What Knowledge Management could Bring to Ferguson

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What Knowledge Management could Bring to Ferguson

The national crisis in Ferguson is a wicked, multifaceted problem. Sure, it’s a social problem involving poverty and crime, not to mention a political problem of democratic institutions failing to behave competently and ethically. Since the Department of Justice’s report was released last week detailing the level of racial profiling involved with the city’s plan to triple city revenues through police citations, we know that the Federal Government has a massive knowledge management problem on its hands. This failure of government was allowed to fester because of ignorance - not personal, but organizational. 

I led the Knowledge Management Working Group for the The Project on National Security Reform in 2008 which identified the following (partial) list of knowledge management problems for the U.S. national security system:

Sharing knowledge across organizational boundaries is difficult.

The DoJ had, to most accounts, no idea what a powder-keg existed in Ferguson. When the nation first learned the town's name, numerous local writers began to illuminate underlying issues that were not on the DoJ radar. This is not to question local control, or argue states' rights, but we are facing a major new question: Is knowledge-sharing inhibited by political structures and climate, by organizational norms, by law? Whatever the causes, the finding holds. 

Organizational learning is thwarted.

Knowledge about what has been happening in Ferguson is hoarded and used as a weapon. One side seizes on (later disproven) claims of a victim's raised arms and fuels a national movement. The other parcels out information about the dead man - and not the shooter - to influence carefully public opinion. (If you think this is just Ferguson, ask yourself why Trayvon Martin's body was drug-tested, but not Mr. Zimmerman's? What knowledge base was being updated here?) The ability for the department to learn and adapt to change is thwarted - we can speculate on the reasons, but the problem is clear. When knowledge is currency, organizational learning takes a back seat to agendas.

The system lacks true global situational awareness.

Do we understand the root causes behind the excruciating inefficiencies in jurisdictional policing? Washington DC has four law enforcement authorities for just under 500,000 citizens - these include the U.S. Marshals, the Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, etc. In other words, some pretty specialized police departments due to the unusual nature of this city. St. Louis has 58 separate departments, for a county of 1 million citizens. Why? And what percentage of these departments have to self-fund by shaking down their populace? What percentage of each department's budget anticipates revenues from nuisance violations? What effect does this pressure have on informal quotas, the court system, fee structures, etc.? 

Where is the next Ferguson? Do we know? Do we understand the elements of this situation, and can we spot the next Department poised to come to the attention of the DoJ through tragic circumstance? Deepening the sophistication of the U.S. Government’s knowledge management may provide some of the answers. 

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Social Media & Knowledge Management - An Intergenerational Tantrum

Second in a series, trying to provide another perspective to the overwhelming and all-encompassing goodness that is social media. Exhibit 2. A gentleman writes a blog, which quickly goes viral, regarding what he sees as a ‘generational war’ between Knowledge Management (KM) and Social Media.

Conclusion. Knowledge Management is now (thankfully) obsolete.

I will not seek here to disprove or discredit completely the referenced blog post; rather I would like to provide some background regarding the actual discipline of KM, apart from the cartoon presented in many places.  (The comments to his blog posting do a very nice job pointing up the flaws in his assumptions.)  In doing a little research, I find many blogs and comments that do a great job attacking what I was going to take on.  Therefore, I will narrow my scope a bit to the question - what is obsolesced as a result of social media?

 

Besides being contrary with Mr. Paylow, I have a point here. Information Management is useful for enabling Knowledge Management. Social software are information management tools, but as Mr. Paylow points out - they are more useful than previous tools for sharing and learning information fragments across a broad network. The more we move beyond taxonomy, classification, aggregation - all of which presuppose relevance at the point of decision - and get to shared fragments that help us discern patterns; the closer we are to what Mr. Walker talks about above: an understanding of KM that is still relevant. 

This is what "web 2.0" is making obsolete - the approach of data capture, organization, binning, etc. that was never useful for anything more than an industrial age understanding of information management. Social software is allowing us to use methods of KM that align with our understanding of cognitive science; how our minds actually work.

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What trend will affect KM over next three years - APQC

You will see a few of these posts over the next few days from KM people who are active on Twitter.  APQC asked several of us to cite the trend or development that would most influence KM over the next three years.  We were limited to 75-100 words, thankfully.  Here is my reply.

