Friday, 27 February 2015

What is priceless in your business?

What can be counted doesn't really count and what counts cannot really be counted 
Close your eyes for a minute and think about a value-based business that you may know and/or associated with.  Think of a business that lives by this maxim “What can be counted does not really count. What counts cannot really be counted”. Think of a business where values are not measures, or norms, rather values are meta-strategies. 

If you could think of one, then you are a very lucky person. If you found it hard to do so, do not despair and take a minute to read what follows…..

Last week in my ICT for social enterprise class at UC Berkeley, I had the privilege of meeting Somik Raha, a Decision Analyst and Software Development  Associate at SmartOrg, Inc, holding a Ph. D. in Decision Analysis from Stanford University. 

In his talk on “Finding your meta-strategy” - based on his thesis  "Achieving Clarity On Value” - he offers a methodology to discover, appreciate and communicate sources of value. He does so by urging us to dig deep and find our intrinsic values

“Intrinsic values are about finding your deepest values, these are things that move you, stir emotions, make you cry, are sacred to and for you and are unique”, says Raha. And because of this special characteristic of intrinsic value, it is hard to verbalize it.

He started off his talk by asking us to be silent for 10 minutes and to let our thoughts settle. That was just one of the many powerful moments of his talk. After which he asked us to make a list of the metrics we use to measure our goals and what we do. So, we all came up with SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, result-oriented, time-bound) goals and next to them put equally smart metrics.

The purpose of this exercise was to show us that what is being counted does not actually count, but may be important because it drives us toward action. That action, if thoughtful, can help us create value. Can you think of something more profound and true than this statement?

Taking us by hand, we went on a journey in the world of values, figuring out how to go beyond values as measures, or values as norms, and explore values as meta-strategy. 

He asked us “What we thought was the distinction between how we treat others and the purpose of our business”. To help us better understand this novel concept, he divided values into three categories:
  • Systemic values - counting something or following a rule
  • Practical values - these are rationalizations for the rules and systems
  • Intrinsic values - deeply-held beliefs that move us to develop practical and systemic values 
And this is when we started to investigate the world of intrinsic values. Raha’s work shows that “human mind shuts down when faced with numbers”,  while inspiration leads to creativity. 

As we examined our SMART goals and our equally smart metrics, we tried to figure out what are our shared and individual values. To do so, we used Raha’s value mapping methodology - a simple method prima facie, yet an intense and profoundly different method from what one is used to. 

Value-mapping methodology: An innovative way to find what is priceless in your business
Value-mapping helps to identify what is priceless in our business and what are those priceless things that we offer. It is an act of deep listening to “give up politics and focus on truth” and digging down inside oneself to discover our values and sources of inspiration. It is about exploring and looking for uniqueness, not universality.

Finding your meta-strategy, Somik, Raha, 2015

To help us on this journey, using the above framework, we paired up with another person where the speaker shared what is deeply important to them and the listener,  listened deeply to the sharing, asking the following probing questions to parse the head, heart and habit in an effort to find the intrinsic values - keeping an eye on silences and emotions.

To facilitate reflection, start with probing key moments by asking the following questions:
  • What are some major turning points in your life
  • What are some moments of inspirations
  • What have you believed since you were a child
Listen for loss of fluidity. When people are rationalizing and can easily articulate their argument, they are not tapping into feelings. When someone taps into their feelings, there are pauses, the fluidity of the arguments wanes and this is the sign that they are no longer talking with their head but tapping into their heart.

Stay in first-person zone. Watch out for third-person analysis - that is to say watch out for statements about the impact of your activity on others or the efficiency of the solution. When you hear such statements, ask “How does that make you feel” or “What does it mean to you to have that kind of impact”. In other words, bring it back to YOU.

To probe deeper, check for the longevity of value by asking the following questions:
  • How long has this been important to you
  • Can you share stories from an earlier experience that can demonstrate the importance of the value
  • How long do you think you’ll care for this value
To figure out what are the core motivating values and what are the practical ways of achieving it, ask counter-questions  to understand whether something is negotiable:
Why didn’t you think of this alternative?
What if you could achieve this without X, would that still be meaningful for you?

