Analogue leadership in a digital world

Pacing Intersticia

Pacing Intersticia

Layers of Time, Stewart Brand, Pace Layering, 1999

It is a rare thing to live through a moment of huge historical consequence and understand in real time that is what it is.  (Alan Little)

For the past two years I, like almost everyone else on the planet, have been locked down (or up, depending on perspective!), separated from family and friends and corralled into the virtual world.  Zooming or Teaming or just talking on the phone became my primary means of communication which meant that if I wanted to connect I had little option but to go online.

I keep on being reminded of E. M. Forster’s novel “The Machine Stops” where humans had exchanged the meatspace for the virtual-space.

The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.  (E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops)

We have now had the opportunity to play in this space, and for many this has meant learning new technical skills and embracing new communication styles that are often at odds with our natural inclination.  Whilst I’ve always been an early adopter of useful technologies the reality is that communicating via screens is not how I like to do things but this forced me to more fully explore myself as a digital being, both alone and in how I interact with others.

Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul. (E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops)

As I now reconnect with my global life back in London what has struck me the most is how much I have missed during the last two years being reliant on screen based communications.  All organisations I work with are navigating the new world of hybrid work and I know that for many senior managers this is causing enormous stress.  Whilst they are happy avoiding the time-waste of the daily commute, their personal sense of control and authority has been challenged, and they realise that they don’t actually trust people to work independently out of the office.  Last year in the rush to resume ‘normality’ many organisations began to mandate a return to the office before the main Covid waves had even manifested.  Since that time they seem to have realised that their timelines of command and control, and those of the ‘natural world’ are deeply out of sync.

This is where Stewart Brand’s concept of Pace Layering is so very useful, particularly as we begin to transition to whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to be.

I have felt a pressing need to re-engage and resume my London life as it was in early 2020, meeting lots of people, going to events and filling my calendar.  But I have largely resisted this spending much more time in my flat, reducing the number of interactions and ensuring that those I have are given the right amount of focus and attention they deserve. I am hugely conscious that my new life can be, and perhaps should be, very different from my old.  Being forced to stay put, to disconnect and to reassess has been life changing and powerful, whilst also confronting and exhausting as we spent so much time with ourselves.  For some, like those in China, the pain of lockdowns continues and the mental health cost will take years to process.  Having had two years being told to maintain social distance and that other humans are dangerous there is heightened sense of distrust of pretty much everything.

So, as we transition in to the new normal it is imperative to understand that people, processes and systems all change at different paces, and that these paces are much more nuanced and complex than we realise.  Transitions, as people such as William Bridges, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Change Curve and Kurt Lewin’s Freeze-Unfreeze describe, all involve loss, fear, uncertainty and discomfort, but they also provide opportunity.

When one door closes another opens but the corridors can be a real bitch!

We are currently in the corridor – the interstice between the old and the new – which Bridges’ model describes as the Neutral Zone:

  • Endings – the first stage is that of ‘letting go’, of identifying what is being lost, grieving for that loss, and appreciating that things will never be the same.
  • Neutral Zone (in reality, the interstice) – the most crucial part of transition where “critical psychological realignments and re-patternings take place”, new processes and learnings emerge, and the foundation is laid for the future.
  • New Beginnings – new understandings, values and attitudes.  An emerging fresh identity together with reorientation and renewal.

I have been reflecting on the last ten years of Intersticia and all that we have achieved (more on that to come) and whilst I firmly agree that even before the Pandemic we were in the process of embarking on a new horizon the difference now is that everything around us has changed and we do ourselves a disservice if we rush the process of moving out of the interstice whilst it is still useful and productive.

We need to create our own space to imagine.

Our little community scattered all around the globe is much like a global radar giving us snippets of insights in to how humanity ids dealing with all of this, and the value of our work now is to really listen to the ebb and flow of what they are telling us, their different paces of change and their plans and dreams for the next phase.

