Organizational Motivation and Behavior Modification : Brief Literature Review

Originally written on 5/1/16

Conceptual Issues

The articles reviewed here discuss factors influencing employee and organizational outcomes. Both journal articles offer compelling theoretical arguments for dissecting organizational motivation and behavior modification while the course textbook adds to the argument for systematically observing organizational behavior. The literature here seems to be working toward clarifying our understanding of motivation and behavior modification, specific to the organizational setting.

Major Contributions

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), in an in-depth meta-analysis, examined behavior modification and the influence of organizational behavior modification processes on task performance. The authors offered a basis for their research by highlighting classic behavioral psychology theorists such as Pavlov, Skinner, and Watson. Further, Stajkovic and Luthans included organizational and systems theory to refine the focus of their work. The researchers arrived at a framework for assessing organizational behavior modification through careful structuring of hypothesis and research questions. Stajkovic and Luthans elucidate clear distinctions between service and manufacturing industry organizational systems. To further clarify the distinction, they highlight the importance of conceptualized and operationalized definitions of service as a performance outcome (p. 1130). In this line of thinking, the authors propose that ambiguous understanding of service complicates behavior modification systems because of often immeasurable performance outcomes as well as inconsistent feedback from leadership. Through comprehensive data analysis, the authors concluded that reinforcement interventions do affect behavioral change in organizational settings. Specifically, nonfinancial and social rewards interventions had the strongest effect in manufacturing organizations while financial and material reinforcement interventions produced the strongest behavioral change in service organizations (p. 1140). Youssef and Luthans (2007) add to the understanding of social reinforcement interventions in their research on positive organizational behavior (or POB) (p. 774).

There seems to be a trend in the business and organizational literature toward the development of emotional leadership. Proponents of “postheroic” leadership (e.g. Crevani, Lindgren, and Packendorff, 2007), distributed power, and humanbecoming models (Parse and Sims, 2002) argue that the most effective models of leadership are those in which the “followers” are the true sources of power, energy, and momentum. Within this trend, Youssef and Luthans (2007) set out to investigate organizational behavior and motivation in the context of such emotional motivators as hope, optimism and resilience (p. 774). In an effort to re-emphasize its importance, the authors defined the nature of “positive organizational behavior” (p. 774) and compared it with similar research in “positive affectivity (PA), positive reinforcement, procedural justice, job satisfaction and commitment, prosocial and organizational citizenship behaviors, core self-evaluations, and many others” (p. 774-775). To add to the knowledge of POB, the authors investigated “positive psychological capacities and work-related outcomes” (p. 793). The study found that, in 2 separate studies, feelings of hope had a statistical correlation to job satisfaction, work happiness and organizational commitment Hope had significant correlations in one of those studies. Optimism and resilience were both found to influence three out of the four factors in one study. Job satisfaction and work happiness were positively correlated with all three positive psychological capacities (p 793).

Methodological Issues

Both articles evaluated this week begin with the presentation of a set of theoretical assumptions that guide their research. For Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), the research was based in the theories of behavioral psychology, behavior modification, and organizational behavior. Youssef and Luthans (2007) rooted their research in behavioral psychology with an emphasis on positive psychology.

Research Methodology

The meta-analysis of Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) included published (and some unpublished) research from 1975 through 1995. After carefully evaluating each of 125 relevant articles against a strict criteria, the authors selected 19 articles for final inclusion in the research. (p. 1125). The authors then performed statistical analysis of the information to calculate effect sizes, normalize estimates of effect sizes, and evaluate “homogeneity of effect sizes” (p. 1126).

Youssef and Luthans (2007), in contrast, worked with primary data from a convenience sample of “1,032 employees from a wide range of positions in 135 midwestern organizations” (p. 784). To this, the authors compared data from a second study of 323 employees in varying roles at a broad range of organizations in the midwest. (p. 784). Both studies included respondents across a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, ethnic makeups, and positions within their organizations. Youssef and Luthans indicated that these variables were controlled for in the analysis of data. Data were collected from responses to a Likert-type survey “that included published standardized measures of hope, optimism, resilience, job satisfaction, work happiness, organizational commitment, and self-reported performance” (p. 785). The authors then collected information regarding the employees’ feelings of job satisfaction using methods derived from assessment tools developed by Oldham and Hackman (1980).

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) developed moderators to clarify data analysis. They split organizational types between manufacturing and service-oriented businesses (p. 1136). Next, they created moderators for types of “reinforcement interventions” (p. 1136), or the ways in which employee performance was rewarded or punished. Categories of reinforcement interventions were financial (e.g., monetary bonus), nonfinancial (e.g., performance feedback), social (e.g., recognition), and 4 “intervention packages,” (p. 1136) each consisting of a permutated combinations of the three types.

To organize their data, Youssef and Luthans (2007), created moderators for the type of positive psychological resource capacities (hope, optimism, and resilience), along with moderators for work-related outcomes (performance, job satisfaction, work happiness, and organizational commitment) (p. 786).

Variables

Article Independent Variables Mediators Moderators Dependent Variables
Stajkovic & Luthans (1997) • Behavior modification technique • Type of organization


• Type of intervention

• Task performance
Youssef & Luthans (2007) • Psychological resource capacities: hope, optimism, and resilience • gender

• age

• ethnic grouping

• education

• tenure/position in organization

• organizational size

• industry/sector

• social desirability

• job performance

• job satisfaction

• work happiness

• organizational commitment
• other desirable outcomes

 


Strengths and Limitations

Both articles surveyed here demonstrate large sample sizes; the meta-analysis was done on 125 articles, while the primary research of Youssef and Luthans was conducted on 2 groups of more than 1200 respondents combined. Each also conducted a very thorough statistical analytical procedure. Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) carefully culled source material prior to their meta analysis. Using Hedges and Olkin’s meta-analytic method, the researchers used three sets of statistical analyses to adequately explain moderators and the nature of moderation (p. 1135). Youssef and Luthans (2007), though conducting research within a convenience sample, carefully evaluated and controlled for variables such as age, gender, education, and organizational tenure.

Both studies were forced to confront highly ambiguous and subjective variables. In the research on positive organizational behavior, the authors needed to account for socially/culturally relative concepts of hope, optimism, resilience as well as organizationally-specific notions of performance outcome, happiness, satisfaction, and commitment. Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) seemed to struggle, in particular, with the confounding variables of performance outcomes as a function of organizational design (i.e., manufacturing vs service organizations). Additionally, the design of both studies did not account for outside factors that could contribute to performance outcomes and/or behavior modification. Youssef and Luthans (2007) admitted that their study did not allow for reliable causal conclusions and that competing influences could be predictors of employee behaviors (p. 793). Stajkovic and Luthans (1997), in a similar way, addressed the cognitive biases and human judgemental processes that inherently color the results of research (p. 1141). The authors of both studies expressed that their narrow theoretical focus could also be a limitation of research.

Implications for Research

As is often the case in empirical research, the authors of the studies reviewed here recommend that additional research be conducted with different samples and methodologies. The researchers emphasize the need for clarification of study moderators, especially in meta-analytical research (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1997, p. 1142). A specific recommendation from Youssef and Luthans (2007) was that researchers address positive organizational behavior in intercultural organizations or organizations outside of the United States to augment the generalizations made about hope, optimism, and resilience (p. 793).

Implications for Practice

Practically speaking, Youssef and Luthans’ (2007) research supported the beneficial function of training programs designed to develop employee positive psychological capacities. The researchers suggested that by engaging in short training interventions, organizations could work toward more positive organizational behavior. “Stepped” or incremental training programs were recommended to help build an “optimistic explanatory style” (p. 794) in which employees anticipate negative events and work toward positive outcomes rather than simply avoiding negative ones. Organizations could benefit in many ways from the development and implementation of positive behavioral training interventions.

