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The best teams are cognitively diverse and psychologically safe

I’ve written about this before, but this HBR article explains that successful teams require both psychological safety and cognitive diversity. Psychological safety is particularly important, I think, for remote workers:

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It is a dynamic, emergent property of interaction and can be destroyed in an instant with an ill-timed sigh. Without behaviors that create and maintain a level of psychological safety in a group, people do not fully contribute — and when they don’t, the power of cognitive diversity is left unrealized. Furthermore, anxiety rises and defensive behavior prevails.

If you look at the various quadrants in the header image, taken from the HBR article, then it’s clear that we should be aiming for less hierarchy and more diversity.

We choose our behavior. We need to be more curious, inquiring, experimental and nurturing. We need to stop being hierarchical, directive, controlling, and conforming. It is not just the presence of the positive behaviors in the Generative quadrant that count, it is the corresponding absence of the negative behaviors.

When you’re in a leadership position, you have a massive impact on the cognitive diversity of your team (through hiring decisions) and its psychological safety (by the way you model behaviours).

How people choose to behave determines the quality of interaction and the emergent culture. Leaders need to consider not only how they will act, but as importantly, how they will not act. They need to disturb and disrupt unhelpful patterns of behavior and commit to establishing new routines. To lay the ground for successful execution everyone needs to strengthen and sustain psychological safety through continuous gestures and responses. People cannot express their cognitive difference if it is unsafe to do so. If leaders focus on enhancing the quality of interaction in their teams, business performance and wellbeing will follow.

Everyone, of course, will see themselves as being in the ‘Generative’ quadrant but perhaps the trick is to get feedback (perhaps anonymous) as to whether that’s how other people see you.

Source: Harvard Business Review

"It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing, and not to be disturbed in our soul; for things themselves have no natural power to form our judgements."

(Marcus Aurelius)

On ‘academic innovation’

Rolin Moe is in a good position to talk on the topic of ‘academic innovation’. In fact, it’s literally in his job title: ‘Assistant professor and Director of the Institute for Academic Innovation at Seattle Pacific University”.

Moe warns, however, that it’s not necessarily a great idea to create a new discipline out of academic innovation. Until fairly recently, being ‘innovative’ was a negative slur, something that could get you in some serious trouble if you were found guilty.

[T]he historical usage of innovation is not as a foundational platform but a superficial label; yet in 2018 the governing bodies of societal institutions wield “innovation” in setting forth policy, administration and funding. Innovation, a term we all know but do not have a conceptual framework for, is driving change and growth in education. As regularly used without context, innovation is positioned as the future out-of-the-box solution for the problems of the present.

This makes the term a conduit of power relationships despite many proponents of innovation serving as vocal advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. Thinking about revenue shortfalls in a time of national economic prosperity, the extraction of arts and humanities programs at a time when industry demands critical thinking from graduates, and the positioning of online learning as a democratizing tool when research shows the greatest benefit is to populations of existing privilege, the solutions offered under the innovation mantle have at best affected symptoms, at worst perpetuated causes.

Words and terms, of course, change over time. But, as Moe points out, if we’re to update the definition of innovation, we need a common understanding of what it means.

Coalescing around a common understanding is vital for the growth of “academic innovation,” but the history of innovation makes this concept problematic. Some have argued that innovation binds together disciplines such as learning technologies, leadership and change, and industrial/organizational psychology.

However, this cohesion assumes a “shared language of inquiry,” which does not currently exist. Today’s shared language around innovation is emotive rather than procedural; we use innovation to highlight the desired positive results of our efforts rather than to identify anything specific about our effort (products, processes or policies). The predominant use of innovation is to highlight the value and future-readiness of whatever the speaker supports, which is why opposite sides of issues in education (see school choice, personalized learning, etc.) use innovation in promoting their ideologies.

It seems to me that the neoliberal agenda has invaded education, as it does with any uncommodified available space, and introduced the language of the market. So we get educators using the language of Silicon Valley and attempting to ‘disrupt’ their institution.

If the goal of academic innovation is to be creative and flexible in the development, discovery and engagement of knowledge about the future of education, the foundation for knowledge accumulation and development needs to be innovative in and of itself. That must start with an operational definition of academic innovation, differentiating what innovation means to education from what it means to entrepreneurial spaces or sociological efforts.

That definition must address the negotiated history of the term, from the earliest application of the concept in government-funded research spurred by education policy during the 1960s, through overlooked innovation authors like Freeman and Thorstein Veblen. Negotiating the future we want with the history we have is vital in order to determine the best structure to support the development of an inventive network for creating research-backed, criticism-engaged and outside-the-box approaches to the future of education. The energy behind what we today call academic innovation needs to be put toward problematizing and unraveling the causes of the obstacles facing the practice of educating people of competence and character, rather than focusing on the promotion of near-future technologies and their effect on symptomatic issues.

