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The Books I Read in 2013

Just like last year I decided to publish an overview of the books that I’ve read during the year.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

This year I managed to read 48 books (I am really missing my daily commute, don’t believe the 47 in the picture above) which I’ve put in the following categories:

Philosophy

Mcluhan’s Understanding Media is the single most important book on technology that I’ve ever read. His probes are all-encompassing and still very relevant 50 years after their first publication. Taleb gave me a new way of looking at the world and a set of tools for thinking that is richer than Dennett’s attempt at doing the same. Carse’s classic is well worth reading and I would love to read more Žižek in 2014.

  • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man — Marshall McLuhan (link)
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (link)
  • Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking — Daniel C. Dennett (link)
  • Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility — James P. Carse (link)
  • Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium — Paul Levinson (link)
  • First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — Slavoj Žižek (link)
  • Het socratisch gesprek — Jos Delnoij (link)
  • McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed — W. Terrence Gordon (link)
  • The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust — Robert David Steele (link)

Digital Rights

I expect this category to grow in 2014 with more books about privacy, freedom of expression and the Internet. Solove delivers good arguments on why privacy is important and Edwards (inadvertently) showed me how scary it is to work for Google.

  • Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security — Daniel J. Solove (link)
  • I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 — Douglas Edwards (link)

Learning

My focus will move away from learning, but I still managed to read some fascinating books on the topic in 2013. Harrison left me itching to try his method for running meetings with large and diverse groups. Illich clearly showed the institutionalizing effects of schooling (confusing being taught with learning and confusing certification with competence). Gatto made me loathe to put children in schools (read Dumbing Us Down, the Underground History is less cogent).

  • Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide — Harrison Owen (link)
  • Deschooling Society — Ivan Illich (link)
  • Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)
  • De canon van het onderwijs — Emma Los (link)
  • The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)

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The book club read nine books in 2013. By far the most thought- and discussion-provoking was Morozov battling “internet-centrism”, “epochalism” and “solutionism”. Eggers enlarged current Google and Facebook practices to show us the grotesque direction we are moving in. Zamyatin wrote a Russian version of “1984” (way before Orwell) subverting the concept of freedom. Silver was a great read and Lanier gave me the useful concept of “Siren Servers”.

  • To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism — Evgeny Morozov (link)
  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — Chris Anderson (link)
  • The Circle — Dave Eggers (link)
  • Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet — Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann (link)
  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t — Nate Silver (link)
  • Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon (link)
  • We — Yevgeny Zamyatin (link)
  • Who Owns the Future? — Jaron Lanier (link)
  • The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production — Peter Marsh (link)

Fiction

For some reason I had yet to read Kafka’s The Trial. It didn’t disappoint. Shteyngart made me laugh the hardest (with Thomése coming in a close second) with his near-future dystopian novel on our hypercommercialized digital future.

  • The Trial — Franz Kafka (link)
  • Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart (link)
  • Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • De laatkomer — Dimitri Verhulst (link)
  • 2BR02B — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia — Mohsin Hamid (link)
  • Homeland (Little Brother, #2) — Cory Doctorow (link)
  • Het bamischandaal — P.F. Thomése (link)
  • Gelukkige Slaven — Tom Lanoye (link)

Other

There were some real gems in this miscellaneous category. Feddes has set the standard for books on cities. Because of Hillis I finally understand how computers work. My friend Dorien Zandbergen‘s PhD thesis gave some wonderful insights into hacker culture in the bay area. Van Casteren’s book made me think of my early teenage years living in a young neighbourhood in a forensic town just above Amsterdam.

