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How To Chair a Socratic Webinar

Socrates, CC-BY-SA licensed picture by Eric Gaba

The Man

Webinars are usually dreadful affairs. There is wise advice from Donald Taylor and there is the webinar manifesto (slightly too commercial: “Never design, deliver or sell lousy webinars again”) that will help you do a better job. I would like to add a completely different way to run a webinar. I call it the Socratic Webinar.

A Socratic conversation is a philosophical method where the participants trust their own thinking, rather than accept the expertise of somebody else. Questions are the starting point. The conversation is explicitly not a discussion, instead you try to listen as the group thinks their way towards an argumented answer. They do this by reflecting on their feelings, their thinking and their actions.

Chairing a Socratic conversation requires some skills. These suggestions are based on my experience and should help you on your way.

Preparation

Traditionally a Socratic conversation would start with questions that are raised by the participants. The chair of the conversation is a guide for the process and doesn’t need to know anything about the questions. This is different if you are asked to host a webinar. The webinar will likely have a topic and you are often seen as the expert.

Start by thinking of questions that you would like to ask the audience. Ideally these should be questions that are very open (or even philosophical) in nature. They will start with “What is”, “Is”, “Why” or “Should”. Questions that begin with “How”, “Can”, or “Will” are less interesting.

In a webinar you can work through one question every 15 minutes or so. So if your webinar lasts an hour, you can address 3-4 questions.

You will not share the questions with the participants in advance.

There is a limit to the number of participants in a Socratic conversation. Ideally you have between 5 and 15 participants, but it should work with up to 30 people. Socratic conversations are great to listen in on too. If you are working with large numbers, then you can invite some to join the conversation and have the rest listen in.

At the start of webinar

It is important to frame the Socratic conversation in the right way (your participants will not be used to this approach). Start by telling the participants that you will be having a Socratic conversation and read them the following rules:

  • This is not a discussion. It is an exploration in which we try to build on each other’s ideas.
  • Only one person can speak at a time. You can ask to speak by raising your (virtual) hand. I will give people the floor.
  • You are only allowed to speak if you are capable of repeating what the person before you said and if you are capable of summarizing the last 15 minutes of conversation. Often we are so intent on making our own point, that we forget to listen. Listening is important in Socratic conversations.

Ask whether there is anybody who can’t agree to the rules. Usually everybody agrees (legimitizing you to remind rule-breakers later on of what was agreed). If somebody has a problem with the rules, then either resolve those problems (convince them the rules are fine or change the rules) or ask them not to participate.

During the webinar

Start the exploration by showing the first question on screen. Ask who would like to say something about the question. Most webinar platforms (like Adobe Connect or Microsoft LiveMeeting) allow people to raise their hand or change their status to a different colour. You can then sort the participant list on this status and can instantly see who would like to say something. As soon as somebody “raises their hand” you can give them the microphone (sometimes this requires you to make some clicks in the system).

When the person finishes you ask the other participants whether somebody would like to build on that point. It is important to be a good facilitator of the conversation. Sometimes you need to summarize what was being said and rephrase the point in a generalized way and then ask for people’s reactions.

Occasionally nobody will come forward to speak. Don’t be afraid of the silence and just let it be for a little while. Soon enough somebody will not be able to tolerate the awkwardness and will step forward to say something. This always happens.

You will find that even a small audience is capable of creating by themselves most standard (or historical) arguments around any particular topic. Only if the participants have exhausted their lines of thinking and you as an expert still know another angle they have not explored, can you bring in your expertise and maybe some good stories and references. Don’t go overboard with this: the participants should be speaking at least 80% of the time.

Now move on to the next question.

Don’t let one person monopolize the conversation by constantly raising their hand or by very lengthy contributions. Say that you now want to hear from somebody who has not spoken yet. Once again: wait through the silence. If you do this well, you will get way more participation and interaction than in any other webinar. People love to be able to talk!

Ideally you will write notes during the session. These should capture both the arguments that the participants created and explored and the stories and references that you brought into the conversation.

After the webinar

If you have taken notes during the session, you can format these nicely and share them with the participants. Because they’ve been active participants in the exploration, they will have a much stronger connection with the material.

Give people the option to continue the conversation with you: share your contact details and how people can connect with you.

I realize that 99% of the webinars are about selling people a product you might have. If you purpose is different, you want your audience to really think, then it is worthwhile trying the Socratic version. Do let me know your experiences with the methodology.

I need to acknowledge my indebtedness to Humberto Schwab for being my philosophy teacher (about 20 years ago) and for showing a Socratic conversation at Picnic 2012. I have done my own interpretation of the process, so blame me for anything that is wrong with this write-up of the methodology.

Written by Hans de Zwart

27-05-2013 at 15:42

“Don’t Life Log Me” – Quantified Self 2013 in Amsterdam

This weekend I attended the Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam. The number of participants was just short of 300 of which 90(!) people were involved in some way in a session. They call this a “carefully curated unconference”: they started by checking out all the registrants and then connecting to them if they look interesting. Fast Moving Targets created some videos about the event. I am always interested in the commercial parties who think they have enough affinity with the topic to sponsor an event. In this case the three major sponsors were BodyMedia, FrieslandCampina, Dreamboard. Intel, Autodesk, 23andMe and Scanadu. Gary Wolf, a very thoughtful and reflective speaker, opened the conference by talking about the Quantified Self as a movement and its three central questions:

  • What did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • What did you learn?

Mood, Emotion, and Meaning

Jon Cousins from Moodscope (with a funny Twitter pic) and Robin Barooah from Sublime.org talked about mood. Jon started off by talking about the large number of people in our society who have a mental disorder, but it is important to be aware of your mood even if you don’t have mental issues. Emotion is something that changes very fast, whereas temperament changes much slower. Mood sits somewhere in the middle of that. Jon shared his own mood story and how he started to track his own depressive moods. He created a card-based scoring system and had a friend who wanted to see his “scores” daily. This immediately changed his mood for the positive. Moodscope now creates graphs like the following:

A Moodscope Graph

A Moodscope Graph

and can create Word clouds on the basis of your good and bad days:

A Triggergram

A Triggergram

Robin then talked about the stress he experienced in 2008, the most painful year of his adult life. He was at a point where he experienced real paranoia. He was aware, but couldn’t control it, very close to being psychotic. He started to meditate to help bring his stress levels down. He used an iPhone app to record his meditation practice. Next, he started to share his mood with a friend through things like Google Calendar and Dropbox. These quickly morphed into journal entries. He found out that the number of meditation minutes per day reflected the number of mood entries per day. He would see it as his ability to connect with the world. It is a signal about his whole life.

QS as a Catalyst for Learning?

I personally hosted this break-out conversation. As I was very busy facilitating I couldn’t really take notes during the session, instead I will share my preparations and questions that I wanted to talk about.

A simple way of describing how “learning” works is as a two-step cyclical process:

  1. Do something that you have not done before
  2. Reflect on what happened

Can quantifying yourself speed up this cyclical process? In which ways? Examples? Will you be more or less daring if you can see your past failures/patterns?