"Augmented cognition, which I consider part of augmented humanity, will accelerate as a trend affecting the KM profession over the next three years. The reliance upon reasoning engines will become mainstream in many industries, and increased cognitive offloading - which Andy Clark argues began with the wristwatch - will continue to change how we incorporate technology into our decisions.

It will never replace the role of emotions in decision-making, and never achieve human consciousness; but machine learning and computational linguistics will advance our ability to make sense of the cacophonous streams of information that have become our aquarium water."

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Podding Along...

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Podding Along...

Still in transition mode here - but wanted to share a short series of podcasts I recorded for my friend and colleagues over at Competitive Futures. (Brief caveat, I did not generate these titles, but am otherwise responsible for the content.)

Knowledge Management will Make Your Decisions Suck Less

Why Knowledge Management is in its Third Wave

How Knowledge Management Will Save Competitive Intelligence

 

My thanks to Eric Garland for the idea, the conversation, and a smooth bass line.

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Optimism Lifts

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There's a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by John Bordeaux, on Santa's list of 2014 gift posts.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?

Don’t climb. Lift.

Last year John shared his story on the Rebels at Work (http://www.rebelsatwork.com/rebel-stories/john-bordeaux/) site, which I curate with Carmen Medina. His response to this question has stayed with me ever since. Don’t climb. Lift.

There’s so much professional and personal wisdom here, as only a deep thinker with rich life experiences like John can provide. It’s also a beautiful thought to contemplate during this holiday season.

If you’ve ever climbed mountains you know that things can get so hard that all your attention goes into just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping to God that you packed some Moleskin for the blister that’s starting to scream. You forget to look up and miss the red-tailed hawk and almost crush the Pink Lady Slippers peeking up under the pine trees. The climb becomes drudgery.

And then your husband comes over and gently puts his hand on the small of your back, giving you just enough encouragement that you rediscover your determination and optimism. You look up. Laugh. Tighten the straps of your pack and put your face up to the sun. You’re ready to keep going, but with a lightness that wasn’t there five minutes ago.

As we head into the New Year, whom can we lift in our work so that their climb feels more like an adventure than a death march?

And in what ways can we lift ourselves above the noisy clutter so that we are able to continue to emerging patterns?

John has written that every decision is a prediction.

The decision to lift rather than climb may predict just how far we will be able to go in achieving our goals in this coming New Year.

With optimism and lightness, Lois Kelly

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Rebelling at Work? Your Handbook has Arrived.

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Rebelling at Work? Your Handbook has Arrived.

If I did book reviews, you would learn far too quickly my pathetic ratio of books read to ones completed. So I don't do book reviews - instead I'll review here what I learned from a new release: "Rebels at Work" by Lois Kelly & Carmen Medina (O'Reilly Media).

Full disclosure: Carmen has advised my work, coordinated informally on Big Ideas, co-presented with me at a conference, and indulged the occasional beer-fueled ramblings. Which is to say - we're friends, after a fashion. She is as generous and geniune as she appears, and she is simply a treasure to be around. I am honored by her friendship. Finally, I contributed a bio to the Rebels and Work page, and would like to believe I contributed (at most) a single sentence to this book.

Nevertheless, buy this book. At once an overview, a handbook, and even a summary chapter for managers who have the good fortune to employ rebels on their team. For the rebels - described by the authors as "for creating new, better ways to do things," this book is a guide to understanding why you fail, how to overcome obstacles (or know when to walk away), and how to navigate organizations. This last lesson is one that has come to me late in life. It comes after being fired from one organization for, well, not having this advice earlier in my career. (Know the signs of inappropriate emotion and dampen its ability to frustrate your cause.) It comes after my tenure at another organization, which led to a lunch where a trusted senior mentor advised me: "You should be a consultant, I'm not sure you would survive in a C-suite position." At the time, this was a fair assessment. And I can see now: the result of rebelling in ways that were not productive to the cause.

Rebels are passionate. They are driven. They are neither complainers nor whiners, but instead question relentlessly organizational practices that thwart the mission or optimize side agendas. In this book, Kelly and Medina provide case after case to support their construction of various bureaucractic types - which can be made into allies and how, and which to avoid. From chapters on how to manage (not avoid or seek) conflict, to communicating ideas and dealing with fear; this book belongs on every shelf.

