Do You Have The Balance Right In Your Life?

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Monday, 8.57pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein

I watched the Matrix trilogy again recently, in the stolen minutes of the day that lie between the tasks we have to do these days, and was surprised at the end to hear something I have heard for as long as I can remember. As the third film finished I was certain I heard a chant that starts “asatho ma sad gamaya” – and when I checked that was the case, it’s a disguised message that most people will not notice, and the lines of the mantra, when translated, are as follows.

“From ignorance, lead me to truth; From darkness, lead me to light; From death, lead me to immortality”

This isn’t what I want to talk about.

There is a trend at the moment on my social media timeline for people to put down the value of an academic degree, to question the value of something like an MBA, a Masters in Business Administration. And I wondered why – what was the point of this kind of attack? Did these people think that there was a better approach? Well, clearly they must do, so what are the options you have as you embark on the unforgiving journey of living the life you’ve been given?

One way is the path of work, of doing a job, a trade – something useful. That’s what most of us experience in one form or the other throughout our lives. You work, and work for something, probably working for money. Something that helps you to make a living. But, of course, we don’t spring fully formed, ready for work. Most of us need some schooling, some training, whether in formal education or through an apprenticeship of some kind.

So we have these two major modes of operation – the way of school and the way of work. Some of us found school difficult and couldn’t wait to get on and do something else. Others found it easy and carried on, doing further studies and perhaps going on to become academics. And, as we went along these paths, we were, perhaps successful, and so decided that the way we had chosen was the better way and we started to wonder why others didn’t take this path as well and felt the need to point out to them that they were on the wrong track. Entrepreneurs look down on academics and academics see the pursuit of wealth instead of knowledge as a pointless waste of time. Or perhaps they don’t – we don’t know what they’re thinking. But it’s interesting how many people are ready to criticise something they have no experience of themselves.

What should be obvious to anyone is that this distinction I’ve drawn – this idea that there are these two different paths – is clearly wrong. You can’t just have one or the other – you need both. You have to have a hunger for learning and a hunger for action – you have to do both in order to do something useful. Our ability to learn and change is what makes it possible for us to act and create.

Now the reason I went down this track of thought is because I was thinking of research and application – the idea of finding knowledge and then trying to apply it to real life problems. That’s a lot of what I try and do with this blog – I explore models and approaches with a view to trying them out and seeing if they can help improve things. In my experience, learning the theory of something first is less useful than first having to grapple with something and then start to learn the theory around it. For example, I remember studying how relays worked at University and narrowly passed exams on the subject despite never having actually seen one. I still don’t really know much about them or what they do. But, after having worked for ten years, going back and doing a business degree showed me the kind of theories that had been created to describe the experiences I was having – and I found that very useful. What’s the point of just working for four decades and never really understanding why some things worked and some things didn’t? Especially when there is a theory, a model, an approach that gives you the knowledge and understanding you need?

So I think this is a false argument. Why learn something? Because it’s useful when you know how to use and apply it. When will you know? By taking action and failing and realizing you need to know more to get it right. It doesn’t matter where you start – maybe just enough theory to get you going, then a lot of work, and then back to the theory, and back again – and eventually you’ll find that having experience and knowledge is better than just having one or the other.

But if you’ve only got these two I think you’ve still only gone from making a one-legged stool to a two-legged one. There’s something missing, something I think I’m going to call practice. If work is what you do for money and theory is what you learn, then practice is what you do for you. This is the thing that helps you to integrate the theory you learn and the work you do to create your own approach to the world, the thing that brings out something that only you can offer. And this is not something I can approach with words or descriptions – it’s a state of mind, a state of being that comes by thinking and acting without wanting.

As I thought of this concept and wondered how to get it across – one approach seemed to rise up – perhaps fuelled by the Matrix. The idea of the trinity, an important, a sacred concept. And this gives us our three-legged stool. Think of it like food, like nourishment. We do work to feed our bodies. We learn theory to feed our minds. And we carry out a practice to feed our spirit. We need all three to survive – it’s not just about Maslow and his pyramid. You won’t go anywhere with a broken or failing body, mind or spirit. All three are essential and you need to take care of them.

And that brings us to the question of how to do that and why. Again, the answer is obvious. It’s to get balance – balancing these three is the secret to balancing your life. Watch anyone, ask anyone. If they are all about only one of these you can be assured that they’re failing at the others. But if they are happy, content – then the chances are that they’ve got a mix of these working for them. Something that brings in the money, something that feeds their mind and something that makes them grateful for the life they’re living.

I’m not really going to go any deeper into this right now, because it’s the kind of thing that takes time. If you don’t know this then I can’t really persuade you until the time is right. Trust me on this – balance is good. And getting the balance right between these three is going to be good for you. Maybe it’s something I’ll come back to later.

But what I want to move on to in the next post is something that I learned about in a paper the other day – something so obvious once it’s pointed out to you but never questioned or thought about if it’s not.

Let’s look at that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Know When To Reveal The Real You?

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Sunday, 6.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Never stop fighting until you arrive at your destined place – that is, the unique you. Have an aim in life, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, and have perseverance to realise the great life. – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

In my last post I looked at the two options you have – do a set of jobs better than anyone else or do something no one else does. Let’s look at the second option in a little more detail today.

If I was doing this as an exercise I’d go to the whiteboard and pull out the VRIO model – four questions you should ask yourself about whatever it is you do.

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First, is it valuable? Does it do something for your customer that they need. A good check of value is to ask if they are willing to pay for what they are getting. If they are, then it’s valuable. If they aren’t, then you need to ask some more questions.

Then you ask yourself, is it rare? Is the thing you do something that can’t be easily found? It’s rare to find truly rare things these days. Most of the time you’ll find that there are artificial barriers in the way set up by vested interests. For example, you can’t practice the law or be an accountant without spending time, getting a placement and passing exams. Do you need all that really or is it also a way of restricting access to a profession and ensuring that the people involved control how many others they are competing with? There are lots of arguments trotted out about quality and all that, but the most important point is that the best way to protect yourself is to have a monopoly and most trades try and work towards getting themselves one of those, either individually or as a group. It really doesn’t matter, I suppose, how something becomes rare – what matters is that it is. But it’s worth remembering that it often comes down to having control or having a secret.

The fourth one is the simplest – do you have the organization, the resources needed to do what you do? And the third is the really important one – is what you do hard to copy, is it inimitable, difficult to imitate?

