Unfollow fun.

I was outed today with a healthy dose of snark:

This was not a case of “oh, sorry, Twitter must have somehow unfollowed you”, it was a case of “ya, I unfollowed you… and everyone else.” You see, I’ve long valued Twitter a brilliant discovery tool – both for information and new relationships. Reading Power of Pull recently reminded me of that which got me to…

Well, this morning while waiting for a meeting I happened across a tweet that led me to a post which mentioned ManageFlitter (oh Twitter how you do that to me). I’ve tweaked my follow list a few times there before but this time when I got there, I decided to start entirely from scratch. Not because I’m bored with who I was following, but because I want to reset the power of Twitter to pull me in new directions. With a new venture underway it felt like the perfect time to do it.

Twitter though is nothing without snark. And so my first follow of course had to be the person who outed me. I wonder who’s next.

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Fear is Death

I happened across Alex Bogusky’s posterous yesterday and his sub-line stuck with me:

Fear is the mortal enemy of creativity, innovation and happiness.

Too true.

As it prattled around in my head during my run this morning it struck me that fear is death. It’s an insatiable beast that tries to consume everything it encounters. It sucks energy out of us and pulls us back from progress. It makes us cower. In big ways and little ways. And each time we do a little bit of us or our relationships die.

But fear is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to uncover and let go something that pulls us back from life. It’s what the fear really wants and the only thing that will satisfy it.

In either case it means something has to die. Fortunately, the choice is ours. And for me, life depends on it.

UPDATE 100808: Thought some more about fear on my run yesterday. Fighting fear is futile, it will just show up elsewhere. It’s choosing to go forward while the fear is there. Let the fear be. Watch it, understand it, but don’t let it stop you from what you want to do. And definitely, don’t try and stop others from doing what they want to do because of it. Those are sure recipes for rot and decay.

Lessons in system failure, design, and purpose.

My recent adventures with my local utility offered up some great lessons on system failure, design, and purpose. I’ve jotted them down here as hunches to look back on rather than a epiphany of understanding.

Failure
Systemic failures can and will happen. They will happen often and their occurrence is an excellent opportunity to better understand your systems and the things that system is interacting with. Elimination of failure is impossible and probably unhealthy. Not learning from it is irresponsible and undoubtedly inefficient. Also, failure is subjective. What might look like massive failure to one participant in the system maybe be inconsequential to the rest of the system and vice versa.

Design
Systems design should never have compliance as an objective. Compliance is a condition. Designing for base targets turns a system inwards as opposed to inspiring it to grow and contribute. Designing for purpose and even tangential goals might produce unexpected gains, quite possibly from the failures it produces. The design should go further to anticipate those failures, make them small and handle escalation of failure iteratively to do everything possible, not just the minimum required to avoid massive failure from the perspective of any participant in the system. And finally, people are a valuable part of any system. Our capacity to process patterns and complexity is unparalleled. Designing them out of the system can actually decrease efficiency and efficacy.

Purpose
Like any system, it’s purpose and patterns permeate it’s entirety. Purpose should be productive and pull the system forward. It is its reason for being. When system designers lose their sense of purpose and instead boil, or allow a system to be boiled down to a spec list it will all but guarantee a lifeless system. The system may well meet the criteria of the project, but it will have lost the greater purpose it is there to fulfill.

In my recent experience, a system failure on my end collided with a system failure in a regulated utility. On my part I relied on more signal than I was getting from the utility. On the utilities part, they relied entirely one communication channel (on-bill messaging), the minimum required by law. They failed to use multiple failure signals (un-paid bills), or changes in patterns corresponding to changes in systems, or their in the street people with a relationship to the customer, to stop the repeating failure. Instead they allowed the system to escalate to a costly and inconvenient option of physical gas disconnect, something that could have been avoided with an email, mailer, phone call, or on door notice… all which would have cost the company far less and allowed a customer relationship to be fulfilled.

Why it happened I suspect has to do with an image of a customer as a switch as opposed to a human. As a regulated utility with monopolistic privilege it is understandable to see how this might develop, and it is likely an expression of the nature of the current purpose of the organization. From my perspective, it sure seems to make sense and whether it is indeed true or not, it is how I will perceive and express those perceptions of that utility. And that’s my final lesson… if the purpose of the system is subjective, and if purpose permeates systems, the failures of a system could have disproportionately large influence on the ultimate purpose of the system… so design with purpose, design for failure, and design with care.

UnionGas – regulated utility shuts off service WITHOUT NOTICE.