  • 1000 jaar Amsterdam — Fred Feddes (link)
  • Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping — Mike Clelland (link)
  • The Pattern on the Stone (Science Masters) — W. Daniel Hillis (link)
  • Japan’s Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese — Boyé Lafayette de Mente (link)
  • The Incredible Secret Money Machine — Don Lancaster (link)
  • New Edge, Technology and Spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area — Dorien Zandbergen (link)
  • Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design — Jane Fulton Suri (link)
  • The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time — Jenny M. Jones (link)
  • Lelystad — Joris van Casteren (link)
  • Treat Your Own Neck 5th Ed (803-5) — Robin McKenzie (link)
  • The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm — Tom Kelley (link)
  • Een halve hond heel denken: Een boek over kijken — Joke van Leeuwen (link)
  • How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum — Keri Smith (link)
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers — Richard Nelson Bolles (link)

Written by Hans de Zwart

31-12-2013 at 17:36

Out-Innovating the Competition

 

Best Practices are Stupid

Best Practices are Stupid

Stephen Shapiro from 27-4 Innovation was plugging his latest book Best Practices Are Stupid – 40 ways to Out-Innovate the Competition at an event I attended today. His focus is on how to speed up or accelerate the rate of innovation.

He started with an exercise where he pretended to measure how fast our brains were. He did this by shouting out different numbers in a very quick fashion. We had to capture those numbers. He would then give us assignments in the middle of it. Like “Write down the name of a genius.” Because we were under such time pressure we had remarkable little differentiation in our answers  to these challenges.

Shapiro says that this is because “Expertise is the enemy of innovation”. The more you know about something, the more difficult it is to come up with new and interesting perspectives on it. When we find a solution we tend to stop looking.

He then gave us a little mathematical puzzle that showed that the way you phrase a question has a profound impact on how you work towards a solution. One of his favorite quotes is from Einstein:

If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem.. and one minute finding solutions.

Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has far more eloquently stated descriptions of Shapiro’s examples of the biases in our thinking.

According to Shapiro asking better questions is at the heart of doing better innovation. You have to frame the question in a way that makes sense. He calls this the Goldilocks principle: the challenge needs to be defined exactly right, meaning not too abstract/broad, but also not too detailed. Or another way of phrasing it:

Ask the right question…
the right way…
to the right people.

This means that you have to move away from generic idea generation tools towards challenge based innovation. The added advantage of that is that you might avoid a common pitfal of crowd-sourcing, something Stephen names “mob-sourcing”.

A quick way to catalyse your thinking is to find someone who has already solved a similar problem. When members of a team are cut from the same cloth… you don’t see many failures, but you don’t see many extraordinary innovations either. Innovation is not invention: it is taking something that already exists from a different domain and adapting it.

Written by Hans de Zwart

22-04-2013 at 13:59

Reading McLuhan’s Understanding Media: Join Me! (#umrg)

Technology is never neutral. It is not just a tool. We know that technology has affordances and makes certain things harder and other things easier. As Benkler says “Technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice.”

One of the most fundamental thinkers on what media does to us was the “oracle from Toronto” Marshall McLuhan. He was a prominent figure in the sixties who was well known for his ability to speak in insightful but opaque “McLuhanisms”. Who hasn’t heard of “the medium is the message” or his predictions for “a global village”?

Let me whet your appetite with a few short video clips to give you a better idea of how he spoke and thought:

He defines technology as the extending our human body. This clip is from 1965:

Here he describes what he means with the medium is the message through talking about cars as a technology. The following clip is from 1974:

The talk about products becoming services feels pretty recent. McLuhan already talked about this in 1966 in this clip (and predicting how we would access information using networked computers):

If you want to see more, then check out all the videos uploaded by YouTube user McLuhanSpeaks.

Understanding Media

Very few people nowadays have read his original works. His magnum opus is the Understanding Media (1964). Reviewers of the book at that time wrote things like:

Every so often, the semi-intellectual communities at the fringes of the arts, the universities and the communications industries are hit by a new book, which becomes a fad or a parlor game. This summer’s possible candidate, with what may be just the right combination of intelligence, arrogance and pseudo science, is Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. (Time Magazine, 1964)

