Mapping as a Matter of the Mind

A mind map is a graphic representation of ideas and concepts in relationship to one another. The resulting visual organization of information provides a communication and decision framework for people to do the following:

  • Express their individual points of view about complex issues and more fully understand them
  • Identify opportunities to come together for a common cause that creatively addresses the issues at hand in ways that benefit all involved
  • Mobilize, coordinate, and sustain their collective efforts so they achieve what they envision and honor themselves and those they serve along the way

While mind mapping differs from the more tangible asset, process, and cluster mapping within business ecosystems as noted in my posting, Mapping: Deciding Which Is the Road Not Taken, it complements them, nonetheless, by assisting in problem resolution, strategic planning, and organizational adaptation—very necessary functions for any business to start, scale, and sustain itself.

A current project I’m working on calls for the application of mind mapping with a group of senior-level managers to help them puzzle out a growth strategy for their equipment manufacturing division over the next 5+ years. As with most change initiatives, the goal is to help them determine what will be the road (or roads) not taken.

The challenge is getting management to see and seriously consider roads other than the one they are on. One of the reasons why this can be more difficult than it seems is that the road they are on is the one with which they are the most familiar. The risk is that management will stick to the current path even if their performance is in the tank. It’s ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ when it comes to change. And if the organization happens to be enjoying a long run of success, the mere thought of abandoning the main road in favor of another less traveled one is even more harrowing.

It becomes a question of how to disrupt their prevailing world view so they look for, discover, and explore other roads. In other words, what concept seeds the mind map to become an attractor? What’s the entry point?

Earlier this week, a colleague and I got into a discussion about the destiny of 3-D printing in the manufacturing landscape over the next 5+ years. It has considerable potential to be a disruptor because it taps into the convergence of major trends toward a design anywhere, manufacture anywhere (DAMA) approach to the integration of product lifecycle management (PLM) and manufacturing execution systems (MES); customized, close-to-point-of-sale manufacturing, delivery, and support; and third, automation and robotics or more bluntly stated, the replacement of people by machines. Those three literally touch everything that goes on in the enterprise.

Extrapolate from the current state of 3-D printing on its evolutionary path to a future reality where, as a customer, I can spec what I want and it materializes in front of me. As a manufacturer, the strategic question is how do I close the gap between immediate satisfaction and how long it takes now between customer order and customer delivery? 3-D printing is on the technology road map that closes this gap, but where is it? What else is on that road? Where are the forks in the road up ahead? Which ones don’t I take?

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Friday, August 10, 2012

The Economics of Happiness and Meaningful Work

Recently, one of the community activist groups in our area hosted a screening of the prize-winning movie, The Economics of Happiness, followed by a Skype interview with Helena Norberg-Hodge, one of the co-directors and founder and director of Local Futures – Economics of Happiness, formerly known as the Institute Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC).

It’s definitely worth seeing, if you haven’t already done so. In addition to information available on the Local Futures website, a YouTube film clip offers a quick overview of the main themes explored in the movie: The Economics of Happiness – Official Trailer.

In her commentary on the Skype call, Ms. Norberg-Hodge emphasized the importance of launching and supporting community-based initiatives that rebuild the local food economy and deliver education for action.

She encouraged attendees to mobilize democratic action and draw upon the power of the electorate to influence politicians to enact, rescind, or amend laws regarding taxes, subsidies, and regulations so that locally-sourced products have an even playing field with their globally-sourced alternatives.

Her rationale suggested that the resulting decentralization of corporate and governmental structures would increase the number of jobs. It would also provide community members with meaningful work based on values and skills resurrected from a nearly lost ancient wisdom inherent in our cultural roots. In many instances this worthy work translated into farming using simple tools and adhering to millennia-old agricultural practices.

While Ms. Norberg-Hodge did not openly discount technological developments, the significance of them as a defining force on the pace and degree with which our civilization continues to advance received short schrift.

The loss of jobs today comes primarily as a result of technology. The machine replaces human labor–period. Our challenge is to figure out what we do with our time as the machine continues to eliminate the need for us to spend it in drudgery. The increased redistribution of power as decentralization takes hold opens the door for a new definition of meaningful work WITH the machine, not against it.

No doubt, localization will give us the opportunity to learn how to invest our time in our personal development, care and support for one another, and adaptive community cultures. That would be a dream worth making a reality. But if the future of localization means becoming reacquainted with a shovel, rake, and hoe for hours on end, that seems more like a nightmare! Better to master the machine for our well-being rather than our destruction.