The higher your score on each of these attributes the more likely it is that you will: first, have customers; and second, have high margins.

But what if you aren’t there yet, or anywhere? What if you do something that is relatively undifferentiated, something that’s much the same as the things other people do, something that’s a commodity? We have to recognize that’s not a bad thing and there will be a price at which you will find a buyer for what you’re offering. And if there isn’t, you probably need to find something else to offer. You have to do something to nourish the body – whatever needs doing has to be done.

But if you’re okay with the basics, but you’re yearning for something more then how do you go about finding it? Do you follow the latest lifestyle guru, sign up for a training package that will get you to where you need to be, look for a hack or shortcut that will get you there fast?

It might not surprise you, if you’ve read this blog before, that I’m not a big fan of shortcuts. I think things happen when you’re ready for them. They’re probably happening all the time but you only see them when you have eyes that are ready. It’s very hard to tell when someone else is successful whether that’s happened because they were better or because they were lucky – as every investment fund warns you, past performance is no guarantee of future success.

I’ve recently come across the work of Lynda Barry and I’m trying to understand her approach to this question. Let’s say you’re searching for your thing – the thing that is unique to you. Are you going to be able to think your way into it? Should you take some time and just meditate on the question, talk about your problem, research it, run towards what you think is going to work for you?

I think Barry’s argument is that thinking is not going to work. Few people know what they really want. Do you? Can you say right now that you’re doing exactly what you wanted to do and your dreams have come true? Or can you point to a thing, perhaps someone else who is living the life you want and say that you’d be happy if you just got that? How do you know if you’ll be happy until you live that particular life? And in going after that path how do you know that you wouldn’t have been happier if you had gone a different way?

Barry’s argument is one that I think I agree with and it starts by rejecting any attempt to decide whether what you’re doing is good or bad – the part of you that tries to check and measure and work out if you’re heading in the right direction or have the right goals or are doing the right thing. And this is because doing the right thing, the expected thing, the normal thing often results in the normal, expected, everyday, right thing. But what’s unique about that? If you do everything right you’ll end up completely wrong, you’ll live the life your parents want for you, your teachers advise you to follow, take the steps that should be taken and wonder all the while where the years went and what happened when you weren’t looking at the dark corners, the hidden alleyways, the mysterious pathways that you could have taken but chose not to, as you continued on the main street filled with what’s normal and nice and standard.

It’s the paradox of going after the unique, of hunting that creature that no one has ever seen before. You don’t know where it is or what it is or what it looks like. You can’t think your way into resolving that problem – you have to start by acting. By doing. Something. Anything, that works for you. For example, that thing could be dancing, movement, music, science – anything that’s an art and science is also an art even though it thinks it’s not. Science is a special case of an art, an art that works whether it has an audience or not. For me that start was writing, having a go at putting words down one after the other and seeing if I liked doing it. And drawing. Words and images together work for me. The question you have to answer is what works for you. But don’t spend time answering it – just pick up the first art that you want to try and get on with it.

What will happen over time, if you practice, is that you will start to discover what you like and what you don’t like and what you want more of and what you want less of. The act of acting, of doing will reveal you to yourself and you’ll start to see the shapes, the colours, the outlines of the brilliant, complex creature that you could be, that unique creature inside you just waiting to come out and express itself. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. What matters is what you discover about yourself.

You have to do for a while, years probably. But after you’ve done something for enough time that’s when the thinking becomes useful, when it’s time to reflect and learn and ask what others have done, because they’ve also probably gone on your journey, experienced some of the feelings you’ve gone through. As the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

I think if you want to be happy you are going to have to balance three things – three elements that build on and strengthen each other. Let’s look at those in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Where Is The Real Value Being Added By Your Approach?

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Saturday, 6.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Price is what you pay, Value is what you get – Warren Buffett

In the last post of my Community book project I started to explore the idea of tasks, of jobs that needed to be done and how that might operate in a community setting. What does it mean to have a job – a task to do when it comes to being together in groups?

Imagine a large family get-together, a party of some kind. You arrive early and, when you get there, are you immediately given something to do – a job to carry out, a way to help? Or are you left alone, to wander around aimlessly while everyone else rushes to get things done? Don’t you feel out of place, obliged to ask if you can help, happy if you are involved? I think having something to do together has deep biological and sociological roots stabilizing our sense of community and togetherness.

If you doubt that just think of what happens to communities when they have nothing to do. You have the images of a superstore opening, Walmart coming to town, and town shopping centres turning into ghost spaces, where the only ones that can survive are niche stores, betting shops and charity shops. Do you still have a corner store? Do you know the names of anyone that serves you? And, of course, the availability of apps makes it even less necessary to interact with anyone. You place an order and someone brings it to your table. But there’s no need to talk, apart from perhaps to say “Thank you.” But you don’t have to, do you?

One argument is that jobs are always changing, so while some are lost others open up. Of course, it means that some people are lost along the way, but isn’t that the price of progress? In countries where there is a social safety net, isn’t that the whole point of having them? It’s never that easy, unfortunately, as the scars of job losses, when they are the result of a loss of purpose, can sear through generations. So we should really be asking ourselves at least two questions? What is going to come along and take my job away? And what kind of job am I likely to be able to keep?

Let’s start with the first one, because it can be argued that the entire purpose of innovation is to make certain jobs redundant. And if you understand that principle then you might have a better chance of coming up with a useful innovation.

Let’s take a step back – what do you think of when you think of an innovation? The image we have is of something new, something different, something cool. And yes, that’s what we see, but that’s not what innovation really is. I came across a paper called Segmentation & the Jobs-to-be-done theory: A Conceptual Approach to Explaining Product Failure by Klaus Oestreicher, that has a few interesting ideas that I’d like to explore. The link to the paper is in the references below.

Oestreicher’s starting point is to suggest that instead of looking at what we think a customer needs we should look at what they need to get done – something Clayton Christensen called a “jobs-to-be-done” theory. The point is that customers very rarely know what they need. They find it very hard to tell you what kind of product or service innovation will solve their problem, or what precise solution they will be willing to buy. What they can usually tell you, on the other hand, is what they are doing now, what works for them, what they can live with and the problems and frustrations they have. And hidden in this narrative is the information you need to come up with something both innovative and commercially viable.

Let’s take an example – think of what a writer does. A writer is first a reader, a thinker, someone who wants to express herself or himself in writing. The origins of writing, however, are rooted in business, in the need for tabulating and accounting for goods and exchanges and debts. Writing is also perhaps almost as closely linked to telling the stories of great people, ballads and histories and legends to maintain reputations. Money and power have always been linked to the ability to put words on a medium.

