Creating Your Personal Future

“‘Kingfish, where’d you get your good judgment?’
And Kingfish says, ‘From my experience.’
And where’d you get your experience from?’
And Kingfish says ‘From bad judgment.'”

I am often asked to help entrepreneurs, executives and students with the direction they should pursue in the future.  Over the years I’ve evolved the following process for helping people create their personal future. The following exercises and meditations engage all of the communication senses of the whole person (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) with each of their sub-modalities and engage at the body, mind and spirit level.

Team Art

Before working through this document, start with listening to (and reading) Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.  This work is all about getting in touch with your dream and then aligning yourself with your dream.

The following is the text of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech with images of what the text points to:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

What is your dream?

Spend a few minutes to reflect on Martin Luther King’s speech and then get in touch with your dream. Write the words that come to mind that express your dream.  Sketch an image of your dream.

Meditations and Reflections

The following sections provide suggestions for beginning personal reflections to use before making life changes.  The general notion is that each of the reflection sections is organized as something to read as a vehicle for creating a meditative state.  Use the meditation time for each reflection to open yourself to the imagery of the past, present and future.  After 5-10 minutes of reflection come slowly back to consciousness and then record the images of the meditations.  The recording should be done both as text and as sketched images. Many people find the playing of Baroque Music in the background helpful in achieving the appropriate meditative and reflective state.

The Rabbi’s Gift

Before we can chart a holistic path forward for ourselves when we begin to think about life direction changes, we need to ground our reflections in extraordinary respect for ourselves.  Scott Peck in The Different Drum relates a story he calls “The Rabbi’s Gift” that gets at the heart of the extraordinary respect that must be a part of all of our valued relationships, including our relationship with self.

“There is a story, perhaps a myth.  Typical of mythic stories, it has many versions.  Also typical, the source of the version I am about to tell is obscure.  I cannot remember whether I heard or read it, or where or when.  Furthermore, I do not even know the distortions I myself have made in it.  All I know for certain is that this version came to me with a title.  It is called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”

“The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times.  Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house:  the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age.  Clearly it was a dying order.

“In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage.  Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage.  “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again,” they would whisper to each other.  As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

“The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut.  But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him.  “I know how it is,” he exclaimed.  “The spirit has gone out of the people.  It is the same in my town.  Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.”  So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together.  Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things.  The time came when the abbot had to leave.  They embraced each other.  “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here.  Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded.  “I have no advice to give.  The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

“When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?”

“He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered.  “We just wept and read the Torah together.  The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving — it was something cryptic — was that the Messiah is one of us.  I don’t know what he meant.”

“In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words.  The Messiah is one of us?  Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery?  If that’s the case, which one?  Do you suppose he meant the abbot?  Yes, if he meant anyone he probably meant Father Abbot.  He has been our leader for more than a generation.  On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas.  Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man.  Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.  Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred!  Elred gets crotchety at times.  But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right.  Often very right.  Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.  But surely not Brother Phillip.  Phillip is so passive, a real nobody.  But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him.  He just magically appears by your side.  Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.  Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me.  He couldn’t possibly have meant me.  I’m just an ordinary person.  Yet supposing he did?  Suppose I am the Messiah?  O God, not me.  I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

“As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah.  And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

“Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate.  As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place.  There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it.  Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray.  They began to bring their friends to show them this special place.  And their friends brought their friends.

“Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks.  After a while one asked if he could join them.  Then another.  And another.  So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.”

Current State

The following two meditations are taken from Ira Progoff’s At A Journal Workshop (The Now Period and Steppingstones).  Before we look at what the future might hold, we need to examine where we are and how we got there.

Now Period

“We begin by becoming quiet.  Let us sit in silence for a moment and once again feel the movement of our lives.  We are quietly bringing ourselves into harmony with the continuity of our life experiences.

We do not at this point “think” of our life, but we “feel” it.  We feel its movement in a general and flexible way.  We specifically do not think about it, for if we did, we would only have the same thoughts on the subject that we have always had.  We know from our experience that the self-analytic, self-judgmental thinking process tends to move in circular grooves, turning in upon itself and repeating itself.

We wish instead to open the way for something new to enter our experience.  We therefore do not do what we have been accustomed to doing.  We do not think about our lives, but we sit in silence and we feel the inner movement of our recent experience without judgement.  We do not direct our thinking, but we let awarenesses present themselves to us regarding this present period of our lives.

We sit in stillness paying no attention to any special thoughts, not thinking, but feeling the movement of our life.  We sit in this quietness for some moments.  We find that there comes to us a generalized awareness of what this recent period in our lives had been.  An inward sensing of the tone of our life in this recent period.  Now we let the quality of our experiences during this time of our life express themselves to us.  Perhaps they will take the form of an image, a metaphor, a simile, or some spontaneous adjective that describes in a word.  If so, we will take notice of this inward awareness in whatever form it appears to us.