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thoughts about Value-Add

Value-add dominates our economic scorecard. It is relatively easy to calculate in a manufacturing setting where value is added through material transformation at each step as a product moves from raw material to finished goods. Customers monetize this value by the purchase of products they anticipate will add value to their processes. Value-add also pertains to certain services, like financial and legal, that require a certified, licensed, or bonded provider that possesses or delivers specialized skills or knowledge. The consequence for not utilizing these services is the customer assumes risk.

The concept of value-add also plays a role in information technology and data services. Here, though, the meaning is vague. What value can be assigned to having data or to having data in a usable format? This instance of value is intangible and determined by the receiver of the message. Nowhere is intangible nature of value-add more evident that in marketing strategies and advertising campaigns. Information that induces a user to pay for a product or service has value only to the producer. Value-add for the customer or client occurs at the next step — the point of utilization.

So much for the traditional view of value-add. Here is where the current issues of globalization – localization come into play. A robust business strategy can entertain and exercise both sides!

On the globalization side, value-added products are produced and services provided far from their points of utilization and consumption. Success is driven by appropriate economies of scale. This situation will continue for many years to come as customers and clients exploit lower cost alternatives. On the localization side, value-added products and services are produced in close proximity to their points of utilization. Success here is driven by economies of scope. This situation enables products and services to be integrated into specific applications or solutions that are tailored for highly localized contexts.

How, though, does one put a value-add strategy in place? Re-enter data and information. Essentially, a successful strategy is a contextually relevant plan of action, conceived through the knowledgeable (and hopefully, wise!) interpretation of data and information, and executed by a skillful tactician. No matter how similar or unalike the challenges, relevant data and information are the common denominator.

Assuming everyone has access to the same data and information, there is no value-add. With universal access to the same data and information, there is a significant benefit. The rates increase in the discovery of new knowledge, application of knowledge already learned, and transfer of experience with applied knowledge from one place to another. In other words, accessibility to data and information makes the global human system of knowledge generation and utilization more effective, efficient, and expansive.

Since data and information carry no particular value unless one does not have access to them, they form a unique type of “commons“. Anyone may contribute to the pool of data and information, all benefit, and the quality of what is available is not diminished or compromised by the number of users. In fact, the quality and variety increases with more participants as evidenced by Wikipedia.

This “commons” approach is a cornerstone in “open source” philosophy wherein volunteers contribute entries and edits and the content is free to use. Originating in the realm of software development and usage, open source applies to any instance where people collaborate in the development, sustainability, and scalability of a system whereby end-users freely pull what they need from the system and respond to their unique circumstances. Participants increase the working knowledge about the system as they act locally and provide feedback to designers / developers so they improve the system’s robustness, range, and ease of use.

A comprehensive business strategy judiciously positions an “open source” / “free knowledge” dimension on the globalization and localization continuum. What to share in open forums, what to hold as proprietary and reserve for limited audiences, how much to contribute in the development and sustenance of open source endeavors, how much to invest in products, services, and technologies for satisfactory returns, where to standardize products, services, and technologies for economies of scale, where to proliferate economies of scope solutions within localized contexts – these are the kinds of questions about openness, standardization, and uniqueness that drive effective business strategies for all organization types.

Technology gets smaller, faster, stronger, more embedded, more integrated, and more intelligent. Localization increases. The value-add equation is redefined and a greater significance is placed on unique solutions. Addressing the above questions helps organizations adapt within their ever-changing operational landscapes. The implication being that organizations network and collaborate more broadly to energize, inspire, and focus their subject matter experts where it counts most – learning what customers and clients need in their business and social contexts and responding with value-added alternatives. Isn’t that “business as usual”?

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, July 12, 2007

Agriculture Megatrends: Ten Trends Redefining the Practice of Agriculture in the World

When I was growing up in south central Kansas, agriculture was a way of life – it was all around us in the form of wheat fields, cattle ranches, pastures, and gardens. Agriculture has had enormous economic significance throughout the history of Kansas, first, as a territory then a state. And it continues to be an important factor in shaping Kansas’ future. However, changing conditions over the past 60 years transformed the practice and scope of agriculture in Kansas: myriad family farms vanished through improved mechanization and consolidation of farming operations, absentee ownership of farms increased as farming businesses incorporated and adopted professional management in an effort to be competitive in a global market, significant tracts of productive farmland were lost to urbanization, and productivity of farmland became more unpredictable as precipitation patterns shifted, water tables dropped, and soil and ground water became more contaminated through unsustainable agricultural practices. While there are arguments both pro and con for the direction these changes took and their consequences, it is safe to say that agriculture is very different today than it was even a generation ago AND it will change even more with the next generation.