Finally to help move from systemic (bean counting) and practical (rationalization of the rules and systems) to intrinsic values, ask the following questions:
  • What choices do you plan to make based on the results of the bean counting?
  • What are the goals of your choices?
  • What end goal are you trying to achieve by counting the metric?
  • What process or outcome do you hope to improve by measuring that value?

When you identify your intellectual energy (head), your emotional energy (heart) and your unstoppable energy (habit) you’ve found your purpose and that is when you can set goals that embody intrinsic values.

An epiphany
At the end of the exercise, I had an epiphany and finally figured out why I loved being in the development business and what were all the different driving forces igniting my intrinsic values.  As Simon Sinek says "Taking a job for the cash is not as important as taking a job for the joy."

In thanking Raha for this priceless discovery, I asked him whether he had applied this methodology in the world of development. He kindly and most generously shared his paper “Values and valuation in the Amazon Basin”.

After the talk, I started thinking and asking myself how many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embody intrinsic values? And whether the commitment and willingness to deliver on the 17 goals would grow exponentially if they all carried and embodied intrinsic values? 

I hope in coming up with action plans to implement these goals, we’ll all make sure to dig deep and unearth the intrinsic values required to deliver on them. 

Thank you Dr Raha for an inspiring and highly informative talk. And I cannot thank you enough for my personal epiphany. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Remembering and paying tribute to David Carr

On Thursday 12 February when CNN breaking news flashed on my phone announcing the death of David Carr, New York Times media columnist and reporter, I sat in disbelief, thinking to myself, Oh My God I cannot believe this…. 

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of New York Times described Carr as “the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom.”  He was indeed exactly that.

I am not one of the lucky people who knew Mr Carr in person. Nonetheless, I looked up to him, admired and respected him because he was insightful, because in reporting stories he used a different lens than others and most importantly because he was an extraordinary  story teller. 

The New York Times article announcing the cause of his death, describes him and his writing as “plain-spoken and could be blunt; he often gathered in readers conspiratorially and was sometimes self-referential and conscience-stricken. The effect was both folksy and sophisticated, a voice from a shrewd and well-informed skeptic.”  

He was not afraid of nor shied away from being BLUNT and showing his emotions, passion and convictions. And most importantly he cared about people and what they did. 

Hamilton Nolan in his piece “David Carr, Your Best Friend”, has this to say about Carr:
“If you needed a hug, he would give you a hug. If you didn't feel that you needed a hug, he would still give you a hug. He seemed to know better than you how much you might need a hug. He always hugged, like a man who had come home from war, which in many ways he had. We would talk about sobriety and fighting and love and who was really sharp and who was an asshole. If you needed advice, he would give you advice, and if he needed advice, he would sit there and listen to you give it, even if you weren't sure it was worth hearing. If you needed to be yelled at for being an idiot, he would oblige, and he would sit politely and be yelled at himself, as well. He always had an idea about what should be done, even if he didn't always do it.”

Telling the truth
Carr stayed true to his profession. He enshrined the value of telling the truth and writing with passion.

Last year in his commencement address to the UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism he said “if you tell the truth, no harm will come”. In addressing the graduate students he said “do what is in front of you, fit in before you stick out” …. “don’t just do what you’re good at, learn how to deal with frustrations”.

He reminded his future colleagues that “journalism is permission to live". "Experience the moment…. take responsibility and ownership of what you do (be it success or failure).”

The underlying message of his commencement address, which was the “fil rouge” of his existence was how telling the truth is a way of living.  His quest for truth was almost obsessive and comes to life in his book The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of his Life--His Own.

Jelani Cobb in his New Yorker piece paying tribute to Mr Carr, says: “he (Carr) didn’t develop a brand; he built a reputation”. And he had a reputation of being a great advocate for the profession of journalism. He loved the New York Times and was perhaps the staunchest defender of the paper. 

“He was our biggest champion and his unending passion for journalism and for truth will be missed by his family at The Times, by his readers around the world and by people who love journalism”, said Dean Baquet, NYTimes executive editor

If you watched “Page One: Inside the New York Times”, no doubt you’ll remember Carr’s visit  to Vice to write the story of their partnership with CNN. And I’m sure you remember the “exchange” between him and Vice editor when the latter challenged the authority and importance of New York Times. 

