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Open space technology or welcome to the world where the lack of an agenda is not a synonyme of lack of focus.

“If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: use your two feet and go someplace else.” Isn’t it gorgeous?

Open Space Technology (OST) is an approach for hosting meetings, conferences, corporate-style retreats and community summit events, focused on a specific and important purpose or task—but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme. Twenty-five years later. Harrison Owen, The man who discovered what he called later “open space” in the bottom of his martini, still did not patent the idea in any way. The Open Space World Map (http://www.openspaceworldmap.org) documents that these events have taken place in more than 160 countries. It is the best approach for sharing knowledge between free and good headed-hearted people : minimizing bureaucracy and time, maximizing productive learning. Great spirit for great people. The ideal way of working in fluid and dynamic world of ideas and innovation.

Zlatina Rocquefort

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Personal Development is beneficial for everyone.

We, as communicating individuals,  are function of our mutual perception. The perception is based on intuitions but also there is a lot of projection of fears and phantoms. The personal development builds self awareness and from there, decreases the psychoses that we easely carry from previous experiences.  That awareness stage gives a lucid  understanding of the nature of people and situations. Therefore Personal Development is beneficial for everyone.

Managing Yourself: Stop Holding Yourself Back

Managing Yourself: Stop Holding Yourself Back

From the world’s poorest communities to the corner offices of its largest corporations, ambitious employees struggle with the same basic challenge: how to gain the strength and insights not just to manage but to lead. For more than a decade, from three different perspectives, we have been investigating what gets in the way. Robin conducts research on race, gender, and leadership; Frances focuses on coaching senior executives; and Anne works on unleashing social entrepreneurs around the world.

We’ve worked with hundreds of leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in industries spanning more than 30 fields, and in more than 50 countries at various stages of development. Amid all the diversity, one very clear pattern has emerged: Organization builders, fire starters, and movement makers are unintentionally stopping themselves from becoming exceptional leaders. As a result, companies aren’t getting the best from their people, and employees are limiting their opportunities.

Why does this happen? We’ve identified five major barriers.

Barrier 1: Overemphasizing Personal Goals

True leadership is about making other people better as a result of your presence—and making sure your impact endures in your absence. That doesn’t mean leaders are selfless. They have personal goals—to build status, a professional identity, and a retirement plan, among other things. But the narrow pursuit of those goals can lead to self-protection and self-promotion, neither of which fosters other people’s success.

One leader we studied fell into this destructive behavior after a long, successful run at a number of software companies. Troy’s bosses had always valued his drive and accountability. But when customer complaints began pouring into the service division he was managing, he pinned the blame on the “mediocrity” of the product development division, claiming that his team had to support an inferior product.

Troy’s COO disagreed and began to hint that Troy’s job was on the line: After all, the complaints had started accumulating on his watch. To shore up his position, Troy started working to win over senior colleagues one by one—“picking them off,” as he put it—by asking for feedback on his performance. His strategy worked to some extent. Senior management recognized that he was committed to improving his leadership skills. But the customer service problems just got worse. People began trashing the company on influential blogs, and demands for refunds kept rising. The more Troy worked to save his job, the harder his job became.

Troy had a leadership breakthrough when one of his service representatives asked for help resolving the growing conflict with the product development team. The rep’s despair triggered a shift in Troy’s thinking—away from worrying about his own position and toward healing the split between the two divisions. Troy hosted a series of cross-team meetings and made sure that both groups felt heard. By the third meeting, the teams were brainstorming about ways to solve the service problem together, by improving the software and helping customers learn how to better use it.

Like other effective leaders, Troy changed his focus from protecting himself to supporting the members of his team and making sure that customers were happy. Within a few weeks, demands for refunds began to decrease, even though the company hadn’t yet made any upgrades to the product.

Contemplating the shortcomings of the younger generation has ever been a hobby of the elder…


Devin ColdeweyDec 14, 2010


Contemplating the shortcomings of the younger generation has ever been a hobby of the elder. As I start to transition to the latter population (perhaps a bit early for my age), I’ve found myself worrying more and more about the kids, and how little they seem to appreciate things.That kind of complaint is neither constructive or original. But the fact is that the kids aregrowing up pretty weird these days, because of the way technology has outpaced our institutions of learning and standards of knowledge.

The short attention span and reliance on non-text media are to be expected in an age where attention is indulged by on-demand information, and the effects of these things will continue to be written about, rightly and wrongly. There is a more subtle and insidious trend, however, that may prove to be more damaging than tech-born changes in learning modality.