The jobs to be done in the early days of writing came down to the selection of instrument, of medium and of surface. Sticks, clay and walls for our stone age ancestors, quills, vellum and ink in medieval Europe, brushes, bones and soot, and paper in China. The jobs were laborious and took time and the results, once down, took time to replicate. If you wanted a copy of a manuscript you had to copy it out by hand.

To really understand what was involved in creating and distributing books you could list out all the tasks, creating something that Vandermerwe called a Customer Activity Cycle (CAC) as described by Oestreicher. What you’ll see is lots of innovation – what the people who did cave drawings did was an act of stupendous innovation. But what is it that results in one innovation replacing the previous innovation? What made the printing press replace the hand-copying of books? Now, printing versus hand-copying seems to have obvious benefits – humans have certain disadvantages when it comes to competing against machines. But as you gained in speed and consistency you lost the ability to do other things as easily – for example mixing words and pictures. The argument here is that printing won because it did the jobs that needed to be done sufficiently better to make it a good idea to switch to the new medium.

In Oestreicher’s paper he uses the example of VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray to demonstrate his argument. DVD was of much better quality than VHS and didn’t degrade with each play and eventually made VHS obsolete. It didn’t really reduce the number of jobs a user had to do to play a movie – you still had to buy the medium, the player and insert the media. Blu-Ray was of higher quality than a DVD but not as much better as a DVD was than a VHS and so the argument is that we didn’t switch from DVD to Blu-Ray because what we had was already good enough. Now, this is not necessarily making the argument that what’s driven innovation is reducing jobs to be done. That innovation perhaps was in replacing live theatre with recordings that you could play back later. The real next innovation is in streaming, which truly reduces the jobs to be done. Now, you select a film from your list, click buy and play. None of that going to the shop and having to buy it sort of stuff is involved and there are truly fewer jobs to be done.

So what this should tell is if your job requires the consumer to go somewhere, then you have to ask yourself whether there is an innovation out there that makes that unnecessary. And 2020 has shown us how that would work because we now have the language of essential and non-essential jobs. Getting a haircut and getting medical treatment are essential. Eating out and going to a classroom to learn are less so. Stocking supermarket shelves with food is essential. A shop selling almost anything else is not.

When I think of jobs to be done I think of a busy kitchen – hence the image at the start of this post. The irony of that is there aren’t that many of those open now. So we need a new picture, perhaps, to think of our work and what we do. Because we need to do work in order to have a community – but those communities will be different. We know our neighbours better now but spend less time at work but perhaps more time communicating. We are getting used to the idea that we can work with anyone and we can get anything, but it takes more time to get the right thing.

I think where this heads to is that we have to become more intentional about what we are going to do – for us and for our future generations. The idea that there are tasks to be done, jobs to be done is not enough with the changes happening around us. If you want to protect yourself what you have to do is create a job that no one else can do. That’s the kind of job you are going to be able to keep, something that you’ve brought into existence that creates unique value that no one else can replicate. That means you have to go from being passive – from being someone who looks for work – to being someone who creates opportunities and demonstrates value.

And that starts with learning how to speak your mind, how to put yourself in the way of opportunity. Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Setting Out A Plan For The Year

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Friday, 10.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You can’t hurry a loaf of bread. You have to wait for it to prove and rise. – Mel Giedroyc

I was going to write about something else but then I stopped – there’s no need to hurry this thing and, given it’s the first day of a new year, the first day of a new decade is there a better day to stop and think and just check whether we’re doing the right things?

How has the last decade been for you? For me, I think it might end up being the lost decade. The one where I moved from paper and pen to digital and online and, in the process, have more “stuff” than ever and less understanding of it than ever.

For example, we have pictures in their tens of thousands, sat somewhere in the cloud. But most of our prints are a decade old. We’re running out of email space on the online services we moved to at the start of the decade and have no idea what’s important and what isn’t. But what is important is a twenty-plus year old stash of letters that I’ve carried around with me all that time. Not that I ever look at them, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

We have access to more information but is it helping us make better decisions, live better lives? On the one hand we are torn between complex, equally compelling arguments and need the time to make nuanced decisions but what we also see is raw tribalism, populism and xenophobia driving action. Alongside a tidal wave of sharing and teaching is a sewage flood of criticism and comment.

One of the things we ought to see is that the same thing that gives rise to one is also necessary for the other. The Internet gives us the ability to share and the ability to tear down. It’s a bipolar construct, the same element facilitating both great good and great evil. The Internet and technology are not problems – they just are and what we have to do is figure out our relationship with them and with everything else out there.

I think when one tries to do something fast we lose sight of why we’re doing it. We think things “should” be done in a certain way. When writing, for example, I have assumed things like you should write in single sentences, not paragraphs online, and longer posts are better than short ones. But why would that be the case? Is it because it is something that’s clearer for you as a reader? Or is it because you’re trying to appeal to Google, which is the route to you as a reader? Surely the fewer the words you need to explore something the better? Why use ten words when two will do? Why write in some kind of artificially dynamic style when plain prose is enough?

The thing about the years is that they pass a day at a time whether you like it or not. This year, I think, is one for unplugging, one for noticing and one for slowing down.

A year for clarifying practices, bringing together the paper practices that I used the decade before last with the digital tools of the last one – to create foundations for the next decade.

From 2000 to 2010 I used to say that if it wasn’t in writing it didn’t exist. From 2010 I shifted to the view that if it wasn’t online, it didn’t exist.

In this third decade my view is moving towards realizing the obvious. It exists if it is in the world.

This comes together in a few ideas that I’ll explore again later. One is that the Purpose Of a System Is What It Does (POSIWID). The world is as we find it and the purpose of it is what it does. The second is that the best thing we can hope to do is organize the way in which we approach and learn about the world and, in doing so, leave things better than we found them. And what this blog is doing is trying to capture what I’m learning in a way that’s useful for me and, hopefully, for you.

So that’s the plan then… to begin another decade of learning because the world is endlessly fascinating and what’s more interesting than exploring the art of living well?

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

End Of Year Review – And The Rules Of The Playground

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Thursday, 7.52am

Sheffield, U.K.

People have to see play as more important than what it currently is. We don’t want to get boxed into thinking play only happens on a playground. The best type of play is all kinds of play. – Darell Hammond

I suppose this should be a sort of review post, given it’s the last day of the year. So let’s look at the last 366 days and see what they look like.

