Analogue leadership in a digital world

Pacing Intersticia

Pacing Intersticia

(Image from 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).

 

 

Tech for Better – Founders Cohort 3

Tech for Better – Founders Cohort 3

London Founders Dylan Almano and Kate O’Brien

Our third Cohort of Founders have now finished their three projects with their six Palestinian counterparts.

We would especially like to thank Richard Evans and the Artemis Charitable Trust for their support of our third cohort.

Our London Founders are:

Dylan Almano
Dylan is born and raised in South Africa and sees the world from two perspectives.  He sets his ambitions high and his goals even higher, and is committed to making a positive change in all he does through the use of emerging technologies working on socially focused projects.

Kate O’Brien
Kate is a dyslexic queer woman who was a doctor prior to her education in coding, and with a particular focus on gaining cyber security skills in order to make cyber security more accessible generally.  Kate hails from the wilderness of rural Ireland so is “tough as old boots”.

Dylan and Kate worked with six Palestinian Founders on three projects:  The Nova Foundation’s app for families dealing with pregnancy and baby loss; The Esmée Foundation’s Quiz App, and  and Move, Dance Feel.

Nova Foundation:  The first project is for the Nova Foundation, an organisation that seeks to ensure that families at all stages of pregnancy and baby loss, of a child up to 12 months old receive immediate, adaptive, long-term and practical therapeutic trauma and bereavement support.  Our Founders sought to work with the Foundation to develop an App that would help with this.

Team:  Kate O’Brien Dylan Almano Israa Sulaiman Shorouq Saad

Esmée Foundation:  development of a Quiz App to assist individuals applying for funding from the Foundation.

Team:  Kate O’Brien, Dylan Almano, Sallam Tanna, Abdallah Ammar

Move Dance Feel: the development of a website to help the organisation appear more ‘professional’ in order to attract more funding and support, as well as facilitate more effective and efficient information management.

See https://www.emily-jenkins.com/movedancefeel

Team:  Kate O’Brien, Dylan Almano, Nareman Hilles, Ahmed Abdellatif

Our Gaza Sky Geeks Founders are:

Israa Sulaiman

Israa has a BA in English Literature.  After graduation she worked as a translation and content writing freelancer for a few months, started learning graphic design, then marketing and during my work as SEO specialist in a company in Gaza, she used several tools for analysis and tracking, such as google analytics, facebook insights, and google keyword planner, facebook ads which introduced her to programming.  Her curiosity about technology inspired her to learn web development and she applied for GSG’s Code Academy from which she graduated.

Shorouq Saad

Sharouq has a B.Eng. degree in Computer System Engineering, from Al-Azhar University, Gaza. She has a lot of knowledge about computer science, system analysis, programming languages ​​and after graduation in 2018, she joined One million Arab Coders on a Python.

After that she joined the Code Academy cohort 6 in the Gaza Sky Geeks to become a Full Stack developer in order to develop her soft skills such as communication skills, English language, working in teams and using agile methodology.

Abdallah Ammar

Abdallah has a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and shifted to web development after a friend got him excited about games and the products that could be built.  He learned the basics of web development himself in order to be eligible for GSG’s Code Academy program and has now graduated from GSG.

Sallam Tanna

Sallam graduated from IUG from Computer Engineering department and after graduation undertook a course in UI design. After finishing that she joined the Code Academy of GSG and is now a full-stack developer.

Ahmed Abdellatif

Ahmed is studying Software Engineering at Al-Azhar University, Gaza and joined the Code Academy in order to improve his skills and knowledge.  He loves programming.

Nareman Hilles

Nareman is a graduate of Communications Engineering at Al-Azhar University, Gaza and undertook Java programming.  She attended Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy to further develop her skills which she found a struggle as she was not as proficient as others, but she caught up.  She is now a Full-Stack Developer seeking employment and keen to use this opportunity to work with international clients.

The Founders 3 Project reports can be found at:

  • https://github.com/fac-graduate-programme/Nova-Foundation
  • https://github.com/fac-graduate-programme/Esmee-Fairbairn-Foundation
  • https://github.com/fac-graduate-programme/Move-Dance-Feel
Brave Conversations goes Global even more in 2019

Brave Conversations goes Global even more in 2019

In July last year, before we had Intersticia UK properly set up, I wrote this post.

