Embracing your Inner Performance v-Meme for New Years

Steak Florentine Mercato

On to becoming Steak Florentine, the Mercato, Firenze, Italy

I don’t much like to write solely about personal empathetic development.  The reason is simple — I’m a systems guy, and writing about how one person can move up the Spiral seems to be counterproductive.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  On top of that, I also personally feel that one of the largest problems with SD is that it easily lends itself as a tool for hierarchicalization — my v-Meme’s better than your v-Meme — with higher being necessarily ‘better.’  You go to work on yourself, you evolve, maybe — but the larger structure just doesn’t change.

That said, we NEED more evolved people.  And yes — it’s been a universal problem forever.  Various cultures and religions have been working on this for thousands of years, using different aspects of empathy.  My favorite example has to be Tibetan Buddhism, which places all its money on an enlightened, Global Holistic v-Meme leader (the Dalai Lama), magical thinking, and mirroring behavior.  Realizing that there’s no way the resources exist to pop everyone out of the magical v-Meme, where so many poor Asians reside, they formed a system where everyone looks up (and copies) the head honcho, whom a select elite makes sure grows up to be one of the coolest dudes on the planet.  Add to that a pipeline through which many young men and women pass through (many young people become monks for a couple of years, then go back to more normal lives) that teach meditation and self-reflection — pretty unbelievable.

In that spirit, there’s nothing wrong with a little thinking, especially with the approaching New Year, on how the various v-Memes actually work, knowledge-structure-wise.  Most of us would like to improve our Performance-based behavior.  Performance-based behavior is the first v-Meme where real New School Design Thinking becomes emergent.  So it’s worth a little time pondering over the holidays.

Let’s start with a little deconstruction from our basic empathetic social/relational structure background, and see if we can’t reason through this together.

Here are some principles that govern all of the v-Memes:

  1.  As we evolve, our temporal, spatial and energetic scales necessarily increase.
  2. We increase our agency (capacity for independent action) and responsibility toward ourselves and others.
  3. As we increase our agency, we increase our awareness of timescales, and our ability to affect them.
  4. We transition more and more toward data-driven thinking.
  5. As our empathy increases, we also increase our receptivity toward grounding our thoughts in larger and larger circles.

The transition from Legalistic/Absolutistic thinking to Performance-Based thinking is one of the most important of the transitions. When we make the transition, we are now opening ourselves up to independently generated, trust-based relationships — meaning that we will evaluate/perceive people not just on WHAT they are, but WHO they are.

The line that divides this portion of the Spiral is what I call the Trust Boundary, and starts a very important transition from primarily belief-based thinking to rational, data-driven analysis.  At this point, it’s important to remember the nested, emergent nature of the Spiral — we don’t just throw away all our lower modes of thinking — beliefs still matter — but we incorporate them into new modes.

For Performance-based v-Meme development, here are some good vectors.

  1.  Develop authentic mastery of a given area.  Authentic mastery develops the empathetic relationship to self — if you want to have  independent, data-driven relationships with other folks, you first have to have one with yourself.  Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, insists in his book that he never felt comfortable hiring someone who couldn’t do real work with their hands — an implicit endorsement of this authenticity principle.
  2. Reflect on your level of mastery and expertise — use data and examples to accurately assess where you are on your journey toward expertise.  Looking at what others have done gives you metacognition — making you aware of what you don’t know, and how much further the journey will take you.  For example, I am a woodworker, and participate in Internet groups that have lots of other work displayed.  This lets me see how far I’ve come, as well as how far I have to go — and also gives me people whom I can ask for advice and consent while seeing the real results they’ve produced.
  3. Be aware of your own impulsive thought — slow down your timescales and pause before making decisions.  One of the books I’ve discussed, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, exhaustively catalogs the benefits of slow thinking.
  4. Practice engaging in multi-solution thinking, preferably with a partner that you respect and trust.  Brainstorm multiple solutions to a given problem, and then list the reasons why or why not you think the solutions might be good (or not so good) ideas.  A fun book that shows this (especially if you like the Beatles) is Powers of Two by Joshua Schenk.  He details the paired interactions of some of the most creative people in the world.
  5. If you’re given a problem, assemble multiple paths that could be followed to arrive at a solution.  Write down what you’re trying to optimize, and then judge those paths based on your criteria.  Think of this as being similar to finding your way across town during heavy construction.  There are many roads that you can travel — but which one you’re interested in is the one that suits your temperament.
  6. Iterate, iterate, iterate!  — This word was a gift from a new friend, and is the key toward becoming a Performance-based thinker.  Iterating naturally puts different timescales in your process, and starts you on the path of decoupling your emotions from your process, and focusing on getting results.  Modify the path, and perhaps, modify the goal as new data becomes available.  Make fewer parts of your final state set in stone, and adopt a fluidity of mindset.
  7. Ask someone (or work with someone) outside your normal group cohort for their opinion, and then actively work on incorporating that person’s ideas into a synthesis of your work and their ideas.  Nothing beats a diverse workforce, or a strong customer ethic, for growing this part of your brain and empathetic profile.
  8. Understand your own path as a heuristic — a series of assembled steps that you control, that have inherent potential for good outcomes as well as bad.  Estimate the risk in each step, and in your overall path.
  9. Understand that there will always be factors you can’t control — the other side of metacognition — while at the same time, work towards defining these and exploring them so they become more and more concrete.