Stajkovic and Luthans (1997) provided similar, clearly articulated recommendations for leaders. Specific to their research, the authors recommended that leaders in manufacturing sectors utilize nonfinancial interventions or combined intervention packages to modify employee behavior. Given the results of their studies, the authors concluded that financial interventions, while positively correlated with employee performance outcomes, were not sufficiently more impactful than nonfinancial interventions, and therefore were not worth the additional resource allocation (p. 1142-1143). In service organizations, the researchers found that financial interventions were somewhat more impactful than nonfinancial interventions. However, the researchers also found that social interventions combined with nonfinancial interventions were slightly more effective than financial interventions alone (p. 1143). Overall, Stajkovic and Luthans recommend that leaders carefully evaluate their approach to behavior modification, including a focus on specific behaviors, resources available for interventions, and strategically structured performance outcome measurements.

 

References

Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2007) Shared leadership: A post-heroic perspective on leadership as a collective construction. International Journal of Leadership Studies 3(1) 40-67.

Pearce, C.L. and Sims H.P. (2002). Vertical versus shared leadership as predictors of the effectiveness of change management teams: An examination of aversive, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering leader behaviors. Group Dynamics, 6(2) 172–197.

Stajkovic, A.D., & Luthans, F. (1997). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Organizational Behavior Modification on Task Performance, 1975-95. The Academy of Management Journal, 40(5), 1122-1149.

Youssef, C.M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33, 774-800.

 

Language Use in the Development and Maintenance of Cultural Identity

The following is an old piece that I recently dug out as a part of my evolving dissertation research and planning.  I’ve always been fascinated by the role of language in social interactions; in fact, my Master’s thesis sprung out of similar thinking.  My dissertation will most likely include aspects of this same train of thought.  I’ve posted the original here as a reflection on my writing from 4 years ago and as a way of stimulating new creative thoughts from old material.


Originally written 11/19/13 for an Master’s-level Intercultural Communication course at Gonzaga University.

Abstract

This paper presents a review of literature discussing the impacts of language on the development and maintenance of cultural identity. The literature introduces an operational definition of cultural identity and outlines ways in which cultural groups define themselves, their relationships with other groups, and the behavioral norms expected from group members. The research provides support for the importance of cultural identity in intercultural communication, with specific emphasis on the communication of the social identity itself. This review incorporates literature that discusses specific linguistic and semantic influences on cultural identity. Additionally, this paper highlights research about language structure, accent, and etymology. Given the dynamic nature of both language and cultural identity, this paper introduces research that covers several aspects of cultural identity including communication between cultural groups, communication within cultural groups, and personal communication. Understanding the role of language in the definition and maintenance of cultural identity is fundamental to creating effective communication strategies on a global, local and interpersonal level.

Introduction

“Language enables us to attend to the diverse meanings given to identities, and the ways in which participants draw upon, ignore or reconstruct their identities.”
(Jones, 2001)

Cultural Identity is a broad concept that encompasses a wide variety of ways in which individuals frame their understanding of themselves and the world around them. Cultural identity is often socially constructed through the repetition of accepted activities and behaviors within a certain cultural group, and individuals use these normative behaviors to draw nearer to – or in some cases alienate themselves from – their cultural groups. Cultural clusters have developed diverse and complex mores that serve as a means of strengthening in-group loyalty, and subsequently, the conservation of values within the cultural group. Like individuals, societal groups also use cultural identity markers as a way to distinguish themselves from, and assert superiority over other societal groups. These cultural identity markers include behavioral traits such as gender roles, assumptions of decency/politeness, and most important to this discussion, language.

As the quote above suggests, language is a fundamental tool in the development and maintenance of cultural identity. Through its fluid structural nature, language is unique in its ability to adapt to rapidly changing social situations while providing cultural groups with a reasonably consistent foundation for identity development. This paper will review current research on the use of language as a mechanism for developing, maintaining and perpetuating cultural identity. The literature includes a discussion of language use among different cultural groups as well as how linguistic constructs impact in-group loyalty, personal relationships and individual sense of self through the cultural identity lens. As today’s world becomes increasingly globalized, a critical understanding of language and cultural identity is important for intercultural communicators in every aspect of business, politics, commerce, and interpersonal spheres.

Defining Cultural Identity

In Difference Matters, Brenda Allen (2004) begins the discussion by citing sociologists Howard and Alamilla to assert that “identity” answers the question “Who am I?” and also “Who am I in relation to others?” (p. 11). In contrast to the essentialist or biological determinist point of view, Allen defines identity as a social construct rather than an unchangeable set of traits stemming from one’s biological makeup (e.g. sex). While factors such as biology and geography often play a role in the cultural identity, most theorists today reject a strict determinist viewpoint. McConnell-Ginet (2011) points out that “identities are not put together simply by linking independent identifications as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, occupation and local origins. Rather, different dimensions of identity inflect one another” (p. 11). For the purposes of this literature review, cultural (and social) identity can be defined by “the ways in which individuals and collectives are distinguished in their social relations with other individuals and collectives” (Allen, 2004. p. 11).

Influences of Language on Cultural Identity

Defining our Cultural Groups

One critical element of cultural identity is a clear understanding of one’s cultural groupings. As Allen (2004) points out in her discussion of social identity theory (SIT), “members of social identity groups constantly compare their group with others” (p. 14). Further, the author states that people “tend to react more to perceived group characteristics than to the other person as an individual” (p. 14). This suggests that definitions of large cultural groupings are fundamental to the development of identity and can have significant impacts on in-group and out-group relationships. One of the most basic ways humans define these groups is by assigning them names.

In their work on “ethnonyms (from Greek roots for ‘national group and ‘name’),” Mullen, Calogero and Leader (2007) outline several examples of how cultural groups use naming conventions to distinguish themselves from others, and subsequently how individuals perceive the strength of their cultural group. As this paper will discuss later, perceived strength of cultural group is important to group loyalty and willingness to participate in furtherance of collective identity. Mullen et al (2007) outline six distinguishing characteristics of different ethnonyms to support the assertion that “ways in which members of an in-group think about their in-group…may be systematically linked to the ways in which the in-group interacts with out-groups. The authors present three types of ethnonyms, including toponyms (names based on land or shared geography), glottonyms (language), anthroponyms (concepts of humanness), and three modifiers including aggressiveness of representation, valence of the in-group, and complexity of the representation. The authors found that intergroup hostility “was greater among cultures characterized by less complex ethnonyms,” (Mullen et al. 2007) suggesting that simplified representations of a group debases the group’s value and diminishes the rich collection of cultural identifiers that accompany philosophical ideals such as concepts of humanness (as found in anthroponyms) or national patriotism (as found in toponyms). Ethnonyms present a powerful linguistic driver of cultural identity in large cultural groups, and similar concepts can be applied to defining sub-groups based on social constructs of “class” (e.g. wealth, education, social standing).

Cultural identity is a dynamic and pliable social concept that requires linguistic constructs specifically adapted to cultural environments. Lupyan and Dale (2010) suggest that “just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used” (p. 1). In this Language Niche Hypothesis, patterns in morphology (and subsequently lexical strategy and grammar) change based on the population using the language. For example, languages spoken by large diverse populations tend to be morphologically simpler and rely more on the predictability (and instructability) of formalized grammar than on the repetition of sound in more complex language. Lupyan and Dale posit that this shift is due in large part to the number of adult learners of language in large populations. It may be deduced then, that languages of “dominant” cultures (e.g. English) have evolved to support the acquisition of new population members, and perhaps, facilitate the adoption of the dominant cultural identities.

