Archive for June 2008

Learning – A disruptive innovation of self

June 20, 2008

You’d think we would have learned by now. Over the last 50 years we have seen our best thinkers decry the state of institutional education in the Western world (yes, we usually hear this framed as a US “National” issue, but really, the socially conformist view of education is Western if not global.) There are as many perspectives on the educational-industrial complex as there are commentators. One that comes to mind is George Carlin’s famous and distinctly non-funny observations about “our” educational system (blogged very neatly here at On Education and eLearning.) I respect Carlin’s insights on culture and social issues because comedy is a way of telling truth that cannot be censored, and that people actually get. And since George died just last week, I’d like to honor his contributions to critical thinking – he awakened perhaps millions of people in the disruptive innovation and oral tradition of comedic truth-telling.

Deeply literate (and less popular), critics of our educational systems – who have promoted a better way – include Ivan Illich, Rollo May, Neil Postman, Paolo Freire, William Irwin Thompson, Jean Houston. To some extent the host of 20th century’s greatest thinkers from Einstein to Feynman have weighed in on the sorry state of learning. My wife Patricia and I advocate Slow Learning, informed by these thinkers. Slow Learning encourages individuals to envision their desired future learning destination and then follow a real world learning plan, working with those already in the communities where you hope to later thrive.

We must allow ourselves to understand that we are truly on our own, the system is not there for us. Learning is a choice we must take into our own lives, and sustain it continually. Russ Ackoff says so.

Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg on Change This: “Education should be a lifelong enterprise, a process enhanced by an environment that supports to the greatest extent possible the attempt of people to “find themselves” throughout their lives”For too long, we have educated people for a world that no longer exists, extinguishing their creativity and instilling values antithetical to those of a free, 21st century democracy. The principal objective of education as currently provided is to ensure the maintenance and preservation of the status quo—to produce members of society who will not want to challenge any fundamental aspects of the way things are. Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching, there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. Being taught is, to a very large extent, boring and much of its content is seen as irrelevant. It is the teacher, not the student, who learns most in a traditional classroom.

Ackoff can be credited for first defining the hierarchy of knowing (1989) in the somewhat Kabbalistic series of: Data – Information – Knowledge – Understanding – Wisdom. His 2008 book Turning Learning Right Side Up asks a series of transforming questions:

Must schools be the way they are? Do classrooms make sense anymore? What should we teach? What should individuals contribute to their own education? What if students did the teaching and teachers did the learning? Is it possible to eliminate old-fashioned distinctions between subjects and between the arts and sciences? What would the ideal lifelong education look like: at the K-12 level, at universities and colleges, in the workplace, and beyond? How do you educate for a world that doesn’t yet exist?

These are powerful questions, indeed. I have oberved the programs of institutional education fall further and further into mediocrity, and see university education driven by economic instrumentalism. The only choice we can make in the here and now, for our own learning paths, is to make our own choices. Educate yourself and your children.

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The Book is Dead – Long Live The Book!

June 10, 2008

This is a mail art call, one of the ongoing cultural artifacts spawned by Fluxus and Ray Johnson. Even if you don’t contribute, this is worth paying attention to, as cultural observers everywhere (Paul Krugman’s NYTimes op-ed on Friday) have been predicting the end of the book as we know it.

So what do you think? Is the printed book format in danger of becoming an relic from the Gutenberg Galaxy? In the eBooks research I’m currently engaged in, the printed book remains a preferred medium for textbooks, cover to cover reading, and texts for personal markup. eBooks are good for many things, but they do not replace the love of paper.

Books are themselves a system of signs, a packaging of signs that, when collected with sufficient other relevant texts, constructs a persistent identity, representations to others, and prompts of past literacies. You can walk in to a colleague’s office and know their competencies, interests, specialties, and possible contact points for relationship. (Have you ever seen someone’s book collection when on a first date situation and decided, on sight, this was not ever gonna work? Or, maybe it just would?) Try doing that on the web.