It’s a process that has been going on for a long time, but that recent developments may push to the breaking point. The problem, as I see it, is that we have stopped valuing the accumulation of information within ourselves.

Externalization

The fact that virtually all of the world’s knowledge is only a few taps away is truly mind-blowing. No matter who indexes it, who serves it, who edits it — the knowledge is there, and the knowledge is with you, always. This is one of the most important developments in history, and its repercussions can’t be underestimated. But to consider it an unmixed good would be premature and naive.

Think of that habit which I and likely everyone reading this succumb to now and then. You are talking with a friend, and can’t remember who that guy was in that movie. Without thinking, you pull out your phone and search. Mystery solved, it was Patrick Swayze. Harmless enough, right? The web in our pocket allows us to settle bar bets and track down trivia with ease. A tiny load off everyone’s mind.

The problem lies with the trend. We’re looking up more things, more often, and not because we’re more curious. It’s because we can’t be bothered to retain even the data that matter to us. The GPS in cars is an advance party of this trend: every couple months we hear of some driver who has followed the GPS to the bottom of a lake, or used a highway as a walking path because it was labeled as such on their phone’s map. My dad, who has driven to visit my brother in Vancouver, B.C., a dozen times, still uses the GPS despite my brother living in the same neighborhood for several years now. When I went up with him a month ago, the GPS route was slightly different, and my dad nearly had a panic attack. I convinced him to take the correct exit, but he was this close to doing something he knew was wrong simply because the map indicated he should.

Now, I don’t mean to rest my case on these anecdotes. But there is truth in them, and you likely recognize yourself in them to some extent.

Because of this reliance, do people know their cities, roads, and neighborhoods better? Not as well? Or simply in a different way? After all, services like Foursquare and Urban Spoon encourage serendipitous discovery of restaurants and locations. I think it is a strange paradox, that these technologies expose us to new things while at the same time clapping blinders on us.

To return to the thesis, however: general knowledge seems to be following the path of locational knowledge, and the consequences are similar, but more dire. While consulting the GPS means you don’t build an internal map of your neighborhood, consulting the external knowledge engine of the internet means you don’t build a map of your entire intellectual world. And unlike your neighborhood, Google doesn’t have an easy analog for you to peruse. They may be working on that, but is that really a function you want to outsource?

Internalization

It sounds a bit alarmist, I admit — I’m more old-fashioned than most people in this regard. I’m afraid of what will happen if this trend continues, because I feel the externalizing of information to this extent (that is, the extent to which I fear it will reach in the coming years) erodes some of the core facets of personality and individuality. I know that’s raising the stakes somewhat, and I do that just to feel I’m saying something important, but I do think it’s true.

If you think about the way we are each of us constructed, mentally, we are to a great extent a collection of data and experiences. Consciousness and personality emerges from the soup of people, places, and things we’ve experienced in our lives. The connected world we now live can vastly increase the number of these elements, ideally, and it’s already done a huge amount towards keeping people in touch.

But the volume of these elements is becoming so great that it overwhelms our capacity to internalize. Luckily, many of us have blowoff valves, like our blogs (I’m paid to open my valve, to my everlasting wonder), our Facebook accounts, and so on. And we’ve gotten so much in the habit of deflecting this tsunami of things and experiences that we are becoming less and less likely to actually retain and internalize any of them. Try this experiment: if you have a blog, a Posterous or Tumblr or what have you, try to remember as many items you’ve posted as you can, right now, without checking. Write them down or something. I have a “blowoff valve” blog myself, and I’ve posted hundreds of quotes, images, and such to it — but I have trouble picturing more than a few dozen. That terrifies me, and although it may not terrify you, you at least sense there’s something to it.

If these things you’ve collected are important to you, or you found them interesting, why aren’t they inside you? Why aren’t they becoming part of the sea of experiences that makes up your unique intelligence and personality? If you fail to integrate an experience, it was, for all intents and purposes, no better than a dream.

We’ve gone from being intellectual predators to intellectual filter feeders, and soon I wonder whether we’ll even deserve that title.

Volition

The counter to this is that, freed from the necessity of remembering every little thing, we are better able to focus on what we think is important. Another paradox, in that as the internet and connectivity expands our world exponentially, we find ourselves putting finer and finer a point on our role in it. No more renaissance men — I suppose Leonardo himself might have been frustrated by the sheer amount of info he’d have to command.

So it’s become far easier to acquire expertise — at the cost of insight. There’s a reason, after all, why it’s called insight. Because insight is the result of recombination, hybridizing ideas, internal accidents, emergent properties of ideas we never even knew were related.

