Marcia Conner on Sharing

Back in 2006, Mark Oehlert invited me to participate in a workshop with the CIA on collaboration in the intelligence community and the potential impact that social media might have. Several friends participated, including Marcia Conner.

Seven years later, Mark is itching to put together an updated piece on the importance of sharing, of conversation, and of being human. He’s got some cool ideas, but they’re all still coagulating. Rather than wait for it to come together before revealing it to the world, he reached out to some of the original participants and asked us to model these values by having conversations on these themes via Google Hangout and by sharing them openly with the world.

Mark requested that I talk with Marcia on sharing, which we did this morning. Enjoy!

Eight Random Facts

I’m breaking my longest blog silence in a while (over a month!), thanks to prodding from Mark Oehlert, who tagged me with the “Eight Random Facts” blog meme. I actually enjoy these memes; you learn a lot about folks that they might never otherwise reveal. Plus, it’s a good way to get people to post something. In Mark’s case, not only were all eight of his facts interesting, I was surprised to learn that he knows how to count to eight in Korean. How many non-Koreans know how to do that?!    (MFV)

Here are the rules:    (MFW)

  1. Post these rules first, then give the facts.    (MFX)
  2. List eight random facts about yourself.    (MFY)
  3. Tag eight people, listing their names and linking to them, and letting them know they were tagged.    (MFZ)

I’m actually using Mark’s modified rules, tagging seven people and leaving the eighth open to any and all of you.    (MG0)

Here are my eight random facts:    (MG1)

  • I sang in a Korean children’s choir when I was ten. My singing career included a “music video” of me singing a Korean folk song at the beach, which played on the local Korean television station every night for a week. Unbelievably, no agents ever contacted me, and my singing career ended soon thereafter.    (MG2)
  • My body is on the March 1997 cover of Dr. Dobb’s Journal. They replaced my head with a computer monitor, leaving me with head-image problems that persist to this day. My boss at the time promised to serve as my agent, but once again, no one ever contacted me. I tried to fire him, but he claimed that I couldn’t fire someone I wasn’t paying. (That, of course, was libel. I was paying him on commission.) Thus ended my last foray into what we from Los Angeles call The Business.    (MG3)
  • I discovered a bug in the very first computer program, Ada Lovelace‘s code for computing Bernoulli Numbers, which she published in 1843. I briefly mentioned my findings in the sidebar of an article I coauthored with Betty Alexandra Toole on Ada Lovelace in the May 1999 issue of Scientific American. Frankly, this alone should qualify me for my own Wikipedia page. Take into account my glorious accomplishments in the entertainment industry, and the fact that I don’t already have a page is even more mystifying. What’s up, Wikipedia community?!    (MG4)
  • I am the proud owner of three bobblehead dolls: Steve Garvey (my favorite baseball player growing up), Tommy Lasorda (my favorite overweight Italian baseball manager), and Mr. T (everybody’s favorite mohawked, bejeweled tough guy). I’m looking to add James Worthy (my favorite basketball player growing up) and Bruce Lee (everybody’s favorite butt-kicker) to my collection, but I’m not sure they even exist.    (MG5)
  • I have two non-family portraits hanging in my office: Doug Engelbart and Thomas Kuhn.    (MG6)
  • My favorite book is Robert Penn Warren‘s All the King’s Men, which I read at least once a year. All of my computers are named after characters in the book.    (MG7)
  • My secret passion: Watching cooking shows. I’m a bit of a cooking show snob. I think the shows on KQED are much better overall than the ones on Food Network. My favorites are Lida Bastianich, Rick Bayless, Bobby Flay, Jacques Pepin, and of course, Iron Chef. I was also a big fan of Julia Childs, the most famous alumnus of my junior high and high school.    (MG8)
  • My two sisters (one older, one younger) are my favorite people in the world. My nephew, Elliott, is my favorite person under three feet tall, although he’s growing like a weed.    (MG9)