That’s a start.  And maybe one more.  Practice saying ‘I don’t know’ if you really don’t know.  Change this from “I don’t know, and so therefore I must be stupid” to “I don’t know, and now that I know I don’t know, I’m going to find out!”  It’s the sign of real expertise.

Takeaways:  Here’s a Powerpoint Slide I use to describe Performance-based thinking and data structures.  Worth a read!

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What does Star Wars – The Force Awakens Tell us about Ourselves?

Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

NOTE:  I Tried Hard Not to do it, but Potential Meta-Spoilers Contained Within!!

As I start writing this, I want to tell readers of this blog that I grew up on Star Wars.  It seems hard to believe, but for a boy in the ’60s and ’70s, even watching Star Wars‘ sci-fi predecessor, Star Trek, we were blown away by the clumsy-in-retrospect special effects, leading us to dream about life aboard a starship.  2001 — A Space Odyssey, with its peaceful depictions of deep space travel, was out in 1968, but out of reach to a six-year-old boy with modestly conservative, alienated parents.  And VHS technology hadn’t come along yet, so there was no way to play back most movies once they had left the big screen.

We had the space program — astronauts were headed to the moon! — but nothing could compare when the original Star Wars visuals were released in 1977.  It’s my personal belief that nothing hurt NASA more than Star Wars.  It took astronauts crammed in a small capsule three days just to reach the moon.  But the characters in Star Wars could explore exotic planets, taking off and landing, in the span of two hours of movie time.  In no time, the national imagination changed.  Give us Single Stage To Orbit or bust.  And damn the technological hurdles.

The original Star Wars trilogy fit neatly into a 14-17 year old’s mind.  I had an extremely difficult childhood, and the whole idea of the original six movies was really a father saved by his children — a theme that was profoundly resonant to a young man with an alcoholic father.

Now, as my own view has grown, though, the movies amuse not-so-much.  You’d think a guy into the power of empathy would be enthralled by The Force.  Yet, for the most part, the Global Holistic (or beyond!) v-Meme aspects, aside from a couple of scenes with Yoda, are profoundly neglected.  The Force is mostly used for choking people, magic green fire, or throwing things around, with a couple of nods to manipulation of the weak-minded.  Not surprisingly, it’s almost always for the ‘good’ — as believed by the egocentric perspective of whatever character happens to be doing the choking.

Why?  Because Star Wars is firmly mired in the Magical-Authoritarian v-Meme pair, with a variety of genetically pre-ordained Space Wizards using their considerable talents mostly for reasons of power and control.  We get a little Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme behavior from the Jedi in the Jedi Temple.  But there’s really not much development.  The only standard rule seems to be “don’t go over to the Dark Side.”  And the direction given for NOT going over to the Dark Side is to listen to your betters, even if it goes against your own judgment.  You don’t gain agency in the Jedi Order — remember that these are the Good Guys — until you’re at the top of their particular Authoritarian v-Meme heap.  Young Obi-Wan didn’t want to train young Anakin in the ways of the Force, but did so because Qui-Gon Jinn, his master, said he had no choice.  It was Jedi filial piety that got the whole series rolling.

