Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cue. Signals & Sensemaking

How are the parts of a whole to understand what is going on in the whole? Even to any small degree. What happens if the parts go blind? The whole stumbles.

In the aftermath of The Next Edge Festival I experienced a "going blind". It happened a few weeks after, and was quite clear when it happened. I ceased to know in my body what made sense to do, and found myself having to think about what might make sense. But the thoughts were circular. I had no DATA to go on.

I am a technical person, so the metaphor of data may not mean as much to other people. What I am referring to is when we are in the context of a large group, and we are all in the room together, we have access to an incredible amount of data, or information, being presented merely by the presence of the many individuals. Is the group energy waning, or is it on the rise? Our eyes, ears, and body can process that information so quickly. As soon as we went back to being online, we have nothing to *sense* any more. Only highly codified digital signals in the form of facebook posts or slack messages. We have to infer so much, or try.

During a session at the Festival called the 'Human Network Seed Protocol', instigated by Flemming Funch, the group began jamming on the topic of a digital (or not) protocol for transmitting "what is alive for you" to one another. One person mentioned that the traditional method of creating a database or directory of people / skills / resources by the group may no longer work as effectively, because everything is moving so quickly, that any persons profile that they make about themselves may go out of date as soon as they make it. So how will that directory really serve the group? Some kind of method that could could keep more up to date might be more useful.

What is alive for you?

What a beautiful question. What is alive for me, I feel the excitement in my body about it, is this idea (ok, I hesitate to use this word "idea" anymore because it leaves it in the abstract, disembodied realm, but for now I'll use it) OF what is *alive*. I am sensing that in order to move beyond our individual selves, or take collective action to another level, we have to relieve ourselves to a certain degree of our dead ideas, concepts, and abstractions, and be willing to step into an unknown together, on the quest for those things that are alive, a beating heart that can align us. I experienced this powerfully at the festival. The time felt right, and I felt the spirit of this strongly in everyone. I am not surprised, or too discouraged, that the experience is waning, post festival. What I *am* interested in, is how to revive it, and move us forward into our potential, the potential that we all felt so viscerally there.

I want to distinguish between two things which I am about to talk about, because it feels important that they remain separate. One is a spirit, which will live inside someone, a personal mindset and habits, and is beneficial just through its existence. The other, which arrives through some bodystorming (see, not "brain"storming) I was doing today, is a small sketch of some technical ideas about a potentially very simple method for collectives to stay in touch with what is alive in the group.


In any team effort, for flow to be created, and the team to perform, I think of two primary requirements. Signalling, and sensing. People need to be actively signalling to their team information about their past, their present state, and even their future (like a soccer player motioning to a teammate where he is headed). Ideally, the players are highly attuned to what information will actually be in service to the team, but that will be a learning process for us all. On the other side of things is the sensing. Eyes and ears, mind and heart, all open, working hard to distinguish signal from noise. Redirecting attention constantly in the direction of what truly matters. Using our unique life experience to generate our own take on what *does* truly matter. Then, beautifully, at the collective level, the groups sense of what does truly matter will be comprised of the multiplicity of the teams perspectives.

With or without technology to aid us, we can practice this. Rather than thinking of providing the group "feedback" ("the group is too focused on quantification"), or even "information" ("I should offer up to the group that I'm going on offline for 5 days"), I think it can be useful for all us to think of offering these much smaller, bite-size, cues, regularly. Cues are in the spirit of service. They are an acknowledgement that I do not "know it all", but that I do know some things, and I am willing to offer what I know. Musicians create engaging live performances by using cues to signal one another. Jazz improvisation is a well cited, hyper-realtime act of signalling and sensing. The more we cue one another, the more we co-create new value, that simply didn't exist before. Consider this my invitation, to myself, and to all of us, to step into the spirit of emergence and start taking small, daily actions to bring collective wisdom, and collective action to life, through this personal practice. I also encourage the flip side, can we start to notice when people are providing these cues? These signals in service? I have much more to say on this, but will leave it at that for now.

I want to briefly describe my first thoughts about a system by which a person in a collective can get the big picture on what is alive in the collective. My first question was how to avoid presenting "big data" in the form of graphs or charts, the thought being that that will just take anything that was alive and kill it. I ended up thinking about the old phrase of being part of "a larger creature", which first came up at Emerging Leader Labs. There is also the saying about being a bunch of blind people, feeling different parts of the elephant. So I thought about presenting information about aliveness in the form a simulated elephant, which takes on certain behaviours, or acquires different accessories, depending on what's going on in the collective. I will explain what this concept of the elephant sitting and wearing a "thinking cap", as opposed to working to push down a tree can actually communicate to a viewer in a moment. What I have just described is in the relation to the challenge of 'data presentation for consumption'.
So what data are we actually working with, that we are using the simulated elephant to reflect? How do we break down this question of 'what is alive for you', that each person is perhaps answering in some form or other, in a way that we will be able to store it, and have a computer make any sense out of it. I thought of the 'head, heart, hands' model. The system would periodically check in with people of the collective, with a very simple image based survey-ish thing, asking the question 'what is alive for you?' and having you answer by tapping one or more of the three.

Stop right there. With a large group of people answering this simple question periodically, there is a whole lot more potential information for a single individual within the collective to have access to than they would otherwise. What can I infer? Lots of aliveness in thinking recently? There is a lot being considered. Heart, there is a lot being felt? Hands, there is a lot being done? The possibilities for emergence are so much vaster when we each have all of this context? But there is a bit further we can go. I am going to focus on the possibility that you answer that your heart is more alive than the others, but my little example can translate over. So as a user, if that's all the time I had for providing cues to the collective, that's perfectly fine, and I exit the system. But I also have the option to provide a bit more. What feelings are alive in you?
Connectedness - Isolation - Sadness - Joy - Fear - Custom
Maybe if a lot of people are feeling connectedness, we can show the elephant in a herd of elephants. There are a lot of possibilities. The point is, I think it could be a fun, and very generative way, of creating collective sync, that can help us each sense-make what is being felt, thought about, or done, in the collective, and use that information to ground our actions in a more visceral sense of 'this makes sense'.

What did you feel in your body when you read this? I am interested to know. Who wants to play the infinite game with me?

Some ideas for technology:
- a slack integration, and use their chat messaging system, and recently added emoticons
- node.js library 'agenda' for scheduling the prompts
- voxel, a minecraft like game engine / simulator for the elephant sim?

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