Simon Fowler's Blog

  • Twitter Updates

    Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Archive for the ‘Directness’ Category

Encounter, Time and Place. Neighbors become friends.

Posted by Simon on November 2, 2012

Our neighbors are leaving.

A~ and K~, and their children, T~ and L~, are moving to North Africa.

We love them and we’re desperately sad they’re going.

Movie nights; pasta-making nights; sharing tools; shopping favors; book-lending; baby-sitting swaps; recipe-swaps; music-swaps; car-lending; taking both sets of children to the playground; doing multi-family yard sales together; kids’ sleep-overs; kids trashing each other’s places; sharing stresses of work or lack of work; easter egg hunts from the age the kids could only just walk; singing Happy Birthday in English, French and Spanish; A~ jabbing our daughter with an epipen to save her from an anaphylactic reaction to nuts; meals on their back deck; bbqs in our back yard; chats on their stoop; chats on our stoop; chats while snow-shoveling; chat’s beside storm-blown trees; chats beside fire/police/ambulance visits; chats about God, science, history, the future, family life, everything; sharing in grief of losing my dad; K~ sharing story of losing his dad; welcoming each other’s visiting parents, relatives and friends; keeping M~ partying to 4am on New Year’s Day; learning California Stars on the guitar. And so much more.

That’s the both the substance and the fruit of the friendship that’s grown over the years. Friendships are emergent. You can’t decide ahead of time who is going to be your close buddy. You’ll totally freak people out if you do. And not every person needs to become a ‘friend’. There is plenty satisfaction and reward in a simple, cordial relationship. But we’ve had the enormous pleasure of real friendship grow over the years.

It’s not that complicated. Friendship or just good relationship can emerge from simply being around – a combination of encounter (face to face meeting), time (frequency and continuity) and place (meeting in different contexts). That’s all we had really, none of us set out to make friends of each other. But encounter, time and place were the foundation upon which reciprocity, a bit of risk taking, reasonable boundaries, shared and divergent interests bore fruit in a deep affection for one another.

Along with our other amazing neighbors, they’ve given us such a sense of belonging to somewhere, of mattering to someone. It’s been so rich, and so unspeakably fulfilling, to live life on this street with A~, K~, T~ and L~.

God bless you, friends.

Advertisements

Posted in Continuity, Directness, Multiplexity, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Want to change the world? Start right where you are.

Posted by Simon on January 6, 2012

In 1990, at the age of 23, I set out on a trip around the world. I was planning on a leisurely ‘sight-seeing’ journey. But God rudely interrupted my life, and as my heart started to change my hike along the Inca trail in Peru was replaced by an uncomfortable two months in a children’s home in El Salvador. The civil war was still raging. Some time later I found myself working with Burmese students and guerrillas in Bangkok, Thailand and at Manerplaw on the Thai/Burma border.

My cosy upbringing and my rose-tinted view of the world (and of myself) was shattered by that year. For the next two or three years, back in the UK at college (I was what is hilariously known as a ‘mature’ student), I wrestled with what to do about it. I didn’t have the benefit of ignorance, and the reality, extent and complexity of the vast problems in the world were too big for me, emotionally and practically. I’d lived with abandoned, abused children. I’d seen people moments after they’d been shot dead. I’d talked to people who’d witnessed or experienced horrendous injustices.  I’d corrected the English of Burmese students writing stories of how “the villager’s legs was were  blown off”. I’d met the Prime Minister-in-exile of Burma, seeing him try to establish a government  in the malaria-ridden jungle on the Thai/Burma border while most of his NLD party members were in prison near Rangoon, Burma. What was I, this one little person, supposed to do with that knowledge?

By the grace of God (for my sanity, and for doable next steps) I came to the conclusion that the minimum I must do is act justly, and seek justice, where I am, in my immediate sphere of influence. If I’m not treating people around me with justice, then what kind of hypocrisy is it to campaign for justice elsewhere? And by people I mean family, friends, business owners, musicians, artists; everyone.

This is isn’t a matter of order – it’s not to say one must fix ones own back yard first – but a matter of integrity.

The closer we get to people, the harder it is to act unjustly, or the more the injustice is exposed for what it is. But if we want to change the world, we have to start where we are. I hope, I pray, that at the very least that’s what I’m doing.

For a story of how a mega-church did that in a declining neighborhood of Indianapolis, read “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to your neighbors“.

Posted in Directness, RelationalProximity | 3 Comments »

rLiving Day 29: Blogging, Tweeting and Paranoia (Directness, Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 30, 2010

It had to happen, and frankly I’m amazed it took until day 29 to get there. But tonight, and in fact throughout the day, I’ve found myself totally uninspired on what to write about and desperately wishing this 30-day project was over. I’m also unbelievably tired – I’ve had some of the most intense weeks at work just when I’m spending a couple of hours a night trying for the first to work out and write out things I’ve pondered for years. Maybe it takes 30 days to break/form a habit, not 21? It seems to be when you’re near completion of a stretch goal that your metal is tested.