I’ve said before that the costs of self-tracking will be so low that not measuring yourself contineously will be considered “irresponsible”.

Will there be a next wave of measing cognitive processes rather than physical aspects? What other things can be measured but attention? What is the modern day version of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve? (1885)

Quite a while back Danny Hillis wrote about Aristotle:

Imagine that this tutor program can get to know you over a long period of time. Like a good teacher, it knows what you already understand and what you are ready to learn. It also knows what types of explanations are most meaningful to you.

Which services already give me insight into what I have studied? Why isn’t Amazon giving me a temporal word cloud? What kind of data could MOOCs deliver?

David Wiley has written the following:

One can easily imagine submitting their usernames for Google Web History, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Blogs, Google Reader, YouTube, etc. IN PLACE OF taking a four hour high stakes exam like the ACT or GRE. Why make a high stakes decision based on a few hundred data points generated in one morning (when you could be sick, distracted, etc.) when you could get 1,000,000 data points generated over three years?

Could certification become automatic and data based? Why?

I have been very interested in the risks and externalities of “datasexualism” in the context of learning?

There are problems with quantifying yourself: forgetting is beneficial (has a natural function, lifelogging is incompatible with true nostalgia), the filter bubble is a real risk (only reading more of the news you’ve read before, positive feedback loops). Most importantly: many things aren’t quantifiable in any sensible way. Morozov write in To Save Everything, Click Here:

Perhaps this is how aesthetics was meant to end, with a bunch of enthusiastic devotees of the Quantified Self movement comparing notes on whether the nudes of Picasso or Degas generate longer erections.

What about equality? Morozov again:

If you are well and well-off, then self-tracking will make things better for you.

Lightning talks

These were very short talks with slides moving according to a set schedule. There was somebody who called self-tracking looking in a rearview mirror and told us we needed to start looking forward. He has created an app that helps you get into flow. Another guy showed us Momentoapp which I certainly would have tried if it wasn’t iOS only. We also had people talking about tracking Parkinson syndrome (in cooperation with the Cure Parkinson organization). Somebody pitched AchieveMint (“Life Rewarded”) which allows people to get real-life rewards for activities that you tracking their healthy behaviour and aims to create “a market” for healthy behaviour. From my perspective: yet another thing that doesn’t belong on a market. An Intel UX designer/researcher talked about using biomimicry as a way to present data.

Surprises from 4 years of tracking books read

Rajiv Mehta talked about his four years of tracking reading books. I was interested because I do the same. He used a nice way of graphing created from the covers of the books. He saw that the light junky reading was crowding out the substance only after he started to analyze the list.

Activity Trackers

This session discussed the different activity trackers that are currently on the market. It was led by Michael Kazarnowicz who has used all these devices (at the same time) for at least ten days. We discussed the pros and cons of the Moves App, the Nike Fuelband, the Fitbit, the Basis, the Bodymedia FIT and the Jawbone UP. Somebody else mentioned ActiveLink which is rebranding of the DirectLife. Michael also quickly showed the LUMOback sensor that helps improve your posture.

To me the interesting thing is what platform will integrate the date of all these trackers. Michael mentioned TicTrac which seems to be worth a look.

All the information that Michael shared is also available on his blog.

The Self in Data

Sara Marie Watson is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and is interested in what it means to have this data about ourselves. She showed the large dichotomous narrative of “big data is amazing” on the one hand and “oh no, they no so much about you” on the other hand. She has done quantitative research into how the Quantifief Self movement talks about data. Often this talk is about the technical side of things: ease of capture, portability, flexibility, analysis and correlation, scientific methods, legibility and visualization and epistemology.

She wanted to talk about the following questions:

  • How is our identity, sense of self tied to our data?
  • What are some of our assumptions about what data van do
  • What are the metaphors we use to describe how we relate to and use our data?
  • What are the limitations of data? What can’t data tell us about ourselves?
  • What does it mean to have a digital, numerical representation of ourselves in data?

These questions led to a lot of discussion about multiple selves, whether each device creates a “new self”, how the self is sociologically constructed, the Hawthorne effect (again), numbers as a statement of authority (so giving individuals the ability to say something with authority about yourself) and whether QS isn’t more like art. There were statements like “The macroscope can be seen as the first post-mirror metaphor.” This seemed to be the ultimate session for anthropologists and QS-philosophers who wanted to meet self-tracking hipsters. Fascinating stuff.

One person coined a new piece of jargon: quantifying yourself allows you to disaggregate yourself (a way of quantitative auto-biography), this is necessary because the whole self (the thing that we label with our name) is just too integrated.

QS & Medicine: Caring for Ourselves

Frontiers in self-tracking was a talk about the blurring lines between self-tracking and health by Eri Gentry. She talked about things like Piddle and Ucheck, both urine analysers, or the AliveCor for using your iPhone to create an ECG. She mentioned Max Little who created a 30 second phone call test that can diagnose Parkisons:

And talked about apps for measuring eye sight and hearing loss.

Genetic tests are becoming available to the public. Not just 23andme (at least 30% of the people in the audience have done that) but also uBiome which is sequencing microbiomes.

Next was a talk about arterial stiffness, the forgotten factor of in cardiovascular health (“sponsored” by FrieslandCampina?!). Arterial stiffness is a strong independent predictor of heart attack and stroke. The speaker talked about how to measure arterial stiffness and how you can keep your blood vessels in good condition (by for example eating cheese, surprise surprise).

Sara Riggare (“Not patient, but im-patient”) talked about how she optimized her Parkinson’s medication. She gets to spend 1 hour of the year in health care, the 8765 other hours are self-care for her. She says that having a chronic disease means lifelong learning. She experimented on herself by measuring her medicine intake and doing a tapping test on her phone at regular intervals. She then starting “playing” with when she would take her medication. Her methodology needed two different apps and lots of plotting in Excel. This wasn’t easy enough for other Parkinson sufferers to use. She managed to find funding to develop an app that could do this.

Life logging with Memoto

The day finished with a town hall meeting in which we discussed the implications of people wearing life logging devices. A few people wore a Memoto camera (it takes a picture every 30 seconds) for the day. These discussions were mainly about privacy. We tried to talk about how it felt to be recorded. The social norms for these kind of cameras are still in development, but are also in place in some form.

What Makes Data Open?

David Andre talked about self-centered open data. He is a scientist who worked at BodyMedia since 2002 making a lot of body tracking devices. In 2008 he started a hedge fund because he found out that tracking finances is in many ways similar to tracking people. With open data there is a monitoring stack and some key features: play at any level, replace modules and use other’s work, scaffold, build, mix and match and use machine learning and big data. Often there are problems with APIs: no access to the firmware, often you only get post-processed data, the optimization might have caused inconsistencies and often you need to be a business partner to use an API well. Even if we were able to pull all the data together, we will still have something that is analogous to the tower of Babel. The challenges are:

  • Different time models or alignments
  • Different semantics (e.g. blood test versus weight versus heart-rate versus sleep)
  • Vendors change hardware and software
  • Doing analysis (Big Data) on the merged data is harder than it seems

We also need to realize that people aren’t just a collection of minutes.

