Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our Blind Spots

The other day, a colleague sent an article by Elaine Duke titled, "Why Acquisition Programs Fail."   The article represents the careful thoughts and heartfelt feelings of an experienced professional.  The ideas seemed, however, to be stuck within the paradigm of what exists today and the author's expectation of what it is possible to change.

Many times in my career I have encountered a problem and explored it to its root causes.  When I start to discuss my solution concepts, I often hear, "'Yes, that's true, but it's above my pay grade to fix.'  Meaning that the constraints of the organizational hierarchy, personalities, policies, and performance assessments are preventing a real solution from emerging.

This is why I believe it is very important to have eyes that look from the outside in.  These are eyes that can understand the context of the problem, can look at the systems which cause or influence the situation, and conceptualize a future that may be very different from the comfortable present.  This view of a situation can be formalized within an organization, such as with a quality control process or red team reviews, or it can come troublesome individuals.

Formal processes can be effective, especially when the success of the venture is utmost in participant's minds.  However, sometimes the process itself becomes more important than the outcome.  In these cases, the people protecting the independent process are in a position to subvert success in the name of uniformity.  It is ironic that a process that is designed to escape the commonplace can fail when it too becomes commonplace.

The individual approach can be very effective in an environment in which independent insights are welcomed and appreciated.  This is not usually the case in large organizations.  The prestige of decision makers often does not allow for critical thinking and loose cannons.  Policy and custom can prevent the independent inputs from reaching the right ears and so they are categorized as gripe rather than value.

One of the most intriguing lessons I ever had in school was of the Johari Window, a perception model taken from psychology.  The image to the right is taken from HubPages where you can review the model in more detail.  The four panes of the window represent what is known by us and what is known about us by others.  On the left, are things that are known to us.  On the right side are things that are unknown to us, but may be known by others.  The Blind Spot illustrates the the situation where outside eyes see things you are not able to.

Since it is a psychological fact that all of us have these blind spots, one would think that organizations would incorporate processes for addressing the blind spot into their culture at all levels.  These processes should be a high priority especially for dealing with causes that are 'above our pay grade.'  However, all too often they are not included in an organization's policies and procedures, and this situation places the organization at risk.

At Aileron yesterday, I learned that their Course for [company] Presidents emphasizes the importance of a board of advisers.  In fact, they help their client/students to assemble a board as part of their mentoring experience.  They recognize the criticality of addressing the blind spot.

If we continue to apply the Johari model to organizations, I might characterize the Unknown Spot as the Innovation Quadrant.  This is the area where unknowns exist.  It calls to mind images of dark, perilous forests that can be traversed only with great effort and sacrifice.  My daydream ends with the discovery of untold beauty and bounty.  Of course there is risk to exploring this terrain.  One could become lost and trapped.  One could discover things that are not so pleasant.  One could perish.  In my opinion, the physical, emotional and spiritual treks into the unknowns have led to the greatest rewards.  What else would you expect from a loose cannon?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pressure Cookers, Voices, and Violence

The buzz since the Tuscon shootings has surrounded the violent rhetoric that preceded last November's election.  While I fall on the side of believing that words hold enormous power (contrast "Nothing to fear but fear itself." with "War on Terror."), I wonder if there may be a more fundamental cause.

Doctor Anonymous' Blog notes the similarity between Columbine, Virginia Tech and the Tuscon shootings.  Perhaps you could add the Oklahoma City bombings.  Whoopi Goldberg speaking on "The View" before the last election also connected the World Trade Center attacks, 'People doing what other people told them to do.'

What seems fundamental to me is people's drive to have control over their lives.  They want a say in how they are made to live.  In the United States, we have the first amendment which guarantees free speech, but that doesn't necessarily ensure that citizen voices contribute to the debate in which solutions are crafted.