We live in transitional times. 19th century organizational forms are brittle and some are crumbling. Embracing the rebels in your organization should be a measure of organizational health and survival. Conformity is not a virtue unto itself (neither is non-conformity, and the authors do great work detailing the difference between a rebel and a troublemaker). This book will help managers and organizational leaders understand how to embrace the passion and creativity rebels provide. It will help the rebels understand they are not alone, where they are tripping up (thanks again for the pages that made me cringe in self-realization), and how to succeed while remaining true to your nature as a future-oriented thinker. 

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This I Believe

Recently, I participated in a men's weekend. The days represented activities that felt like how nerds think jocks relax - imaginative takes on popular sports, such as a mashup of tennis and volleyball, and a living version of something akin to Stratego. The evenings are long dinners with deep discourse and vats of wine, as professionals from all walks of life exploring issues that claw deeply. 

Part of the prep for this year's conclave: come ready to discuss "this I believe." The idea is drawn from the old National Public Radio series, revived with great contributions - http://www.npr.org/series/4538138/this-i-believe is the link. (One favorite is Penn Gillette's, who defies the guidelines (avoid saying what you do not believe) by providing an essay one why he believes there is no God.)

I am not at liberty to share any that I heard that evening, but wanted to share mine below. Whether you agree with my thoughts, what do you believe?

I believe we are living in extraordinary, precedented times. Yes, you heard that correctly - precedented. I believe we are on the precipice of a new Renaissance. I believe we are once again struggling beneath the strictures and structures of ideology triumphing over natural order and science. I believe we are about to rise above our 18th century understanding of education and 19th century pretensions about work. We are beginning to realize that mechanistic process and notions of corporate loyalty are a mirage, just another layer in our constructed reality.

We know the butterfly sees colors we cannot imagine. This means the world holds those colors, the spectrum we know is bound by what we can see. Likewise, our understanding of human events is bound by what we are told. But in times of disruption, the natural order of things prevails upon us for brief periods of illumination. We are social, we are a collaborative. We are moved to love. We yearn for experimentation, we adjust. The organizational norms we were told were necessary for commerce and success are a layer we now question, with good reason.

I believe I am here to claw, to tear, at these notions. My greatest joy lies in seeing scales fall from eyes. I believe the sobering times around us are precedented, and a return to first principles, our natural order, provides the path to greater peace and civilization.

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Friends with Agendas (FWA)

Why don't companies "get" social? Why do consultants have such a hard time helping clients to leverage social networks and tools for business value? Perhaps it is because in 'doing social,' (rather than being social), you become the FWA. The "friends with benefits" is a well-understood concept, which I will not describe further; but I'd like to introduce its antithesis - the FWA. Your Friends With Agendas.

Early in my first marriage, my hermeneutics professor invited us to his home for dinner. We attended a staid Christian college, where the sense of hierarchy and authority was significant. It was quite the honor for this sophomore to be invited over, and I assumed he was taken by his bright young student and desired an evening of philosophical musing. Networking was not yet a verb, at least not to me, but I understood the importance of the occasion, and my wife and I dressed accordingly. Arriving precisely on time, we were greeted by his unassuming wife and escorted to the living room. There was no pre-dinner alcohol, of course, although no dinner ever needed it more. Perched on the edge of his couch, the good professor addressed me while gesturing for his wife to fetch 'the stuff' from the kitchen. "John, I invited you here because I wanted to talk with you about something important. Something very important to your future." His wife returned, carrying a saucepan and a stack of pennies. My wife wore the same blank expression I hoped I had on at that moment. He began to drop the pennies into the saucepan, one at a time, each landing with a clack as he began his sales patter.

Yes. I had been invited into the learned man's home so he could pitch us to "invest" in waterless cookware. I don't remember the dinner, but we managed to hold in our laughter until well down the road.

Did I understand this man? Perhaps. The salary of a professor at a Christian college in 1981 was likely something short of handsome. Would I ever trust this man again, did I respect him as I had the day before? Not a chance. He had violated the power relationship, and misused his influence to try and earn a few shekels. His agenda trumped his common sense, and he ruined any idea I may have had about furthering that relationship. (Not that he cared, that was never his aim.)