We are in silence, our eyes closed, feeling this recent period in the movement of our lives.  While our eyes are closed, as we sit with no thoughts, in the quietness, images may take shape in our minds.  We see them inwardly, and they carry a feeling of the movement of our lives.  They reflect the quality of this recent period in our experience.

Sitting this way, many different images and feelings can come to you, reflecting the quality of movement in your life.  Whatever form it takes, let yourself perceive it.  Do not reject or censor it.  Neither should you affirm it; certainly you should not interpret it.  Simply observe it and take note of the fact that this is what came to you when you closed your eyes and let yourself feel from within yourself the inner continuity and movement of your life.  Then record it briefly in the Now Period in your notes.

  • When did this period start?
  • Was there a particular event with which it began?
  • Is there a particular event that stands out?
  • What memories come to us?
  • Do you recall any dreams from this period?
  • Do you recall any strange or uncanny events?
  • Were these times of great good luck or good fortune?


“To enter the atmosphere in which we can best work with our steppingstones, we close our eyes and sit in silence.  In this stillness, we let our breathing become slower, softer more relaxed.  As we are quieted we let ourselves feel the movement of our lives.  We do not think about any specific aspect of our life, but we let ourselves feel the movement of our life as a whole.  In our silence we let the changing circumstances and situations of our life pass before the mind’s eye.  Now we may recognize the varied events in their movement, not judging them, not even commenting on them, but merely observing them as they pass before us.  We perceive them and feel them in their generalized movement without actually seeing the details of them.

“As you do this, it may be that the events of your life will present themselves to you as a flowing and continuous movement, as a river moving through many changes and phases.  Or it may be that your life will present itself to you as a kaleidoscope of disconnected events.  Whatever the form in which the continuity of your life reflects itself to you now, respond to it, observe it, and let the flow continue.  If images present themselves to you on the twilight level, images in any form whether visual or not, take note of them.  As soon as you can, record them as part of your Steppingstones entry.”

After making recordings of your Now Period and Steppingstones, take a few minutes to sketch images that occur from both periods.  Then create a single sketch of the Now Period and a single sketch that integrates the Steppingstones.

Opportunity Framework – Charlie Krone

This four step tetrad is a way to design a path forward from the collection of opportunities that you see at the moment.  Most often when you are contemplating a new path forward, it is usually a choice between several options.  This framework is designed to find what is common between the opportunities.

The process is relatively simple.

  1. List the opportunities that you are currently looking at.
  2. Write down the essence of your core mental process.  What are you best at?
  3. Using your essence process look at the opportunities to see the WHOLE that they are a part of.
  4. Using your essence process DESIGN an action pattern for the bringing into reality your greater WHOLE.

Ideal – Walk in the Woods to Your Mentor

This section is taken from Robert Fritz’s Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Life exercises.

Write two questions to work with that are important to pursuing the personal future you would like to create.  These questions should be questions that you want to know the answers to.  They should have more than a yes or no answer.  Questions involving advice are especially good to experiment with.  Take time to formulate and write those questions in your notebook now.

Now that you have written your questions we will experiment with an intuition technique.  Sit comfortably.  Close your eyes.  Take a deep cleansing breath and relax.   Take another deep breath and as you exhale relax even more.

“Imagine yourself in the woods.  Picture the different sense details of the woods.  Use your imagination and notice how it looks; how it sounds; how it smells; and especially how it feels to be in those woods.  Imagine yourself on a path and imagine walking along that path and find that it is easy to walk along.

“As you walk along the path, imagine a clearing in front of you.  Continue to walk to the clearing and as you come into the clearing notice the schoolhouse.  Look at the schoolhouse and begin to walk toward it.  Go up the stairs and through the door into the room.   As you enter the schoolhouse, imagine your teacher in the front of the room waiting for you.  Begin to walk toward your teacher.  Look at your teacher and become open to your teacher.  Imagine that your teacher is a symbol of your own intuition.

“Ask your first question and write whatever thoughts occur to you.

Your Favorite Professor

“Imagine the rapport between you and your teacher growing stronger.  And now ask your second question.  Write an answer as it occurs to you.

“Now that you have written both answers, imagine you and your teacher in rapport with each other.  Take a deep breath, relax your focus and when you are ready open your eyes.

“The next step is to apply critical judgement to the answers you wrote.  Review each answer using this question ‘is the answer you thought of a good answer in your opinion?’ It is important to judge your intuition from a rational point of view.  This way you can easily balance your intuition with your reason.”