As a reminder, back in 2017, I gave myself ten years to write a million words as a self-directed writing apprenticeship. It’s what I always wanted to do but it took almost four decades to get started. But the important point, I suppose, is to start.

I write using a routine that’s emerged over time. First I think about an idea and draw an image that captures it – a list, a model, a picture. Something that shows the idea. Then I spend some time freewriting – three paragraphs of anything, just to get the gears moving and break off the rust that’s grown since the last time I wrote. Then I set up my post, look for a quote or joke that again captures the idea and then I set off to write. And the writing itself is unplanned and just flows, one word into another, one sentence into the next.

Okay, so a few stats first. In total, I’ve written 961,000 words so far, freewriting and posts, but not counting this one. I’ve published 694,395 words on my blog in 950 posts in four years. The number of words per post has steadily increased, from just under 500 in 2017 to over 1,000 in 2020.

Should I talk about visitor numbers and likes and that sort of stuff? I’d rather not – in fact I’d like to have the ability to turn off visitor tracking on WordPress. It has a strange effect on a writer. Do you write because you want to explore an idea, or need to get something off your chest? Or do you write to market, for the things people like? I think the answer to that is pretty obvious but metrics make it hard to go in the direction that is the right one for you. If you’re familiar with my posts, I argue in several places that setting goals and targets can be a dangerous step and you should be careful about which ones you select. The one target I have – a million words in ten years – has been a stable and consistent one and it’s easy to test progress against it.

So what’s happened over that time – what lessons have I learned and what’s changed about my writing?

I think the practice of trying to write daily is invaluable. I manage betweem 240 and 260 posts in a normal year although this one I’m at 275 because of the pandemic and we can’t go anywhere. The daily practice has helped to loosen me up, bring out whatever my natural voice happens to be. I dislike big words and complex sentences and like clarity and a “talking” sort of style. I overuse the chattiness, perhaps, and the extra pause words like “perhaps” and “suppose”. That loosens the writing and should really be taken out at some kind of editing stage.

I think the approach I take to writing – circling around a concept with drawing, looking for a quote, just freewriting – helps to prime my brain to look at things from multiple perspectives. I don’t write to a recipe or follow an outline. I just write. And hopefully it makes sense. I think it’s the difference between looking at storm clouds and stirring a cup of tea. The controlled chaos of the stirring will hopefully result in something worth drinking. The rain could fall anywhere.

Practically, writing using the methods described in this post are still valid. Thinking in small bits – chunks – and using semantic linefeeds, a way of writing that follows the advice:

“First, when you do the purely mechanical operation of typing, type so that later editing will be easy. Start each sentence on a new line. Make lines short, and break lines at natural places, such as after commas and semicolons, rather than randomly. Since most people change documents by rewriting phrases and adding, deleting, and rearranging sentences, these precautions simplify any editing needed later.”

This is the one writing technique that works for me – it turns essay writing into poetry writing and the words just flow.

Finally, the one thing that’s changed recently, since the start of my latest book project “Community” is writing in paragraphs rather than sentences. I don’t know how that’s going to turn out but hopefully it will make editing easier.

Looking forward then, there are a few things I want to try out. I recently came across the work of Lynda Barry and am going to try out doing more hand-made material – physical, not digital. The image above, for example, is done using children’s crayons and copier paper. It’s an experiment to see how spending more time with analog tools helps with the thinking process. There’s this nagging feeling I have that everything I write is too sterile, too general, the material doesn’t have any ghosts inhabiting it. It’s like Easter eggs or big chocolate reindeer. Once you break through the shell, there’s nothing inside. I remember being extremely disappointed the first time I came across one of these large chocolate sculptures and finding the insides empty. It’s probably normal to everyone else but I didn’t know and I felt let down. So an exercise for myself is to make this more real – and that needs experimentation and practice.

We’ll see how these things work out and hopefully you’ll find it useful as well.

Now, in my last post, I said we’d look at the rules of the playground and how they work. We’ve all had that experience of entering into a new situation and not knowing quite what to do. Some jump straight in and some hang around on the sidelines, waiting to be invited. Some of it comes down to personalities, and some of it to the norms and practices that are in play. And some norms change – I watched a trailer of the film “Bad News Bears” and was a little taken aback by the language.

This is not an easy question to answer. For example, the child development textbook I have here is bookmarked to the page which addresses the question “What determines which children will be popular with their peers?” And the answer is nuanced.

First of all, the behaviours that are acceptable or not depend on the norms of the group. Some are aggressive and some are cooperative. Just think of a gang of kids in one location hanging out in the street versus a groups of kids at a sports camp. The kind of approach you need to take for acceptance are different.

In general what you can say is that children who behave in an aggressive and inappropriate way tend to be rejected by their peers. In a playground, for example, if a child pushes its way into a game and demands to have the ball, the others will move away. In other situations, however, aggression can lead to higher status. Again, imagine a group of kids around a bully or the stereotypical image of salesmen or traders and the kind of macho behaviour that we imagine they indulge in.

The thing that matters, it seems, is not what happens over time but what first happens. It’s that first meeting where a group decides whether to accept or reject you. And if you are friendly and funny and get on with people then you have a good chance of being in the group. And once you’re in the group you tend to stay in, even if you are aggressive later.

Some children struggle with shyness and a lack of sibling relationships. Social isolation is a real problem and one of the most important jobs a teacher has is to make sure children get on and are not isolated – taking steps to ensure mixing and acceptance, forcing it if necessary.

These few ideas give us something to hold on to. In traditional communities you look after your own, even if they are aggressive and inappropriate because they are part of your extended family network. You’ve seen that again and again, haven’t you? But you wouldn’t accept that from a stranger in your village.

Online and workplace communities are not that different – initial acceptance is based on how you look and appear – your profile and public statements. Have you had an experience where you’ve been excluded from a closed group? Once you’re in the group, how do you act? Do you try and get on or do you speak your mind? The research would suggest that you should take some time – first get accepted and then start to stake out your position.

As a leader or group moderator, your main job is to ensure that people who join the group are not excluded – and I’ve found that this can be a hard task and is not done particularly well sometimes. It takes time and no one has enough time.

In the next few posts we’ll carry on exploring some of these ideas. I think this comes down to external strategies – constraints and enablers and internal approaches – picking up tasks to be done, for example. So we’ll look at this next.