This a story of how UnionGas disconnected my natural gas service WITHOUT NOTICE.

This morning we received a notice on our front door that our gas had been disconnected. We were home at the time but the gas guy just hung the notice on the door AFTER turning the gas off. Stunned, I called UnionGas. They told me that I hadn’t paid in 6 months. Stunned again, I looked into my payment history and sure enough I hadn’t paid. I thought I was paying, and had absolutely no reason to believe I hadn’t been paying because, well, they GAVE ME NO NOTICE. Simple solution, pay up? Nope. Now that the gas has been disconnected, I will be without an essential utility for a minimum of 5 days.

This is outrageous. As a regulated, essential utility, they should be required to make every effort to contact the customer PRIOR to shutoff. I had been paying monthly for 4.5 years without a problem until the cancelled their ePost service (which is how I pay almost all my bills). That’s when the problem started. They say they tried to call, but they had the wrong number. They cite the on-bill notice – on the bills which I hadn’t been seeing anymore. Best I got was a notice saying my online bill was available. No email OR snail mail saying, you are now overdue. Nothing to tell me my gas would be disconnected. Fair warning? Bullshit. They visit the house every month to read the meter. If all other communications fail, they still have an opportunity to leave a monthly notice on my door. Clearly they can because they did just that… AFTER they disconnected my gas.

This is an epic fail in so many ways. On my part this slipped through my otherwise solid bill/accounting management. On their they blew it in terms of customer service, billing system integration, and responsibility as an essential utility.

UnionGas you suck and you are getting away with it because you are a regulated utility. What options do I really have?

The unexpected is always the highlight.

I recently attended the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Going in I didn’t have much of an agenda but did end up with an experience that was worthwhile and possibly pivotal. The reason of course, as with all events it seems, is the people that gathered and connected.

Pamela Hartigan and Jeff Skoll at Opening Plenary

From the content and conversation perspective, the highlight for me was the focus on systems as core to social entrepreneurship. Roger Martin tagged disrupting and establishing equilibria as the ultimate purpose, and previously tired conversations around metrics became flavoured with the emergent dynamics of working at the level of systems. While applying rigour to scale and diffuse innovation was a hot topic, people also recognized that the most innovative work often reflects insanity before it becomes recognized as brilliance. That this conversation was happening here was a good thing.

What I think made the forum work was a mix of who participated and the space that was created for interaction. While there has been criticism of the exclusive nature of the event, it is definitely part of what makes it a safe space. The concentration of some of the highest profile people in this sector turns this from a worship session to a gathering of peers. At the same time, having the opportunity to participate in OxfordJam at the same opened up the range of perspectives and conversation more than at any conference I’ve been to before.

In the end, what may prove to be pivotal, were the unexpected encounters over during the space between sessions, venues, and events (including spontaneous volcano-inspired after events) and over the meals and drinks shared with others. The best of them happened with people I never knew and/or on paper, would have had no interest in meeting. Being together though as peers, without the distractions of daily life, sparked conversations and connections I expect I might carry for life. And for me, that is something I would go for again.

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Hunches on the evolution of scholarly publishing

As part of ChangeMedium I’ve been exploring ways to surface and accelerate research related to this emerging system of social technologies. The idea of creating a journal on the medium of change came up in our October event. What follows are some hunches about the evolution of academic publishing arising from that work. If you are involved or interested in this field, I’d love to get your reactions and perspectives

Background on research and academic publication.

Research is a disciplined process. It is the search for knowledge or any systematic investigation to establish facts. In support of that, academic publishing exists to enable the peer-review (meant to validate and improve the quality of research) and make the findings more broadly available. It began in earnest in the 17th century and served to help establish priority for researcher’s discoveries. Since then it continues to evolve, albeit slowly. Like many systems it is considered by many to be facing crisis and looking for a future empowered through the emerging system of social technologies.

Limitations on research resulting from the academic publication system.

Academic publication began in service of researchers and scholarly pursuit and gave birth to today’s scholarly journals. Those journals serve as a primary validation vehicle for research findings and so have come to hold substantial influence in the research community. In spite of original intentions however, that influence now appears to be creating some counterproductive limitations.

Restricted distribution.
Journals rely primarily on publishing fees and content revenues for their financial viability. This creates incentive to restrict researchers from publishing in other places and to limit availability of published content to those willing to pay. While financial viability is essential to any initiative this revenue model is counterproductive to the original aim of making the findings broadly available. While new revenue models have yet to establish themselves it is a necessity if that aim is to be fulfilled. Examples from other publishing sectors may provide clues as to potential models but will not necessarily meet the particular aims and needs of the research community.

