Know Thyself – UW Bothell Innovation Forum

In his opening remarks at the closing session of the week long Innovation Forum at UW Bothell, University of Washington President Michael Young observed “universities are great at shining the bright light of research on all aspects of the world except the university itself.  It is long past time we look at ourselves with that bright spotlight of research and insight.” What an interesting concept – the university needing to “know thyself.”

The Innovation Forum was the first in what will be a yearly series with this year’s theme “creativity and innovation.”

The closing summit topic was “Reinventing the University.”  After a welcome from UW Bothell Chancellor Kenyon Chan who joked about the athletic prowess of Asian Americans with the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks (Linsanity), an esteemed panel of academics and industry luminaries shared their thoughts on how the university could reinvent itself.

Michael Young continued his thoughts on what a great university should do which is “to have ideas, research them and then move those ideas into the world to have impact.”  While noting that universities are successful in doing that today, Young suggested that the university “transform itself to focus on the grand challenges in health care, engineering, science and the humanities.”

Dr. J. Rogers Hollingsworth followed with his thoughts on how you create a new university that is both global and local at the same time and one that thinks of itself in longitudinal terms.  Hollingsworth noted that many of the siloed disciplines of the academy are converging on the same models and the same ways of thinking without realizing it. He described the attributes of the new university as being research focused, small with a great amount of interaction, relatively few students in the physical location yet with 10s of thousands of students receiving teaching remotely, and faculty who change every 5-7 years. Prior to the Innovation Forum, Hollingsworth shared the core of his ideas which resulted from his study of “Excellence in Biomedical Research – The Case of The Rockefeller University.”

Dr. Fariba Alamdari, VP of Marketing and Value Analysis for Boeing, shifted the conversation to the needs of industry. She referenced Tom Friedman’s That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back and the five factors we need to resurrect our leadership position.  She noted that two of them involved the university and education. She shared her own frustration with recent university graduates who “can’t write, get frightened when you mention anything that is about mathematics, and can’t communicate their ideas.”  She also pointed out the needed linkage between the humanities and engineering with “we have lots of engineers at Boeing who can communicate all day long about their data, but they can’t tell even simple stories about what the data means.”  She urged universities to teach the basics and to provide an education which is problem based and inquiry based.

Anoop Gupta, Distinguished Scientist for Microsoft Research, focused his remarks on looking at the university through the lens of innovation. In particular, he looked at the university through the viewport of the education mission and how technology might apply. He shared the wonderful success of Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun who was so ecstatic about the response to his online course (160,000 students) and the 2,000 volunteers who translated the materials into 44 languages that he left Stanford to found Udacity.  Gupta pointed out that while online learning is not new, education at that scale changes everything.  Several of the interesting innovations were peer to peer grading and using machine learning to filter the hundreds of thousands of student questions (most of which were similar).  The students who were surveyed felt that this form of online learning was far more personal than the classroom.

After pointing out several other universities that are following this pattern of offering large scale online courses, Gupta shared the commonalities in the course offerings:

  • Scale – 160,000 students attending a course changes everything
  • Pedagogy – professors become large scale brands – the best of the best are now actively engaged in the teaching. Students are continuously tested and continuously interact with their peers. Instead of the time and place bound model of teaching, the student progresses at their own pace.
  • Reverse model of using “class” time – like the Khan academy, students are expected to learn the material outside of class from video lectures and the “classroom” time is spent in discussion and customization of the materials to individuals.
  • Textbooks – now become interactive with tests embedded in them and the ability to be marked up and added to by the students.  Textbooks form a social media starting point for crowd sourcing.
  • Peer Grading
  • Machine learning assists the finding of patterns in questions and learning difficulties.

The success of these online courses is pointing out the massive unaddressed needs of higher learning – those who can’t afford traditional university education, those who are remote, and those who don’t have access to subject matter at their current university. Susan Jeffords, Vice-Chancellor at UW Bothell, pointed me to a recent article “Envisioning a Post-Campus America” in The Atlantic which echoed many of the themes that Gupta proposed.  Megan McArdle wrote the following contemplations:

  1. Education will end up being dominated by a few huge incumbents.
  2. Online education will kill the liberal arts degree.
  3. Professors (course developers) will be selected for teaching instead of research brilliance.
  4. 95% of tenure-track professors will lose their jobs.
  5. The corollary of #4 is the end of universities as research centers.
  6. Young job-seekers will need new ways to signal diligence.
  7. The economics of graduate school will change substantially.
  8. Civil society will have to substitute for the intense friend networks that are built at college.
  9. The role of schooling in upward mobility will change.
  10. The young will have a much lower financial burden in their 20s.
  11. The tutoring industry will boom.
  12. If the credentials become valuable, cheating will be a problem.

Michael Young shared the interesting results of a UW project Foldit which used a game kind of environment to discover how proteins fold.  What was most interesting to him was the unexpected results that the researchers (David Baker, Zoran Popovic) observed – the emergent formation of competitively cooperative groups with mentors who worked on the problems together. These groups developed profound learning well beyond the confines of the game. This research echoes the same process that occurred with the $1M Netflix Prize challenge to improve their collaborative filtering algorithm. Young suggested that systems to support this kind of learning – working on grand challenges – should serve as the model for accelerated learning.

As a parting comment, several of the panelists wondered whether we will use technology to do the same things we’ve done for hundreds of years but faster and with more people, or can we think differently about what it means to learn 21st century skills. Can we indeed learn to think differently?

As we all warmly applauded the thought provoking ideas shared by the panelists, the closing session of the Innovation Forum week was over all too quickly.  I felt like my mind was just getting warmed up and it was time to leave.

Once again, I wonder if the university experience is wasted on the young?

I eagerly await next year’s UW Bothell Innovation Forum.

And a special thanks to a new friend and colleague, Professor Alan Wood, for organizing this year’s Innovation Forum.  Well done!

Posted in Innovation, Intellectual Capital, Learning, Teaching, University, WUKID | 2 Comments

Where were you on 9/11?

Over my lifetime there are two questions that come up periodically:

  • Where were you on 9/11?
  • Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

Both of these events are wired deep into my memory.

Kennedy Assassination

On November 22, 1963, I was on the auditorium stage at Hilton High School practicing for an upcoming play. I no longer remember the play, but I remember another student interrupting us to share the news. We quickly decided that the practice session that day wan’t going to be very useful and we all hurried home to watch TV.

We had a black and white TV and for the next three days I sat riveted in front of the TV fascinated with the story and with the implications even though I was just a freshman in high school. It is hard to remember in today’s instant news world that it took a long time to get some idea of what really went on. Through late Friday night, Saturday and on into Sunday morning, I did not want to leave the TV set. When it came time to go to church, I insisted on staying at home to learn what was going to happen to Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused killer.

I was the only one at home to watch Jack Ruby kill Oswald. It was so surreal watching the event unfold live. I wasn’t sure it was live news or just another edition of the Perry Mason TV series.

While I have no idea what the lasting impact of that weekend long ago was, I do know that every time there is an lifestyle shattering event, I am drawn back to the TV to watch it unfold.

9/11 Terrorist Attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I’d gotten up very early to take the 5:20am ferry to Seattle from our home on Bainbridge Island, WA. We had an Attenex Board meeting at 8:00am that morning and as usual I had procrastinated in getting my slides ready. As I settled into my desk at 6:30am at the tallest building in Seattle, the Columbia Center, an announcement came over the building’s public address system. “Please don’t be alarmed but we are going to be stress testing the elevator system this morning.  You will feel lots of movement in the floors and may hear some metallic sounds,” blared the anonymous announcer. A few minutes later my floor shook and undulated for about 30 seconds.

I scrambled back to my Powerpoint Slides and tried to put the elevator testing out of my mind. Then my phone rang. When I picked it up a very stressed voice from my wife shouted for me to go find a TV and watch what was happening to the World Trade Towers in New York City.  She’d just gotten a call from her sister back east. However, I knew that there were no TVs anywhere in our building complex, so I decided to jump online.

Even though we were deep into the Internet Age in 2001, there was nothing available on any of the search engines about events happening in New York and Washington.  Things we take for granted today about reading news in real time and being able to watch video from any news station or bystander with a camera phone wasn’t all that prevalent as recently as 2001.

Deciding that it couldn’t be that big a deal if there was nothing happening on the Internet news sources, I once again returned to my Powerpoint slides. The PA announcer interupted me one more time with the announcement to evacuate the building. Somebody in charge had finally realized that the Columbia Tower was the largest building in Seattle and could be a target for other terrorists.

After sending email messages to all of the employees and our board members that we were cancelling work at the office for the day, I headed outside into the mouth of the TV cameras doing person on the street interviews. When I got home, I realized that they were interviewing the Columbia Tower tenants to see if we were scared that we might be the next target.

Not knowing what was really happening while we were out of touch on the ferry ride home, I jokingly made the comment that the Seattle Mariners had stuck a “Hit it Here Cafe” sign on the top of the Columbia Tower for the terrorists. Once again, my sick humor fell flat.

I arrived home and parked myself in front of our color TV mesmerized for the next 48 hours. For many hours, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then the World Trade Towers started falling. The engineer part of my brain was amazed that the buildings had held up as long as they did. The humanity side of my brain couldn’t fathom the dark side of man’s inhumanity to man.

While I was catatonic in front of the TV, my wife, Jamie, did a great job of connecting with all of our family members to understand who was travelling and determine whether everyone was safe. For the next month, we were engrossed in all of the personal tales of the trials and tribulations of all of those scattered around the world when they shut down all commercial air traffic.