This is a pretty long post, a mix of things, so apologies for that. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve had a good holiday break and wish you a very happy New Year.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Connects Us And When Do Feel Like We Have A New Family?

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Wednesday, 7.10am

Sheffield, U.K.

If Adam and Eve can’t make it work in Paradise, how am I going to make it work in Lewisham? – Sara Pascoe

Families are complicated and test the best of us. As Ram Dass once said “If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family”. But we can’t live without family too – and if you get along well enough with people you think of them as family. So how does this work in a community – what causes family-like relationships to work, what causes breakdowns and what can we do about them?

Think back to your own experiences with family. Have you experienced a rift at any time and what caused it? The chances are that it had something to do with behaviour – first something was done and then something else happened and everything was wrapped up in layers of communication – strings of chatter connecting everything and everyone but with fraying ends and complete breaks.

For much of human history the way we behave has been prescribed by protocol – by an expectation codified into society, based on religion, status – and what passes for good manners. A breach of protocol is a breach of trust, a break in expectations and often leads to a breakdown in relationships. But where have these protocols come from? Have they emerged over time, grounded in the nature of the environment the community lives in? Or have they been created, imposed to create the kind of environment the people in control want to have?

Take two examples. Michael Welsh, a Professor of Cultural Anthropology, tells the story of how his adopted family in Papua New Guinea is once accused of witchcraft. When someone gets ill the family often blame someone else for casting an evil eye and this results in a breakdown in communication. Welsh talks about how this wasn’t fair – the person who got ill had actually done their share of bad things such as stealing. The accused person, his adopted father, had done nothing and had, in fact, tried to help the person who was ill. But the accusations stood and the only way to resolve them was for the father to pay compensation, even though he had done nothing wrong and rebuild those broken ties.

Welsh didn’t really understand this – why would you pay to fix something when you hadn’t done anything wrong? And the conclusion he came to is complex and woven into the nature of kinship and relationships. If a relationship thread is broken, for whatever reason, then you have to do something to fix it and that’s why his adopted father did what he did. But why did the thread break in the first place? And that, Welsh suggests, has deeper roots, grounded in the terrain of Papua New Guinea which is harsh and unforgiving and cannot support a large number of mouths in any given region. Villages are small and spread out widely. In the past, accusations of witchcraft often led to the accused party leaving the village and setting up a new settlement far away – and perhaps all this worked as a way to maintain the balance in a place where you had this struggle for resources. Welsh also points out that this protocol for small, widespread communities came under pressure as towns and cities were developed by colonial powers, squeezing together people who were used to distance between themselves.

The second example comes from the story in the Da Vinci Code about the Council of Nicaea convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine converted to Christianity on his deathbed and set out the first uniform doctrine that members of their faith would follow – and this set the path of the religion for millenia. This was a conscious choice to weld the power of the Roman Emperor with a rising and increasingly powerful religious movement, cementing the legitimacy of power with divine sanction.

Witchcraft and religion may have much in common and they are perhaps the oldest ways in which people think about their relationships with others in their community. Dealing with issues is done using ancestral coping styles as White (1999) suggests. This happens across communities – my own is heavily into invoking the gods to help out with pretty much everything. And these approaches are passed down over generations, assumed as the way to deal with things, and so much of the difficulty arises when old ways of coping have to deal with new ways of communication and misinterpretation.

Then again, perhaps the old ways are the same ways we do stuff now, except they’re couched in the old language rather then the newer ones of therapy or counselling. Edinyang (2012) lists some approaches that could help with managing conflict. These include accommodation, where one party puts themselves at a disadvantage to preserve the relationship, like Wesch’s adopted father did. There is collaboration and compromise, where you work together to find a mutually acceptable solution and there are problem-solving approaches you can take to see what caused the rift and what you can do to avoid such problems in the future. Or, of course, you can avoid the whole thing which is when you end up not speaking to your relatives for years or decades.

The way you get better at building relationships is by getting better at communicating – with empathy, awareness, and respect. These are not easy skills to learn for some of us. We may be abrupt, less given to social niceties, less attuned to social cues. We see this with children. The ones that have more friends are the ones that more people can get along with. Of course, over time, you also have mini-power manifestations, where the popular kids are the powerful kids. But the ones with friends are the ones that can see and navigate the complex relationship space of the playground. And perhaps they can do this well because they’ve seen their parents navigate the complex relationship space of the family. Thinking about it, perhaps that’s why second children have it easier. The first has no competition, no need to be anything but the undisputed master of the house. The second has to negotiate and accommodate from the very beginning, and so learns the skills to get on while the first has to learn the skills of giving up power.

That leads us into the rules of the game – how things are played and that means we need to look at the playground and right back to the very beginning, so let’s do that in the next post.

As a quick update, I’m 41 posts and 50,000 words into this book and I’ve finished the first third of the book. The other sections are smaller, I think, and this continues to be a hard project and I will not be unhappy when it’s done…

But for now, we’ll carry on.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Does A Leader Lead From The Front Or Push From The Back

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Tuesday, 7.41am

Sheffield, U.K.

An executive picked up one of his employees in a new sports car. “This is an amazing automobile,” the employee remarked. “It is nice”, the executive replied, “And if you set your goals high and work hard I can get an even better one next quarter.”Provided by James R. Martin

What comes to mind when you think of a leader – as someone who is going to take charge and sort it all out? What kind of models do we have and what is it that happens around us that we take for granted? I’m doing a course in Leadership at the moment and have been introduced to a few models – so perhaps I should start by taking a critical look at them and seeing if they describe what I see around me.

But first let’s start with an example. A few posts ago I mentioned that I was looking at music again – after decades without any interest. You’ve probably heard of the reticular activating system – when you start paying attention to something you start to notice it everywhere. And so I started watching “Mozart in the jungle” on Prime – a story about an orchestra and a story riddled with the challenges of leadership.

Imagine the leader of an orchestra, the conductor, the person in charge. Our image of that person is staid, dignified, controlled. And the story breaks that, introducing a conductor who is different, out of control, passionate about the music who wants musicians who “play with blood”. One conductor is past his prime, respected and liked but no longer perfect. The other is driven, intense, at the top of his game, able to pick out every error. The orchestra has slowly deteriorated under the first conductor, looking a bit worn, fraying at the edges – no longer the best. What does the new conductor need to do to get them back up again, get them performing and being the best?

One leadership model that’s introduced here is the idea of the relationship between the leader and the led as being a “mothering” one, where the leader looks after their brood, holding their hands while they try and walk. A variant of this idea is the leader as a coach, someone who is able to act as a critical friend and tell you what is going wrong, the things that others won’t tell you and will hold you to account for improving them.