"Monetizing social requires betraying trust." - Stephen Bates. (@batess)

The vendor, the marketer, the employer - each approach "social" with an asymmetrical agenda. There are no true 'win-wins,' for any of these relationships. Mutual value can be established, but this is a nuanced negotiation, not a dictated Terms of Service. Predictive analytics will not tell you how to approach or maintain individuals within your target network. Even considering a network as something to target begins to fray the trust needed for a true network of value.

And speaking of targets, this one is moving. The nodes you want in your network are on the move, literally. They expect to have their network available everywhere, and for their technology to sense and respond based on location, time of day, available data about their plans, and more. You know that friend who just "gets" you? That is what people are beginning to expect from their mobile and social technologies, and the relationships they represent. No latency, and no friction. Count the number of times you hear someone scold their device for a lack of responsiveness. Note how quickly they abandon a task if the device will not cooperate.

The secret to understanding social may lie in rethinking some classic marketing and management 'truths.' This is related to the shift in how work is done, how buying decisions are made, and how disintermedation is preferred in each. Some questions to ponder:

  • What is your budget for relationship building? Is it reconciled against this quarter's earnings, or do you allow for the messiness of human relationships and uncertain timelines to fit within your allocation for network growth and maintenance?
  • By now, you have likely established business value statements for the investment in 'social.' Now, how are you measured by your network? What is their internal value statements for engaging with you? Have you allowed for these to shift, based on their moods and emotions? Are you engaged in a conversation to understand continuously how you're viewed, or are you busy segmenting and predicting based on Big Data?
  • Are you trusting your gut? You know instinctively which Twitter accounts are hitting the mark, and which are just broadcasting. (Hint: Rep Dingell (@John_Dingell) of Michigan is doing it right.) You know the famous gaffes on social media, you know the tune to "United Breaks Guitars." Have you embedded this gut understanding of relative authenticity into your plan for 'social?'

In the past weeks, several offline conversations have raised this - all with the same conclusion. "No one really 'gets' social right yet." Perhaps this is because we have not considered what needs to change in order to become "social," or, to reclaim a term: network-centric. Or, more likely and more sadly, we refuse to do so.

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Rebels at Work: The Pragmatist

Carmen Medina’s blog post caught my eye over at Rebels at Work, regarding emerging archetypes for what they call “Bureaucratic Black Belts.”

First, let’s remind ourselves of who BBB’s are and what they do. Bureaucratic Black Belts are those individuals in an organization who have mastered all the ins and outs of both its bureaucratic rules and bureaucratic culture. They are frequently the Professor Moriarty to the Rebel Sherlock, a clever operator, a bureaucratic mastermind, who understands the bureaucracy much better than the Rebel at Work. Asked to figure out how to accomplish a particular goal, they can, like an excellent navigation system, identify multiple routes through the bureaucracy. What they’re usually not so good at is coming up with an original destination. Many BBB’s act as if maneuvering the bureaucracy is its own reward, like solving an English garden maze where, when you’re done, you’re right back where you started from. Most BBB’s believe, almost without thinking, that preservation, sameness, and symmetry are the ultimate purposes of organizational life. - See more at: http://www.rebelsatwork.com/2014/07/12/1941/

Carmen’s post includes a few additional archetypes and asks for more suggestions. My contribution is below.

The Pragmatist. (Briefly labeled the “Vanishing Co-Conspirator,” but that title is misleadingly angry.) These have mastered the internal politics and processes, while embracing warmly the naive Rebel. They are respected within the firm, and occupy the eagle’s aerie - a keen eye on the horizon, their silhouette an inspiration for the more junior aspirants to corporate success. They are spokespersons for the corporate principles, and are trusted marketers for the firm. Privately, they speak as Rebels. They see through the process roadblocks, they can cite the measures that fail to measure real value, and they regale with tales regarding the cultural touchstones regarding ‘how we got here.’ They share the heroic narratives of our forebears, while privately reveling in their flaws. Wisely, they have chosen not the path of change, but of tailored accommodation. Their success lies in changing what they can, but always giving ground on an open and dangerous battlefield. The wise Rebel will rely upon them as archers or spies, as their support must always be out of sight and untraceable. The Pragmatist is not a sellout, but an ally. Their careers will outlast the Rebels, by design.

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Waking up.

