    Are echnidnas smart?
    Is the Tasmanian Tiger extinct?
    Which large Australian mammal leads a subterranean lifestyle?
    How do possums communicate?

A fine little book -- IF you're going to Australia.

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Australia's Living Heritage, Arts of

Australia's Living Heritage, Arts of the Dreaming
Jennifer Isaacs, JB Books

I read this picture book/essay while on vacation in Australia. It describes Aboriginal art from baskets to rock carvings to bark painting to body painting to decorated weapons to sculpture.

"All Aboriginal art is symbolic; much of it is geometric of non-figurative." In fact, it's quite a surprise that the art of the oldest continuous culture in the world (40,000 - 60,000 years old) expresses itself in a form that could be mistaken for "modern" abstract art. Lots of circlues and dots and wavy lines, generally recounting one's personal creation myth and ancestor stories.

Western eyes often miss the frame of Aboriginal art, for it often incorporates found objects from nature. A pile of rocks two blocks down the road from a painted boulder may represent the eggs of an emu.

We tend to look primarily for images that we recognize and that relate to our own perceptions of the world, perhaps ignoring the importance of other evidence relating to another world view. The existence of so many tracks, circles and other marks at most of the rock engraving sites highlights an aspect of Aboriginal perception that differs from that of Europeans. Because it was so necessary for hunters to undestand and relate to the tracks and marks left by every living creature, the engravings frequently showed the 'marks' made by people and animals, rather than presenting representational images of their forms. Examples are the obvious foot tracks, tail marks of the kangaroo, egg indentations to indicate a clutch of emu eggs, arcs and circles to denote seated people and a campfire.
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July 29, 2002

The Book on the Bookshelf

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski goes from papyrus scrolls to hardbound codex to chained book, kept in armoires, triple-locked chests, and lecturns by the monastery windows. The name of the book hasn't always appeared on the spine, and early on, the spines faced inward. A wonderful collection of book trivia.

The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz implores you to be impeccable with your word, not to take anything personally, not to make assumptions, and to always do your best. Miguel tells you this over and over and over. That's the Toltec way, I guess.

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In a Sunburned Country by

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, recently retitled Down Under, is a humorous trek around Australia with an incurably curious funny guy. I read this on the plane to Australia and during our first days in Sydney, chuckling along and thoroughly enjoying Bryson's quirks. Not much about urban life. I started but ran out of time with Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore, the story of the early days. An engrossing book, but not one I have much use for now that I'm back in California.

the haiku anthology, a delightful anchor paperback from 25 years ago, purchased for a nickel at the Albany Library book sale earlier this year. The 5-7-5 structure is total nonsense, given that the Japanese don't have syllables so much as thought-bites. In English, it's permissable to shorten things:

      tonite northing to write


      but this


      The silence in moonlight

      of stones

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July 10, 2002

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization
by Thomas A. Stewart

The Wealth of Knowledge is easily the best business book I've read in several years. The logic is sound, the metaphors communicate, and the prescriptions are practical. Some of the goodies I high-lighted follow.

Intangible assets include HUMAN CAPITAL (the skills and knowledge of our people) STRUCTURAL CAPITAL (patents, processes, databases, networks, etc.) CUSTOMER CAPITAL (relationships with customers and suppliers)

All the major structures of companies – their legal underpinnings, their systems of governance, their management disciplines, their accounting – are based on a model of the corporation that has become irrelevant. There are no rules of thumb, no advice, no tried-and-true consulting methods, no academic work on how to make the oil-rig worker more productive during the five-sixths of his time he is not holder a wrench. Knowledge workers are on their own—getting a word of advice here and there from a colleague or a boss, or from self-help books about how to be better organized.

The single most effective way to strengthen employees’ loyalty is to increase their opportunities for growth.

We all know that we learned more from our classmates than from our classes.

Collaboration, customization, constant correction occur in a special kind of place, a place with Ba.

By the middle of 2001, dot-com schadenfreud had become as tiresome and unenlightening as e-business braggadocio was two years earlier.

An organization is defined from the inside out—by budgets, departments, org charts, and reporting relationships. A business is defined from the outside in—by markets, suppliers, customers, competitors.

The Four-Step Process for Managing Intellectual Capital

1. Identify and evaluate the role of knowledge in your business—as input, process, and output. How knowledge-intensive is the business? Who gets paid for what knowledge? Who pays? How much?
2. Match the revenues you’ve just found with the knowledge assets that produce them. What are the expertise, capabilities, brands, intellectual properties, processes, and other intellectual capital that create value for you? What is the mixture of human-capital, structural-capital, and customer-capital assets?
3. Develop a strategy for investing in and exploiting your intellectual assets. What are your value proposition, source of control, and profit model?
4. Improve the efficiency of knowledge work and knowledge workers. Bearing in mind that knowledge work does not necessarily follow the linear path that physical labor often does, how can you increase knowledge workers’ productivity.

