månadsarkiv: november 2010

5 management books you probably did not think were management books

So, as a part of the skills I try to develop in my everyday work, I am a manager. I enjoy it tremendously, and am lucky enough to have a team that is simply amazing to work with. But that doesn’t mean that I get to be lazy about it. So I am trying to read management literature. Or I tried. Oh, man. That was a huge mistake. So — I think for the right audience, these books are probably amazing tools and simply wonderful reading, but for me they were more like having Bulgarian substitute coffee poured in my eyes whilst being beaten over the head with a rotten salmon. You get the idea. I quickly realized that I simply needed to read other books as if were they management books, and that worked just fine. The list I have compiled may be helpful for someone else, or not, I really don’t know. But here goes.

  1. Administrative Behaviour by Herbert Simon. This is probably the closest to a management book that I came. And this is a brilliant, brilliant tome. It contains much about management that is simply common sense, but tried, tested and in a language that only a Nobel laureate in economy that happened to invent cognitive science on the side, kill economic man and dabble in artificial intelligence could muster. Simply brilliant.
  2. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. Know what happiness is? Have any idea of what motivates you? How should people behave to be virtuous and why do they do this? No idea? That could prove to be a problem in management. Because it turns out managing is about those people in your company (yes, them!) to a large degree. A robust model of man is a good thing to have, and Aristotle spent quite some time developing that work for you. As a plus you don’t get the contempt for everyone that saturates Plato’s writings (everyone not a philosopher, that is).
  3. Philosophical investigations by Wittgenstein. So, what does a manager do? One thing a manager does is handles concepts (and, yes, people, but we dealt with them already). Concepts are tricky things. So intensely tricky that they require a bit of analysis from time to time. You should be able to do that. There is no better guide to picking a part the grammar of a concept than Wittgenstein. And he is eminently readable too. As a bonus you get a lifetime worth of therapy from philosophical problems, and just may find your way out of the fly bottle.
  4. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltazar Gracian. Nietzsche referred to Gracian as the greatest author of aphorisms ever. That should be reason enough, alone, to read him. But the mix of cynicism, pure wisdom, smiling misantrophy and daring truths is a boon for anyone who wants to be challenged, take advice or merely enjoy the voice of a long gone student of mankind that saw further and deeper than most. The blessing of an aphorism writer that you often disagree with is rare. And how dull to read a book full of aphorisms that makes you nod and say ”just so!”. <snickering>Oh, that would be management literature, that is right…</snickering>
  5. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. The manifold nature of reality, memory and of life is a good place to start your inquiries into anything. Borges is an amazing guide and an underestimated writer (even if you take that into account, recursively). For anyone in tech I would add the Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem. They serve the same purpose. They challenge assumptions and they build new theories of the world. Practicing that is no mean task, and you can find much worse company than Borges or Lem to do it with. But doing it, in any art form (you may prefer to listen to Scriabin or simply to enjoy paintings of, well, I wouldn’t know, I am sorely in need of more examples of artists that challenge assumptions in visual arts (I always default to Escher and Magritte)), is an important practice for anyone that wants to grow, I firmly believe.

So, I am not far gone on the path of management, but I am intent to travel further, learn more and develop, so please add your own recommendations in the comments, or simply email me — thanks for the help! And if I have unfairly missed any traditional super books on management, well, I can change my mind. Right? Who knows, you may have found something in being slapped with rotten salmon that I did not. If so — out with it!

Informationsepidemologi, kunskap och sanningssökare

I mitt kapitel i boken Framtiden är nu skriver jag litet om hur kunskap smittar i nätverk (kapitlet publicerades online idag). Det visar sig att goda modeller för informationsspridning också kan användas för att spåra och avslöja propaganda. I projektet Truthy försöker man göra precis detta.

Genom att identifiera ett antal olika spridningsmönster som äkta och några som propaganda kan man kartlägga och snabbt avslöja politiska kampanjer och spam. Det är en spännande utveckling, med flera olika lager. Möjligheterna och frågorna är oändliga:

  1. Kommer vi att se strategier som går ut på att försöka leverera äkta spridningsmönster nu? Sannolikt, och därför kommer spårandet av propaganda att bli svårare.
  2. Är all propaganda dålig? Tänk på en samhällskritisk varningsinfrastruktur på Twitter — skulle inte den också bete sig som propaganda?
  3. Går den här tekniken att använda också på bloggar och på bloggosfären i stort? ”Propaganda detection technologies” skulle vara kraftfulla vapen i kampen mot statsfinansierade kampanjer på nätet.
  4. Hur mycket beror vad som blir kunskap helt enkelt på hur framgångsrikt ett mem smittar?
  5. I detta schema blir dumhet att vara immun mot att bli smittad med kunskap. Jag kan tycka att det är en rätt bra bild av dumhetens väsen.