We are about to take Brave Conversations to the next level with events in Melbourne, Boston and London.

If we know that alternative futures are possible then we can start thinking about better ones.  (Cory Doctorow, What should we do about democracy?)

In my last post I referred to Psychohistory, Isaac Azimov’s fictional science which combines history, sociology and the mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people – in other words to explore alternative future.

It has been said that the World Wide Web is a portent of precisely such a thing which is why those who invented it created the interdisciplinary field of Web Science.

“Research tries to anticipate time. If you’re reading the Economist it’s interesting facts.”  (Luciano Floridi)

Since its public release in to human society the Web has evolved from being a small academically orientated Read Only (push information out) information community to a global publishing Read-Write infrastructure upon which almost 50% of humans interact with each other facilitated by the largest companies of the modern era.

The Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web 

(see 10th anniversary video).

Not only do we communicate via the Web but increasingly it is becoming an environment where we actually live (Luciano Floridi) and as with all social ecosystems our ability to co-habit as a bunch of evolved apes is dependent on the rules and norms which govern how we act and treat each other.

“Civilization is but a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen.” (Bill Moyers)

In previous eras the relative rates of technical and societal change have been roughly equivalent.  In the digital age this is not the case, which is why we created Brave Conversations in 2017.

Brave Conversations

Brave Conversations is the first non-academic but publicly focused Web Science event to provide people from all walks of life – industry, government, academia, and the community sectors – with the opportunity to sit back, reflect and respectfully explore the socio-technical issues beginning to arise as a result of digital information technologies.  It carries on from MetaLounge, our first attempts from 2008 – 2011 to create these types of event, and has now had four iterations around the world;  2017 in Canberra; Dubai as part of the 2018 World Government Summit; London 2018 in partnership with SoapBox Islington, and Kingston, Jamaica in July 2018 hosted by the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission.

At each event I have been humbled and privileged to help facilitate and encourage people to be truly brave in addressing issues which have been both confronting and uncomfortable, but most importantly to feel that at the end of each session they have left slightly more educate and enabled, but most of all empowered, to more proactively navigate and negotiate their digital lives.

Throughout we have continually been asked “what is a ‘brave’ conversation“?

As we were designing the programme it struck us that the most valuable thing we could contribute to the global dialogue would be to intentionally confront people with ideas, concepts and suggestions that they may intuitively be aware of but were unable to explore, understand or articulate in a public space.

Our Canberra event taught us the importance of actively listening to, and integrating the voice of young people.  It also demonstrated the benefit of having a diversity of voices in the room, sometimes creating discomfort and tension when language was a barrier, by which I mean those comfortable with technical language and those not.  This is why we chose to partner with SoapBox Islington and a huge thanks to James Dellow, Nick Crivello and all the team there for their wonderful hospitality and terrific group of young people who joined us.  Thank you also to Tris Lumley, Lydia Hascott and Jo Wolfe for their incredible support and amazing organisational skills in supporting Leanne Fry, Bel Campbell and me throughout.

Brave Conversations London in partnership with SoapBox Islington

“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.”  (Sherry Turkle)

As we were framing Brave Conversations London we reflected on the 2018 Data breach scandals and the calls for ethics to be more proactively integrated in to the development of digital technologies.  But which ‘ethics’?  Ethics, from my understanding, is relative and is based on how you see the world, what matters and how things fit together.  As we explored this we determined that what was more important was to help people focus on and articulate their values as a foundation piece in order to have brave conversations, particularly as the group was quite diverse having a good mix of sexes, around a third under the age of 35, together with a number in their 70s, and one family of three generations.

In understanding the difference I found this to be a very useful overview:

  1. Values are the basic beliefs that an individual thinks to be true. Every individual has a set of values through which he looks at all things and also at the world.
  2. Ethics are guidelines or rules that are set for a society or an organization rather than for an individual.
  3. Values can be said to be the guiding principles in one’s life. ‘Value’ can be defined as a bridge by which an individual makes a decision regarding good and bad, right or wrong, and most important or less important.
  4. Ethics can be defined as set of rules formulated by a country or a company or some institutions. Ethics is mainly based on the moral values.