Stephen Denning, at the World Bank, identified 114 knowledge domains, and for each, created a help desk, a who-knows-what Yellow Pages, a collection of key sector statistics, records of the bank’s previous projects (emphasizing best practices and lessons learned), an electronic bulletin board, and finally provision for outsiders (such as the bank’s client countries) to get into the system directly.

Collegiality (and knowledge-sharing) contends with subverters, wiggle-outers, and a few outright foes. Auditors, lawyers, security officers, personnel staff—everyone wants to keep secrets.

The Disciplines of a Knowledge Business

Traditional organizations are run like buses, with routes to follow and schedules to meet; real-time organizations are taxis, which respond to a waving armor a voice crackling on a two-way radio.

· Decisions that once were made internally are now made with and by outsiders—customers or the market as a whole.
· The more choices people get, the more they want.
· Time is present time and distance is zero.
· Volatility is baked in; live with it.

You find knowledge products not by looking at your own value chain, but by look at that of your customers.

“Never sell anything only once.” Art Buchwald

“If you’re not absorbing knowledge from your customer, you’re not doing anything.” Nick Bontis

Value creation itself, more and more, is a collaboration between buyer and seller.

A fully developed customer learning process will have four traits. First, it will emphasize communication over information mining. Without a process of mutual learning—which permits smarter buying and selling—there’s little basis for customer loyalty in a low-friction knowledge economy. Second, customer learning needs to be integrated across functions—that is, not just confined to marketing, sales, and service, but reaching into new product development and even HR and finance. Third, the process should create a kind of relationship capital that is as valuable to the buyer as it is to the seller. Finally, the customer learning process should be so visible day to day that you can’t imagine running the company without it.

Knowledge sharing builds social capital, trust, morale, and culture. Whatever your business imperative—speed, innovation, frugality, quality, customer focus—knowledge sharing helps it. (Yet a study of thousands of professionals by Korn Ferry found that only 12% had access to lessons learned within their own company!)

Bill Raduchel says, “You can’t have a virtual conversation unless you also have real conversations. The indispensable complementary technology to the Net is the Boeing 747.”

Consultantware = semi-finished products that consultants then tailor to their clients’ needs.

In a knowledge economy, where unthinking jobs have been automated, companies are asking all workers—and especially managers and knowledge workers—to make decisions. Their inner gyroscope must be aligned with the corporate compass.

How to Train More Effectively

Emphasize action learning. Classroom training has its place: a small one. It’s inefficient: Half the people in the room are secretly working on their “real” jobs….

Build informal learning into work. Make it easy—and culturally acceptable—to ask for help.

Train for today’s job, not tomorrows, and train to increase the overall flexibility of the workforce.

Focus on key skills and knowledge workers. A company’s training should emphasize what differentiates it from its competitors.



Accounting, long dead, is not yet buried, and the situation stinks. Okay, that overstates the case, but not a lot.

Organizations are not so much collections of parts as they are connections of brain cells, nerves, and sinews. To discover this is to discover the power of knowledge set free and of technology made human. It is to discover that it’s possible to improve not only a company’s performance today, but its responsiveness, its repertoire of skills, and its capacity to deal with the future.

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June 15, 2002

Used books Every year at

Used books

Every year at this time, the Albany (California) Public LIbrary holds a user book sale. This year's event, at least the first of two days, was no where near a rich as years past. Nonetheless, I picked up the following tomes for a grand total of $4:

    The Haiku Anthology
    On Not Being Able to Paint
    Time to Teach/Time to Learn
    Measuring the Impact of Training
    Art as Experience (John Dewey, 1934)

Ideas on paper have to be one of the best bargains on earth.

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Books, books, books. Today I

Books, books, books.

Today I wandered through Black Oak Books while waiting for a prescription to be filled at the pharmacy at the other end of the block. (Black Oak actually inhabits the space vacated by the pharmacy when they moved into the former quarters of a Lucky Supermarket that could no longer hack it in the Gourmet Ghetto.)

I love browsing bookstores. The titles spark associations in my mind. Just running my eyes over the spines of book shifts the cerebral machinery into high gear. Among the books at Black Oak I'd read if time permitted:

    Future Evolution
    The Forgetting (David Schenk, on Alzheimer's)
    A Brain for All Seasons (Wm. Calvin)
    The Future of Spacetime (Hawking et alia)
    Making Sense of Life
    The Dawn of Human Culture
    The Moment of Complexity
    The Living Clock, The Origins of Biological Rhythms
    What Evolution Is
    Links
    Synaptic Self
    What Just Happened (James Gleick)
    Oaxaca Journal (Oliver Sachs)
    The Future of Life (Wilson)
    Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Donald Knuth)
    Trail poems of Gary Snyder

I could go on.

