Pegasus Day 1

The first day of the conference is done. There are about 500 attendees here this week. Yesterday’s highlights:

Opening Keynote by Peter Senge:

  • The main theme of the conference is Interdependency. He asked the "simple" questions "Who do I depend on?" and "who depends on me?" He used this to show how interdependent all citizens of the world really are through some simple metaphors ("where does your food come from?") and startling facts (photos showing the polar ice cap shrinking)
  • Western basis for thought is noun based. Systems are process/flow based. Since our fundamental language is not alignes with the appropriate language of systems, it is difficult for westerners to see systems.
  • Needs:
  • Understand that the world is in a unique circumstance. "We have never been here before".
  • Develop our language to facilitate the conversation of systems
  • Expand our horizon with regard to time and space

Workshops: I attended "Introduction to Systems Thinking"

  • Reviewed some basics, what could be called the language of systems. (e.g.,Behavior-over-time graphs, causal loops)
  • The language is a tool to facilitate the conversation, not the end itself. In other words, the process of trying to draw a causal loop creates the value more so than the finished product itself.
  • Archetypes are commonly recurring causal loops, and exist to serve as a starting point for jumpstarting the conversation.

The afternoon keynote was fascinating. Delivered by Rose von Thater-Braan, Leroy Little Bear, and Amethyst First Rider. They opened up the world of thought of Native Americans.

  • No dicotomy
  • Listen
  • Renewal of spirit
  • How would we change what we do if we knew that all things were animate?

These notes do not do justice to the richness of the content, it is intended to provide a quick overview to provide me with a marker and a place to renew the conversation.

On to dat 2…


Pegasus Conference

I am heading to San Francisco on Sunday to attend Embracing Interdependence:Effective and Responsible Action in Our Organizations and the World, sponsored by Pegasus Communications. It is being held at the Hyatt Regency. I haven’t seen much social net activity around this, which I find ironic, since I see the social web as the most visible instance of social systems theory currently in existence. Maybe I can start a new conversation there… I will let you know how it goes.

Systems and Blogs

I backed into writing this blog. My guess is that most bloggers began with a point of view they wanted to express and then figured out that a blog was a quick and easy way to do it.

I came to this differently …

A couple of years I became interested in Systems Theory, not so much the scientific/mathematical aspect, but how systems theory could be applied to social/organizational settings. One of the major tenants of systems theory is the necessity of feedback in order for a system to work. I have spent a lot of time playing with models trying to describe how feedback loops operate in organizations. 

About a year ago I first discovered the existence of blogs.I thought to myself that blogs are a type of feedback system. As  I studies blogs I found them interesting and compelling, but nothing cathartic. I even started writing one. As it turns out , I did not yet get the joke. I posted a few times, no links, just my own musings. As you might expect, not much happened. I did not post with any regularity, no hits, nothing interesting…

In the early part of this year, I learned a little more, discovered RSS and aggregators … hey now this is getting a little more interesting. Startied reading blogs more regularly. In August, I decided it was time to get off of the sidelines and join the fun; I started this blog, I started commenting on other blogs. Now I am starting to get the joke.

And I finally had my big catharsis … blogs represent the most visible instance of social systems theory currently in existence.

Let’s look at a definition of systems, taken from Jamshid Gharajedaghi’s book "Systems Thinking". The primary principles of systems are:

  • Openness – That behavior of living (open) systems [that] can be understood only in the context of their environment
  • Purposefulness – Arises from choice and is the product of the interactions among three dimensions: rational, emotional and cultural
  • Multidimensionality – The ability to see complementary relations in opposing tendencies and to create feasible wholes from infeasible parts
  • Emergence – Properties of the whole that cannot be deduced from properties of the parts
  • Counterintuitiveness – Actions intended to produce a desired outcome may, in fact, generate opposite results

Sound a lot like the blogoshere to me …

…anyway , back to my opening point, I got into blogging because I found the phenomenon academically interesting and you know what, I found a point of view I wanted to share.

If anyone is interested, I am attending the Pegasus Communications Systems Conference in San Francisco in two weeks (Nov 14-16). My sense is that most Systems practitioners are not focused on blogs and that most bloggers don’t spend a lot of time studying systems theory. I am going to see if I can find anyone at the conference interested in starting this conversation.

The Existential Vacuum

I am reading Viktor Frankl’s book "Man’s Search for Meaning". He postulates that the process of an individual’s search for meaning is the centerpiece of their existance. Those that  are not actively seeking or do not have a clear understanding of meaning in thier own life are destined "…to do what other people do (conformism) or [do] what other people wish [for them] to do(totalitarianism)." He defines the meaning in one’s own life as [my interpretation] that which one is passionate about and is driven to achieve.

In an organizational context, I see Frankl’s conformism and totalitarianism at work, all too frequently. Just think how powerful an organization would be if most (or all) of its members found true meaning in their work as opposed to just blindly following along with the masses, or even worse following blindly behind the epic hero-leader.

I found a strong alignment in this thought-line and Kathy Sierra’s post today. When she said:

When people aren’t brave enough for one reason or another, …

I realized these are the same people that have not found their own meaning in life. They have no basis for standing up and being heard, they have no passion to call their own.  … You know what, the reflection in the mirror doesn’t look so great.  This is about each of us, so few have truely found that deep connect to the meaning of their life, and many that do, find that connection outside of work.

