Tom Clancy on War

I read Tom Clancy‘s Debt of Honor over the holidays. It was a guilty pleasure, although it wasn’t that pleasurable. I hadn’t read Clancy since high school, and Debt of Honor — the eighth of the Jack Ryan franchise — felt stale. It was 400 pages too long, there was too much exposition, there were too many series characters who didn’t need to be in the book, and the plot was just too outrageous in the end. Yes, Jack Ryan is awesome, but in this book, he’s Superman. Kind of ridiculous.    (LMA)

That said, I read the whole damn book. All 990 pages. Pages 500 through 900 are classic Clancy. Clancy writes about war like no other, and the level of detail was, as always, extraordinary. Clancy, incidentally, is proof-positive of how effective Open Source Intelligence can be.    (LMB)

I especially enjoyed this exchange between Jack Ryan and the President on the nature of war:    (LMC)

“There’s something big we don’t know.”    (LMD)

“The why?”    (LME)

“The why may be it. First I want to know the what. What do they want? What is their end-game objective?”    (LMF)

“Not why they’re doing it?”    (LMG)

Ryan turned his head back to meet the President’s eyes. “Sir, the decision to start a war is almost never rational. World War One, kicked off by some fool killing some other fool, events were skillfully manipulated by Leopold something-or-other, ‘Poldi,’ they called him, the Austrian Foreign Minister. Skilled manipulator, but he didn’t factor in the simple fact that his country lacked the power to achieve what he wanted. Germany and Austria-Hungary started the war. They both lost. World War Two, Japan and Germany took on the whole world, never occurred to them that the rest of the world might be stronger. Particularly true of Japan.” Ryan went on. “They never really had a plan to defeat us. Hold on that for a moment. The Civil War, started by the South. The South lost. The Franco-Prussian War, started by France. France lost. Almost every war since the Industrial Revolution was initiated by the side which ultimately lost. Q.E.D., going to war is not a rational act. Therefore, the thinking behind it, the why isn’t necessarily important, because it is probably erroneous to begin with.” (535)    (LMH)

“Almost every war since the Industrial Revolution was initiated by the side which ultimately lost.” Something to think about, especially with what’s going on in the world today.    (LMI)

Blue Oxen’s 4th Anniversary

A few weeks ago, about 50 friends and colleagues — including co-founder Chris Dent, visiting from Seattle — joined us at Chris Messina and Tara Hunt‘s gorgeous new office in San Francisco, Citizen Space, to help celebrate Blue Oxen Associates‘ 4th anniversary. Thanks to all who came and to all who sent well-wishes. Thanks especially to Chris and Tara for being such great, generous hosts, and thanks to Tara Anderson for handling all of the logistics. Pictures are up on Flickr, and there’s a funny video of some late night, after-party silliness as well.    (LLX)

Of course, being a Blue Oxen event, there had to be a “group exercise.” This year, Kaliya Hamlin led us through an incredibly moving one. She asked all of us to take a moment and write down a meaningful thing that happened to us this past year. She then asked us to write down something we hope will happen next year. Everyone then posted them on the whiteboard for all to see and share.    (LLY)

A few people signed their notes, but most of them left theirs anonymous. Some notes were easy to identify, but most still leave me wondering who wrote them. Some notes were business-related. Many were deeply personal. Some notes were knee slappers. Others were heart-wrenching. People wrote about relationships, both good and bad. They wrote about losing family members and about surviving cancer. They expressed both despair and hope.    (LLZ)

What the exercise did was raise the group consciousness. I knew almost everyone in the room, most of them well, and over the past year, I interacted regularly with many of them. Yet this simple exercise surfaced many things about the people in my community I didn’t know. It changed the way I looked at everyone in the room, and it reminded all of us of our humanity.    (LM0)

Great group exercises not only surface interesting content, but also elicit surprising behavior. Jonas Luster started the process by drawing connections between cards of people he thought should connect. I don’t know how many people connected through the wall, but I know some did.    (LM1)

Due to the hustle and bustle of being the host of the party, I didn’t have a chance to contribute my own meaningful moments to the wall, so I thought I’d rectify that here. My list is long. Most of my moments consist of late-night conversations with friends and colleagues over dinner, over drinks, and over the phone, covering everything from concrete topical challenges to philosophical ramblings to general silliness. Just thinking about many of these moments brings a smile to my face.    (LM2)

If I had to sum up all of the meaningful moments from the past year into one sentence, it would be this:    (LM3)

I’m grateful that my relationships with many of my work colleagues have evolved into true friendships.    (LM4)

I’m a firm believer in professionalism, which often translates into a wall between myself and my colleagues. It’s my personal manifestation of the Intimacy Gradient, and my wall is probably a bit higher than others. Nevertheless, I do let down my guard over time. It’s never planned. It’s just something that happens organically over time, a natural deepening of trust past a personal threshold. When it happens, it’s always incredibly enriching. It happened a lot this past year.    (LM5)

I am so grateful to have such high-quality and supportive people in my life. It makes me all the more motivated to chase my dreams, to continue to learn and improve, and to contribute as much as I can to this world. I’ve discovered something that’s special and important, and I’m not even close to fully understanding it. I’m going to work my butt off until I do, and I’m going to share what I learn as widely as possible.    (LM6)

Notable December Events

There are several notable events this month. Next week is Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) 2006B at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I’ll be speaking on Monday afternoon about Identity Commons. There will also be an Untalent show on Tuesday night, which promises to be spectacular.    (LKV)