I'm about halfway thourgh Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Soren Kierkegaard did almost all of their thinking on foot. Pilgrimages, whose walkers make it hard, and Wordsworth, who lived for this then-peasant activity. I'm currently reading of moutaineers, the founding of the Sierra Club, hiking, and long-distance walks. This is a fun read.


I'm also at the midpoint of Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger. If you're not a web person, this is an important book. I've been reading Weinberger's stuff for several years so this is old ground. He's a very entertaining writer, nonetheless, so I'll make it through this one.

I found Linda and Richard Eyre's Teach Your Children Values for fifty cents. Since I'm such a fan of Richard's Spiritual Serendipity, I had to give it a shot. I've just started.

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May 21, 2002

Gonzo Marketing by Christopher Locke

Gonzo Marketing by Christopher Locke

It took me a while to dig through Gonzo Marketing. It's fun. It's easy. It's highly entertaining. But if you know Chris Locke from Cluetrain, from Entropy Gradient Reversals, and from outrageous email from Rage Boy, it's not new.

Don''t get me wrong. I love this stuff. Hunter Thompson and Tom Peters rolled into one. Marketing needed a wake-up call, and Chris is an ear-shattering alarm clock.

The fact that Locke got Harvard Business Review to run an article entitled Gonzo Marketing, Winning Through Worst Practices, is simply staggering.

In the midst of writing my book on Implementing eLearning, I find myself quoting Chris a lot more than Philip Kotler.


At an architecture bookstore on Michigan Avenue, I found myself drawn to a slender tome by Kimberly Elam entitled Geometry of Design.

When I was in grammar school I must have been absent on the days they covered the Golden Section and Fibonnaci numbers.

The Golden Section is a rectangle with sides in a ratio of 1:.61803. Offer people a line-up of various rectangles and this one always wins the popularity contest. Take the Fibonnaci series, divide a number by the prior number in the series...and the results converge to the Golden Section!

The Golden Section also defines the proportions of the human body, the face, the body of fish, the facade of the Parthenon, and the posters of A.M Cassandre.

I find it utterly amazing that things like this lie beneath the surface of our everyday lives yet can go unnoticed. A fascinating read.



I've read big chunks of various Chicago guidebooks and part of a volume on Frank Lloyd Wright.

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March 23, 2002

Mapping Hypertext : The Analysis,

Mapping Hypertext : The Analysis, Organization, and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-Line Text and Graphics
by Robert E. Horn (Paperback - February 1990

This is a gem. I don't know how I missed it these dozen years past. Horn foresaw many of the problems of hypertext...and what to do about them...before HTML became commonplace.

He also presents Information Mapping (his invention) in very concise fashion.

And I hadn't realized how much Doug Engelbart had contributed. What a guy.

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March 16, 2002

Antigua Guatemala : The


Antigua Guatemala : The City and Its Heritage
by Elizabeth Bell

    Read this if you're going to Antigua; otherwise skip it. Marvellous story: Pedro Alvarez, a lieutenant of Cortes, butchers Guatemalans, establishes his capital near present-day Antigua, and is killed when a horse tumbled off a ledge and squashes him. His wife literally paints the town black, mandates ten days of mourning, and declares herself empress of America. Rains turn into torrents into floods, and the entire town, empress and all, are washed down the river, cleaned out so well that for hundreds of years people mislocated its site.

Michelin NEOS Guide Guatemala-Belize, 1e (NEOS Guide)
by Michelin Staff (Editor)


    A handy pocket-sized guide that was generally right on target. None of the guides, Neos included, had current skinny on hotels in El Peten; things are changing too fast. All-in-all, the best guide on Guatemala travel I could find.

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February 16, 2002

When the Going Gets Weird,

When the Going Gets Weird, the twisted life and times of hunter s. thompson by Peter O. Whitmer

I noticed this on the shelves of the Albany Library. Seeing as how I'm half-way through Gonzo Marketing, I couldn't resist. Hunter is a drunken nutcase but his very irresponsibility keeps you on edge. Hunter's always in his own movie, and the reader never knows when the drugs will kick in and he'll lob in a smoke grenade or load up his shotgun. Alas, the man is less interesting than his writing.

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February 15, 2002

Kotler on Marketing How to


Kotler on Marketing
How to create, win, and dominate markets
by Philip Kotler

I read this to help get my thinking together on Lance's and my book, tentatively titled Marketing eLearning. It's a good "marketing for dummies" tract.