Defining Our Membership in Groups

When individuals are members of a cultural group (either through birth, or as an assimilated adult), the use of language is one way to solidify one’s position within the group. Using the psychology of language theory, Katharine W. Jones (2001) presents an argument for the construction of national identity through accent negotiation and other self-presentation strategies. The author states, “Conventional definitions of national identity such as place of birth, citizenship, passports, etc., are all Important [sic], but the active achievement of national Identity through social practices like language helps individuals to believe that they belong to the nation.” Jones’ research was designed to assess levels of anxiety among native (UK) English speakers living in the United States, and provide insight on how these citizens negotiated their language use to further assimilate or further distinguish themselves from their fellow English speakers. This work reveals two unique attributes of cultural identity maintenance through language. The first is the fear that “an invisible audience of English people” (Jones, 2001.) – perhaps the learned cultural norms as internally defined – is judging the individual and may be questioning the individual’s true English-ness. Second, individuals demonstrated conscious use of “distancing mechanisms” (Jones, 2001.) to maintain their Englishness in spite of the Americanisms that had become a part of their language use. Clearly, group membership is an important aspect of cultural identity, and this research demonstrates the anxiety faced by individuals to maintain good standing in their preferred cultural groups.

Membership in cultural groups is not only beneficial to the individual. When group members experience positive habituation (acceptance) with the group, they tend to be more loyal, and subsequently, contribute in more and more positive ways to group-sustaining activities. Van Vugt and Claire (2004) sought to highlight choice-making behavior in individuals when presented with an option to leave a social group for a seemingly more attractive option. The research demonstrates that individuals most often make choices about group membership based on their perception of the group. In addition, the authors found that “high identifiers” are less concerned with the investment of their own social capital in the group and often disregard general social constructs such as abandonment norms. This research and analysis suggests that cultural groups are most successful when individuals have high group loyalty. Group loyalty is a stability mechanism that acts as a buffer against external cultural pressure and insulates individual group members within a positive, meaningful environment. In such an environment, then, individuals may experience less cultural anxiety, fewer self-presentation conflicts, and may be able to more easily craft a comprehensive sense of self.

Defining Ourselves

The literature suggests that the way in which individuals define themselves is inextricably linked to the ways in which we define the groups to which we belong. As Allen (2004) asserts, “socially constructed categories of identity influence how others interact with us (and vice versa) and how we perceive ourselves” (p 12). This is an important distinction, since individual perception of self can have significant impact on behavior, feelings of group loyalty, cultural superiority etc. Definitions of self arise from “socialization” or “the total set of experiences in which children become clear about norms and expectations” (Holtzman, L. 2000).

Just as with large group use of ethnonyms to distinguish themselves from other groups, individuals use labeling and self presentation strategies to associate themselves with (or distinguish themselves from) certain social groups. In Gender, Sexuality and Meaning: Linguistic Practice and Politics, Sally McConnell-Ginet (2011) offers an in-depth assessment of how language constructs are fundamental to “the transmission and reinforcement of cultural belief systems” (p. 6). In the introduction to her study of high school students’ use of language to construct self, McConnell-Ginet (2011) states, “Language is a primary tool people use in constituting themselves as ‘kinds’ of people in terms of which attributes, activities and participation in social practice can be regulated” (p. 130). Consistent with the social constructivist philosophy, the author continues with a discussion of data collected from the observation of a “community of practice” at a high school outside Detroit. Because the high school environment is rife with dynamic social categories and evolving social constructions, “labeling” becomes a reflective process that students use to categorize their environments and make judgments. McConnell-Ginet asserts that “labels arise in relation to real people in real situations… through such activities, labels are endowed with meaning” (p. 137). As stated earlier, members of a highly stable (or perceived as stable) environment are often more liberated in their ability to explore their own definitions of self. For McConnell-Ginet, “labeling” one’s self with terms such as “jock” or “burnout” represents the individual attempt to fit in to pre-defined social categories while simultaneously defining what they are not. The high school ‘clique’ example is particularly illustrative of cultural identity and language. As gender and class roles become more widely understood, “labeling” and linguistic distancing methods may gain importance in the study of intercultural communication.

Conclusion

As the literature illustrates, cultural identity is created through a wide range of activities. Language is a tool well suited to handling the nuances of cultural identity, and may, in fact gain much of its structure from how it is used. Humans use language to categorize the world around them, communicating these categories to others as a way to associate themselves to or distance themselves from others. This paper has demonstrated the importance of language in defining the groups to which we belong as well as in defining how we view ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, the literature seems to indicate that it is in the definition of ourselves with relation to our groups that we find the richest, most dynamic aspects of cultural identity. After all, groups are made up of people, and people are almost always a part of a group. In this way, the process of cultural identity creation is dependent on the successful navigation of one’s self in one’s group. The literature suggests that if one has a mastery (or understanding) of the power of language, this navigation becomes significantly easier, and may ultimately increase feelings of group loyalty, longevity of the group, and personal satisfaction as a member of a group.

 

References

Allen, B. (2004). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Longrove, IL: Waveland Press.

Collier, M.J. & Thomas, M. (1998). Cultural identity:  An interpretive perspective. In Y.Y. Kim & W.B. Gudykunst (Eds.), Theories in intercultural communication (International and Intercultural Communication Annual, Volume 12, pp. 99-120). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retrieved from http://jpkc.ecnu.edu.cn/kwh/Course%20Reading%204.htm

Holtzman, L. (2000). Media messages: What film, television, and popular music teach us about race, class, gender and sexual orientation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe

Jones, K. W. (2001). ‘I’ve Called ’em Tom-ah-toes All My Life and I’m Not Going to Change!’: Maintaining Linguistic Control Over English Identity in the U.S. Social Forces79(3), 1061-1094.

Lupyan, G., & Dale, R. (2010). Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure. Plos ONE5(1), 1-10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008559

McConnell-Ginet, S. (2011). Gender, Sexuality, and Meaning : Linguistic Practice and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mullen, B., Calogero, R. M., & Leader, T. I. (2007). A social psychological study of ethnonyms: Cognitive representation of the in-group and intergroup hostility. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology92(4), 612-630. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.4.612

Van Vugt, M., & Hart, C. M. (2004). Social Identity as Social Glue: The Origins of Group Loyalty. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology86(4), 585-598. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.86.4.585

Grassroots Leadership and the Arts for Social Change

April, 2017 marks the launch of the volume, Grassroots Leadership and the Arts for Social Change.  This is project that I have had the pleasure to contribute to, and I’m excited to see the book in its physical form!  There are so many great chapters here, and I look forward to reading the work of my fellow contributors.

My Creighton cohort-mate, Tricia Garwood and I worked together for several months to develop our chapter:

Benevolent Subversion: Graffiti, Street Art, and the Emergence of the Anonymous Leader.

The chapter develops the idea of benevolent subversion as a leadership practice deployed by artists, specifically graffiti artists (or independent public artists). Exploring the role of the graffiti artist in social movements, the authors suggest that subversive leadership is often necessary and beneficial for social change. This chapter examines the popular street artist, Banksy, along with other artist-leader examples. This chapter presents a history of the art form alongside an evaluation of the cultural context(s) in which it gained prominence. Using these cases, the authors suggest that subversive leadership is, in fact, a viable method for inspiring systemic change. As community leaders, artists  specifically graffiti artists  create iconoclastic art that is designed to subvert dominant ideologies. In many cases, the street artist creates this type of subversive work to bring awareness to social/cultural/ systemic injustices, and attempts to rally community members around finding a solution. Thus, the subversion is benevolent. The chapter proposes an alternative view of leadership through a postheroic lense, providing examples of artist-leaders driving social change by amplifying the voices of marginalized populations. Through careful analysis of the leader-artists’ artistic motivation and leadership action, this work suggests a framework for understanding constructive subversive leadership tactics. The authors weave together several unique concepts to establish benevolent subversion as a legitimate model of leadership. The chapter explores the role of artist as trickster, using the mythical model to define how selflessness, liminality, and benevolence contribute to leadership.