We crafted our values framework based on both an interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs combined with Moore and Khagran’s Strategic Triangle for Creating Public Value.  Not only did we frame our questions around the questions of ‘what Can we do‘ (logos, the technology) and ‘what Should we do‘ (ethos, culture) but we also highlighted the need to ask ‘what May we do‘ (pathos, authority).

In addition we created a very simple, but quite informative, algorithm to poll the group about their feelings towards technology asking four questions to elicit their confidence that five potential technology innovations would improve their lives.

This graphic shows the results - a score of -0.18, in other words they were not confident at all.

Whilst the exercise was both crude and we did not have a lot of time to explain it in detail, it was indicative in terms of the general feeling in the room over the two days and the flavour of the discussions that were held.

What we learned in London then informed how we framed the conversations for Jamaica.

Brave Conversations Kingston in partnership with the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission

“We need to ensure that future citizens have the human capacity to operate in the digital world.” (Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, Jamaica)

I met Cordel Green at the Harvard Kennedy School and our mutual interest in digital literacy and the need to empower people in the digital world resulted in his very kind invitation to travel to Kingston to hold Brave Conversations.

Not only was I welcomed with open arms but I was almost overwhelmed by the hospitality I was given and a huge thanks to Cordel, Karlene Salmon, Don Dobson and all at Broadcom for giving me such a privileged insight in to Jamaica.  Thank you also to Kemal Brown and his wonderful team who recorded it all.

Broadcom is the communications regulator in Jamaica, but not only is it doing that it is taking the lead in educating the Jamaican community about the world of information and both their rights and responsibilities in it.  We kicked off with an interview on Smile Jamaica, the opening of the Jamaican Teachers’ Federation Conference, and a radio interview, all of which gave me some initial insights in to this wonderful country.

Many of the conversations I heard in Jamaica were similar to those I hear elsewhere, but with their own unique twist.  Jamaica’s history, geography, climate and demographics have created an island paradise from which individuals have always shone on the world stage and of course writers such as Ian Fleming have been at their creative best.

Jamaica’s most pressing challenge is its crime rate.  According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 the most problematic factors for doing business in the country are Crime and Theft, Taxes and Corruption.  But this links to so many other factors, and what resonated deeply for me was the determination to help young people develop the resources and resilience through both education and opportunity to help change this and determine a different future.  This was coupled by the high level of religious affiliation which was proudly displayed and acknowledged.

When I was crafting Brave Conversations Jamaica I wondered what impact this would have particularly as one of the key thinkers we reference is Yuval Noah Harari, whose Homo Deus and interviews directly challenge traditional religions comparing them to the “playing of virtual reality games in order to give humans meaning and purpose”.

It proved to be a core part of the conversations, and an opportunity to push both boundaries and ideas.

Fear and love

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)

We chose the word brave because any discussion around technology forces us as human beings to confront our deepest beliefs, aspirations and above all fears – how we see and make sense of the world and above all the things we are afraid of losing – from the basics of safety and security, to the intimacy of love.

At each of our Brave Conversations a mini-community evolved within which there was a degree of discomfort, people did have to explore and listen to different, and often challenging, viewpoints, but there began to emanate both a sense of trust and the preparedness to be brave.

“The real existential risk is a loss of the ability to make sense of the world around us:  what is worth doing, and what the likely effects of things will be.” (Daniel Schmachtenberger)

Having now run Brave Conversations in numerous countries, and with other invitations in the pipeline, we are keen to do whatever we can to help people better understand and appreciate the new digital space within which they are living.

What I have learned is that if we can provide the framework, the information and safe space for people to take a risk, present themselves as truly curious and smart humans, they will be brave and they willingly embrace the opportunity.

The real question of course is that armed with the insights of research, coupled with the power and communication afforded by our technologies, and with Humanity’s future at stake, can we afford not to be brave?

June 2024
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