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Inside Complexity: On Sense-Making, where Context Rules

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“Where does a system start and end?” asked the bird outside the cage.

Hardly a day goes by that I’m not thinking about complexity, and how we might get better at understanding it.

Unlike the structured, linear, mechanized world that we’ve learned better how to control, we’re now learning that the vast majority of the world’s soscial systems, and all of it’s natural ones – including humans – are guided by unstructured, dynamic modes of interaction. It’s the organic, adaptive approach of complex systems.  It’s a place of uncertain outcomes, but significant potential.  It’s how plants and animals evolve according to diverse environmental factors. We can’t know with certainty how these systems will evolve. There are too many variables.

But we can learn how to better anticipate trends and patterns, and perhaps even have an influence.

The are the challenges of getting our head around complex systems in social spaces, places like teams, where work needs to get done.

Enter context.

My latest thinking on this emerged from a conversation on Twiter between Jan HoglundMaz IqbalNora Bateson, Dil Green, and a host of others, discussing the challange of multiple system layers, as they cross-function in shifting contexts. To paraphrase the thread, it’s very hard to visualize all the layers of a complex system interacting with all the external variables, in one coherent view. Our sense-making abilities can seem profound, but there limits.

Here’s the thread on Twitter, definitely worth a look.

When thinking about complexity in layers of systems, its easy to “max out” due to the number of variables. Our mental models of the moment essentially crash.

As an example, consider a person in a meeting at work, who is likely to experience some of these simultaneous influences, to varying degrees:

    • mental health – happy, angry, curious, distracted
    • subject matter – interesting, germane vs limited relevance
    • biological – nourished, energized, alert vs lethargic, restless
    • physical – comfort, safety, temperature
    • social – promimity to others, nature of relationships (friends, strangers), trust
    • culture – family, community, nation, ethnicity, gender roles, demographics

In any given moment, individuals sense these things. They impact thoughts, focus and concentration.

On a team, we can’t understand the combinations of factors like these in any moment, because, again, we’d “max out” from too much data.  The crossover effects are mind boggling. Instead, whether as observers (facilitators) or actors (the person in the room) we can hold personal health and values constant for a moment, and focus on a group objective. We move forward with shared purpose. This works for a short while. Until it is time for lunch and bio breaks, when individuals get to refocus and recharge, tending to needs of their individual systems.

All models are approximations of what’s really there.  A good model needs to allow enough clarity to make sense of what’s happening, at a level that makese sense for the problem we’re working to solve. We can’t “let all the complexity in” at once, or we drown in information.

When we’re sense-making, we need to let in some simplifying assumptions.

This is especially true for complex adaptive systems, that learn – like humans – where it is essentially to hold most variable and external factors constant, in the context of the moment, so that mental faculties can be focused on a problem. Both individuals and groups can do this for short periods. Some individuals and larger groups may struggle. The duration must be limited, the quintessential ‘time box’.

Ulimately, this is how we achieve results in a team settting, moving beyond idle thoughts and actions to purposeful work. We try to focus our energies like this every day. So often, we struggle.

It is the process of complex adaptive (human) systems functioning in the world, not only surviving, but learning and creating. And all of it, ultimately, is fueled and driven by our individual and collective ability to make sense of what matters in the moment.

In my view, the key is setting and holding context while we make sense of what’s happening. When we have an idea, a few theories, something to work from, only then we can shift that context, and let in more or less data, to further vet our thinking. The lens can zoom in, or back out. It can expose more details of a system, and it’s subsystems, or less. Neither are right or wrong to the sense-maker. Only more or less useful, in the moment.

Context, like the lens, is our principal tool for understanding complexity. To the deep thinker, the student of complexity, it takes some mental gymnastics when learning to shift or hold context on demand. Doing it a group is harder still.

Harder. But not impossible.

I’ve laid out some of these dynamics in my first book.  As we speak, I’m compiling more practices for complexity sense-making in my second, now in progress.  It’s already proving to be a fascinating and exciting journey.  And it starts with looking around.

Join me.

Chris Jones aka @sourcepov Charlotte NC US

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My Medium Leaderboard, June 2017

Medium-Leaderboard

I’ve written 28 major posts on Medium in 2017. No wonder I’m a bit winded.

My Medium stats tell me I have posted well over 200 stories, but I think every comment is a story over there, which is interesting and sometimes useful, but also a little confusing. So let’s go with my number.

I dropped Medium stats into an XLS spreadsheet to do some weighting and sorting, to produce the chart above. I learned a lot about which stats I could trust to tell me about quality content.

Turns out my top posts, and my top 5 in particular, are showing some interesting trends. If I’m writing about writing, I tend to do well, especially if I’m writing about writing on Medium.

The Medium highlights feature is proving a strong bellweather for success.

I’m posting on this over on Medium as well, with more in-depth analysis. Would love your thoughts.

Best,

Chris aka @soucepov, Charlotte, NC

 

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Big Changes at Medium: Early Feedback on Paywalls, Community, Value .. and Content Strategy

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Lots of change happening on medium.com this week. A new membership plan for active readers was released in beta, creating a paywall for the the good stuff and promising more to come.

