In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

Technology: ubiquity changes everything

The fiercest critics of technology still focus on the ephemeral have-and-have-not divide, but that flimsy border is a distraction. The significant threshold of technological development lies at the boundary between commonplace and ubiquity, between the “have-laters” and the “all have.”

When critics asked us champions of the internet what we were going to do about the digital divide and I said “nothing,” I added a challenge: “If you want to worry about something, don’t worry about the folks who are currently offline. They’ll stampede on faster than you think. Instead you should worry about what we are going to do when everyone is online. When the internet has six billion people, and they are all e-mailing at once, when no one is disconnected and always on day and night, when everything is digital and nothing offline, when the internet is ubiquitous. That will produce unintended consequences worth worrying about.”

Kevin KellyWhat Technology Wants

.

Some questions around ubiquity:

What happens when everyone can read?

When everyone is living longer?

When everyone consumes like I do?

When everyone uses google/facebook/UBER/airbnb?

When everyone moves to the city?

If everyone acts this way?**

A caveat

The caveat is that everyone never means everyone.

What happens to those last people who aren’t connected – the ones who desperately want to be, and those who desperately don’t?

What happens to the people left behind?

If everyone is – is it okay if you’re not?

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** Hat-tip: Immanuel Kant ***

*** with special thanks to WordPress’s autocorrect for suggesting “Semi-Annual Kant” as an alternative.

The trampoline: networks, standards and freedom

The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.

Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.

We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.

And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from

Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.

GNU-GPL – a base of code

Richard Stallman famously wrote the GNU GPL, which is a license based on copy-left, not copyright. His position is the freedom to work with computers and work with software and work with software is hindered by copyright.

That in fact these are useful tools, and there are people who want to make useful tools and remix the useful tools of people who came before. Everything you use in the internet – that website that you visited that’s running on Apache, that email protocol, you’re able to do it because so many other entities were able to share these ideas.

So the way copy-left works is that if you use software that has a GPL license to make your software work better, it infects your software, and you also have to use the GPL license.

So if it works right, it will eat the world. So as the core of software in GNU gets bigger and deeper, it becomes more and more irresistible to use it. But as you use it the software you add to it also becomes part of that corpus.

And if enough people contribute to it, what we’ll end up with is an open, inspectable, improvable base of code that gives us a toolset for weaving together the culture we want to be part of.

Seth Godin Akimbo, November 21 2018 – Intellectual Property

An open, inspectable, improvable base of code.

For software.

For tools for making software.

How about for educational outcomes? For assessments?

For a set of tools and resources for running an organisation?

Feedback (positive)

When I was a kid, my cousin had a tape-recorder just like this one – it had a microphone with a yellow sponge. Putting the microphone in a nearby (empty) pot produced this wonderful echoey noise that grew to a delightful – to my ears – whining whistle.

The whine grew slowly at first, but the louder it got, the faster it grew before maxing out, ending when you took mic back out (you could hold it constant by holding the mic just at the mouth of the pot) or when an irritated parent had had enough.

Here’s a diagram of what’s happening:

(wikipedia)

There a lot of ways this happens in the rest of life too, for good and bad:

  • The virtuous circle of a team doing better work, getting better customers, who ask them to do better work, leading to more opportunities…
  • Technological innovation
  • Investment, reinvestment and compound interest
  • Population growth
  • Environmental destruction
  • Cattle stampedes
  • Bad sleep, leading to bad decisions and more work, leading to worse sleep…

Feedback loops come with a caveat:

Positive feedback tends to cause system instability. When the loop gain is positive and above 1, there will typically be exponential growth, increasing oscillationschaotic behavior or other divergences from equilibrium. System parameters will typically accelerate towards extreme values, which may damage or destroy the system, or may end with the system latched into a new stable state.

Wikipedia

Learning for the future: fundamentals

Your stick

Here’s a first try on the importance of fundamentals in learning.

Imagine you are holding a long stick – better yet, a sword or lightsaber – representing your ability to make a difference in the world.

The far end of the stick is the part that you’ll make the greatest impact with. It moves fastest, reaches furthest, hits hardest.

But it’s useless if you don’t know who or what you’re fighting for (and/or against).

And everything the end of the sword does depends on what happens at the handle. You need a good grip, and the part closest to the handle needs to be – I think – the strongest part of the sword (armourers?).

A small change in the person holding the sword, a small movement of the hilt, makes a huge difference to what happens at the pointy end.

The rest of the sword is just an amplifier.

Learning

Here’s a theory of learning:

  1. A person**…
  2. meets something new…
  3. has some kind of interaction with it…
  4. and is changed in some way.

I think these are the bare essentials. You can’t have learning with less, and everything else is detail under one of these headings. 

** Or animal, or…

Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?

The exact cover of the Marvel What If that Dave’s brother kept in a plastic folder


Stan Lee was brilliant and prolific.

We know him for Spiderman, the X-men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther… for being the driving force behind Marvel Comics, now a multi-billion dollar, multi-media juggernaut.

It’s less well known that he started in the comics industry in 1939, aged seventeen, as a general dogsbody, lunch-fetcher and inkwell filler at Timely Comics (which would eventually become Marvel).

Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.

By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.

He was forty-one years old.

The rest is history.

What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?

Some takeaways:

Progressive. Conservative.

We all have change that we’d like to see in the world.

There are things we’d like to abolish. There are things we’d like to see start or grow, and take their rightful place in our culture.

We’re all progressive – maybe even radicals.

And we’re all conservatives too.

There are things we want to protect, changes we want to prevent, or reverse.

It’s a shame that we can’t agree on what these things are. That is to say, it’s a shame that other people don’t agree with what I think those things are.

You know, the right things.

Family and community, taking care of people, responsibility, freedom, goodness.

Things like that.

Today’s status quo

On the other hand, doing something a particular way because that’s what everyone else does – or because it’s how it’s always been done – is a recipe for stagnation and frustration.

And if you’re doing it for a place in today’s status quo, you might be heading for disappointment: tomorrow, the status quo will have moved on, and what you did might not mean what you thought it did.

Here’s Seth Godin:

Are you making these choices simply because of today’s status quo, knowing that tomorrow the status quo won’t even be what it is today?

Seth Godin – Akimbo – The Wedding Industrial Complex