Of Shoes and Planes and Shocking Facts

The video imagery and photo records of the 9/11 attacks are horrific along with the many first person stories. Our most engaging first person story came from the adult son of my wife’s high school exchange student, Vikram Somaya. Vikram’s mother, Brinda Somaya, relayed some of this story in the aftermath of the attacks and we all encouraged Vikram to write up his experience. On 9/16/2001, Vikram wrote the following on his blog “The Perfect Knot”:

“I love the perfect tie knot. After my years in high school, where a tie was a necessity, it was a rare day that demanded a tie and by inference the perfect tie knot. On the morning of Tuesday 11th of September, I think I managed to achieve the perfect tie knot.

“The World Financial Center, resplendent in its domed perfection had been the stage for a presentation by our company on September 10th and a group of us were headed back in, laptops in hand to make another presentation to a large financial services company. My little technology start-up was going up against some very large movers and shakers in the technology space and there had been much preparation and anxiety over the final presentation.

“I never wake up early, ever. I am allergic to early morning sunshine. This happened in my years in college when a nocturnal existence seemed the only way to exist. On the morning of September 11th, my eyes popped open at 7 am and they entirely refused to close again though I made a game effort for exactly 11 minutes to stay still and hope the sandman came back for a quick visit. When I finally conceded defeat, I decided that in order to make myself feel better, I should not just dress for success but actually eat breakfast – another first for the year.

“My cabbie was a garrulous Pakistani who wanted extensive information on my lineage. Upon hearing that I was a fellow-citizen of the subcontinent, he then decided that his next mission was to push his taxi to its mechanical best in order to render perfect service. As I jerked around the cab down the FDR drive towards Downtown, I hit the voicemail on my cellphone and listened to people asking for work and return calls and made a short list in my head for the hour I would spend in the World Financial Center before the other members of my team arrived. One of them was a call from my one of my managers, David Murphy and I knew that I had dropped him off at the World Trade Center Marriot the day before after the previous day’s meetings.

“I hit the redial and David’s hearty voice came onto the phone with some unfortunate news. He went on to tell me about how two of our group, Bassel and Steve were sitting in an airport with their flights pushed out to a 12 noon arrival from a 9 am arrival. David said that that Paul Volk, the coordinator of our meeting was now making calls to reschedule the meeting with the company at the WFC and that I should just sit tight and wait on a new time.

“I looked down at my perfectly knotted tie and knew that I was looking far too good to go back home. I thanked David and told him to keep me posted on how things were shaping up and decided, in a move that changed my life to keep heading downtown to have my breakfast, at the World Trade Center instead. I remember thinking to myself – ‘have cellphone, will travel.’

“The cab pulled off as I continued to listen to voicemail and chugged along West Street. Above me the shadow of the mighty downtown buildings were dwarfed by the shadows created by those greatest of New York duoliths – the World Trade Center Twins.

“As I leaned back to shut my eyes for a minute, my cabbie, in typical New York style overshot World Trade 2, as I opened my mouth to tell him to pull over, we both heard a delicate thrumming. The sound was not as loud as people would expect. The first plane, to my eyes, seemed to float in, almost delicately, the twin engines rumbling almost ashamedly as it impacted the building above me. I watched out the window in shock as above me the engines burst into white-hot radiance along the upper side of the World Trade Center 2. The cab jumped, just once and then there was silence. Money seemed to fly into my hand and I thrust the money into my cabbie’s hands and then ducked back into the cab for the receipt. I wanted that receipt. I wanted something to show I was there. I pulled my bags out and walked towards the bridge right by World Trade Center 2, about 30 feet from the building itself. My eyes were glued to the great smoking crater in the side of World Trade Center 2. There was a strange quiet to the scene after this first impact. There was no panic in the street. People walked around, slightly dazed talking about how they had seen the plane or asking what had happened and why the building was sending plumes of liquid-dark smoke into the glorious summer sky.

“The side of the building was not raining down debris. What was coming down was paper, reams of paper, great streaming curlicues of shredded paper. There was absolutely no sign of human presence at first. The building shedded paper blood and leaked flame from the great wound but all of us saw nothing that spoke to the human knot in the great building-city.

“As I got out and stared at the great wound, my phone flew into my hand begging attention and with a start I remembered that David was still in the World Trade Center Marriot. I thumbed through my numbers and hit the redial again with my eyes straying back up to the great inferno. David got on the phone and without waiting words poured out of my body – of planes hitting buildings and burning and bombs and the world trade center and panic. David listened and I felt disbelief and thankfully he said he would move and went to do so. I hung up and pulled out my blackberry email pager and started hitting letters, words that I needed to write. As they flowed out onto the screen addressed to my company, I looked back up and the side of the building gaped at me, lost and hurt.

“I remember conversations flying through the small knot of the people standing in the shadow of the enormous buildings. A man next to me looked up at the 107 stories of steel and glass towering above him and mused out loud – ‘I wonder why it’s not falling?’ I remember saying – ‘They have some incredible internal reinforcement.’ All of us were standing in the middle of the subsequent-debris zone between the two bridges in front of the World Trade Center 2 building about 10 feet from the ones closer to the building. As one we looked up, unable to move or tear ourselves away from the scene. It seemed like an hour, but I am told eighteen minutes later, the sky ripped apart once again.

“I was watching the paper fall when the air started thrumming again and like every corny action movie, the seconds seemed to lengthen into hours as a huge, unbelievably large plane shot out of the gap between the buildings beyond and ripped away all our shock, our confusion, our interest in staying there. The plane was huge, more then IMAX-huge, more then Stallone-Ah-nuld huge, larger then anything I had ever seen before and so close I felt that I could reach out and touch it. The plane was almost vertical from where I stood – the United logo and colors were so white and vivid that for minutes after the plane impacted, they stood out in my vision like fiery sky-writing, refusing to go away. I could hear the unreal whine of jet engines at 500 feet away, the turbines whining upwards as the plane seemed to leap forward into the side of World Trade 1 as it vanished from view behind the great bulk of the already burning World Trade 2 building.

“For a second, there was a great stillness and then the fire erupted out from the building, the plane vaporizing and repeating the same magic trick that the first jet displayed in front of my disbelieving eyes. As one creature, the 100 or so of us in front of the building turned and ran. I heard screaming and saw eyes darting to the sky searching for more of these angels of death. I heard a familiar scream – my own as I felt the laptop bag slam into my jacket again and again as I ran through the crowds heading down West Street. Just before we reached the second bridge, my legs stopped moving and I had to stop and turn. My blackberry and phone leaped in my hands and more emails poured out as I hit dial and redial on number after number. I poured words out into the phone as I tried to contract David. I left messages and called others, my mind reeling. Around me tens of people watched me dial and then asked for my phone, which was then used to call others and others and more others. About ten minutes into this the phone stopped working, the delicate LED bars fading into nothingness as the cell phone signals died.

“Just before I ran, just before the United Airlines plane hit, I saw my first jumper. I didn’t truly register her till I ran but I saw her leap – swan graceful out into the burning air. As I waited near the second bridge, I saw others. I remember not believing it at first. How was it possible that anyone would jump from 95 stories above the ground, it had to be debris or paper or jet parts or anything. But it wasn’t anything, it was people. People dressed like me or any of the many other workers gathered around me watching with eyes that were already glazed and dead. I sat down on the curb, my phone still dialing and watched as the buildings burned and the people leapt.

“During the days that follow, the image that comes back – unbidden and unwelcome is the sight of the second plane. It came in faster then death and huge – unstoppable and that one image for me seemed to bridge the gap between the real and the unreal. However, at night, when I cannot sleep, the people come back again and again and again. There were so many flailing limbs and delicate hands falling, seemingly forever before they hit the debris at the base. The air around them seemed to crackle and rip as they fell while the paper continued to drift down around them mocking their efforts to slow themselves down as they cut through the air.

“I looked up at the helicopters circling the building, wondering why no-one could get closer and pull some of those people off the building. The smoke poured out of the tops of the buildings and the helicopters swung around but never close enough to be any comfort. And still the people jumped. I saw a couple, hands clasped, a group falling like clothed birds, individuals slipping off the burning face and plunging down past the staring glass stories.

“I couldn’t move, couldn’t leave, couldn’t stop looking. There was no greater shock to me then making the jump from cinema and television to unadulterated vision and being ripped apart by the emotional sandstorm that whips through one, wearing down resolve, courage, focus and conscience. I couldn’t run towards the Marriot, I couldn’t run towards the building, I couldn’t do anything but sit and watch people jump.

“I felt the need to tell others though and as my phone sat stilled, my little blackberry hummed and sang out emails to the people in my life. They were short, ten words or under but there were many of them.

“As I had been sitting there, policemen had been directing traffic out of the area and moving people but suddenly there seemed to be a rawness and a bicycle policeman walked up to us and got us on our feet. ‘You have to move,’ he kept saying and every time he walked out of my immediate point of view, I sat down again, my eyes straying up to the burning towers. Nearly an hour had passed.

“Finally the policeman walked up to me and said ‘Please  – you need to start walking’ and I turned and walked. I walked down West Street, my head spinning. Around me I watched people come out of offices and side streets, looking behind me at the great burning edifices. I didn’t stop, I needed a phone. Suddenly I heard a great groan. I was now nearly 12 blocks away and turned to watch one of the buildings lean and then collapse, it’s spirit drained. I turned and kept walking to the Saatchi and Saatchi building on Houston and Hudson where I walked in as people flooded out and headed to an office I once used to work at. The office was nearly empty save for some old friends who were contacting friends who lived downtown and evacuating the few remaining employees. Charles Rosen, a good friend watched me walk in as he worriedly called friends and colleagues who might have been in the area. I walked to a phone and called David again and again. Finally I called my manager in Seattle, Nick Besbeas who I had tried unsuccessfully to reach from my cellphone and left a voicemail asking about David – saying I had sent him email and voicemail but had heard nothing and I was very worried.