    Meeting customer expectations will only satisfy customers; exceeding their expectations will delight them.

    "Neanderthal marketing" includes "equating selling with marketing, emphasizing customer acquisition rather than customer care, trying to make a profit on every transaction rather than trying to profit by managing customer lifetime value, pricing based on marketing up cost...."

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January 28, 2002

Developing a Winning Marketing Plan


Developing a Winning Marketing Plan by William A. Cohen 1987

I wanted to contrast a traditional marketing mix to what I'd put together in today's networked world. The Albany Library could offer only this book.

Developing...Plan is over the hill. Published 1987. A surface skim of the topic.

Cohen cautions us to use only one typist to prepare the plan. (Typist?) Customer relationship management, product obsolescence, offshore competition, time-based competition, etc. --- not mentioned. Save your money. I'm sorry I took this one home.

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January 20, 2002

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization
by Thomas A. Stewart

I am really looking forward to this book. Intellectual Capital was a breakthrough book, easy to read but astounding in its power. At first, the title intimidated me. How wrong could I be. Figures that a lucid Fortune reporter would write something quite understandable.


    When he searched for "intellectual capital" on the web five years ago, the seventh item brought up by a search engine was, "Rome is the intellectual capital of Italy."

    Hammering obsolete accounting for the nonsense it is, he points out that, "Management also has no place in traditional economics--economists simply leave it out, as if all management is the same and ocunts for nothing." (Bravo!)

    Regarding fads, "Too often, companies lurched into knowledge management, e-commerce, and other Information Age management ideas before they had business reasons for their actions."

    "It is time, once and for all, to drive a stake through the heart of traditional accounting, which is draining the life from business."


"We have come a long way toward understading how to turn knowledge into intellecutal capital, and how to use intellectual capital to increase the prosperity of our companies and countries, and add to the richness of our lives. Hurry up, please. It's time."

That's a journey I want to be part of.


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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers


Amazon's review says:

    At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother's upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey's Hiroshima.)

Dave Eggers takes us on a tour of what's going through his head, usually something along the lines of "God I sing great in the shower" or "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The babysitter is probably cutting my brother into tiny chunks and preparing to roast them, with onions, on the barbeque. Fuck." Dave's inner dialogue sounds real. It's so rare to encounter what's really going through one's mind. I recall sitting on the floor of my dorm room sophmore year at Princeton, taking apart a broken stereo receiver just for the hell of it. When a roommate asked what I was doing, I explained that I was dismantling the guidance system of a Nazi submarine and I had to get it done before it launched its torpedos. Dave would share something like that. Fuck yes.

I read A Heartbreaking Work because of a personal connection. When Dave and his brother Christopher's parents die, they move to Berkeley. Christopher ("Toph") enrolls at Black Pine Circle school. In my son Austin's class. Uta remembers Dave, Toph, and their sister Beth. At first they share a house a couple of blocks from here. Dave and Toph shoot baskets at the hoop three minutes from my house. They walk the streets I walk. Dave talked about an Open House at Black Pine that I attended, too. Cue "It's a small world after all."

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December 29, 2001

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.

The true purpose of Zen is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. Zen practice is to open up our small mind.

Time constantly goes from past to present and from present to future. This is true, but it is also true that time goes from future to present and from present to past.

If your mind is related to something outside itself, that mind is a small mind, a limited mind. If your mind is not related to anything else, then there is a dualistic understanding in the activity of your mind.

You should not be bothered by your mind. You should rather be grateful fo rthe weds, because eventually they will enrich your practice.

The point we emphasize is strong confidence in our original nature.

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December 27, 2001

Schools That Learn by Peter

Schools That Learn by Peter Senge & friends, reviewed elsewhere.

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November 13, 2001

Organizing Genius The Secrets


Organizing Genius

The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman

“The End of the Great Man.” We have lived in a by-line culture where recognition and status are accorded to individuals, not groups. But even as the lone hero continues to gallop through our imaginations, shattering obstacles with silver bullets, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, we know there is an alternate reality. Thought history, groups of people often without conscious design, have successfully blended individual and collective effort to create something new and wonderful. The Bauhaus school, the Manhattan Project…

Gifted individuals working alone may waste years pursuing a sterile line of inquiry or become so enamored of the creative process that they produce little or nothing. A Great Group can be a goad, a check, a sounding board, and a source of inspiration, support, and even love.