Men det finns en större lärdom att dra av Truthy, och det är att öppenheten i de sociala medierna är oerhört viktig för att garantera att vi kan fånga deras samhällsvetenskapliga och ekonomiska värde. Om det inte gick att fånga och studera twitterströmmar, sökningar och annat skulle vi som samhälle gå miste om en enormt viktig forsknings- och kunskapsresurs.

Och då skulle vi verkligen bli dumma.

Dödens rytm och livets hastighet

I bakgrundsbruset finns en ständigt närvarande rytm. Tiden mellan det att en människa dör och en annan föds. Eller helt enkelt tiden mellan dödsfall, för den mer melankoliske. En rytm som ständigt pulserar bakom händelserna.

Döden rör sig långsamt i Norden, i Norge dör en människa var tolfte minut, i Finland var nionde. I Sverige dör en människa vare sjätte minut.

I Indien dör en person var fjärde sekund.

I Sverige är det lika lång tid mellan dödsfall och födelser, i andra länder, som i Kina, är livet dubbelt så snabbt som döden. Det är svårt att betrakta världen och inte förundras.

En av de många saker som jag funderar över är hur det kommer att påverka vårt psyke att ha tillgång till dessa visualiseringar av tidigare svårgripbara fakta. Den mer optimistiska delen av mig vill säga att det kommer att spela stor roll, att vi kommer att förstå mer av världen. Den mer pessimistiska noterar att vi kommer att trubbas av och att bilderna kommer att förlora sin kraft snabbt.

Men i dag regnar det och jag känner mig optimistisk, och unnar mig att förundras litet, i hemlighet.

Privacy I: Neuro-narratives and neo-privacy

The design of privacy enhancing technologies roughly seems to fall into two categories: negotiation support technologies that allow for social signaling or information restriction technologies that allow more control over specific pieces or flows of information. In both cases, the object of protection is arguably the information itself. But privacy is clearly about more than restricting access to information.

At least theoretically it seems possible to protect or enhance privacy by focusing not on the information, but the use to which it is put. I would argue that we can make a distinction between theoretical privacy frameworks that focus on information, and those that focus on narratives. I will admit that the distinction is somewhat unclear, but bear with me.

If the object of protection is not information about me, but my narrative about myself, we end up with a slightly different set of privacy problems, problems that are much more about data protection in a sense. And some scientific findings indeed seem to indicate that we are indeed hard-wired to understand ourselves and others through narratives. If this is the case, it seems privacy harms should be related to somehow disturbing or destroying those narratives. As stated in a recent blog post at NewScientist.com:

State-of-the-art neuro-imaging and cognitive neuropsychology both uphold the idea that we create our ”selves” through narrative. Based on a half-century’s research on ”split-brain” patients, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga argues that the human brain’s left hemisphere is specialised for intelligent behaviour and hypothesis formation. It also possesses the unique capacity to interpret – that is, narrate – behaviours and emotional states initiated by either hemisphere. Not surprisingly, the left hemisphere is also the language hemisphere, with specialised cortical regions for producing, interpreting and understanding speech. It is also the hemisphere that produces narratives.

Gazzaniga also thinks that this left-hemisphere ”interpreter” creates the unified feeling of an autobiographical, personal, unique self. ”The interpreter sustains a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. The interpreter is the glue that keeps our story unified, and creates our sense of being a coherent, rational agent. To our bag of individual instincts it brings theories about our lives. These narratives of our past behaviour seep into our awareness and give us an autobiography,” he writes. The language areas of the left hemisphere are well placed to carry out these tasks. They draw on information in memory (amygdalo-hippocampal circuits, dorsolateral prefrontal cortices) and planning regions (orbitofrontal cortices). As neurologist Jeffrey Saver has shown, damage to these regions disrupts narration in a variety of ways, ranging from unbounded narration, in which a person generates narratives unconstrained by reality, to denarration, the inability to generate any narratives, external or internal.

Combining neurology and narratology seems to be a promising theoretical opening for privacy research.