“After some more calls, I had to leave. As I walked through the city, people stood around me rooted in shock watching downtown burn. I didn’t look back once. I just wanted to be home.

“I remember walking through Greenwich Village and hearing about the Pentagon. On the streets, televisions had been hooked up to extension cords and people were gathered five thick around each screen. I didn’t want to watch. I just wanted to be home.

“I remember walking into the house, the grief just beginning to hit as my roommate Minki got up in concern. The TV sang and seemed to take away a lot of the reality of the situation. The familiar screen burbled with terrible images but it had done so many times in the past – real and cine-created and they distance me immediately into a quiet sense of coma. I felt the dullness vanish replaced by a keening self-pity that was both repulsive and comforting at the same time.

“Until I walked into the house, I had not touched my perfect tie-knot. I finally took it off and slept that night wondering when I would enjoy the perfect tie-knot again and hoping that questioning would keep away the images that still flash past my eyes.”

These two very public events stick in my memory along with the happier private life events of my marriage to my wife, Jamie, to the births of our three children – Elizabeth, Maggie and John – and to the recent weddings of Elizabeth and Maggie. However, those are stories for another day.

On this President’s Day weekend 2012, peace be with all of us as we keep in mind those who have died in declared and undeclared wars for our special nation.

Posted in Attenex, Citizen, User Experience | Leave a comment

Curating My Way Into Existence

Since writing the blog post on “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do”, the idea of “writing myself into existence” each day continues to resonate. Yet, writing is just one aspect of what a blog post is all about. Another key aspect is the act of curation – the act of collecting and connecting digital assets (links) and providing context and meaning for the thoughts.

So am I “writing my way into existence” or “curating my way into existence?”

Such a deep question has to start with a little curation humor provided by Nicole Caruth in her article “Ten Tips for Aspiring Curators”:

“Since learning of Shaquille O’Neal’s curating gig with Flag Art Foundation, among other dubious projects announced last year, I have found myself returning to Eva Diaz’s piece Whither Curatorial Studies? from last February, in which she weighed the teachings of curatorial degree programs against the realities of the profession. Does this “pedagogical cottage industry” adequately prepare its students for the real world of curating? While I don’t see my own degree in curatorial studies as complete rubbish, the field was/is certainly romanticized and, these days, open to just about anybody (sans degree) who thinks he or she has ‘discerning’ taste.

“If you’re considering this educational path, here are ten things to keep in mind:

#10: It helps not to ask certain questions. To wit: bubbling with enthusiasm at the start of grad school, I asked a well-known curator what advice he gave aspiring young people in the field. He replied, “I’m not sure one can be trained to curate.”

#9: There are better paying industries in which you can use your “good eye” and still call yourself a curator. For example, you can organize concerts and parties; decorate homes, hotels and shops; create food and wine displays; or dribble balls.

#8: It’s good to know art history, but it’s even better to know the right people.

#7: Which one sounds better: “I curate independently for the personal reward” or “I curate independently for .10 cents an hour”? These are your options.

#6: Those who say that art writing is a short road to poverty don’t know about The Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. With this, one could do extremely well (at Artforum).

#5: If you believe that James Franco’s stint as an artist-serial killer on General Hospital is “subversive performance art,” you don’t need a degree. You need a brain.

#4: You’re only as important as your last show OR the celebrity standing next to you.

#3US News says “curator” is one of the 50 best careers of 2010. The photo used to illustrate this article is apt: the writer appears to know as much about the job as what’s in the frame … very little.

#2CNN Money, on the other hand, did their homework.

#1: Curating T-Shirt

Curating T-Shirt

This question came to the forefront as I came across “The 21st Century Curator” in a Twitter feed. I followed the link to the article and proceeded to become completely ADHD and lost in hyperspace for two hours without being able to completely read even a single article completely.

As I encountered each richly linked and illustrated online article my hyperactive clicking finger kept involuntarily following yet another wondrous thread. Even when I tried to force myself to read a complete article, I couldn’t. The distracting links promising even deeper insight kept beckoning me forward.

Finally, I came to a screeching halt, when I clicked on a link to “Content Strategy and Curation” described as a “stack on Delicious.” What the heck is a stack on Delicious and what is this “Follow” button sitting at the top of the stack. With all of my recent research into social media and beginning to practice what is preached how had I missed this Delicious stack stuff?

So as is my want after discovering something “On the Way to Somewhere Else” I immediately emailed (yes, I know it is so old school) a set of colleagues to see if I was the only one behind the times.  My colleagues had missed this tool as well.

What a great concept – being able to follow curated concepts or ideas – in the same way that I follow people on Twitter.

Within minutes, I’d found several related stacks on curation and content (which I FOLLOWED) and now I was really lost in hyperspace.

I loved the Clay Shirky quote I tripped over several times on this journey of discovery:  “Curation comes up when search stops working…[and] when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

Here are just a few of the curation articles that I journeyed to and still have not been able to finish:

However, the links alone are just the starting point, it is the wealth of images that entice as well.  Here are just a few of the diagrams from my content curation journey:

Content Curation

Content created on the web every 60 seconds

Personal Knowledge Management 2.0

The bothersome part of this “lost in hyperspace” as I try to study curation is that I’ve been proposing a new form of non-linear media. As my colleague David Socha observes both book authors and college course developers create a sequence for their material that does not work for anybody. So the challenge becomes one of how to allow each reader or student to create their own sequence from the content. As my friend and colleague John Hertel shared in his comment on the blog post:

“It’s not the tyranny of the linear book that’s the problem – it’s the tyranny of the one dimensional book. . . Which leads me to propose the paradigm of ‘layers’ – or a two-dimensional (or even multi-dimensional) book. You would still read in a linear fashion, but the book/app would be formulated to provide you with a foundation, and then let you build layers on top of that depending on where you wanted to go — almost like a skyscraper except that I could envision being able to continue entering the book at layers that were not necessarily always building on the previous layer.”

Based on my experience with exploring curation, I am reminded of an old monthly computing magazine column entitled “What hath Babbage Wrought?” Before I start building the non-linear book or layered book app, I need to do a bit more thinking about making sure that learning occurs rather than inducing a form of ADHD on myself and others.

Posted in Clay Shirky, Curation | Leave a comment

Who’s Watching the Scientists?

“Look at the top 10 images for scientists that show up on Google” presented Carrie Tzou as she introduced the session at the UW Bothell Innovation Forum Tic Talk on STEM Education.

Top 10 Scientist Images from Google Image Search

As we all had a good laugh, Carrie asked what kind of an image of a scientist is presented to K-6 students who might aspire to a career in Science, Techology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM). “Clearly to be a scientist you have to have bad hair and work with test tubes all day in some sterile lab,” Carrie continued to even more laughter.

Later in the STEM Education session, Kelvin Sung made a prophetic statement as he described his research on the use of games in learning “First Do No Harm.” At the end of the day, as the last presenter in the panel discussion on “Innovation and Ethics,” Gaymon Bennett of the Fred Hutchinson  Cancer Research Center told a riveting and highly controversial story of the recent experiments that made the deadly flu virus (H5N1) more contagious. A Computer Science professor doing games is worried about “doing no harm” while medical researchers are blithely publishing research for a potential bioweapon of mass destruction and are wondering why anyone could be upset.

Who is watching the scientists?

Watching the wondrous work STEM education researchers are doing in obscurity and then learning about the highly damaging publicly funded research into a bioweapon by Dutch researchers funded by our NIH made for an thought provoking day.  What is going on? Who knew that this relaxing knowledge acquiring day would turn into one full of important questions that we need to engage massive collective wisdom to understand the implications.

STEM Education Session

Carrie Tzou led us through her research in helping K-6 students develop a richer identity of what doing science means. She started the discussion with a wonderful diagram of lifelong learning by life-wide learning. I’d never heard the term life-wide learning which points out that we learn most of what we know outside of the classroom in the 16 hours a day we are awake. Life-wide learning.  I love the term. I live for getting introduced to new concepts which cause me to reorganize previous learning. Life-wide learning just made it into the pantheon of my great terms repository.

Carrie described her work with kit based science to generate a science backpack program to engage the whole family with the student’s work.  She showed a cute video of an elementary school student doing an experiment with which brands of microwave popcorn popped the most popcorn. The video finished without providing an answer to the student’s hypothesis. We had to beg Carrie to learn the result.

Given the amount of time people play games, Kelvin Sung’s research strives to answer the question “can we harvest the energy and passion of games playing to facilitate learning?” Kelvin made the assertion that learners want to build. Certainly the pioneering work by Neil Gershenfeld in the arena of personal fabrication and 3D printing points to the same phenomena. Kelvin has found that most games players find more joy in actually making a game rather than just playing. In spite of the seductiveness of games as a tool for learning, Kelvin’s research is showing that it is difficult to teach using games.  It is also difficult to assess whether games provide an increase in learning.

“Do no harm while faculty learn” is the guiding light for Kelvin’s research.

Next up was Robin Angotti to describe the work that she is doing with Kelvin Sung and his CSS students with “gesture supported visualization” for the teaching of mathematics using a Kinect game sensor for Windows. Robin had audience members demonstrate her software for using movement to create visualizations of algebraic equations. Robin is bringing to high school mathematics learning what every kindergarten teacher knows – engage the full body and mind in learning.