There will be a launch party in April in NYC – if you’re in the area, you’re invited to stop by and hear from authors, poets, and musicians.  It should be a great event. Here’s the invitation / Flyer

See below for more about the volume.

I am (we are) honored to have been a part of this work, and I thank Susie and Jon for their guidance and professionalism throughout the process.  They’ve compiled a fantastic work!  Thanks for including us in the edition!


Grassroots Leadership and the Arts for Social Change

by Susan J. Erenrich and Jon F. Wergin, Editors (Emerald Group Publishing, April 2017)

Description: Throughout history artists have led grassroots movements of protest, resistance, and liberation. They created dangerously, sometimes becoming martyrs for the cause. Their efforts kindled a fire, aroused the imagination and rallied the troops culminating in real transformational change. Their art served as a form of dissent during times of war, social upheaval, and political unrest. Less dramatically perhaps, artists have also participated in demonstrations, benefit concerts, and have become philanthropists in support of their favorite causes. These artists have been overlooked or given too little attention in the literature on leadership, even though the consequences of their courageous crusades, quite often, resulted in censorship, “blacklisting,” imprisonment, and worse. This volume explores the intersection of grassroots leadership and the arts for social change by accentuating the many victories artists have won for humanity. History has shown that these imaginative movers and shakers are a force with which to be reckoned with. Through this volume, we hope readers will vicariously experience the work of these brave figures, reflect on their commitments and achievements, and continue to dream a better world full of possibility.  View the Complete Table of Contents.

The Task of the New Leader

I will admit that I have been burned out on technology recently, having come through some rough tech experiences over the past year in my business.  I have been frustrated by things like server outages, software compatibility, hardware failures, and even business associates with terrible email and social media etiquette!  At the same time, I have always been fascinated by the intersection of technology and humanity, and this course (ILD 831: Technology and Leadership) offered a way to get out from under some of the practical stresses and look at tech in a broader way.  A recurring theme for me throughout this course has been the question of how technology has shaped (and is shaped by) humanity over the last 500 years, and of course, more recently, how the digital and network revolutions have exponentially accelerated many of these changes.

Early in the semester, we tackled the idea that network technology has “flattened” the world.  Friedman (2007) and Florida (2005) attacked the problem along the general battle lines of technodeterminism and social constructivism.  Friedman suggested that technology eliminates knowledge/social gaps while Florida asserted that it actually increases those gaps because of the contextual structures in which the technology is or is not being used (spikes of activity).  I believe that both approaches have merit and that the interplay between them is where the task of leadership is most daunting.  That is, leaders in the 21st century must be able to understand how technology shapes language, epistemology, cognition, and social relationships, while at the same time, building social/organizational systems in which technology’s positive impact will be maximized.

Tools of the Trade

Looking at individual pieces of technology, our class delved into discussions of how digital tech works, how it is applicable in today’s organizations, and what future innovations may look like.  My classmates and I reviewed the features and functions of many digital tools to unearth what works, what doesn’t, and in what context.  This exercise demonstrated that not all apps are created equal.  Not all social media outlets have Facebook’s sticking power, and many utilities aren’t worth the MBs they take up on your drive.  Leaders may find themselves causing more harm than good if they are simply trying to keep up with technology adoption.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced a poorly planned technology rollout and grimaced as we watched frustrated users rebel against the new time tracking or project management system that middle management put in place.  For me, this underscored the point that not all tech is good tech, and just because we can doesn’t mean we should (…force technology on our schools or organizations).  What we should be doing, though, is moving toward an implementation of technology that enables “us” to share knowledge, generate new ideas, and move forward under the power of the collective intelligence.

Knowing and Learning

Weinberger (2011) and Shirky (2008) both emphasize that technology has indeed reshaped human epistemology.  Aside from the technical functioning of the “net,” these authors carefully demonstrate the new shape of knowledge, the new heuristics we’re developing to “filter forward” and “find stopping points.”  Weinberger (2011), in particular, carefully outlines how the net is limitless, lumpy, sticky, and democratic.  In true media ecology tradition, Weinberger outlines all of the ways that networked knowledge and “social epistemology” (Turner, 2012) change because of the technological framework that is now common to so many…in developed countries, at least.  Husband’s (n.d.) concept of Wirearchy furthers our understanding of networked knowledge, specifically the ways in which social norms are transmitted.  This is of particular importance for leaders and organizational members, since our concepts of power, deference, and authority are inextricably bound up with our social norms.  Thus, we find that within networked societies, the very notion of power and authority has changed, along with the ways in which we value the knowledge of the so-called “experts.”  We are now collectively more expert than any one expert, no matter how credentialed.  The ramifications for understanding power dynamics in a digital-technology-based world are long-reaching and provide fertile ground for future scholarship.

The Haves (internet) and Haves Not

While “the net” is generally thought to be completely ubiquitous, estimates suggest that less than half of the world’s population has access to the internet (Internet Live Stats, 2016).  The split between access and non-access is much like Ong’s (1982) distinctions between oral and literate cultures.  Though, because of the nature of technology, specifically connected, mobile technology, many of Ong’s (oral v. literate) psychodynamic characteristics collapse and new iterations emerge (Jarc, 2014).  Within these discussions, I proposed that “internet users” at a fundamental cognitive level are more similar than different.  Within the 40% of people on the planet that have access to the internet, however, there are immense gaps in usage habits, connection speeds, preferred devices, and content consumed; these differences could potentially lead to huge gaps in collective intelligence, and must be considered in the move to artificial intelligence, collaborative working, and disruptive business models.

Because of the uncertainty in the future of digital technology, there are many ethical considerations to consider.  To my point above, access to technology, and the rights that users have regarding connectivity are critical.  Reviewing the ethical considerations of technology allowed me to think about thinking about the morals of technology.  That is, as new questions and problems arise, so to must new ways of thinking about what’s “right.”  I dove into the world of net-neutrality and encountered compelling arguments on both sides of the discussion.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the challenge of developing critical meta-level analysis of the tools, the users, and the content found in the connected world.

Looking Ahead

Finally, we must reflect on (and implement) technology and leadership in aggregate.  Leaders need to develop technical skills and digital literacy in order to lead by example.  We need to keep a finger on the pulse of digital innovation while filtering forward (Weinberger, 2011) useful innovations and passing on problematic ones.  All this needs careful situational/contextual analysis, and as such, I believe that leaders must continue to develop emotional and social intelligence.  A leader’s EQ will be on display as they teach the machines how to learn and work alongside human teams.  Leaders can no longer rely on title and hierarchy for power; authority must come from the ability to coordinate nodes within the networked workforce.  No one is quite certain where technology will take us in 10, 20, or 30 years, but good, thoughtful leadership will help make sure that society grows more prosperous as a result.  There have been/will be challenges and pitfalls, and it’s up to us digital natives to help future generations learn from our missteps.

This is the task of the new leader.

References:

Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. Atlantic Monthly. 48-51.

Friedman, T. (2007). The world is flat, 3.0. London: Picador.

Internet Live Stats (2016). Internet users [webpage]. Retrieved from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

Husband, J. (n.d.) What is wierarchy? Wirearchy [website]. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Jarc, J. (2014) Mobiliteracy: Applying Ong’s psychodynamic characteristics to users of mobile communication technology. Communication Research Trends, 33 (1), p. 21-26.

Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word.  New York: Methuen

Shirky, C. (2008).  Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations.  New York: Penguin Press

Turner, S. (2012). Double heuristics and collective knowledge: the case of expertise. Studies in Emergent Order, 5, 64-85

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Leading in the Future: Identifying and Adapting to Technology’s Rapid Evolution

According to some estimates, more than 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the last 5 years. Of course, this is a difficult to define measure that calls to question the nature of recorded knowledge. However, the point remains that in just a few short years, humanity (and machines) have started to generate unfathomable amounts of data about everything from our health to our shipping preferences, travel habits, schedules, and our love life! Throughout Too Big to Know, Weinberger (2011) stresses the abundance of knowledge available in a networked world. I believe that the exponential trajectory of technology and data growth will continue for many years to come. Our generations will exist entirely in technological and social flux; change will become a fundamental aspect of our epistemology.