or

This is an infuriating book. It offers a number of brilliant insights but mixes them in with some extravagantly turgid incoherencies. Adopting a tone of Machiavellian candor and acquiescence, Dr. McLuhan loftily records the death of the “literally-logical” spirit in Western Man. This results, he says, from the impact of contemporary mass communications such as television and the jet plane. We are passing out of the age of rationalistic individualism and into an era of “tribal” togetherness and oral culture. [..] It was about time somebody took stock of the new social and intellectual situation caused by our advances in the techniques of mass education and mass hoax. McLuhan throws light on this situation by deliberately adopting a new “mosaic approach” which he assumes is called for by the novelty of the futuristic inferno we inhabit. But he seemingly cannot resist going over the deep end with his generalizations on such varied social phenomena as the motor car, baseball and Body Odor. His deep-end plunges, conveniently, happen to suit his over-all theoretical purpose, as in his terming B.O. “The unique signature and declaration of human individuality.” What he reads into the statements he attributes to varied authorities [..] is enough to make one’s old-fashioned “logical” flesh creep while his account of nationalism as, purely and simply, “an unforeseen consequence of typography” is grotesquely inadequate. (C.J. Fox for The Commonweal)

My favourite review comes from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who wrote in Book Week in 1967:

What then is McLuhanism? It is a chaotic combination of bland assertion, astute guesswork, fake analogy, dazzling insight, hopeless nonsense, shockmanship, showmanship, wisecracks, and oracular mystification, all mingling cockinly and indiscriminately in an endless and random dialogue. It also in my judgment, contains a deeply serious argument. After close study one comes away with the feeling that here is an intelligent man who, for reasons of his own, prefers to masquerade as a charlatan.

What would McLuhan say about the Internet/World Wide Web?

Next to getting a better understanding of his work, it is my purpose to think about what McLuhan would have said about the Internet and the World Wide Web. How can we apply McLuhan’s vocabulary (e.g. hot and cool medium, de- and retribalization, reversal, the electric age) to our current predicament? How can his thoughts inform us about the situation we are in? I am very curious to find out.

Reading and discussing in a weekly rhythm

I want to start a virtual reading group. We will read Understanding Media in 10 weeks (from March 18th till May 27th, less than 50 pages a week). Every week will have the same rhythm:

  • We read a specific part of the book for that week
  • Two people will create a summary (a piece of text, slides, a video, whatever works for them) for that part and will ask a set of questions about the text (every Friday)
  • We have a virtual event (using Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss the questions (every Monday)

That is the minimum. Next to that I intend to organize things like a best quote of the week voting competition, screenings of McLuhan inspired films (in Amsterdam most likely), a set of resources (other primary literature on the topic, and secondary literature) and a set of guest lectures (also to be done on Mondays).

The kick off meeting will be on Monday, March 18th. You can always find the latest full planning here.

You can join too!

I would like to have as many people as possible join me on this reading journey. Joining is a simple four step process:

  1. Get the book (this is the edition I will be reading).
  2. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  3. Book a week in which you will be responsible for delivering a summary of what we have read. You can check the planning to see which topic we will read when and make a choice. Be quick there are only 2 slots per week available.
  4. Follow the blog (fill in your email address at the top right widget on the page) to get all the updates about the reading group in your email inbox. You can also follow the Twitter account.

There will be a central space for this group: understandingmedia.net and I hope we can generate a big set of resources, thoughts and reflections aggregated through using the #umrg hash tag on places like Twitter, Delicious and Diigo.

Are you interested, but do you think you might be too busy? Register anyway! You are only committing to writing one summary, everything else can be skipped if you want or need to.

P.S. Most people wouldn’t think of starting a group like this without using Facebook. I don’t like Facebook so won’t use it. Others are of course free to do anything with this reading group on Facebook, I just won’t be joining you there.

Written by Hans de Zwart

04-03-2013 at 11:38

Posted in Books

Tagged with , , ,

A Day of Conversations at Learning Technologies 2013

This is now my fourth year in a row that I manage to do a quick visit to the Learning Technologies exhibition in London. Like last year I decided to try and speak to as many luminaries as possible and ask them what they were planning to do in the coming year.

Steve Dineen

Steve is founder and CEO of Fusion Universal which is going strong as it has just signed the term sheets with an external investor. Steve is on of these people who do what I like to call “push the world”: through a certain shamelessness (bright bright bright pink stand at the entrance of the exhibit) you can push a little bit further than others. So on the volume for the videos being played at the stand: “The right volume is when we get told off.”