That left much unanswered. And it sparked a wave of concerns from members. One thing’s clear, Medium could be doing better in the PR department. A good FAQ goes a long way at times like these, and I actually found one among comments to member posts (link below).

A well-kept secret? Go figure.

It’s especially ironic that it’s easier for me to summarize what I’m learning about Medium here on WordPress, where I can create content more fluidly. Medium provides a beautiful content experience. But the simplicity of their toolset becomes limiting when you want to organize, curate, or otherwise assemble information.

Perhaps that’s the good stuff yet to come? Here’s hoping.

We’ve been discussing Medium strategy on Twitter via both #mediachat and #smchat, and I’ll sum up those conversations like this:

Medium is elegant, attractive and intuitive. It could play a huge role when it comes to your content strategy. Where are you developing your public voice, the messaging and stories you want to share with the world?

The net of it:  I think Medium is worth a look, especially once we get through all the changes. Personally, I love it there, and plan to stay with it. And I’m not afraid of change, or a reasonable monthly subscription.

Worst case, we go back to clickbait and plain old internet.

Meantime, while the dust is settling (and it may take awhile), let me provide a few key links for quick access and reference.

Let’s start with the official view:

Next, insight from a few top Medium writers:

And stay tuned for my own two cents:

  • Taking Chances .. my post has been written, I will put the link here.

Stop back in. I’ll add more links if they offer new insight or perspectives. And yes, I’m a founding member, whatever that brings. If you’re on Medium, you can tell who’s “in” by looking for the little green semi-circles on Medium profile photos, like mine. You’ll learn who’s placing their bets. Or, at least, who had a spare $5 spot.

Let me know your thoughts – on here, Twitter or Medium.

One way or the other, I’ll see you online.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

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Over On Medium: Some of My Recent Posts and Stats, with links and more to come

I am spending lots of time on Medium.com of late, and I needed a place to aggregate some findings. Where better to put them than my trusty WordPress blog?

Here’s the #mediachat transcript from our excellent 2.9.17 conversation (courtesy John Lewis at Holosoft), with 70 people posting, and over 900 tweets. Lots of great information exchange, where I gained 30 new Twitter followers (thanks everyone!) and quite a few new friends.

Here are my original content-related framing posts on Medium:

Much more to come there.  And don’t miss our #contentseries at #smchat every 4th WEDS 1pmET. We’ll be updating/focusing this information there.

Some have asked what the Statistics on Medium are like, so I’m sharing some of my own, as of 2.9.17. Learning as I go of course. Hint: post on Wednesdays.

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Props to my friends at WordPress and Medium for letting me publish these stats here, in hopes they might help both me and others learn the platforms. We’re getting smarter at how to develop web-based content development in both places.

Favorites? Not yet. Early returns tell me Medium and WordPress are great for different reasons. That’s a post on the way too, of course, and a #contentseries #smchat later this summer. Stay tuned.

Chris aka @sourcepov

A Series on Twitter Change: What Lies Beyond the New Algorithm? Discuss live THURS 4/7 10pmET at #mediachat

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The new Twitter #algorithm is finally out. It’s turned on by default, and you can turn it off. But should you? What does all this change mean for Twitter and for your personal user experience? What options do we have? Looking ahead, beyond the algorithm, are even more questions.

At its best, Twitter helps us connect ideas and connect people. The hard part is ‘how?’ What could make Twitter a better platform for social engagement?

I’ve been taking these “twitter change” issues on step-by-step:

Now, the latest, which is this post:

Let’s discuss a Go Forward plan for Twitter. It’s on the docket for THURS, 4/7/16, at 10pm ET using hashtag #mediachat. It’s hosted by Aaron Kilby (@kilby76). I’ll be guest that night, and will share some thoughts as we take on these important questions:

  • Q1. Twitter says its new algorithm exposes better, more relevant content; have you seen this in action?
  • Q2. How do you think Twitter determines (or should determine) relevance? Likes? Hashtags? Content search?
  • Q3. Will the algorithm help or hurt Twitter chats, and what indicators should we be monitoring?
  • Q4. What might “native chat support” from Twitter look like?
  • Q5. Beyond the algorithm, what other Twitter changes would you like to see?
  • Q6. What could make Twitter more social?
  • Q7. You’re @Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO. What do you do next?

Lots for us to talk about. Hope to see you there!

Chris Jones aka @sourcepov

 

Life in Glass Houses: Taking Aim at Twitter’s Algorithm. All Stones Aside.

Life in the Glass House: What Twitter Algorithm?

 
I am personally okay with change. Twitter definitely has room for improvement. But there was rumor a few weeks back of a new algorithm that influences what Twitter users will see, and a near state of panic broke out. Would Twitter change the very elements that make the platform so unique and loved by its user base?

The short answer per CEO @Jack was ‘maybe.’  We’ve seen wrong turns on the technology highway before. Could Twitter have been poised for a mistake?