Changes in agriculture experienced by Kansans are not much different than those experienced by people in other states. The same phenomena of mechanization, consolidation, absentee ownership, globalization, urbanization, and non-sustainability have had similar affects throughout the United States and many other countries in the world. While the productivity / hectare or acre has certainly improved substantially over the last 60 years, the complications arising from less arable land, more distance from the point of production to the point of consumption, less oversight, and undesirable environmental consequences makes agriculture an even riskier endeavor than when success was determined by fickleness of the weather! If one extrapolates the next 20-30 years based on historical trend lines across the previous 60 years the picture for agriculture is not a particularly rosy one.

But just as mechanization had a profound disruptive effect on agriculture over 100 years ago, there are forces at play today and into the near future that are going to have a similar impact. My contention is that agriculture, rather than being relegated to the ranks of the mundane, mistreated, and maligned, will witness a rebirth into a new golden age. Whereas agriculture meant wheat, hay, and livestock when I was a boy growing up in Kansas, today, it extends across a full range of plant and animal applications: food for human consumption, feed for animal consumption, fuel, fiber, floriculture, horticulture, and nutraceuticals to name a few. This broader scope, when prompted by rapid and far-reaching developments in information and communication technologies and placed into the context of Marshal McLuhan’sglobal village“, opens the door to examine agriculture in a more approachable, personal, and wholistic manner. Agriculture is reinstated to a more historically accurate location – an explicit, integral part of our lives, individually and collectively, and our world.

The purpose of this posting is to introduce ten agriculture “megatrends” – to borrow from John Naisbitt’s 1988 book, MEGATRENDS: TEN NEW DIRECTIONS TRANSFORMING OUR LIVES – that portend a renaissance for agriculture. Together, these offer a framework within which further details will be added. For now, though, the highlights:

Agriculture Megatrends: Ten Trends Redefining the Practice of Agriculture in the World

1) Growing concerns about the depletion of fossil fuels, the environmental impact caused by consuming them, and the consequences of paying those who do not have the best interests of others at heart for the fossil fuels is contributing to an increased investment in bio-fuels, biomass, and bio-energy.

Renewable energy from plant material and animal waste will continue to be a high-growth area.

2) Modifying a crop portfolio to include more plant material for fuel rather than food or feed equates to less food and feed UNLESS more land is put into production and productivity and output per unit of land is increased to make up the difference. This means that land in urban and suburban areas formerly dedicated to non-edible, non-fuel uses such as lawns and landscaping will be converted into higher value uses.

Localization of agriculture will be a high-growth area.

3) Raising crops for food and feed or fuel and fiber requires more production with less cost on smaller land sizes. This leads to a continuing emphasis on genetics either by modification or selective breeding to make significant improvements.

Genetic research and applications of genetically modified or selected characteristics for valued crops will be a high-growth area.

4) Using seed stocks with uniquely valued characteristics warrant tight controls through growing, harvesting, and post-harvest handling to assure purity. This promotes the application of techniques like RFID tagging and tracking to maintain an audit trail of traits, conditions, and treatments from end-products to their source.

Traceability will be a high-growth area.

5) Knowing that fresh food is grown without the use of certain fertilizers, pesticide, and herbicide is of increasing importance to consumers. The classification of “organic” is gaining ground as a way to assure food is grown and prepared according to specific guidelines that preclude the use of these chemical applications.

Organic food production will continue to be a high-growth area.

6) Curbing the release of carbon into the atmosphere is complemented by absorbing it into plant material and converting it into sugar and starch through photosynthesis. As more countries adopt broad-based systems to manage carbon credits more interest will be shown in selecting crop portfolios that take advantage of carbon credits as well as other value.

Carbon sequestration will be a high-growth area.

7) Recycling water, waste, and unused raw materials is becoming a more important consideration to increase efficiency and prevent unnecessary losses. This leads to a more systematic integration of farming practices along with the management of waste and by-products. Such systems offer wholistic approaches to year-round food production in temperate regions with a minimum of energy consumption, maximum utilization of inputs, and reuse of unconsumed outputs.

Integrated farming and waste management systems will be a high-growth area.