From a relational perspective, Star Wars is internally consistent.  As good Authoritarians, they’re primarily concerned about blood relations, and there’s a particular gene pool that egocentrically thinks the galaxy belongs to them.  And the way you get to be a Space Wizard is through good breeding as well.  Those midi-chlorians in high concentration are a genetic anomaly.  So it’s no surprise that we end up with kings, queens, princesses and empires, regardless of species.  No real Performance-based v-Memes and personal development show up.  It’s all pre-ordained, as well as the various responsibilities one might have in the universe.

The Principle of Reinforcement, the idea that societies values and the individuals form a self-reinforcing cycle, runs deep in the Star Wars universe as well.  The battles are classically Manichaen — good vs. evil, with (not surprisingly) the good guys wearing white, and the bad guys all in black.  No surprises here.  What’s fascinating, though, is how higher v-Meme multi-solution design thinkers and negotiators, like Han Solo, are portrayed.  They’re slimy, until off-screen coupling initiates them into the space wizard blood clan.

Not surprisingly, this lack of independently generated relationships in anyone’s upbringing produces messed-up kids, that end up in various stages of rebellion.  Childhood trauma (various orphaning, slavery and such icks — bad things happen to Chosen People/Space Lizards too!) produces kids with a tendency toward empathy disorders.  Not good when you control things like planet-destroying machines.  What’s killing a couple billion people when you’ve got daddy (or mommy) issues?

For those readers of this blog, naturally, the technology defies belief.  Huge, integrated structures, like the Death Star, or in the The Force Awakens, the Death Planet (or whatever its called) are designed by Authoritarian societies — not the highly-connected Global Systemic societies that would actually be required, a la Conway’s Law, to build them.  Can you imagine the wiring errors in that thing?  At least the one thing that the v-Memes did get right is that the Empire, or in the case of The Force Awakens, The First Order (the new bad guys), does tend to concentrate power in a few large artifacts.  No different than today’s nuclear power stations or weapons. And even though this strategy has been shown to not work so well in two prior movies.  When one learns about the existence of such a tool, there’s a certain thrilling fatalism that has to appear in the audience.  We know what’s going to happen to THAT.

I don’t know if it’s particularly disappointing .  The Star Wars universe was never very open-ended, v-Meme wise.  And The Force Awakens uses all the same tools in the toolbox to construct its fable.  Or rather, a more accurate descriptor would be that The Force Awakens uses its particular set of Lego pieces to make its story.  It’s true that the Baddies are bigger, and badder, and the tech is even more powerful — no question that we’ve got Kardashev Type III leanings!  It’s like J.J. Abrams went to McDonalds, crammed everything into the back kitchen, and super-sized it all.

But in the same way that Legos are limited — fragmented blocks with limited attachment points — so goes this story.  There are only a certain set of pieces that can be used, and J.J. Abrams and the writers got to choose whether they were positioned up or down.  Like the binary, self-centered mind the Authoritarian v-Meme generates, the plot places characters constantly in conflict, where it’s always the case that the conflict is resolved through destroying the other party, getting destroyed, or running away.  Just like my empathy theory predicts.

Even the young Stormtrooper convert, Finn, isn’t given a complexity break.  We do get a My Lai massacre to start the ball rolling.  But Finn’s no battle-rattled vet.  In his very first battle, he doesn’t want to kill people. No blood on his hands — because if there were, he couldn’t follow the arc of the story laid out that the good guys are fundamentally always good, and the bad guys — well you know, they may get a chance at a deathbed epiphany.

There may be some feminists who might find succor in The Force Awakens .  The female character, Rey, is portrayed as a rugged individual, extremely tech. savvy, and relatively fearless.  Much is made out of her refusal to take Finn’s hand in one scene — multiple times.  Methinks they protest too much. And Princess Leia gets a prominent new role. But Leia’s role really isn’t that much different from the last one where she was calling the shots.  As a princess, she’s always been high up on the social order, and the fact that she’s a general should surprise no one.  There are even women commanders in The First Order’s Star Destroyers.

But I’ll bet the more evolved feminists have to be rolling their eyes.  Women are running the show, and they’re still doing this stupid ‘planet-blowing-up’ shit?  Doesn’t anyone ever want to talk anything out?  Can’t we step outside, loosen up a little, and have a cigarette?  Though there’s a couple of nods to various character’s cultural femininity, Death Star Christmas cookies are nowhere to be seen.  And there are no signs of day care on a Star Destroyer.  This is the best a hyper-advanced civilization can do? Someone needs to send Snoke, the new Super-Bad-Guy a little primer on Attachment Theorist John Bowlby.

