A Philosophy of Solutions

There are myriad ways in which we humans understand ourselves and our needs and wants within our experiences of the world around us. Self-awareness coupled with the dissatisfaction resulting from unmet needs and wants motivate us to influence circumstances in an effort to have a more favorable experience—to find a solution. Contentment, if ever achieved, is fleeting. The viability of a solution just found crumbles in the face of curiosity, “antsiness,” or ennui as further needs and wants rush in to renew the cycle. While this predicament may appear to be a routine fueled by frustration, the continual search for solutions is the creative impetus that advances every aspect of human civilization.

Solutions exist at multiple levels. The one most familiar to us, personally, is at the mind level. Despite our immediate circumstances we can always dream about a reality quite different from our current condition. In the realm of the imagination all realities are possible. Even though I may not have the details, the mental world in which my solution is envisioned is different than what I experience in the physical world; and it is preferable. This reality envisioned is a powerful construct, that when acted upon externally has the potential to bring a solution into existence at other levels.

Solutions stated are externalized. Whether verbalized, graphically represented, or physically demonstrated, the act of moving a solution from the mind to the surrounding world externalizes the solution. It becomes an agenda item in a forum outside myself and initiates conversation with others. Those in my family or community or workplace react to it by doing nothing or something, but react they must.

Solutions experienced externally are virtual or material. For instance, I can play soccer on a real field in a real stadium with real teammates and a real opposing team or I can play soccer on a virtual field in a virtual stadium with virtual teammates and a virtual opposing team. In the first case I am required to be somewhere at a specific time with the proper equipment and be prepared to expend a great deal of physical and mental energy for the duration of the game and run considerable risk of getting exhausted or injured. In the second case, I have an avatar who responds as I dictate within a virtual space wherein my teammates and the opposing team are similar representations. The game can start whenever and be played by whoever shows up online or I can make up my own players and have my own game independent of others. Fatigue and injury are still possible. However, eye fatigue from staring at the screen too long and injury to fingers and wrists due to excessive rapid maneuvering of the joystick are of a different nature!

The cost of designing and developing the material solution dictates the use of a virtual solution. When the cost of the material solution is quite high and testing is essential to manage risks, modeling that solution virtually at the outset carries significant value. Buildings, equipment, vehicles, appliances, even construction and manufacturing systems are likely candidates for designing and developing the virtual solution first to prove the concept before converting it into the much more expensive material solution.

Virtual and material solutions are transactional. Once solutions are expressed in the external world by whatever means other people experience those solutions and have conversations about them. Our desire to see our solutions be successful defines needs and wants for information, resources, and authority beyond what we can muster by ourselves to fulfill our solutions in the virtual or material realm. These needs and wants lead us to conduct conversations with others in transactional patterns to gain their understanding of, agreement with, and commitment to or permission for our solution to advance. Many times the world easily accommodates our efforts to advance our solutions and the transactions required to carry them out are minimal. Other times, though, the social and natural systems are perturbed by our solutions such that we are compelled to engage in numerous transactions to move forward with our solutions.

Transactions are economic. I need or want information, resources, or authority that others have and I must negotiate with others to get it. Either they give it to me through some altruistic motivation or we come to an agreement where I get it in exchange for something I give them. The nature and type of transactions I conduct to get what I need and want are directly related to the importance and urgency I have for my solution to be successful. As a result, transactions are governed by social convention, ethical and moral frameworks, conversational skill and savvy, and immediate personal circumstances. Transactions constitute the medium of exchange within an economic system by which solutions are externalized within the political and business arenas.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, September 18, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Changing Organizations

An organization is a sustained, focused set of conversations between and among people intended to generate results that are deemed of sufficient value by participants such that the relationships are worth continuing. Since conversations are inherent in human communication, it can be concluded that an organization is defined and held together by the unique communication patterns it manifests. People in conversations establish organizations.

Oftentimes, we have little choice about the organization in which we are a member. In some instances, such as with parents and family, it is a lifelong association over which we have no say about who these people are to us. Other organizations are much more elective and temporary. Regardless of the type of organization or whether our membership is by choice, as long as we are associated with it we continually look for ways to make it function more effectively in meeting our interests. The dilemma becomes one of how to change the organization, but keep it intact.

At the heart of staying together is the concept of “integrity.”” In an earlier post, the notion of personal integrity was introduced as shown in the lower-left part of the graphic in the diagram below. Organizations, as human social constructs, also have integrity – —organizational integrity. Many of the elements, such as those in the authority, fiduciary, and legal arenas, are almost identical with personal integrity. Others are variations on personal integrity themes: “purpose”” is transposed to “mission statement,”” “principles”” to “vision statement”” and “intentions”” to “values statement.”” As indicated by the arrow in the background, people with their individual statements of “personal integrity,”” carry those forward into the organizational integrity of the group to which they are members. Hence, what I endeavor to do that is beyond my capacity as one person, I link with others in an organization so that I can accomplish more.