8) Decentralizing the generation of electric power and making electricity the common energy source for the vast majority of people worldwide is a mounting imperative. This invites the possibility of those who live in yet-to-be-electrified rural areas of the world to generate electricity through wind, solar, methane, or geo-thermal and use that energy to meet the needs of their agricultural, business, and domestic operations self-sufficiently off the grid. The development of a full array of electric-powered equipment in all price ranges is a natural complement. Of course, as the grid reaches out to more remote locations it will be a straightforward way for those who are generating electricity by whatever means to sell their surplus and draw upon in times of peak usage.

Electrification of rural areas and agricultural and multi-use equipment, especially with VERY low-cost solutions, will be a high-growth area.

9) Increasing agricultural production in widespread areas as well as concentrating agricultural operations in urban, suburban, and near rural settings requires new ways of moving and storing the output from the point of production through processing and preparation stops along the way to the point of consumption. Issues of food security and food safety coupled with the management of inventory to assure the least amount of loss while delivering the highest degree of freshness and quality are critical. This applies to inputs as well as outputs and touches upon the coordination among diverse growers for individual production portfolios.

Agricultural logistics and complex production management will be a high-growth area.

10) Forming, utilizing, and managing connections between and among agricultural producers, suppliers, logisticians, and customers is essential for effective business relationships to develop and transactions to occur. Whether wirelessly or by landline by voice, written word, or graphics, there are many ways to communicate and transfer information. The most important step is having the information and communication infrastructure to reach anyone, anywhere at anytime so that knowledge and insight about markets, prices, costs, pick-ups, deliveries, funding options, investments, etc. can occur expeditiously and consistently.

Information and communication technologies will be a high-growth area.

While these megatrends are introduced individually, the reality is many of them work in concert with one another to form an infinite variety of complex solutions addressing a wide range of community and commercial opportunities. Future postings will not only elaborate on each trend, but will showcase those combinations that provide additional value through interconnection and integration. More to come…

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, February 1, 2007

Vectors of Disruption and Sea Changes

A colleague of mine is working on a white paper about various trends affecting agriculture over the next 10 years. These futuristic endeavors are fraught with peril because who really knows what the future will hold – no one. But clients and colleagues are constantly looking for ways to talk about the future with sufficient clarity and confidence that their audiences go away having more insight than otherwise.

What can one say about the future that holds true beyond the simple inevitability that the world will end and life on this planet will cease? Not much, it seems, if one is searching for specificity. But in general, there are several points that can be made which offer a framework for consideration when looking at the future.

My previous posting discussed “push” and “pull” business models. The embedded diagram illustrated a progression from individual products / services to integrated product / service combinations.

In the diagram below, this same progression forms a backdrop to highlight an increasing integration over time characterized by solutionizing and convergence.

The objective is human equivalence as introduced in an earlier posting. The balance of this diagram sets up two critical relationships that supplement increasing integration. First, developments in nanotechnology, genetics, and robotics continue to displace people from making things. And second, as artificial intelligence becomes more robust and capable of emulating human problem-solving, human intelligence is pressed into service to address an expanding awareness of the enormous complexity within the whole of creation. In other words, human intelligence leads artificial intelligence into areas of greater sophistication, ambiguity, and choice. This accelerates the advances in artificial intelligence hastening the day when it effectively achieves human equivalence.

Between now and then, the trends to watch are directly influenced by technology operating at the molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic levels, recombining DNA, and merging the biological with the mechanical. Whether related to care and consideration for the environment, applying agricultural practices to the production of food, feed, fiber, or fuel, or raising the quality of life, all are overshadowed by developments in these three areas. In general terms, to watch the evolution of technology as it shrinks to the barely detectable, rearranges genetic structure at will, and creates androids that eventually replace us will be exhilarating, unnerving, and perhaps traumatic, but inevitable. These then, are the primary trends. All others are of secondary importance. More later…

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, April 24, 2006

Ground Truth and Social Sensors

Ground truth is the unfettered and unfiltered relating of people’s experiences within a human social system. It can be associated with a specific event at a particular point in time, such as personal interviews with survivors on December 26, 2004 in Sri Lanka shortly after the devastating tsunami struck. It can be the review of a series of experiences across a period of time such as follow-up interviews with those same Sri Lankans who were interviewed originally to understand how their circumstances are changing. It can be the stories told about how members of a social system, who experienced a catastrophe like the tsunami, adapted their social, political, and economic structures in response; namely, what worked, what didn’t, and what changes to make. Ground truth is given when people speak for themselves. It is the ONLY way a human social system knows what is REALLY going on.