As I mentioned above, the whole Force concept — so amenable to higher empathetic development, as well as plot development — really takes a v-Meme beating.  If there’s any proof to my various theories on how empathy deficits in Magical/Authoritarian social structures work, it’s got to be in The Force Awakens.  The embodiment of global empathy, the Force gets used on a variety of characters, by a variety of characters, to choke people, and manipulate others. As the plot evolves, it becomes a sign of spiritual development in the various characters’ abilities to prevent themselves from being choked.  Or maybe pick something up.  Never do we proceed to rational place-taking or a point of understanding.  Does that sound like your boss’s interpretation of empathy?  Run fast.

And the movie scaffolds along this line to make reconciliation on a large scale impossible.  The First Order folks pull pages from the Nazis and the Nuremberg rallies, even though they’re from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.  It’s a oddly fawning authoritarianism, too.  The First Order is extremely well-organized and efficient, with everyone neatly arranged in rows.  No classic signs of the real, historically documented Authoritarian v-Meme –cronyism, corruption and concubines — here.  Just ruthless efficiency and a fascination with very large, concentrated weaponry — deep re-creations of nuclear weapons and the Maginot Line.  Even the name — The First Order — has mathematical linkages to the meta-linear nature inherent in the v-Meme.  How weird is that?

Critics have raved about the various plot twists in the new film.  But I’ll warn you.  There really aren’t any.  There are binary moments in all the various scenes that come out of the limited Lego pieces in the canon.  In any given scene, you get to guess if the plot is going to go right or left.  From a metacognitive standpoint, (knowing what you don’t know) I couldn’t find a more profound reinforcement that Authoritarian social structures destroy metacognitive development.  There are simply no real unknowns.  You know, in every scene where there’s a bifurcation point, which way things could go.  A selected subset of outcomes are pre-ordained.  Certainly one or the other will make you feel something different.  But there’s basically no point of ambiguity that makes you think.

As a result, the film feels trivial.  You’re not going to walk away from this one the least bit changed.  It’s not a whole lot more sophisticated than the Teletubbies.  The Teletubbies were designed for the 3 year old mind — when Tinky Winky pops up behind the flower with his handbag, the infantile mind waits until Tinky Winky does it again.  That’s what gives it satisfaction.  It’s really about the same for The Force Awakens.

And judging from the reviews, most viewers will find comfort in that.  They didn’t go into the movie looking for an epiphany.  So they don’t have to worry that they might get one.

But at some level, I find the whole spectacle extremely worrisome.  If we have any moment of national unity, in our national conflict-driven dichotomous dialectic, infused with both Ferguson and Donald Trump, it’s around the release of this film. It forces our imagination along the line that our biggest problems are some kind of structured, lawful evil a la terrorists are organized by masterminds of the Caliphate, or something.

Yet our real problems are rooted deeply in the chaos, and inherent unpredictability from responding to world events with such dichotomous, black-and-white thinking.  Our problems in the Middle East come directly from decisions based on destroying controlling authority, under the aegis and reasoning of wiping out their Death Star Equivalent — their nuclear weapons capability.  It’s no coincidence that the two countries we’ve most recently destroyed the leadership in — Iraq and Libya — were potentially seeking nuclear weapons.  And that the third country we’re seeking regime change in — Syria — has its leader, Bashir Assad, accused of using chemical weapons of mass destruction.  The chaos that’s being generated is creating its own darker form of resistance in ISIS.

The Force Awakens, like all Star Wars movies, has no refugees from wars.  Planets simply get blown up.  There’s never any show of long-term suffering.  And though the crashed Star Destroyers on the surface of Jakku allude to conflict long ago, every fight in the current moment leads to short term oblivion in the Star Wars universe.  Wars there map to wars here in our national perception — clean, instantaneous things.  There are no X-Wing fighter pilots that need extensive rehab, or treatment for PTSD.  In space, you get to hear them scream once.  And then, well, their parts are scattered across deep space — or inside a burnt-out Star Destroyer.

In writing this, I don’t want to be non-sympathetic, or non-empathetic, to the national mood.  But the Principle of Reinforcement holds for us, too.  And we could use a little more humility, messiness, and metacognition in our national parables — especially if we really want the Force to be with us.