Carr - who was at this best - in a vintage Carr moment, not only put the record straight about NYTimes coverage of Liberia over time, but put the guy squarely in his place.

Social media savvy
Carr was one of the very few journalists - if not the only one - who was fully conversant with the new media. He fully grasped the power and potential of social media. At the same time, he made it clear to us - social media junkies - that without mainstream media, we would not have any news to share. 

His beloved paper - The New York Times - had this to say about their equally beloved Carr: “He became better known, perhaps, for his reporting and analysis of developments in publishing, television and social media, for which he was an early evangelist.”

As Jelani Cobb said: “He was allergic to euphemism and a believer that journalism was the art of curating minutiae. He also had one of the most valuable attributes a writer can claim—an ability to withhold personal judgment” and in doing so, he did recognize that “traditional journalists” felt a bit overwhelmed and threatened by social media’s fast and furious communication method.

I love his soundbite about Twitter: “Twitter is listening to a wired collective voice. Here the medium is not the message, the message is the medium”  and he continues to say that in reading tweets “you get a sense of today’s news while you are waiting for a coffee at Starbucks”.

When the young Brian Stelter joined New York Times, Carr described him as the robot in the NYTimes basement. Shelter in a recent interview humbly shares how much he learnt from Carr…. “I carry a piece of David with me for the rest of my life…..” “David was like a father for me”. 

Deciphering digital jargon” episode of Sweet Spot series shows how Carr comfortably engaged in a digital conversation and shows how he put to use digital technology in his profession. HE GOT IT and GOT it big time.

You'll be missed.... May you rest in peace
A lot people from different walks of life admired Carr’s integrity, his wit, bluntness, his unwavering desire to tell a story and his quest for the truth.

Hamilton Nolan eloquently summarizes the magnitude of Carr’s persona: “In 58 years, he lived at least 158 years worth of life. Everyone who knew David Carr was lucky too. The only unlucky people today are those who never got a chance to know him, because they would have enjoyed it.”  

I am one of the many unlucky people who did not know David Carr. Yet, I will miss his mischievous smile, his voice, his eternal quest for truth and his bluntness.

Mr Carr, you'll be missed. It will probably take 158 years before the world gets  another David Carr. Thank you for sharing your wit and for giving us so much. May you rest in peace.

Monday, 9 February 2015

There is no such thing as "new" technology.....

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

In studying the genesis of technology,  I now know that there is no such thing as  a “new technology”, simply because  each “new” technology is an evolution of an “older” technology.  

History shows that the introduction of any “new” technology is inevitably accompanied by a group of skeptics and alarmists who go wax poetic about the perils and dangers of the “new” technology.

Let’s take a journey in a time machine and go to ancient Greece of Socrates.

The advent of writing was a source of major concern and distress for Socrates. He believed that one could only gather and gain knowledge through dialogue and interaction - that is to say, you need to ask questions and get answers.... “dialogue where ideas are interrogated until the knowledge is truly understood”. He then went to say that this was not possible with a book - “written words” - or with a painting. 

Now, let’s fast forward to today.... As knowledge management practitioners, we advocate for documenting and capturing the learning and lessons as they emerge. We then produce papers, case studies, publications, a myriad of PDF files which accordingly to the latest World Bank Knowledge Management Evaluation no one reads.

When we have the luxury and opportunity of “hearing the story” of that lesson learnt first hand, that is when we truly understand and assimilate the learning. And this is not only because we hear it orally, but as Socrates said, it is because we have the opportunity to interact with the “author” or the story teller.

Socrates was also concerned that because written words are disembodied, the art of memorization, delivering speeches, rhetorics and more broadly dialectic is at great risk. For sure, today the art of memorizing poetry or epic stories is not something common. Similarly individuals excelling in rhetorics may be sneered at and deemed as arrogant and self-centred. 

However,  I believe the “new” media - aka social media - has created a fertile ground for conversation and engagement - albeit virtually and not face-to-face. I know Socrates would not necessarily be happy with this compromise, but nonetheless, it is probably better than the one-way traditional media. 

This said, when it comes to education, nothing in the world can nor should replace the role of the teacher, instructor, mentor, whatever you want to call this figure. So, no I am not at all for on-line courses nor e-learning. These are tools that are useful when you have a grasp of a subject matter. There are just like dictionaries... You do not learn a language or a philosophy by “reading” or “consulting” a dictionary.

