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.

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

Week 1 – Technology and Leadership

This is my first blog post for a course at Creighton University entitled “Technology and Leadership.”  The course is a part of the Interdisciplinary Doctor of Education program, in which I am a student (clearly).  Throughout the semester, I will be posting more thoughts and reflections from the course… to my classmates who are reading along this semester, I look forward to sharing these ideas with you and learning from you as always.


Is the world “flat” or “spiky”?  And what happens when machines become smarter than we are?

In The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Friedman (2007) suggests that the earth (in the social, economic, technological sense) is “flattening” because of improvements to communication and travel technology.  The assertion is that technological advances since 1989 (para 10) have allowed individuals and businesses to dramatically increase productivity, expand markets, and enhance innovation through broader talent networks.  In many ways, Friedman is correct.  Technology has decreased the time it takes to do complicated tasks and increased our abilities to connect with one another.  The internet’s beginnings as a government/university research and collaboration network speaks to the genetics of how we use the network technology.

Taken from the technological determinist perspective (e.g., McLuhan, 1964), Friedman might have us believe that the seemingly ubiquitous nature of technology and the internet is responsible for major shifts in both human consciousness and subsequent economic shifts – on par with the effects written language had on society (e.g., Ong, 1982, Shlain, 1998).  That it pervades our lives in such a way as to change the way we think, what we perceive as real, how we do business, and even how we conceive of human relationships.  If that were truly the case – or when it inevitably becomes the case – I would agree that networked technology will indeed fundamentally alter human communication and consciousness.  We have already seen its effects in countries with advanced communication infrastructures like the US.  In other countries, however, where even literacy hasn’t yet completely transformed society, technology will not thrive in the same ways it has elsewhere.  (I’d be interested to explore the notion of skipping literacy in the shift to technology further…

What Friedman may miss, and what Florida (2005) asserts, is that the technology (no matter how good) is not sufficient for the complete “flattening” of the world. The social construction of technology approach (e.g., Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1987) would suggest that the technology is only as influential as its host environment allows it to be.  That is, technologies (in all forms) emerge and thrive because of economics, culture, and people’s readiness to adopt the innovation.  The printing press, for example, became a pivotal technological innovation in human history because of the climate of late medieval Europe at the time of its invention.  Scientific work was blooming, and intellectual curiosity was creating a demand for information.  Economics and trade were calling for standards of language and measure and was pushing innovation from the financial side.  Exploration and travel meant that more people across Europe, Asia, and Africa were being exposed to written language in the form of mass replications of text via the printing press.  I believe that literacy has indeed fundamentally changed many societies, yet may still be a novelty in some others.  If we plotted it, I think we’d see a trend of technological hotspots across medieval Europe similar to those presented in Florida’s (2005) article.

Does super intelligence eliminate the social constructivist narrative entirely?  In some senses, I think that if the human condition is eliminated from the equation, and AI is given reign over further development and adoption of “technologies” we may see a very different topology.  As Bostrom (2015) discussed in his talk, when machines begin to learn and adapt, the potential exists for them to move beyond even the limitations of the physical (or sociocultural) environments in which they operate.  If self preservation becomes a value of learning machines, it could follow that they would devise ways of guaranteeing technological adoption and subsequent control of societies through a kind of determinism.  If, as Shlain (1998) argues, the invention of writing systems led to the rise of hegemonic masculinity and the subjugation of women, who’s to say that a similarly nefarious plan couldn’t be hatched by the machines to subjugate humanity?  I don’t know if I believe this (or just don’t want to), but I recognize the power of technology as a shaper of and respondent to humanity.  I sincerely hope that we figure out, as Bostrom (2015) suggests, how to manage our continued exploration of technology!

I’ve failed to address how this practically applies to my work… as a teacher, the influence of networked life on students is profound.  Simple examples like language fluency show how the changing communication technology shapes learning. The creation of unrealistic social expectations through MMORPG and other gaming systems impacts how students interact with one another in the classroom. Children who develop cognitively in fixed rules gaming/app environments become college students with a fixed understanding of what’s possible in the world.  I think this last example (anecdotally) creates myriad problems in creative fields such as graphics, web design, and advertising; an area I plan to continue exploring!

Can you tell I love this stuff?!

James

References

Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T.P., and Pinch, T.J.,(eds).  (1987). The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Bostrom, N. (2015, March) What happens when our computers get smarter that we are? [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_bostrom_what_happens_when_our_computers_get_smarter_than_we_are

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

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

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw Hill

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

Shlain, L. (1989). The alphabet versus the goddess: The conflict between word and image.  London: Penguin Books