An ancient virus has come back to life after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists...
We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
I saw a preview for this movie called Non-Stop with Liam Neeson (he has been in action/revenge movie overdrive since his wife died) and it had this unusual way of presenting the character’s text messages to the audience that kind of stuck out to me. It’s always interesting to see how filmmakers incorporate digital communications because they take place on increasingly smaller devices and are often anticlimactic and therefore hard to capture and make dramatic. But I thought this visualization was a nice idea. So I pruned a gif from it.
I met Eugene at least five years ago when he was working at Blue Oxen, a social consultancy, and we’ve remain aware of each other’s work without ever actually working together. So I am remedying that in this minimal way, with an interview.
About Eugene Kim
Eugene hates the idea of putting people into boxes, which is good, because we can’t put him in one. he has worked as a writer and an editor, a researcher and an analyst, and a programmer and a manager. In 2002, he decided to bring all of these skills and interests to bear on his true passion: collaboration for social good.
He believes that groups are smarter than individuals and that tools should serve people, not the other way around. When Eugene speaks, people listen. Sometimes he shares an insight, more often he raises an essential question, always he helps groups get clear.
Stowe Boyd: I read your recent post, The Real Importance of Networks: Understanding Power. You wrote, ‘Networks are special because they are a lens that help us better understand power.’ And your presentation is that organizations exist to make the latent power of the people in the organization greater than linear.
Eugene Kim: That’s the theory behind organizational structure at least. Ideally, in any group, you want the right hierarchies to emerge. For example, if I’m out in the woods with no food or water, I want to defer to the person in the group who has the best survival skills. And, if it turns out that that person proves time and again to be the best suited for making decisions, it makes sense to give that person some kind of formal authority — perhaps in the form of a leadership title — so that you’re not having to figure out the best person for every situation.
In other words, organizational structure is a shortcut. The problem is that shortcuts don’t always prove to be a good idea. The group promotes the person who was good at surviving in the forest into some kind of leadership role, but suddenly, you’re not in the forest anymore, you’re in New York City. Is that person still right for that role? And if not, how do you get the right person into that job?
Max Weber said that all organizational forms are destined to become more and more bureaucratic. Structure begets rigidity. A network-oriented mindset helps you fight that rigidity. In today’s world, that’s not only desirable, it’s necessary.
SB: You make the power relationship seem like a meritocratic decision of the group. And the legitimacy of a business elite has to be based on productivity, at face value. However, there is a great deal of oligarchic control in organizations, where those who are founders, owners, or more senior are in charge, but the conventional rationale for them having leadership roles is less about performance justifying their positions than the naturalness of hierarchy and people’s desire to be told what to do. I constantly encounter people that say things like ‘There we will always have hiearchy’ without actually trying to prove it.
EK: Most people’s experiences with organizations are with a certain kind of hierarchy, and so when it comes to creating our organizations, the natural thing to do is to default to what you already know, even if those experiences are wretched. It’s habit, and it’s human.
I was always curious about why Wikipedia is so bureaucratic under the surface. Again, Weber says that it’s inevitable for all groups, but it didn’t make sense to me with Wikipedia. This is a community of people who live and breathe networks and self-organization, and who frankly are a bit counter-culture.
When I led the Wikimedia strategy process in 2010, I made it a side project to try to figure this out. After talking with a lot of folks, I came up with the following hypothesis. Most people who edit Wikipedia are in their teens and 20s. Many of them have only had experience being in one kind of institution — schools. When the community started experiencing the challenges of scale, they naturally dug into their own experiences for the solution rather than starting with base principles. Voila! Bureaucracy!
Starting from base principles is really hard. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline and a comfort level with uncertainty. But if you truly care about creating high-performance groups — and not everyone does — it’s necessary.
SB: I have said for years, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections and so are my connections’. A slightly different take on your formulation about the purpose of organizations is that each individual opts to connect to others to have the opportunity to cooperate with them, and through those networks advance their personal agenda. So, this power may be accumulation of the personal aspirations of the individuals, rather than a property of the disembodied organization.