As for folks I’m tagging, it was hard limiting myself to seven people. Please participate even if you weren’t tagged! Those I chose in the end are all great people doing brilliant work and writing interesting, insightful pieces. They all also have lower Technorati rankings than me. In some cases, it’s because they don’t blog that often, although each of them has posted at least once in the last two months. In other cases, it’s because they’re not as well known as they should be. If you’re not already following them, you should be. It will be well worth your while.    (MGA)

The Varieties of Second Life Experience

I liked Clay Shirky‘s commentary last month on Second Life, along with Howard Rheingold‘s qualifications in the comments. More than anything, Clay seemed to be lashing out against thoughtless discourse, which is a big pet peeve of mine as well. Of course, posts like these generally generate more thoughtless discourse. It’s the cost of having open conversations on the Internet. The benefit is that the few gems that emerge generally outweigh the noise.    (LND)

I particularly enjoyed Mark Oehlert‘s response to Clay and others. I had the pleasure of listening to Mark evangelize Second Life over lunch a few months ago, and it was almost enough for me to dip my toes there for the first time, something I’ve resisted for almost two years now. I’ve continued to refrain for reasons I’ll explain some other time, but when I do finally decide to check things out, you can bet I’ll be asking Mark for a tour.    (LNE)

Despite my own skepticism, Clay’s commentary, and the fact that I haven’t played with it myself yet, I think Second Life and 3D MMOGs in general are important, and I will continue to pay attention to them. I’m reminded of William James, who in The Varieties of Religious Experience, writes of the relationship between intense, religious experiences and our minds, how we live our lives, and truth itself.    (LNF)

Regardless of what the actual numbers of users are, regardless of the sum impact these environments have actually had on the world today, one thing that we can’t dispute is that some nontrivial number of people have had intense, important experiences within these environments. This fact alone suggests that there is something transformational there, something that is worth further exploration.    (LNG)

Curriculum on Thinking and Learning

I’ve done a lot of volunteer teaching, and back in 1998, I had become fed up with the classes that I was helping with. In particular, I had spent six horrible weeks volunteering at a class to teach kids computers, which turned out to be a glorified typing class.    (LJ2)

Afterwards, I asked the volunteer coordinator if I could come up with my own curriculum, and she agreed. Most of my exercises did not require any interaction with an actual computer. The first exercise was to have kids write down instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I then followed literally. Another exercise converted the kids into a computer and demonstrated how complex problems could be solved by breaking them down into simple operations. The tour de force was when I had the kids rip apart musical greeting cards to show that computers came in other forms besides desktop and laptop machines.    (LJ3)

That experience was far more rewarding, but also made me realize that I didn’t really want to teach kids about computers. I wanted to help them become better thinkers. So on August 24, 1998, I wrote down three principles that represented my philosophy for what a proper curriculum should achieve. On April 8, 2002, I added a fourth principle. Looking back, that fourth principle reveals how much my mindset had shifted towards the importance of collaboration. Not coincidentally, I happened to be knee deep in the planning stages of Blue Oxen Associates at that point.    (LJ4)

I just put the curriculum up on my Wiki at Learning Curriculum. In the spirit of Mark Oehlert‘s recent challenge, here is the curriculum boiled down into six words:    (LJ5)

Reward questions, stories, lateral thinking, collaboration.    (LJ6)

The Joys of Being an A-Lister

I’ve enjoyed the responses to my posts about the CIA workshop last month. The most surprising and amusing response has come from skeptics who have labeled me and the others who spoke at the workshop of being “A-listers.”    (LCT)

I know something about A-lists. I went to Harvard. I knew many brilliant, cool people there, so I know that A-lists can deserve their reputations. I also knew many idiots there, so I know not to make too much of A-lists.    (LCU)

I’m not naive about what it means to be an A-lister. I know that folks look at me differently when they discover that I went to Harvard or that Doug Engelbart is one of my mentors. I know that most of my business comes via word-of-mouth, which is a fancy way of saying “reputation.”    (LCV)