I think we are waking up. From my limited perch, it appears sudden clarity is emerging in businesses. The past months I have been privileged to work with clients who get it. The rebels deep within their walls are being heeded, funded, and presented with the intractable questions. Having tried everything in the MBA kit bag, they are willing to consider almost anything. One caveat before I go further. Chief Financial Officers still set the de facto business strategy for too many companies. The urgency behind the upcoming Transition Economics gathering in St. Louis is not dissipated. When considering this piece, I hesitated often because I do not want to come across as Utopian. Nevertheless, in my narrow field of knowledge management, for specific firms, something interesting is happening.

'Our market/employees/customers are changing in ways we cannot accommodate with our current processes, technologies and strategy.'

They are realizing that humans are not resources, information is not knowledge, and processes are fundamentally flawed guesses about the future. Just as problematic, and difficult to uproot: their information technology has been solving the wrong problem.

We have crafted entire industries and technologies to 'manage *' where * equals 'knowledge,' 'information,' content,' 'innovation,' etc. We dabbled in something we called "decision support systems" for generations, up until today, without understanding a critical question: how are decisions made?

We decided people must be as rational as machines, whether we said that openly (outside of the dismal science) I do not know. But that must have been the conviction behind things like taxonomies for 'browsing,' forcing new information into buckets that defined how our company sees its world. These are useful mechanisms for jobs where checklists are the best decision support tool. The last time I developed a taxonomy, it was for an HR department who wanted to ensure their far-flung workforce applied established policies consistently. In my view, this was a reasonable use for a taxonomy (although best integrated with tools for folksonomy). However, they are misleading for circumstances where humans face most problems. "Fixing search" or "refreshing the taxonomy" fails to address the core problem.

My thesis is this: we have spent generations developing information technology tools that address little more than how machines talk with other machines. As for how humans use information to make decisions - this was left to "change management," or waved off as "cultural barriers." The presumption: Craft the human to fit the machine, and value will ensue.

There is a tangential issue here, that I raise often in offline conversations. For most (not all) Chief Information Officers (CIOs)- the measure of success is highly reliable and secure systems. Uptime and availability matter most of all, and monetary rewards accompany an uninterrupted experience. Put another way - CIOs will score "blue" on their performance evaluation if they kill all their users. Humans are the messy actors in an otherwise soaring career choice. Consider how technology procurement and policy is influenced by this simple truth.

Consider the mantra for information management, sometimes blindly asserted as the goal for knowledge management: "delivering the right information to the right people at the right time." This noble-sounding vision has launched a thousand portals - and is wrong in every dimension. To borrow from a long-ago colleague: it is "spherically incorrect." The underlying presumption is one of prediction. That the designers and developers of an information system somehow can know what the right information is for any given stakeholder, in any possible circumstance - is true only for the simplest of problem sets. "OK, Glass - how do I fix a flat tire?"

Now consider how decisions are made - individually, driven by experience, emotion, unconscious biases, filters, and mood; in a group, driven by social dynamics, agendas, fear, reputation, consensus, et al. For any interesting problem set; the best tool for decision-making is the right conversation at the right time with the right people. This is true for classrooms, National Security Council meetings, design studios, auto showrooms, diplomacy, boardrooms, and lovers. And everything in between.

I believe we are starting to wake up to this understanding. What works everywhere else in our lives just may be crazy enough to work in our businesses. It may be worth a shot.

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The Death of Mystery?

Actor Bruce Dern was on a show recently where he mused about his first days in Hollywood rubbing shoulders with the giants of the entertainment industry. “They were larger than life,” he told the host, “because no one knew what they were doing after school.” He finished by offering: ‘now everyone knows what happens after school, and there is no more mystery.’

The end of mystery is one outcome in these early days of the ‘social era,’ or whatever we end up calling this time. The examples are all around us;

  • Russia claims hundreds of thousands flee from Ukraine, while social media points us to a webcam that purports to show a quiet border crossing.
  • A Congressman’s private extra-marital flirtations are a mis-click away from becoming global broadcasts.
  • Young entertainers behave like young people - and ‘news sites’ thrive like parasitical sucker fish on the visual evidence of their exploits.

This goes further, however. For every news event, social media offers reassurances that our gut reaction to the news is justified. News feeds are tailored to the items that attract us, and our nascent opinions are reinforced quickly by our Facebook and Twitter feeds. So quickly, in fact, that often our views are shaped before we can imagine. Before we can ponder what events mean, if anything.