Organizations stay intact by keeping their organizational integrity unwavering. However, to adapt and respond to different conditions and circumstances organizations have to change. What is it, then, that changes? The answer is—: the formal system. In the diagram below, the triangle of organizational integrity is layered with the hierarchy (authority structure) of a formal system characterized by “rules and regulations” – ”—compliance to externally imposed laws; “policies and procedures” – ”—compliance to internally imposed guidelines; “programs and processes” – ”—what work is done in the organization and how; “funding and resources” – ”—how the work of the organization is supported according to the dictates of wise stewardship; and “roles and relationships” – ”—how authority and responsibility are distributed to assure accountability. This formal system carries with it certain conversations, e.g., staff meetings, program reviews, performance evaluations, etc., that keep its basic functioning intact. However, the formal system is immersed in a larger informal system of networks and webs which fosters a much less constrained set of conversations, usually dealing with possibilities outside the scope of formal system conversations. Members of the organization belong to both systems simultaneously. Since they wear both hats, they draw upon the dynamics of each system depending on the nature of the conversation at hand— – a delicate balancing act to be sure!

There is an infinite variety of manifestations of the formal system structure that can be adopted. It is incumbent on members to keep looking for different ways to change the formal system so the organization is more effective and efficient. However, when members are not clear what the organizational integrity is or they are not aligned with it, their dependency on the formal system deepens. This dependency leads, on the one hand, to fear of change to the formal system over concern that the organization will lose its integrity and destruct, or, on the other hand, unwillingness to change the formal system because its current state is overtly beneficial to certain members. Either way, the result, as depicted in the graphic below, is a “red arrow”” of resistance to change. This is opposed to the green “explosions”” on the edge of the informal system where receptivity to change is a way of life. As we well know, change begins at the periphery of a living system and pushes inward.

One role of a knowledge broker is to promote healthy organization change by convening those conversations that will make a positive difference in the formal system without damaging the integrity of the organization. In a previous posting, the visual of forums, agendas, experimentation, learning, and influence superimposed over the integrity and filters and screens representing two people in conversations gave a sense of the complexity involved. The graphic below builds on this concept as it extends from a couple of people to two organizations. Here again, the approach is to convene conversations, largely in the informal system, yet ask participants to wear their formal system hats long enough to give credence to the applicability of what they experience. Armed with that understanding and agreement, they commit to tell the stories in the formal system conversations that initiate changes in that system. Knowing what conversations to convene and setting up viable forums and agendas in response – —that is the heart of organization design.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, September 11, 2005and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Forums and Agendas

Conversation, —simply defined as a combination of verbal and non-verbal “statements” between two individuals,” —is the fundamental building block of human communication. Conversations can be real-time or asynchronous. Participants can be present, virtually or physically.

Regardless of how a conversation is enacted, at a minimum it strives to produce understanding. In many cases being understood is insufficient, especially when changes to one’s current condition are expected. A press ensues for agreement about what is, what that means, and what are possibilities for the future. With agreement in hand about a preferable condition it is possible to pursue commitment —the impetus for deliberate and purposeful action which drives experimentation, learning, and, ultimately, influence.

Any conversation, formal or informal,, consists of a forum and agenda. A forum is the context in which a conversation occurs. This includes who is in the conversation (invited and attending), where the conversation is held, what technologies are used to support the conversation, what date and time the conversation takes place, even in what language the conversation is conducted. The agenda is the subject of the conversation. Depending on psychological, social, and political factors, the agenda can be explicit and openly stated or implicit and hidden. In addition, there can be more than one agenda in a conversation each shaped by a different motivation and entertaining a unique position along the explicit-to-implicit continuum.

This blending of forum and agenda makes conversation an extension of complex human social behavior. Knowing the agenda(s) requires relating it to the forum in order to get a fuller sense of what is behind the conversation and a better interpretation of what are the expected outcomes of the conversation. Obviously, the more one knows others in the conversation and their contextual circumstances the higher the likelihood of accurately “reading”” the agenda layers and offering culturally appropriate responses.

Conversations are convened. Someone sets the forum and determines an agenda and others participate. Convening is an exercise of social power. Everyone is experienced at convening if nothing more than saying “Good morning!”” to another and soliciting a response. This requires minimal social power to extend the invitation for the other to join. However, depending on who are the desired participants in a particular conversation, differing levels of power are often required to garner the commitments of each to join.