As leaders, teachers, and innovators, it is important that we understand how media and technology evolve indistinguishable from the social/cultural incubators in which they develop. This semester, I’m teaching one of my favorite classes, “Mass Media Communications” in which a constant recurring theme is the media economic cycle (Vivian, 2008). We’ve used this throughout the semester as a framework for investigating how various media works, and why it impacts society in the ways that it does. Vivian suggests that there are 6 broad steps that each medium goes through (if it’s successful): invention, entrepreneurship, industry, maturation, and the defense of infrastructures. I believe that we can apply this framing to the future of digital technology so that we can be aware of all the ways in which it can/will impact our organizations or students.

Invention and Entrepreneurship

For example, invention and entrepreneurship continue to disrupt the ways in which we do business. As the “tool assessment” assignment demonstrated, there are hundreds, if not thousands of new tools and technologies emerging every day. Many of these will not make it past the entrepreneurship stage for a variety of reasons. We must develop a refined sense of digital literacy so that we can effectively filter forward (Weinberger, 2011) the valuable tools from the junk. Effectively handling the barrage of innovation will (has already) become a duty of the responsible contemporary leader.

Growth of Industry

When a technology reaches significant enough adoption, you can see the supportive cocoon of industry grow up around it.

Image from:
Revolutionary People from the Renaissance

After Gutenberg invented the printing press, the demand for ink, paper, metals, and skilled pressmen increased (and in the case of the press operator, came into existence!). As the industrial revolution mechanized printing, those demands continued to grow into a complex network of professionals, materials, production methods, and consumption habits. As leaders create and implement strategy for organizations, thinking should include analyzing the opportunities present in the emerging industry. What are places in which you can expand market share or increase the competence of your team? Of course, technology – specifically networked systems – are filled with links (and few “stopping points”) which are permission free and always available to the public (Weinberger, 2011). In this way, leaders can become facilitators of knowledge, helping to build the right networks, fostering optimal cultures and posing good questions.

Maturation

I do not believe that the digital age has matured yet. I feel like we are digital teenagers, racing down the “information superhighway.” Sure, we follow most of the rules, but still make some rash, irresponsible decisions. Weinberger’s (2011) suggests that the net is (and may forever be) unresolved (p. 174). Organizations are adopting technology for the sake of keeping up, or creating a Frankenstein’s monster of new systems in old infrastructures. Commercial banking, for the most part, still operates on foundational systems from the 60s and 70s while at the same time, trying to disrupt business models with innovations like blockchain. This video from Corning shows off some of the ways in which technology will eventually become more naturalized. The ways that we use technology today still feel foreign. UX is getting better, but many systems still have a learning curve, parlance, and set of knowledge needed to use them. I think a hallmark of media maturation is its total normalization (and ubiquity) to a point where the technology disappears. Leaders can continue facilitating systems design and digital literacy in order to make using technology less of a novelty and more of an extension of ourselves.

Defending Infrastructures

Finally, leaders must be keenly aware of the ways in which the “next big thing” will disrupt our operations. As noted above, by staying aware of changes in surrounding/supporting industries, leaders can try to predict where innovation will appear. With strategy and some luck, we might be able to put ourselves and our organizations in a strong position to defend the infrastructures that support us. At the same time, I believe that a good leader also knows when to let go.

 

References:

Vivian, J. (2011). The media of mass communication. (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Ethical Questions in Net Neutrality

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Generally considered the “inventor” of the World Wide Web.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was hard at work crafting a series of tools that would help revolutionize modern communication.  While working at CERN in Switzerland, Berners-Lee developed HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) and HTML (hypertext markup language) that enabled him to publish a set of basic “web pages” to the public from a server in his office.

These two protocols became the backbone of today’s World Wide Web, and are the foundation for many network-based tools such as Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and Google.  Development like these, according to supporters of net neutrality, were possible because of the open, democratic, and decentralized sources of power in the emerging internet.  In a blog post directed to the members of the European Parliament in 2015, TimBL (as he’s often called) wrote, “The Web evolved into a powerful and ubiquitous platform because I was able to build it on an open network that treated all packets of information equally. This principle of net neutrality has kept the Internet a free and open space since its inception” (Berners-Lee, 2015).

Opponents of net neutrality would argue that in fact, more innovation, more new technology, and stronger infrastructure investment would occur if only the pesky government would leave major telecom corporations alone and let the power of the “free market” rule the direction of the net.  Proponents and detractors both offer compelling arguments for a democratic, fair, and open internet, but ethical issues begin to emerge when the conversation shifts to policy design and implementation.

What Exactly is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that “the internet” – comprising many protocols such as http, FTP, email (IMAP/POP/SMTP) – should be equally accessible for all users. Further, all publishers or networked services should be equally available to all customers.  The neutrality of the network has been put to the test recently as major telecom providers and ISPs (internet service providers) have begun to develop plans to “throttle” network bandwidth (at its own whim), or provide preferred access to pay-to-play sites and services.  When these large conglomerates provide preferential treatment to certain sites, others struggle.  When bandwidth is throttled by the ISPs, not all customers experience the same internet.  In this arrangement, it won’t be long until we’re careening down the slippery slope of open market greed and corruption.

Feds to the Rescue.

In 2015, facing huge public outcry, the Obama administration’s FCC (Federal Communication Commission) set up a series of regulations designed to preserve network neutrality and prevent large corporations from exercising profit-driven decisions about network performance and content.  CNN Money poetically reported that “The FCC just granted itself the power to defeat a raging, fire-breathing monster: the monopolistic network owners who can kill Internet freedom by blocking websites — or by creating an Internet fast lane for the privileged, few, rich tech companies that can pay for it” (Pagilery, 2015).

Feds on the Attack.

As the current administration settles into Pennsylvania Avenue, net neutrality protections may suffer a quick and painful death at the hands of new FCC Chair, Ajit Pai.  Pai, according to tech website Cnet, is the “man who will dismantle net neutrality ‘with a smile’” (Reardon, 2017).  Chairman Pai has been a long opponent of government oversight of the internet, suggesting that any such oversight would unnecessarily choke corporate operations, limit infrastructure investments (e.g., fiber & broadband), and ultimately harm consumers by way of higher prices and limited choice.  Of course, defenders of net neutrality (the current author included) recognize that these telecom behemoths already have the monopolistic clout to out-invest any competitor and very quickly seize self-interested control of the delicate ecosystem of an open network.  When a handful of companies controls the distribution channels AND the content, we all lose.

The Moral Authority?

According to scholar Norbert Wiener, we can begin assessing the ethics of technology by identifying and clarifying how the technology (or related actions) affect society (Bynum, 2001).  In the net neutrality discussion, this can be difficult because there are few (if any) demonstrable correlations on either side of the argument.  That is, we can’t necessarily prove that a truly open network has more or less ethical utility than one with tiers, ISP gatekeepers, or “zero-rated” services.  We also cannot demonstrate that all corporations that may exert control in a non-regulated network are inherently evil and looking to destroy civilization in search of profits.  However, examples already exist that telecoms are policing traffic, discriminating against certain protocols, and favoring preferential content providers.

Once we’ve clarified the underlying issue (here, I believe: who’s in control, the government or the telecoms? or, is government intervention ethical?) Wiener’s model suggests that we attempt to apply existing ethical frameworks to the problem.  A teleological framework seems appropriate, as both sides are ultimately promoting an open network for the benefit of innovation, user experience, and healthy economy. More specifically, a utilitarian approach that suggests the greatest good for the greatest number would demand a network in which no site/service, user, or packet of data is favored over another; this type of network, I believe, requires some intervention and cannot be left to trickle-down technology (Balkan, 2013).