I know all of these things, and I don’t give a damn about any of them. I worry about being the smartest, most capable person I can possibly be, and about being the best human being I can possibly be. I apply these exact same standards towards others. I don’t worry about what lists I or others are or aren’t on.    (LCW)

This attitude not only pervades my personal and professional life, but my philosophy about collaboration. Given the right space and good process, I believe that large, diverse networks will always be smarter than any individual. I shy away from work where people are looking at me to tell them what to do. My goal is to help groups achieve their potential, not to convince them of how smart I am.    (LCX)

The authors at Kent’s Imperative wrote an insightful essay on how large-scale collaboration can affect how intelligence is gathered and analyzed. I thought everything they wrote was spot-on except for their read on last month’s CIA workshop:    (LCY)

The rapid rise of distributed collaborative analysis through the blogsphere has been an amazing thing to watch….    (LCZ)

The community would do well to pay attention to this phenomena. Some tentative steps have been made at documenting and re-creating this dynamic, most notably in response to the 2004 Galileo Award paper, “The Wiki and the Blog”, by Dr. Calvin Andrus; but much work remains to be done. It is not at all clear that the primum mobile has been established to support this effort within the walls. And your authors in particular are unconvinced that the best way to drive this effort is through the use of Beltway consultants “debriefing” teams of “A-list” and technology savvy bloggers. The native development of a culture of discussion and exchange, enabled by the new technologies and freed from the constraints of stifling managers and visionless mid-grades, is not something that will emerge from even the best run boardroom meeting, no matter how well intentioned.    (LD0)

What is most disappointing, however, is that out of this process (however flawed) no doubt emerged more insight and innovation than has been seen from many of the so-called academic experts championing intelligence studies.    (LD1)

I don’t blame them for interpreting the positioning of the workshop the way he did, and I actually liked the post a lot. However, their interpretation of the workshop is wrong in subtle ways, and there are larger lessons that warrant discussion.    (LD2)

First, I would hardly equate a two-day workshop to a strategy of bringing in A-list consultants to “drive this effort.” We weren’t there to kick-off some huge consulting gig to transform intelligence. We were there to talk to the CIA, and all of us were just as motivated to learn from them. This attitude was reflected in the process of the workshop itself.    (LD3)

When Mark Oehlert asked me to participate, most of the “panelists” had already signed on, and three things stood out to me about the group. First, two of the participants — Jay Cross and Marcia Conner — came from the learning world, not the world of blogs and Wikis, although both are active bloggers. (As it turned out, Mark falls under this category as well.) Second, we all cared more about helping than selling. Third, we all shared similar philosophies about collaboration, although I was undoubtedly the most zealous of the lot. Before signing on, I sent Mark an email suggesting that we not do a panel or presentations, but instead try something more collaborative and meaningful. Mark responded with a smile, and said, “We’re going to get along just fine.” Turns out he was way ahead of me.    (LD4)

The end result was a facilitated conversation between the CIA and the outside world, a conversation that the CIA could not have easily had under normal circumstances due to real constraints (unlike the artificial constraints that many organizations impose on themselves). There was also an important secondary effect that resulted from the workshop process: Stone Soup. This particular network inside the CIA became aware of itself. The champions within the organization were evident right from the start, and the conversation was as much between the analysts themselves as it was with us.    (LD5)

Second, bringing in outsiders can have a catalyzing effect on transforming an organization’s culture, provided their role is framed correctly. We weren’t there to fix anything. That would have been naive, because there was no way we could have fixed anything. We were there to tell stories and participate in discussion.    (LD6)

The path to shifting a dysfunctional culture within a homogeneous organization is to expand the network, to make the problem bigger. The CIA is not the only organization working on these issues, so by including other organizations in the conversation, you enrich your network and raise the collective intelligence of your group. Outsiders in the right roles are critical to change. If you try to solve the problem in a bubble, you are more likely to kill the organization than you are to change anything.    (LD7)

I have no illusions about whether or not we changed anything in those two days. My goal was to expand the group consciousness, if only slightly, and we certainly achieved that. That’s a small step in the right direction, but much, much more needs to be done.    (LD8)