After you complete your reflections, sketch one or more pictures of what the advice from your mentor means to you.


Taking your notes and the images that you saw, sketch an image that integrates the three meditations – the Now Period, the Steppingstones, and the Walk in the Woods.

Similarities in the pictures from Now, Steppingstones and Your Mentor

Using your notes and the images that you developed, make a list of what you find similar between the Now Period, the Steppingstones and the Walk in the Woods.

Four Human Centers

There are many ways to deconstruct the cognitive aspects of a human being or a human doing.  Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values gives many examples of how objects can be analyzed and synthesized.  The following task uses a human centers approach of dividing our activities in the world into four centers:  action, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.  During the course of a given day, we rarely help ourselves by focusing on which center is needed at a given moment and calling up an image that represents our ideal for that center.  Just this simple two step process can help us be more effective.  The task after the introduction will be to recall a time when you were most effective in each of your four centers.   We will then draw a picture that best represents that state of excellence for each of the four centers.

The following material is taken from the seminar Women in Process put on by the Synthesis Group of Wilmington, Delaware:

“Within each woman or man four independent centers exist:  intellectual, emotional, action, spiritual.  As she develops, her challenge is to learn to integrate them in a balanced and harmonious way.

“Each center exists with its own function, its own memory, its own state of being and its own will.  These can be referred to as different I’s.  Often the different I’s of her centers conflict with one another.  One of her greatest struggles results from the fact that she has many different I’s which do not even know one another and which can have different attitudes, convictions, views, likes and dislikes.  She can think one thing, feel another, and sense another.  One desire leads her one way, one leads another way and she is in conflict.  She is divided and not aware.  This is her usual state.

“Why is it that the different I’s of different centers tend not to know one another?  It is because she is unaware of herself most of the time; that is, she is not operating with conscious attention; she is simply responding mechanically in her centers.  The hazard or result of this is that she says and does things without realizing what she is saying or doing.

“When a person operates mechanically, she cannot adapt to any change or use her knowledge in a directed way.  She simply responds mechanically.  The resulting disequilibrium – if she chooses to pay attention to it – is the signal or catalyst for her development, for it alerts her to the need to ‘wake up’ or become conscious of the information her other centers are trying to provide her.  When she calls forth all the centers, she experiences a much more complete picture and is able to see the ‘whole.’

“Our desire as human beings is to come to oneness – to become one integrated ‘I,’ living out our essential Self.  This is often referred to as being centered.  In order to do anything completely, to know anything rightly, and to arrive where she wants to go, she must become one.  She can come to a state in which she has ‘Will’ or one essential ‘I.’ She can manage the centers in a way that allows them to know each other, so that they may work in concert with one another rather than operating in disharmony.

“To become a balanced individual – one in whom all centers are working appropriately – a person must begin to notice which of her centers predominates and interferes with the proper development of the other centers.  Because this tends to be a mechanical occurrence, one needs to begin by self-observing, that is, by noticing one’s mechanical reactions to all the little events that happen and one’s reaction to other people.  By observing what one thinks, feels and does, one can then begin to see how one responds mechanically to events and people in spite of changing circumstances.  The idea is to observe oneself – to be more aware of oneself.  One can begin by observing things as they are and classifying them into intellectual, emotional, acting or spiritual functions.  As one practices self-observing the centers, she will begin to experience what the essence of each center is for her.  Noticing mechanical reactions and observing established patterns allows one to see possibilities for change and for creating the balance necessary for one’s ongoing development.

“As one becomes more conscious of how her centers operate, she can become more skillful in managing them.  In fact, within each person lies the power to reconcile her potential with what she does.  This reconciliation is a process for bringing her inner values into the world in a way which allows her to be Mistress of each center.  This authority over the centers comes from recognizing and managing the essential nature of each center.  As Mistress, she can then choose to nourish and support those aspects of herself which enable her to coalesce with her environment so as to allow development for herself and those with whom she engages.”

To start the awareness process, recall a time when you were most effective in each of the four centers.  This most likely will be a different time for each center.  Sketch a picture that best represents that state of excellence for each of the four centers.  Spiritual should not necessarily be thought of in the religious sense.  It refers to when you felt most connected to a larger whole.  The images should be put on a grid that has Intellectual in the upper left, Spiritual in the upper right, Emotional in the lower left, and Action in the lower right.  The following diagram provides an example of the pictures drawn on the four centers grid:

Values Clarification

As an individual we want to stand for something.  This task is to clarify the most important values for your success.  This task is taken from the book Managing by Values by Ken Blanchard and Michael O’Connor.

Our Values 

The most important thing in life is to decide what is most important.