Our instruments of liberty have become devices of control.  We begin in school rewarding the compliant students and discouraging those that are "wild."  Perhaps these children are branded with the ADD or ADHD label and put on medication.  In contrast, Oliver and Rachelle DeMille describe the education of Thomas Jefferson.  The model acknowledges the developmental limitations of children.  When humans are very young, they can't sit still.  They are wired to be active.  At this stage, children are mentored in an environment that keeps this fact in mind.  As the children mature and are able to sit still, the education becomes increasingly intense and challenging commensurate with their biological self-control.  The lessons challenge students to think critically and creatively.  This is a process by which citizens are nurtured, leaders groomed.

In contrast, the education system today for the most part places children in detention centers and teaches them to follow instructions.  This turns out to be a good model for chugging out corporate employees, who will, as my friend Jack Ring points out, sit in adult detention centers for much of their careers.  Robert Kiyosaki, in his book Rich Dad Poor Dad describes an event where his teacher warns Kiyosaki and his friend that if they don't do better, they won't get a job.  They thought this was great; they didn't want jobs.  They wanted to be entrepreneurs.  In an information age, small businesses are more nimble and response in creating value than the large businesses which are a relic of the industrial revolution.  Inertia and the concept of being "too big to fail" sustains the big business model.

The decreasing ratio of representatives to citizens as the population grows also contributes to this feeling of helplessness.  People's voices are getting softer and softer as the crowd in which they are aggregated gets larger and larger.  The impact of an individual thoughts is diminished.  This is particularly true as the ideological polarization continues to strengthen.  We are not empowering an aggregate of individuals, we are defending inflexible ideals.  If you doubt the inflexibility, you need only look back to the pre-election rhetoric, or look forward to the activities of the new congress.

Individuals want their thoughts to be heard.  When this is not possible, people feel that their thoughts are being suppressed, their rights denied.  When people have thoughts in isolation they can imagine a supporting constituency that must share the same ideas.  The imagined group can become a cause.  Of course, the constituency could be real, but there is no way to be sure without a channel for individual expression.  Obviously elections and letters to representatives aren't doing the job.

As the population rises and our footprints increasingly overlap and impinge, more regulations and controls are being generated to control our activities.  This leads to increasing frustration that undermines self-efficacy.  It is to be expected that this frustration is easy to catalyze with evocative words.  We shouldn't be surprised when violent events occur.

I am a great admirer of the founding fathers and the work they did.  I wonder if they were addressing today's conditions, our institutions would be structured as they are today.  The people's needs, capabilities and expectations are very different; the constraints on participation have changed dramatically with modern transportation, telecommunication and information technology.  I can't help but think they would be mindful of the pressure cooker that we have built for ourselves and want to build in more relief valves.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Well-Organized Mind

Many friends in the 50-something age range are coming to terms with aging.  This seems to be an age at which we become mindful of those around us struggling with illnesses that have been pretty much absent, or at least infrequent, in the previous decades of our lives.  Our sphere of awareness has grown to where we have a large network of instances that can capture our attention.  A few instances can quickly begin to be perceived as a trend.

Additionally, this is the time when the generation on whom we depended, our parents, begin to falter and become the cared for instead of those that care for us.  Together with the fact that we’ve seem to have lost a step to first base, a baseball phrase meaning slowing with age, their frailty is an annoying reminder of our own mortality.  We want to grow, but at the same time we want those around us to stay the same.

Recently I’ve been looking up the people who were my mentors in high school.  The four I think of are all gone now.  The first recently died at an advanced age; I’d renewed a correspondence with her just before she passed.  I don’t know exactly the cause for the second.  The third had a fatal heart attack.  The fourth contracted Alzheimer’s.  This man was a forceful, hard-nosed guy.  I wouldn’t be able to imagine him aged with dementia had it not been for my experience in watching helplessly as my mother make that journey.

In the first Harry Potter book, author J. K. Rowling had the wise headmaster, Dumbledore say, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”  At times my mind has been well organized.  At other times, it has not been.

I remember the passing of friend Pat Milhausen after her second battle with leukemia.  At her memorial service, I was joyous as I emotionally shared her embarcation on that next great adventure.

I like the metaphysical concepts that have all of life occurring all at once, all experience happening simultaneously as though each experience was as a sheet stacked on a spindle.  I combine that image with one of spiritual omnipresence, being part of everyone and everything. 