Robin referred us to “The Seven Trans-Disciplinary Habits of Mind: Extending the TPACK Framework Towards 21st Century Learning.”  The seven cognitive tools described are:

  1. Perceiving
  2. Patterning
  3. Abstracting
  4. Embodied Thinking
  5. Modeling
  6. Deep Play or Transformational Play
  7. Synthesizing

Robin observed that one of the big challenges with mathematics education is that it moves very quickly from the concrete to the abstract and never returns.  Most of the rest of the disciplines start with concrete learning and then build slowly to the abstract. Robin’s new mantra is to “do mathematics, not talk about mathematics.”

Innovation and Ethics Session

As I am interested in all aspects of innovation and am always looking for new insights into innovation, I had to attend the afternoon session on “Innovation and Ethics” to better understand the role that ethics has with innovation. This panel discussion was a case of being seduced by the title rather than having a clue what would transpire.

Gwen Ottinger organized a very thought provoking session with a great lineup of diverse speakers. One of the organizing principles of the panel was to talk about a wide scale of technology and innovations. The scale range of the talks ran from earth scale to nano scale:

  • GeoEngineering – scale > 25,000 miles
  • Windfarm Power – scale of 150 feet high by 10,000 acres wide
  • Personalized Medicine – scale of ~ six feet high
  • Influenza Molecules – 10 to the minus 8th
  • Nanoengineering – 10 to the minus 9th

As I reflected on these talks it reminded me of the Powers of Ten video that Charles and Ray Eames created for IBM. I wondered to myself what a powers of ten video for ethical issues surrounding innovation might look like.

Our first presenter, Lauren Nichols from UW discussed the challenges associated with GeoEngineering or the study of ways to reduce the implications of carbon emissions for climate change. She talked about the perfect moral storm that is occurring as scientists generate ideas for reducing the global warming effects of carbon emissions. Lauren listed the three major categories of changes – global challenge, inter-generational challenge, and the theoretical challenge.

Lauren illustrated several of the Geoengineering Methods that she described in the following diagram:

Geoengineering Methods

Lauren pointed out that the impact of the geoengineering climate change goes well beyond any one nation state, yet some of the ideas could conceivably be funded privately. The ethical questions are staggering:

  • Who gets to decide?
  • Who sets the thermostat?
  • Who bears the burden of shifting rainfall and climate?

Following Lauren, Gwen Ottinger described the massive scale of wind farms as an energy resource that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. What is new about wind farms is the massive scale both of the devices and of the acreage.  A wind farm in Ellensburg, WA has 149 wind turbines generating 240 megawatts of power on 10,000 acres. Something of this scale requires appropriate zoning and informed consent.  However, how do you do informed consent when you have no idea what the long term implications are for human health of the wind farm?

Next, David Guston from the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University shared his observations on nanotechnology and the ethical dilemmas. I loved his comment that “biology is the nanotechnology that works.” David started his discussion by comparing nanoscale in nature and what is manmade.  The challenge of nanotechnology is that the properties of materials which are well understood at normal scale are very unpredictable at nanoscale.

Anticipatory Governance is Guston’s proposed solution for dealing with the ethical dilemmas when creating new technologies. Quoting from Detlev Bronk in an article on “National Science Foundation: Origin, Hopes, and Aspirations”, Guston related “competent social scientists should work hand in hand with the natural scientists so that problems may be solved as they arise, and so that many of them may not arise.”

Guston provided an overview of his proposal for Anticipatory Governance with this slide:

Anticipatory Governance

Guston finished his presentation with the William Gibson quote “the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.” Anticipating Gayman Bennet’s talk more than he could know, Guston stated “the genie is already out of the bottle, how do we ask the right questions?”

As a UW bioethicist, Malia Fullerton introduced us to many of the issues surrounding the research charge into personalized medicine. She focused her presentation on the implications and ethical challenges of whole genome sequencing.  I was staggered by the rapid rate in the decrease of the costs to sequence a genome.  By the end of 2012, the cost for my whole genome sequence should be $100. She showed the following slide comparing the cost per megabase to Moore’s Law:

Cost Per Megabase of DNA Sequence

Malia went on to describe the ethical challenges in three categories:

  1. Inherent uncertainty
  2. Incidentalome
  3. Individual autonomy

My favorite concept in these challenges is the “incidentalome.”  Now, I have a new favorite term to go along with Life-Wide Learning.  Malia described this phenomena as “you go in looking for one thing and you find something else.” This term is a nice scientific sounding way to describe my blog post title “On the Way to Somewhere Else.” My life is just one big incidentalome.

The fundamental challenge for clinicians is how to communicate with a patient after reviewing a whole genome sequence. It’s a scope issue.  How do you prioritize which of 15-20 risks that are identified with a personal gene sequence should be discussed with the patient? In the Q&A session, one of the audience members asked “who owns the personal whole genome sequence? Does the individual own it, the lab doing the testing, or the third party payer?” Malia was delighted that somebody thought to ask this question as it is another one of those thorny ethical dilemmas with personalized medicine.

As I listened to Gwen Ottinger introduce the next speaker, I mentally patted myself on the back that in all of the software innovations I’ve built over the years that I never had to worry about the kinds of ethical issues presented today. Then I remembered a conversation in 1986 with Raleigh Awaya who was a Vice President at the East West Center when he came to New Hampshire for a presentation about DEC’s ALL-IN-1. After I finished presenting our current product and our future road map, Raleigh looked me in the eye and said “aren’t you worried that you are unleashing the technology to allow the government to implement George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four censorship and control vision?” Yes, I answered at the time. And I am still worried about this issue even more so with our development and distribution of Attenex Patterns.

Each of these four panel presentations provided a series of ethical questions, but they did nothing to prepare me for the final presentation by Gaymon Bennett of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Center for Biological Futures and a joint initiative of Biological Futures in a Globalized World. At the heart of his presentation was the story of a Dutch Research lab led by Ron Fouchier who had made a highly, contagious supervirulent form of the bird virus H5N1 avian flu.

I was riveted in my seat and leaning forward to be present and focused on Gaymon’s words. The voice in the back of my mind was getting louder and louder – who is watching the scientists?

After the session, I emailed Gaymon to get more background information on the important ethical dilemmas he was raising. He shared three articles. From the first article in the Foreign Policy Journal came:

“When flu scientist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in Rotterdam announced in September that he had made a highly contagious, supervirulent form of the bird-flu virus, a long chain of political events unfolded, mostly out of the public eye. Fouchier told European virologists at a meeting in Malta that he had created a form of the H5N1 avian flu – which is naturally extremely dangerous to both birds and mammals, but only contagious via birds – that was both 60 percent fatal to infected animals and readily transmitted through the air between ferrets, which are used as experimental stand-ins for human beings. The University of Wisconsin’s Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the world’s top influenza experts, then announced hours later that his lab had achieved a similar feat. Given that in some settings H5N1 has killed more than 80 percent of the people that it has infected, presumably as a result of their contact with an ailing bird, Fouchier’s announcement set the scientific community and governments worldwide into conniption fits, with visions of pandemics dancing in their heads.

“Within government circles around the world, the announcement has highlighted a dilemma: How do you balance the universal mandate for scientific openness against the fear that terrorists or rogue states might follow the researchers’ work – using it as catastrophic cookbooks for global influenza contagion? Concern reached such heights that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Geneva on Dec. 7, addressing the review summit on biological weapons. No American official of her stature had attended the bioweapons summits in decades, and Clinton’s presence stunned observers.

Clinton told the Palais des Nations audience that the threat of biological weapons could no longer be ignored because ‘there are warning signs,’ including ‘evidence in Afghanistan that … al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made a call to arms for – and I quote – ‘brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction.’” (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the terrorist group’s Yemeni-based affiliate and perhaps its most aggressive arm today, with connections to a number of ambitious plots.)

“Then, in what has widely been interpreted as an allusion to the superflu experiments, Clinton added, ‘The nature of the problem is evolving. The advances in science and technology make it possible to both prevent and cure more diseases, but also easier for states and nonstate actors to develop biological weapons. A crude, but effective, terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology. Even as it becomes easier to develop these weapons, it remains extremely difficult … to detect them, because almost any biological research can serve dual purposes. The same equipment and technical knowledge used for legitimate research to save lives can also be used to manufacture deadly diseases.’”

The next article from Science echoed more of Gaymon’s presentation:

“Two recently submitted manuscripts to Science and Nature report success in creating mutant isolates of influenza A/H5N1 that are able to be transmitted by respiratory droplet or aerosol between mammals (ferrets). The studies imply that  human-to-human transmission could be possible as well. Shortly after the submission of the papers to the journals, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was asked by the United States government to address this question. The NSABB recommended that the papers not be fully published; rather, the basic results of the studies should be communicated without methods or detailed results but in sufficient detail to maximize the benefits to society of the studies’ findings. In turn, these recommendations were accepted by the U.S. government and shared with the authors and the editors of Science and Nature.”

As one might imagine, this article set off an ethical controversy in the scientific community about censorship. Science Magazine also interviewed the researcher Ron Fouchier who had this to say:

Q: How do you feel about the moratorium yourself?

R.F.: It’s a pity that it has to come to this. I would have preferred if this hadn’t caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can’t change that. So I think it’s the right step to make. It’s comparable to what happened in 1975 at the Asilomar conference. But I think that was driven more by the scientists themselves; this time it’s mostly the public controversies that drive it.