Solutions for a way forward are:

  • To have a data model that has meta-data about the data that you are looking at (protocols, timing, version numbers, etc)
  • Use derivation trees that show how the raw data is modified
  • Use data models that are truly self-centered, we need to enable tools that are as useful for self-centered time series data as spreadsheets were for tabular data

David then joined a panel with Marc Rijnveld (from Rotterdam Community Solutions, providing “tools for self-organization) and Anne Wright (from BodyTrack, a set of open source tools to capture and explore data on activities, environmental and food inputs, and health status over time, now working together with Fluxtream). They had a short discussion about the services that sit in between the user and their multiple devices (products like Singly). Anne mentioned Open mHealth an open software architecture for mobile health integration. There was a good discussion about the business models for vendors to open up their data, how weird it is that timestamps are still an issue in this community and the allure of starting projects to solve all these problems in one go.

In the Twitter stream and via Dorien Zandbergen I found a few interesting articles about the Quantified Self online:

Encountering the Unquantified Other

Exploring QS identities

Exploring QS identities

Dorien Zandbergen and Zane Kripe hosted this session which explored the implicit ideologies that quantified selvers have versus the quantified other. Dorien sketched how quantifying ourselves is actually quite a bit older than we often like to think. She asked us a question: to what extend do you feel comfortable to talk about your quantified self practices in each of the following contexts: work, family, friends, public space. We then looked at what people felt when they shared the fact that they quantify themselves and their data. One participant mentioned how uncomfortable he is sharing his sleeping data, even with his family (“you have no right to be grumpy, you have slept for eight hours!”).

I shared my perspective on how when sensors become completely ubiquitous and unobtrusive (in a few years) the perspective will actually shift: you will be irresponsible if you don’t measure yourself continuously. It will be seen as if you don’t care about yourself, basically like not brushing your teeth.

Lightning talks on Sunday

Poikos

Poikos

Again a set of lightning talks. I tried to mainly capture the people and the links:

  • Anne Wright talked about successful strategies for data aggregation. She works with a system called Fluxtream that can be bring together all kinds of data from different services using connectors (think emails, calendars, activity trackers, image sharing accounts, etc.). This data is then shown on an explorable timeline. There also is FluxtreamCapture iOS app and they are working on creating a spectral view.
  • Papadopoulos Homer talked about USEFIL which “aims to address the gap between technological research advances and the practical needs of elderly people by developing advanced but affordable in-home unobtrusive monitoring and web communication solutions [and] intends to use low cost “off-the-shelf” technology to develop immediately applicable services that will assist the elderly in maintaining their independence and daily activities.”
  • Carlos Rizo is a fan of mindfulness. He explaines how he sets a password to unlock his phone regularly and embeds behavioural cues in that password: things like: reviewtodo, drinkwater, smilemore, remembertosleep, givethanks, breathnow, micromeditate, etc. Nice idea!
  • Matteo Lai works for Empatica who do emotional tracking hard- and software at a personal level and in real time. They are specifically interested in following stress (they developed a stress sensor). They did an experiment where they tracked a whole team rather than invidivuals on their stress levels.
  • Nell Watson from Poikos talked about their technology to measure the body in 3D with a smartphone based on two snapshots (from the front and from the side). They are a platform with an SDK, an API and a white-label program. Try out their iOS app that gets your clother measurements: FlixFit. They are actually creating a global anthropological database (see QSU.me.
  • Marco Altini works for imec talked about how it isn’t about being fat, but about being fit, so devices should measure fitness and not fatness. He is working on the next generation of trackers that should enable this.
  • Eric Jain who works on Zenobase which pulls in data from different sources like the Fitbit, Withings scale or Foursquare. All data is put in automatically as much as possible, so no tedious entry forms. The aim is that it can track anything.
  • Stan James had his webcam take pictures of himself every 30 minutes. He did this for a full year and tagged all the pictures manually so that he could see how often he works on his laptop in his bed or how often he works in coffee shops, touches his face or is on the phone. Read more about his Lifeslice project here.
Lifeslice

Lifeslice

QS Security and Privacy

James Burke started the conversation by mentioning two articles: Hackers Could Access Pacemakers From A Distance And Deliver Deadly Shocks and Fitbit users are unwittingly sharing details of their sex lives with the world. He also mentioned the by now infamous Target example.

We then discussed things like consent and the terms of service of a product. There was one participant in the session who is a diabetic and shares data with the provider of their medicine. She doesn’t like that because she isn’t always the “best patient”. James put up a picture of Google glass and we talked about who owns the data on what that device captures and told us how the NSA is currently recording all communications in the USA which led to a debate about the (false) dichotomy between security and privacy.

We talked about the changed EU Data protection directive with the following key changes:

  • A single set of rules on data protection, valid across the EU. Unnecessary administrative requirements, such as notification requirements for companies, will be removed. This will save businesses around €2.3 billion a year.
  • Instead of the current obligation of all companies to notify all data protection activities to data protection supervisors – a requirement that has led to unnecessary paperwork and costs businesses €130 million per year, the Regulation provides for increased responsibility and accountability for those processing personal data.
  • For example, companies and organisations must notify the national supervisory authority of serious data breaches as soon as possible (if feasible within 24 hours).
  • Organisations will only have to deal with a single national data protection authority in the EU country where they have their main establishment. Likewise, people can refer to the data protection authority in their country, even when their data is processed by a company based outside the EU. Wherever consent is required for data to be processed, it is clarified that it has to be given explicitly, rather than assumed.
  • People will have easier access to their own data and be able to transfer personal data from one service provider to another more easily (right to data portability). This will improve competition among services.
  • A ‘right to be forgotten’ will help people better manage data protection risks online: people will be able to delete their data if there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.
  • EU rules must apply if personal data is handled abroad by companies that are active in the EU market and offer their services to EU citizens.
  • Independent national data protection authorities will be strengthened so they can better enforce the EU rules at home. They will be empowered to fine companies that violate EU data protection rules. This can lead to penalties of up to €1 million or up to 2% of the global annual turnover of a company.
  • A new Directive will apply general data protection principles and rules for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The rules will apply to both domestic and cross-border transfers of data.

Joshua Kauffman walked into the room and dropped a little bomb: he said he had just patented a Google Glass app that makes use of the public database of images from convicts and allows you to protect your children from pedophiles and might help you in your business interactions. People looked shocked after which he revealed that of course he had not done that, but that the technology is there and that it would be trivial to make. We had a discussion about the sociological implications of technology. We touched on Paul Virillio’s idea that every technological development brings a new accident.

Tracking Subjective States

Dave Marvit showed us a slide about all the body data that can currently be captured by consumer grade devices. All of these are objective states. Ubiqutous continuous monitoring for many of these states is coming very soon. Dave then showed a prototype device that he is involved with that can measure stress levels (mainly on the basis of heartrate variability). They can map a person’s stress level with their GPS data (visualizing your pre-exit stress for example). He suggested we could aggregate subjective data, basically turning people into sensors. What would happen if we equipped all of Tokyo’s subway drivers with a stress sensor? What could it tell us about where the dangerous spot in the subway network are?