THE LAST BOOK

(A Project by Luis Camnitzer, sponsored by the National Library of Spain)

Open call for collaborations
The Last Book is a project to compile written as well as visual statements in which the authors may leave a legacy for future generations. The premise of the project is that book-based culture is coming to an end. On one hand, new technologies have introduced cultural mutations by transferring information to television and the Internet. On the other, there has been an increasing deterioration in the educational systems (as much in the First World as on the periphery) and a proliferation of religious and anti-intellectual fundamentalisms. The Last Book will serve as a time-capsule and leave a document and testament of our time, as well as a stimulus for a possible reactivation of culture in case of disappearance by negligence, catastrophe or conflagration.

Contributions to this project will be limited to one page and may be e-mailed to lastbook.madrid@gmail.com or mailed to Luis Camnitzer, 124 Susquehanna Ave., Great Neck NY 11021, USA. In case of submission of originals, these will not be returned. The book will be exhibited as an installation at the entrance of the Museum of the National Library of Spain in Madrid at some point of 2008. Pages will be added during the duration of the project, with the intention of an eventual publication of an abridged version selected by Luis Camnitzer, curator of the project. The tentative deadline is October 15, 2008.

This call is open and we hope that it will be resent to as many potential contributors as possible.

Designing design in non-design organizations

June 3, 2008

Should designers embed with their clients?

Designers have tied themselves closely to their clients since the early days of the Vatican. In design consulting, you must understand your clients’ business to advise effectively. So we have to work closely with clients to understand their users/customers.

We’ve done this since 2001 as a boutique research/design consulting firm, and have noticed that smaller consulting firms have always done this. Its the larger firms likeIDEO that have to formalize a process for customer intimacy – but when you’re already close to your client, you nurture them in many ways outside of the contractual relationship.

The evolving processes of “Design 3.0” have now also turned this imperative toward the organization itself – organizational processes are becoming “designable options.”  In ever more projects, we are advising user experience processes, consulting on overall product design and branding, conducting holistic UX research (end to end), and advising on organizational design and new practices.

Rather than merely extending an organization’s UX capacity, we are designing that capacity, more management consulting than “design delivery.” I stay close to long term clients and often work as an extended capacity for their internal UX organization. Redesign has partnered with organizations that have no formal UX group, and we’ve developed a model for just-in-time education of product managers, prototypers, and the closest equivalent to UX in a company. We call this process socialization, which looks like collaborative consulting in practice. This approach also lets a smaller consulting firm like Redesign consult strategically through process change and adapting the new UX processes closely to their strategic intent and product portfolio.

A problem with larger design agencies is they cannot afford to seat their better designers or advisors with clients in a mentoring capacity, and their rate structure won’t easily allow them to give up the time. If we all did a better job of educating the client while working on projects, this would not seem a novel idea but instead a standard practice. We also need to realize that better transition planning (the deliverables handoff from design to development) will reduce the need for mitigating turmoil in the client’s implementation of our design plans.

Flash: Money buys happiness!

June 3, 2008

Who says? According to a Harvard/UBC study published in Science, so that’s about as authoritative as possible. How so? The title Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, tells you something about it.

In an HBS interview, co-author Michael Norton explains:

“Intentional activities—practices in which people actively and effortfully choose to engage—may represent a promising route to lasting happiness. Supporting this premise, our work demonstrates that how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.”

The crisp abstract does not read like a new-age nostrum

Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

While they did not generalize beyond the economic proposition of personal income > spending on others, the theory certainly extends to giving one’s time and personal commitment to others.  It is so obvious we overlook it on an everyday basis, unless the giving has become part of our lives and being.By then we don’t think of it’s tie to happiness, as it should be. Would this not fall apart out of sheer irony if we did for others to selfishly satisfy a desire for personal happiness? Happiness is an outcome of good works and a life lived in full. As Marcus Aurelius said:

“The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing.”

It was/is so with my parents, who (literally) tithed to the Episcopal church all their adult lives, and they volunteered full-time in retirement and gave most of the rest of what little they had to their community, to community theater, the United Way. The Christian outlook and central spiritual act involves loving your neighbor, reinforced by just about all the parables. (It turns out they were actually right about most things!)