The emerging generation is one of hope, awakened and will reboot the way we live – regenerate society as you gain voice, implicitly awakened choices – Professor Lisa Miller

This is why we do what we do, as servants of the emerging generation of 21st Century Stewards. They deserve that we do this with courage, persistence, grace, integrity and authenticity to give them the best chance they have, for all our sakes.

An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. (Bertrand Russell).

 

 

Launching Future Worlds Challenge

Launching Future Worlds Challenge

I was thrilled to be able to participate in the Future Worlds Challenge. On the very first day, I was nervous and excited because I did not know what to expect, but the cheerful and helpful Teachers put me at ease immediately and I was able to follow the class easily and learn the code.

It was super interesting and I was so excited for the next class that I was not able to sleep that night! The next day, we were able to do group work! I was put together with 2 other students from the US (while I live in Singapore) with whom I was able to get along very easily. They were very co-operative and we were able to share ideas about the future with each other with ease.

Thinking about the future has also been really interesting, to be honest here, we should be thinking about the future much more that we do.

The Teachers would always be there for any questions that we would have that helped us a lot.

We collaboratively worked hard on the presentation and did well with it.

Key learnings that I can takeaway from this workshop are:

 

  1. teamwork helps greatly brainstorming of diverse ideas and facilitates finding solutions
  2. some solutions will not require technology but others will and coding using Alexa will be very helpful for those.

This workshop is a great beginning and I am looking forward to more interesting and amazing workshops and classes focusing on problem solving and finding solutions to make the world a better place for us and generations to come in the near future.

It was one of the most amazing workshops that I have attended ever and I would 100% recommend it to anyone else looking to improve their coding and have thought provoking sessions about the Future!

These are the words of Lara, one of the winners of our first Future Worlds Challenge held over the last two weekends of November, 2021.

After years of development and planning we finally launched this event which was conceived as a result of the first Brave Conversations and our commitment to work with young people to help them better develop a Web Science way of thinking about the technologies they use every day.

This first iteration of Future Worlds Challenge was framed around partnering with the Web Science Lab at MIT, specifically the MIT App Inventor team led by PhD Researcher Jessica Van Brummelen. From the outset we determined to work with young people from around the globe aged between 11 – 17 (together with their parents) and craft an experience which aimed at the maximum possible learning for the kids whilst also actively informing and contributing to the MIT Research.

One research paradigm which informed how we approached these events was based on the work of Dr Joseph Henrich and his categorisations of WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) verses Non-WEIRD cultural mindsets.  Whilst this is a fairly fluid definition as the world becomes increasingly globalised (for instance is Singapore WEIRD or Non-WEIRD?) it was useful for determining the best groupings for our events and also helped determine the time zone categories we used.

Through out networks and promoting through the MIT Research community we had 107 expressions of interest to participate from which we ended up having 45 child-parents ‘teams’ who actually attended.  On average the kids were 16 years old with 20 girls and 25 boys coming from Indonesia, the USA, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, India, Iran and Japan.

The event itself comprised two days:

Day One involved a fairly demanding session learning how to programme an Amazon Alexa as one example of a conversational agent.

Day Two was the Challenge itself where we grouped participants in child-parents in to teams of three to four.  One of their tasks was to use their newly-minted Alexa programming skills to find out information as well as to work together as a group who had not previously met.  This diversity was perfect for getting them all to reflect on the key questions underlying technology and it’s use, particularly those posed by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle.

Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.

The Challenge

The Challenge itself rested on the above model based around three key questions which we held in 30 minute rounds.  We asked each team the following and then they had to work to gradually build a concept of their Future World to be presented in the final round.

Round One:  How We Think

What are three important mindset changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth?  For example:  Wealth and Inequality?  Population?  Lifespan?

Round Two:  Our Ecosystem

What are three important environmental changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth?  For example:  How we use energy?  How we feed ourselves?  Where we live?

Round Three:  The Technologies

What are three important technological changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth?  For example:  How we build our cities?  How we manage information?