One participant in the session mentioned Christian Nold’s Bio Mapping project. Another mentioned how the quantified self movement is all about focusing intention.

Another “subjective” (maybe affective is a better word) state that people might want to track is for example drowsiness. Dave said that he wouldn’t mind it if cars would refuse to drive when somebody is too drowsy to drive.

Natasha Schüll desribed a little bit how casinos are measuring their customers (at slot machines for examples) so they can give them the right stimulus at the right time. She has written a book about the topic titled Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.

Somebody from the BBC mentioned the research projects he is involved with: basically a way to change the programming on the basis of what the TV (and other sensors) know about the people watching it (made us think of George Orwell!).

Life-Logging at Different Speeds

Cathal Gurrin summarized seven years of life logging. He wore a sensecam for seven years. Lifelogging is the automatic multimodal sensing of real world life experience and storing that in an archive. He tried to quantify as much as possible and gathered as much as he could. Lifelogging is very much about looking out. He gathered about 2 million photographs a year, 4 million GPS coordinates, screenshots of the computers he is using, etc. He needed software to process all this data. He noticed that the longer he wore the camera, the more valuable the data became for him. Currently he uses the Autographer. Over the years he learned a few things:

  • No manual input please
  • We do about 30 different things every day, these can be segmented in different moments automatically
  • Lot’s of moments are insignificant, but some are very meaningful
  • He doesn’t look at the images, software does (has an impact on privacy)
  • The challenge is to extract meaning
  • It is possible to design privacy into the systems
  • Only 4% of the images are ‘good’, 40% are useless, 56% are for software processing
  • People don’t mind the camera, but they do care about the audio
  • You get used to it very quickly and stop acting differently after a few days
  • There is no control of capture, so it captures embarrasing stuff
  • Browsing or simple search is very hard when the data grows, you need advanced search
  • The data is used for reflection, recall (validation), retrieval (finding something specific) and reminiscence (e.g. sharing with friends) (the information needs as identified by Microsoft, you always want to remember future intentions)
  • It requires a significant investment in software (machine learning on images)

What he wants to do is identify what the person is doing and do this automatically and segment the data in activity types. You can then identify long time trends and activities. They have currently build some real world prototypes. They have created visual diaries, food logs (automatic identification of food), an installation called the colour of life (“seeing your life in one glance” on a colour chart), a thing called “What I’ve Seen” which allow you to find out, based on open source machine vision tools, when you’ve seen that object before (a marketing dream: when did a person see the Heineken logo), device personalities (“a conversation with the coffee machine”). They have now build a platform called Senseseer that unifies these things.

Next up was Buster Benson who is both a QS fanatic and sceptic. He likes to live publicly and sees privacy as a side-effect of not being connected. Check out his public beliefs on Github. He showed us a few of his projects like 750words and Health Month.

He talked to us about his project “8:36pm” which he has done for five years. He takes a photo at 8:36PM every day and captions the photo. He now has about 1785 photos with about 98% coverage. It is about is uncurated self. He is a fan of lifelong projects because they are so impossible.

Miscellaneous

There were a few sessions I wasn’t able to attend. I would have been interested in the app for good posture created by the people behind the Gokhale method and would have loved to see more about the Human Memome project.

After hearing Stan James talk at lunch I quickly wrote a little bash script that would capture an image of me behind my webcam and timestamp it. I then used cron to run the script every 10 minutes. I’ll leave it running for a little while to see what I can learn from that. For now I’ve mostly learned that my laptop has a very crappy camera (although I managed to fix the discoloration).

TruBaltics, An Unconference on Recruitment

#TruBaltics

#TruBaltics

Today I attended #TruBaltics one of the Tru Conferences on recruitment.

The Recruiting Unconferences are a series of pure unconferences organised worldwide, where the emphasis is on conversation, communication and the free exchange of ideas and experiences, (dis)organized by Bill Boorman.

These unconferences have four simple rules:

  1. No Presentations
  2. No PowerPoint
  3. No Name Badges
  4. No Pitching

The driving forces behind this edition of Tru seemed to be Aki Kakko and Ruta Klyvyte.

The topic of recruitment is very new to me, so this was a quick way for me to get an overview of the topics that people are worrying about and be more at the edge than if I’d gone to an event organized by Bersin for example. I attended a set of tracks and kept some notes:

Job board versus social

Mike Sandiford explained how in the UK people are declaring the job board dead. He is not sure he agrees: People go to job boards because they are looking for jobs. That is not necessarily the case for social. The most important thing is to find out where your target audience is spending time online. What is best really depends on what you are looking for and on the market. Whether you use job boards or more social tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, you will always find that brand is of course an important part of your presence on job boards and in social media.

One participant in the track argued strongly against using job boards at all. You don’t get much for what you pay for and you actually cast the net way too wide and then lose a lot of time in the screening process. According him the war for talent isn’t because there is scarcity of talent, but because there is too much talent and you have to spend time selecting the right person.

There is company that has created a lot of training materials on how you use social tools in recruitment: Social Talent. There seems to be a permanent race to use the latest social tool. People discussed using things like Foursquare, Pinterest and even Spotify (if you are the Hard Rock cafe you could create a playlist and hire the people that like your playlist…, yes yes).

Value-based interviewing (as opposed to skill-based)

Liena Ivanova and Darja Milova led this track which tried to answer whether companies should, can and will assess a candidate’s values during the interview process.

We first discussed whether companies can have values (or whether only people can have values). We quickly talked about Edgar’s Schein‘s three levels of organizational culture: artifacts, values and assumptions.

Some people in the track really preferred to look at somebody’s skills rather than at their values. Other people were very interested in how you would assess people’s values in the first place (there didn’t seem to be any answers for this in the room). Heineken has a funny ad that shows how you can go beyond the traditional way when assessing candidate:

One thing you can do is create a video as an artifact of a company’s culture which can then attract the right candidates. Facebook has an example of this:

My employer has done something similar:

Of course we also discussed Zappos who seem to have managed to make their values part of their brand proposition (but are now themselves part of Amazon which seem to be pushing work practices in a terrible way).

This stimulating track left me with two questions/thoughts:

  • Don’t companies just get the candidates that they deserve? Or put another way: isn’t there a natural matc between the company’s values and those of the candidate? Isn’t the easiest intervention you can do when you want to have different candidates to change your company?
  • How does diversity fit into this picture? Diversity is part of many company’s value statements, but we don’t seem to have an appetite for hiring people who hav different values than ours.

The death of social recruitment. What’s the next big thing?

Rihard Brigis wanted to discuss what new technology is coming up that actually works. We touched on things like workforce marketing, social referrals, cloud recruiting and the increase in the use of analytics. The latter can help you find people on the basis of what they do rather than on the basis of what they say. Tools like Knack It serve a similar purpose.