Then as I sat at my laptop this evening I started doubting why I was doing this. And I started getting a little paranoid. I knew people were reading the blog, but who?! And why did the page views go from 80+ yesterday to 15 today?!! Numbers are a pathetic and pointless thing to start worrying about when you’re blogging, or tweeting – unless you’re trying to make money out of ad clicks. Coincidentally this past couple of weeks I also started wondering why other twitter people I’m following tweeted and re-tweeted each other but not me!

This is an embarrassing paranoia. But it does make me think about ‘relationships’ with people in these two social media. I know personally all the people who have commented on this blog series, or commented on my facebook status blog update. And that’s 7 people in total. Two people who I don’t know personally have kindly referred to this blog series; one on twitter (@marciamarcia) and one on his own popular blog (@scotmcnight). But I’ve only had one direct back-and-forth conversation, and that on an administrative matter, with only one of them. The link from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog generated an all-time peak of page-views (near 180) last weekend. Now I’m delighted and encourage by the interest from Scot and his readers, but I still only know and have interacted with those seven people. So as far as I’m concerned it only feels like I have a ‘relationship’ with those seven.

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully and know each other better.

An awareness of ‘Directness’ makes me think of mutuality in social media. So knowing there are other people reading my blog but that I’m not being able to communicate with them makes me feel … well, paranoid! Literally, it’s like knowing people are watching me, but I don’t know who they are or what they’re thinking. So who wouldn’t be paranoid!!? I’d rather not think about them too much.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

And yet, I have a specific shared ‘Commonality’ around the topic of relationships with the daily 50-90+ ‘readers’ (unless the page-views are all from bots) that I don’t have with others. This has been one of the only public means by which I’ve shared my own attempts to work out how Relational Proximity might apply to life. So I have what almost feels like an intimacy with these people, like they might understand me, that I don’t with others. Of course I need to make a number of assumptions about the page-views; for instance, that they are interested, and that if several different posts are clicked on then there’s even more interest. On one post I used the term ‘dear readers’ so clearly I feel like I have a relationship with them/you. I feel like I have an actual ‘community’ of sorts, bound by commonality even if not by directness.

And I’ve spent the whole time on this post talking about ‘them’, when them is ‘you’! So if ‘you’ are ‘them’ then I’m sorry for my rudeness and though I’m paranoid about you I’m glad that you share my interest in relational thinking!

So now I have no idea what to think. But at least I got a blog post from thinking about it!

Posted in Directness, Purpose, RelationalProximity | 2 Comments »

rLiving Day 26: Sales Performance (Directness, Continuity, Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 26, 2010

But, so what?

So what if they lost all those things? The business question is: did sales go down, or go up, because of the decision to stop meeting? Were clients retained? Did those clients spend more? Were negotiations enable bigger margins? Were new prospects found and turned into clients?

If I hadn’t fried my brain last night spending three hours thinking about derivatives, I’d look this up, but I know there’s strong evidence to link employee engagement positively with performance (on a number of metrics). But what I don’t know, and would like to find out, is to what degree and why regularly meeting face to face specifically contributes to engagement and so to performance. The research evidence about global teams seems to indicate that regular face to face meetings is an important part, but only a part, of a team’s overall effectiveness. But I’m keen to know the degree to which face to face meetings actually make all the mediated interactions more effective.

If you have any data to share, I’d welcome it!

Posted in Continuity, Directness, first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Day 25: Derivatives! (Directness, Power, Purpose)

Posted by Simon on May 26, 2010

[This is a fairly long post attempting to examine derivatives from a relational perspective. Fun, huh! It’s becoming evident, three hours into it, that I ain’t an economist! And that there’s more to say.]

Why weren’t derivatives regulated?
In the comments of Saturday’s post Nick told me about Brooksley Born, former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Back in 1998, having become increasingly concerned with the lack of transparency of over-the-counter derivatives, and in particular ‘swaps’, the Commission issued a “Request for Comments” report. The report is a first step towards new regulations. One day later, strong objections to the report were made by the chairman of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan), the Treasury Secretary (Robert Rubin) and the SEC Chairman (Arthur Levitt) strongly objected to the release of the report.

So the three most powerful people in US finance opposed a preliminary investigation into the derivatives market. Born, apparently, wasn’t even permitted to take a closer look, let alone issue new regulation.

Why regulation should be a tool of last resort
[UPDATE: the original heading was “Why regulation sucks”, a hastily invented and unfortunate choice given the reaction “regulation” talk causes.”]
Now, I don’t honestly know what “Regulation” means when someone says the word. But it seems like people want it used like a very blunt and unimaginative hammer for constraining any excessive human nail. And even if it’s successful at that, it is ill-designed to foster virtuous innovation, creativity and trusting relationships. “Law” does have a place in fostering trust, I guess, by letting everyone know where the boundaries are. But by placing the locus of moral restraint on the law rather than in the human heart and in human relationships, one underestimates what the human heart is capable of and opens up a Pandora’s box of deceitful ingenuity that requires more law.