While I’m sympathetic to the idea that educational institutions can be ‘stodgy’ places that can often need a good kick up the behind, I’m not entirely sure that academic innovation as a discipline will do anything other than legitimise the capitalist takeover of a public good.

Source: Inside Higher Ed (via Aaron Davis)

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize."

(Voltaire)

Protocols for the free web

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time at the intersection of education and technology, it’s that nobody cares about the important stuff, but people will go crazy if you make a small tweak to an emoji icon. 🙄

The reason you can use any web browser you want to access this website is down to standards. These are collections of protocols that define expected behaviours when you use a web browser to read what I’ve written. There are organisations and working groups ensuring that the internet doesn’t devolve into the Wild West.

This post on the We Distribute blog is an interview with Mike Macgirvin who has spent much of his adult life working on the protocols that enable social interaction on the web to happen. It’s an important read, even for less-than-technical people, as it serves to explain some of the very human decisions that shape the technology that mediates our lives.

There’s nothing magic about a protocol. It’s basically just a gentleman’s agreement about how to implement something. There are a number of levels or grades of protocols from simple in-house conventions all the way to internet specifications. The higher quality protocols have some interesting characteristics. Most importantly, these are intended as actual technical blueprints so that if two independent developers in isolated labs follow the specifications accurately, their implementations should interact together perfectly. This is an important concept.

The level of specification needed to produce this higher quality protocol is a double-edged sword. If you specify things too rigidly, projects using this protocol cannot grow or extend beyond the limits and restrictions you have specified. If you do not specify the implementation rules tightly enough, you will end up with competing products or projects that can both claim to implement the specification, yet are unable to interoperate at a basic level.

For-profit companies, and in particular those who are backed by venture capitalists, are very fond of what’s known as vendor lock-in. While there are moves afoot seeking to limit this, including those provided by GDPR, it’s a game of cat-and-mouse.

The free web, on the other hand, is different. It’s a place where, instead of being beholden to people trying to commodify and intermediate your interactions with other human beings, there is the free exchange of data and ideas.

Unfortunately, as Macgirvin points out, its much easier to enclose something than to ‘lock it open’:

In 2010–2012, the free web lost *hundreds of thousands* of early adopters because we had no way to easily migrate from server to server; and lots of early server administrators closed down with little or no warning. This set the free web back at least five years, because you couldn’t trust your account and identity and friendships and content to exist tomorrow. Most of the other free web projects decided that this problem should be solved by import/export tools (which we’re still waiting for in some cases).

I saw an even bigger problem. Twitter at the time was over capacity and often would be shut down for hours or a few days. What if you didn’t really want to permanently move to another server, but you just wanted to post something and stay in touch with friends/family when your server was having a bad day? This was the impetus for nomadic identity. You could take a thumbdrive and load it into any other server; and your identity is intact and you still have all your friends. Then we allowed you to “clone” your identity so you could have these backup accounts available at any time you needed them. Then we started syncing stuff between your clones so that on server ‘A’ you still have the same exact content and friends that you do on server ‘B’. They’re clones. You can post from either. If one shuts down forever, no big deal. If it has a cert issue that takes 24 hours to fix, no big deal. Your online life can continue, uninterrupted — no matter what happens to individual servers.

The trouble, of course, with all of this, is that things aren’t important until they are. So if you’re using Twitter to share photos of what you had for breakfast or status updates about the facial expressions of your cat, you’re not so bothered if the service experiences some downtime. Fast forward a couple of years and emergency services are using it to reassure the citizenry in the face of impending doom.

Those out to make a profit from commodifying social interaction are like those on the political right; they’re more likely to rally behind one another in the name of capital. The left, in this case represented by the free web, is prone to internecine conflict due to their motivation being more ideological than financial.

The way I look at it is that the free web is like family. Everybody has a dysfunctional family. You have black sheep and relatives you really just want to strangle sometimes. Thanksgiving dinner always turns into a shitfight. They’re all fundamentalist Christians and you’re more Zen Buddhist. You can’t carry on a conversation without arguing about who has the more successful career or chastising cousin Harry for his drug use.