There are few companies that claim to have interesting technology that helps the recruitment and that might be worth checking out. I will look into Jobscience, Bullhorn and Joberate. Joberate is developing a product that sounds very interesting. It is called “signal” and tries to find candidates that seem to be ready to change jobs and are thus ripe for the picking. This has obvious external applications, but could even be useful internally: who doesn’t want to know when is on the cusp of leaving? Read more about signal here.

Another things that is happening more often is that companies organize events that manage to attract who don’t work for the company (think of a hackaton) and then let current employees decide who they like to hire from those events. It boils down to organizing things that expose people to you. I think that this is what the larger MOOC providers like Coursera will ultimately do. As a company don’t you want to know who are the top performers in certain courses?

I actually think there must be a market for what I’ll name slow recruitment (or slow recruiting for SEO purposes): not using the latest online technology to continuously accelerate the sourcing and selection process, but take your time instead because you know that is just better. When I mentioned this in the track no eyes lit up (yet).

“Marrying” the candidate – pro and cons (building a close relationship or not)

Inna Ferdman and Irina Točko discussed an important recruitment topic: how “intimate” can you afford to be with your candidates. There is a trend in recruitment to build longer term relationships with candidates maybe even before they are ready to move. They used the metaphor of marriage to explore the topic.

For me this topic is very much about what I’ll term the directionality of the hiring relationship. If I am a recruiter for a company that can find many people for a particular job, then I can afford not to have a relationship with the candidate. If a candidate’s skills are so rare that he can pick different employer (flipping the hiring process so to say), then it pays of to invest in a candidate. (A sidenote: I am toying with the idea of doing an RFI/RFP process for my own employment where I would put down my requirements and then let employers bid against each other, could be interesting).

I don’t know this profession at all, so maybe somebody else can tell me whether the following is a feasible business model for a recruiter. Could you build very solid relationships with a group of very talented people that you then each place once every four years or so? How many people would need to be in your talent pool? Would it be less than Dunbar’s number? I guess that would depend on the field and how high the commissions are.

Employer branding 2.0

This track was led by Jacco Valkenburg from Recruit2 who is a LinkedIn recruitment guru.

According to Jacco we’ve been building recruitment sites for the past 10 -15 years. He now believes that these websites are at the end of their product lifecycle. Mainly because the web is disappearing: people are checking Facebook in the morning, rather than visiting a website. He adviced everybody to move their whole recruitment site into Facebook. Facebook’s interactivity make it a great place to show what an interesting place to work you are.

He showed how a company like Q-Park has created a Facebook page for recruiting. They follow their employees and then share what they share (if it is interesting) on their company page.

Anybody who has read this blog before knows that I have some longstanding issues with Facebook. As a company I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the so-called free basket of a company that is notorious for changing their policies and their functionality at their whim. I also don’t find it decent to make your prospective employees (or even customers) pay with their data for the data and functionality that you are getting. I tried to argue these points in the session, but they seemed to fall to deaf ears mostly. The “dark side” of social technologies weren’t mentioned in any deep way during the day actually except for one fleeting reference to LinkedIn’s scary practices.

About this type of unconference format

Sitting in a circle without slides definitely leads to much better conversations. I wish more conferences had much larger parts of them organized in this way. The one things I did notice is that I have a hard time with the fact that it is perfectly normal to switch tracks mid-way. I personally can’t do it (I also finish books I dislike) and was distracted by people leaving mid-sentence. I do understand why allowing this is essential to making the format work. One other thing that was wonderful was how refreshingly non-commercial the whole thing was. You really had to put effort into finding out who worked for what vendor.

Tru actually seems to have turned itself into a very active and connected community with all angles of recruitment covered. I will definitely attend another one.

My open questions

After the full day I was left with a few open questions on the topic of recruitment:

  • Everybody seemed to think that it is necessary to have recruiters (I guess that is what I would think if I was a recruiter myself), but doesn’t the technology disintermediate the recruiter? How is the profession changing in reaction? We didn’t have any solid discussions on this topic.
  • What is a proper typology for recruitment? The directionality was barely ever addressed directly. What types of recruiters exist?
  • There is a lot of talk about “employer brand”, but there was no talk about changing the company to attract different staff. If you want better people, shouldn’t just be a better place to work? Seems like common sense to me.
  • Are we indeed moving from a discoverability problem to a selection problem?

As always curious to hear your thoughts!

My Media Intake (End of 2012)

Some people have asked what magazines I read or what podcasts I listen to. I intend to write this post every year so that I can track how my interests change over the years.

The list below is my full media “intake”. If something does not show up in any of these channels, then the chance that I have seen it is very small. This also works the other way around: consider this a playlist for any media manipulator targeting me.

Magazines

  • Wired – I have been reading the US version of this classic Internet-age magazine from cover to cover for over 10 years now.
  • New York Review of Books – A liberal (and quite US centric) look at books about the world.
  • Adbusters – Magazine from “a global network of culture jammers and creatives”.
  • Makeshift Magazine – Showing the hidden creativity of resource constrained locations.
  • Vives – Free (Dutch) magazine on the use of technology in primary and secondary education.
  • Kaskade – The European juggling magazine.
  • Linux Format – Easily the best Linux magazine in the world.
  • Shell Venster – The “house magazine” of my employer.
  • The Economist – Even though I much more align with the political/economic views of the Guardian Weekly, I still can’t find any other weekly news source that has the breadth of the Economist. I would appreciate recommendations for alternatives (I don’t read German, so the Stern wouldn’t work for me).
  • NRC weekly book supplement – A weekly overview of the latest books from a Dutch newspaper.
  • Linux Magazine – The only Dutch magazine on Linux that I know of.

Podcasts

  • This American Life – I cannot imagine somebody making a better radio show. Has me both crying and laughing out loud regularly.
  • Guardian Science Weekly – Alok Jha is knowledgable and extremely funny.
  • Guardian Tech Weekly – A good weekly overview of technology news only slightly slanted towards the UK.
  • This Week in Tech – Leo Laporte’s podcasting empire keeps growing, but this is the original weekly show with a set of regular pundits.
  • Radiolab – Probably the most artistic way to talk about science.
  • 99% Invisible – A podcast about architecture and design that nearly always find fascinating.
  • Security Now – Steve Gibson has a knack for explaining complicated things in a simply fashion.
  • Econtalk – I would probably disagree with most of Russ Roberts’ ideals and politics but he does have interesting guests and he manages to have interesting conversations with them.
  • Triangulation – Leo Laporte again, but now with a single guest.
  • FLOSS Weekly – I listen to this show about Free (as in speech) software when the topic is appealing.
  • How Stuff Works – Still not sure what to think of these two presenters explaining things, often I find them a bit too loose with the facts and the noise to signal ratio isn’t optimal for me either. They do have great titles and questions though.
  • TEDTalks – I can listen to the talks that interest me at 1.4 times the normal speed and while I am on my bike.