Further thinking:  I don’t want to get into this in this piece, but that J.J. Abrams — he’s kinda wrecked Star Trek in the same way.  We might have been headed that way anyway — but at least Star Trek was calling to those higher metacognitive values — going where no one has gone before and all that.  Real higher-level empathetic development.  Now, even the bridge crew yells at each other.  Sheesh.

 

Quickie Post — ID this writer’s v-Meme!

SONY DSC
Braden on the Lochsa River, Lochsa Falls, Idaho, with Pops as his bow-man.  Braden is 13 in this picture.

Read this post on mathematics — it’s short.  It comes out of the Common Core curriculum.  Now — ponder it, and scribble down what are the dominant v-Memes in the writer’s head.  I’m gonna fill up the space below with another picture, and below, I’ll put my answer.

bradenkayaking photo

Braden again, this time kayaking, in Blue Canyon, Salmon River, Idaho.  The deal I made with the kids was basic — learn to kayak, or always be forced to row that big orange raft around!

So what’s going on with this post?  The writer is, of course, exactly right.  Exactly.  The kid shouldn’t have, if you were trying to teach a particular principle, written out three 5s.  And then he wraps up with ‘Respect the teacher!’  So the answer is very clearly — he’s yet another Legalistic Authoritarian in the educational system.  And he doles out all the usual warnings about leading kids astray.

If the teacher had some Performance-based v-Meme in them, they’d tell the kid that he was right.  And if they were Communitarian, they might gather up results from across the class and show the student that got that wrong that they weren’t alone.

Whether the lesson is appropriate or not is a developmental question.  At some level of school, you want your kids to transition to being more legalistic and less authoritarian, and maybe hammering that transition with examples like this is appropriate.  And the Laws of Commutation and Equivalence are good things to know — they are a staple of higher mathematics.

But younger kids (3rd grade and below) are just never going to get this.  They don’t have the circuits.  And, you know, I just never liked trick questions — you can also see how, especially on the young, that they get you back to Power and Control.  Which is how this guy wraps up things.  Listen To Your Betters…. sigh.  Do remember that this guy posts this as a Trick Question for adults — that’s the premise of the whole piece.  So what does that say about actual information retention in the audience?

Newsy Post — Shell’s Cancellation of Arctic Exploration and the Future of Energy

Green River Dinosaur

Green River, Utah, above Split Mountain Canyon

There’s been a fair amount of media this last two weeks about Shell’s decision to cancel exploration for oil in the Arctic Ocean.  For the last few years, Shell has met strong resistance both in the regulatory environment, as well as in the Court of Public Opinion.  It’s beyond ironic that the force that is allowing Shell’s exploration — global warming, caused by burning fossil fuels — has opened up the very area most imperiled by these actions to even more exploitation.

But even if you think global warming isn’t real, or even if it is, it isn’t caused my humans, that viewpoint is becoming increasingly irrelevant — especially with regards to the fate of fossil fuels.  What is really happening with oil is as much a Death of a Social Structure.  The  large, centralized infrastructure and hierarchies necessary to use fossil fuels are increasingly under strain, from competition from distributed sources.

If I wanted to get all New-Agey on you, I could point to Tesla’s new wall-mounted Powerwall,or other, potentially New Tech Green solutions.  But that’s not the point of this article, published in EnergyPost.  These guys make the point that what is really undoing Shell is not Tesla, or solar.  What’s undoing them is fracking, which can be local, run by small operators, and is independent of large developmental, super-efforts like hauling a mega-rig up to the Arctic, past hundreds of Kayaktivists.

Which should be intensely interesting to readers who believe what is written on this blog.  Local/regional efforts, through their very nature, are much more empathetically connected to local communities, and are much more able to be affected by local public opinion — including outright bans of the activity.  And lest ye think I’m beating my own drum — it is a duplex link.  Shell persevered through multiple quarantines and protests because, quite simply, those protests were in places like Seattle and Portland.  Not in their own backyard.  It’s much harder for a local firm to do that.  They have to be empathetic — because they are connected, like it or not.

What it means is that as social evolution continues, energy is going to become a distributed resource, and the natural emergent dynamics are going to force it to be clean.  Those companies that are counting on ‘air cover’ from distant governments might get it for a while.  But sooner, inexorably, they’ll be forced to yield.