This image allows me to enjoy the accomplishments of others without envy or regret.  This is beneficial when one is overwhelmed with thoughts that more time is behind than ahead.  I don’t see all the things I won’t have time or the talent to do.  I am happy with memories of what I have done and remain excited by what lies ahead.  I won’t be president.  I won’t go to Mars.  I won’t be a rock star.  I may be a successful entrepreneur.  I may positively influence the lives of those I touch.  I may become a decent piano player.  I may write a few screenplays.  I maybe should stop because I’m getting tired thinking of the work all these ambitions involve.

I have no way of knowing whether this concept is true.  Physicists would probably scoff at it.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I use it as a tool for ordering my thoughts so I don’t see every step as leading toward dissolution.  I use it a way to rejoice in and explore relationships of the past that help me in new ways as I review them in the context of my current situation.  It is like traveling the same path again and seeing it all anew.

It doesn’t free me from the regret that I wasn’t there as they changed.  That I lost touch.  That there may have been ways I could’ve helped them as they helped me.  I’m sad and have some guilt for having lost touch and drifted away.  I also know that these things happen.

I recall that when the last member of her parents’ generation passed, my mother-in-law, Roberta, became an ‘old folk’ almost overnight.  It was almost as though she were an actor donning a costume.  It was a mental switch that she’d made.  As if infirmity and breakdown were all she had to look forward to.

I know a lot of our later years are dictated by genes.  But it seems to me there is a recipe for staying lively and active.  I don’t know what this recipe is, but I look at people who remain active and involved and try to puzzle out what makes them vibrant and beautiful.  This is what I’ve observed.

1)  It seems like most of them have sense of humor; often it is a dark sense of humor.  They can laugh at setbacks. 

2)  They have a lot of interests.  This gives them a flexibility to shift to activities that fit what their bodies will permit on a given day.  One day they may feel up to a bike ride.  Another day may be a reading day or a crafts day.

3)  They keep moving and learning.  One friend I know has used travel as an organizing principle for his intellect.  He’s starting to shift to less strenuous modes of transport – no more guided tours with their tortuous hours, for example.  Nevertheless, he is rarely without an atlas, a travel guide and a plan.

4)  They have people in their lives.  They get out.  They call.  They write.  They send emails.

5)  They have some organizing spiritual principle.  They may not wear it on their sleeve, but they have some sort of image or concept that helps them to rationalize their experience.
Few of the people I’ve observed have done all these things, so it isn’t as though you have to check all the boxes to achieve a well-organized mind.

You may come up with an image that’s different from the one I use.  I like the spindle and ubiquitous spiritual insinuation model because it fits with the sassy assertions of fictional characters who state, ‘As for me, I intend to live forever.’

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Saving Taxpayer Dollars

For the past year or so Dr. Robert Hoffman of ihmc and I have been writing about an alternative to current defense department acquisition processes.  The model for these activities is called the Practitioner's Cycles.  Articles on the Cycles were jointly authored.  What follows are solely the opinions of Steve Deal.

In a nutshell, the Practitioner's Cycles requires the development team to be co-located with the people who will use the product.  The development team performs cognitive task analysis, an interview method, to determine the needs of product operators and maintainers.  Developers then begin a series of cycles in which prototypes are developed and immediately fielded.  The prototypes are used to perform real work, not practice exercises or simulations.  Operators and maintainers provide continuous feedback.  Adjustments are made to the prototype or an entirely new prototype is created.  The updated prototype is, again, immediately fielded.  Eventually the prototype supplants legacy equipment,  If is is a brand new type of product, it is adopted for routine use.
Frank Wells Working on a Clarinet Mouthpiece

This is the way artisans evolve the set of tools they use for their work.  My mentor, Frank Wells, custom crafted woodwind mouthpieces.  There were no tools for this esoteric field, so he conceived and crafted his own.  I thought the most interesting one was an a protractor-like device he used for measuring the depth of the mouthpiece internal channel.