The controversial aspect of Organizing Genius is the authors’ decision to look only to great groups. Why not look at normal groups? They say they looked at only hard-charging groups whose fervor yielded famous results because “excellence is a better teacher than is mediocrity.” The reader must decide whether the lessons from groups “carried out by people with fire in their eyes” apply to groups whose members lead more balanced lives. Take-Home Lessons

Most of us have experienced the terrible frustration of being part of a group that had the potential for greatness but never quite gelled. The geometrical surge in ideas and energy that happens in Great Groups never took place, even though the talent was there, the drive was there, and the project seemed full of promise. Looking back at these stillborn opportunities, you experience a shudder of sadness and inevitably ask yourself, “What went wrong?”

Greatness starts with superb people.

Every Great Group has a strong leader. This is one of the paradoxes of creative collaboration. Great Groups are made up of people with rare gifts working together as equals. Yet in virtually every one there is one person who acts as maestro, organizing the genius of the others. He or she is a pragmatic dreamer, a person with an original but attainable vision. Ironically, the leader is able to realize his or her dream only if others are free to do exceptional work.

Many Great Groups have a dual administration. They have a visionary leader, and they have someone who protects them from the outside world, the “suits.”

Great Groups think they are on a mission from God. This is not a job. This is a mission, carried out by people with fire in their eyes.

Every Great Group is an island—but an island with a bridge to the mainland.

Great Groups see themselves as winning underdogs.

In Great Groups, the right person has the right job.

Great Groups ship. Successful collaborations are dreams with deadlines.

Great work is its own reward. Great Groups engage in solving hard, meaningful problems.

Reflection on Jay’s learning about Great Groups

The Meta-Learning Lab is in the formative stages. I’m committed to making it successful so I figured it would be useful to look ahead and figure out what we need to do.

Reviews of Warren Bennis’s Organizing Genius suggested it told what had worked for others. Yesterday I read the introduction, first chapter, and last chapter of the book, highlighting passages that grabbed me as I read. I was familiar with a number of the examples the book cites: PARC, the Mac, the Skunk Works, the 1992 Clinton campaign, and the Manhattan Project, so I didn’t feel guilty cutting to the chase. Next I read reviews and critiques of the book on Amazon and elsewhere on the net. I slept on this and then transcribed the highlighted passages that still seemed relevant.

Time invested: two or three hours. Evaluation: worthwhile. Conclusion: A good touchstone for thinking about Meta-Learning Lab’s organizational issues.

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November 11, 2001

The Knowing/Doing Gap by Jeffrey

The Knowing/Doing Gap

by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton

"Did you ever wonder why so much education and training, management consultation, organizational research and so many books and articles produce so few changes in actual management practice?" ask Stanford University professors Pfeffer and Sutton. "We wondered, too, and so we embarked on a quest to explore one of the great mysteries in organizational management: why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge."

Why do some organizations know what to do but don't do it?
(1) TALK substitutes for ACTION - making presentation instead of doing the actual stuff!
(2) MEMORY is a substitute for ACTION - limited by one's own thought and could not make a leap forward by implementing.
(3) FEAR prevents ACTING ON KNOWLEDGE - Yes! This is what bothers me for years!
(4) MEASUREMENT obstruct GOOD JUDGMENT
(5) Internal Competition turns FRIENDS into ENEMY.

"Unfortunately, using complex language and ambiguous terminology confuses people and inhibits action. One organization we studied gave employees laptop computers to provide them access to e-mail and the Internet, but describe this as a transformation to a virtual organization. This jargon confused people ... resulted in weeks of spreading rumors (e.g. our office is closing ...)"

Center for Workforce Development: "Most workplace learning goes on unbudgeted, unplanned, and uncaptured by the organization.... Up to 70 percent of workplace learning is informal."

Evaluations can be based on how well someone performs...or how smart the person seems. How smart they seem is often the only data at hand. Smart talk becomes confused with good performance.

Teresa Amabile notes, "Only pessimism sounds profound. Optimism sounds superficial." But at the end of the day, something still needs to get done.

A simple principle was applied in firms in which the measurement systems helped--rather than undermined--the ability to turn knowledge into action. Such firms measured things that were core to their culture.and values and intimately tied to their basic business model and strategy, and used these measures to make business processes visible to all employees.

What does affect performance, if it isn't competition? THere is a large body of research showing the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also called the Pygmalion effect, on performance. Independently of skill, intelligence, or even past performance, when teachers believe that their students will perform well, they do. Independently of other factors, when leaders believe their subordinates wil perform well, these positive expectations lead to better performance.

Guidelines for action:

Why before how. It's a process, it's not an answer. The successful organizations in the book begin not with specific techniques or practices but rather with some basic principles--a philosophy or set of guidelines about how they will operate.

Knowing comes from doing and teaching others how. In a world of conceptual frameworks, fancy graphics presentations, and, in general, lots of words, there is much too little appreciation for the power, and indeed the necessity, of not just talking and thinking but of doing--and this includes explaining and teaching--as a way of knowing.

