James Priest and Mixel Kiemen on Collective Intelligence and S3
= video on YouTube on the Sociocracy 3.0 Community channel
URL = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo62AYYjr3g Published 2020-10-26
Platforms for Collective Intelligence & Sociocracy 3.0
"In this conversation I have the pleasure of talking with Mixel Kiemen about his research into the growing role platforms (virtual and physical) are playing in enabling people to share and synergize distributed intelligence to better learn from each other and in deeper and more accelerated ways.
We touch on a number of related topics. This includes some of the deeper thinking behind Sociocracy 3.0 and the potential that using S3 patterns has to facilitate greater consciousness and enable organizations as a whole to generate and benefit from collective intelligence that otherwise lies scattered among its parts.
Look out for a follow-up to this conversation, coming soon!"
— James Priest
So Mixel nice to meet you!
Nice to meet you James!
You got in touch recently about – well pre-Covid actually – about getting together for a conversation. Covid arrived, we've been busy, and said let's get together now instead. But maybe you want to jump in and just give me a bit of background about you and about the reason why you got in touch for the call today.
Yeah. So I guess we both have a passion to scale Agile. We've been doing it both in a very different environment – there's some overlap of course because Agile links to software development so there's always the link – but it seems useful to to start bringing those experiences together. So I came from a research background on complex adaptive systems, on cognition, on artificial intelligence, and I've focused on understanding how platforms create collective intelligence. That's basically my angle to it and so maybe you explain a little bit to your angle.
Yeah sure. Well, my background was coming forward more from the people side and the relational side. So around my mid-20s I had a bit of an epiphany that I needed to do something more meaningful than what I was in my life, and I got into working with young people, originally volunteering, and then primarily working with at-risk teenagers. So I ended up involved in that for about a decade. I was particularly interested in some of the underlying elements that contributed to the situations that these young people were facing. So looking at the social side of things, looking at communication, looking at the generational background of these kids within the social context, it was my opinion that these kids were like canaries in the coal mine, sounding the alarm that something was wrong or missing. So that led me down a path where really I was just orientating by wanting to contribute something meaningful to the world and listening out for where I was invited in that, and when I found resonance following it. And to cut a long story short, here I am today talking to you and a co-developer of sociology 3.0 – this approach for organizational development.
Yeah, I understand that, with the kids you've been using Voice Dialogue right?
Well in years past yes. So Voice Dialogue, Psychology of Selves, that was really what preceded my epiphany because I got into some personal work. I had some Voice Dialogue sessions, I realized that what I thought I was was only a fragment of what I was, and even that was distorted and biased somehow, and so I did quite a deep dive for a few years into myself – it was quite an indulgent period but also really fascinating to understand there was so much more to me than I'd realized, and so much that I would fight the death to preserve that wasn't really me. So it was a period of integration, and that I would say to this day Hal and Sidra Stone's work – Hal passed away recently – the Psychology of Selves, the aware ego process, was very much and still underpins very much my thinking around – today organizational development, but on a deeper level human relationships and the whole business of coming together to cooperate to achieve outcomes that are greater than the sum of our parts.
Also I just noticed that there's another link between us because we've been both focusing on kids for for a while. I started as a programmer of course but I quickly got picked up by the business school, to teach the business students about the complexity about software development. And they had troubles trying to get them motivated because they were just giving them a classical course of programming in a terrible language, and they were not motivated at all. Ao they allowed me with my understanding of Agile – I was participating in that time in the Drupal business ecosystem – but I've been using it as a living lab to take things to my course. So I wrapped it up as an entrepreneur course, and of course business students really love entrepreneurship!
It took me two years to optimize it, but as of the third year my best students started creating their own businesses, not part of the university, so I got in trouble there, but I really enjoyed trying to get to that intrinsic motivation to get them to really go to the consciousness and the awareness and the love for the topic...
...but now I'm applying it to my kids.
It's interesting – and for a period of years I was working around – it was a potential orientated approach to education so rather than seeing kids as empty containers that need filling up with the right content, it was helping kids to look within and see what motivated them, what inspired them, what was meaningful to them. So as you say to connect to that – it's not just intrinsic motivation right because there's extrinsic motivation that draws them out, but by connecting those two then just seeing the extraordinary potential that these kids could then manifest. For a period of time we were working with kids who statistically were the most likely to suffer some kind of social exclusion.
The turnaround in these kids from nothing more than mirroring them back to themselves and inviting them to inquire into what it was that had meaning for them was absolutely profound. So it sounds like again a bit of an overlap really just important context same underlying principles. And you were telling me about your PhD now.
Yeah because I mean the thing you mentioned – the interface between the habitual and the new, that's basically where I put my teeth in for my research. So we started late 1990s on what is called artificial life simulations. You create an environment, a complex adaptive environment, and you try to simulate agents, that's the thing you're trying to do, but you do that to try and understand some kind of cognition, right? And so we set up a pretty ambitious project like, is it possible for an agent to do a creative act? That was the setting, so we wanted to investigate that, and we came out like, what is called an antithesis? So we proved what it could be but that you cannot do it with simulations so because it depends on embodiment, and if you go to robots or you go to simulations everything is basically simplified because of computational limits. So then I decided, okay but you know we've got some very fascinating feedback system about creativity. Can't we use it in a different way so instead of creating the agents and then letting the interactions go, could you actually work with real people and and hold on to the interaction, so create a platform where they can live in, can work in? And so around that time the Art of Hosting was getting popular, and Agile of course was getting popular. So now I'm talking about 2005 specifically in Belgium, I've noticed that a lot of people who were capable of working Agile – digital nomads and so on – they start meeting more together to in locally. And I was fascinated – like barcams – so I was fascinated, why are they getting together more while they can do everything globally? So then the focus came through the platforms. Instead of making algorithms, trying to make the platforms, and see how the coordination is working, and why is a real event a different platform that has some different abilities for creativity than all the things they have online. So that was a little bit, I hope that's...
So these weren't just virtual platforms and they were also physical meeting places?
Yeah, a medium, right? I've learned about McLuhan and the media theory like "the medium is the message", that you understand, if you create something like an event, an open space event, then that open space event itself will actually decide how it will be created.
Yeah, wow! Any conclusions at this point?
Well, many! I actually did some experiments with it as well. So first of all I've been involved in the Drupal business ecosystem. What I've noticed is that, compared to some other content management systems, there was this interesting situation where the founder wasn't allowed to create his own company, which was kind of unique, because then the power was distributed. What happened is the whole thing started up as an ecosystem – it's about a dozen startups – and when I organized the conference in Brussels – that was 2006 – I've noticed that they just came together and did open innovation and I was like, huh? How efficient can it be like that? So I started interviewing all of the companies to try and understand why do they do open innovation? And the funny thing is first I ask them, then they say "what is open innovation", I explain them open innovation, they say "it's a bad idea we're never gonna do that" while they were doing it. So then we dig in to understand why are you doing it? And it all related to the open data showing the talents they have and the way they were selling themselves to the clients in a distributed way. So they just said "we can do it" but they could only do, like, 50% of the projects. But in the open ecosystem, they could just collaborate with the developers out there. But the good developers were always part of other companies or other startups. So then the the business owners start collaborating, talking to each other. So it was purely self-organizing innovation.
If you want I can send you a paper I've had for innovation conference on it.
Yeah, but I'm fascinated they didn't recognize it as being that until you named it. What did they do, did they stop them?
Well it's a fascinating point. What you see is that ... it links to what we see today with all the echo chambers, bubble thinking, polarizations you see happening at the moment. It's that there's a lot of things happening intuitively based on the culture – that they are not aware of, and sometimes those things work without them actually understanding why they work, and sometimes things go really wrong, and they cannot handle it because they don't understand the system they are in.
I mean I've tried to explain them what a dissipative system is but that's something from thermodynamics about self-organization – one of the biggest challenges I experience is that a lot of my conceptualization comes from hard sciences and most people I'm in with now, in a more human environment, don't have this knowledge, but they have it intuitively, and there's like, you get lost in translation.
Yeah sure. So actually just building those shared mental models – is how we've been referring to it – it's important because otherwise it's difficult to communicate at all, and that includes concepts language ...
You mentioned that actually in some of your talks, that communication is hard, right?
and I've seen what you've been doing with S3. I'm impressed, I mean I really understand how the patterns allow for language to emerge, and ... knowing how it works and then seeing it actually in a language people can understand – that's two very different challenges, and I think S3 is really doing a good job doing that...
...like getting some of the things like distributed mindsets into the the design itself.
It's an enormous piece of work actually. We've written less and less over the years – I mean you know we wrote more, and we've been reducing it and refining it, and reducing it and refining it. At some point we need to turn around and go the other way, but there was so much incoherence in our apparently obvious narrative of what we were communicating to others, and then learn through the lack of capacity for people to grasp and announce what we were saying but it was less coherent than we thought. So that's been the first obstacle, especially because S3 is relevant in just about every conceivable context you could imagine. People come to it from all angles so you can't even rely on a subculture of preferred language and terms, because that's only going to work within a certain context. So working within tech, for example, all of our narrative for people who have that background, that's not going to make a lot of sense for people coming from another context, and it might even be polarizing – and vice versa. So how do you present these things in a manner that transcends the binary world view of people, so that it's approachable from all angles? These are just some of the issues we've bumped into.
Yeah. I can imagine, because you asked about lessons learned and ...
Yes ... well ... conclusions, insights that you've had so far from this research.
Well the thing is that when I was doing the research between 2006 and 2012 the whole idea of corporate wasn't on the radar at all. So I wasn't looking at corporates. But the thing is that in 2009 the ecosystem matured – what we call the incubation phase – they went into a growth phase. And that's also the moment that the founder created his own company, so his company never was part of the innovative part of the the community – it only was part of the growth phase of the community. And they became like the gateway to corporates. But then something very strange happened to the ecosystem, like I said, I interviewed all of the startups who made the ecosystem, but it's the most creative ones who left the first, and I can really call them by name. They were called development(?)...
No I was just acknowledging, right
... and so later on I understand that if you go into biology it's called the 'tropical cascade'. If you go into biology they see barren landscapes, and now they've learned that there are these key species, and if they introduce the key species (it sounds controversial) like Yellowstone they reintroduced the wolves ...
...but by reintroducing the wolves it actually allowed optimization of what we call the essential variable in the ecosystem. It went from a barren landscape – with the coyotes – it went to a rich ecosystem – even the rivers start becoming stronger, so the roots around the rivers. You can understand it, if you see the tropical cascades. So one of the things I've been learning is that Agile when it happens didn't sound like niche of ecosystem. It can grow there, but once it becomes juicy enough for the corporates to start looking at it, there needs to be another dynamic. Then you really need to get that Agile at scale, and if you get to the Agile at scale, you get into a whole different environment, where they are trying to understand how to do that, but there I don't see any of the relations I have with the complex adaptive systems.
And if you think back over examples of where you've seen this happen, what are some of the preconditions that would need to be in place for that movement towards the corporate? And secondly, then, what specific – I don't know how to put it eloquently – things need to happen then for that kind of integration of more Agile mindset into that side of business to to occur?
See if I can get those two questions right...
Yeah, the preconditions, and the actual tangible things that need to happen.
Okay. Look, the easy but wrong first impression was that the culture of corporates needs to change, but that's not by definition possible. Because the way, if you see, I actually have a video on the whole – how digital wolf changed digital rivers – I can give you the link later on – where I try to explain that what corporates try to attract are followers, while if I show you in the ecosystem, the real power behind the ecosystem, they are totally not what people expect. They are not young people, they are not dynamic creative guys. It's the opposite: the talented developers are old stubborn guys who don't want to change at all, who are capable of changing every conversation you get into, in five minutes, to their topic. And that shows their passion for the thing that they're working with. There was this guy – all multilingual – and I've really tried to have a conversation with him on another topic – more than five minutes wasn't possible, so every time again before we knew it we were talking about a language issue! But it's the beauty of them as well, and what the entrepreneurs in the ecosystem knew because it's like a rough jungle, what they knew is that if they could actually provide that stubborn person with the surroundings to capitalize on them, they had a competitive advantage, and then you get into the strategy management because they had a competitive advantage – hard to trade – and they were in business. But then you see the corporates coming in, and that old game doesn't matter anymore, because they can just go over it with with huge amount of people throwing a huge amount of resources against it. So we actually tried what you could call a flight ahead, and that was 2012 when I went to GBI trying to work on food security, and build a whole city where we would actually need a startup ecosystem at a huge scale. And when I was talking with the Chinese diplomats around it, I was surprised that they understood quite a lot about collective intelligence. I understood that there is something intuitive in their culture that makes collective thinking and platform thinking natural. It means if you go – I know a lot of people who look at China and say like "Facebook and Google it's not allowed there" but I look at it differently: I see that they really understand the value of the platforms and therefore they create platforms themselves. So you see, I've noticed that it links to their culture that they were capable of asking questions I'm normally not getting from my peers.
Yeah, so you're saying, building the environment, so that kind of creating a space for emergence into that, helps those people to transition
Yeah, you're getting close!
coherent for them in terms of the objectives that they're pursuing from that.
So now I turn it around, because now I look at what is the culture that you have in front of you. If you can do the 'delta' from their culture, and see where they want to go to, you can help, from out of their own belly, try to understand how they can move forward. So, I think you made a good, a more comprehensible thing ... what I'm trying to say.
Right, well ... I was having a conversation yesterday with somebody who's also writing a thesis right now, on (I think) self-management, and one of the questions she asked me was (I paraphrase but it was something along the lines of) "do you think you should lead with changing culture?" I think that's a bit too binary kind of question in a way, because if you just focus on culture, then you can miss the underlying issues that led to the culture to start with. Or at least that perpetuates it. So we were looking at the two sides: of intentionally seeking to evolve culture somehow; but also looking practically at the processes and practices that you have in place and how you can in a way facilitate transformation either way. But a precursor is becoming conscious of what you've got: whether that's processes and tools, or culture, and by making that conscious, creating some disidentification for people, so that they can actually see it, and by disidentifying, that brings them closer to other options that can then be integrated to create a more integral approach to what whatever they're doing whether that's tools practices or culture. But my reflection yesterday – that was really an insight as I was saying – it was that I can go either way provided that that precondition is in place. So if people recognize value in changing processes and tools, and decide to invest the time and energy required to unlearn old patterns and learn new ones, then that in itself will lead to transformation and culture. And alternatively if they decide to focus more on communication, relationship, and how they coexist within the wider environment, that will lead to insights around the need for changes or evolution of practices and tools that people ...
That requires the drive first, right?
Well I mean if you bring in the S3 element...
...a presupposition. I know driver isn't a great term when you're talking in the world of complexity because people tend to lump that into the world of complicated. But in the way we mean 'driver' as in the driver as in the – I'm distracted thinking about what I was reading of Dave Snowden recently – he spoke about 'drivers' is the language of complicated and 'modulators' is the term he's using in the realm of complexity. But anyway I mean that's a that's a side topic.
What you mentioned about the 'disidentify', I hope I got that right so you mean ...
Tell me what you what you thought you understood and let's see.
Well, maybe I'm projecting it too much on the experiments I did with it. I have actually been in creating workshops where we bring up the collective unconsciousness of a group, and it works really well with scale-ups – that's startups that have proven their value in the market and now are growing – and they get these grow issues. But the thing is, they don't have peers to steal from, or to learn from. Because they are the scale-up, right? But I've been in a few of them and allowed them to understand that the answer is in themselves. They are the answer by, instead of avoiding tension, bringing the tension to the surface, so we can get to the collective unconsciousness to the surface. And then, when you mentioned the 'disidentify' I was trying to understand, how did that work in the group? Because there's of course one person who raises an issue, who spreads the idea, but then at the same time it's not about him or her, it's about the issue in the group. Is it this way?
Let me see, because there's a few different strands, and see if I can pull them together in one way at least. I was explaining about the concept of driver, so a hypothesis could be that our preferred state is unconsciousness. I forget now who said it – Jordan Peterson – consciousness is an error detect and rectification system. I thought that was quite a nice way of putting it, now that we're perceiving dissonance with our expectations, and the environment we would desire, and when something appears different to what we expect, and wish to see we experience some inner state of alarm, which could be more positive like an attraction, or more negative like some kind of impediment we want to move away from, and assuming there's no secondary gain to keeping that out of consciousness, then we're inclined to at least make a determination about some kind of action, or inaction, that would lead to the potential of the future we would hope to see, somehow, right? So this is...
That's funny, you're mentioning two things that are so extremely related, and I would love to suggest you to read a book called "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins, because the thing that Jordan Peterson is doing there with understanding it also relates to hierarchies and I know that Jordan is being pretty bashed on to look at hierarchies of lobsters, right?
Yeah yeah, I think it was a bit unfortunate as a kind of foundation point.
But purely mathematically it goes deeper, I mean hierarchy and complexity. I've noticed a lot of people think that to navigate complexity you have to decentralize, but that's a limited view. If you go and look into brains you see hierarchies everywhere; if you look going to nature you see hierarchies everywhere; but those are like sense-making hierarchies.
And that's the essence. So how do you create a platform, a system that can actually aggregate, becomes a hierarchy of sense-making, and so if you look in "On Intelligence", it's a study about your visual cortex, but the way it is actually described is that it's a complex system capable of anticipating. So it's basically the hierarchy allows the system to start doing anticipation, and that's almost purely mathematical so it's even older than lobsters.
Yeah is it "All Intelligence" you said?
"On Intelligence." It was a book that's been circulating heavily in the research group. The research group I'm involved with is evolution complexity and cognition but we also have the Global Brain Institute. Those are the things we worked on and I know that that book on intelligence it's a pretty – everyone can read it it's a very readable book – but all of them loved it because it made it so simple – it was so simplifying something so complex.
Yeah, that's what I need – something simple, but that's easy to absorb. So I was trying to tie those strings together. I was talking about drivers and I was talking about navigating by attention and our natural predisposition to observe dissonance in our environment, and then determine what if any response would be appropriate, and this is really the at the heart of S3, right? So the concept 'driver' was really a way of trying to describe that relationship between the perception of a situation that's occurring in a context that matters to the perceiver. So it's a relationship between context, perception of event – not the event itself because God only knows what's really happening – and the relevance of that to the person who perceives it. That's very much at the heart of S3. So on the one hand, this question of what's real I think is useful. We see this practically when people are bringing clarifying drivers and responding to organizational drivers and describing organizational drivers. It's not something new, but it's saying, okay, instead of just acting automatically, pause, in moments when it might be relevant, and pay attention to what you're observing; and the assumptions you're making about what you're observing; and your determinations about what might be needed in that context i.e what's deficit in the system somehow. And see how that then informs your action, whatever that might be, and take time to check all three of those parameters. Your perception of what's happening: is it really like that? Why it matters: is that really something that matters or is it different to what you imagine? What is it that you think might be needed – because that's a pretty broad scope of subjective opinion very often. Then, what is it that you're actually doing about that, and checking coherence around all three of those, and primarily in anything other than a clear situation, checking with peers about that and getting feedback. Because very often you're going to find someone else's perception of something is different to yours – their assumptions about what's needed are different to yours and their approach for dealing with that will be different to yours as well. So creating synergies between these different perspectives and opinions and approaches helps to build a more high resolution, or granular, rich, "more true", understanding of what's happening, and potentially more appropriate way of responding to it. So that in itself is bringing consciousness to people's previous unconscious presuppositions and habitual ways of doing things. That's one aspect of the disidentification I was talking about, and then we were talking about a culture.
These processes and tools. And sometimes in an intervention with an organization – or with an individual – you might focus on culture, but other times you might focus on process and tools. It's not an either-or question, and both paths are going to lead to transformation of both, provided that (1) there's a wish to venture on that journey somehow, and there's not a secondary reason to avoid it, and (2) that whichever side of that coin you come down on is appropriate to the context. Because some people never want to talk about relationship or communication, but they've got some hard problems with their work in being able to deliver value, and they want to look at processes and tools all day long. So that's a great route ...
I guess I come from that culture
I mean I build stuff
The first question, or the first intervention, isn't what you should do: the first intervention is what are you doing: what works and what doesn't, and then let's look at what isn't working and where you're prepared to concede that something else might be valuable. Then we can look at what alternatives might be there that are resonant with your expectations and your willingness to try. And I think that's the same whether you're on the culture side, in more soft interventions, or more tangible interventions on the process and tools side. Both of those journeys are a humanistic way of inviting disidentification from current – well what would you say – it's like just getting out your own box basically – but if you say to somebody "get out of your box" then of course the box doubles down, because who wants to get out of their box? Especially when somebody threatens the box because that's ...
Yeah then it's not okay!
... that's the protector controller system for that individual. So instead, acknowledging, okay what do you do – while awesome – you're so protected and controlling, and these things work; and building that rapport and intimacy somehow opens up that possibility then for that person to stand back from that, and see it for what it is, and then be in a more, potential or – what would you say – an environment with greater potential to integrate new or other aspects of themselves, and or other approaches to what they're familiar with into their repertoire.
Yeah yeah. It's fascinating – when you when you were describing the different (let me call them) feedback loops in disidentifier, I had the impression you were explaining the (what I call) novelty production. A little bit of explanation there. So when I was researching creativity, we use this concept that you keep a lot of the patterns abstract, so you accept that that's going to work, like face recognition by software that's going to work, let's let's accept that, and then see if that would work, how could you do something creative with that? So you actually get – because the way you talk about driver, and I've noticed that in S3 the way they talk about driver is the way I used to talk about driver in complex systems, but when I first started using driver I've bounced in that cultural wall that everyone else was using it in a different way – so I understand that if you come from the corporate world the concept of driver had a very very different meaning.
But in a complex adaptive system ... So you need to see it's about creativity. Before you get to creativity you actually get to improper use so you try to solve a problem. Maybe you don't have the tools around you. Maybe the tools around you don't work for the thing you're trying to do. So you start improperly using whatever you can, and that's start of the creative process.
You use that, and then you learn something from that, and then the box opens basically until – but that it's an interaction between your driver trying to solve something the way you perceive it, and the way the environment responds to it. So those are all again those three – angles you need for – and if you then see how that evolves over time it makes this back and forth movement like you're improving your models or your modelling and then when you when you've got good models you start mastering them and when you have the when you mastered your models it starts playing again with them and you zigzag your way to the new.
So Snowden – I think you're summing up what Snowden recently changed from emergent practice to exaptive discovery in the complex domain. You take what you've got and, you said, improper use, and through necessity you adapt what you have somehow, re-synergize, and discover something new. Over time hopefully if you survive long enough you can cherry-pick elements of value from that, and these over time become new practice.
The the thing I need to add to it is that, once I had discovered that feedback system, it popped up in environments I didn't expect it, and that's how – because I have an interdisciplinary PhD so I'm actually 'doctor' in five domains it's terrible! – but the thing is that the feedback system popped up in domains we wouldn't associate with cognition.
Could you just give a summary of what you mean?
Yeah, yeah, I'm going to give you a few! Because first you mentioned you also need peers. Well there's another exactly similar feedback model that also looks at peers, also looks at politics, also looks at public opinion. That's by Bruno Latour, who actually questioned, how is the development of science and technology rooted in the social fabric? And when he started digging into that question he actually came up with the same feedback system. I actually had two more discoveries of them. One comes from strategic management. So in strategic management they started with the resource-based view, then they moved to capabilities, and then the question like "okay but what if the environment is rapidly changing, how do we deal with dynamic capabilities?" Then there is the dynamic capability framework of Teece. It's a big thing in strategic management, but it's the same feedback system. And there's a debate that happened around 2011. There was a debate in agent methodology journals, and there was someone coming up with the concept of design science research, and someone responded with another paper, well that's just action research. We already know that methodology, just try to learn and so on. And then there was this, well, fights over journals saying, "it's wrong", "it's the same", "no it's different" and so on, and they came to the conclusion that it's different. So then someone tried to create a paper like, "okay so what would happen if we tried to combine those two: action research, and design science research?" And they came up with the same feedback system. And that's why I said, when you say, "at the interface between the habitual and in you, you have potential for greater consciousness", in my view, it's more true than you could imagine. This for me is the thing, that is the evolution of the consciousness that's happening right now, it's going better.
Yeah. We wouldn't know who thinks it's more true, but I think it's pretty true too. After five years of journeying with S3 this was my conclusion, because people come to S3 looking for prescriptions and formulas outside of themselves, because they finally concede what they have isn't good enough, and they think S3 might help, and they're going to love it or hate it – at some point they're probably going to love it for us and hate it! – but the point for me with S3 is the realization it's not about S3: that's just a really really clumsy low resolution way of describing some pretty cool fundamental patterns that guide life's unfolding, day to day, and us as expressions of life. We're just waking up in a very low resolution way to that wisdom that is already woven into the fabric of our being, and guides our perpetuation moment by moment somehow. What I've observed is that, more important than whether the pattern itself is relevant or not, the volition to experiment with something different to what you do or what you're familiar with, motivated by perceived need and the willingness to try, will inevitably facilitate a coming into greater consciousness of the habitual ways of doing things, through that disidentification process. So whether it turns out that the alternative way of doing it or not is more appropriate, more valuable, isn't really the point. The point is, now you're standing in embrace of how you previously did things, with some consciousness now and another way of doing things. And by holding that tension between opposites you now have a more conscious position from which to choose, rather than appearing to have agency over choice, but really just acting out of your habitual way of doing things, and then justifying it later as having made sense in some way. This is what I've been observing with S3. It's like, people are now faced with themselves they're faced with the systems that they're in, they're awakening to the habitual ways of doing things, and once they get past the false and rather naive idea that S3 is going to save them somehow, or at least they can reject it as something dysfunctional and useless, but actually it's much more complex than that, and what's required might be something that needs to be discovered through that process of – how did you put it? – exaptive discovery; improper use of a synergy.
Have you just called it exaptive?
Snowden referred to it as exaptive discovery.
Oh did he pick it up? Oh that's great! You need to know that exaptation is a pretty old evolutionary concept, and the best case we know – the example we always give – are feathers, but bones are another example. So both bones and feathers have evolved in a certain niche, but then suddenly they create this leverage to a whole new world because feathers were created for mating and for warmth, but then they turned out to be great for flight. And the same is with bones. Our bones in the very early days of sponge, you actually see that it is a rare resource, and they had to safely store it inside where they couldn't be reached. But then it was a hard structure, and then it started being used for motion. Both of them are called exaptations so not adaptations. Adaptation, that's like more linear, exaptation is like a billiard ball hitting the side and then getting back.
If you look at – I think it's the sixth sentence in my PhD – talks about exaptation, because there are some researchers also in business, in innovation that have been picking up the concept of exaptations, and that's 15 years ago, so I'm happy to hear that it's getting popularized – sorry for my interruption!
We are nearly at the time we set, and I'm not sure we got to what it was that you were wishing for from the call today. So maybe if we just come back to that, I never thought it was outcomes you were looking for, but maybe we can see if we can nail something around that before we wrap up.
Cool, that's a good question. First of all, I think that what I was looking for was having a relevant, interesting discussion about the topic, that's hard to have a relevant discussion with a lot of people around me. So I think that maybe one of the reasons I contacted you was that I've been collaborating with the local Agile community working on S3, but my interest of course is to get into this architectural part of it, trying to help the complex adaptive systems around it. I've noticed that I can't get an entry by going local so if I was trying to talk about the more advanced ideas behind S3 that wasn't really – they had concrete problems in their organization and they want to work on that. It was a very useful exercise to try out the patterns, because otherwise how could I actually have some experience on patterns? But it didn't allow me to go to the next step, which is what I call participation research. I didn't expect to directly after one talk to get anything out there so I just wanted to figure out if there is something underlying there and if there is a shared interest and I guess there is. So, well, I think related to expectations it's exceeded!
Great, well I feel like this conversation could go on all day, all night, for a few days. I felt a lot of resonance with what you ...
Should I have one anecdote to finish with? Because that's a really useful one. When I organized the conference in 2006 with the founder of Drupal, we actually had a talk of two hours at the bar, and there was one person coming along who wanted a picture with the founder. We were surprised because no one ever asked that question. There was a start-up project who was great yes a strange thing. Fast forward to 2012 in Amsterdam. I normally after the keynote to talk to him for whatever time he gets, but now we had five minutes, and in the five minutes we were interrupted seven times because someone wanted a picture with him. You see how the system itself can get like a golden cage around you!
So I just want to play the angle related to the tropical cascades. You very often see that you try to create something beautiful but before you know it it can turn pretty ugly.
I think I find some overlap in that story with mine and Lily's experience of the last years. We've been on the road teaching S3 – we've been learning about S3 obviously as we share with others about it and that's been extremely useful. But the last year or so, we weren't able to do much else because of the increasing demand to learn and our travel schedule. Meanwhile there's so much documentation required, and just ways of transmitting what we've learned, so that others can access that without the dependency on us. Covid was a great leveler for that, because it stopped us, along with everyone else, dead in their tracks. For me, besides the vulnerabilities of the future and letting go of our way of sustaining ourselves at that moment, it created this amazing opportunity to get into resource development, and what's come out of that we're working on e-learning – not as quickly as I would hope actually, because that's a lot of writing and you know writing collaboratively is also a lot of talking and a lot of learning and unlearning and thinking too – but we've also now launched the beta version of this S3 online learning community, which is running September to December and that's awesome we've got 50 people with most of them with a reasonable experience of S3 in different organizational contexts, coming together regularly for peer learning and sessions with us, and a nice platform, a digital platform in this case but nonetheless a lot of conversations and people posting articles of their experiences and so on. We melted down that golden cage and utilized that in a manner that's for now at least, proving to be much more appropriate to the context. I was thinking it would be great – at some point we will be having speakers who would love to come and share and also maybe run a session with some of the members to answer some questions and so on, but it would be awesome to invite you there next year at some point you'll be up for that, because I think your area of interest and experience would be super appropriate, and I'll probably share this conversation there as well I think that'll be useful for people. And maybe that's a place albeit a virtual environment where you can have some of those deeper conversations with people as well.
Yeah. I think I would love to have another talk when possible because the thing we end up now could be a whole discussion on itself.
I just wanted to let you know that the way I validated my PhD is by creating an e-learning peer review platform, where I proved that normally one person could supervise 30 projects – I demonstrated how one person could supervise 300 projects. So it's project oriented education that creates more tension on coaching but then actually show how to scale the coaching with collective intelligence and that's a project that has run in 2012 – that's the thing I was selling in China – we wanted to implement it there with a whole university, but that's when my university is there "whoa stop!".
Yeah? They would be out of business!
It was way too disruptive to all the structure they created because the way they actually claim they need assistance for research is saying that they need them for education. I can come along and show that you can actually solve that with the technology.
So I would be interested to learn more on what you're trying to do with with e-learning but for another time right.
Yeah sure. We'll tell you what we're trying to do, and you can tell us how to do it.
Yeah, well there it is, so suddenly the participation is evident there, so I would be happy to.
Thank you James!
You too Mixel! A real pleasure! Thanks a lot – you brightened up my day, and lots to think about.
Same here thank you
Send me any links you think are useful and we will arrange a time to get together again soon
- James Priest
- Sociocracy 3.0
- Agile Approach
- Voice Dialogue
- Psychology of Selves
- Wikipedia: Dave Snowden
- Wikipedia: Exaptation
- Wikipedia: Bruno Latour
- Wikipedia: Collective intelligence
- Wikipedia: Tropical cascade