The trend isn’t exactly reversible; it’s simply the shadow cast by the towering, profound benefits of the internet and portable communication. And of course internalization can be taken to extremes as well — imagine the oral poets of the bronze age, with little room in their heads for anything but tales and epithets. But we mustn’t let the externalization exceed our ability to recognize and accommodate it. It’s our responsibility now to diversify our intellectual landscapes; the world won’t always require it, but we should require it of ourselves.

[images: Dave CantrellKunal Anand]


Update: What an interesting discussion we’ve had! I’ve read every comment and response, thank you. I won’t augment what I’ve put here other than to emphasize that this is not a denigration of these new forms of handling information, but a warning of the cost. There is always a cost. I’ll leave you with these two quotes from Burton and Simonides:

Thirdly, brutes cannot reflect upon themselves. Bees indeed make neat and curious works, and many other creatures besides; but when they have done, they cannot judge of them.

and as a counterpoint,

Mox daturi progeniem vitiosiorem.

Sorting Books and Digitizing Thought

Sorting Books and Digitizing Thought

Parag and Ayesha Khanna on December 19, 2010, 3:19 PM
031505_divinity_library_57

This holiday season, Hybrid Reality is preparing for the next digital decade by cleaning out the attic and donating books to charity—an interesting opportunity to reflect on the future of authorship, knowledge, and access to information.

Very little now remains on our shelves, yet it’s worth noting that we have only kept the oldest books in our collection: rare manuscripts, classical philosophy, religious texts. Some of these are available online, but not only do they have sentimental value, holding them in your hand puts you in the right frame of mind to appreciate and absorb their teachings. They are timeless in a different way than digital content now is as well.

As we lose access to the bound volumes in which we scribbled comments, annotations, critiques and other markings, it becomes more difficult to find the boundary between content production, consumption, and recycling. It is so easy to read several books at once from the Kindle or IPad bookshelf as opposed to the real thing—plus digital readers are amazingly portable. This is particularly important for Generation-Z, whose virtual libraries will be far larger than their physical ones, whose education system is already riddled with cut-and-paste plagiarism, and whose minds are so constantly bombarded with information that they can hardly be blamed for not knowing what they learned where and from whom.

Commercial imperatives are driving this accelerated blurring of content boundaries. Barnes & Noble stores are closing while Kindle sales are rising—and this despite the settlement that has seen Amazon allow publishers and authors to set their own price for books, usually at parity with the hardcover despite the decreased production costs of digital content. Barnes & Noble is trying to adapt to the trend, heavily marketing its own version of the Kindle or IPad—the “Nook”—and even selling it front-and-center on the lobby tables of bookstores instead of books themselves. So here is where we stand: Customers are going to bookstores to buy digital book readers.

Of course, it is still premature to herald the complete demise of the bookstore. Libraries have closed across America due to lacking public funding, not due to lack of demand from the public who seek spaces to browse books, surf the Internet, and convene with fellow citizens—all free of charge. Some bookstore chains have tried similar strategies, offering far more magazine selections, Starbucks cafes within, and free WiFi. Our visceral needs for caffeine and communing haven’t dissolved into the ether as quickly as the content we consume.

But this communing is now happening on an infinitely broader scale. The growing access to a nearly universal body of information raises the tantalizing prospect not only of having access to, but being constantly plugged into, a global knowledge vault with the Jesuit scholar Teilhard de Chardin dubbed the “Noosphere” a half-century ago. Through digitized content we can absorb more information faster, and more rapidly combine it with other sources to produce new knowledge. It is becoming harder and harder to disentangle the original source of ideas in cyberspace—we don’t yet have RFID tags for ideas—but that is a small price to pay to access, or re-access, much of what we may have forgotten over the years since school without the dustiness of going into the attic.

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.

Why You Should Treat Your Employees Like Children

Why You Should Treat Your Employees Like Children

Why You Should Treat Your Employees Like Children

Nov 17, 2010

How can U.S. businesses become more innovative? Encouraging your employees to be more creative is a great starting point. Encyclopedia Britannica Blog recently talked to creativity expert Kyung Hee Kim, an associate professor of educational psychology at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

 

Kim analyzed the results of a creativity measure called the Torrance test for on nearly 300,000 American adults and children and found that Americans’ creativity has declined drastically in recent decades. But she also has some ideas for how parents can encourage their children to be more creative. Seeing how easily these ideas can apply to employees, I translated Kim’s advice into the following 11 tips for helping your employees become more creative.