The open and global nature of the internet means that every node in the network operates at a unique level of utility.  A casual Facebook user might certainly appreciate faster connectivity (via ISP sanctioned “fast lanes”), but the small business owner who can’t afford to buy in to the ISPs “specialized services” might lose valuable customers that experience slow load times on his website.  Thus, we begin a discussion of relative utility and the value that each user adds to or receives from equal participation in the net.  This is murky ethical territory. Within the context of the social contract framework, the casual (utilitarian) Facebook user might be willing give up a few megabytes per second of connectivity (individual liberty) for the sake of a network regulation that ensures equal opportunity for everyone on the network.

The nature of the open, borderless, limitless network (Weinberger, 2011) also means that ethical decision-making must adopt a global, if not universalist approach (Bynam 2001).  In contrast to the consequentialist approach mentioned above, perhaps the nature of the net calls for a deontological framework that does not attempt to account for the many possible outcomes, but rather, judges the morality of the action on our duty to preserve equality and fairness on the internet.  A majority of engaged internet citizens seem to believe that equal access is “right.”  Only 1% of more than 800,000 comments made to the FCC online were found to be “clearly against” Net Neutrality.

Judgement?

The net neutrality discussion presents a wide range of ethical concerns.  Judging the decision on potential outcomes is philosophically impossible (and irresponsible).  Applying moral relativism to decisions of network regulation is difficult because of the global nature of the network itself.  In my opinion, I believe that a deontological framework is most helpful for tackling this discussion.  I believe that equal access (not just access) to all of the internet is a right, and that defending that right is morally right.  Corporations and ISPs have rights too, of course, but when they are given free reign to control, filter, and eliminate data from the network, they begin to infringe upon perhaps the more basic right of equal internet access.  In this case, I think the access right is more fundamental than the profit right. In that way, minimal government regulation provides a great good for a huge number of internet users.

 —

References

Balkan, A. (2013). Trickle down technology and why it doesn’t work [web log]. Retrieved from: https://ar.al/notes/trickle-down-technology/

Berners-Lee, T. (2015). Net neutrality in Europe: A statement from Sir Tim Berners-Lee. World Wide Web Foundation [website]. Retrieved from http://webfoundation.org/2015/10/net-neutrality-in-europe-a-statement-from-sir-tim-berners-lee/

Bynam, T. (2001). Computer and information ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

Pagliery, J. (2015, February 26). FCC adopts historic Internet rules.  CNN Tech. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/26/technology/fcc-rules-net-neutrality/

Reardon, M. (2017, February 14). Meet the man who’ll dismantle net neutrality ‘with a smile’. CNet. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/fcc-chairman-ajit-pai-dismantle-net-neutrality-with-a-smile/

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Technology is Leveling the Organizational Playing Field (but not always).

The age of the networked economy is upon us, and with it, comes a slew of issues for leaders to address in their organizations. Digital, network-enabled technology has been sufficiently positioned in the center of many human interactions, from personal relationships to complex economic structures. This near ubiquity (at least in the modernized countries of the world) has led to new ways of interacting with co-workers, sharing information, and understanding power.

A fundamental advantage of a connected workforce is productivity and collaboration. Weinberger (2011), among scores of others, asserts that networks can generate larger quantities of quality innovation than any single (so called) expert. Information can be brought to bear from all corners of humanity and analyzed by individuals with limitless perspectives and life experiences. In my opinion, however, this broad assertion fails to account for the a broad socioeconomic heterogeneity of internet users.

Growth of global internet users since 1993: http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

Internet Live Stats (2016) estimates that only 40% of the world’s population has access to the internet, up from less than 1% in 1995. The same site shows that in contrast, nearly 89% of those living in the US has access to the internet (in some form). My point here is that there is still a significant part of the globe that is not yet connected (or as connected) as we might believe. And those of us that are connected – despite contentious Facebook arguments in the last 6 months – are living lives that are more similar to one another than different. I think this is important in the discussion of globalization and the connected global workforce. Like all forms of communication, digital communication is subject to all sorts of cultural norms, biases, and media literacy. I think it’s important to understand just how different our experience of connectivity are from a majority of the rest of the world’s.

That said, it is very evident that even within the more “mature” user base of, say, the United States, there are still huge gaps in levels of experience, proficiency, and digital fluency. In a multi-generational digital workforce, it may be critical for leaders (titular or otherwise) to assist team members with limited technology experience or lower levels of proficiency. In this way, I think the leader continues to shoulder the burdens of facilitating learning beyond the content of the work. Teaching/implementing technology, I think, presents an important opportunity for developing organizational culture. That is, how are employees taught to use technology in their roles, how are norms and expectations communicated, and how do co-workers deal with each other in light of digital acculturation (Jarc, 2015).

From http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/11/19/searching-for-work-in-the-digital-era/

In this same sense, digital workers may use the same tools very differently. The information presented by Smith (2015) illustrates a few of the ways in which different users manipulate their digital experiences. For example, Smith outlines the differences between smartphone users who execute job applications on their devices and those who are using smartphones for “analog” tasks like calling (I mean really, who even does that anymore?!). Importantly, users across the spectrum expect different things from themselves and their technology. This can cause problems in networked teams, when individuals want or need to communicate in dramatically different ways. So, even if we are connected, we are connected in different ways.

Finally, I think the broadening of the networked workforce raises interesting questions about the nature of power and how individual nodes within the network make sense of relationships with others. Husband’s (n.d.) definition of wirearchy addresses part of this question. For Husband, power in the network is “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology” (para. 8). I think that this is a fine definition of a self-governing structure, but I wonder if this definition can play all the way through the end of the human transaction. As a colleague points out in her blog this week, sometimes teams need someone who can overtly assert power, make a decision, and drive teams out of counterproductive ruts. In terms of the networked workforce, with its heavy reliance on tech, does the best, most proficient tech user assume this role? If I can, say, type faster, or produce reports more quickly or research more efficiently, will others begin to look to me as the leader of the networked team? For me, this discussion of perceived power is an incredibly important one, and one that I will certainly continue thinking about!

 

References:

Husband, J. (n.d.) What is wierarchy? Wirearchy [website]. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Internet Live Stats (2016). Internet users [webpage]. Retrieved from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

Jarc, J. (2015). Parlance, perception and power: An inquiry into non-standard language use in digital media (master’s thesis). Retrieved from Proquest: http://search.proquest.com/docview/1684659688

Smith, A. (2015, November 19). Searching for work in the digital era. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/11/19/searching-for-work-in-the-digital-era/

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Bilateral Asymmetric Consilience and Networked Leadership

^(Million-dollar academic jargon right there, isn’t it?)

Much of the labor that is done in today’s digital economy is intellectual.  Economists point to intellectual capital, psychologists promote emotional intelligence, and management gurus flaunt terms like knowledge management and organizational learning (though, apparently not as much as they used to).  Certainly, work is still done and “stuff” is still produced, but technology, networked thinking, and machine learning are perpetually encroaching on the realm of work and labor.  This shift to acknowledging  “intellect as the key productive [economic] force” (Brennan, 2009) brings with it myriad questions about gaining knowledge, making sense of information, and gaining expert or referential power (Johnson, 2005) among workgroups and social networks.

Weinberger (2011) – in a nod to Marshall McLuhan via his profile of Jay Rosen’s long form/web form blog – proposed that the network itself is responsible for the emergence of new knowledge and new ways of thinking.  Just as literacy re-oriented humanity’s working memory and cognitive capacity, so too has the proliferation of the “ecology of temptation” (p. 117).  The net is limitless.  It has no edges.  Lines between experts and laypeople have been almost completely erased as content becomes more and more democratized.  We are forever bombarded by links to one more resource and it becomes difficult to determine where to stop (and sufficiently trust the information we’ve discovered).  This presents a challenge for workers, teams, and leaders, as we struggle to “filter forward” (p. 11) the information we need to do our jobs.

Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky developed many ideas about the ways in which we take mental shortcuts in order to make sense of the information that overwhelms us on a regular basis.  The gaps in what we know about a given situation or problem are filled in by our brains by way of “heuristics and biases” (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974).  For example, we use “representativeness” (p. 1124) to make a judgement based on how well we believe something fits an existing category of things that we already know about.  We use what we (think we) know to make cognitive leaps, but these leaps aren’t always correct.  Uncertainty is amplified in the networked ecosystem, and, as we have in physical space, we must learn to deal with that missing information and figure out ways to find “stopping points” (Weinberger, 2011) and trusted information sources.

The new digital heuristic model is complicated by the fact that so much of our knowledge generation is social.  If, as media ecologists like Weinberger and Rosen suggest, knowledge is moving from paper and our heads to “the cloud,” our ability to make sense of complex information now relies heavily on what others know and what we know about others.  In an effort to shed some philosophical light on the topic, philosopher Steven Turner (2012) explores the notion of “double heuristics” and “social epistemology.” Turner suggests that “that individuals, each with their own heuristics, each with cognitive biases and limitations, are aggregated by a decision procedure, like voting, and this second order procedure produces its own heuristic, with its own cognitive biases and limitations” (p. 1). In this way, learning and sensemaking are inherently social; epistemology that’s ideally situated for the networked digital ecosystem.

Turner (2012) uses Michael Polanyi’s example of a group assembling a puzzle to demonstrate the collective heuristic. The optimal method of solving the puzzle (i.e., gaining new knowledge) would be a system in which “each helper will act on his own initiative, by responding to the latest achievements of the others, and the completion of their joint task will be greatly accelerated” (Polanyi, 1962).  This requires social interaction, but Turner (2012) argued that the true nature of knowledge here still comes form the individual.  There’s one piece that fits and only fits those adjacent to it, and that is the individuals’ contribution.  In contrast, he proposed the notion of “bilateral asymmetric consilience” (p. 11) as a means of generating knowledge that can only spring forth from the interaction of two knowing entities.  The example he uses is that of a doctor and patient.  Both have knowledge (bilateral) of the presenting symptoms, but in different ways (asymmetry).  Only when patient and doctor collaborate on identifying the disease does the answer emerge (consilience).  The doctor knows the frameworks in which such symptoms might exist (“expertise”), but the patient knows which are present for him.  Together, their interaction has produced and verified knowledge about the patient that could not have previously existed independently.

In his theory of Wirearchy, Husband (n.d.) stressed the importance of social interactions (networked) as a means of developing social norms and specifically power.  He asserted that “command-and-control” (para 4) hierarchy is losing ground to the more effective methods of “champion-and-channel” (para 5) leadership.  This echoes Turner’s (2012) discussion of planned science and the idea of top-down, individually biased leadership decision-making.  The command-and-control model leads to information bottlenecks that are not needed in organizations with evolved social-epistemology systems.  I believe that in such environments, a leader can assist in the development and distribution of heuristic learning.  We can develop systems in which “bilateral asymmetric consilience” might occur; generating knowledge (or hopefully wisdom) that no leader, no matter how specialized, could have ever predicted or planned for.  Experience and expertise will continue to hold value, I believe, but will shift to become tools in the facilitation of collective learning.

 

References:

Brennan, T (2009). Intellectual labor. South Atlantic Quarterly, 108(2), 395-415.

Husband, J. (n.d.) What is wierarchy? Wirearchy [website].  Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Johnson, C. E. (2005). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow. (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Polanyi, M. (1962). The republic of science.  Minerva, 38(1), 54–73

Turner, S. (2012). Double heuristics and collective knowledge: the case of expertise. Studies in Emergent Order, 5, 64-85

Tversky, A., and Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books

Knowledge Management and Collective Learning in the Age of Google

This week’s readings were fascinating to me.  I’m hoping this area will potentially be a part of my dissertation research.  I’ve been curious about communicating leadership via technology, as well as facilitating (teaching) creativity through technology.  In my role as an educator in several creative disciplines, I’ve wrestled with how leaders can foster communities of practice and open up dialogues in on-the-ground classrooms and online courses.  Specific to the knowledge management discussion, I think there needs to be a balance between archived, best practice, explicit knowledge (Dixon, 2009) and postmodern, socially generated heuristics developed in the cloud (Weinberger, 2011).  I would tend to agree with Jarche’s (2016) recent assertion that, “While people learn from formal instruction, they also learn in the workflow and outside work” (para. 8).

In my classrooms and online classes, I believe it’s still important to “deposit” – as Freire (1968) might describe it-  explicit knowledge into the minds of the learners.  In graphic design, there is a specific tool to use when attempting to accomplish a specific task.  In web development, HTML syntax is extremely important… a missing semicolon can ruin an entire web page, not to mention frustrate students and instructors alike!  In this way, I think that knowledge management serves an important function.  Organizing and disseminating (Dixon, 2009) the proper tools and processes is a requirement that must be satisfied before we can even begin to think about creativity or adaptive challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009).  Once a student or employee has access to a baseline amount of information, then the leader can begin to shape and use sociotechnical systems (Burke, 2014) to optimize social learning (Jarche, 2010).

In terms of confronting those adaptive challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009), I do believe that collective experiential knowledge (Dixon, 2009b) is powerful (and necessary).  In my web development level III course, for example, we work a lot on troubleshooting obscure problems that don’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer.  There’s no way I can teach the solution to every potential technical problem.  In this case, I need to manage the process of identifying aspects of the challenge, thinking critically about paths to resolution, and, most important to the new KM discussion, how to seek out and apply the expertise of the multitudes.

Just yesterday, I got an error on a client’s website: “php.mailer.Mzh.517.UNOFFICIAL FOUND.” The first place we go is online to the “expert exchanges.” Sure enough we landed among the discussion forums and GitHub pages posted by experts, and wove our way through different resources to find the right places to look to fix the error.  Through this network of professionals, and my own decade of experience with the system we were using, we were able to locate the right file, and fix the problem.  This is an example of socially generated knowledge that is then archived in the online format.  I’m curious to think about how this changes as storage and access methods evolve.

To Davenport’s (2015) point, I would imagine that few companies in the digital media space would ever attempt to deploy a traditional KM system in light of the available social knowledge already available online.  I know some organizations do maintain code repositories and other such silos of information that can be readily accessed.  I think a major difference in the new knowledge management world is context.  Most of Davenport’s critiques seem to boil down to a forced flow or a context-agnostic adoption of a system for the sake of having a system.  I appreciate Jarche’s (2010) comment that “Stock [archived information] on the internet is everywhere, and the challenge is to make sense of it through flows and conversation [context]” (para. 23).  Thus, I think the role of the leader is to help maintain a basic level of explicit knowledge through systems and institutional memory, as well as allowing for the creation of knowledge networks and organizational learning.  Not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but doable with the right tools and human resources!

References:
Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and practice (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Davenport, T.H. (2015). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal: CIO Report.
Dixon, N. (2009a, May 2).  Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part one. Conversation Matters [blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html
Dixon, N. (2009b, July 30).  Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part three. Conversation Matters [blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html
Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of the oppressed.  Continuum Publishing Company: New York, NY.
Heifetz, R.A., Grashow, A., Linsky, M., (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Jarche, H. (2010). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche: Adapting to a world in perpetual beta [blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/
Jarche, H. (2016). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Harold Jarche: Adapting to a world in perpetual beta [blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Week 2 – Tool Analysis

This week, our task is to experiment with and analyze one of Jane Hart’s “Top Tools for Learning 2016.”  Considering the tool from both a technical perspective, as well as from a leadership and organizational perspective, this post will discuss both the pros and cons of integrating Clarify into one’s digital toolbox.