Steve is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met and he has a product to sell (read the next paragraph with that in mind). Our conversations was around his excitement that their video-based social platform Fuse (“amplifying the brilliance of the trainer and making it last longer”) now has the final missing pieces and is putting everything together. If you look at the 70:20:10 model then according to Steve Fuse is leading in the 70%, has been doing well on the 20% and now with personal learning plans in place can even perform the 10%. There is a seamless integration of these three types of elements rather than the traditional Learning Management Systems that often have very clunky features bolted on. This makes it much easier to focus on business outcomes rather than on learning outcomes (and gets rid of the association of learning with compliance training and compliance systems).

Another big development will be the mobile app (for Android, Blackberry and iOS) which will allow for offline playing of the videos, capturing of video/audio directly into the platform and notifications of new videos into the app. Steve mentioned a course where all the participants had to create their own video about what they had learned. They noticed that each of these videos was watched an average of ten times (i.e. people were watching what their peers had done). So not only did the creation of their own videos helped internalize the materials, there was also repetition of those same facts through watching the videos of others.

Ben Betts

Ben is the CEO of HT2 and creator of Curatr. At the same time he is pursuing his PhD and has three more months before he has to hand in his thesis. He has just done some research investigating whether gamifying an environments affects the quality of the contributions (so, would gamifying the system make people game the system?). The paper will be out soon.

The big thing for him in 2013 will be the release of Curatr version 3 which will be Tin Can enabled and will integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges. I consider this quite forward thinking, but also a risky bet. Neither of these technologies have proven themselves yet. Ben and I had a short discussion about the Learning Record Store (LRS) component of Tin Can. Ben is convinced that people should own their own learning records and he is curious to see how this will be provisioned going forward. I am convinced of the value of tracking what you have (and in the usefulness of triplets as a format). I’ve written up all my activities in 2012 in the form of categorized triplets and was pleasantly surprised by how useful it is to get feedback about what you have done. I am not sure though that people will be willing to invest any time in “writing up” what they have learned or are now capable of. An “activity stream” of your professional life will only work if it is close to fully automated.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence still has the audacious goal of being what he calls a “wisdom architect”. He is toying around with the classic trio of quality, speed and cost (“pick two”) and thinks that if you would add wisdom (applied knowledge with experience and empathy) to the mix you could reframe those constraints.

We had a quick talk about open space technology which has four principles and the Law of Two Feet (“if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking”):

  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

Open space is a truly self-organizing way of running things that allegedly always works as it has a lot more honesty and the people who are engaged are really engaged.

As an “imagineer” for Udutu (“ahead of the pack with a free (as in beer) agile collaborative online authoring environment”) he used open space to host a session titled “Life and Death: Please help me bring theatre into this corporate training project.” and found a way to bring context and story into the e-learning platform. Initially he was very much focused on the pedagogy first and the story second, but he soon realised that he should start with the story and then bring in the pedagogy, a more common-sensical approach.

Lawrence also shared his favourite learning experience that he ever designed: he taught salespeople of NetG networking hardware how the TCP/IP protocol works through dressing them up as IP packets and routers and letting walk over to eachother and communicate within the constraints of the protocol. Wonderful!

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the founders and director of Onlignment and a fellow lifehacker.

Two years back he told me about the wonders of Markdown and this year he has convinced me to find a Linux version of TextExpander functionality (suggestions are welcome). Next we discussed productivity like the Pomodoro Technique (works wonders for me, he will try it again) and the importance of not being distracted. Barry has disabled all notifications for all his apps and is also trying to make sure he doesn’t have to make too many choices to be productive.

He is convinced that the learning industry thrives on what people want to sell, rather than on what organizations want or need. Something like responsive webdesign for example which starts with the mobile experience and then upscales gracefully towards a tablet and desktop is being appropriated by the industry and implemented the wrong way round (starting with a desktop experience that is too rich which loses things when it is displayed on mobile.