Final Round:  Future Worlds

Each team had 5 minutes to present their World and we judged each of the presentations on the following:

  • Does your world make sense?
  • Is it realistic?
  • How would Conversational AI support your World?
  • Do you believe in it?

We were blown away by what these young people came up with in a very short space of time and some focused thinking.  They worked together beautifully, shared ideas and the ability to contribute, and were considered, thoughtful and clear thinking in their approach.

If Lara’s words reflect the experience of other participants then we are thrilled with how this first Challenge inspired them to think and hopefully have ongoing conversations with family and friends.

Our huge thanks to all of our participants, and particularly to Jess Van Brummelen and all of her team at MIT App Inventor.  One key researcher, Claire Tian was a real trooper joining Jess at 5 am in the morning and generously gave her time and support to everyone with their coding adventures.

Thanks also to Katrina Meggitt who stepped in as our Event Manager and juggled childcare, new jobs and torrential rain to help us get everyone organised!

We are now planning more Future Worlds Challenge events for 2022.  Please spread the word and check out the Brave Conversations website for our next steps.

Our first Future Worlds Challenge

Our first Future Worlds Challenge

We created the first Brave Conversations in 2017 but it had a long genesis and followed on from a series of events which we called Meta held between 2008 – 2011.  (Funny as I think of how Facebook has now rebranded itself to exactly the same name but for entirely different reasons!)

Our “Meta” events were so named because they focused on metadata, which is essentially, data about data.  The objective was to bring people from different perspectives and backgrounds (academia, business and government) together to explore the symbiotic relationship between humanity and technology as digital technologies become increasingly pervasive in everyday life.  At these early events we were joined by the early thinkers and practitioners in what we now recognise as the Web Science space, but the conversations were far from mainstream.  That has taken time and there’s nothing like a global pandemic, countries in lockdown, and everyday living moving online to kickstart the adoption of new technologies!

So, here we are a decade after our last Meta event and having developed and taken Brave Conversations around the world and online and it’s time for us to create something a little different, something targeted at the emerging leaders in our society and those for whom being online is just taken as given – those born in the 21st Century.

Our early Brave Conversations events attracted a number of young people, sometimes with parents and even grandparents, and Brave Conversations Kingston Jamaica was especially targeted to this demographic.  Since that time we have been developing an idea to gamify the process of learning about Web Science and the ‘theory and practice of the Social Machine‘ but it wasn’t until we met MIT researcher Jessica Van Brummelen that it all came together with the result being Future Worlds Challenge.

Jessica is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science PhD student at MIT researching how conversational agents can empower and teach young learners about AI.

What are conversational agents?

According to IBM:

Conversational AI refers to technologies (chat-bots, virtual agents) which interact with users via speech and uses large volumes of data, machine learning, and natural language processing to help imitate human interactions, recognizing speech and text inputs and translating their meanings across various languages.

Jessica’s research focuses on empowering young learners through helping them develop conversational AI development skills and engaging them in discussions about the ethics of AI.  (You can find out more about this work here).  Once we met Jessica we knew we had the perfect partner to hold our first Future Worlds Challenge and so we now have two events planned for the end of November, each targeting a different time zone and audience.

Each Future Worlds will comprise the first day of learning to programme an Amazon Alexa using MIT App Inventor and then the second working in teams, each with their own Amazon Alexa, to undertake the Challenge itself.

What is Future Worlds Challenge?

There are so many challenges facing humanity at the moment – climate change, the future of education, health care, governance, work-life balance.  The idea of Future Worlds Challenge is to help participants working in teams to think through some of these issues from a systems perspective considering each of the following and how they interact with each other and with the global system as a whole.

  • Intrapersonal – What are the systems within ourselves: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual?
  • Interpersonal – What are the systems between ourselves and others in our family, community?
  • Societal – What are the systems at work within a society?
  • Global – What are the systems at work in our relationship with the natural world?