People who deliver their ground truth are acting as well-functioning “social sensors” in a broader social system. They draw upon a wide range of information and communication technologies (ICT) e.g., websites, email, blogs, wikis, with land-line, cellular, and satellite connections from locations throughout the world, no matter how remote, to relate their experiences instantaneously and continuously. Social sensing parallels similar functions within mechanical and biological systems. In fact, there is a point of convergence between scientific and social sensor development paths that establishes the possibility of two working together in a highly interrelated manner that enables large, complex systems to be better managed.

Sensor technology, too, has it roots in ICT. The earliest application of ICT during its commercial development was data collection. People would make manual entries into databases of data they and others collected utilizing various measuring devices at certain points within factory or office operations. The computer would use programs to analyze those data and put them into an informational format that could help interpret what was occurring and develop responses to improve the processes or procedures.

One of the first areas where ICT quickly developed in the 1970s and 1980s was in sensor technology. With increased capability and reliability, sensor technology contributed significantly to the replacement of humans as the means through which data was collected and entered into databases. Further developments over the last 15-20 years greatly reduced the size and power requirements for sensors, and increased the sophistication and range of type and capability of sensor technology. Now, sensors are pervasive; they influence almost every aspect of our lives and endeavors. And they continue to displace people from those activities where consistency, repetitiveness, quality, and reliability are essential for effective and efficient operations.

Of particular significance in these developments and displacement is the degree of integration and compatibility between what is being sensed and what is doing the sensing. Today, extensive sensor networks are carefully nested within all manner of systems: mechanical, chemical, optical, biological, and social. Regardless of application, these sensor networks monitor and evaluate conditions which become feedback in larger, adaptive systems that devise corrective strategies and take appropriate actions in response. The key to their success is the accuracy and timeliness of their input as well as the pervasiveness and comprehensiveness of their coverage.

In many ways, the human body is a complex web of sensor networks. Millions of nerve receptors of different types and functions are distributed throughout the body and send continuous signals through the central nervous system to the brain where they are processed and given responses. And like any sensor network, the quality of the response is tied directly to the quality of the input.

Despite highly evolved and elaborate redundancies that function effectively the vast majority of the time, our senses can be fooled: hot can feel cold and vice-versa; we see mirages we believe are real; we hear sounds when there is silence; odors we smell and taste evoke memories that do not accurately reflect what we are experiencing in the moment. And as in the interplay between sensor networks and the larger systems they help regulate, there are different ways of analyzing and processing input with each eliciting different responses. Furthermore, we can ignore sensory input or respond in ways that override evidence suggesting a more appropriate course of action. So, regardless of how well-designed the system and how well-refined the processes, the arbitrariness and irrationality of our decision-making have the potential to bring it to naught.

Like the human body, human social systems are vast sensor networks. Each member of the system is a “sensor” who “reports” on conditions as they are experienced. The system – comprised of hierarchical political, economic, and social structures that operate according to sets of self-serving rules – sorts, aggregates, and analyzes data entries from sensory members in an effort to understand, interpret, determine response possibilities, consider alternatives, and decide on a course of action. Of course when considered on a global scale there are myriad social systems in play simultaneously. Members of one social system can concurrently be members of others. Interpretation of sensory input in one social system can elicit a different response compared to what happens in response by another social system. The key determinants are rank, status, and position in the formal structure and presence, voice, and passion in the informal structures.

Human social systems are analogous to the human body in other ways. There are over 6 million people in the world. The human body consists of billions of cells. Thousands of people die and thousands more are born every day. Millions of cells in the human body die daily and millions more are regenerated. Of the thousands who are born, live, and die each day, I have the opportunity to know only a handful. I know my body, in general, through its organization by function, role, and relationship of one part or system to another. Most of it I will never see and I don’t have to; I trust that it will do what it should without my deliberate attention if I follow simple rules of good health in terms of diet, nutrition, exercise, and rest. Similarly, most people in the world obey the rules of the social system to which they belong. These rules present choices and people decide in ways that permit them to adapt to current circumstances, but preserve the integrity of the system. Behavior is managed and people stick by the intent of their roles, responsibilities, and relationships.