Q: Did the NSABB recommendations take you by surprise?

R.F.: Absolutely. This was something that was unprecedented, and something I wasn’t counting on at all.

NSABB has said that the risks outweigh the benefits, and now many people are saying: In that case, you shouldn’t do this research at all. That’s a very logical response. But the infectious disease community doesn’t agree with NSABB on this. What NSABB should explain better is what the risks are exactly. How much bioterrorism have we seen in the past? What are the chances that bioterrorists will recreate these viruses? And is it really true that publication of this research would give bioterrorists or rogue nations an advantage? That’s what I would like to hear from the NSABB.

After the session, I talked with several colleagues about the staggering implications of this flu research. My research scientist daughter sided with the scientific community on this one and quickly forwarded me a pointer to an article from Nature by Peter Palese:

“The recent arguments over the creation of a transmissible form of the bird flu virus (H5N1) feel very familiar. My colleagues and I were at the centre of a similar controversy in 2005, when we reconstructed the 1918 flu virus, which had killed up to 50 million people worldwide. News stories around the globe debated the merits of our research and television pundits argued opposing viewpoints. Naturally, the US government was concerned — as it is now. Yet our research was published in full. So why are similar concerns being used now to demand unacceptable censorship of the H5N1 scientific papers?

“I have spent my career studying potentially dangerous pathogens — 20 years ago, my lab developed the technique that has enabled the H5N1 researchers to insert the mutations that render the virus more easily transmissible. In the 1990s, researchers discovered degraded samples of the 1918 virus in lung tissue from US soldiers who had died from the ‘Spanish flu’. Using polymerase chain reaction technology, they amplified and sequenced the virus’s RNA. We then took an existing influenza virus and, one by one, swapped its genes with those from the 1918 virus, eventually recreating a live version.

“As we prepared our results for publication, the US government convened the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which advises the community about research using agents that pose threats to national security or public health. Our experiments had made some people nervous.

“During our discussions with members of the NSABB, we explained the importance of bringing such a deadly pathogen back to life. Although these experiments may seem dangerously foolhardy, they are actually the exact opposite. They gave us the opportunity to make the world safer, allowing us to learn what makes the virus dangerous and how it can be disabled. Thankfully, the discussions were largely constructive — within a week, the NSABB recommended that we continue to study the virus under biocontainment conditions, and publish the results so that other scientists could participate in the research. After we published our full paper in 2005 (T. M. Tumpey et alScience 310, 77–80; 2005), researchers poured into the field who probably would not otherwise have done, leading to hundreds of papers about the 1918 virus. As a result, we now know that the virus is sensitive to the seasonal flu vaccine, as well as to the common flu drugs amantadine (Symmetrel) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Had we not reconstructed the virus and shared our results with the community, we would still be in fear that a nefarious scientist would recreate the Spanish flu and release it on an unprotected world. We now know such a worst-case scenario is no longer possible.

“This experience has made the NSABB’s latest recommendation — that the H5N1 researchers not reveal the mutations behind the virus’s transmissibility — all the more frustrating. I make the same argument today that we made in 2005 — publishing those experiments without the details is akin to censorship, and counter to science, progress and public health. Why did the (different) members of the committee come to a different conclusion in this case? I can only hope that they take a more sensible stance and change their minds, or that the scientific community at large convinces them to do so. Certainly, the authors of the papers, as well as the journals considering them for publication (including this one), should resist the committee’s unworkable compromise that the full information should be released only to approved experts, and insist on full disclosure.

“Giving the full details to vetted scientists is neither practical nor sufficient. Once 20–30 laboratories with postdoctoral fellows and students have such information available, it will be impossible to keep the details secret. Even more troublesome, however, is the question of who should decide which scientists are allowed to have the information. We need more people to study this potentially dangerous pathogen, but who will want to enter a field in which you can’t publish your most scientifically interesting results?”

Then another colleague, Geoff Bock, forwarded several articles from the New York Times that the full details of the recent experiments would be released:

“The full details of recent experiments that made a deadly flu virus more contagious will be published, probably within a few months, despite recommendations by the United States that some information be kept secret for fear that terrorists could use it to start epidemics.

“The announcement, made on Friday by the World Health Organization, follows two months of heated debate about the flu research. The recommendation to publish the work in full came from a meeting of 22 experts in flu and public health from various countries who met on Thursday and Friday in Geneva at the organization’s headquarters to discuss “urgent issues” raised by the research.

“Most of the group felt that any theoretical risk of the virus’s being used by terrorists was far outweighed by the ‘real and present danger’ of similar flu viruses in the wild, and by the need to study them and freely share information that could help identify the exact changes that might signal that a virus is developing the ability to cause a pandemic, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who represented the United States at the meeting.”

On March 3, 2012, the New York Times provided the following editorial on “The Truth about the Doomsday Virus?

“Two months ago we warned that a new bird flu virus — modified in a laboratory to make it transmissible through the air among mammals — could kill millions of people if it escaped confinement or was stolen by terrorists. Now Ron Fouchier, the Dutch scientist who led the key research team, is saying that his findings, which remain confidential, were misconstrued by the press.

“He says that the virus did not spread easily and was not lethal when transmitted from one ferret to another by coughing or sneezing, and that it became highly lethal only when big doses were injected into the animals’ windpipes.

“That is hard to square with his original assertions. Experts who read his original manuscript say it reported that the new virus spread through the air and remained as virulent as the natural virus, which has killed 60 percent of the humans it has infected.

“Dr. Fouchier’s new claims are only the latest bizarre twist in a global health debate that badly needs an objective, independent arbiter. The public needs to know whether this virus is a potentially big killer, and if so, how it should be contained. It needs to know what details can be published without giving terrorists a recipe for a biological weapon. And it needs to know that a mechanism will be put in place to assess all the risks and benefits of such research before it is approved — not after a new virus has been created. . .

“These issues need to be resolved by experts who do not have institutional biases or turf to protect. The World Health Organization should be in the best position to oversee a response to what is a global problem. Its first effort was one-sided and disappointing, but it has pledged to convene further meetings with a much broader range of experts and interested parties. It must ensure that these forums are not rubber stamps for what the narrower special-interest group just concluded.

“These are complicated issues, and the stakes are enormous. Governments and scientists have a clear responsibility to get this judgment and future efforts right.”

As I staggered from the presentation and wandered down the hall of UW1, I visited Professor Alan Wood’s office to thank him for his work in arranging the Innovation Forum. I shared with him my synopsis of the panel discussion and the sobering implications of Gaymon Bennett’s presentation. I laughed and said it was so sobering that I was going to have to go home and have a bottle of fine wine to drown the implications. Alan shared that he was in a similar state of mind preparing his lecture on the Great Famine for his Chinese history class. He lamented “to imagine that one single beating heart, Mao Zedong, could have caused this famine that killed 30 million people and to this day most Chinese people don’t really understand the magnitude of what he did.”

As I turned and walked out of his office even more depressed than when I walked in, Alan asked if I would raise a glass of wine in memory of the Great Famine as well.

As I immerse myself in the intersection of the humanities and innovation, I begin to wonder if Detlev Bronk had the right idea of getting the social scientists more deeply involved with scientific researchers.

Who should watch the scientists? They are right before us – the deeply committed, deeply thoughtful and deeply caring humanities professors.

Posted in Citizen, Health Care, Innovation, Learning, organizing, Teaching, University, User Experience, Values, WUKID | 2 Comments

Being a Citizen – Jury Duty

Rule of Law

Two months ago, the dreaded jury duty notice showed up in the mail.  Uggh.

I am ashamed to say that my first response was “How do I get out of this?” Then the integrity part of me realized that this is one of the few times I can participate in what it means to be a US Citizen. From past experience, I’ve learned that there is never a good time to serve as there is always something more important. So I filled out the form and sent it in. If I’d read the form carefully, I would have noticed that you can now do this online.  Wow, the Washington Court system has come into the Internet age.

Time flew by and it was time to journey to Port Orchard in Kitsap County to report for duty. The jury waiting room had undergone an upgrade since my last visit 10 years ago. The bailiff and assistants were incredibly cordial and thanked us over and over again for doing our civic duty. The cynic in me looked around the room and wondered why all these losers couldn’t get out of jury duty (stop it Skip). However, my keen observational skills noticed that there was a preponderance of older people and young females. Oops, I am now one of those older people.

We were informed that our case today was a criminal domestic violence case.  We then had to watch a video about the legal process and our role as jurors.  They’d upgraded the DVD production values since the last time I’d reported for jury duty. They also provided us with a brochure that described the same kinds of things.

We found out that there we would be serving on a six person jury in the Kitsap County District Court case. Then we were each handed numbers to pin to our lapels.  While there were 30 of us present, I had a relatively low number. I started wondering what my odds were of actually being selected to serve.

Soon we were marched up to the court room and introduced to all the players – the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant, and the court clerk. Unlike the Law and Order experience, this court room was pretty cramped.  Unexpectedly, the lawyers and defendant were seated at the same table staring right at us – up close and personal.

With my keen observational skills, I noticed that they’d done a significant upgrade of the technology in the court room.  Instead of a court reporter, everything was going to be recorded. Both the judge and the court clerk had two very large LCD displays with all kinds of information that I couldn’t quite read.  They must have read my recent blog post on the productivity boost you get with multiple monitors. Not!