And this may be the tragedy. With news media (in countries like the USA and China, based on personal observation) positioned to tell us what we should think about events over reporting the events, it is a simple exercise to believe the “analysis” over new information. Research shows that once we hold a position on a topic, new information that conflicts with that position is not welcomed, but questioned. The more new information argues against our position, the more entrenched our opinions become.

What happens when we form opinions quickly, edging out the imagination that is a natural response to partial information? When we receive confident “analysis” that supports what we wish to believe about an event, at almost the same time we learn about that event, we skip past the part where we struggle to make sense of the new circumstance. We miss the opportunity for novel thought.

Russian troops move into Crimea; so what does that mean? See if you can find yourself in this list:

  • This is obviously a result of President Obama’s weakness on the world stage
  • This is obviously a reasonable response to protect the ethnic Russians in Crimea, who are distressed that their democratically-elected leadership was forced from office
  • This is obviously Putin, still distressed by the end of the Soviet Union, reinforcing a “near abroad” doctrine (Russia is allowed to intervene in internal affairs of its immediate neighbors - a doctrine compared to the US historical stance towards Latin America, and discussed within political science as the phenomenon of “geographic fatalism” from the persecutive of the target nations.)

And so on. Within hours, blogs were written to explain the events, to include one creative author who notices the February date parallel between these events and the 1933 Reichstag fire, and we begin to filter and form our opinions - based not on imagination and our own experience, but based on the opinions made available to us. While blogs take hours in some cases, Twitter can be counted on for immediate reactions.

What happens when we forget to imagine? What happens to novel solutions, to that overused “innovation” word? If we are training ourselves to allow others to imagine for us, usually people whose world view already matches ours, what becomes of our ability to learn or debate or be civil to those who disagree?

In fact, mystery is not dead. Whatever early confidence we develop, whatever appears certain to us, the situation itself remains uncertain. Our opinions do not change facts. Mystery is alive and well, what may have eroded is our ability to revel in it. To consider, learn, and experiment with novel ideas. Our ability to envision is something missing at many levels. We need it back.

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Trusting the Terrain

This picture does not indicate a non-stop train.  One would think, if one did not speak Dutch, that you boarded the train at Tilburg, and de-trained at Den Haag Centraal.  (My actual origin point was Eindhoven a few hours earlier, but that’s part of the story.)

To expand. If one grew up on New York’s Long Island Railroad, where if you boarded a train  bound for a certain station - barring disaster that train would pull into the promised station - then one would bring that unarticulated experience and associated expectations to Holland.  (If you boarded West of Babylon, you knew you would always change trains there for points East, as the track electrification did not begin until Babylon.)

Where, say, one boards a train in Eindhoven that glides in almost silently under a station sign that reads:  Den Haag Centraal.  One then settles in the foyer area of the car, content to not wrestle luggage into a seat.  Out of sight of car notification signs and not speaking the language of the occasional announcement?  Sure.  But that sign said Den Haag Centraal, so the only mistake would be getting off this particular train.

The email load was significant, the book was interesting, I was buried in it.  And never noticed the mass exodus when we reached Rotterdam.  Nor the prolonged wait before the train started moving again.

In the opposite direction.

Wait, you say.  How on earth did I not notice it was now moving in the wrong direction?  I don’t fully know the answer, but as there is no American equivalent to the smoothness of European trains, I can honestly say I was not terribly aware of any movement.  And the book was interesting.  And I was on the right train - remember that sign in Eindhoven?  And the app seems to be reinforcing that the Intercity would “Richting” Den Haag Centraal at 14:37.  (Only writing this do I check the translation of Richting, which feels like a verb, but really only means ‘direction.’)

All the indicators upon which I relied for train travel - all the more important since I do not speak the language - told me I was on my way to my preferred destination.  Despite a host of clues screaming that I was simply wrong.  After two hours aboard the Intercity, I finally checked my position on my maps application, trying to see where I was.  Only then did I notice the dot was moving not only away from Den Haag, but was already nearing a return to Tilburg (one station short of my origin point of Eindhoven).  On the ‘return’ journey (the source for my screen capture image), I paid attention at each stop and finally noticed the exodus at Rotterdamn, along with the station sign above the train that no longer promised Den Haag.  I even had to (gasp) ask a passerby for the number of the transfer platform.