What is Clarify?

Clarify is a screenshot generation and management tool.  The application is designed to streamline the process of taking screenshots of your computer and compiling them into a format that can be useful for training, client presentations, customer service, or any number of other applications.

The app consists of the screenshot engine, which allows you to simply drag your cursor over a section of your screen to capture the content into an image format.

Once you have the capture, Clarify lets you add formatted text, annotations, highlighting graphics, and links. (This document was created through Clarify).

 

Thanks for downloading Clarify for Mac

I went to clarify-it.com to download the app.  Super simple, attractive site, that was easy to navigate and quick to download.

(Interesting feature sidenote… when I screenshot the browser window, Clarify pulled the <TITLE> tag from the website’s HTML and automatically added it to the document.  This is super handy!)

The application needs to be added to your applications folder, and the installer provides a simple shortcut for doing so by a drag and drop. (left)

The editing application has a very comfortable and easy to use interface, offering a consistent user experience that most computer users are used to.  Right away, you’ll recognize formatting options like bold, italics, paragraph justification, and font formatting.  A few of the icons were unfamiliar to me, but the app offers tooltips when you hover your mouse over an icon (very helpful!)

 

Leadership and Organizational Applications

A tool like Clarify can be extremely helpful in an organizational setting.  The application allows you to create documents that can help you communicate policy and/or procedure.  Implementing new practices in an organization can be very difficult for many reasons.  Providing clear, accurate, and attractive documentation can help leaders and change managers improve adoption rates and reduce employee (or customer) frustrations!  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, a picture (screenshot) may help organizations save time and money in the development of their training, policy, or technical support documentation.

As a real world example:

A few years ago, my team was consulting a retail outlet that sold locally-made products from vendors across the state.  They sold items mostly on consignment, though some were done wholesale.  We recognized that the retail floor staff was bogged down with managing vendors rather than selling product and interfacing with customers.  With 100+ vendors looking for payments, sales numbers, and inventory counts, things were getting out of control.

We devised a web-based vendor portal that would allow individual vendors to log in and see all of their data in (nearly) real time.  The portal  connected to the store’s point-of-sale terminal system and updated the data approximately every 6 hours or so.  It would alert vendors about low inventory, and provided numerous customizable reports such as monthly sales, most popular products, trend maps, and so forth.

I developed an internal training document for all retail staff that included step-by-step instructions for many different functions.  Given the wide range of technical expertise on the staff, the document had to be clear, concise, and VISUAL!  Thus, it contained screenshots of nearly every section of the portal, with annotations, highlights, and special instructions or tips.  Clarify would have been an ideal tool to use!

Similarly, I created a user guide that was distributed to all vendors along with their portal credentials.  In this case, it was very important for us to brand the organization.  May vendors sold products at many other locations around the state.  We wanted to make sure that we were distancing ourselves from the competitors, and did so by creating a positive brand association with this cutting edge tool (that no other retailer offered).  For this initiative, Clarify would not have been sufficient, as it does not have the depth of customization and control that I needed.

Do I really need/want this tool?

I’m always hesitant to download more third-party apps because I’ve found that more often than not, they do not provide a significantly better solution than either built in OS tools or tools I’m already using.  For me personally, apps like Clarify take time to learn, time to build a habit around, and seem unnecessarily disruptive to my process.  I believe this is a biased opinion because of my professional experience and knowledge using titles like Photoshop and other image manipulation/presentation/training tools.

In order to create, for example, a simple tutorial for a client on editing their website, I would do the following.

  • Take screenshots using Mac’s build in capture utility (Cmd+Shift+4 from ANYWHERE within Mac OS).
  • Drag and drop the screenshot from the finder into either a document or directly into an email
    •  If I need to add annotations, graphics, or anything like that, I would use Photoshop or Illustrator (for multiple page docs)
    • If it’s a simple demonstration of what something looks like or which button to press, I would drop it in an email and add formatting, bullets, numbered lists, etc.
  • In general, I would prefer to use screenshots embedded in an email rather than creating entirely separate documents, but I can see the benefit of the latter, especially in illustrating long or complex processes.

I am a firm believer in reducing digital bloat by way of fewer apps, generating fewer unnecessary documents, and taking fewer steps in my processes.  In the example above, I would rather not complicate things for myself or my client by creating another document that we both have to save.  I can accomplish almost anything I can do in Word (for example) in my email client.  Now, that information is stored in the cloud, accessible via multiple email clients, and perhaps more collaborative.  We don’t conflate the issue with software compatibility questions, firewall attachment restrictions, filesize limitations, or untrustworthy formatting.

However, as I mention above, email may not be suitable for creating long or complex documents from your screenshots.  If this is the case, and the client/customer need warrants the creation of a new document, I would want to have a lot of control and flexibility over customizing the document.

Challenges in Using the Software

  • Clarify documents are saved with a *.clarify file extension, making them unusable from any other application.
  • You can export a Clarify file to a doc/x format, but that basically makes a Word doc that you could have just created to start with.  The doc/x export provides 3 out of the box formatting options.  When using those, the document includes some “styling” to headers, colors, and fonts.  (Example 1 below)
  • The PDF export option does the same, but offers 4 formatting options.  (Example 2).  For me, this is moderately useful.  Clarify allows for some customization through the onboard PDF template generator. You can add a logo and specify fonts, colors, page sizes, margins, etc.
  • There is also an HTML output option (Example 4), which could be useful. When exported as HTML, you can select from 7 “themes.”  The resulting HTML document is created, but so are three additional folders that contain dependent files such as Javascripts, UI images, and Cascading Style Sheets.  (As I noted above, I don’t like this type of bloat.)
    • You can apparently build your own custom HTML templates!  This process is terribly complicated. In my opinion, if you can follow these steps, you could probably build your own HTML pages from scratch, again using existing tools.
    • Yes, in a large organization, an IT specialist or instructional designer could setup these templates for less tech-savvy content creators for publishing on an intranet, for example.
    • To make the most use of an HTML output, you’d want to post it to a web server, which you cannot do natively from within the app.  Thus, you have to have a separate FTP client and available web server.
  • Preferences: Clarify offers some customizations for things like user interface and export options.
  • Exporting options are tied to some popular services like Dropbox and WordPress and Evernote
    • Sharing to the above services requires several steps of setup and authorization.
    • Publishing to Evernote seems redundant.
    • Sharing the .clarify file on Dropbox means that your collaborators need the Clarify app as well.
    • WordPress sharing options are limited and seem to be complicated by many technical issues associated with publishing to the web (image uploads, permissions, updating, WordPress cache and image management).

Conclusions

In conclusion, I will not be adopting this tool into my regular workflow.  For some individuals and organizations, Clarify may provide a quick and easy way to share annotated screenshots.  However, I would caution leaders against trying to force the adoption of this system.  As illustrated above, the features of this program are well covered by other existing programs and utilities.  The benefits found in Clarify’s convenient packaging, in my opinion, are not sufficient for the effort that might be required to spread adoption.

Author, Didier Bonnet, in a 2015 article at Harvard Business Review, was quoted as stating that poor communication about the (comparative) benefits of a new tool is key to ensuring adoption in organizations: “Employees need to understand why [the new technology] is an improvement from what they had before” (Knight, 2015). In the case of Clarify, I’m not entirely convinced that the solution is better than what I had before. I would be hard pressed to champion the adoption of this tool in my organization.  It’s also not the type of tool that would necessitate organization-wide adoption.

As a piece of software, it’s a fine application.  Easy to use, fast, and very niche in purpose.  It does what it sets out to do.  That problem Clarify solves, however, may not need to be tackled with yet another app on your hard drive.

 

References:

Knight, R. (2015, March 19). Convincing skeptical employees to adopt new technology.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/convincing-skeptical-employees-to-adopt-new-technology