What happens when taking care and following the rules is not enough? Even when we do our best to prevent it, inevitably, our bodies get sick. Sensory cells we seldom hear from send messages that indicate they or the systems to which they belong are in trouble. Depending on the nature of the condition they are signaling there is a wide array of prescriptive treatments from which we can select. These can be non-invasive wherein normal functions of the cells and systems are restored through medications; or invasive through the repair, removal, or replacement of tissue. The same phenomenon occurs in social systems. People in their “sensory roles” relate experiences wherein the system – no matter how well-designed the rules and how noble the principles and ideals that frame them – fails to respond within an acceptable range. Functions break down; remedies are required. In some instances a simple reinterpretation of an existing rule is all that is needed. Other times, though, more radical steps are in order such as rescinding laws and enacting new ones, closing operations and opening others, and eliminating products or canceling services and offering of others.

Oftentimes, we do not heed the early warning signals from our bodies indicating something is amiss and what was once easily restored must now be repaired, removed, or replaced. The sensory networks did not fail, but we chose through our heads or hearts to ignore the input, e.g., “I don’t feel any pain” or “I don’t see any bruises” or to not give the input appropriate attention, e.g., “It will go away” or It’s nothing.” Because the human body is marvelously adaptive, this approach works to some degree, but the performance of the whole and the cellular arrangement and functioning that comprise it are compromised. We live with it in a compromised state or we take more radical steps to correct or reverse the damage.

Again, there is a clear parallel within human social systems. Billions of people in the world have a nearly infinite variety of experiences daily. How do these experiences fit the frameworks of the social systems to which people are members? Where are there anomalies between expectations and experiences? Do these differentials drive responses? Is the system stretched beyond its limits to adequately respond and more deliberate and protracted strategies are needed to spur deeper adaptation? To know the answers requires being attentive to the “sensors.” It means getting to “ground truth” with people in the system about their circumstances.

Establishing ground truth is a three-step process:

  1. Ask people for the truth about their realities and encourage them to tell their stories openly
  2. Hear their truth, once offered, understand it; and commit to respond with appropriate action
  3. Follow-up afterward to confirm that the responses were, indeed, appropriate and that the current situation is corrected and steps are underway for longer term changes in the system preventing recurrence of the problems

Just as we do not heed messages within our bodies we do the same in social systems. To know what is really going on requires ground truth. To not ask, listen, comprehend, and take action are just as effective in shutting down responsiveness and adaptation in the social system as it is with our bodies. Much of time it is for the same reasons: “don’t confuse me with the facts” and “if I am ignorant I cannot be held accountable.” Typically, we do not like change even though circumstances warrant it. In addition, we do not like to know about circumstances where change is needed because we will be challenged to take action – in other words, make it happen. Either way we claim we will lose focus and be distracted from the mission we are locked into at the time.

Just as the health of our bodies is compromised when warning signals are ignored or overridden, social systems become corrupted when the ground truth of members is not heard or heeded. Social systems can continue to function, in general, despite certain levels of corruption, albeit their effectiveness and efficiency are significantly reduced depending on the type, degree, and pervasiveness of the corruption. Change is particularly problematic in established social systems. Power concentrates in the tops of the ruling hierarchies, corruption increases, and along with it an aversion to change that might disrupt the structure, grows. As a result, these hierarchies uphold tenets and “rules” that support the dominant culture remaining dominant.

Ruling minorities become increasingly distant from their ruled majorities. In so doing they become increasingly cut-off from what is really happening within the social systems they are charged to “protect and serve.” Ground truth exists in the heads, hearts, and souls of social system members whether it is sought after and cared for or not. People and their truth, like life itself, will find a way to express itself, even it means setting in motion disruptive patterns of behavior that threaten to totally transform the system in which they exist. David Brooks, in his editorial entitled, “Trade, Oppression, Revenge,” published in the NY Times on December 25, 2005, illustrates this point through a very recent example. The native Indian people of Bolivia, who comprise 65% of the population, dominated for years by a ruling white elite representing 3% of the population and controlling almost all of the resources in the country, used the democratic process to elect an Indian president. What is in store for the ruling minority of Bolivia and their repressive, exploitative policies? Something not nearly as pleasant as it could have been had the ground truth been spoken, heard, understood, heeded, and the outcomes confirmed.

Therein lays the challenge with respect to ground truth: some have to want to hear, some have to be willing to say, and others still have to respond to what the truth means about the design of the system and make changes accordingly. For any sensor to work effectively, regardless of type or application, its input signal must be captured, processed, and acted upon. This certainly pertains to people as social sensors in human social systems: their input is in the form of valuable stories to tell and their experiences constitute important feedback in regulating the function and adaptation of these same systems. Are you asking…and listening?

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, December 26, 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