Blog Archives

Community, wikis, blogs and info share

Community is the smallest unit of health. To speak of the health of an isolated indiviudal is a contradiction in terms,” said Wendell Berry in his speech Health is Membership. I live in a wonderful neighborhood in West Seattle, and am surrounded by a network of people who over time have forged a real community in an urban environment–almost unknown these days. Lucky me!

I have another community that helps me navigate a vast and expanding universe of knowledge and experience. When I first started working at amazon.com a bunch of years ago, it seemed like what was back then somewhat disparagingly referred to as that “world wide web” thing, we all used to wonder at the palpable buzz that was growing by the second as peope discovered this expanding digital universe.

Some people would wonder that I could compare the neighborhood I live in physically with the neighborhood I live in digitally, but they really feel like equal parts myself. Like in my mind, I’m having conversations with Susan and Tom next door about what’s going on with our 90 year old neighbor Cliff, as well as conversations with X number of people thru wikipedia about wiki use in a corporate setting–both the same in my mind, both vibrant and alive. Shared knowledge and experience.
The level of information out there is simply mind-boggling and I feel a similar buzz from those early days at amazon. What is truly interesting at this point is how that information is shifting, restructuring, creating nodes, shifting again and rearranging itself continually. In the midst of all this change, patterns emerge and those patterns reflect this connected community as it grows and evolves and continually finds its new networks.

Are we isolated with our computers and our virtual networks. I don’t think so.

This is the silly part: at the end of the day when I leave my desk, I almost want to wave goodbye (alright, yes, I’ve done this but only once! I swear!) to my open screens. I know, I know–that’s too weird and yet I’ve spent time with this palpable and vibrant digital community and somehow want to make the connection physical like I do after visiting with a neighbor. Ours is a fluid universe of virtually and physically networked communities–an expanding mass of shared knowledge and experience.

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There’s a buzz out there

Seems like wikidom is reaching critical mass–you can just feel the buzz.  The other night, just after I’d finished a day of exploring various corporate examples of wiki implementation (and there are a too many examples to choose one–here’s a sort of ugly example of a big entrenched company that’ found it way to wiki), I turned on the Cobert Report and there was Stephen giving his “Word of the Day” schtick.

What was the work of the day?  Wikiality.  As in Reality but Wiki style.  And on the air, he pulled out his laptop and changed an article about Oregon in Wikipedia.  I thought: this is now officially Critical Mass.

Course, he was having some fun with it and I suppose some of the more serious guys at Wikipedia didn’t care for it when it finally came to their attention…about 3 or 4 minutes later.  He is now banned from using Wikipedia.  Still, he declared his love of Wikipedia on prime time TV and that can’t hurt traffic any.

Wiki wiki please

An article by Stacy Schiff in the latest New Yorker does a dandy job of bringing wikipedia into the mainstream, warts and all. Good history, good questions, and good job pointing to co-founder Sanger’s new-and-improved version of collaborative knowledge centers, Digital Universe.

Seems likely that in no time at all, the two approaches will find their home: wikipedia for the casual user on the net, digital universe for academics, professionals, and all who want at least some expert control over content.

Digital Universe is a very interesting concept. I’m looking forward to learning more about it for application in knowledge management for global companies with complex needs.

Strangers to Ourselves

I’m reading Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson and trying to digest what he’s getting at with his discussion of the “adaptive unconscious.” His theories don’t sound new or ground-breaking at first–after all, notably Malcolm Gladwell has raised the discussion to a more popular level with “Blink,” but Wilson’s approach is a deeper dive with a lot of science behind it.

lobes of the brain

Wilson is interested in finding out what the vast unconscious world in our brains is up to with the 10 million bits of information it’s absorbing every second. That 10 million bits covers everything from making your fingers coordinate with the keyboard to hearing the fan in the background to considering if the scorching sun is frying the vegetable garden out back. In this last instance, it appears that when the unconscious mind has decided that the vegetable garden is indeed at risk, it will hopefully manage to get a message to the conscious mind, even if it is non-verbal and just a “have-to-go-water-the-garden” impulse, one that make me get up and go outside…sometimes before I even realize that I’m out there for this very good and time sensitive reason.

So, like Gladwell, Wilson is giving us lots of reasons to clear defensive thinking, conscious perceptions, pre-conceptions and the like out of the way so our great big unconscious can get some timely information to us on a regular basis.

process-information.jpg
In amongst the studies he cites is this one about people who have suffered damage to left and right lobes, destroying communication between the two. The left lobe controls the right side of the body, the right controls the left. The study involved showing pictures to each eye, with the other one covered, and seeing what information could be communicated about the picture. To the right eye (left brain) they showed a picture of a chicken claw; the participants associated that picture with a chicken.

Next they showed the left eye (right brain) a picture of a snow drift and the participants associated that picture with a shovel. After this, the participants were given their associated results but since the right brain cannot communicate the association of the snow with shovel, the participants didn’t know why they had chosen a shovel.

Here’s the kicker: in the blink of an eye, the left brain (story-telling, conscious part of the brain) came up with a story for the selection of the shovel that combined it with the chicken: the chicken lives in a chicken coop which needs to be cleaned with a shovel. Is this really what happened? No. Is this now what the participant thinks happened? Yes. And that story will be the official story until such time as the individual finds out differently.
Wilson’s point again and again is that the conscious mind is way more fallable than we ever thought and that fallability can lead us as individuals and a part of the collective group to make assumptions and decisions based on information that is simply not correct. The conscious mind’s drive to create a story for what it perceives, whether or not that story is in any way true, is its raison d’etre. And doesn’t every successful marketer and lawyer out there know this instinctively!

The ability of the conscious mind to create stories without getting input from or listening to the unconscious is a bit of a design flaw, it seems to me. It inhibits us from perceiving correctly AND from getting, trusting and using information from our unconscious minds.

Strangers to Ourselves is full of good studies that cause one to consider how we get and process information. Few of us are willing to really listen to our “intuition.” It can’t be measured, it can’t be controlled, its processes are vast, random and unexpected. But when Jack Welch popularizes the notion of managing “from the gut,” whether he knows it or not, or even cares, he’s talking about getting information from the adaptive unconscious.

The more I allow myself to draw from my unconscious, the more interesting my solutions become.  The more spot-on, the more creative, the more unexpected and exciting.  Bringing intuitive solutions into a corporate setting is edgy and exciting!  And often just what’s needed. Dump the old stories.  Allow a new story to emerge!