Starting Wednesday, December 6, Lisa Heft will be leading a three day Open Space Technology Workshop. Those of you interested in learning more about Open Space should really attend. Lisa’s a long-time practitioner and thinker, and she is very well-respected in the community.    (LKW)

Allen Gunn and company are throwing a San Francisco Nonprofit Technology Center Holiday Party on December 13 at their new space on 1370 Mission. Anyone who’s ever been to one of Gunner’s parties know that this is not to be missed.    (LKX)

Finally, Todd Davies and CPSR are sponsoring Technopolitics Camp in San Francisco on December 17.    (LKY)

Happy December!    (LKZ)

Ggeh and Trust

Trust is such a critical component of collaboration, it’s easy to dismiss. Other than acknowledging its importance, I haven’t thought too deeply about the role of trust in collaboration. That started to change a few weeks ago, as the concept kept rearing its lovely head in all sorts of places.    (LKM)

One of them was Chang-Rae Lee‘s beautiful novel, Native Speaker, which I reread this past week. On the surface, the book is a spy novel, and a compelling one at that. Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find that the book is really about the many nuances of personal identity.    (LKN)

Featured prominently throughout the book is the notion of a ggeh, a Korean money club, where a small group of people — usually friends or members of the community — pool their money and redistribute it to the others. Lee’s protagonist, Henry Park, says:    (LKO)

Small ggeh, like the one my father had, work because the members all know each other, trust one another not to run off or drop out after their turn comes up. Reputation is always worth more than money….    (LKP)

In our ggeh, if you give a few dollars you can expect to receive a few hundred. The more you give, the more you can ask for; everyone comes to learn what’s a fair amount. You send a letter. Then you come at night and you make your request. You spoke with Eduardo, who in the beginning spoke to John. Now you will simply speak to me. Bring an interpreter or phrase book. Everything is in private, we deal like family, among ourselves, without chits or contracts. This is why I must see your face, hear your voice, make certain that you live how you say. It doesn’t matter what your color is, whether your breath reeks of garlic or pork fat or chilis. Just bring your wife or your husband, bring your children. If you want a down payment on a store, bring the owner of the store you work in now. Bring your daughter who wants to attend Columbia, bring her transcripts and civics essay and have her bring her violin. Bring X rays of your mother who needs a new hip. I want to see the fleshed shape of the need, I want to know the blood you’ve lost, or that someone has stolen, or tricked from you, the blood you desperately want back from the world.    (LKQ)

Here, Park is describing a very large-scale ggeh, and he emphasizes the importance of seeing people face-to-face in order to establish the requisite trust.    (LKR)

I asked my parents about ggeh, and their understanding of the concept was very different from Lee’s. I think their opinions were strongly colored by their experiences with ggeh in Korea, whereas what Lee describes seems more pertinent to the immigrant experience. One thing I did learn from my parents was that ggeh were generally organized by women, which is remarkably reminiscent of how microfinance generally works.    (LKS)

I did some searching on the Internet, and found some interesting links and references to ggeh, but details were relatively scarce. If some of my Korean peeps can shed more light on how they work, please let me know.    (LKT)

Catalytic Communities’ Secret Sauce: Trust

A few weeks ago, I drove down to The Tech Museum in San Jose for the Tech Museum Awards exhibit. All 25 recipients were there showing off their projects, including Theresa Williamson, who was an Equality Award Laureate for her organization, Catalytic Communities.    (LKF)

I’m a big fan of Theresa’s. She is a wonderful person, and she’s doing awesome work. Catalytic Communities, besides having one of the best names in the business, is a knowledge-sharing network for community activists all over the world. It consists of an online database of community solutions and a community center in Rio de Janeiro known as the Casa. There are over 130 projects over nine countries documented on the site, and over a thousand local community leaders have met at the Casa to share stories.    (LKG)

What’s really interesting is that she’s doing an outstanding job of leveraging technology to help catalyze her network, even though her tools and her organization’s knowledge of tools is rudimentary at best. Theresa says that she first heard the term, “Wiki,” from me at a talk I gave a few years ago. Well, her ignorance of the concept hasn’t hurt her one bit, and it may have even helped.    (LKH)

At the awards exhibit, I asked her what she thought her secret sauce was for catalyzing a vibrant network. “Trust,” she responded without hesitation. I shook my head vigorously and protested, “No, that’s too trite. What have you done to build that trust?” She thought for a moment, then cited the importance of Casa. She suggested that face-to-face interaction was even more critical for building trust in Brazil than it was in this country, where a culture of digital literacy is starting to emerge.    (LKI)

I think the jury is still out as to whether or not face-to-face is inherently better for building trust than other mediums. Nevertheless, there is unquestionably something special about face-to-face interactions, yet many organizations don’t do a very good job of leveraging this.    (LKJ)

Looking back, I was too quick to dismiss Theresa’s initial response: Trust. This past year, several groups asked me to comment on online tools they were building to help catalyze knowledge sharing and collaboration within their networks. The majority of the efforts were completely over-engineered. The problem was that the designers got too excited about Web 2.0 bells and whistles, and didn’t think deeply about how those features addressed their underlying challenges, challenges such as how to build trust within a network.    (LKK)

When I originally founded Blue Oxen Associates, my main goals were to identify and name patterns of high performance collaboration and to understand the forces (like trust) these patterns facilitated. While I haven’t completely strayed from these goals, I’ve certainly done my share of meandering. My conversations with Theresa and others these past few months have helped me refocus, and I hope I’ll have interesting things to report over the next year.    (LKL)