Fear fosters knowing/doing gaps, so drive fear out. Christensen: "What companies need is a forgiveness framework, and not a failure framework, to encourage risk taking and empower employees to be thinking leaders rather than passive executives."

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November 09, 2001

Systems Design of Education by

Systems Design of Education by Bela Banathy

UCB Ed/Psych Library LB 2805 B264 1991

Improvement or transformation?

To ask larger questions is to risk getting things wrong. Not to ask them at all is to constrain the life of understanding. Geo. Skinner

This is a solid yet entertaining book. Highly influential in shaping school reform. Unfortunately, it's due back at the library and I've read but 67 pages.

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The Tree of Knowledge by

The Tree of Knowledge by Mumberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela

All cognitive experience involves the knower in a personal way, rooted in his biological structure. THere, his experience of certainty is an individual phenomenon blind to the cognitive acts of tohers, in a solitude which, as we shall see, is transcended only in a world created with those others.

Nothing we are going to say will be understood in a really effective way unless the reader feels personally involved and has a direct experience that goes beyond all mere description.

This special situation of knowing how we know is traditionally elusive for our Western cluture. We are keyed to action and not to reflection, so that our personal life is generally blind to itself. It is as though a taboo tells us: "It is forbidden to know about knowing." Actually, not knowing what makes up our world of experience, which is the closest world to us, is a crying shame. There are many things to be ashamed about in the world, but this ignorance is one of the worst.

Now, if the reader has followed seriously what was said in these pages, he will be impelled to look at everything he does --- smelling, seeing, building, preferring, rejecting, conversing -- as a world brought forth in coexistence with other people....

We must walk on the razor's edge, eschewing the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism). Our purpose in this book has been to find a via media: to understand the regularity of the world we are experiencing at every moment, but without any point of reference independent of ourselves that would give certainty to our descriptions and cognitive assumptions. Indded, the whole mechanism of generationg ourselves as describers and observers tells us that our world, as the world which we bring forth in our coexistence with others, will always have precisely that mixture or regularity and mutability, that combination of solidty and shifting sand, so typical of human experience when we look at it up close.

We are continusously immersed in this network of interractions, the results of which depend on history. Effective action leads to effective action: it is the cognitive circle that characterizes our becoming, as an experession of our manner of being autonomous living systems.

We have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.

We affirm that at the core of all the troubles we face today is our very ignorance of knowing. It is not knwoledge, but the knowledge of knowledge, that compels.

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The Tree of Knowledge by

The Tree of Knowledge by Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela


All cognitive experience involves the knower in a personal way, rooted in his biological structure. THere, his experience of certainty is an individual phenomenon blind to the cognitive acts of tohers, in a solitude which, as we shall see, is transcended only in a world created with those others.

Nothing we are going to say will be understood in a really effective way unless the reader feels personally involved and has a direct experience that goes beyond all mere description.

This special situation of knowing how we know is traditionally elusive for our Western cluture. We are keyed to action and not to reflection, so that our personal life is generally blind to itself. It is as though a taboo tells us: "It is forbidden to know about knowing." Actually, not knowing what makes up our world of experience, which is the closest world to us, is a crying shame. There are many things to be ashamed about in the world, but this ignorance is one of the worst.

Now, if the reader has followed seriously what was said in these pages, he will be impelled to look at everything he does --- smelling, seeing, building, preferring, rejecting, conversing -- as a world brought forth in coexistence with other people....

We must walk on the razor's edge, eschewing the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism). Our purpose in this book has been to find a via media: to understand the regularity of the world we are experiencing at every moment, but without any point of reference independent of ourselves that would give certainty to our descriptions and cognitive assumptions. Indded, the whole mechanism of generationg ourselves as describers and observers tells us that our world, as the world which we bring forth in our coexistence with others, will always have precisely that mixture or regularity and mutability, that combination of solidty and shifting sand, so typical of human experience when we look at it up close.

We are continusously immersed in this network of interractions, the results of which depend on history. Effective action leads to effective action: it is the cognitive circle that characterizes our becoming, as an experession of our manner of being autonomous living systems.

We have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.

We affirm that at the core of all the troubles we face today is our very ignorance of knowing. It is not knwoledge, but the knowledge of knowledge, that compels.

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November 01, 2001

Allison Rossett’s Beyond the Podium

Allison Rossett’s Beyond the Podium

This is a little like reading Don Norman. Yes, we agree, no problem, nothing new here for me. I did learn some things: Ruth Clark’s schema and the ARCS model.

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George Leonard's Education and Ecstacy

George Leonard's Education and Ecstacy

I haven't finished this one but I'm going to remove it from the top of the stack. George's message has largely filtered down to me through other sources.