When I read these approaches I am reminded of Ernesto Sirolli’s observation that people who try and help others are often patronizing or paternalistic. The “mothering” approach fits into the paternalistic criteria – I know more than you and so I’m going to treat you like a little child and help you learn and grow and be there for you. But you have to follow my rules in my house and do as I say or be punished. The patronizing approach comes with a view that says I know more than you, so just be quiet and listen, I’ll tell you what to do. I have to say I’m very guilty of both these approaches – after all, I use GNU/Linux and, as Scott Adams writes, “If you have any trouble sounding condescending, find a Unix user to show you how it’s done.”

We have two things with the conductor story that we need to see. The first is whether the leader is better than everyone else or whether the leader is best at getting the best out of everyone else – and those two things are not the same. And then there is the relationship between the conductor and the band – if it’s too close and you’re seen as one of the gang you can no longer make the hard decisions and you run the risk of being seen to have favorites and being partial. How much distance is the right distance to keep from those you lead?

A different model of leadership comes from the military, or at least the British military mindset from the last century. This is one that has been transmitted through the culture I have been exposed to and from what I’ve read and basically comes down to something like this. You have people who do work – the ones with the brawn and the expertise to work a piece of kit to perfection. And then you have people who make decisions – the ones with the brains and the ability to work out what should be done. That’s why the army has a soldier track and an officer track and experienced soldiers are often led by much younger, inexperienced officers who, over time, get better at making the calls. The same model extends to healthcare. You have nurses and doctors and, if you’ve ever seen Scrubs, there’s a scene where a young doctor talks about how, in the beginning the nurses know how to do everything and mother the doctor but after a while the training kicks in and the doctor knows more about the medication and doses and what needs to be done next than the nurses do – whose role is now to follow the doctor’s orders.

Set against these models is a post-modern approach based on a flat hierarchy made of networks, people of capability coming together to create something greater than they could individually. This is something that Transactional Analysis (TA) captures as it talks about everyone having a Parent, Adult and Child inside them. We can all play these roles in various situations but what we’re aiming for is an Adult-Adult relationship. As a leader, you want to have adult conversations with those around you about what your purpose is, what approach to take and what needs to happen next.

Unfortunately, there are many things that stand in the way of being able to have truly adult conversations, not the least of which is we have very few models of what good looks like. That’s perhaps where therapy comes in – instead of leadership training we should perhaps first go through a course of therapy, learning how to let go of the assumptions and fears that we’ve been exposed to and learning how to say what we think in a way that helps to start and move a conversation along – which ends with a better understanding of each other.

But what stops us from being able to have these conversations in the first place? It’s probably our history, what we’ve learned about the way communication works in society. Every family has experience of the tensions and challenges that come with thinking something and saying it. Do you have that relative who explodes with anger if you ever say anything critical about something? Do you have that person who gets upset about what you meant? The difficult is that we all learn how to speak but few of us learn to communicate – and it all starts with the first group we are part of – our family and our kin.

We should look at those dynamics a bit more in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Community Would You Like To Live In?

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Monday, 7.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

In the final analysis, entropy always wins.one-liners collection

The simplest things to represent are static but everything we see is dynamic, shifting, ever-changing and we find it hard to look at these and make sense of what is going on with one using the other.

For one reason or the other I’ve been looking at a lot of creative, art related material recently – and there’s something that goes on, something at the heart of creativity that is a deeper connection, an insight that comes not from logic and order but from a thought that crystallizes in the middle of the night, something that you just have to express and create. This is not the experience most of us have, as we step through lives of schedule and order. It takes a certain courage, a willingness to step away from the lit center and into the dark unexplored – or perhaps it needs resources and support. Either way it’s off the normal path and the way you do things now will never lead you there.

The question I asked in yesterday’s post was what kind of company would you want to join if you didn’t know what role you would have in it. That question immediately makes you think in static and dynamic terms. The static elements have to do with roles, function, responsibilities and the dynamic ones have to do with flow, relationships, learning and change. What sort of environment do you think would work best for you in this day and age?

For me, I think the first thing would be that you’re led by someone who knows more and is willing to teach others. Good leaders are not ones that make plans and give orders. Good leaders are people who coach and develop others, helping them learn and grow. In any group there will be someone who will take on a leadership role because they know what needs to be done or someone will take on the role as a learning opportunity – a chance to practice being a leader.

When it comes to the allocation of resources I lean in the direction of having a market that matches supply and demand. This kind of thing comes down to decisions like whether you should pay everyone the same amount or pay at set bands or pay at the rate set by the market or pay based on individual value generated. I’m not an expert on this but your compensation should be connected to the value you create – not on the fact that you exist in a role. This gets hard quickly of course, because what if you created value in the past or your value will be seen in the future. It depends on whether you’re trying to be fair or trying to optimize and you’ll probably never get it quite right. On the whole, however, current ways of doing things are probably heading in the right direction – increasing transparency, fair treatment and open competition at least give you a chance to go for any role. And if the organization doesn’t follow those approaches then you probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

Now, you’ll do better in a competitive market when you have what is needed to compete – which comes down to the resources you already had. And that means what your parents had. If someone doesn’t have the resources that give them an advantage then society has a responsibility to try and balance that out. Perhaps organizations do too. It’s easy to ignore the world out there and only take on the best people but perhaps organizations should give less fortunate people a chance – even if that has to do with a few months of work experience. I learned almost everything that I’ve found professionally useful in three months of a real work placement. It was a struggle to get it but I was lucky I did and it made a huge difference.

One of the basic rules of life is that entropy always increases. If you’re not sure what entropy is a good visual is that of a cigarette. As it burns, the smoke floats away – the order of the cigarette form loses order as it turns to ash and smoke. Disorder and randomness always increase. Now couple the rises in entropy with the questions of static and dynamic activity and you have an idea of the challenges faced by any organization. What we’re trying to do in most cases is create static structures that will respond to dynamic circumstances and keep them functioning in the face of advancing entropy. A high-functioning organization is an anomaly, a weird unexpected thing in the universe. After all, think about it. Isn’t life itself an anomaly, the fact that we live on this planet with a bewildering diversity of organisms, that breathe and move and have brains – for all we know alone in an universe of uniformly dead rocks and dust?