Social power is directly related to the capacity one has to affect consequences for others. The more a person can influence the context in which the interests of others are advanced or met and costs are minimized, the more convening power that person has. Social power not only grants an individual the license to convene, it also permits a person to NOT invite. A conversation says much about the convening authority carried by the person who initiated it based on who is there AND who isn’t!

Knowledge brokers are conveners. They are granted the authority to initiate conversations based on the trust placed in them by participants that their “ground truths”” will be respected and their stories heard and understood. Knowledge brokers gain this trust because of the consistency and thoroughness with which they conduct personal investigations of truth then relate those discoveries in conversations where to speak one’s truth carries a potentially negative consequence. This capacity to know one’s truth, grant others the conversational space and opportunity to hold and state theirs, and pursue the lines of experimentation, learning, and influence that follow understanding, agreement, and commitment is a hallmark of a knowledge broker.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, September 10, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Conversations and Stories

As mentioned in an earlier post, integrity is manifested through the filters and screens that make up the various affiliations in a person’s life. Some of these affiliations are stronger, newer, and exercise greater influence than others. Because of these differences, integrity is not necessarily central in a person’s affiliation landscape as evidenced in the graphic below. Furthermore, this positioning is not static. As time passes, the filters and screens vary in intensity and significance, and the balance point for integrity shifts.

Filters and Screens

We humans are social creatures. We have highly evolved language skills and capabilities which we use to communicate with each other through conversation. These conversations convey meaning about us, our situations, our needs, and our aspirations. Essentially, they are our stories.

Stories are structured conversations we have with others about our experiences and the meanings they hold for us. Because of the influence exacted by filters and screens upon us, the stories we tell at one time may be quite different than the stories we tell at another time, place, and circumstance. Stories are contextual. The “truth” they express is relative.

As stated in an earlier post, establishing ground truth is a critical first step for knowledge brokers to ascertain behavior and communication patterns and make relevant responses be they positive or negative. Proclaiming one’s ground truth is an exercise of story-telling. Context is crucial if the reality that shapes a person’s story and truth can be well-understood and acted upon appropriately.

Stories are dependent on the conditions that exist at the time of their telling. The forum — who is in the conversation, where it occurs, when it takes place, and what processes are followed — and the agenda — topics for conversation, expected outcomes from the conversation, and next steps to be taken — are major determinants in how the story is told. Even the same experience shared by many will be related differently depending on the forum and agenda.

Knowledge brokers are concerned about ground truth because of the implications on communication patterns. Repeated over time, stories are reflections of sustained conversation themes and understanding. Changing forums and agendas changes these conversations. Changing conversations leads to experimentation and different experiences. New experiences prompt learning which leads to different stories in an attempt to make meaning out of the new experiences. These new stories influence recurring conversation themes. Told with sufficient frequency over time, stories change the underlying communication patterns and adaptation and evolution occur.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Integrity Expanded

As a knowledge broker, one of our main goals is to stay “in integrity,” in other words, to remain true to our purpose, principles, and intentions. Because these characteristics have personal significance rather than public they are considered “informal.” The graphic below, a variation of the diagram posted in an earlier blog, associates these three integrity elements with sides of a triangle.

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The use of a triangle sends a mixed message. Its structure is symbolic of a rigid, top-down hierarchy. However, it is the most stabile of all geometric forms requiring changes to the lengths of the sides and sizes of the angles in order to alter its overall dimensionality. In other words, the original must be destroyed to take another shape. Because of this duality between rigidity and stability, both the sides AND the angles have meaning in the metaphor.

In the diagram below, the angles are labeled “authority,” fiduciary,” and “legal.” These three characteristics are more public than personal in their significance and are considered “formal” integrity elements. In dealing with other people as part of a larger social system, we are expected to be wise stewards of resources be they investments / use of time, talent, money, creativity, etc. We are also expected to comply with the laws enacted by the government having local jurisdiction. Finally, we are accountable for our responsibilities commensurate with the authority we have to act. This is the foundation of justice.

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The combination of both informal and formal components represented by the sides and angles of the triangle provides us with integrated personal and public dimensions of integrity. This is represented graphically below.

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This same sense of informal and formal can be applied to organizations as well as individuals. In addition, any organization has an integrity as does each person who is a member of it. Because of the correlation in integrity between formal and informal, and individual and organization, integrity is the foundation of organization design approaches.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, September 1, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Integrity and Ground Truth

Each of us as individuals is endowed with a unique personality, temperament, and intelligence footprint. In addition, each of us holds a unique set of experiences and associations that span our lives from “womb to tomb”,” so to speak. The combination of these two provides us with the way we understand ourselves, interpret who we are in the context of the world in which we live, and make meaning out of what happens to us along life’s path.

