Wisdom & Morals

Synchronocity continues to occur! The latest TED video I just watched directly reflects on my yesterday’s blog on “Regulate or De-regulate” plus a number of other sympathetic thoughts we share. Barry Schwartz’s 20 minute talk covers a range of important observations and principles that I’ve been working on and concerned about for years:

  • practical wisdom, that can’t be prescribed by job descriptions (reminding me of Total Quality Management and the Ritz-Carlton’s example of quality service by all their associates);
  • bureaucratic rules and incentives vs. moral skill (expanding on my regulate/de-regulate quandry);
  • rigid rules (like school curricula), that prevent disaster, but ensure mediocracy;
  • community responsibilities vs. individual interests.

His answer is to re-moralize work, not through more ethics courses, but by identifying and celebrating moral heroes, being the examples of the ordinary heroes we need, and embodying the character and virtues we want our kids to develop.

It’s certainly heartening to hear such views after working with some state education leaders, at least one of whom said she couldn’t even mention the words “character education” lest she be accused of being a communist!

Social Networking, Twitter, Blogging – In Plain English

While cruising around the ‘net trying to figure out how I should use social networking, blogging, newsfeeds, etc., I found a series of quick (2 minute), light videos by Lee LeFever and his company Common Craft that effectively convey some basic concepts. Here are the links to the videos on YouTube with the embedded videos. If you go to the videos at YouTube, you’ll see other explanatory videos you might find interesting.

Social Networking



RSS Feeds

Regulate or de-regulate?

Regulation vs. deregulation. Alas, it’s a false black/white, either/or choice. And a dangerous one.
Our current economic crisis is an example of what has occurred many times in past, given slavish adherence to deregulation dogma. In an almost religious quest for deregulation, we’ve suffered a repeat of the kind of impact we saw with the savings and loan crisis, derivatives debacle, junk bonds, etc. (yet with each occurrence, we’ve seen an increased magnitude of impact). In fact, the over-leverage by financial institutions in their investment in mortgages is reminiscent of the over-leverage by investors in the stock market of 1929.
Deregulation shouldn’t be a religious quest by believers in a free market. The New York Stock Exchange – a global exemplar of a free market – depends on a high degree of regulation to ensure its reliable, efficient operation.
Now, with the problems caused by decades of over-deregulation, we can expect government regulators to step in and close the barn door after they’ve let the horses out. I’m not arguing that we don’t need additional regulation. Re-regulation is needed to attempt to prevent similar bad things from recurring in the future. Such regulation may be appropriate, but trying to preventing unwanted outcomes is not the only approach that should be considered.
My first job was in management consulting within a public accounting firm. As a young associate, I was taught lessons in basic controls. Such controls are of two types: prevention controls and detection controls. Prevention controls keep bad things from happening (for example, preventing employees from stealing money from their company). Detection controls don’t directly keep bad things from happening, but detect bad things after they happen (finding out that an employee stole money from the company). Well, what good is that? In the theft example, if the company had something of the employee’s, it could claim restitution of the stolen funds – from the employee’s next paycheck or pension funds. 
Given all the focus on and resistance to regulation, it appears that few lawmakers, government regulators, or bureaucrats know of these 2 types of controls. They focus solely on prevention controls. What’s wrong with that? Prevention controls are very expensive. And they’re often viewed to be oppressive. In fact, they are sometimes inappropriate, given the level of risk and the potential of detecting the problem and possibility of gaining restitution. 
So let’s hope this time, policy makers, regulators, and bureaucrats consider such detection controls instead of relying solely on prevention controls. If they don’t, they’ll inevitably over-regulate, putting us into yet another round of ping-ponging to over-regulation begetting frustration then under-regulation again. And each time, it will cost us each more.

Experiential Learning

The George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Edutopia features a 4-minute video report on “High Tech High”: a high school focused on experiential learning. All their students are admitted to college. The students are shown to be engaged and developing critical thinking and communications skills. All their students are admitted to college.

More than a decade ago, the Ohio Board of Regents did a study on effective learning techniques (funded by the National Science Foundation), and concluded that students learn math and science more effectively through an inquiry-based (i.e., experiential) approach, rather than the traditional lecture/memorize/drill/test (didactic) approach. These are not new conclusions; John Dewey espoused them in the 1930s. Yet in seeing the results in the video, we are still amazed because teaching has changed so little in the past century.

Perhaps successes like those in San Diego will inspire more schools, parents, and policy makers to expect these important lessons be brought into our schools to help our kids learn in this 21st century.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

The Rotary Club of Briarcliff’s blog on Chinese food led me to TED: a website devoted to spreading ideas. It’s a wonderful source of talks (most about 20 minutes long), that have been given at the TED conferences that were originally focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but have broadened out since their first conference in 1984. They range from light and entertaining to very thought-provoking (and often are both), and are free.