 

 

We will combine this thinking with each of the following domains in order to explore the options and choices which are presenting themselves, and then each team, armed with the power of their Conversational AI Alexa, will work towards creating and presenting a Future World which they believe would be the most sustainable and beneficial for humanity.

The winning teams will then be invited to join us (virtually) for our Brave Conversations Barcelona event at the forthcoming ACM Web Science 2022 Conference hosted by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.

At this stage we have over 100 people from all around the world who have expressed their interest in participating but there are still places left so if you or someone you know would like to come along please register your interest here.

 

 

 

 

Developing Emerging Leaders for the 21st Century?

Developing Emerging Leaders for the 21st Century?

The assembly line at Ford’s Highland Park Plant, 1914 (Source)

Seven principles and an open invitation (Part One of Three)

By Intersticia Advisor Ibrahim El Badawi

A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be the guest of an online “meet and greet” session with the Intersticia’s community, shortly after joining this global community as an Advisor.

The closed Zoom meetup was in the form of an informal conversation hosted brilliantly by Jacquie Crock, whose questions covered various topics, from innovation and digital transformation to Sufism and many rich topics in between, as you can imagine. This diversity (and randomness!) was probably due to the Ask Me Anything (AMA) nature of the conversation, my career journey, and geography. I zoomed in from Sydney, Australia, but I was born in Sudan, which means diversity is a natural fate I couldn’t escape. Rather, a privilege I had to learn to appreciate. Sudan is where Asia meets Africa, Arabian Bedouins meet African Dinkas, where the Blue Nile and the White Niles merge, and where the great Nile emerges. This horizontal mix might be the platform that enabled my vertical career journey. At one point, I was a computer scientist coding in Assembly, and just yesterday I moderated a global virtual lab on public policy with public sector officials from Sydney to New York to Marrakech.

In line with my role and Intersticia’s mission to develop and support emerging leaders for the Twenty First Century, a subtle theme of the conversation was to share my thoughts and lessons that could be a source of inspiration for young fellows who represent the heart of Intersticia’s community.

The energy I felt in the virtual room made me reflect on the conversation we had, and encouraged me to share my thoughts in a structured open way with you, young aspiring leaders, whether you’re part of Instersticia’s community or not, and anyone passionate about the same mission.

Perhaps you agree with me that the ongoing pandemic and its cumulative burden on our societies, in addition to the recent footage from Kabul and the White House, make it timely to talk about the leadership crisis that our world is experiencing.

In this article and in two more to follow, I share with you seven principles that I consider essential for young aspiring leaders to consider while navigating their path in the 21st century and preparing to lead others. Needless to say, I am not sharing these principles as an inclusive list, nor am I talking to you in any way from a superior position. Rather, these are lessons I have learned through my ups and downs in the past phases of my professional and personal journey.

And because I am learning and growing myself, I will dedicate the third article to invite you to a conversation around the meaning of leadership in the 21st century.

Here are my three first principles for leading a life in the twenty-first century.

Principle #1: Remember that almost everything in your life was decided by someone

There is a good chance that you are reading these words at the moment while you are in lockdown in your place, or carrying your mask and worrying about staying 1.5 meters away from the people around you! Right?

Why?

Simply because someone has decided that this is how you should work, study and live your life in this pandemic.

As it turns out, many of us actually enjoy this and prefer to continue living this way even when the pandemic is over. According to a Harvard study that surveyed around 1,500 professionals working remotely over the past year, 81% either don’t want to fully return to the office or would prefer a type of “hybrid” schedule going forward.

This landslide vote is not a surprise given the enormous economic, social, environmental and other benefits of remote work, as most of us have experienced in the last year.

But this should make us wonder: if remote work is so awesome, why had we spent the decades before the pandemic commuting to the office or school every day?

Again, the answer is the same: mainly because someone had decided it for us.

Everything in life follows suit. Aside from gravity and other natural facts, everything you can see around you is probably the result of someone’s imagination, vision and action.