Pure order is also dead – the crystalline structure of carbon is locked in place in a diamond which, while pretty, is of no consequence in a world where no mind exists to see it and think, “Ooh that’s pretty.” Everything that matters to us as humans exists in that narrow space between dead order and total chaos. And we’ve been grappling with how to deal with that for generations, evolving and developing ways of functioning that, on the whole, seem to be working now. For those of us lucky enough to have access to them, that is. There are the unfortunate, the unlucky, the ones born to the wrong parents in the wrong places in the wrong time. I don’t know what you can do other than to have the services in place to support and help them to market what they can do.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems out there is that we don’t actually value what is done enough. The clearest example of this in history is the value of work done by women at home – the vast majority of housework is done by women. And they should be paid for doing this – not by the state but by the other person in the house. Or, of course, the work could be shared equally. Taking another example, we know that medical care is expensive for physical injuries. But you have mental injuries too, we all probably have them just from the experiences we had growing up. A friend says that all grown-ups would benefit from therapy, especially before having children but that’s expensive. Should care work be adequately compensated – medical and mental care is, for those that can afford it. Menial and manual care is also expensive these days, which is why people are building devices and robots to help.

When I try and answer this question about the kind of group I would like to be part of, what seems to emerge is varying ideas that circle around fairness. Fairness of opportunity, fairness of treatment regardless of background, a fair community – but fairness backed by a need to contribute, to participate, to learn and grow and develop. And such organizations don’t emerge naturally – because what is natural is total disorder and what is natural is an extreme reaction to disorder by the imposition of total order. What is difficult is balance and fairness and the ability to do that comes down to leadership.

So let’s explore some of those ideas next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Does A Self-Organized Community Work?

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Sunday, 8.05am

Sheffield, U.K.

Mack: Look at this announcement for a meeting of the International Chair Haters Club. How ridiculous. Zack: What’s so ridiculous? I’m a member in good standing – Workman Publishing

What are the models we carry in our heads about how to work together? How would you characterise the inbuilt, assumed, “natural” ways we have to organize ourselves and get things done?

The most basic one, you could argue, is getting ourselves organized for defence – as a village or tribe against animals or other tribes. That means setting up basic perimeter defences and having roles for people. This progressively escalates to developing war fighting capability and modern militaries have developed sophisticated and powerful processes and methods for carrying out operations.

But fighting a battle, while complicated, is not a complex task. Yes you have to get personnel and machinery and ideally have longer-range guns than your opponent and you’re onto a winner. In essence, if you can stand back and hit the enemy while they can’t reach you, you have an advantage. And if you have to go in on the ground you want every advantage you can get – using technology and firepower. It all ends, though, when one side is finished. It’s probably a generally accepted fact that the US Military could secure any battle zone in the world in a matter of days. It’s a complicated job but they will do it very well even if there is nothing left standing at the end.

The complex task, however, and one that every military has faced in the past and probably will do in the future, is keeping hold of that zone over the long term. That’s the hard work of changing minds and getting people to adopt new ways. The fighting was the easiest bit and then everything that’s actually hard comes afterwards.

So, when you’re trying to plan for the long term, perhaps going on military doctrine isn’t the best way to get started. It works very well in a limited situation but you’re looking at engaging with people over the long term and that needs an understanding of the more complex nature of that situation. So where do we go from here?

Modern capitalism is, I think, the natural transfer of that military mentality into the sphere of social relations. Think back to how it all started. Millions of mostly men coming back in their uniforms from war and starting back in civilian life. They wore uniforms and transitioned naturally into suits – the uniforms of commercial battle. The structures of the corporate world mirror that of military hierarchy, with chiefs and sergeants and troops. Isn’t that the way most people think – in terms of who’s the boss and who’s the employee? And isn’t your entire purpose in the corporate world to climb the ladder, to be promoted into a position where you can lead others – where you have more control? Where the person at the top has the most control?

Of course, we don’t like having kings or queens with untrammelled power so we set up counterbalances. Like a Board of Directors who are, in theory, supposed to act as a check on a CEO. But, as I learned early on, having a position is not the same as having power. In the Indian constitution, for example, you have a President and a Prime Minister. I thought the President had the power to take a stand until my dad reminded me that the Prime Minister effectively appointed the President – and that told you where the real power lay. There are many Boards today that will not make a stand against a powerful CEO because they have no power. And the thing with checks and balances is that while they may work in the long term they don’t stop excesses happening here and now. You only have to look at what’s happening in two major economies at the moment to see the consequences of handing power to individuals who believe they are above the rest of us.

In the world of business and capitalism, then, I think you have a military mentality centered around control that has been transposed into the world of commerce. But what else is there that changes the dynamics of what’s going on?

It’s the concept of ownership.

What is embedded in our minds is that you have people who own the land and people who work the land. The former are rentiers, they live off the toil of others benefiting from their ability to own things. But perhaps we don’t have the picture entirely clear all the time. There are few Chief Executives who actually own large companies. If companies are listed, you have millions of shareholders who benefit from their ownership interest as the businesses grow. The businesses benefit because they can raise capital from these millions of shareholders. When ownership is distributed then the checks and balances become more important so that one group cannot leech off the resources of a larger, less involved group. The Board and Executives cannot manage the company for their benefit alone. But, of course, having control has its benefits. When you can appoint the committee that sets your pay, you have a good chance of getting a good payout.

If you start a business now you probably think in terms of these models. You’re a 100% owner and then you sell bits of the business to raise money and you give a part of the business to employees and all this helps you to grow and eventually you sell the whole thing and cash out, rich and happy. This is your basic venture capital backed business model and it has a very low chance of success, but it’s the strategy everyone wants to follow. That’s why venture capitalists follow a portfolio approach – they invest in ten, twenty businesses knowing that most will fail but one will perform and make them rich. But if you’re a business owner in that equation what are your chances? It’s not rocket science, is it? Your chances are 5-10%.

So, what can you do to increase your chances of success? Well, if you’re the kind of business that could be a superstar then maybe stick with the existing model. But what’s the most important thing you need to do if you want to succeed? Bill Gross argues that the single biggest thing for startup success is getting the timing right. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? You could have a great idea but if you don’t have it at the right time you won’t win.

An alternative approach is to look at cooperative models – models where you re-look at the two fundamental ideas of control and ownership. Where you create controls based on more egalitarian, inclusive principles and where ownership is replaced by a return based on contribution.