Since Robert and I started co-authoring articles on the Cycles for IEEE, we've discovered applications that are very similar to what we're proposing.  All those applications we've uncovered have resulted in products that are exactly what people needed for their work, ones that weren't horribly expensive to create.

I was recently reminded that back in the 1930's and 40's the method described by the Practitioner's Cycles was the way military systems were built.  Wright-Patterson Air Force Base circa 1930 had researchers developing new technologies, engineers working on new aircraft, pilots and maintainers to see that the planes supported mission objectives without being impossible to maintain, and testers to see that the important aspects of performance were methodically explored.  It was a system that worked well until specialization, fragmentation and Congress asserted itself.

Now construction of defense systems is spread to as many of the 50 states as possible.  This is to ensure broad congressional support for the program which allocates funds annually and could scratch those funds from subsequent appropriations.  Spreading development burdens these programs with unconscionable regulation, documentation and oversight.  Acquisition professionals can not keep up with all the regulations they need to satisfy to keep this process going.  The cost of regulatory overhead sucks dollars away from real development work all in the name of making sure taxpayer dollars are returned to each of the states.  This helps the representatives and senators of those states get re-elected.  Elected officials wanted voters to know that they are putting dollars back into their hands.

They untold story, of course, is that more tax money was required from those taxpayers in the first place.  Rather than implementing fiscally responsible policy that leaves more money in the hands of voters, more taxes were levied.  This diverted the control of that money from state residents and local and state projects into federal hands.  These financial resources could have gone into savings accounts, to state programs, or to help start new businesses if local control was maintained.  Or, if you want to stay at the federal level, these are dollars that could have gone toward reducing the federal debt.  This, again, is a move that would save taxpayers money in interest payments and result in more money in taxpayer pockets.  All done without artificial tax cuts that contribute to increasing the federal debt.

I don't really have any illusions that things will change because of our Practitioner's Cycles articles.  People who work in federal acquisition don't want more reform, because it usually means more confusion and oversight.  But acquisition professionals will candidly admit that current policy is wasteful.  I just point out that if your representative is one of those that displays the national debt on their web site, they are among those who are knowingly causing those numbers to climb.  It doesn't matter which side of the aisle they're on.  We, as citizens, have the responsibility to hold their feet to the fire.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Visions of Venus

I've been thinking about  vision creation.  No I'm not contemplating calling on my alleged native american roots (1/16 according to my maternal grandmother) for a peyote experience.  I'm more thinking about where our successful visions come from.  The most engaging ones, I've concluded have come through the humanities.

In the 1950s and 1960s writers like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov painted pictures of futures which were tied by a thoughtful projection of the present into the future.  Each of these writers were scientists, but it was their fictional portrayals that captured imaginations and catalyzed actions.  Their stories were fanciful and technically credible.  They lead to inventions such as our communications satellites which have shrunk the world.

The Babylon 5, Star Trek, Star Gate, and Star War sagas are great fun, but they project to futures that are difficult to link with our starting point.  Warp drive, light speed, multiple humanoid species, time travel are out of our reach.  True, display technology caught up with and overcame the Star Trek screens of the 60s.  And it doesn't seem as though a holographic room like the holodeck is too far away. 

How do we reconcile things like a holodeck with visions of the future being painted in the National Geographic series on population growth?  Holographs are not going to give us the space and the resources needed to address population growth.  Where will they come from when every technological gain comes at a tremendous price in natural habitat for animals, fish, fresh water, and farming.  I put the four of those into the list to emphasize that to protect these resources is to safeguard our own survival.

On Facebook, Corrine Bayraktaroglu has been posting links that describe birds and fish that are being found dead in great numbers.  The current National Geographic talks about the negative effects of US Navy's sonar tests on fish breeding grounds and on whale migratory patterns.  National security is a concern, food is a concern, specie diversity is a concern, hunger is a concern, ...  all inter-related.