The big project for Onlignment this year will be to “fix the conversations between training departments and their business stakeholders”. I think this is a perennial problem (not solvable as long as you have a training/learning department), so I like the ambition!

Charles Jennings

70:20:10 Forum

70:20:10 Forum

Charles Jennings has done a lot of work popularizing the 70:20:10 framework. This has now culminated in him starting the 702010forum.com. He has written an extenside whitepaper on the “what” of the framework (“70:20:10 Framework Explained”, soon to come out) and will soon deliver a whole series of papers on the “how”.

We started off by talking about the origins of the framework. He says it is most likely came from some work by Morgan McCall (then at the Center for Creative Leadership) who had been working on experiential learning for years. He got together with Michael Lombardo and Bob Eichinger and did a small survey where they asked high performing managers where they had learned or developed their capability. In 1996 they published the results where the managers said they got 70% from having tough experiences on the job, 20% from other people and 10% from formal learning or reading (another way to say it is 70% experience, 20% exposure and 10% education). In 2001 Charles started working with Reuters to create their learning strategy and he built it on the back of the 70:20:10 framework.

He sees a key role for the manager to enable this 70%. He quoted some research that says that people who are being developed effectively (by their managers) outperform their peers by 25%. That is like adding more than a day of productivity per week. This can only work if you make learning a continuous process. 70:20:10 helps to create this culture of continuous learning. This is where I diverge a little from his thinking: I see less and less relevance for the manager and think people should and will develop themselves, rather than be developed.

Charles sees four learning drivers:

  • Experience
  • Practice
  • Conversations (the “best learning technology ever invented” according to Jay Cross) and networks
  • Reflection.

I usually just say there are two drives for learning: doing things and reflection. I would like Charles to focus a bit more on how more direct feedback can help the reflection process.

All of this should change the focus of workplace learning. According to Charles we will make a shift from “Adding Learning to Work” (with learning metrics) towards “Extracting Learning from Work” (with business metrics).

Annie Buttin Faraut

Annie does HR Information Magement innovation at Philip Morris International, making her effectively my professional twin (especially since Philip Morris has made many of the same HR design decisions as my employer).

We talked mostly about her experience with Coursera where she did a very good course on gamification. It consisted of eight demanding weeks of watching videos, doing assignments and peer reviewing other people’s assignments. The peer reviewing was often interesting as you could see what other people had done with the assignment. I guess I will have to pick a course from their catalog to see for myself (even though their privacy policy is a bit scary: “We use the Personally Identifiable Information that we collect from you when you participate in an Online Course through the Site for processing purposes, including but not limited to tracking attendance, progress and completion of an Online Course. We may also share your Personally Identifiable Information and your performance in a given Online Course with the instructor or instructors who taught the course, with teaching assistants or other individuals designated by the instructor or instructors to assist with the creation, modification or operation of the course, and with the university or universities with which they are affiliated.”).

Just like me, Annie is trying to get the people in her team to become “Innov-Actors”, emphasizing that to be innovative requires you to do something. I will likely collaborate with Annie on a set of activities (inspired by the Innovator’s DNA that will help people increase their innovative behaviour.

Bert De Coutere

Bert is a solution architect at the Centre for Creative Leadership and writes one of my favourite blogs. He has a few personal plans this year: he will make “an app”, he will continue his investigation into the quantified self movements, will look into personal network analytics (“where do I fit inside the network and what does this mean for my leadership development”) and will look into the work of people like BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits) who work on behavioural change.

He is very excited that he will pilot a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this year on leadership. He is still full of questions about how to approach it. Do MOOCs work with softs skills and can they actually lead to behavioural change? How do you deal with confidentiality (important when it comes to leadership)?

Other short conversations

I ran into Laura Overton who told me about Towards Maturity‘s Learner’s Survey which will be launched. David Wilson and David Perring from Elearnity told me about their experiments with a new format for their presentation (minimal slide-based content and then conversations on the basis of questions on Twitter) and I shared with them my new “Socratic” approach to teaching classes. With Alex Watson I talked about the mindset of middle management and (off-topic for the conference) about How to be Black.

