Monday, September 27, 2010

Key questions of Natural Philosophy

"Hello Mr Magpie, how's the wife?" Does this reset the magpie accumulator? Must my fear of sorrow kill any hope of joy, a girl, a boy, silver, gold or a secret?

Sprog5 thinks it does. He still believes that the world is both understandable and fair. Touching, really.

But perhaps he's right.

A Middle East question

Read on...

I have been asked at short notice to say a few words to our Middle East team about the system changes we have in store for them. Note to self:

When asked to address the front line, the corporate staffer should always remember the Two Great Lies:

  1. Hello, I'm from Head Office: I'm here to help. And
  2. Pleased to meet you.

However, we soldier on...

What do you want to achieve?
Your host wants his people to get:

  1. a morale building feeling that things really are getting better
  2. a lively and entertaining 30 minutes to keep up the energy and momentum of a day of training and updates

You want to:

  1. support your host
  2. raise your profile in this region
  3. get people interested in the social networking arena
  4. give people information they might actually find useful in their day to day work

What can you say?
You can think of the planned changes under three headings:

  1. Things we are doing to you
  2. Things we are doing for you and
  3. Things you can do for yourselves. 

Things we are doing to you
We inherited a mess and it needs to be cleaned up. Things will get worse before they get better. The systems you are comfortable with are not competitive. One day, you'll look back and thank us. But the next six months will be a nightmare.

All the honest staffer can do is give an honest appraisal of the need and a best estimate of the impact on the front line. And press gang the people he needs.

Get through this openly,honestly and quickly. They will remember you were straight with them.

Things we are doing for you
This is better. The pain you went through last year is paying off. The requests you have been putting in for three years are finally getting priority. The latest reorganisation gives you direct say on the Executive Committee.

Share the good news,but remember that the audience will be sceptical. Don't over sell. Remember what you have told them and check that it actually happens. If it doesn't, be the one to break the news.

Things you can do for yourselves
This is where you find the magic. Make sure you have time to show them the stuff they can do now to ...

In the good old days this meant:

  1. Use simple Access tables instead of Excel Frankensheets (which are impossible to document and ALWAYS contain errors).
  2. If you must use spreadsheets, don't use macros. With clear spreadsheets you will get reputation for clear thought.
  3. Share your key reports. Build a library with your peers around the world. Build a reputation.
  4. Use sharepoint for more than just file storage.
  5. Never mail a file: it wastes storage and people lose track of versions. Send a link to the version tracked master. 

Much of this still applies. But the new frontier is the social network. Be sure to share the sort of problems this can solve:

  1. Want tips and tricks to use our tools better? Go to Lori's blog.
  2. Want to share your own knowledge and insights? Write your own blog.
  3. Worried you might waste time on the Social Net? Track where you are spending your time with ManicTime.
  4. Do your virtual worldwide teams seem impersonal? Chat asynchronously with our microblogging tool.

Some thoughts on presentation
Also remember that
RT @edyong209 via @MuckRack Every time someone puts up a slide with bullet points and no visual info, a kitten jumps onto a spike.
Use big pictures and handouts.(where can I get a picture of a kitten falling on a spike? That would be a strong attention grabber: "let's begin with the wisdom of the social network...")

Use the virtual room tools for three of four surveys during the call to take the temperature of the audience? Take written questions. Check whether they are all sitting in one conference room or apart.

Have fun!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A lesson from history

Some memories are so painful that they overwhelm rational thought. Some symbols are so powerful that the slightest glimpse overrides all logic. So when Newt Gingrich likened the threat from Muslim extremist terrorism to the threat from Nazi Germany, all we saw was "Muslims = Nazis". He knows people and he knows symbols: he must have known this.

Take a deep breath, hold your nose and think for a moment about the Nazis. How did people like us find themselves murdering millions of their fellow men?

One answer is that the premise is false: they weren't like us, they were clearly monsters. After all, they murdered millions and we don't: QED. This seems too easy to me: both unlikely and unhelpful.

But if they were like us, what went wrong? We need to know, if we are to be sure that we won't wake up one morning and realise that we are guarding another death camp. (It is too much to hope, after Yugoslavia and Rwanda, that this won't happen again to someone else.)

There were a number of issues: a powerful grievance; a truly desperate economic situation; a charismatic saviour figure; an effective organisation. But there was one overriding factor that made everything else possible. Something that has been with us since before we came down from the trees. Christ aimed his most devastating parable at it.