Recently, minutes from U.S. Federal Reserve minutes were released that give us more detail into the conversations inside the Fed as the 2007 recession began to take hold.  There are minority views trying to explain they were living in an outlier scenario, but these were outvoted repeatedly.  From the NYT article: “The Fed’s understanding of the crisis…was clouded by its reliance on indicators that tend to miss sharp changes in conditions.”  Clouded by its indicators.

If you think my idiocy on the Rotterdam platform was remarkable, consider how the Fed officials continued to fret about inflation as the market and housing prices crashed and unemployment began to rise.  When we are predicting, the failure to question our indicators could just mean it takes us five hours to traverse a two-hour journey - or it could mean we miss a catastrophe unfolding around us.

In the movie Gravity, the stranded astronaut believes she has sufficient resources aboard a Soyuz capsule, until she senses a change in the environment that causes her to tap on an analog gauge (an old pilot’s trick, as vital needles tended to freeze unhelpfully in obsolete positions).  As she taps, the needle falls to a more correct reading, ostensibly nearer to zero.

In these three stories - only the fictional character reacts appropriately by first questioning her indicators.  I had forgotten (and the fine economists on the Fed never learned) an old lesson I first read regarding an admonition in the Swedish Army Manual:  “Where the terrain and the map disagree, trust the terrain.”  Even when riding the famously efficient and wonderful trains of Europe, we should be careful to not become clouded by our indicators.

Just imagine how we need to think differently in less structured endeavors.

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Return to Menlo Park

Sigh... I've been wrong about Facebook 1.5 times so far. The first time, with the advent of Google+, I predicted that a social network that begins with circles would triumph over one that seeks to make everything you say or do available to all of humanity. I said Google+ would kill Facebook. Yes I did.

While Facebook continues to do everything it can to drive people away, and some reports hold that as the Olds gather the younger folks are moving on - I think it can safely be said that whatever kills Facebook, it will not be the astonishing success of G+ anytime soon.

The second time, a little over a year ago now, was when I left. Never to return. I resented the time sink it had become, and the interactions with strangers that had an intensity and anger they would never exhibit in person. I hope. If I got into frequent angry confrontations at my local pub, at some point I would stop going into that establishment.

I would engage with a friend on a topic, and find myself confronting suddenly the person's drunk uncle (how is druncle not a word?) accusing me of furthering a socialist plot to destroy America. And I spent far too much time engaging these trolls.

Seriously, druncle. This should be a word.

I left, with a flourish, around New Year's 2013. To be honest, I did not miss Facebook. At all. What I missed was a cousin's health challenge, which was announced and discussed only on Facebook. What I missed were grief-laden notes posted to a friend's page who died suddenly last Fall. I realized then I was missing important updates about people close to me - or perhaps more to the point, people who were not close enough for me to learn these updates any other way.

There is a circle (pardon me) of people about whom I care - but with whom I do not interact on a frequent enough basis to be on their notification list. With Facebook, people have apparently found that announcing updates to their lives on their page means a "notification" list is unnecessary.

If tragedy or bliss strikes your life, it is just easier to post a quick note to your Wall, and let the word spread. In leaving Facebook, at least for my network, I had departed the commons.

So I am back. But I have a much smaller friend list so far. And I am, primarily, lurking. I only have the iPad app, and it does not draw my time as it once did (writing this blog is the most I've thought about Facebook in over a year). I do not post updates nor food porn nor do I engage in political conversations as I did before. This is not where I live, it's where I go to learn about my family and some friends. I'll check in once or twice a day, for a few minutes. My profile remains sparse, I don't "like" corporations, and my profile picture is a photo of two of my three children. The other one hasn't noticed yet.

Exception - One conservative brother-in-law manages to get under my skin on occasion, and we poke at each other almost as sport. When a friend of his barged into one conversation with a familiar refrain, though, I just blocked the gentleman. I've learned that much.

I don't miss Facebook, and now I don't have to miss family news. I am planning to hit an age more closely associated with a speed limit this year, and I sense more of these updates will begin to appear across my network.

So Facebook - it was still mostly you. But it was also a lot me. Let's just be acquaintances.

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