 While we’re in the time machine, let’s visit the 21st century and examine the “novelty”  or lack of thereof social media. The Economist article “How Luther went viral”, very eloquently demonstrates how social media has been around at least since reformation, if not earlier.

It shows how Luther then and how social media users now are taking advantage of a decentralized model to share information, put pressure, raise awareness about issues and engage in a multidirectional conversation. In other words, we are in as much of a networked world today as we were back in 1500s and earlier.

By the same token, while Luther exploited the power of print and distributed short pamphlets instead of huge tomes, we communicate with 140 characters the headline of a news or the news itself via a tweet. Instead of writing an academic paper with lots of footnotes and citations, we blog and instead of creating 40 minute documentaries to raise awareness about atrocities happening in the world, we make a one-minute Vine video.

And when it comes to measuring success, instead of counting the reprints of a pamphlet, we measure it by the number of “Likes”, “Retweets”, “Shares”  and comments.

I wonder whether the discussions and exchange of views and ideas happening on social media channels would have tranquilized Socrates’ and changed his view vis-a-vis the fact that written words are not necessarily disembodied..... Who knows. 

Another extraordinary aspect of mainstreaming any “new” technology is its agency to create new lines of jobs. These jobs can either see the light of the day to protect the very essence of the technology or be created as a result of user appropriation.

For example, as writing became mainstreamed and the norm, this gave rise to forgery and falsification of manuscripts and scriptures. This  in turn led to whole new genre of employment requiring academics and experts to examine writings on clay, parchments, papyrus, silk and paper to detect whether these were original or the fruit of a forgery. Similarly, the mainstreaming of social media has led to creation of jobs such as professional bloggers who raise awareness about social, economic and developmental issues, or act as whistle blowers;  social media strategists and ghost writers for prominent personalities and celebrities.

I’ve also learnt that it is prudent not to sing too much the praises of any technology and make it seem as if it is the panacea. Here are some examples of great technologies that “changed our lives” or where supposed to change our lives which now have retired to an obscure section of our memory lane....... telegraph, fax, typewriter, Concorde, Kodak film and more recent ones, GoogleWave, Google glass, MySpace and list goes on and on.....

Be forewarned, some of the “old” technologies come back in new guise..... Think of the scroll, which became old technology with the introduction of codex - or book..... And guess what .....good old scroll is back big time! How many times did you have to scroll while reading this blogpost?

I find immense comfort in studying history, as it allows me to put things in perspective, understand where we are coming from and how we got to where we are. 

I’ve also learnt that being an early adopter puts you in a vantage position to live passionately through the hype, sit back and wait for the next “big new” technology. 

As an early adopter I also cherish raising awareness about the benefits of the “new” technology and convincing the “cavemen” how the “new” technology can and will make a difference!

As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I am a technological determinist and one who is maturing to be more balanced.

More to come.... so check back in and I would love to hear your views and ideas.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Putting fresh air in my brain

This morning as I was walking over to the campus, I thought to myself how lucky I am to be breathing the fresh air....

And here I'm not just talking about the early morning crisp, unpolluted air of Berkeley, rather.....

  • Breathing the fresh air of respecting and valuing intellectual diversity
  • Breathing the fresh air of being intellectually challenged
  • Breathing the fresh air of learning and sharing
  • Breathing the fresh air of being inspired
  • Breathing the fresh air of academic rigor
  • Breathing the fresh air of being around young people
  • Breathing the fresh air of critical thinking
  • Breathing the fresh air of alternative ideas and thinking
  • Breathing the fresh air of collaboration
  • Breathing the fresh air of different culture and setting
  • Breathing the fresh air of questioning and reflecting on 'defaults'  and 'standards'
  • Breathing the fresh air of seeking the 'other' truth
  • Breathing the fresh air of possibilities

As I got to my class, I thought of what a quote from Ernesto Bertarelli - a businessman and philanthropist:

You cannot change who you are, but you can change what you have in your head, you can refresh what you are thinking about, you can put some fresh air in your brain

I feel so privileged to be able to put some fresh air my brain!