EK: Wow, we’re really getting into some deep philosophical stuff here! I don’t know what the purpose of organizations are. I’ve already cited Max Weber, so I’m starting to get out of my comfort zone.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that individuals want to feel alive in everything that they do. Most of us do not feel alive. Self-help is a $11 billion industry, on par with the movie industry. We spend at least half of our waking lives at work, mostly in organizations. Most people feel like zombies while they’re at work. That’s not a good thing.
When you feel connected to other people, you feel alive. When you feel like you’re part of something bigger that makes you yourself feel bigger, stronger, more powerful, you feel alive.
When you’re not able to bring your whole self to work, when you’re part of something that’s constantly getting in your way rather than making you more powerful, that’s when you start to feel like a zombie. That’s the cost of rigidity.
SB: I completely agree with that sentiment. I once said,
Whatever else social business comes to be, it has to be based on how people operate when they feel most free, most creative, most engaged, and most needed. We have to build a way of working where the people doing the work matter as much as the work being done.
Whatever else, social business must be that.
In each Socialogy interview, the third questions relates to the concept that we are not applying the newest findings from science in the business setting, like cognitive science, anthropology, or neuroeconomics. What fields do you think are most relevant — and underutilized — in business?
EK: Sports, music — fields where we have clear models of high-performance groups. Business has long found sports to be a kindred spirit, yet two of the most important aspects of sports (and music) have yet to see widespread adoption in the business world. I’m talking about coaching and practice.
All of the top teams and the top athletes in the world have coaches. Same goes for musicians. What’s the percentage in the business world?
And how about practice? I know you’ll appreciate this, because of your background in martial arts. In sports and in music, you spend 90 percent of your time practicing and maybe 10 percent of your time performing. In business, the numbers are reversed. We pay lip service to the importance of certain fundamentals, like listening, but how often do we practice those things intentionally in safe spaces with feedback? You can practice listening — musicians do this constantly.
SB: Yes, I agree about high performance, but in areas outside of sports and martial arts a high performers share the characteristic of creating loose connections with lots of potential cooperators. And then when some new threat or opportunity comes along they rapidly compose networks and pull them into an ad hoc advisory or working group to figure out what to do. I guess that’s a kind of practice, too.
Eugene, thanks for your time.
EK: Not only is it a practice, it’s something that can be practiced. Why must we wait for high-stakes situations and then try to do these things cold, especially if those things feel unnatural? We need to be creating more safe opportunities to practice these so that it doesn’t feel so uncomfortable when the stakes are high.
In many ways, the Internet has been that space. I believe we’re experiencing a shift right now, because the first generation to grow up with widespread connectivity is now part of the workforce, and they’ve had many years to practice this kind of behavior. This is a good thing.
Stowe, thanks for having me! Always enjoy our conversations!
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
What is happening to Australia will happen everywhere. Brace yourself.
I have come to Australia to see what a global-warming future holds for this most vulnerable of nations, and Mother Nature has been happy to oblige: Over the course of just a few weeks, the continent has been hit by a record heat wave, a crippling drought, bush fires, floods that swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, even a plague of locusts. “In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Andrew Fraser, the Queensland state treasurer, told reporters. He was talking about the floods in his region, but the sense that Australia – which maintains one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints on the planet – has summoned up the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere. “Australia is the canary in the coal mine,” says David Karoly, a top climate researcher at the University of Melbourne. “What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see in other places in the future.”