Books

I love to get book recommendations from people that I know. I asked everybody whether they had read a good book recently. Both Steve and Bert mentioned Insanely Simple and both Ben and Bert mentioned Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human. Steve made The Lean Startup required reading for the staff in his company (this is a reverse recommendation: I remember telling him about the book). Charles mentioned Bounce a very interesting book written by champion table tennis player. Bert is looking forward to reading Yes! about the science of persuasion. Annie liked this book for “beginners” Content Rules and thought Socialnomics was good. Lawrence, finally, managed to get me to commit to reading Image, Music, Text by Barthes before I revisit London in June.

The Books I Read in 2012

Inspired by Tony Haile I have decided to write a yearly post in which I list the books that I have read for the year. This year I managed to read 57 books (still 18 books short on my seemingly unattainable goal of reading 75 books a year. Please note that the categories are quite arbitrary, but mean something for me. Having a Goodreads account really helped me with this exercise.

Some people ask me how I manage to read this much. I’ll give away my secret recipe: don’t have children, do not watch any TV (or use Facebook) and make sure you commute by train (45+ minutes in each direction) every day. That is all there is to it.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

Innovation

Doorley’s book showed me how simple changes in the physical space can change people’s behavior and Dyer showed how being innovative is just a set of behaviour. I will put those two together in the next year. Checklist have stopped me forgetting things after reading Gawande’s book.

  • Make Space: How To Set The Stage For Creative Collaboration – Scott Doorley (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators – Jeff Dyer (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sustainism Is The New Modernism – Michiel Schwarz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think – Peter H. Diamandis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley – Victor W. Hwang (Goodreads/Amazon)

Philosophy

French has showed me that corporations are the best positioned lifeforms to show sustained moral behaviour. Illich was truly enlightening, I expect to read more of him in 2013 (Deschooling Society!). I will continue to explore McLuhan’s thinking with a reading group on Understanding Media. Sandel’s book on the moral limits of market is chockfull of incredible examples of things that can be gotten with money nowadays (e.g. prison cell upgrades). The three weirdest books I’ve read this year are also in this category: Stone, Burrell and Goertzel, all thanks to Daniel Erasmus. The book which made me think the most per page must have been Eagleman’s.

  • Corporate Ethics – Peter A. French (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Tools For Conviviality – Ivan Illich (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Medium Is the Massage : An Inventory of Effects – Marshall McLuhan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age – Sandy Stone (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pandemonium: Towards a Retro-Organization Theory – Gibson Burrell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Cosmist Manifesto – Ben Goertzel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • In Praise Of Love – Alain Badiou (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives – David Eagleman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History’s Great Philosophers – Gary Hayden (Goodreads/Amazon)

Technology

The anthology edited by Zerzan was probably my favourite book of the year and I was amazed to see how relevant the Cluetrain Manifesto is, 12 years after it has been written.

  • Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology – John Zerzan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual – Rick Levine (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency – Micah Sifry (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom – Rebecca MacKinnon (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age – Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Goodreads/Amazon)

Learning

Postman’s book was full of provocative thinking. It made me wonder why we don’t seem to have this kind of insight into education nowadays (and are being put up with Ken Robinson).

  • Teaching As a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning – Sugata Mitra (Goodreads/Amazon)

Business/Management

I will use Osterwalder’s canvas in an upcoming workshop on business models for learning. Rodgers defies management orthodoxy by showing how we need (mostly informal) conversation to do sensemaking in this complex world.

  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers – Alexander Osterwalder (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public – Lynn Stout (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Informal Coalitions: Mastering the Hidden Dynamics of Organizational Change – Chris Rodgers (Goodreads/Amazon)

Lifehacking/Self-Improvement

Berkun’s book on speaking is probably the most useful on the topic that I’ve come across. Zinsser is a well deserved classic. The Pomodoro technique has increased my productivity tremendously and has given me an idea of being in control of the work that I do.