How do we bring meaning and passion to our work? How do we avoid the "Existential Vacuum"?


Kathy Sierra over at "Creating Passionate Users" put up a post the other day called "Dignity is deadly." – Paul Graham. The discussion that followed in the comments focused mostly on the relationship between of innovation and professionalism. The question being debated is whether as companies grow, and typically become more "professional", do they lose their creativity?

I guess I weigh in on the side that being "professional" or "passionate/creative/innovative" is not inherently an either-or proposition. I believe that the important factor is authenticity. If "becoming professional" (however you wish to define it) is not your true nature, then it is the wrong approach. It is essential that you are true to yourself and true to your customers. If that means t-shirt and jeans, so be it.

Being authentic means never wondering whether or not you sold out.

[update: significant typo discovered! inserted "not"; underlined above. My apologies to anyone that read this and wondered what the H___ I was talking about]

The Power of Shared Vision

I just went back and read through the posts from my old blog and was somewhat suprised to see a common thread emerge, Shared Vision. More and more I am coming to the realization that the main job of organziational leaders is to create a shared vision within an organization. If everyone is marching to the same "What", there is much less need for leaders to deal with the "How".

Doc Searles posted yesterday On the continuing death of Business As Usual. Though not his theme, his story makes a great case for shared vision:

Want to know one reason why Wal-Mart kicked K-Mart’s ass? Three words: "Everyday low prices." That simple promise, made by Sam Walton himself and published on every Wal-Mart building, allowed the company to save billions while also keeping their customers safe from the evils of coupon addiction, which nearly bankrupted K-Mart while also narrowing their customer base.

Yes, maybe Wal-Mart’s business model is better than K-Mart’s, but I bet the typical Wal-Mart employee has a clearer understanding of Sam’s vision than the typical K-Mart employee has of the K-Mart plan. I think this has as much to do with Wal-Marts success as their low prices.

Old Posts

About a year ago I started a blog, but is was sporatic and not linked to anything else. I had just "discovered" blogs but had not yet "gotten the joke". I have spent much of the last year, mostly in the last few months, reading blogs extensively. I am starting to get the feel. This blog (inside conversation) is more focused on creating a conversation, the old blog was just a place for me to capture random ideas for future reference. I guess now is the future. I don’t expect anyone will ever read these but I am going to post these links to my old blog just for fun. Actually, there are some good ideas there, if I do say so my self. Posted in ascending date order, there is some progression of thought.

Why do big Organizations go “bad”?

I am adding Kathy Sierra to my list of people I would like to meet. I just read her post: Subvert from Within: a user-focused employee guide. Its funny how many times you come across a great piece that happens to be relevant to what is in your head at the moment.

Yesterday I was having a comment conversation with Kris in a post from Future Tense. We were debating, among other things, the nature of large organizations. I spent a good deal of time last night asking my self the question: Why do large organizations typically have such a hard time being personal? The story always goes, " … as a small company they were so cool and listened to users and employees enjoyed working there…then they got big and now they don’t care about people (inside or outside) just about satisfying Wall Street."

Why is this story so consistent and persistent?

One theory I have has to do with Passion and Vision. Start-ups ooze passion and vision. Founders start businesses because there is a visceral need to do what they are doing. If they do it well they make money, but money was not the primary objective, just a means to an end, delivering the vision. If things go really well, the organization needs to grow. At this point a lot of people join the organization because they see the money not the vision. Their main passion is for the money, power, etc., which are the artifacts of success, not the creators or drivers of success. We end up with the tail wagging the dog.

What I think happens is that the original founder(s) assume that all of the new joiners inherently share the same passion and vision for the organization, and therefore see no need to evangelize and spread the gospel. This is where the transition to big bad bureaucracy begins. The conflict between those with the vision/passion and those wanting money and power.

I think the way to avoid the trap in the beginning is that once growth begins, job one for the founder is to ensure that everyone that joins shares the original vision and founder’s passion. If, as is usually the case, this does not happen, you end up in the world Kathy described.

CEO Compensation

I too think it is ludicrous that the typical CEO is compensated at a level so out of proportion with all other workers. If you happen to know anyone that works in compensation, they will tell you that these salaries are absolutely necessary, or else you would not be able to hire the best candidates. The funny thing is that its not the money per se that really matters to the executives, it’s the power, image and ego-feeding that goes with having the “highest salary”. The real issue is shame on us all for letting this happen. Our belief and support of the “hero-leader” myth and our own desire for ever-growing returns of our mutual funds drive the exact situation we are bemoaning. If we want to see chance, we need to embody the change.

Blogs, Passion & Organizations

As I was reading Global PR Blog Week 2.0 it occured to me that the existance of blogs is another compelling reason for the senior management of any organization to treat all employees with respect. Now any employee can express their view, and the whole world can see inside the organization. The walls have become highly permeable. Just look at all the reaction to the BW article about Microsoft’s Deep Throat, Mini-Microsoft.

Top-down control is a thing (at least soon-to-be) of the past. Building a community is going to be the only way to build an effective organization in the future. The vision and passion of the organization will have to align with the passion of the individuals that comprise an organization. Trying to make employees the instruments of the organizations desires (primarily through financial incentive) will become less and less effective.

This approach is going to drive old-school managers crazy, well actually it probably won’t, as they will probably just ignore choose not to see what is happening right in front of them, to their own and the organziations detriment.