Feeds/Email newsletters

  • Twitter daily digest – Twitter sends me a daily email with a few of the stories that have been tweeted about the most in my network,they combine these with the tweets that got the most retweets. Consider it my personalized news service.
  • News.me – Similar to the update that Twitter sends me.
  • Stephen Downes – Unsung hero of the learning world. Subscribe to his daily email.
  • Audrey Watters – By far my favourite ed-tech journalist. Get the weekly newsletter.
  • Springwise – A weekly update of fresh business ideas.
  • To email – I’ve am using a folder in my Google Reader account to create a single RSS feed from multiple RSS feeds. I then feed this into If This Then That so that I get an email whenever one of the following people or blog create a new item:
  • Shell news from the New York Times, the Guardian and Shell itself – I make these feeds come into my email inbox too.

Other

  • NewsConsole: Innovation and Learning Innovation themes – A big data approach to finding news (patterns).

Written by Hans de Zwart

31-01-2013 at 18:27

Posted in Other

Learning Business Models

Any real innovation in Learning & Development will necessarily change the prevailing business model. Changing business models is hard. This is one of the reasons why many innovations don’t take hold.

Only by making current and potential business models more explicit will it be possible fundamentally change the way learning operates in an organisation.

Willem Manders and I are starting a year of playing with business models. We need help.

Join us!

Written by Hans de Zwart

23-03-2012 at 16:08

Posted in Other

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The Future of Work and the Free Radical

The following introduction sketches the problem that this panel tried to address:

How we work is changing. But where we work isn’t. Over the last ten years a new way of working has emerged, along with some people who live it every day. They’re available 24/7. They network endlessly, and then plug their skills into others’ in surprising combinations. They choose when and how they do what they do, on their terms. They don’t want job security – they want career fluidity. We call them free radicals. And they’re creating the future of work. But when they look for a place to do all that, the options are weirdly outdated: office, home, or on the go – say, a café. Those are actually poor choices. Offices mean fixed cost and daily routine. Home is isolated and full of distractions. And cafés get old after the second latté.

The speakers at this panel were from Grind (beautiful concept and beautiful website, check it out!), the Freelancers Union, Coolhunting and Behance.

To connect somebody to the workspace now comes at the same costs and space requirements of a single laptop. This is happening in a time where there is a big amount of distrust towards big corporations. The space for free-radicals is growing fast (it will grow 25% in 2013). We seem to all become a little more selfish: we expect to be fully utilised, do what we love, work on our terms, we have little time for bureaucracy and want more meritocracy. If you are in a job that doesn’t give you these things, then because of the lack of fraction for doing something for yourself, you now have few excuses for going on working for large corporations. One excuse that is still there is the lack of economic security (things like health insurance). The infrastructure for creating that safety net is now being build around the power and resources of the group.

Scott Belsky talked about how we can create the feedback, refinement and discipline that comes with working in large organizations for free radicals too. Promotion doesn’t exist anymore as a way to gauge your progress. He expects to see meritocratic communities spring up to fulfil this need and co-working spaces to help this process.

It is now increasingly possible to be a free radical inside a company. It is possible to adopt this methodology of work within this corporate structure (to be honest: this is something that I am trying to do more and more myself). The more successful you are in doing this, the more likely you are to do your best work. There are two clear benefits for this for companies: the first one is the real estate costs going down, the second is the advantage to have a more fluid way of pulling together a bespoke team of expert free radicals and make proper use of talent. So it makes sense for organizations to try and reduce the friction to make free radicals succeed.

One problem is that our current education system doesn’t prepare us for this kind of life- and workstyle. High schools are trying to mimic the cubicle workplace (via Audrey Watters):

Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm

Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm

One thing that is enabling this free radical revolution is the democratization of professional tools. You used to have to “join the mothership” to be able to get access to the tools you need to do your job. Now you can get these tools for 99 bucks. The documentary PressPausePlay addresses this point:

Personal marketing is very important. There is a little bit of a taboo around self-marketing in the creative world, but you have to spend some time making sure people can see the work that you have done. This led to a little bit of a discussion on whether free radicals need some sort of collective brand. The panel was divided on this: some thought it was a bit contrary to the point of being your own (wo)man. Others thought it was important to popularize the notion and one panelist even thought it was very important for the movement to put a proper label on it and create a group identity.

Written by Hans de Zwart

13-03-2012 at 19:29

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Get Lucky: Create Serendipity to Spur Innovation

The Princes of Serendip

The Princes of Serendip

This was a big panel (five people from IBM, Deloitte Center for the Edge, Dell and the Community Roundtable) talking about serendipity. The word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole who formed it from the Persian fairy tale The three princes of Serendip. The session was introduced as follows:

Call it chance, luck, or juju, serendipity is the act of unexpectedly finding something of value. It is the muse of innovation and a silent driver of business; consider how Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of the antibiotic penicillin revolutionized medicine, reducing suffering across the entire world. From the world changing to the mundane task of finding relevant information on Google+ or Twitter, serendipity is the mysterious force that gives us the breaks that many of us seek. But what is serendipity? How do you encourage it? Is there a downside to it? How does it apply to work, art or play? Can you design for serendipity? We say you can and should. Whether you’re building the next super social network, doing scientific research, or building a community, there are steps you can take and skills you can develop to help you recognize and act on it. It is more than just naturally being fortuitous; rather, it takes practice to get lucky.

A very quick defition of serendipity would be: “the accidental discovery that leads to unexpected value”. How does innovation relate to serendipity? Innovation (unlike invention) needs to be accepted by society. There are things you can do to increase the chances of serendipity. One panel member calls that “facilitated creativity”. Interestingly this was the second time this week that I heard somebody recommending to have community management at the executive level. Why? Because facilitation is critical especially in virtual spaces. They then talked a lot about what kind of conscious design decisions you can make for your physical spaces when you want to encourage serendipity. These were a bit obvious (“obvious” would be my summary of the session): long lunch tables, open spaces and unconference type meetings, diversity in the room, introducing constraints, transparent glass walls, etc.

Kulasooriya made an interesting point: ambient location technologies (as discussed by Amber Case) will make cities even more important as “spiky places” for serendipitous connections. A term that relates to this is “coindensity”.

Written by Hans de Zwart

13-03-2012 at 17:57

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Future15 at SxSW

One format at SxSW is called “Future15″. These are five solo presentations of 15 minutes each. I attended one of these sessions.

Demystifying Design: Fewer Secrets, Greater Impact

Jeff Gothelf is a lean UX advocate with a book that will hit the stores soon. He describes what the design process looks like for people outside of the profession: basically it looks like a mystery. He is convinced that designers actually feel this mystery as empowering and giving them control. Jeff thinks the mystery isolates the designers from the non-designers. It creates artificial silos which quickly degenerates into an us and them situation. There is no shared language or common understanding. This means that a project manager is usually the person in the middle. This will get you to the end-state, but it will be lacklustre. He says that transparency is the key component to making the best products, mainly because the efficacy of collaboration is directly related to team cohesion. The onus is on the designers to demystify the way that they work. If they do this, the “fingerprints” of the customer and the other team members will show up in the work. This doesn’t make everybody a designer, it actually make the role of the designer more valuable. One thing that bothers designers with this way of working is that it “shows your gut” and that might be very tough to do.