Retardation of research.
Peer-review, a central aspect of many academic publications, requires the participation of several researchers actively engaged in the field of research. Where research is novel or part of an emergent domain, this may be particularly difficult. As pioneering researcher’s search for alternative pathways to establish their priority in the field such as personal blog and book publishing place even greater demands on their time making them less available or interested in participating. While it is an important component in the research process it also appears to retard the pursuit of novel research and emergent domains.

Discouragement of participation.
Because the process of scholarly pursuit is well documented, it could arguably be engaged in by any competent person willing to do so. The social and procedural dynamics of publication however appear unwelcoming to all but those dependent on publication for their careers. This would appear to limit the participation in scholarly publication to a small subset of those actually able to contribute.

Opportunities for evolution.

The emerging system of social technologies have an inherent capacity to facilitate participation and distribution. Their digital nature also affords extraordinary measurability. These attributes create several opportunities for the evolution of academic publishing in ways that could improve the quality of research, distribution of findings, scope and pace of scholarly pursuit, and breadth and experience of participation.

Measurement of influence and value.
Central to academic publishing is the validation of the research through peer-review and measures of influence such as citation tracking. Social technologies provide an opportunity to improve and expand on the measurement of both the influence and the value of published research to different communities. For example an article might be validated according to a scholarly grade generated by an editorial board, number of scholarly references, number of comments and average rating received on the publication site, and number of article references made across the whole of the web. These measurements could be further segmented according to specific categories such as peers and public providing additional relevance. Through these techniques researchers, publishers, and the public would gain a more robust and accurate reflection of a published work’s influence and value in the context that matters to them.

Peer-participation.
The capacity of social technologies to facilitate peer-participation could be leveraged throughout different phases and forms of research in many ways. For example, a system such as Uservoice could be used to identify potential research problems with the greatest interest. Multiple people could be engaged in fleshing out the most popular research problems, creating a resource of relevant existing research and information in wiki format. While experiments with peer-participation are already underway in the research, editing, and even peer-review phases these are but early experiments. As evidenced through the unpredictable rise of Wikipedia there is undoubtedly opportunity to go much further particularly in exploring individual phases and tasks of the research and publication process.

Parallel pursuit.
The digital publishing infrastructure coupled with the social and collaborative dynamics of the web could further encourage parallel private and public pursuit of specific research problems or topics. While researchers may choose to maintain a private and closed research approach their research problem could be made publicly available for parallel pursuit. Public findings and contributions could provide valuable material for the primary researcher’s activity. Enabling researcher’s to self-select their mode of research alongside parallel public participation could break the tension between approaches and accelerate innovation in the research publication process.

Invitation to experiment.

While the above are merely a set of hunches, from an entrepreneurial perspective they point to some interesting opportunities to experiment. While I welcome any interest in experiment regards to the journal on the medium of change, I would also love to hear of any other experiments planned or underway. Some particular areas of interest to me are:

Research influence and valuation tracking system.
Starting points for this investigation could include exploring opportunities to extend current peer-evaluation methods, identifying opportunities to expand and improve upon citation tracking, and finally opening a new category of public influence and valuation metrics.

Peer-participation opportunity map.
Starting points for this investigation could include exploring opportunities to employ existing tools and techniques in each of the primary tasks and phases of research and publication.

Publishing system specification.
Starting points for this investigation could include scoping a minimum viable system to support this evolution, followed by assessing applicability of existing tools such as Open Journal Systems from the Public Knowledge Project, and then proceding with agile development of the necessary features.

As our society quickens its pace of evolution, we would only benefit from a corresponding quickening in the evolution of research and its publication. While research isn’t my bag in life, I have come to recognize the powerful role it can play in society.

Other references:

Bonfire of Beliefs

I know a few people have been wondering about what going on silent retreat was like. To give it some flavour I decided to share my experience. But first, fair warning. If you are someone who doesn’t like ‘fluffy stuff’ you may not want to keep reading… but then again you may also then miss what I’ve found to be the most purely practical thing possible.

Since my youth I’ve been interested in existential questions like is this world just a dream? And if it’s a dream, is it my dream that everyone is a part of or am I part of someone else’s dream along with everything else? Over the years I had fun conversations with my friends, dipped into things like physics, philosophy, raiki, and buddhism but nothing seemed to stick. Then early in 2007 I was staying with a good friend and we got into this favourite conversation of mine with him and his partner. Over the next two evenings his partner asked me some deeply simple questions and shared some recordings from Adyashanti and a book by “Jed McKenna”. On my way home that next night I was reading the book when right in between two words something in me awoke.