My finding and exploring the site reflect a few of the points I’ve made in my blog entries so far. First, I found it by following someone’s blog entry. Responding to my FaceBook status saying I was exploring TED, a FB friend endorsed the site, saying it’s wonderful (and suggesting other sites for me to check out as well). The hundreds of content-filled videos at TED are examples of Information Overload, but at least the ideas have been assessed (the conference organizers and TED’s Brain Trust invite the speakers). Still, there are so many interesting sounding presentations (available both through the Internet and for my iPhone), that going through them will take a lot of time. I’m trying to play the talks I’ve selected in the background, replacing TV, while I’m working on other things (multitasking). I’ll share specific items that I find interesting that are related to my own thoughts; doing so may help others sift through the talks and encourage them to do likewise.

So here’s the first talk I’ll share. It’s one directly related to The Tyranny of the Either/Or – more pointedly, the difference between liberals and conservatives (I call them “tribes”; Haidt calls them “teams”). It’s a surprisingly moderate talk (both/and), since was given at a TED conference (expectedly – and empirically – attended mainly by liberal thinkers), and presents the developed moral psychology differences between them. Among its conclusions, as K.S. commented in my blog: We need to be open to both black and white thinking. Here’s a link to the talk on the TED site in case the embedded video doesn’t work for you.

The Power of the Both/And

Thanks to K.S. for his comment on my entry on The Tyranny of the Either/Or, noting extremes are important: Black and white are needed to make a beautiful photograph.

It’s a wonderful analogy! The beautiful Ansel Adams photographs that so many of us enjoy have an incredibly rich range of grays between the deep black and bright white extremes. (One of my treasured experiences was taking a 1-week photo workshop in Yosemite, offered by the Ansel Adams studio.)

How would his photos look without the grays? Fairly stark. Of course there are questions for which there are properly only yes or no answers. R.S.V.P.: Will you be attending the event? But many other questions involve nuances – shadings of choice. Those who try to polarize the public are very skilled at recasting complex, nuanced questions into stark either/or, black/white forms. It’s a lot simpler to pick between 2 choices. Alas, often that’s a false simplicity because the answer is “it depends.”

An even greater challenge is when we’re offered no choice: It’s either all black or all white. What dull pictures those make! (Even Ad Reinhart’s totally black Abstract Painting at MOMA – one of my favorites – is made of very subtly different shades of black.) If our worlds were all black or all white, we’d be blind and reliant on others to guide us. That’s the danger that Adams, Jefferson, and others warned against in founding the U.S.A. We must be educated well enough to make our own judgments or we risk becoming relegated to being subjects of totalitarian government.

So the answer to the Tyranny of the Either/Or must at least be Consider Both/And. That answer doesn’t quite do it, though, because we need to be discerning enough to see the multiple shades of gray. We’ll need to find a pithy way of saying that, though.

The Personal Communications Explosion

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of  time getting myself into blogging and FaceBook. As I’ve thought about it, these are two of an explosion of new means of communicating that have become widely available during the last several years. Learning how to use them, with whom, for what, and with which of alternate providers of similar services has been a new experience – one that has made new demands on my time.
Thinking back, through my school years, I had three basic means of communicating: personal conversation, letters, and telephone. New technologies provided fax machines and mobile phones. Then personal computers and telecommunications networks opened up entirely new kinds of communication: desktop publishing, email, personal websites, user help forums. Combining PCs with mobile communications gave us instant messaging, Internet phone and videophone service. Add camcorders and iPods and we got YouTube and podcasting. Now we also have blogging, social networking sites (like FaceBook and MySpace), and instant mass broadcasting (Twitter).
With this expansion of types and means of communicating has come the explosion of volume of personal communications: more types of communication, more frequently, with more people. There are evolving expectations of responsiveness (can I ignore instant messages when I know the sender can see that I’m online and active?). Add Internet surfing to find information and just try out neat stuff. And this is on top of the explosion of commercial communications: junk mail & faxes, telemarketing, spam, pop-ups, plus all the news services. And I’ve probably left out some other major communications mechanisms.
How are we to manage this new volume and its demand on our time and attention? 
New technology will eventually help (my answering machine and two phone lines let me direct commercial calls to my answering machine so I can ignore most of them; spam and junk mail filters, like anti-virus programs, fight a never-ending battle of who can be more clever). I’ve found ways to link my Twitters and Blogger entries to FaceBook, but I still have a net added demand on my time to read, respond to, and generate all this new communication. (That’s why I’m writing this at midnight.)
I’m afraid the personal assistant avatars that the futurists at Xerox PARC predicted 20 years ago won’t come soon enough; technology still hasn’t met its promise of giving me less paper or more leisure time. So I guess I’ll just have to cope with even more work – even if it’s the pleasant work of staying in touch with friends and family. 
Perhaps with the expanded level of communications, some folk more experienced at this will provide me help by suggesting ways they’ve found to cope!