Now of course, the rumor has turned real. But this time around, I think I see some goodness. The “firehose” that Twitter users love to hate can be daunting for newbies, so we need help & tools for content curation and aggregation. Those first 20 tweets someone tries are often their last. I’ve been on Twitter for 7 years. I’m 32k tweets in. Maybe it’s time for us old-timers to provide some feedback. Most in our graduating class remember the fail whale, when the service was down or slow for long, awkward intervals. We survived those frontier days. So recent rants and jeers of an unappreciated customer base ring true for us, though perhaps more as an echo of a story that reminds us what’s been achieved.

We needed to let off some steam, with #RIPtwitter and worse.

How to Fix Twitter. Now, what I propose is providing Twitter some design input. Maybe their algorithm for providing focus based on our past tweets/connections can actually be used in a way that could solve some long-standing problems. And to me, those hashtags are key.

Here are some thoughts:

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Let’s try to facilitate some discussion around change under the hashtag #algorithm .. in hopes we can bring some method to the madness. It’s too soon for #RIPtwitter .. but no doubt it is time for #twitterchange ..

Meantime, here we stand, throwing small rocks (not stones) at the windows of Twitter corporate, in hopes someone is listening.

I’m sure other companies from Facebook to Google and down the list would love to swoop in after a Twitter meltdown, scurrying to divide up the spoils, i,e., our future time and content. But some of us have spent many years working to make Twitter the unique and powerful social platform that it is.

Why not pivot, and make it better? Would love your thoughts, here or online.

Chris in Charlotte, NC aka @sourcepov

Learning in the Moment: Navigation Strategies for the Flow (or Flood?) of Insight

Can learners improve their skills at navigating in the sea of insights?

How can we learn when the flow of information seems overwhelming?

 

CHARLOTTE, NC. April 2014, by 

While common core standards draw the spotlight & ire of educators and parents alike, perhaps we are looking past a more practical and useful question:

“How might we improve our ability to learn in the moment?”

The human brain is a complex place, and there are many ways it processes new information. If we look beyond the “talking head” classroom model, we can already find a raft of alternative learning experiences, ranging from visual learning, team/design models used heavily for project-based scenarios, as well as situational and immersive learning offered by some public systems, GT programs and specialty schools.

What is common in all of these alternative models?

I believe they require .. and build .. competency in real-time processing of information. Quite simply they help us to focus, to interpret, and evaluate new inputs in the moment, using a variety of senses and external stimuli.  People.  Images.  Crossover concepts.  In the sea of information that is cable TV and the internet, that is no small achievement.  In fact,

“Building competency for real-time learning is increasingly critical. Students (of all ages) need to recognize, evaluate and prioritize new insights in the moment, pulling value and meaning from the tidal waves of information flowing past us.”

What does this imply in a practical sense?  I think it’s a significant change of thinking.  It could challenge our pre-conceived notions of how we, as individuals, learn best in 21st century conditions of information overload.

More and more, facts and dates seem less important than the causes of things, their trends, and emerging patterns.  Sure, facts and dates are key inputs.  Together, they can tell a story.  But without the ability to interpret them and apply them in context, we are simplify left with a sea of facts and dates.

In a combined #cdna and #ecosys this MONDAY 4/14 at 8pm ET, let’s explore the notion of “learning in the moment” and we’ll use the metaphor of splashing in water as our metaphor of choice.  Why?  Few would argue that information is crashing constantly around us.  It’s an endless flow, a frothing sea that many perceive to be overwhelming.  It’s time 21st century learners .. which is all of us .. become better at discernment and learning in real-time.

  • Q1. What factors have you seen block learning in real-time?
  • Q2. What limitiations does structured knowledge-based learning (facts, dates) place on us that critical thinking does not?
  • Q3. How should we define critical thinking (in this context?)
  • Q4. What value does a fluid insight have over fully-matured facts, data, or other crystallized knowledge artifacts, and why?
  • Q5. How can we make “learning in the moment” more immediate, accessible, and top of mind?

I hope you will join our real-time conversation using combined hashtags #cdna and #ecosys on MON 4/14 at 8pm ET. Twitter is one of my favorite immersive mediums for learning.  Depending on who you choose to follow, out twitter streams (!?) themselves can provide a steady flow of powerful insights.

You might just say we’re learning all the time.

We try to meet in this same time slot, every second Wednesday at 8pm ET.  We’ll be diving into the deep end (!!).  Bring your favorite flotation device.

See you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov


Additional reading

  • Anderson, Lorin W. et al. “Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching & Assessing: Revisions of Bloom” (2001)
  • Dweck, Carol S. PhD. “Mindset: The New Pscyhology of Success” (2006); provides foundational thinking re: “growth” vs. “fixed” learning mindset, I think a key factor here
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. “Blink” (2005)
  • Herbert, Wray. “On Second Thought” (2010); provides excellent insights on Mental Heuristics, a key aspect of this discussion
  • Jones, Chris. “The DNA of Collaboration” (2012); this post expands on my thinking re: collaborative and social learning; for more on these ideas, see Ch.6 on Metaphor, Ch.8 on Listening, Ch.9 on Mental Heuristics, and Ch.20 on Critical Thinking; see also related posts on the book’s website, http://collaborationdna.com
  • Kahneman, Daniel. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (2011)
  • Lewin, Kurt. “Action Research” article, Journal of Social Issues 2(4) (1946)