I felt the answer in those early questions in every part of me. In fact, every question I’d ever had was over. I look around and giggled. It was surreal. Everything I was seeing was a dream, an illusion and at the same time I ‘knew’ it to be the same thing. It, everything, was complete.

The next days and weeks were odd. Words seemed somehow foreign and it was impossible to articulate what I was experiencing. I would wake up in the mornings and have no inclination to either get out of bed or to stay in bed. There was no will. I had another chat with my friends, one of whom had had a similar experience, and they warned me that what had awoke would ‘fall back asleep’ and suggested that at some point it might be good to go see Adyashanti. I had no care or desire for either. Sure enough though, while I never ‘forgot’ what awoke, sometime shortly after I did snuggle back up into the dream and in October of last year I signed up to see Adyashanti. It took 3 years to play out but at the end of March this year I participated in my first silent retreat.

The basic structure of retreat is about being silent together. It is in silence that what awoke in me exists – like in the gap between the two words of the book I was reading. The format for the day is a series of five 40 minute silent sitting sessions and two 2 hour long talks by Adyashanti. During the talks people are invited to ask Adya questions but beyond that we are silent – no talking, no gestures, no reading.

Going in I thought this would be hard. I like talking and I love ranting. But I was also looking forward to it because I like being alone, not feeling like I have to talk or respond to anyone else. As the retreat set in I found the silence enjoyable, sometimes awkward, but not difficult. I began seeing through some patterns in my life and by the 3rd night what was to come of this was showing up.

My mind is not quiet. Silent sitting is not a silent experience for me. Not at all. Through it though, I actually began to see how much energy I put into building up beliefs, beliefs of how things are and of who I am. Beliefs that give meaning to my life and what I do. Beliefs that give me things to fight, change, and be. Beliefs that I use to validate and to demean myself – or rather the identity I’ve built up of myself. And there in lies the joke. None of it is real. I build these beliefs and then I do battle with them or use them as a reason to do battle with what is. It’s ridiculous. And it’s addictive.

If I’m honest I can easily say that at least half, probably more like 90-99% of my energy, my mind goes into building and battling with beliefs. So what would I be if I let those beliefs go? What would I do? What would I know? Scary questions, because they flirt with idea of being absolutely ordinary, or existentially, nothing at all. Or at least that’s how we understand it with our minds. The answer is more likely however that I would simply do whatever the moment called for, in ways that responded to what’s really real and in ways not limited by my beliefs. Worst case? I stop feeding the insanity of the world we find ourselves in. I stop my own bullshit. In either case, what could be more purely, powerfully practical than that. For the life of me I can’t imagine a thing.

And so I find myself building a bonfire of beliefs. Watching life as it moves. Looking for my beliefs at play and offering them as fuel for the bonfire to burn up the bullshit that consumes my life, asking instead to rest in reality as it unfolds.

What’s next? Who knows. Probably more of the same of what my life has been, just with less bullshit in the gaps in-between.

Now if you read through to here and have questions feel free to ask away. Don’t want to identify yourself? No problem, do it anonymously. And if I get around to it, I might also share any questions and responses that come up from in person conversations. Or I may not. We’ll see. Here’s to letting reality be what it is.

Social Innovation @ Ivey

Quick post to share today’s presentations for Social Innovation @ Ivey.

First is my opening intro, which pulls from a core theme but adds a little more about my history and the levels, forms, and tools of social entrepreneurship  – or my best simplification of them.

The second, is a for a last minute stand-in role on the social finance workshop.  Thankfully the wise and gracious Karim Harji of SocialFinance.ca shared this great, detailed deck.

As always, I’m looking forward to talking with students and trying to inspire them to go do out and do some good.

Inspiring students. What would you tell them?

I’m scheduled to open the Social Innovation @ Ivey Form and have been asked to get the audience of students ‘fired up’ about social entrepreneurship and innovation. What would you tell them?

They are currently deciding on which electives to take and of course what career path to take – a big part of why I love doing these talks. I’ve been asked to tell my story, touch on social entrepreneurship and social finance and have 30 minutes to do it.

Earlier this year I gave the presentation below. It generated some good feedback but I felt like it missed the mark. Any suggestions appreciated. How would you get them moving toward #socent?

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