The planet Venus has been associated with my contemplations of vision.  What I've discovered about terraforming Venus doesn't sound very promising...but then obtaining resources from or living on Mars doesn't sound very hopeful either.  Both sound exciting, but I wonder if either are relevant.  Maybe it's just the space-weenie in me talking, but it seems to me that we're going to need off-planet resources to meet future challenges.  Obtaining those resources plays into the same inter-relatedness as the other issues.  Where is the fuel to come from?  What are the environmental impacts?  Will the benefits ever outweigh the cost?

Trips to Venus and Mars could be elaborately crafted in cinematographic fashion by adding a few lurid scenes and beings that take over human bodies.  Entertainments like these pitch us into virtual adventures with fantastic creatures in terrifying circumstances.  We call this escapism.  
I can't help but wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice by failing to embed education in the setting of adventures like these, undertakings that are fashioned from real world challenges.  Certainly the issues this planet and humankind will face in this millennium will generate adrenalin akin to what is experience with Assassin's CreedAnd I don't mean euphemism-gutted, sugar-coated versions.  I mean laying out the stories in epic form, anthropomorphizing  eminent catastrophes as opponents, and challenging students to build guilds in virtual and real worlds that attack the villains, and bring the big bosses down on every level.
Relevant storytelling on an epic scale seems to be missing from our literature.  Only in tales of the past or the unachievable future do we find these stories laid out.  The histories can inform our future actions, but they don't provide a vision to work toward.  Visions of hope and ingenuity need to be painted by writers, poets, artists, and filmmakers, -- Art bringing people to Life.  Visions help to get all of us moving in a common direction.  Stories will help us to address what will be truly valuable to our long-term survival, survival that extends beyond the national debt.
Boo Ehrsam added to Corrine's Facebook entry, "The Universe is Speaking, will we listen?"  Epic stories afford us the ability to listen and to respond.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Training the Polymath

A polymath is a person who can exercise expertise across several information domains.  We usually hear polymaths referred to as Renaissance men (Or women, though I uncomfortably admit I've never heard that usage.)  Another term is Homo Universalis, though you'd probably have to be a polymath to catch that.

T. E. Rihill writes, "Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today's standards."  Rihill continues, "The organization and professionalization of the sciences is relatively modern phenomenon, having been established only in the the nineteenth century, and the word 'scientist' was not coined until 1834."

Yesterday I was following up research leads related to the decision-support product we're developing and finally started looking into Sidney Harman who purchased Newsweek last August.  Though he's usually described as a businessman and entrepreneur, in the video embedded in the press release he describes himself as a polymath.  He is  currently Presidential Professor and Isaias W. Hellman Professor of Polymathy at USC.  Harman lectures in Law, Medicine Architecture, Business, Journalism, and Technology.  Surely a significant number of domains.

Note that these are not all the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) domains.  This is one of the things that attract me to people like Prof. Harman.  Having worked in the humanities and STEM areas, I have come to understand that the people part of the problem is always more difficult than the technology part.

When people say they have a passion for STEM education, I cringe a bit.  Focusing only on STEM subjects trains mechanics, for the most part.  Oh sure, there will be some who transcend the mechanical application of formula and become artists in their fields.  In my experience, these are also the people who transcend their STEM background.  They trend toward polymathy and are able to synthesize a great many domains to the benefit of their own careers and mankind.

In my corporate engineering life, solving technical problems was usually not too difficult.  There were well-trained, creative people who were passionate about their work.  Intractable problems were rare.  It was usually the coordination of political issues that slowed the solution or sometimes derailed it.  "This isn't a part of our product line, why are we doing it?"  "That's the job of our department, why are they doing it?"  "That guy doesn't know what he's doing?"  "We don't have time to find the right expert in the company, let's figure it out ourselves."  "I can't get anyone to listen to me!  Are they all idiots!"  People are often intractable.

When I was at MIT, I was awarded a scholarship from a company for which I did  not want to work.  I'd spent the interview discussing the novel the interviewer was reading, so I was surprised when the notice arrived.  When I questioned receiving the award, I was told, 'They were looking for someone who could do the math and engineering, but could speak on other topics.'  Apparently they were getting graduates who were superb engineers, but who were not able to dress themselves in the morning.