Even with the Chinese, with the recent meeting between President Obama and President Xi Jinping, the worm is turning on global warming and air pollution impact, with China stepping forward with cap-and-trade solutions for carbon dioxide in advance of the Paris summit next year.  Doubtless, some may say that this is merely a ploy by China to gain stature on the world stage — a standard Authoritarian v-Meme behavior.  But anyone that says that hasn’t visited China in the last ten years, where air pollution in Beijing has been intolerable.  If folks think that the Chinese Communist Party leadership maintains control by being unresponsive to Chinese concerns, well — I can’t help you with that one.

Companies like Shell are going to have to work hard to adapt to restore their reputation in light of this obvious trend.  Only 15 years ago, they were being profiled as an exemplar of a Learning Organization by progressive management gurus like Peter Senge.  Now they’re getting thrown out of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on climate change.

There’s also a major point that should be obvious to the readers of this blog — but I’ll make anyway.  Shell is under the gun not because of the Peak Oil phenomenon — that the world is running out of oil.  We still don’t really know if the world is going to run out of oil.  But I’m willing to bet that we’re not.  What Shell is suffering from is superabundance of oil, and collapsing prices.

And this shouldn’t be a surprise.  As we move out of social structures that are historically information-inefficient/incoherent, like the large Authoritarian power structures and Legalistic hierarchies, we should expect to see dramatic improvements in production and abundance.  And regardless the predictable externalities — like the fracking crisis with water — it’s just a function of how the system dynamics operate.

What Shell’s crisis shows, more than anything else, is we need to stop taking as sage counsel the acolytes of energy that tell us there are no solutions except large, centralized solutions.  This goes for power storage, as well as generation.  If there is legal scaffolding to be developed (don’t forget — unscaffolded efforts are just as doomed to wreak havoc as old hierarchical structures) then let’s accelerate both.

Because when it comes to the carbon issue, we are running out of time.  And Evolutionary Theory can show us where we need to be going.

Takeaways:  The Future of Energy, like the Internet, is going to be distributed and interconnected.  The best thing we can do is accelerate these trends, without throwing away our standards on the environment.  It can work.  But we are running out of time.

Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — Part II — Understanding the Legalistic Transition

conor snowhole

Conor at 13, firing it up on the Lower Salmon, Snowhole Rapids, Idaho

In the last post, we ended with a short scenario on why servant leadership couldn’t thrive in an Authoritarian v-Meme organization.  The obvious reasons that jump out are the lack of trust, especially in assigning credit, as well as the lack of connection that a more evolved empathetic sense would create.

Yet the problems with developing leadership in Authoritarian organizations go deeper than that.  One of the biggest problems is a lack of stable social structure for the entire company — because this is subject to rearrangement by the person at the respective top of the system.  This is intrinsically linked to the main problem with Authoritarianism — that the person at the top is in control of the veracity of the knowledge in play.  The short version is that the Authority gets to decide who’s telling the truth.  And if there are no constraints on that person’s power, they can move the deck chairs (with employees in them!) around as they wish to reinforce whatever version of truth suits them at that moment.  The ranking of employees themselves is directly at the mercy  of the whim/impulsive nature of the Authoritarian figure themselves.

And it’s also likely a real Authoritarian is going to become aware of a servant leader arising in their midst, through the appearance of empathetic subgrouping of employees around that individual.  Without any other modifiers, they are going to perceive that person only as a threat to their power and control.  Which will mean the aspiring servant leader will have to be whacked.

We can start to see the beginnings of potential for servant leaders in true Legalistic  v-Meme hierarchies, in that now there are at least some rules that constrain authority.  And while there is not necessarily a level playing field — hierarchies are, well, hierarchies — there are at least some rules about who can talk to who, and some process that has to be followed.  In the case of the prior blog post, it’s more unlikely that Big Boss would scheme with John, the lower level employee, against the servant leader.  And if there were an established culture and examples of how credit was to be delivered, a show of humility by the Servant Leader in the middle would have less chance of being misinterpreted.

Additionally, rules and process for product excellence would likely also be in place.  John, at the bottom, upon completing a deliverable and having it certified — a Legalistic v-Meme construct — would have some external validation of due diligence on their part.  Certification of success is an important part of a trust environment.  Equally important is the lack of responsibility for statistical failure.  John could complete a task, get it certified, and have the servant leader in the middle commend him, without worrying about whether a trap was being set.