The judge asked us a set of general questions to determine if any of us should be dismissed for cause.  The judge kept pointing out that being dismissed either for cause or as a result of a peremptory challenge was not a reflection on us personally. As the judge asked whether any of us knew any law enforcement court personnel, I was reminded of my good friend Katherine’s story of her jury experience. As her jury selection dragged on, the judge was getting more and more frustrated with the lawyers and the prospective whiny jury prospects.  When he got to the “do any of you know” question, Katherine raised her hand.  The judge rather testily asked her who she knew in the court system.  She answered “You, your honor. You are my next door neighbor.” After the courtroom stopped convulsing in laughter, the judge sheepishly dismissed her.

No such luck for me today. I know hundreds of lawyers (my daughter and son-in-law at the top of the list) from my ten years building and selling eDiscovery software, but I don’t know any law enforcement officers or court personnel.

Then it came time for the lawyers to ask us their questions. The prosecutor got up and started with the general question about whether we were all comfortable with being able to make a decision beyond a reasonable doubt. He shared that there was a lot of confusion about what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means. As an example, he asked “Do any of you have a reasonable doubt that I graduated from law school?” We all raised our hands and laughed. The wise guy in me wanted to shout out “I hope it was a good law school.” Then I realized that I had no idea if he was a lawyer. I was making the assumption that lots of other people had checked on his qualifications in order for him to be in the courtroom. Even this easy question wasn’t so easy.

Through the rest of the morning and after lunch, the lawyers asked us questions related to our qualifications to be on the jury. One of the prospective jurors with a lower number than me shared that he was worried about his small business while he was on jury duty. After several followup questions he was allowed to leave. Slowly but surely the defense attorney got around to me.

He asked me what I did and I shared that I was a software business executive. He asked me if I was going to have the same problem as the other small business owner. I shared that I wasn’t going to be distracted as I had arranged my schedule to be available for the week.  However, it was clear that I got a black mark on his peremptory challenge list.

While I wasn’t eager to be on the jury and enjoyed the earlier back and forth comparing jury duty with going to the dentist, I also was interested in serving to see what the experience was like.

As the juror numbers were called out for the six person jury, I wasn’t selected. I had answered something wrong or wasn’t the right type. Now I was hurt. I wasn’t good enough to serve on this jury. While I was relieved that I would get the rest of my week back and would be able to attend several of the UW Bothell Innovation Week Forums, I was bummed.

So many are called, so few can serve.

As I emailed my family to let them know that I was dismissed from jury duty for the week, one of my daughters immediately replied and asked what I said so that she could use the same thing to get dismissed from her jury duty in California later in the week. I wish I knew.

As I drove back home, I reflected on this wonderful country we live in with its rule of law. It can be frustrating and unruly at times, but being called for jury duty is another one of those reminders that US citizenship is a privilege.

Posted in Citizen, User Experience, Values | Leave a comment

Observing Users for Software Development

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”  - Yogi Berra

Too many years ago, I sat in a sterile conference room at DEC mesmerized by the lecture being given by the talking head on the video, Russ Ackoff.  Ackoff was defining the difference between analysis and synthesis and was using as an example designing the best car.  In describing analysis, he talked about most people starting by benchmarking the best parts at every location in the best cars.  But you notice if you have all of the certifiably best parts, they won’t even go together to build a running car.  He then went on to emphasize that to design well you must start with a process of synthesis.

Synthesis starts first by understanding the context of the system under study.  You then go up to understand the system that contains the system that you are interested in, looking at the collection of systems that make up the containing whole.  You then work out how these systems interact with your system under study.  Only when you’ve figured out how the containing whole system works can you understand the system you want to design for.

As good analytical types, the Extreme Programming (XP) and Agile founders used a process of analysis to come up with the principles and practices of XP.  Their starting point was working against software development teams always being blamed for late delivery of software that wasn’t very usable.  In the end, they did a great job of solving for the problems of the software development team, but they didn’t design in the context of the whole problem.  For example, there is no equivalent of Xtreme Marketing or Xtreme Customer.  The XP designers pushed all of those problems onto a customer representative who would sit with the development team and TELL them the necessary requirements.  The customer representative becomes cut off from the richness of their work context and the development team is reduced to HEARing what is needed to be built.

Research studies on adult learning make clear that the best way to learn is to experience the topic directly.  Instead of telling me how to pick up a baseball bat and strike a pitched ball, show me how to do it.  Then let me quickly try it myself.  Learning can then quickly accelerate if there is an experienced coach operating from a rich framework of how different individuals can master striking the ball.  The coach operating from a mental image of how that person’s physique and skills could best accomplish the task can then give pointers on how to best move from one’s current capabilities to the ideal.

David Kolb is one of the leading researchers on adult learning.  A summary of the process and learning styles is:

“Much of our traditional learning experience has led us to believe that we learn best by listening to experts. It has been found, however, that learning that results in increased self-awareness, changed behavior, and the acquisition of new skills must actively engage the individual in the learning process. In particular, adults have been found to learn more effectively by doing or experiencing.

Kolb Learning Styles

Adult learning specialist, David Kolb, has described this learning process as a four-phase cycle in which the learner: (1) does something concrete or has a specific experience which provides a basis for (2) the learner’s observation and reflection on the experience and their own response to it. These observations are then (3) assimilated into a conceptual framework or related to other concepts in the learner’s past experience and knowledge from which implications for action can be derived; and (4) tested and applied in different situations.

The adult learner assimilates useful information into their personal “experience bank” against which future learning events will be compared and to which new concepts will be related. Unless what is learned can be applied to actual work or life situations the learning will not be effective or long lasting.

People responsible for designing learning events should keep these phases in mind as they develop ways to help the learner understand and be able to use the new knowledge and/or skill.”

Kolb's Learning Styles

Recent cognitive science research is showing that not only is experiencing a better way to learn, but also how that experience is gained.  My daughter, Liz Walter Shelly, makes this research concrete by illustrating how best to learn to climb a rock wall:

Monkey see lets monkey do

“Watching expert climbers actually can improve your performance…

“What’s the most important muscle for climbing?” my instructor asked for the fifth time. “Your brain,” we dutifully chanted in unison, still a bit skeptical. Yeah, yeah, your brain is important, but our instructor’s splayed limbs demonstrated that he certainly wasn’t hurting for other muscles. Meanwhile on the ground, my forearms were burning after one climb up the 8m wall. (Though in my defense, it was the one with the crazy incline). Still only a beginner, I drool at the nutters on the Banff mountain climbing films and wonder at whether I’ll ever get up the nerve to tap in my own piton, or go on a multi-pitch climb.

“A springboard diver in my past life, I recently caught the climbing bug, and would much rather be trying to crimp my fingers around some miniscule hold than actually working on my dissertation. To alleviate my guilt, I decided to look for links between this thrilling sport and my journal article reading. During my grad student day-job, I study the human visual system. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why sunsets are so breathtaking, or why you can be looking directly at your keys and still not see them. However, I can tell you a little bit about how it is that we translate a visual image into an action. More importantly, the scientific community at large is starting to understand how it is that just by viewing expert performances, we can subsequently improve our initial athletic attempts.

“Back in 1995, a couple of researchers noticed that the same brain areas active when a monkey reached for a grape were also active when the monkey saw another person reach for the grape. Hmmm, that’s interesting – what you do and what you see are linked at a fundamental neural level. Subsequent experiments found that individual cells in the front parts of the brain seemed to represent complex actions (e.g. reaching, grabbing) no matter whether it was the monkey that moved, or a nearby person who reached for the reward while the monkey simply watched. Furthermore, the cells had preferences for different actions – some brain cells were interested in reaching, some in tearing, while still others preferred bashing or poking. A couple of years ago, another group of researchers found that human brains are activated differently when watching someone else perform movements that they can also do (say, ballet dancers watching ballet performances), versus when watching people performing movement sequences at which they’re not expert (say, a rock climber watching a ballerina). Hmm, that’s interesting – so what you can do influences how you see.

“I’ve always maintained that I dove better during the years that I was “second-fiddle” on the team. Those years at practice I had the pleasure of watching my expert teammates nail dive after dizzying dive, while I struggled to keep up with the number of flips and twists. Lucky me though – as I had the visual reinforcement of their excellence, my brain learned to pattern my own movements from theirs, allowing me to improve by leaps and bounds (excuse the pun). In climbing, one of the most important things any beginner can do to improve her performance is to spend hours watching the pros (or really anyone a decimal-rating or two better). Someone actually studied this for his dissertation already and found that beginner climbers shown a video of an expert climbing a route did better on that route themselves than those shown a video of a novice climber. So, what you see influences what you can then do. At some level this is old news – of course you should watch experts – only a scientist would find something miraculous in any of this. However, the fact that we know that the exact same brain areas are engaged in observing as well as producing motions will allow us to better train athletes, mentally as well as physically.

“In many athletic programs (no matter the specific sport), video technology has taken over practice, allowing athletes to see their performances immediately after they’re executed. My former diving coach would TiVo each practice – allowing us to dive, watch what we just did, and then hop back up and try to improve on it. This helped for some aspects of the dive; for example, I never would believe that my feet came apart during twisters unless I saw it on tape! However, some of the recent research suggests that, while watching yourself is good and all, it’s watching folks better than you that will have the beneficial impact on your brain circuits.

“One last kicker – another set of studies investigating mental imagery found that simply imagining moving one’s finger increased muscle strength in that particular finger. Extrapolating from this suggests that just thinking about yourself ascending that route may actually help you develop the strength to do it. So all those athletic loons that you see staring up at the chalk marks on the wall, making small movements here and there as they decide on foot placement, are really teaching their brain what to expect on the way up. In short, much of the neuropsych research suggests that the best time to train your brain is while you’re resting your muscles. Stare at the wall. Really scrutinize your fellow climbers (well, the good ones, anyway). Of course, any decent athlete knows all of this at an instinctual level already. But hey – you’ve now got a great excuse to hang out and watch the experts for an extra hour as your muscles recuperate… Of course to see if you’ve learned anything, you’ve got to get out there and actually climb it.”