STEM isn't going to create people who can craft visions and communicate ideas (or tie their shoes).  Complete visions, that consider opportunities and consequences, require polymathy.  Absent this ability to integrate across many domains, we get local optima with undesirable consequences, what retiring Senator George Voinovich called, "the flavor of the month."  Our inability to take a broad view can lead to the counterproductive pooling of power and resources, companies that are too large to fail, for example.

How do we educate polymaths?  Engaging, interdisciplinary experiences are crucial.  However, the tools and techniques for doing teaching them do not appear to be available today.  What techniques exist, are not valued by mainstream educators and institutions, because they aren't funded.  As a result, interdisciplinary educational experiences are often disjoint and uncoordinated.  The contextual relationships that exist between domains, the metaphors that create 'aha' moments are frequently overlooked primarily because educators are too busy to effectively orchestrate the curricula or are not familiar with the parallels.

The required tools and techniques will need to back away from the disciplinary organization that has evolved since the 1800s.  Crossover and chaos will need to be granted asylum in new curricula that allow students to explore the philosophical implications of technology and the mathematics of the arts, for example.  Development of a video game requires math, science, and the fine arts; video games have societal impacts that extend beyond the virtual world.  So curricula structured around video games might be a good example of a way to engage students' emotionally as well as intellectually.

For those who might be interested in more information, Edward O. Wilson's book, Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge provides additional perspectives.  I don't agree with all the details in Wilson's book, but the main points are compelling.  Additionally, there are several videos of Sidney Harman's lectures on Youtube which I've just begun to poke into.  Harman provides edifying and entertaining show.  We would expect no less from Homo Universalis.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Foreign Languages

This past week, I've been working through Wendy Kennedy's program for expressing technical ideas as commercial opportunities.  I've written plays, short stories, lyrics, poems, technical papers, blogs, and am working on a screenplay with the boys.  I spent several years during high school working in a retail clothing store.  I've run a successful handyman business in New York City.  So I thought I had a pretty good handle on communication and communicating to customers.

I've learned that you can always learn.  There have been some "aha" moments as I was working through the nine questions that make up Kennedy's program.

It's a good reminder that for languages to be foreign, they don't have to come from different regional roots.  Different cultures abound; the terminology used by the guy in the next cubicle can be as opaque as a dead language.  One of the major challenges of integrating disciplines in design, in public policy, or in any joint endeavor, is to understand differences in terminology.  The onus is on speakers to remain mindful of the confusion that they can introduce by slipping into comfortable jargon.

Examine the word "task."  It can have different connotations and contexts if you are an engineer, a  manager, or an applied psychologist. To an engineer it is a job-jar element.  To a manager is is an item associated with resources that need to be tracked.  To an applied psychologist a task is something to be analyzed when assessing use characteristics.  Members of the INCOSE Human Systems Integration Working Group considered developing a lexicon to translate the lingo of each of the nine domains that made up the integrated discipline.  This would be a hefty task involving an evolving discipline, a hefty resource the value of which has not been expressed in dollars.

Acronyms are another mechanism of confusion.  Acronyms were developed as a writer's and printer's shortcut to save effort and print real estate.  With much of our publications transferring to on-line outlets, acronyms might be handily relegated to the landfill.  I randomly typed GCM into acronymfinder.com and was told there were 239 definitions for that acronym -- 43 definitions were verified, 196 were not.  My sometime collaborator, Dr. Robert Hoffman,  is very vocal about eliminating them from our work.

There are no universal languages.  I heard a Western musician talking about studying in China; he said his colleagues said they couldn't understand his music.  Mathematics has also been described as the language of the universe; but there are many to whom mathematical proofs are alien.  Those folks may need a good story to turn on their light bulb.

If the objective is clear communication, I would suggest including the following in your bag of tricks.

1)  Try to see the world from the listeners' point of view; stand in their shoes and cloak yourself in their backgrounds.
2)  Try to understand what is valuable to your listeners.
3)  Don't use acronyms or abbreviations.
4)  Keep jargon to a minimum.
5)  If you're going to introduce specialized terminology, define your terms.  Don't be afraid to repeat the definitions once in a while because it may take a few hearings for them to sink in.  If you're a listener, don't be shy about asking for clarification.
6)  Use analogies and metaphors for clarifications.  Stories can be great helps.
7)  Use simple figures, they are indeed worth 1,000 words.