Notes on George Leonard’s Education and Ecstasy

Leonard wrote this book in 1968, yet its stinging criticism of the practice of schools fits today’s situation 33 years later, a demonstration of how hard it is to change something as ingrained as education.

“It is as cruel to bore a child as to beat him.”

Learning eventually involves interaction between learner and environment, and its effectiveness relates to the frequency, quality, variety and intensity of the interaction.

A visitor from another planet might conclude that our schools are hell-bent on creating—in a society that offers leisure and demands creativity—a generation of joyless drudges.

Ways can be worked out to help average students learn whatever is needed of present-day subject matter in a third or less of the present time, pleasurably rather than painfully, with almost certain success. Better yet, the whole superstructure of rational-symbolic knowledge can be rearranged so that these aspects of life’s possibilities can be perceived and learned as unity and diversity within change rather than fragmentation within an illusory permanence.

Ways can be worked out to provide a new apprenticeship for living, appropriate to a technological age of constant change.

Ways can be worked out so that almost every day will be a “teachable day,” so that almost every educator can share with his students the inspired moments of learning now enjoyed by only the most rare and remarkable.

To learn is to change. Education is a process that changes the learner.

Education is, at best, ecstatic.

THE HUMAN POTENTIAL
Neurologists, psychologists, educators, philosophers, and others agree that people now are using less than ten percent of their potential abilities; some put the figure at less than one percent.

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Don Norman’s Things That Make

Don Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine

Two forms of cognition: experiential and reflective

Reflection is greatly aided by systematic procedures and methods, and these are learned primarily by being taught. Alas, our educational system is more and more trapped in an experiential mode: the brilliant inspired lecturer, the prevalence of prepackaged films and videos to engage the student, the textbooks that follow a predetermined sequence. We strive to keep our students engaged in our schools by entertaining them. This is not the road toward reflection.

The skill of an expert is that of experiential cognition. The experiential mode seduces the participant into confusing action for thought. One can have new experiences in this manner, but not new ideas, new concepts, advances in human understanding: For these, we need the effort of reflection.

Vicarious experiences can be entertaining but they cannot substitute for active participation.

Three ways of learning:
1.Accretion: accumulating facts
2.Tuning: practice (maybe 5000+ hours)
3.Restructuring: the heavy lifting of reflection

“It is remarkable how little scientific knowledge we have about motivation, enjoyment, and satisfaction.”

There’s no reason for study to be solitary.

Cognitive artifacts are representations, internal or external, of sounds, ideas, concepts, and objects that are not the thing itself.

Stories are marvelous means of summarizing experiences, of capturing an event and the surrounding context that seems essential. Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context, and emotion. Roger Schank points out that our stories not only explain things to others, they explain things to us.

Logic is artificial. It assumes a certainty to the world. Ah, if only the world were like logic, clear and precise, with no sloppiness or indeterminate states. But it isn’t. And in its attempt to abstract the relevant from the irrelevant, logic oversimplifies to the extreme.

Ad for the Wooton patent desk, 1880. “With this desk a man absolutely has no excuse for slovenly habits in the disposal of his numerous papers, and the man of method may here realize that pleasure and comfort which is only to be attained in the verification of the maxim: a place for everything and everything in its place. The operator having arranged and classified his books, papers, etc., seats himself for business at the writing table and realizes at once that he is master of the situation. Every portion of his desk is accessible without change of position and all immediately before the eye. Here he discovers that perfect system and order can be attained; confusion avoided; time saved and vexation spared; dispatch in the transaction of business facilitated and peace of mind promoted in the daily routine of business.” (It didn’t work but the desks go for $35,000 to $250,000 on the antique market.)

People Propose, Science Studies, Technology Conforms

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September 24, 2001

Steven Johnson's Emergence: The


Steven Johnson's Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software is a good read about self-organizing systems. I'm about halfway through. Swarm intelligence -- it works for organizing cities, ant colonies, and perhaps the net.

    Histories of intellectual development--the origin and spread of new ideas--usually come in two types of pacakages: either the "great man" theory, where a single genius has a eureka moment in the lab or the lbirary and the world is immediately transformed; or the "paradigm shift" theory, where the occupants of the halls of science awake to find an entirely new floor has been built on top of them, and within a few years, everyone is working out of the new offices. Both theories are inadequate: the great man theory ignores the distributed, communal effort that goes into any important intellectual advance, and the paradign-shift model has a hard time explaining how the new floor actually gets built.

    Generations of ants come and go, and yet the colony itself matures, grows more stable, more organized. The mind naturally boggles at this mix of permanence and instability.