There a few simple things that designers can do to help this process along:

  • Draw together (share “trade secrets”)
  • Show raw works (frequently)
  • Teach the discipline
  • Demystify the jargon
  • Be transparent

The Art of the No-Decision Decision

Peter Sheahan is a founder of Change|Labs and has all the mannerisms of a bullshit artist. He talked about decision makingHe drew a simple framework that showed that people make decisions on the basis of their identity or the consequences. These he calls “decisions”. Habits and structural things also make us make decisions. He calls this “no-decision decisions”. He gives an example of a Japanese toilet that measure people’s blood sugar levels and contacts a doctor when the levels are not what they need to be: a no-decision decision. I guess his main point was that we need to remove the user from the experience and design technology and the environment in a way to get behaviour you want. There are four things we can do to help people make no-decision decisions:

  1. Be intentional with design (physical and flow)
  2. Build in real-time feedback loops
  3. Put “new” behaviour in flow
  4. Put new behaviour “in the way”

Creating Engagement: Brains, Games & Design

Pamela Rutledge at SxSW

Pamela Rutledge at SxSW

Pamela Rutledge is a psychologist. She talked a little bit about the different systems in our brain and the ages of those (the reptile brain, the emotional brain and the new brain, you know the drill). The only way to really engage the “new brain” is through turning the experience into a story. She then went on to talk about “flow” the optimal balance between anxiety and boredom and challenge and skill. The easiest way to get the brain into a flow state is by using story. The story is the real secret weapon to get the brain engaged, this is becayse they are both instinctual and abstract and can speak to all parts of the brain. She finished off with saying the following: “You design for people. So the psychology matters.”

Why Mobile Apps Must Die

Scott Jenson from Frog Design made a humble proposal: mobile apps must die. The usual reaction from people is to ask him what he is smoking. He doesn’t mean to say that native UX isn’t currently better than web UX. What he does mean is that only focusing on native UX we have stopped thinking about things and our design future. To him we are currently on a local optimum. He sees three trends:

  1. App glut. Are we really going to have an app for every story we are going to walk into. The user is becoming the bottleneck now: customers are now gardening their phones and removing cruft. The pain of apps is starting to be bigger than the value of them.
  2. Size and cost reduction. The cost of computing and connectivity is going down. There are going to be an incredible amount of devices.
  3. Leveraging other platforms.

These three trends all work against the native apps paradigm. He sees a lot of “just-in-time” interaction with the web. Installing an app is too much work for these type of interactions. It is hard to change away from the “app” paradigm. Scott showed us an alternative: Active RFID, GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi are four technologies that can help us show us what is around us. They cn show us what is nearby without us having to discover it. Companies that can deliver on this promise might become the next Google. This will be hard to do: we don’t yet have the just-in-time ecosystem where we have phones asking “what’s here” and other objects going “I’m here”. If we don’t start thinking about these things now, then we won’t have them tomorrow.

Geo Interfaces for Actual Humans

Eric Gelinas works at Flickr. They are using geolocated photos to make the photos more discoverable and easier to navigate. Location very often helps to contextualize a photo. To make this easier they created a 3-step zoom. The default is zoomed out, when you hover over the maps you are zoomed into the city and then when you hover over the point on the map you are fully zoomed in. A lot of map interfaces have traditionally be very awkward: not dynamic, information overload. A lot of websites are switching away from Google Maps now and move towards OpenStreetMap data often in combination with MapBox (e.g. Foursquare, it allowed them to put much more design into the maps and escape the licensing costs from Google). There is a campaign to help others switch over to OpenStreetMap: Switch2OSM. Eric wrote a lot of code for Flickr to make their maps. Right he might have used something like Mapstraction. Another great library is Leaflet.

In Flickr you can put in your geo-preferences which allow you to hide your detailed location for particular locations. Merlin Mann wrote the following tweet about that technology:
<phttps://twitter.com/#!/hotdogsladies/status/108613619989757952

Written by Hans de Zwart

12-03-2012 at 00:28

Emerge: Artists + Scientist Redesign the Future – Closing Day

The closing day of Emerge consisted of a set of speeches, panel discussions and a digital culture festival. Below my barely edited notes on the day.

Micheal Crow

Michael Crow is the president of the Arizona State University (ASU) and its chief knowledge architect. He has presented at Google’s Solve for X:

He calls universities “knowledge enterprises”. He is trying to move away from bureaucratized and routinized science and technology and away from silo-ed thinking. By changing how they do things, they have managed to double their number of engineering students. Usually universities find smart people and then focus them as narrowly as possible. Universities shouldn’t be structured like that. At ASU they are very much focused on exploration (science as a means). They are also very interested in origins and have built another way of organizing “genius” around that. Many scientists and engineers are pursuing “valueless engagement”. Why don’t we have at least some of the knowledge enterprise have an objective purpose outside of science itself. At ASU this objective function is sustainability, a value to be pursued.

I personally loved how provocative Crow was: I think he really managed to show how little clothes the emperor is wearing in the academic world (e.g. “The status of the university should not be achieved by who you exclude from the university”).

Envisioning the Future Panel, moderated by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson started by talking about the word “vision” which implies some coherence. The history of the last 110 years or so can be used to show the importance of have coherent visions of the future and how that relates to “valueless engagement”. If you take somebody from 1900 and put them in the now, they would lack the vocabulary to describe the things around them. If you’d take somebody from 1968 and bring them to here, that wouldn’t be the case anymore. Somehow and somewhere we seem to have lost our ability to envision coherent futures that can actually come about. Stephenson dislikes making predictions, he is now starting to call the future the “F-word”.

Brian David Johnson @intelfuturist is Intel’s futurist working in the The Tomorrow Project. The project started in 2010 and it asks science fiction writers to write science fiction based on upon science facts. The five-step methodology is captured in a book Science Fiction Prototyping. He then showed a set of examples of the work that was done in the last two days. He likes to ask the following question: “If the future is in your hands what will you do with it?”.

An artists and a psychologist created a book with artifacts about time from the past and statements about the future. They also interviewed people on the street to ask them what they thought life in a hundred years would look like (“pets would live forever”, “school would take five seconds a day”). One of my favourite pages from the book looked something like this:

Disasters are not just instantaneous events

Disasters are not just instantaneous events

Gary Dirks led a scenario session titled “Humanist Narratives for Energy” with “How will Arizona consume and produce energy in 2050?” as the central question. They came up with two axis:

  • Capacity for investment (high – low)
  • Energy freedom who decides (centralized – decentralized)

They then created four scenarios: Green Silicon Valley (high, decentralized), Desert Power (high, centralized), Hippies & Cowboys Separate But Equal (low, decentralized) and a fourth title that I missed. The scenario planner guru Napier Collyns was present during the work.

The methodology for this is very similar to the work I have been doing with Willem Manders and other on creating scenarios for learning in the future.

It’s All Gardening, Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand, calls himself an environmentalist and started his talk with demographics and the move towards the city. The subsistence agriculture that was a poverty trap is disappearing (and being taken back by nature). People are moving into the slums of the mega-cities in the world. They are quickly moving out of poverty: you cannot hold them back. They will use more energy and will require higher quality food. The largest cities are now in the developing world and five out of six people live in the developing world. The next 30 years is an interesting demographic period where the world is mostly new cities full of young people dealing with a residue of old people in old cities. Where do you think the action will be?