While Legalistic systems won’t in and of themselves create atmospheres for servant leadership — in my opinion, they’re more neutral than anything else — they do create the scaffolding for support of servant leadership as the company evolves.  And creating scaffolding is necessary for access to those higher v-Memes where Performance and Community can take off.  At the Legalistic v-Meme level, you can start the process of establishing global standards that take away from the authority of the Authoritarian — and creates a system that people can move, connect and develop, at some level independent of one person’s idiosyncrasies.

That’s not to say you couldn’t have a person in an Authoritarian organization put in their time until they got to the top of the organization — and then totally emerge as a servant leader, and rearrange everything beneath them.  But now we are once again in the realm of the Exceptional Individual.  Hardly a predictable way to assure long term continuity and performance.

Takeaways:  The Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme provides important scaffolding for the emergence of servant leadership.  But it is typically not sufficient in and of itself.

Further Reading:  Reflecting on the last two posts, it should come as no surprise that servant leadership maps well to Plato’s idea of a philosopher king — an individual who was not only a just and fair Authoritarian, but one capable of creating Legalistic/Absolutistic systemic thought that would constrain their own actions.  For those that have been following this blog for a while, it should also come as no surprise that being a philosopher king was probably the best that someone in ancient Greece could aspire to, as the society Plato wrote about was just past the Chthonic Transition into stable Authoritarianism with emerging principles of Legalism.  Old Plato stretched as much as he could — the idea of higher-level synergistic networks was simply unavailable.

Societal Post — How Access and Acceptance of Higher v-Memes Affect Student Success

Botticelli Selfie

Botticelli Selfie – Father and Son — at the Uffizi Museum, Firenze (Florence), Italy

A very interesting piece from the Washington Post came across my e-desk today.  Titled “These kids were geniuses — they were just too poor for anyone to discover them” it profiles the admissions process in Broward County, Florida, that was studied by researchers David Card, of the University of California at Berkeley, and Laura Giuliano, of the University of Miami, both economists.  The report showed that kids from poorer areas had largely been overlooked in the process of admission, largely because there had to be a referral for an IQ test for the student to be considered for the programs.  This changed when a policy universally screening second-graders was put into place.

Not surprisingly, to readers of this blog, when such a policy was put into place, minority participation jumped.  “This is, in a way, even more serious,” Card said. “There may be lots more kids than we realize that are talented, but we’re not getting to them in early grades. Presumably, by the time they’re getting to high school, they’re not going to be in as good a position.”

The piece also discussed the bias in IQ testing between poorer and wealthier students.  Not surprisingly, for those that have ever taken an IQ test, those with greater exposure to algorithmic thinking and legalistic/absolutic modes of relational development –i.e. richer kids, did better.  Kids in poorer environments, with more exposure to lower v-Meme environments, instead of practicing more complex rule following and participating in more sophisticated hierarchies more likely in wealthier environments, tended to be more beat down than kids from well-off communities.  From the article:

“Often, gifted children don’t do well in school because they question authority and are seen as troublemakers, Park said. Behaviors that in a wealthy classroom might be viewed as precocious can be perceived as disruptive in low-income classrooms.

Reaching out to parents and teachers was an important part of increasing gifted participation. Some reacted with bewilderment when Park told them that their child might be gifted.

“‘He argues all the time. He can’t be gifted until he learns respect,’” Park recalls one mother telling her.”

Compound that with a lack of appropriate role models — the key element for appropriate development of young people, due to their strong dependency on mirroring behavior — one can see that there are strong v-Meme reasons that kids from poorer backgrounds are severely handicapped in pursuing entry.  Not only do they lack development of some of the important core knowledge structures, they also lack the surrounding social structure that would pursue these kinds of opportunities.

There are no easy answers to these kinds of problems.  But it is also not surprising that going after kids in the 2nd grade for recruitment and testing, was successful.  At age 7, though there are still some external advantages that kids from upper-level socioeconomic status might have, the knowledge structure playing field is far more level.  As the article notes, by high school, it is getting to be too late.

The article does not note — but should — the obvious implication of a focus on absolute obedience that is much more prevalent in lower SES situations than higher.  If you’re not obedient, we’ll call in the cops.  And such hair-trigger sensitivities for enforced authoritarianism have a far wider cost than just the obvious amplification of human misery of more kids, doing more jail time.  It cuts a broad swath around killing creativity in the poorer classes, and gives tunnel vision to those inside those communities.  The pervasive authoritarianism promotes a form of metacognitive collapse.  Not only do the kids not know that there is a way out.  The social system itself prevents conception that there might be a way.