I believe the 21st Century is going to be the age of integration.  Specialists will need to work more closely than ever before to solve problems.  The virtual world will need to more seamlessly integrate with the real world.  Sciences and humanities will have to be presented in a more holistic fashion for Education to meet personal and societal needs.  Skills for overcoming the foreign languages that were unknowingly encounter every day are more important than ever before.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Assigning versus Accepting Responsibility

Sometimes the serendipitous juxtaposition of two Tweets can lead to fruitful pondering.

This morning, I found Andy Oram's Washington Post article, WikiLeaks cable dump reveals flaws of State Department's information-sharing tool right above The GodLight's Tweet, "Don't be so hard on yourself, everyone makes mistakes. Let go of your frustration & make use of what you are good at."

Oram's article has the blame game flavor that is coming to permeate interpersonal transactions, particularly by those in the high-power mainstream.  The media makes its living via the blame game.  Readers have become apathetic to ubiquitous gloom and doom reporting, but they have not taken this so far as to empathize with the people on the other side of the story.  Most of the people being reported on are just like the readers -- people who are trying to do their best, make a living, have a family and relax a bit. 

Oram reports on the shortfalls of the State Department's Net-Centric Diplomacy database that arose because of an evolutionary shift in its use and purpose.  He points out contributing user error.  This is not surprising to those of us who work in sociotechnical system development.  David Woods and Klaus Christoffersen wrote about this problem over a decade ago when describing the envisioned world problem in the article Balancing Practice-Centered Ressearch and Design.  They write --

"Fields of practice are not static; rather demands, pressures and resources are changing. New possibilities are envisioned and advocates push their particular vision, but the introduction of new systems transforms the nature of practice in the form of new roles, new judgments, new forms of coordination, and new paths toward and forms of breakdown."

In essence the tool necessarily changes the nature of the work which then requires a different tool or modifications to the existing tool which then change the nature of the work...and so on.  Because of the way programs are funded by the federal government, continuous vigilance for envisioned world impacts is not part of the government's acquisition culture.  Weaknesses, brittleness are therefore to be expected.

It would be easy to blame someone in the government for this shortsightedness.  Assign responsibility and can the person responsible.  That is the blame game response.

But the blame game leads to silence, to hiding issues, to spinning, to applying lip gloss on a sow, and to litigation.  None of these serve to resolve the root cause of the problem.  Let's admit it, a lot of our desire for privacy is to prevent people from being able to point fingers.  We want a little screen to hide behind.

That's why I like TheGodLight's Tweet, "Don't be so hard on yourself, everyone makes mistakes. Let go of your frustration & make use of what you are good at."  This approach leads to openness that allows can-do spirits to address and retire problems rather than pushing them to someone else's desk, to another generation, or as my mother sometimes used to hope, the problems "will rot and disappear."

Some people in health care delivery are beginning to take up a like theme.  Don't be so cover-your-ass centric; when something goes wrong, admit it.  Apologize.  (There's a concept that has faded since kindergarten.)  Do your best to make things right.  This approach is put forward as a potential mitigation for malpractice suits.  Sometimes just admitting you're not perfect, that you've done the best you can at what you're good at is enough to engage empathy and understanding.  Doctors don't set out to make mistakes any more than the developers and managers of Net-Centric Diplomacy wanted vulnerabilities that lead to compromise.

Ultimately, we have to decide if we want to be people who accept the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with being thinking, acting beings, or whether we want to assign responsibility and punish good people. 

The latter is what American elections have come to represent.  Many of us don't want to accept the responsibility of understanding issues, transcending the media blame game and dirt dishing, and look for candidates who share our vision and have the ideas and skills to help make it happen.  We would rather blame the bums in power and fire their butts.  This is easier, and it is a mistake.  Can we accept that responsibility, put the fear and frustration it imbues behind us and chose another way?