It is this: our ability to conveniently forget that people outside our group are truly human.

This is what we need to watch for. All the time. So when Gingrich calls "Nazi" on Muslims, meaning that they are monsters rather than people, he is making the same mistake that the Germans did in the 1930s. And if I call him and his followers evil, then so am I.

So what am I to call them? It seems to me that the best and safest assumptions to make about other people are:
  • they are intelligent
  • they are moral. I would recognise their overall principles as good, though I may have different priorities
  • if their actions appear malign, there is something I don't understand
And my response must be based on principles:
  • even actions which are moral in "their" frame of reference can damage me, 
  • ends and means cannot be separated: if I wrong people, even in self defence, this will make the core problem worse
  • Sometimes we have to take our lumps.

Had this on my mind

Not sure why: maybe I'm getting maudlin in my senescence.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A grudge worth bearing?

I had no friends or relatives in the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon or flights 11, 77, 93 or 175. But I have been affected.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee...
Which is John Donne's way of saying that the disaster nine years ago was not an attack on America or even on the West. It was an attack on mankind.

Cultural Offering makes and defends the simple and powerful statement that this is a grudge worth holding.

Rudyard Kipling takes a dim view of grudges: "being hated, not give way to hating" is his advice to his son. This is not just virtuous and Christian: it is intensely practical. Enmity and fear are like entropy: they grow naturally. The longer we allow ourselves to hate our neighbour, the dearer the final reckoning.

So somewhere we must find the strength to take our lumps and carry on building a better world as best we can.

While we celebrate the lives of the victims and grieve that they were cut short.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oh dear...

Emily amused by one of those trendy American productivity gurus
Beloved Emily reminds me that I only have the pleasure of her company until Sunday, when she heads back off to start teacher training. So it's OK for me to neglect my blog and show her the proof of Heron's Theorem. This is a very fine piece of Hairy Algebra which delivers the Happy Ending just at the very last minute. It's like a Rubik's Cube or a P G Wodehouse story: where you are hopelessly lost in an impenetrable plot problem until you turn the last couple of pages / make the final couple of twists and suddenly all is well.

Sometimes life's like that.

I don't remember seeing this at school: I got the proof from khanacademy. And I don't remember hearing about khanacademy itself before seeing a tweet from Steve Clayton (wonderful stuff, but not much of a disguise) a few days ago. The entire US Maths school syllabus (and much more) delivered in ten minute YouTube videos. All done by one man with the aid of an electronic blackboard. How does he maintain his work rate?

I only need one excuse a day, of course, to maintain my current level of production indefinitely.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Old Masters: how well they understood

The Old Sailor
by A.A. Milne

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew 
Who had so many things which he wanted to do 
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin, 
He couldn't because of the state he was in. 

He was shipwrecked, and lived on a island for weeks, 
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks; 
And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks 
For the turtles and things which you read of in books. 

And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
And he thought that to talk to he'd look for, and keep
(If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

Then, because of the weather, he wanted a hut
With a door (to come in by) which opened and shut
(With a jerk, which was useful if snakes were about),
And a very strong lock to keep savages out.

He began on the fish-hooks, and when he'd begun 
He decided he couldn't because of the sun. 
So he knew what he ought to begin with, and that 
Was to find, or to make, a large sun-stopping hat. 

He was making the hat with some leaves from a tree, 
When he thought, "I'm as hot as a body can be, 
And I've nothing to take for my terrible thirst; 
So I'll look for a spring, and I'll look for it first." 
Then he thought as he started, "Oh, dear and oh, dear!
I'll be lonely tomorrow with nobody here!"
So he made in his note-book a couple of notes:
"I must first find some chickens" and "No, I mean goats."

He had just seen a goat (which he knew by the shape)
When he thought, "But I must have boat for escape.
But a boat means a sail, which means needles and thread;
So I'd better sit down and make needles instead."

He began on a needle, but thought as he worked,
That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
Sitting safe in his hut he'd have nothing to fear,
Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

So he thought of his hut ... and he thought of his boat, 
And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat, 
And the hooks (for his food) and the spring (for his thirst) ... 
But he never could think which he ought to do first. 

And so in the end he did nothing at all, 
But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl. 
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved - 
He did nothing but basking until he was saved!

Well, it worked for him. But who will save ME?