“What should I stand for?  What should be the values by which I operate?  Look over the list of values below.  Circle any values that “jump out” because of their importance to you.  Then write your top three values, in order of importance, below the list.  Feel free to add values if needed.”

Truth Persistence Resources
Efficiency Sincerity Dependability
Initiative Fun Trust
Environmentalism Relationships Excellence
Power Wisdom Teamwork
Control Flexibility Service
Courage Perspective Profitability
Competition Commitment Freedom
Excitement Recognition Friendship
Creativity Learning Influence
Happiness Honesty Justice
Honor Originality Quality
Innovation Candor Hard work
Obedience Prosperity Responsiveness
Financial growth Respect Fulfillment
Community support Fairness Purposefulness
Integrity Order Strength
Peace Spirituality Self-control
Loyalty Adventure Cleverness
Clarity Cooperation Success
Security Humor Stewardship
Love Collaboration Support

1. ___________________

2. ___________________

3. ___________________

Behaviorizing the Values

The next task after selecting the three top values to focus on is behaviorizing the values.   Brainstorm ways in which you already bring these values into action or ways in which you would desire to bring these values into action.  Sketch an image for each of the three values as well as an integrated image that illustrates how you would bring the values into action.

Personal Mission Statement Development

The task of this section is to develop a personal mission statement.  An example personal mission statement with values is:

“My mission is to teach myself and others how to bring out the best in ourselves so that we can better accomplish our goals and gain more satisfaction.  My three prioritized values for fulfilling this purpose in life are integrity, love and success.”

Develop a mission statement that provides the context and linkage to your values.

Questions that are useful for testing the mission statement are:

  • Do I see this mission and these values as guidelines I can identify with to sustain pride in my work and actions?
  • Do the mission and values provide a basis for daily communications and decision making with all those I come in contact with?
  • Do the mission and values provide a new set of rules of the road for allocating my resources and solving task and people problems?
  • How would this mission and values affect the continuation of relationships I value?
  • Do such principles really make a significant difference in deciding with whom I create and continue relationships with?

Brainstorm Ideal Future State

Now that we’ve gotten to the core of what we are and how we’ve gotten here it is time to turn to what it is that we would like to create for ourselves.   Often we begin to contemplate changes in career because of tension or dissatisfaction with what we are doing, or because we get a sense that it is time to move on , maybe because we feel we are getting stale.  Brainstorming the future should not be about working against the past, but on creating the future we would like to move into.

The core questions for this section are:

  • What would I like to create for myself?
  • How will I know that I’ve created it?

To help the brainstorming process along reflect on the following:

  • Recall times when you have had the most energy around life and work.  Who were the people you were involved with?  What was the physical environment like?  What was the nature of the work?
  • List items that you consider to be outrageous and that the rational part of you would not ordinarily contemplate as a “career” or work choice or future.
  • List options you’ve been accumulating of choices you were asked to consider or that you think might be interesting.

Draw an integrating image of your ideal state.

VisualsSpeak Future State

Using the online ImageCenter select a set of images in answer to the question “What is the future I want to create?” After selecting and arranging the images, write the words that capture the essence of the imagery. Share this story with a colleague or partner. An example of this process is:

Finding that Special Place That Speaks to You

With your digital camera, go to a place in the world (close by) that speaks deeply to you.  This place might be a favorite place in the woods, a park, a church, a library, or a room in your house. With your camera take at least ten pictures of different aspects of your special place from different locations and with different scales (wide angle and zoomed in close on some aspect).

From these images, select the one image that speaks most directly to you about that place.  Capture in words what that place says to you. Capture in words and sketches what you feel about that special place.


Looking at the words and images from your many mediations and reflections like the Now and Steppingstones pictures, your mission and vision, your VisualsSpeak, your special place and your brainstorming of your ideal state, generate a list of at least 20 differences between your current state and your ideal state.

Difference that Makes a Difference

Looking at the list of differences between your current state and desired ideal state, what on the list is the difference that makes a difference?  What is the one thing that if you could accomplish that would tend to bring all the other differences forward?  Sketch an image that best represents this difference that makes a difference.  What would you see, hear, and feel in this new state that would be different than today as a result of the difference that makes a difference?

This difference that makes a difference is the essence of the personal future you want to create.

Now that you have your personal future expressed as what you want, select one image from the collection of what you have created that best expresses “what you want.”  Then write a one paragraph story that captures both what you want (the story behind the story) and how you will know that your personal future will be met.  In other words:

  • What do I want to create?
  • How will I know that I’ve created it?

Congratulations on creating your personal future in mind and spirit.  Now go make it happen in the world.

Posted in Citizen, Content with Context, Learning, organizing, Quotes, Spiritual, Teaching, User Experience, Values | 1 Comment

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