But when you get right down to it — none of this matters. They’re family. We’re all in this together. That’s how it is with the free web, even if some projects like to think that they are the only ones that matter. Everybody matters. Each of our projects brings a unique value proposition to the table, and provides a different set of solutions and decentralised services. You can’t ignore any of them or leave any of them behind. We’re one family and we’re all busy creating something incredible. If you look at only one member of this family, you might be disappointed in the range of services that are being offered. You’re probably missing out completely on what the rest of the family is doing. Together we’re all creating a new and improved social web. There are some awesome projects tackling completely different aspects of decentralisation and offering completely different services. If we could all work together we could probably conquer the world — though that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. The first step is just to all sit down at Thanksgiving dinner without killing each other.

We get to choose the technologies we use in our lives. And those decisions matter. Decentralisation is important, particularly in regards to the social web, because no government or organisation should be given the power to mediate our interactions.

Source: We Distribute

"To ramble across the countryside is to disembarrass oneself of the social and mental constraints with which one is encumbered by civilization."

(Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking, p.231)

Paywalls and Patreon

I was part of the discussion that led to this post about Medium’s paywall. Richard Bartlett, whose work with Enspiral, Loomio, and decentralised organising I have huge respect for, has been experimenting with different options to support his work:

Last year I wrote about my dilemma: I have an ethical commitment to the commons, and I want to make a living from my writing. I want to publish all my creative work for free, and I am at my most creative when I have a reliable income. In that story I shared my long history of writing on the web, and my desire to free up time for more ambitious writing projects. Since then I have made a bunch of experiments with different ways of making money from my writing, including Patreon, the Medium Partner Program and LeanPub.

Patreon, which I’ve started to use for Thought Shrapnel, seems to be working out well for Bartlett, however:

To earn a full salary from Patreon, I would need many more supporters, requiring a marketing effort that starts to feel like begging. The gift economy is lovely in theory, especially because there’s no coercion: contributions are voluntary, and there is no punishment for readers who choose to not contribute. But when I interrogate these dynamics at a deeper level, I’m less satisifed.

In my point of view, social capital is subject to the same accumulative and alienating dynamics as financial capital. It’s even more dangerous in some senses, as the transactions are impossible to track, so it is much harder to redistribute accumulations of wealth.

Personally I redistribute 10% of my income to other Patreon creators who I think are doing more important and less fundable work than me: street poet David Merritt and anarchist authors William Gillis and Emmi Bevensee. At least this is a gesture to remind myself that the social capitalist is no more woke than the financial capitalist.

Frankly, as a producer, the clean transaction of buyer and seller just feels better to me. It feels good to produce something of value and have that value acknowledged by somebody purchasing it.

It’s a post worth reading in its entirety, and I don’t want to include any more than three quotations here. Suffice to say that Bartlett has found Medium’s paywall approach useful for discovery but actually find Leanpub the best option:

So, the trickle of income from Patreon feels nice, but I don’t want to self-promote more than I already am. Medium’s paywall is a promising income stream, but I risk losing the audience I care most about. So far it feels like publishing on LeanPub hits the sweet spot between revenue and ethics. So I’m considering that my next experiment could be to package up my existing blog posts into a kind of “best of” ebook that people can buy if they want to support my writing.

I’d suggest that a ‘paywall’ is always going to be problematic. The reason I allow people to support my work is that some people just have more spare money than other people (for whatever reason) and/or some people like supporting things they value financially.

At the moment, I release microcasts as a supporter-only perk. However, given that Patreon allows ‘early access’ another approach would be to set everything on a delay. I’m still, like Bartlett, weighing up all of this, but for now Patreon seems like a great option.

Source: Richard D. Bartlett

"Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves, and it turns out that almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work." (Jane McGonigal)

Issue #305: Sprinting into the distance

The latest issue of the newsletter hit inboxes earlier today!

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Wielding your pension fund for good

Some wise words in this article in The Guardian from Aditya Chakrabortty. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m increasingly aware of the power that we have, collectively, around where and how we spend and save our money.

In big French companies, pension savers are offered the chance to invest 10% of their money in a fond solidaire, or solidarity fund, which supports unlisted social enterprises. In Britain, your average pension member doesn’t even get consulted on what values they’d like their money to support – whether fighting climate change or building social housing. Yet, rather than tackle those issues, the Labour party seeks to build a parallel finance system, in the form of a National Investment Bank, while other left economists talk about building a sovereign wealth fund, just as Norway has done with the proceeds of North Sea oil.

But we have a sovereign wealth fund already. It’s worth over £2tn and it’s called our pension funds. The big battle is to give us agency over our own savings, rather than leaving it all to some pinstriped manager on a fat commission.

I have several pensions (Teachers’ Pension, Local Government, personal, Moodle…) and, as much as I’m able, I ensure that the money is being ethically invested. There’s so many frontiers on which we can change the world, not all of them are super-exciting…

Source: The Guardian