Here is a possible way to think about privacy, then: privacy infringements are acts such that they significantly degrade my ability to create, disseminate and uphold my own narrative. That narrative then in turn decides autonomy, control, psychological and economic damage that I suffer. Narratology, the science studying narratives, argues that there is a difference between stories and discourse in general, the elements and the order in which they are retold (or told at all). This difference, in Russian formalism known as fabula and sujet, the personal data and the identifying narrative, perhaps, in privacy research, could be fruitfully studied much more in-depth. Maybe it is only relevant to discuss privacy in terms of the fabula, the order of retelling the raw elements of the sujet.

If I want to tell the story that I am a solid upstanding citizen, it will hurt my story if you reveal that I was in fact convicted for heinous crimes a couple of years ago. Your revelation is less problematic if I am trying to tell the story that I have served my time, but am still carrying the guilt of those crimes. We could argue that in one case there is a harm, in the other there is no harm. The narrative I am telling decides, then, the existence and extent of any privacy harm.

But, wait: the question then seems to be why I should have an unbounded right to my own narrative, right? Should I be the only one to decide what stories are told about me? That sounds dangerous and seems to threaten free expression.

The question about what constitutes a privacy harm in a narrative framework, then, needs to be a question about what stories we should be able to tell about ourselves and others. If, indeed, narratives are how we understand ourselves and others, then narratives need to play a much larger role in research about privacy and privacy enhancing technologies.

A corollary to this thought is that technologies that allow us to tell our stories are in fact privacy enhancing, since they reinforce our stories and narratives. Blogs, micro blogs and social networks are narrative tools.

Rather than seeing these tools as threats to privacy we may need to understand them as potentially very powerful privacy enhancing technologies. It all becomes a question of if the narrative prerogative is allocated in them in a way that is conducive to a balanced telling of your story, or the story that you identify with.

Halloween, Macbook Air och snart november

Det är kväll och snart ska jag följa med barnen ut och skrämmas. Husen här är fantastiskt dekorerade och jag läste att Halloween är en 6.1 miljarders industri i dollar, så det hela går helt i linje med planerna för ekonomiska stimuli. Själv har jag gjort mitt och skaffat en liten 11″ Macbook Air. Den är…magisk. Det går inte att beskriva på annat sätt. Jag sitter nu och skriver på den och kan berätta att den kommer att vara min följeslagare var jag går. Den är ett skrivverktyg, där min iPad är ett verktyg för att läsa och se på video. Den är också ett verktyg för att blogga, alldeles oavsett var jag råkar vara.

November inträder snart, och med november den stora saknaden efter Novembersällskapet. Ni vet vilka ni är, och jag hoppas att ni kommer hit snart! Jag tröstar mig med att läsa om Schumpeter. Bland så mycken klokskap slog mig särskilt hans observation om hur benägna vi är att tro att den tekniska utvecklingen är över. Men varför skulle den vara det? Schumpeter skriver (s. 117-118):

An analogous argument applies to the widely accepted view that the great stride in technological advance has been made and that but minor achievements remain. So far as this view does not merely render the impressions conceived from the state of things during and after the world crisis – when an apparent absence of novel propositions of the first magnitude was part of the familiar pattern of any great depression – it exemplifies still better than did the ”closing of humanity’s frontier” that error in interpretation that economists are so prone to commit. We are just now in the downgrade of a wave of enterprise that created the electrical power plant, the electrical industry, the electrified farm and home and the motorcar. We find all that very marvelous, and we cannot for our lives see where opportunities of comparable importance are to come from. As a matter of fact however, the promise held out be the chemical industry alone is much greater than it was possible to anticipate in, say, 1880, not to mention that the mere utilization of the achievement of the age of electricity and the production of modern homes for the masses would suffice to provide investment opportunities for quite a time to come. Technological possibilities are an uncharted sea. […]From the fact that some of them have been exploited before others, it cannot be inferred that the former where more productive than the latter. And those that are still in the laps of the gods may be more or less productive than any that have this far come within our range of observation. Again this yields only a negative result which even the fact that technological ”progress” tends, through systemization and rationalization of research and of management, to become more effective and sure-footed, is powerless to turn into a positive one. But for us the negative result suffices: there is no reason to expect slackening of the rate of output through exhaustion of technological possibilities.

Det är en trösterik tanke i novembermörkret. Eh. Fast det är 26 grader och sol här, förstås, och jag har en Macbook Air. Sade jag det? Mmmmm.