By removing the customer’s context and any direct experience of their total problem/opportunity, the XP development team cuts off significant information streams.  One of the first things I learned in my ten years of studying and teaching at the Institute of Design (ID) of the Illinois Institute of Technology, is that humans are very inarticulate at describing how they perform some complex behavior or what they might need in order to improve it.  It’s one of the many reasons why interviews or focus groups do not lead to successful designs.  At ID, students are taught to observe, observe, observe.  They quickly learn that humans are extremely articulate in their actions and behaviors.  You just have to observe them.

A core technology in observing people is the use of video ethnography.  That’s a big social science phrase for simply videotaping people in the context of their actual work so that you can study, deconstruct, and share the results with others.  This technique is a staple of athletic teams from young children to professionals.  Yet, it is little used in business where it proves to be even more valuable.

My first introduction to the power of video ethnography was on my first visit to ID.  Over my 40 years of building and managing software product development, I’ve searched for a way to design a product right the first time.  I’ve looked in hundreds of places for that magic elixir.  I’ve been frustrated out of my gourd with all the usability (UX) professionals who tell me my product sucks after I build it, but have nothing to say when I start to design.

Then in 1992 while visiting the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology, my views on design were transformed by a five minute video from a student class project.  This video was my first introduction to the power of user observation.  Sitting in a miserable concrete walled classroom on the 13th floor of a non-descript research building over looking some of the worst slums of South Chicago, I could barely hear the nervous student introducing his project.  It had something to do with improving the ability of the business traveler to work in a hotel room.  As someone who usually travels 150,000 air miles a year and spends >50 nights per year in hotel rooms, he had my attention, if not my expectation that he could shed any light on a frustrating environment.

The student created a relatively simple task for a male and female pair of business colleagues.  The pair had to create a business report in a hotel room, and then type the results into their laptop PC.  In the process they had to confer with other employees over the phone to get information for the report.  The student would videotape their activities in the hotel room for later analysis.  The first several minutes of the videotape showed the awkward dance of the professional colleagues trying to find a work surface that would accommodate their needs, while avoiding the cultural taboos associated with the only work surface available – the bed.

The pair searched in vain for something that would work and yet the bed remained the only place that is large enough, was convenient to the phone, the power outlets and the available light.  The pair finally concludes that the bed is the only viable place and they start to lay their papers and computers on the bed.  They then realize that there is no comfortable place to sit.  The single chair in the room is too high for the bed surface.  Yet, it hurts to kneel on the floor and it is awkward to sit on the bed without disturbing the papers and computers.  Throughout all of this trial and error, the male and female are trying not to invade each other’s personal space so that they don’t cross the line into intimacy.

After five minutes of trying to work, the pair throws their hands up and quits the exercise.  They cannot get work done in that environment.  I was amazed at how completely the five minute video transformed my experience as a business traveler from unnamed frustration with a hotel room as a work environment to being able to clearly articulate my frustrations.  And in that moment, a solution space opened up for tens of ways to transform the business traveler’s hotel working experience.  No interviews were needed.  No audio was even present on the videotape.  Just watching the interactions said it all.  The student also showed some interviews with business travelers that provided no insights on either the problems or the solutions as a counterpoint to the power of user observation.  Even though we might be experienced business travelers, we are not usually conscious about what bothers us to be specific about the problems.

Even more impressive was that the video was generated by a Master’s student as part of his first seven week course on user observation.  Over the years one of my first tests of a method or process is how quickly can a student pick up a process or a technique.  I have seen many techniques where the inventor or teacher could reliably perform great work, but none of their students could master the technique.  Clearly, here was a process that was both powerful and could be mastered quickly.

Performing user research is relatively easy.  In its simplest form it is just finding an appropriate place to observe users and then make notes on a pad of paper.  In its most complex form it is being able to have video cameras and recorders in place so that a team of researchers which typically include anthropologists and social scientists can extensively review the interactions captured for deep analysis with formal methods.

Examples of the professional use of these techniques come from McDonalds, Amoco, and Personal Health Connections.  About ten years ago, McDonalds was interested in understanding why Taco Bell locations were up to 50% more profitable per store than were similarly located McDonalds stores.  The Doblin Group was engaged to research this topic and was able to instrument several McDonalds locations and a few Taco Bell locations with several cameras.

After viewing hundreds of hours of videotapes and generating several insights and hypotheses as to what was going on, one of the anthropologists came up with a curious difference.  At Taco Bell, the store was laid out such that all of the servers spent most of their time either face on to the customers or sideways to the customers.  While at McDonalds, servers spent greater than 85% of their time with their back to the customer.  Doblin Group coined this observation “Backs and Butts”.  If you recall the last several times you visited a McDonalds, the backs and butts of the servers tend to be quite large and unattractive.

So with this insight and hypothesis, the Doblin Group set out to test the notion in a few remodeled McDonalds.  Almost overnight the revenues and profits increased in these locations to levels higher than what Taco Bell was seeing and considerably higher than stores laid out in a traditional McDonalds style.  The good news is that the researchers proved their case; the bad news was that McDonalds was unable to depart from their tradition of “this is the way we design our stores.”  It turns out that most of the McDonalds management was home grown and had started as servers or cooks in a local McDonalds.  They weren’t about to change the formula that had made them quite wealthy.

Doblin Group was commissioned by Amoco to figure out ways to make their retail locations more profitable.  It turns out that gasoline is sold pretty much the same by all oil companies and the margins are pretty much the same.  Amoco asked if there was a way to dramatically improve profitability by observing the ways that users buy gas.  While Doblin did a very systematic overview of the retail operations and came up with a system of innovations that is breathtaking in its scope and inventiveness, it was the interaction at the gas pump that captured my imagination.

Similar to McDonald’s Doblin fitted a gas station with cameras from just about every angle.  One of the things they noted was the dance that users went through to figure out how much gas they were putting into the car.  Users were contorting themselves in all kinds of ways to keep their eye on the pump handle and the gas flowing into the car as well as try to eye how much money was cranking away on the pump display.  The Doblin folks called this the “gas pump watusi” after a dance step popular at the time.  The solution was pretty straightforward – move the gauges to the gas pump handle itself.  Similarly, the social scientists observed that after filling the car themselves that most people made a trip to the rest room to wash off their hands.  So they located wash stands at every gasoline island.

Based on these observations and several similar ones, Amoco built four service stations to these specifications in Indianapolis, IN.  Immediately these stations generated 2-4 times the revenue of similarly located Amoco and competitor stations and were hundreds of percent more profitable.  The bad news was that Amoco underwent a reorganization and subsequent acquisition by BP and the innovations were never brought to life on a wide scale.

At Personal Health Connections (PHC), user observation was accomplished with several subjects who agreed to help us understand the process of dieting and weight management that they used.  A simple camera study and weekly interview process was carried out over three weeks.  The patterns of change fell into three very distinct categories:  planners, trackers, and storytellers.  Planners took a top down approach to losing weight.  They established a goal and developed activities that would help them lose weight and then monitored their results daily.  Trackers were just the opposite.  They took a bottom up approach which started with the monitoring of their daily weight and activities.  Based on tracking what they actually did, they slowly started to generate some goals that would fit their activity pattern.

PHC User Research Model

The third category of users was the story teller.  They wanted their information presented to them in the form of stories and all of their goal setting and tracking was done in the form of telling stories.  Each activity had a cast of characters, action, a plot, and an ending.  We quickly realized that the design of the website had to accommodate all three user types and that one design probably wouldn’t work for all three.  If you look at many of the best web sites today you will see functionality that appeals to each of these types of users.  What we did at PHC was to have a quick diagnostic in our first interactions with a user to let us understand which type they were and then we accommodated their need with an appropriate user interface.

The hardest of these types to accommodate is the story teller.  It is relatively easy to present information to the user in the form of stories, but much more difficult to take what appears to be unstructured text and make sense of it.  That’s one of the many reasons I’m excited about the technology we worked on at Attenex.

With computer based products one of the challenges is not to confuse user observation with usability.  Both are important but they are different.  User observation is about situating a user’s actions in the context of their daily life and understanding the Whole Process that is required to meet their intent or goals.  The observations ground themselves in a structure of observation, contention (does the observation lead to a positive or negative consequence), and what user value or values are supported or not by the users actions.  Usability tends to be focused more narrowly on how the computer program functions match the users understanding and expectations.  The big ideas that will lead to 10X productivity improvements are most likely to come from user observation.

As I reflect on the last 40 years of product development, the pattern that continually repeats is how well the first sets of prototypes for a product unconsciously employ the techniques of user observation and human centered design.  For many startups the need for their product arose out of the frustrations of the founders with existing ways of doing things or by observing some frustrated user segment trying to accomplish some task that the founders had the insight to do better, faster and cheaper.

As the deadline pressures grow and the need to generate revenue grows, designers and developers tend to quit observing users on a regular basis.  I am constantly amazed at how just small doses of user observation lead to such profitable insights.  For at least the first year of Attenex, we had the gift of being closely and intimately co-located with Preston Gates and Ellis.  A top priority for a company is setting up the infrastructure and processes so that observing users as they go about their daily work is an integral part of the product development and business development process.

As you go about the world looking for opportunities to find that “latent unmet need” use your observational skills to “see what really matters.”