  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction – William Knowlton Zinsser (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: Can You Focus – Really Focus – for 25 Minutes? – Staffan Noteberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Pomodoro Technique – Francesco Cirillo (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Verslaafd aan liefde – Jan Geurtz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun (Goodreads/Amazon)

B00kc7ub 4 N3rd5

Together with four other nerds I started a book club where we will read technology related books. Holiday’s book was irritating as hell but did lead to a great discusion. Expect ten books or so in this category next year.

  • Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator – Ryan Holiday (Goodreads/Amazon)

Fiction

I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year. Thompson was long overdue (and didn’t disappoint). Stephenson was a bit disappointing (although also mindblowing at times). I thought Scott Card was morally despicable.

Other

Some great books don’t fit in the above categories. DeKoven wrote down how I intuitively taught physical education a few years back. I had a wonderful few days with MacGregor. The picture in MacArthur’s book are the opposite of Doorley’s book in the innovation category. Laties made me want to quit my job and start a book store.

  • The Well-Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness – Bernie DeKoven (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuściński (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Richard Ross: Architecture of Authority – John F. MacArthur (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A General Theory of Love – Thomas Lewis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want To Fight For From Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Communities – Andrew Laties (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Life with Books – Julian Barnes (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Bezeten: Ton Boot, de winnaar & het laatste seizoen – Igor Wijnker (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • the Science of Love and Betrayal – Robin Dunbar (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • How to Be Black – Baratunde R. Thurston (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? – Paolo Soleri (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Radical Evolution – Joel Garreau (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media – Mizuko Ito (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs: (She Thinks I’m A Piano Player In A Whorehouse) – Paul Carter (Goodreads/Amazon)

Written by Hans de Zwart

22-01-2013 at 22:42

A History of the World in 100 Objects

The Book

The Book

Last week I spent three days at the British Museum in London exploring their History of the World in 100 Objects collection. I had bought the book earlier and showed up on a Monday morning with the intention of going to see each object in the book (preferably in order) and reading the chapter about that object while sitting next to the object. By Wednesday noon I was done with a mindblowing experience behind me.

The collection consists of 100 carefully selected objects, divided into 20 chronological periods. Each period has a theme and contains five geographically dispersed objects. Through this device the collections informs us on wide range of historical topics. We see how we moved from hunter/gatherer societies towards agricultural societies and even towards the information society. We get insight into the migratory patterns of humans from our roots in the African continent to our presence in the Americas (made possible by the last ice age). We are shown the birth of the major religions (and their surprising tolerance for each other at many times). We see the proof of trade patterns between different continents through the use of certain rare materials in objects. We see one of the first pieces of art (a non-functional object) that we’ve found:

Swimming Reindeer

Swimming Reindeer

and the first known depictions of a couple making love. We get an understanding of how people like the Romans, the Aztecs, the Incas and many others lived. We are forced to adjust our thinking about what happened in Africa before the colonisation. We see techniques like pottery or glassblowing develop. We get an idea about the development of activities related to leisure like smoking or sports. We can track how money developed and gained importance. And much more.

What makes it so powerful is how the objects connect us to our shared humanity and to the people who interacted with the object. Most of these objects also have very personal stories to tell, sometimes about their users, occasionally about how they got to the museum. I was incredibly moved by the universal story of a refugee leaving all that they own which obviously happened to the wealthy owners of the Hoxne treasure and I cried thinking about how the Akan African drum was used on a slave ship and then on a plantation in Virginia and how it had traveled to Britain where they first thought it was a native American drum.

In short: those 100 objects and the book are fabulous.

You had better be quick if you want to experience these objects in the same way as I did: 16 of the 100 objects weren’t on show when I was there. Some of them are too brittle to be on display, some were on loan and others were being conserved (a 17th object was replaced by a replica). A few objects are already in a different spot than on the map and others don’t have the signage that is specific to the collection anymore. I hope the British Museum will continue to put an effort into keeping it whole, but it currently doesn’t look like it.

I have one regret: looking back I should probably have listened to the full podcast feed rather than reading the 550 pages of the book. This would have taken a bit longer, but would have allowed me to take a much better look at the objects. Maybe I’ll do that next year.