He laid out the irrationality of Germany banning nuclear energy (after the Fukushima disaster) while not trying to ban organic food after bean sprout killed 42 people. He showed a set of small nuclear reactors that have now been designed and Integral Fast Reactors which use nuclear waste as fuel. There is a lot of potential in Thorium.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are finally giving us a toehold into making food in a better way. We have been very conservative in adopting them. But we have had a lot of success with it. The Amish actually like to use it. There are many examples of where genetic engineering can feed more people in a green fashion. Biofortified foods are coming and The Nature Conservancy is now writing “Could Conservation-Friendly Farming Include GMOs” But the green movement (i.e. Greenpeace) is still blindly objecting to all kinds of experiments.

Biotechnology is an incredibly fast moving field. We are moving from the “Earth National Park” (a notion from the Sierra Club) to the realization that it is all gardening (a friendlier way of saying that it is all engineering. The previous generations used “KEEP CALM and CARRY ON” as advice to their people, now there is a generation of people with “GET EXCITED and MAKE THINGS” as their motto. We have the whole make movement, but we are also trying to bring back species that have gone extinct (e.g. the passenger pigeon).

Geoengineering will become imperative too. He showed the example of the Stratoshield. We are still thinking about the norms that are needed around this. One set of guidelines that has emerged are the Oxford Principles:

  1. Geoengineering to be regulated as a public good.
  2. Public participation in geoengineering decision-making.
  3. Disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results.
  4. Governance before deployment.
  5. Independent assessment of impacts.

Designing the Future Panel, moderated by Merlyna Lim

Merlyna Lim led this panel.

Daniel Erasmus and Dave Conz worked with a group of participants to craft archaeology from the future. The process was straightforward: they made an object (not to imagine and make, but to make and then imagine), print it and then listen to how people interact with it (to use it as a string to pull on a tomorrow), redesigned it and printed it again. They then created descriptions of what the objects could do and might mean.

Another workshop led by Julian Bleecker and a companion was around the convenience store of future (inspired by a newspaper they created. They wanted to focus especially on the ordinary and mundane things. They created a set of products with stories attached to them (i.e. synthetic panda jerky, or Tic Tac pheromone+) and then created a film on the basis of this. Read more here or watch the video:

The third project was titled “The People Who Vanished”. This workshop explored the people that lived in the valley around Phoenix around six hundred years go. These precolumbian (the person on stage kept calling them prehistoric) people built many wide canals that were incredibly well engineered. Their presentation ended with a quote from Stewart Brand: “Fiction has to be plausible, reality doesn’t”.

Evocative objects, Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle has done a lot of work on contemporary technology and how it affects our psyche and is now Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Her talk was about objects and what they do to us. She talked about three things:

  • My path in (the memory closet), or how she got interested in evocative objects. She referred to “bricolage” (thinking with things) as talked about by Levi-Strauss as particular passion of hers.
  • What makes an object evocative?
  • Vignettes: two examples of people who were inspired by objects.

This talk certainly wasn’t very tweet-friendly: her story was very anecdotal and hard to reproductive in a blog post here. One last question she finished with was quite insightful: objects are concrete and protect us from virtualization and simulation, what does it mean when we digitize everything?

Embodying the Future Panel, moderated by Colin Milburn

This panel was moderated by Colin Milburn who reminded us of the Alan Kay quote: the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

David McConville (of Geodome fame), Gretchen Gano and Ned Gardiner led a workshop titled “Starting with the Universe”. Looking at the universe in a way is looking at the operating systems of our paradigms. McConville showed some great examples from Buckminster Fuller and his example of the “trim tab”, the little rudder that moves the big rudder, basically finding the leverage point where the least effort would have the most impact. “To make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.” is the Buckminster Fuller Challenge

Ken Eklund, best known for his work on the World without Oil alternate reality game. They worked for a day and a half on creating a alternate reality bases around the ludic affordances of the common padlock. Games seem to be both a tool and shaping process. The means to make games is being democratized and that will finally fill in the missing ingredient for games: relevance.

Alan Gershenfeld and Sasha Barab led a workshop around Games for Impact in which a game was designed in 1.5 days (I was part of this process). The starting point was to imagine a future in which fab-labs would be everywhere. The group quickly landed on the concept of conscious makerism based on the fact that everybody making everything themselves is not necessarily sustainable. The game is then a “tutorial” for a fabricator machine teaching people the fact that resources are limited and data exists about these resources. I personally got a bit disconnected with the project because it wasn’t addressing the questions that I find interesting about a world in which making is ubiquitous: which is the question of access and freedom. When hardware becomes software how will things like licenses work for example? How much of our physical world will come with usage restriction (read this piece by Doc Searls to get some idea of where this is going).

24 Hrs 2 Massive Change, Bruce Mau

Bruce Mau also started Institute without Borders showed us that the number one challenge of CEOs is “creativity” (an IBM study) and quipped it might have been better if it had been ethics. He shared is personal story of how he became a designer. He defines design as “science & art” and then translates that into “smart & sexy”. He now works with people like Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry.

When Mau wanted to teach his design methods somebody told him “Bruce, you’re so old fashioned, You should have 300,000 students not 30″. So he decided to try and massively change education. Education is currently: outmoded, slow, boring, expensive (if it not expensive it is suspect). It is piling up debt (United States has more student debt than credit card debt). It is only reaching 1%. Education is about:

  • Research
  • Innovate
  • Communicate
  • Educate
  • Network

He has started the Massive Change Network and they are working on a project titled “24 hours to massive change” in which they will create twenty-four one hour experiences that connect you to the most effective design methods. The first one is about leadership. Number eleven is “compete with beauty”. This is a very interesting concept that is very true: you can only make people change if you create alternatives that are more beautiful because we won’t make a step backwards (the Tesla is a good example of this).

Science, Art and Design in Tomorrow’s Network, Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling treated us with a little on stage performance. Watch it online when it appears.

vimeo.com/37870061

Written by Hans de Zwart

04-03-2012 at 00:24

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Bruce Sterling on Design-Fiction

Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling

Design-fiction is the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to dismiss the disbelieve about change. It is not an art movement or an academic movement, instead it is a sneaky hack that makes believing in change easier.

This is becoming relevant now because networked society makes prototypes much more visible than before. Most objects are imaginary: 90 percent of the patented objects have never been built. It has always been hard to see these concepts and prototypes: only very large corporations (think concept-cars) could do it. Now pretty much anybody can do it. Design-fiction pulls in multi-disciplinary people, there are assemble concensus around a product sketch. It crystalizes techno-social potentionals. It can do this outside standard commercial contexts.

One very tweetable quote is “If you know what to call what you are doing, you are not doing real fieldwork now”.

The most important term in design-fiction is diegetic.

Sterling has shared some examples of design-fiction on his Wired.com blog.

Written by Hans de Zwart

01-03-2012 at 20:29

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