1.
Preserve Curiosity.
“Children’s curiosity should be satisfied and encouraged,” says Kim. Do you have an employee who asks tons of questions? Don’t get irritated—encourage him or her to keep asking. In fact, all employees should be encouraged to ask questions about every process and idea in your business—and to find new answers.
2. Focus on Ideas.
In business as in school, we often focus on getting things “right” rather than being imaginative. Learn to value employees’ efforts to be creative even when they fail. A person’s something “wrong” might open your eyes to a different, and better, way of doing it.
3. Raise Nonconformists.
“Creative individuals do not like to follow the rules,” Kim says. This is a tough one, because no business can thrive without rules. I think the key to working with nonconformists is knowing which rules are too important to break—and which can be bent in the interests of innovation.
4. Be Playful.
Just as children shouldn’t be forced to act like mini-grownups, don’t force your employees to be deadly serious in all occasions. Meetings don’t have to be droning, PowerPoint laden affairs. Find ways to make them fun by encouraging spontaneity, openness and approaches to problems that may seem silly.
5. Be Ready for Drama.
Kim notes that many parents and teachers punish creative children because their behavior makes them harder to manage. It’s a tradeoff: Creative people aren’t always easy to live (or work) with, so if you want the fruits of innovation, you may need to be ready to deal with a few “drama queens.”
6. Foster Independence.
Kim says parents should let their children have independent activities, like sleepovers or camps. In the same way, you can encourage innovation by letting your employees handle tasks alone without hovering over them. (This can be easier said than done for many delegation-challenged entrepreneurs, but the results are worth it.)
7. Travel.
Kim says parents should expose children to different experiences, places, cultures, food, languages and people. To encourage innovation on the part of employees, expose them to different departments in your business. For example: take them along to client meetings or to tour a client’s facility or encourage them to attend conferences and industry events so they meet others outside the little world of your business.
8. Give Time Alone.
Most creative people need privacy or time alone to let their ideas germinate, Kim notes. In today’s socially networked, wide-open office environment, time alone can be hard to come by—but it’s crucial for innovation. Create spaces where employees can sit and think undisturbed, allow them time for breaks outside, and don’t fill every moment of the day with meetings.
9. Be Less Clean and Organized.
Extremely organized and clean home environments can hinder children’s creativity, according to Kim. In the same way, focusing too much on what an employee’s workspace looks like or how neatly his or her work is completed distracts from innovation.
10. Find a Friend.
Creative children tend to have imaginary friends and friends outside their peer group. While you probably don’t want your employees talking to imaginary friends, encouraging friendships among different departments, age groups or levels of authority is a great way to expose people in your business to new ideas and enhance their innovativeness.
11. Find a Mentor.
Many studies of children have found that a mentor is key to creative achievement. Look for mentors for your team—whether it’s someone within the company, or someone outside it who can provide a different perspective. Mentoring can even take the form of reading books about innovative business practices.

 

Facebook’s Social Network Graph

Facebook’s Social Network Graph

Paul Butler, an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team, was interested in visualizing the “locality of friendship”. Luckily, he has some great data to work with: Facebook’s social network of the friendships between its 500 million members. But visualizing that much data can be a challenge in its own right — it takes skill to draw meaning from what could easily be an incomprehensible mess of data. After drawing a sample of 10 million friend pairs from the Hive interface to Facebook’s Hadoop-based database, Paul set to using R to solve this visualization problem. 

As Paul describes in a post on his Facebook page, initial attempts to visualize the data resulted in a “big white blob” roughly resembling the outline of the continents. But when Paul switched from plotting every friend pair to instead plotting every city pair with a great-circle line whose transparency was determined by the number of friend-pairs in those cities, something beautiful emerges: a clear image of the world, with friendship bonds flowing between the continents:

Facebook-friendships

(Click to enlarge, or visit Paul’s post to download a super hi-res version.) 

This is a beautiful image, and a testament to Paul’s visualization skills (with a little help from the graphical prowess of R). Not only can you see the population centers in bright white (from the density of intra-city friendships), you can also see clear country outlines: look how visible India is, floating in the dark void of China and Russia. You can also see cultural relationships: Hawaii to the continental US; Australia to New Zealand; India to the UK. (The latter’s a bit hard to see, though — it would be fascinating to see this in a 3-D globe form, with relationships flowing through the middle of the globe.) Paul sums up the impact of this visualization best in his own words:

After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

Mashable also has a nice review of this chart … with 4,780 Facebook Likes at the time of writing. It was also featured on FlowingData and ReadWriteWeb.

Paul Butler: Visualizing Friendships