You can look around you right now. Notice the knob of your room door, the car across the street and the digital device on which you are reading this article. This principle transcends physical objects to laws, regulations, traditions and ideas that govern your society.

It is a simple fact of the system in which we live, but significant enough to make you rethink your life outlook.

I realised this vividly for the first time when I watched this short video of Steve Jobs, and I watch it  every now and then to remind myself of this principle:

Principle #2: This system has missed some major updates

Steve Jobs, however, did not point out another important reality about the design of our world, at least not in this video. Many parts of the system in which we live today were originally designed in the 20th century or earlier.

Since then, the world has been through many changes, and the system has had to be regularly updated to accommodate these changes. But the system has missed many of these updates, and some of them are major ones!

This is a flaw in the system.

Depending on what changes have been missed and where you live in the world, this flaw could manifest itself in different ways. However, some changes are universal, including the invention of the Internet (and the Web) and now COVID.

As I said earlier, it was a non-negotiable fact of life until a year ago that we had to commute daily to work or study.  We can trace the roots of this belief back to the early pioneers of the industrial age, including Henry Ford, who decided that the assembly line of the Model T required workers (all men of course!) to be present in the same location at the same time to do the job.

In the 1990s, Jeff Bezos and others challenged this, and since then we have been using the Internet to order pizza, book vacations, and play video games, but we continued to travel to work and study.

It took us a global pandemic, and someone telling us in 2020: Hey! Actually, you can (and must!) now use the same internet to do work from home. Duh!

You can spot missed updates right now, where you are sitting. Try out this exercise: take a look around the physical world around you. Yup, literally the room or space you are in. Whilst you are at that, think of the larger world you live in – the assumptions, beliefs, laws and ideas you, your family, your business, your community or small society operate according to.

Can you spot something that makes no sense and negatively affects your life and the life of the people around you? Or at least bothers you? It can be small or big, from something in your room you can fix immediately, to a problem in the world that goes beyond your ability to do anything about it.

My current long list includes the books stacked on the floor of my bedroom in the new place I moved to recently, the arbitrary borders between countries in the Middle East and Africa, the tradition in some societies that you can only hire or marry someone if they are from certain tribes, and the belief and formal foriegn policy in other societies that they can win the hearts and minds of other people by bombing them.

Also, I do not like the fact that every time I check-in to my local supermarket using the COVID app from the NSW Government  I need to manually check out, and I forget to do so most of the time! Why doesn’t the app do that automatically once I leave the shop by detecting the change in my location?

Most likely you already have such a list!

Principle #3: You can and should challenge this outdated system

This list serves as your starting point. A potential space where you can practice leadership by redesigning this part of the system and improving life for yourself and the people (and other creatures) around you.

I encourage you to examine it through the lens of the previous principle.

There is a good chance that the observations in your list exist because the system was designed sometime ago on the basis of certain assumptions or needs. These assumptions are no longer valid, but the system has not yet been updated.

How is it possible that a car company founded in 2003 outside Detroit is now the world’s most valuable car company? Here is one answer from Elon Musk’s biography:

“Anyone who tries to build a car company in the United States is quickly reminded that the last successful start-up in the industry was Chrysler, founded in 1925.”

You can train yourself to have such a questioning radar active all the time, but this exercise can be more significant when you are about to make strategic choices in your life.

In 2013, I decided to change my corporate life and start my entrepreneurial adventure, and I had one key design parameter for this new life: to leverage the internet and liberate myself from the location factor. While enjoying the fun GoDaddy part, a disappointing reality struck me from the system: I had to legally rent a physical office to get my business license.

For more than seven years, I have been paying the monthly rent for an office in Dubai that I rarely use. But you know what? I do not think of this as a rent. This is the cost of no longer being location bound. This is the price I pay for challenging a system that was originally designed by Henry Ford for his Model T.

While challenging an outdated system, be prepared for paying a price.

In my next post I will share with you the remaining principles starting with Principle #4: Avoid the “next big thing” trap.

May 2022
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

-->