This is not straightforward at all, mainly because these approaches are not seen as relevant or practical – or perhaps you’re even a bit suspicious of anything that doesn’t look like traditional capitalism. But the thing with capitalism is that we sometimes confuse capitalism with feudalism. Capitalism is based on private ownership of stuff and how you use it to make a profit. Communism, on the other hand, is based on common ownership of the means of production. Socialism is based on cooperative ownership of the means of production. And these three violently disagree about what exactly each of those things mean and each approach has led into extremes of violence and stagnation and oppression.

But what would you do – what kind of society would you want to be born into if you didn’t know what role you would have in it? That’s the question posed by John Rawls. Let’s change it a little and ask what kind of company would you like to join tomorrow if you didn’t know what role you would have in it? How would you organize and design such a company?

Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why Do Groups Splinter And Fight Each Other?

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Saturday, 8.15am

Sheffield, U.K.

Where there’s a will – there’s a relative – Ricky Gervais

The answer to this question is short, it seems. Groups fight over access to resources. And that’s it.

It turns out that I had answered this question a few posts ago when speculating about genocide. Apes are the only creatures, it seems, that will wipe out all members of another tribe. And they usually come into conflict in the wild when they are competing for control of territory, at which point they first try and intimidate the other group and then fight and the winners finish the job.

This happens with humans as well and was demonstrated experimentally using a famous study called the “Robbers Cave Experiment” from the 1950s, which has its problems, but is seen a seminal piece of research into “realistic conflict theory”. In this experiment boys were put into two groups and competed against each other in tasks and games, effectively trying to get resources and eventually ended up conflicting with each other. When the groups were mixed and had to work together the conflict reduced. It’s a sort of real life “Lord of the Flies” story, but the research is flawed and the researchers tried to manipulate the situation and they hadn’t quite invented ethics yet.

But in addition to the research you have history and how groups have treated each other. In every nation, every continent, there are stories of oppression and conflict and violence and retaliation and it still goes on now. You just have to open the newspaper or look at any news outlet’s home page. When you realize this fact you start to see it everywhere.

It seems hard wired into us as apes. You’ll get it at home as your children go to war over the last sausage. The tears, the protestations.

Competition over scarce resources seems straightforward enough through this lens. Control over land and minerals and water – that sort of stuff comes down to pretty binary choices. I have it or you have it and if you have it and I want it then I have to fight you and win. This mentality is our evolutionary heritage, part of the writing of our brain, burned into our neural channels. But is it still relevant – is it the way we should think about the things we have?

Well, that’s clearly not the case if you give it a minute’s consideration. We’ve created an economic system where we’ve replaced real scarcity with artificial scarcity in many situations. Take diamonds, for example. Real diamonds are not scarce, but the people who control the diamond mines, I understand, lock them away so that there is a market for expensive shiny rocks. Shiny rocks that, by the way, you can now make in a lab.

There is an inherent conflict between the genetic or biological way we think and the reality of the world around us and the possibilities we can open up by using those same biological brains. Take farming, for example. Good quality growing land is clearly an asset – the more land you have the more you can farm, right? So you would go to war over farmland, no? Well, not any more because we first know how to produce more food than ever out of the same amount of land and because farming is changing and you have things like vertical farms. If we don’t go back to work in office buildings you could convert those into vertical farms and end up having city centres converted into food production centres.

The thing that resolves most conflict around resources has been the creation of a market system. Things are priced to match buyers and sellers and you find that the things you think will give you control end up being a commodity and producers of a commodity actually end up having very little control over anything. The market system is probably the one thing that has really defused global conflict. Take power, for example. Having electric power literally meant having power – but I’ve been close to power markets for a long time and I can tell you that it’s the market that has the power, not the producer or the consumer. James Carville, a democratic political advisor once said, “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.” And what is the market but the combined decisions of many people deciding whether to buy or sell?

So, if you want to resolve conflict around scarce resources at any level create a market, create something that enables you to work out an exchange of value and you will find that many problems can be resolved without resorting to conflict.

Then there’s the other big category of invented conflict around intellectual property. Intellectual property is a construct, a creation that puts a fence around something there is not much point in fencing. Copyright laws and other such things. The point is to create a market but these resources are not scarce in the sense that lithium is scarce. These words I’m writing, for example, are copyrighted the instant I fix them in a medium. While they are ideas in my head they have no value but once this sentence is written in this form you can’t copy it without breaking the law. But, of course, unlike a kilo of lithium that you can have or I can have, you can read these words I’ve written and I’ve lost nothing – I still have them as well.

Now, if you take my words and post them on your blog or publish them as your own, if you sell them and make money – then I have a variety of means to do something about that. Because, after all, what’s the point in doing something if you don’t benefit from it in some way or someone else steals everything you have?

Now this setup creates conflict because that barrier around something that’s so easy to copy and steal leads to the owners of IP fighting those people who can copy and share very easily. And you can see that with the music, software, book and film industries – all those organisations that have an interest in the manufacture, distribution and control of intellectual property. The conflict there is being addressed in two ways – ever stronger controls over material through things like DRM and streaming sites and a response by creators to move to a Pay What You Can (PWYC) model. Increasing numbers of authors simply release their material on all the platforms out there, free and non-free and people choose what they want. Increasingly you have the choice to read something and then buy it if you want to have a copy. And that’s perhaps the way that works best for creators – to have a dedicated fan base that supports them but of course the armies of helpers and distributors and the machinery that operated to keep the old system in place is no longer needed.

So, if you’re trying to build a modern community what should you do to reduce conflict?

The first thing, I think, is to share everything without restriction. The philosophies of the Free Software Foundation, do this in a legal way, and they protect your freedoms to use software, as do variations like Creative Commons. These CopyLeft provisions allow you to remove scarcity and groups that want control can fork material, take it and do it their way and that’s their right. This deals with intellectual property and I think it’s a scary thing for companies. Companies still imagine that you hire people and they make something and then you own that thing. But these days you really should think of a company simply as a way to channel value to a customer in a way the individuals involved couldn’t do by themselves. If they could they would without bothering with the whole company as an intermediary. So, you need to make it worthwhile for those individuals to participate by making the group a welcoming and inclusive place. That means you should perhaps think more about cooperatives and shared ownership structures rather than control of resource structures. After all, you can’t take it with you so wouldn’t it be better to spend your life working with people you “like, admire and trust?”

The second thing is that when it comes to physical resources create an internal market. Not where resources are allocated based on power and favour but on a market system where there is the possibility to match buyers and sellers and let people make their own decisions.

I think we’ll explore some of these ideas in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh