Mirror Neurons

Jay Cross recently posted a blog on Mirror Neurons, which relates to the power that broadband could have on right-brain thinking, that is, we do not actually have to experience an emotion to relate to it; observation may be just as effective. In addition, observation may be just as a powerful tool for maintaining a skill as practice is.

The Contours of Our Times: Broadband & Intangibles

When I was stationed in Germany some time ago I found it interesting that there were McDonalds and KFCs located there. Nowadays, we find Starbucks importing green coffee into America and then not just exporting the finished good, but exporting the whole store, or as they like to call it, the whole experience, to other nations. And it is not just an isolated incident, as other American coffee chains, most notably Tullys, have also exported their entire stores to other Nations. So rather than just think left-brain and export hamburgers, chicken, and cups of coffee, these companies are thinking whole brain and exporting their "experience" along with their products. When McDonalds first exported its experience to Germany, it also brought part of the German culture into them by also serving beer. However, when Starbucks recently opened its first stores in Vienna, who have a tradition of great coffee houses, it broke away from the great coffee houses' tradition of allowing smoking and stick with its no smoking policy. This of course has alienated them from a lot of potential customers, however Starbucks is starting to find its own niche customer base who are finding the value of a smoke-free coffee drinking experience. America has for quite some time had a trade imbalance, however, she has partly made up for this with services and information/knowledge, which are not, for the most part, included in the trade numbers. Yet this is slowly starting to slip away with offshoring. And as Pink noted, in the short term, it is not a major problem (unless of course you are one of the persons who is displaced); however, in the long term it could become a major problem depending upon the total negative impact that it has on displacing American workers. A couple of years back when the number of homes in America that had internet access hit 50% and then stayed at the number for a few months, it was suggested by some of the experts that it had reached its saturation point. However, it has recently hit 75% and for the first time, broadband is starting to outpace 56k modem connections. While computer technology helped to usher in the information age, and the internet has had a deep impact on the knowledge age, it seems likely that this broadband capability will have an impact on the next era in that it fits in more with the whole brain concept. The Gilder Paradigm (Wired, 4.12 - Dec 1996) reports that in the future, if the law of thrift in the current paradigm is waste watts and transistors, the law of thrift in the new paradigm will be waste bandwidth and save watts. That is, if bandwidth is free, you get a completely different computer architecture and information economy. And while other futurist simply tell us about the future, George Gilder (Wired 4.03 - Mar 1996) gives us the nuts and bolts about the future. Korea has invested heavily in broadband and from the last report that I heard, leads the world in broadband connections. This type of thinking is one of the reasons that she has become one of the economic tigers in Southeast Asia. While Korea has had a lot of government intervention in creating their network of broadband, America's effort is chiefly done by commercial organizations, which is how Gilder prefers it, as although the government can lead initiatives, he believes that things really take off once they gets their hands out of it. Thus, with this push into broadband, it is going to be interesting to see the impact that it has on each nation. For example, it can be quite expensive to set up a satellite transmission, but with the increase in bandwidth, the feasibility of learning conferences start to become more feasible to organizations. Thus, rather than just text messages and a few graphics coming across your screen, the possibility of conferring face-to-face virtually with a number of people from around the world starts to become a reality. While we often hear that America has a culture-identity crises, I would have to strongly disagree, witness the exportation of experiences rather than products into different nations and the acceptance and want of a more free society by the masses of two middle-east nations (although there are a minority of thugs that are desperately trying to stop it). In "The Future of Knowledge", Verna Allee writes, "The great hope and opportunity offered by the intangibles perspective is that at long last we may be able to reconcile our business and economic models with the fabric of society and the web of life." So if we follow Allee's perspective, the real value is not necessarily in the products that we sell or buy, but rather in the intangibles that one has, such as values, relationships, competence, social citizenship, environmental health, and knowledge. While this is a departure from training's traditional focus on hard skills, it does seem to be the future. And while the internet has become a viable means in the exchange of information, broadband will become an inexpensive and effective means of exchanging experiences.

The Contours of of Times: Information, Knowledge, & Wisdom

The leadership of most corporations are in the business for the power and the leadership, thus it is in their best interest to see their organization grow -- its part of their legacy. And when these leaders look around them, they are starting to take notice of whole brain companies, which are simply outpacing the rest and getting the press (and most of the powerful love good press), thus they would love to be the next Apple, Starbucks, Google, FireFox, etc. It is companies like these that ensure our future (thus it is in our best interest to us to help others become like them). And to get there, they need more than their present linear thinking. Linear thinking gets you to a certain point, then you need some imagination to give it a good kick in the rear-end so you can start off in a new direction. Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? T.S. Eliot's The Rock (1934) Shortly after the offshoring and outsourcing began making headline news, I heard someone say that since we went through the information age, and now that we are losing in the Knowledge Age, then it was time to go to the next one on the list -- wisdom. This of course referring to the knowledge archetype: data -> information -> knowledge -> wisdom. So while I thought it was an interesting concept, I brushed it off as I could not fathom teaching someone wisdom. So when I read Pink's article, I thought aha (in all actuality it was a four-letter word), you don't actually teach or strive for wisdom, you actually break it down into components and go from there. Now I'm not sure what all wisdom is composed of, but upon finishing the article, I believe the right-brain/left-brain metaphor is one of them. It just fits in where the outstanding companies that I know of are going. Now I don't really expect a whole lot more from Pink's book and I doubt that he got it all, but his article is a quite interesting beginning.

The Contours of of Times: Wealth

This is a continuation of Renvenge of the Right Brain. I work for a manufacturing company that recently built an additional facility in Nevada.  Now, it could have expanded by going a little father south in order to be built cheaper and get cheaper labor to run it.  Yet it decided to support a part of the country that supports it.  Presently, we export some of our goods to other countries. However, this is not really the wisest way to do it in the long run, so it is also building facilities overseas, however, the product that is created there will be sold overseas.  Why?  Because wealth is more important than simply profit. Bernard Lietaer (The Future of Money) reminds us that word wealth stems from "weal", implying a condition of well-being. Thus, he defines wealth as, "unbounded value that can be expressed as material wealth, relationship wealth, a wealth of joy, of love, of culture, of wit, of beauty, of imagination." And this is partly what Pink seems to be driving at: in left brain mode we focus on the linear -- profit -- and as we have seen recently, companies that focus strictly on profit do not normally do so well. In addition, they wind up destroying those around them. Thus, a lot of the companies are not offshoring to build better products, they are simply doing it to better their bottom lines, which under most circumstances, is simply for the wrong reason. On the other hand, many a corporation is starting to focus on Lietaer's broader meaning of the term wealth -- they are starting to think both in left and right brain mode. That is, while they are after the material wealth in order to survive, they also also thinking about culture, relationships, imagination, etc. Now have other cultures done this? Sure, but never on the mass scale that we need to. Disruptions are a way of life. Going from a farming society to a manufacturing society was quite disruptive at first, but we got through it. The same when we went from manufacturing to our present knowledge/service economy. When a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, I'm not sure if it is painful, but I'm quite sure it can be quite disruptive, especially if it enjoys being a caterpillar. Thus, while this present disruption of outsourcing and off-shoring is quite painful, and unfortunately not equal in nature, it does provide a scaffold for going to that next level, while at the same time, it helps to spread the wealth to other nations. Being first is not always easy; it can involve a deep learning curve. On the other, watching someone going through a disruption is not always the best way to learn -- have you ever thought about how many people have watched a caterpillar metamorphose and are still not able to do it. This is what I find so interesting about writers like Pink. Like McLuhan, Drucker, and Toffler; Pink observes what is happening in order to play his hand at being a futurist. And from the short article, he did it in a quite knowledgeable and interesting way How accurate he will be remains to be seen. However, his article was enough to pique my interest (I plan on buying his book as soon as it is out).


The Contours of Our Times

The latest issue of Wired magazine (February 2005) has an interesting article, "Revenge of the Right Brain", that is adapted from Daniel Pink's upcoming book, "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age." I just checked their site and while the article is not yet posted as they still have January's issue, they are normally pretty good about posting their latest edition, so if you would like to read the article, keep an eye on their site: http://www.wired.com/ (I will post it as soon as I see it is available) ------------------------ Link added on Jan 27, 2005: Revenge of the Right Brain ------------------------ Note that the actual book is not due out until March: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1573223085/ The basic argument of Pink's is that the era of left-brain domination, which brought forth the Information Age, is giving way to a new world in which right brain qualities, such as inventiveness, empathy, and meaning will govern. For example, Pink argues that by 2010, India will become the largest nation of English speakers in the world. In addition, other developing nations are minting capable knowledge workers that can crunch numbers, read charts, and write code...and do it cheaper than we can. However, this is what Pink calls "narrow" left-brain work -- reducing tasks to a set of routines, rules, and instructions. The opportunities that remain are those who can design systems, accountants who can do life planning, and bankers who know less about Excel and more about the art of the deal; in other words, artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, care-givers, big picture thinkers, etc. will transform the present Information Age into the Conceptual Age. By left-brain/right brain, Pink means that "the two hemispheres work in concert, and we enlist both sides for nearly everything we do. But the structure of our brains can help explain the contours of our times." "If the Industrial Age was built on people's backs, and the Information Age on people's left hemispheres, the Conceptional Age is being built on people's right hemispheres. We've progressed from a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we're progressing yet again -- to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers." -- Pink While being logic, linear, and analytical will remain important, it will no longer be enough. For example, while electric lighting is now common place, candles are a $2 billion a year business. Logic would dictate that the candle business should be dead, however, the more 'industrial" we become, the more "transcendence" we desire. For quite some time "training" has normally meant teaching someone a skill that can be immediately be used back on the job. And it worked quite well during the Industrial Age. However, as we have shifted towards the Information Age, training someone on "knowledge" did not quite seem right, so "learning" became more in vogue. Thus we had elearning, rather than etraining. And if Pink is correct and we are starting a new shift, we will still have to be able to measure and analyze; help others to learn new skills and be able to find, rearrange, and structure the information around them; but now, in addition, help them to build broader conceptional skills.