As Yasi bears down on the coast, the massive storm seems to embody the not-quite-conscious fears of Australians that their country may be doomed by global warming. This year’s disasters, in fact, are only the latest installment in an ongoing series of climate-related crises. In 2009, wildfires in Australia torched more than a million acres and killed 173 people. The Murray-Darling Basin, which serves as the country’s breadbasket, has suffered a decades-long drought, and what water is left is becoming increasingly salty and unusable, raising the question of whether Australia, long a major food exporter, will be able to feed itself in the coming decades. The oceans are getting warmer and more acidic, leading to the all-but-certain death of the Great Barrier Reef within 40 years. Homes along the Gold Coast are being swept away, koala bears face extinction in the wild, and farmers, their crops shriveled by drought, are shooting themselves in despair.
With Yasi approaching fast, disaster preparations are fully under way. At the airport, the Australian Defense Force is racing to load emergency supplies into Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. Entire cities have shut down, their streets nearly empty as I drive north, toward the center of the storm, through sugar plantations and ranch land. Dead kangaroos sprawl by the side of the road, the victims of motorists fleeing the storm.
With the winds hitting 80 miles per hour, I’m forced to stop in Proserpine, where the windows are taped and sandbags are piled in front of doors. Palm trees are bent horizontal in the wind, and the shingles of a nearby roof blow off and shoot into the darkness. It’s as if civilization is being dismantled one shingle at a time.
"Welcome to Australia, the petri dish of climate change," an Aussie friend e-mailed me the day before. "Stay safe."
Go read this. It’s is deeply terrifying.
Klein makes the case that corporations should be in favor of a single payer system, financed by individual and business taxes, to diminish the risks and costs of administering their own health care policies:
It’s never made a bit of sense for health-care benefits to be routed through employers. The system emerged in the U.S. by accident. Wage controls during World War II made it impossible for companies to attract workers by offering higher salaries. Because health benefits were exempt from high wartime taxes, companies began using them to attract talent. After the war, unions joined employers in pressuring Congress to ensure employer-based health benefits were never taxed. So the U.S. emerged with an odd system in which a dollar of untaxed employer-based health benefits was worth much more to a worker than a dollar of taxed salary. Employers became the main vehicles for insurance not because anyone thought it was a good idea, but because the tax code made it a bargain.
The great mystery of U.S. health care is why the country’s CEOs didn’t demand a single-payer system a long time ago.
The result has been a disaster for employers and workers alike. In Canada, the risk pool is effectively the entire country. Two costly pregnancies have barely any effect on aggregate costs. In Medicare, the risk pool is 49 million beneficiaries. A few patients with catastrophic health problems won’t budge those numbers much. But in our employer-based health-care system, the risk pool is often a few hundred, a few thousand or a few tens of thousands of employees. A bit of bad luck can be catastrophic.
The great mystery of U.S. health care is why the country’s CEOs didn’t demand a single-payer system a long time ago. It’s an unending distraction — and cost drag — for companies to employ expensive human-resources divisions to negotiate with insurers and hospitals, manage health-care costs, and field questions and concerns from employees. Companies that are great at making cars or buildings or accounting software can’t survive if they’re not also successful at managing health insurance.
The system persists for reasons that will be familiar to anyone watching the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Change is scary. No CEO wants to deal with the outcry from employees who are terrified that their benefits are being outsourced to the government. And few CEOs trust the federal government to manage benefits with any skill — they worry they’ll just end up paying more in taxes than they do in premiums. That worry is often particularly acute for CEOs themselves, who would pay disproportionately in any system that relied on progressive taxation. Finally, their suspicions are typically reinforced by dire predictions from their HR managers, whose jobs depend on the survival of employer-based health benefits.
The result is that CEOs hate the current system but are too fearful to move to a different one. Consequently, they’ve made themselves — and their companies — vulnerable to “distressed babies.”
The last comment a reference to AOL’s Tim Armstrong, who stepped into a sinkhole by talking about ‘distressed babies’ that caused him to propose cutting back on AOL benefits, and then to rapidly apologize and back off those cuts.
Corporations’ opposition to a single payer nationalized health care system is crazy, like poor white people being opposed to food stamps.
Most of what we think we know about nutrition and diet is folklore.