Posted in ALL-IN-1, Attenex, Attenex Patterns, Design, Human Centered Design, Innovation, Software Development, User Experience | 5 Comments

Integrity – Easily Lost, Hard to Regain

In writing the blog post on “Succumbing to the Ultimate Power Trip,” I was reminded of a bookend to this experience. One of the more interesting players in the Watergate affair was Egil “Bud” Krogh. Bud was the 32 year old Nixon White House staffer who was put in charge of the Special Investigation Unit (The Plumbers) which led to the Watergate Scandal.

Egil "Bud" Krogh

Bud’s story is wonderfully captured in his book Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House. I was fascinated by the Watergate break in and Bud’s role in it, but had lost track of him.  A couple of years ago, my colleague Marty Smith from Attenex days, invited my wife and I to dinner with several other families and Bud Krogh.  I had no idea that Bud lived in Seattle and had been practicing law here.  Marty shared that Bud had just written a book about his experiences and was starting on a book tour.  I immediately ordered the book to be better prepared for the dinner.

As one who values integrity but struggles to meet my own high standards, I was enthralled with the book. With the distance of time in writing this book, Bud captured so wonderfully his own aspirations, his integrity lost, and the life long struggle to regain his own integrity.

Wrapped around Bud’s story is also the story of Richard Nixon. Bud revealed many different sides to Nixon that I’d never read about. Chapter 7 in the book relates the amazing story about Nixon going to the Lincoln Memorial in the midst of Vietnam war demonstrations.

The interesting correlation with Bud’s story is I had come up to DC with my roommates from Duke University to protest that weekend, but we didn’t stay on the Capital Mall.  We spent the night with my roommate who lived in Silver Spring, MD.  So I missed this moment of history.  When Bud and I were talking about the event at dinner, all of a sudden he looked over at me and said “You were there weren’t you?”  I nodded.  And then with a gleam in his eye, he asked if I was on the “other side” like his current wife.  “Of course,” I shared.

Here is a glimpse of Nixon from Chapter 7:

“Although Richard Nixon was important to me as an authority figure, I became much closer to him personally when I followed him during one of the most moving, bizarre, and potentially dangerous ventures of his presidency. For the first time, I observed him in a crisis mode digging deep into his reservoirs of intellect and emotion. What I saw him say and do that day affected me strongly and bound me more closely to him than ever before. The episode began with an alarming message from a Secret Service agent.

“‘Searchlight is on the lawn!’ I looked up in shock as these tense words about the location of ‘Searchlight,’ President Nixon’s Secret Service code name, crackled over the loudspeaker in the Service’s command post in the Old Executive Office Building. It was 4:15 A.M. on May 9, 1970.

“A few hours before, in the evening of May 8, the president had explained in a news conference why he had ordered a military “incursion” into Cambodia. His comments had added fuel to the firestorm of frustration and rage among tens of thousands of students and other antiwar activists around the country. Those activists and students who lived closest to the District of Columbia were headed directly to the capital to vent their anger and grief. We had good reason to fear a violent and possibly lethal confrontation.

“The president’s news conference the night of May 8 followed the tragedy at Kent State University in Ohio just a few days before on May 4. The Kent State protest, like others on campuses throughout the country, was organized after news of the president’s decision to attack Cambodia first became public knowledge on April 29. At Kent State, Governor John Rhodes had called up the National Guard to help maintain order on the campus. When the inevitable clash occurred, young, frightened National Guardsmen, who had been issued live ammunition, fired on a rock-throwing group of angry students, killing four of them. The picture of one girl kneeling next to the bodies and looking up in shock and anguish had already been widely reprinted, searing the minds of millions around the country. The Kent State killings were a painful and forceful reminder to me not to allow our government defenders to overreact and precipitate a worse tragedy. In The Haldeman Diaries, former chief of staff Bob Haldeman noted that when Nixon heard the news about the Kent State killings on May 4, he was “very disturbed.” He was “afraid his decision set it off.” Haldeman and the president talked that day about how they could get through to the students but came up with no plan.

“I had just come into the command post to ensure that preparations to fortify the EOB and the White House were completed in preparation for the potentially violent protest that was brewing outside. Right after the first Secret Service announcement that “Searchlight is on the lawn” came a second: “Searchlight has asked for a car.” These two announcements made no sense to me and sounded extremely ominous. The president was supposed to be asleep in the White House residence. All of our security precautions were predicated on keeping him safe within the White House grounds. Not once in our crisis management group meetings did anyone envision the possibility that the president would venture out on his own during this volatile, potentially incendiary day. Certainly not two hours before dawn. . .

“Right after the second announcement that the president had called for a car, I phoned the White House signal operator and asked him to ring John Ehrlichman immediately. When John answered and mumbled, “What’s up?” I told him that the president was at large and had called for a car. “Go over to the lawn and see if you can render assistance.” “Yes, sir!” I answered and then warned the Secret Service duty officer that I was going to be moving at speed over to the West Wing. I ran across West Executive Drive, sprinted past the White House police desk inside the ground-floor West Wing entrance, took the steps two at a time up to the first floor, and arrived at the Rose Garden lawn just in time to see the president’s limousine disappear out the south entrance next to the Northwest Gate.

“After checking quickly with the Secret Service agent on duty, I learned that the president was heading to the Lincoln Memorial. I called Ehrlichman to let him know the president’s destination and then immediately called for a car and directed the driver to take me there. After a high-speed ride, we arrived at the Memorial about four minutes later and stopped right behind the president’s limousine, which was idling against the curb on the street between the Reflecting Pool and the Memorial. I ran up the steps but then slowed down when I saw the president talking with a group of students just inside the Memorial to the front and right of the famous statue of a brooding Lincoln sitting in a chair. It was still dark.

“President Nixon was talking earnestly to about eight or ten students who had formed a loose circle around him. Manolo Sanchez, Nixon’s valet, and Dr. Tkach, the physician who usually accompanied the president, were standing off to the side. Dr. Tkach looked tired and very worried. Other students were gradually moving over to join the circle when they realized who was there. Most disturbing, I counted only four Secret Service agents in the president’s detail-a frighteningly small number for such a potentially dangerous situation. They were positioned around him so that they could maintain a 360-degree observation. I could tell from their faces that they were as fearful as I was. As Nixon wrote later, “I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension.” He certainly got that right.

“From the back of the circle of students, I leaned in closer to observe the president and hear what he was saying. As I wrote later that day, “It appeared that he was trying very hard to reach out and into the students, to communicate with them…. He did carry the conversation for the most part … but this was necessary as the students themselves had hardly anything to say, and were too stunned to respond at all. His manner was reminiscent of the campaign where he would go into a group of people, shake hands and comment on those things which popped into his mind.”

“And a lot popped into his mind. The vast range and mastery of the subjects he discussed was monumental. That he could offer these ideas around 5:00 A.M. after just an hour of sleep made it an even greater tour de force of intellect, compassion, and focus. Although I could not hear every word he spoke, I was awed and moved by what I did hear. All of my previous meetings with the president had been somewhat formal briefings in the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. This was the first time I had heard the president speak extemporaneously and straight from the heart.

“In a memo Nixon dictated on May 13 about “what actually took place at the Lincoln Memorial,” he expressed frustration that neither Ron Zeigler (who didn’t join our traveling group until we were just leaving the Capitol) nor I got a clear understanding of what he was trying to communicate. He felt that we were too focused on the practical aspects of the visit-when he got up, how he looked in reaching out to the students, what he had for breakfast-than what was really important. He wrote that his staff “are enormously interested in material things, what we accomplish in our record … [but] very few seem to have any interest and, therefore, have no ability to communicate on those matters that are infinitely more important-qualities of spirit, emotion, of the depth and mystery of life which this whole visit really was all about.”

“The important thing was to communicate deeply significant ideas about our country, its problems, and their lives to students who might never have a chance to see and hear a president again. He told the students that his favorite spot in Washington was right there-the Lincoln Memorial at night.

“He then asked if any of them had seen his press conference. Because most of them had been traveling the night before to get to D.C. to protest against him, only a few hands went up. He said that he was sorry they had missed it because he had explained during the conference that his ‘goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs-to stop the killing and end the war to bring peace. Our goal was not to get into Cambodia by what we were doing but to get out of Vietnam.’”

The whole book is just incredible reading. Bud and I got about 30 minutes to ourselves during the picnic dinner.  He talked about many things he couldn’t put in his book about Nixon and the enigma that he was.

I also wanted to know how Bud could possibly make it through the prison sentence.  He shared that he took one book with him to prison – Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning which is one of my favorite books.  I was also fascinated to understand how as a convicted felon he could get reinstated to the practice of law.  Chapters 11 and 12 described his long process to readmission to the Washington State Bar.

Donald Rumsfeld

However, what really galvanized the discussion is how many of the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan advisers were invited back by Donald Rumsfeld to provide advice on how George W. Bush should deal with the mess in Iraq.  Bud was astounded at their arrogance and unwillingness to take any input from the folks who had made a mess with Nixon.  Bud was appalled as he watched the same patterns repeat even when he’d pleaded with the Bush folks not to make the same mistakes.

After the dinner with Bud, I was in DC a couple of weeks later for a conference.  I spent several hours one evening seated in Lafayette Park trying to imagine then president George W. Bush walking down to the National Mall to meet with demonstrators.  How much the world has changed in 40 years.

Bud’s book is an incredible story and the man is even more interesting (actually both Bud and Nixon).

Posted in Content with Context, organizing, Relationship Capital, social networking, Values | 2 Comments