And that’s a real tragedy.

Takeaway:  when you structure your company in an authoritarian fashion, the only thing you grow over time is people’s incapacity to learn.  And you also make it impossible to conceive of other ways of doing things.  Which might be fine for a short while — but sooner or later, the world changes.  And then you’re screwed.

Further reading:  This Post on Metacognition I wrote a little more than a month ago gives insight in how we know what we don’t know.  This insight unlocks a path into how companies, organizations, and societies self-sabotage when they go more authoritarian — as shown so profoundly in the example above.  Emphasize obedience uber alles and you’re digging yourself into a v-Meme hole you’re not likely to escape.  Because the Principle of Reinforcement will spread those same meta-values everywhere.

How What You Think About God Can Tell You Who You’re Picking as Your Business Advisor

Arm Around Minnie

Cute Chinese Chicks in front of the Olympic Stadium, Beijing.  Minnie’s a Dude, in case you were curious… now think about how you can tell just from the photo!

My son, last night, brought home an assignment from his high school literature class, basically asking him to explore the ontological intimations of a given viewpoint on the infinite.  The short version of the prior word salad is this:  what do we think God is, and how can we understand that?

Fair enough.  Because I am, well, who I am – or maybe a function of how weird I am, I took this and applied this to understanding our empathetic development, and social/relational structure.  It would stand to reason that the various v-Memes would want a God that lined up with the way that they think.  No surprise there.  But what’s also fascinating is more how it lines up with our comfort with the unknown.  The short version of this is that our own metacognition tells us buckets about how comfortable or uncomfortable we are with giving God definition — or limits.

Naturally, Tribal Gods are going to be present, and likely unpredictable.  Authoritarian Gods are likely to be angry (just like your boss!), and Legalistic Gods are going to have lots of rules.  Better not break ’em!  They might feel sorry for you, but they’re still sending you to Hell.  No echoes of place-taking, rational empathy down here!

Moving up into Performance level v-Memes, we’re going to have affiliated, helpful Gods, whom you get to have your own, personal relationship with.  It’s no surprise that the Protestant Reformation was so big on coming up with a canonical set of rules of reform of things like indulgences (they didn’t call it the Reformation for nothing!) but also removed authorities between the individual and God.  Funny how that happened all around the time of the Enlightenment and such.  Can we say ‘Independent Relational Formation’, anyone?  And I’m sure from my own Catholic upbringing that Communitarian God plays the guitar.  Because the Good Sisters who taught me were a little lacking in musical ability.  No surprise that as our empathy increases, God becomes more understanding, and less likely to send us all to Hell.  One in the Spirit, One in the Lord and all that!  He’d have to go there too.

Talking about religion makes people a little squirmy, regardless who does it.  And since I’ve decided that a lot of my stuff already makes people feel like bugs are crawling around on their brain, I think we should segue into business gurus instead.

How can we tell what v-Meme a given business advice book tops out on?  Look for where they start talking about magic.  Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, gets to spirituality pretty quickly, though I’d argue we’ve got to cut him a little Second Tier, self-awareness slack.  For the most part, systems thinking is short for legalistic algorithms with an eye toward performance.  Roger Martin puts ‘mystery’ right on top of heuristics, with some Second Tier systemic perspective thrown in as well.  And so it should be no surprise that Design Thinking for Business stops at the Performance v-Meme for the hard-and-fast.  I’m sure there are some other books out there on social capital that map into the Communitarian v-Meme.  But they all cap out sooner or later.  I’m sure there are other writers than the core Wilber/Beck/Cowan group out there in the higher business v-Meme landscape (Eckhart Tolle? Frederic Laloux?) and there obviously have been other, super-evolved business leaders — for real inspiration, read about J. Irwin Miller, one of the architects of Cummins Diesel.

We’re not going to cap out in this blog.  Instead, I’m just going to double down on that metacognition card and admit I don’t know.  And then have the rest of you fill in the blanks.  The reason?  One of my budding theories is that while we may not be able to evolve all of us to a Global Holistic state, if we connect enough of us together, we can, in aggregate, function at those higher levels.  Onward!

Takeaways:  When people start talking about God, or whose business books they like to read, one of the big things they’re telling you is their metacognition and how they process what they don’t know.  A good idea to pay attention!