Because we are individuals, each of us sees ourselves as having distinctive characteristics in physical appearance, psychological profile, and “presence”” among others. The concept of presence is related to what is called “integrity.”” The diagram below shows the basic building blocks of integrity: purpose —- why I exist; principles— – what I stand for; and intentions – —what I am up to.

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A person’s integrity is an inherent product of the life process. It is inevitable. The nature of our integrity is obvious regardless of our conscious and deliberate awareness of it.

This leads to one of our primary challenges: to KNOW what our integrity is. Only we can determine what are our purposes, principles, and intentions. Just like we can’t opt out and not have integrity, no one else can determine ours for us. And when we have even touched or deeply felt what comprises our integrity it remains ours alone; hence, the drawing is black and white just as our self-knowledge, though changing over time, appears at any given moment to be cut and dried.

Ah, if it was only that simple! Alas, we are social beings. Our lives are enmeshed with the lives of others. The diagram below positions the integrity of a person in the context of five general social categories wherein each of us is placed in relationship to others.

Family members, the locations where we live, our employers, the political platforms we advocate, and the religious beliefs we hold, etc. contribute to a “web” of experiences” we share with others and influence our sense of ourselves. These social structures have direct impact on the context in which our lives are conducted.

We tell stories about our experiences that project our integrity through the filters and screens of the groups to which we “belong.”” Our true selves – —our integrity – —is often concealed in the shadows overlaid by layers of interpretation about us that are not really ours. Those stories may or may not speak about how we really feel and what we really think and how we really believe, but how someone else wants us to.

This theme is expressed in the illustration below. Because our relationships with others are lifelong, complex, and filled with nuances of meaning that extend from unrecalled memories, our integrity becomes lost in a maze of questions about who I am, who is speaking for me, what are they saying about me, and is this REALLY my truth being spoken.

Being lost is not a permanent condition. Being found is to confront the primary challenge mentioned above of knowing what integrity is and addressing the confounding questions honestly and openly. Peeling back the onion-like layers of representation that shroud our integrity is an exercise in independent investigation of truth – —a fundamental endeavor for a knowledge broker.

As the picture below suggests, aligning with our integrity “projects”” our voices. And with our voices, we can say who we are, what is happening to us, and what it means to us and others. In other words, we speak the ground truth and with that truth spoken and heard, the groundwork is laid for our participation rather than to have others represent us on our behalf.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, August 31, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005

Introduction to Social Agriculture

In his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond posits that agriculture is the foundation upon which civilization is built. Nonetheless, this association is not without certain complications. Some activist authors such as John Zerzan take an extreme stand that agriculture is the bane of true civilization. On the other hand, historian and author Fernand Braudel brings a less judgmental perspective in his trilogy, Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century. He focuses his historical inquiry on the everyday experiences of those whose daily lives were lived at the crossroads of a burgeoning agricultural society and the rise of capitalism. Yet again, there are other writers such as Heather Pringle who, in her article, “Neolithic Agriculture: The Slow Birth of Agriculture”,” softens the view further by holding that the birth of agriculture occurred in the Neolithic Age prior to the large-scale cities and far-reaching civilizations. Plant and animal domestication during this period did not bring with it the adoption of a social dominance model which appeared later. The range of these three suggests that the association of agriculture and civilization has considerable room for further exploration!

The application of strategic frameworks facilitates the exploration of ideas and intellectual spaces. This is certainly the case in the association between agriculture and civilization. As the convergence of technology, energy, environment for life at the point of human equivalence draws nearer, agricultural practices will change dramatically.

In the diagram above, the combination of technologies that are faster, smaller, more integrated, and more intelligent fuels a bifurcation in production agriculture. Agricultural practices that yield what people use in petroleum, fiber, and industrial applications take advantage of economies of scale and promote globalization and commoditization. Meanwhile, those agricultural practices that result in what people eat such as nutraceuticals, place-based specialties, food with specific qualities (organic, faith-based, ethnic), and livestock, leverage economies of place and tend toward localization and customization.

The dichotomy prompted by the bifurcation of production agriculture feeds a creative tension along the continuum of fossil-fuel energy —and renewable energy that if usefully applied, has the potential to bring the association of agriculture and civilization into a more favorable balance than at any time in human history. As condition reports are received through different media about changing conditions and circumstances in production agriculture they can be tied to the “strategic framework” suggested by the diagram and organized into meaningful actions on the continuum in response. And given the advances that are on the horizon this topic of agriculture, civilization, and technology will provide ample fodder for future consideration!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by –Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005