Spending a lot of time in the museum I couldn’t help but encountering all the other things that are absolutely brilliant about this museum with free entrance: the awe-inspiring white marbled and domed courtyard, all the school children doing their assignments, the free 30-40 minute “eye-opener” tours of the different galleries, the people taking painting lessons or drawing the museum pieces, the “Hands On” tables where you are allowed to touch pieces from the museum with the guidance of an expert, the large groups of Chinese tourist looking at their heritage in the Chinese galleries, the incredible selection of books in their bookstore and the friendly staff. This is probably the best museum in the world. I think that, because of its collection, you can also say that the museum belongs to the whole world.

One final note: I’ve recently read Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy, The Moral Limits of Markets in which he writes about how market thinking is invading all kinds of spheres where it wasn’t before and where it doesn’t really belong (see my review of the book here). One example that Sandel uses is how many things now get commercial names, things like sport arenas. Some of the galleries in the British Museum are also sponsored in this way. This is troubling. They seem to be on a slippery slope (yes, I know I am using a well known fallacious rhetorical device here): Sainsbury has very little to with Africa, Mitsubishi sponsoring the Japanese galleries is already one step further, but with Citi sponsoring a gallery on money I am starting to feel uncomfortable about the influence of sponsorship on the content of the museum. I’d rather pay an entrance fee and be sure I get true editorial independence. Am I being naive here and have museums always had to appease their benefactors?

Corporate Sponsorship

Corporate Sponsorship

Written by Hans de Zwart

12-10-2012 at 14:54

Posted in Books

Tagged with ,

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – A Short Review

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Anything with “subversive” in the title has my attention, especially if it relates to teaching.

Even though this book is more than 40 years old (1969) Postman and Weingartner are making an argument that is very similar to the argument that is being made today around the bankruptcy of an educational system that is based on the needs of an industrial society. They write that for the first time in history change has become so fast that we can’t assume that what made sense to us, makes sense to our children. This means that the focus of education should shift towards helping children learn how to learn (“leren leren” as we would say in Dutch). Teachers (and thus teacher education) are the starting points to initiate this change.

Their suggested way to do this is by the “Inquiry Method”: asking questions of students and allowing students to formulate their own questions. Very similar to what others might call the Socratic method. The inquiry method is grounded in the realisation that we always perceive the world with our own meaning making machinery. People will only change if they can give meaning to what they learn in some way. The students own thinking is the only starting point for learning.

Reading this book has made me reflect hard on my own teaching practices. I dare say that it will fundamentally change the way I will address any future classrooms. I will have to start by asking myself the following questions:

What am I going to have my students do today?
What’s it good for?
How do I know?

There are many things to quote from the book, but let me just focus on a statement from the end of the book:

Learning to suspend judgment can be most liberating. You might find that it makes you a better learner (meaning maker) too.

If you then think about this statement in the context of judging (i.e. grading) students you should ask yourself the following set of questions:

  1. To what extent does my own background block me from understanding the behaviour of this student?
  2. Are my own values greatly different from those of the student?
  3. To what extent have I made an effort to understand how things look from this student’s point of view?
  4. To what extent am I rewarding or penalizing the student for his acceptance or rejection of my interests?
  5. To what extent am I rewarding a student for merely saying what I want to hear, whether or not he believes or understands what he is saying?

I used to do this as a teacher and found the results quite disturbing. As the authors write:

A grade is as much a product of the teacher’s characteristics, ability, and behaviour as of the student’s.

How many teacher’s realize this?

The book is well summarized in it’s last paragraph (although it is very dense and requires reading the book to get its full meaning):

The new education, in sum, is new because it consists of having students use the concepts most appropriate to the world in which we must live. All of these concepts constitute the dynamics of the questing-questioning, meaning-making process that can be called “learning how to learn.” This comprises a posture of stability from which to deal fruitfully with change. The purpose is to help all students develop built-in shockproof crap detectors as basic equipment in their survival kits.

You have to love “crap detection” as the ultimate skill for our times!

Written by Hans de Zwart

05-06-2012 at 10:00

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