    The relationship between body cells is indeed very much like that between bees in a hive. The ancestors of your cells were once individual entities, and their evolutionary 'decision' to cooperate, some six hundred million years ago, is almost exactly equivalent ot the same decision, taken perhpas fifty million years ago by the social inserts, to cooperate on the level of the body.

    The human body is made up of several hundred different types of cells--muscle, blood, nervous, and so on. At any given time, approximately 75 trillion of these cells are working away in your body. In a very real sense, you are the sum of their actions; there is no you without them. And yet those cells are dying all the time! Thousands probably died in the time it took you to read the last sentence, and by next week, you will be composed of billions of new cells that weren't there to enjoy the reading of that sentence, much less enjoy your first step or your high school prom.

    Cities, like any colonies, possess a kind of emergent intelligence: an ability to store and retrieve information, to recognize and respond to patterns in human behavior. We contribute to that emergent intelligence, but it is almost impossible for us to perceive that contribution, because our lives unfold on the wrong scale.

    The body learns without consciousness, and so do cities, because learning is not just about being aware of information; it's also about storing information and knowing where to find it.

    As the futurist Ray Kurzweil writes, "Jumans are far more skilled at recognizing patterns than in thinking through logical combinations, so we rely on this aptitude for almost all of our mental processes. Indeed, pattern recognition comprises the bulk of our neural circuitry. These faculties make up for the extremely slow speed of human neurons." The human mind is poorly equipped to deal with problems that need to be solve serially--one calculation after another--given that neurons require a "reset time" of about five milliseconds, meaning that neaurons are capable of only two hundred calculations per second. Unlike most computers, the brain is a massively parallel system (whew!), with 100 billion neurons all working away at the same time. ... Kurzweil: "We don't have time...to think too many new thoughts when we are pressed to make a decision. The human brain relies on precomputing its analyses and storing them for future reference. We then use our pattern-recognition capability to recognize a situation as compatible to one we have thought about and then draw upon our previously considered conclusions." Where, one wonders, are the metatags for these precomputed knowledge objects?

This is a book to get you thinking about systems that organize themselves. The Invisible Hand. The Invisible Foot. At times, I lost Johnson's train of thought. The hand needed to be more visible. I think this is because the book is a pastiche of previous articles that didn't stich together seamlessly.



Paris to the Moon is on the bedstead. Last night I read about the author's fax machine, a model manufactured by the French government. A readout informs the user of what's going on. Erreur distante, distant error, often comes up, even when the problem is local, for instance running out of paper. This is much the same with French orators who rail against the Etats-Unis. Erreur distante = not my fault. A charming book.



The ABC's of the bauhaus and design theory is a collection of essays about kindergarten, gestalt pattern recognition, universal form, childhood art, grids, the Weimar republic, and more, shaped by Gropius, Kandinsky, Albers, Klee, and others. I'm familiar with some of this material but never found it all in one place before. The Bauhaus looked to primitive and children's art in the same way philosophers sift through writings of the ancient Greeks, looking for the pure, unvarnished, basic truth and simplicity.

    I've perused other books on the Bauhaus since reading this booklet and visited the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin. Now I recognize that the book is not so much a summary as a narrow slice of the whole.
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The End of Marketing As

The End of Marketing As We Know It by Sergio Zyman.

Zyman is the former marketing honcho at Coke. So outspoken that he earned the nickname Aya-cola.

I would hate to work for this blowhard. His premise is that traditional marketers are clueless dolts who don't focus on business results or making sales. Zyman, of course, has the answers (even though he orchestrated the New Coke fiasco which he now repositions as a success). Again and again, he states the obvious as if it were news:

    You don't make any money until you sell the stuff, and you can't sell the stuff until you've gotten people to want it. And that's what marketing does.

Zyman's pitch is the old line-is-good, staff-is-bad bullshit. I could substitute "training" for "marketing" and get a credible book on training, e.g.,

    One of the biggest reasons that training directors often lack the discipline that they need to achieve their desired results is that they do not do a good job of defining what those results should be.

    This is getting back to my point that training directors focus too much on tasks and not enough on results.

    If you want to be successful, then you must clearly define, in detail, what success looks like. Then you've got ot figure out how to get there.

    If you want to establish a clear image in the minds of [trainees], you first need a clear image in your own mind.

    Make strategic thinking a way of life. What I mean is that you have to think about everything. You have to look around you. You have to see what is really going on. You have to understand the connections among seemingly different things, and then you have to form an opinion that will serve as the basis for how you are going to act, and what you are going to do.

    Constantly test and measure the results of everything you do.

    Reward excellence and punish mediocrity.

    Have a sense of urgency, and work with passion. Otherwise, what's the use of getting up in the morning?

I bought Zyman's book at Half Price Books for $1. The price was right.

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