Regulation and a lack of transcendent moral authority
I’m so sorely tempted here to make an argument for God, or rather an argument for the inevitable trajectory of a society that rejects God or a transcendent moral authority. [And please, if you’re atheist, don’t get bent out of shape about that proposal. I would guess and expect, if you’re reading this, that you’re a person of high moral sensitivity and fortitude (not to mention a person with exceptional taste in blogs!).] But I speak about those for whom the absence of a transcendent moral authority is license to … well, create fraudulent, exploitative, derivatives. I mean if the accepted norm in a society is that morality is self-determined, that’s fine if what you self-determine is righteous and good (namely, you, dear reader!), but for everyone else? What then? More laws, more regulations (that affect everybody, even the righteous) ironically taking us back to something akin to the religious legalism from which we thought we’d liberated ourselves. Most claims for human enlightened progress assume a level of goodness and righteousness that empirically does not exist even in the best of us, and even if it does, it’s only in those who make the claim. [Oh man, looks like I did make an argument. I think I’ll be in for some fire for this paragraph.]

Regulation as “oversight”: observation of actions
The key word for the role of the CFTC, and for regulation in general, is ‘oversight‘. Over. Sight. Looking over … someone is watching! Regulation does provide specific permissions and prohibitions (the creative spirit killer), yes. But the main thing seems to be about disclosure, as with Sarbanes-Oxley for example. That’s what screams “you can’t be trusted with each other!”. No gentleman’s handshake for you two! The authority needs to know, for the sake of everyone else.

Relational analysis of derivatives.
So the big question I want to ask is: how do we create a different form of oversight that is built right into the financial relationships embedded in entrepeneurial activity and human exchanges of labor, material and time? First we have to examine the system relationally.

From Wall St to Farmer Bob. Or, Financial Risk Management made easy (for me to understand)
Farmer Bob wants to harvest a field, but he can’t afford a tractor. A friend has some money to lend him, but with a few other friends they pool it together to help the farmer. Suddenly the farmer’s productivity sky-rockets, he’s even employing more people, developing better farming techniques, trying out organic methods. Only he doesn’t, the tractor blows up. All his friends lose their money. Except they don’t. They get together with yet more friends so that some of the bigger pool of money goes to this farmer, some goes to a milliner, some goes to a guy who’s invented something called a yPed. Two out of three succeed so the larger group still receive a return on their investment. Except they don’t. A tornado rips the local economy to shreds so they lose everything. Except they don’t. They get together with another group of folks out west and pool money to share in even more diverse enterprises: the confidence that a failure at one farm or one town won’t make them bankrupt encourages more people to invest their money in helping more people farm and make hats and yPeds.

And so it goes, the world of financial risk management and economic expansion. Through the eyes of a non-economist.

Financial risk and relational proximity.
In this whole scenario, you can see the possibility of accountability between the people with money and the people who use money to do something creative, productive. There’s a relational proximity between them, though growing more mediated and distant the bigger the pool becomes. There’s no ‘derivative’ pool of money that’s speculating against potential future scenarios. There IS financial speculation, but it’s “invested”, it has a stake in the end product.

Directness. It seems the greater the distance between the lender and Farmer Bob, the greater the chance that the lender will forget there’s a human being trying to make something good at the other end, and will instead only think, “how am I going to make money?”. Equally, there’s a greater the chance Farmer Bob won’t remember there’s a human being who’s risked their money with them. Purpose/Commonality. In other words, there is no longer a shared understanding of the source and purpose of the money. So relational distance (what I’ve called elsewhere, mediated relationships) contributes to a lack of mutual, intrinsic moral accountability – so now you need ‘oversight’, the law, from someone who’s not invested in either party or the relationship. There’s even greater relational distance now because the people ‘with the money’ (e.g. Wall St traders) are not even using their own money, they’re using money invested by millions of people. The traders stand in between million’s of other people and Farmer Bob.

Power. That shift in moral accountability and sense of relational investment is made more problematic by this big pool of money now being concentrated in fewer hands (e.g. Wall St traders). There’s now an enormous power asymmetry. The people with the money, who now have a lesser sense of moral accountability to Farmer Bob, can now dictate terms. The distance means their only purpose is “make more money”. The fact that Farmer Bob needs a tractor is irrelevant to them now (especially because there’s just no way ALL tractors would fail at once, or that ALL resale prices of tractors would drop at once, that would NEVER happen!). The only way to redress the power imbalance in this case is for all the farmers, and everyone else who needs money to buy houses or tractors, to get together as a community (consumer action? social media?). Or else there’s regulation.

So relational distance (directness) causes a loss of shared purpose (purpose!) and a greater possibility of power imbalance (parity).

And I think I’m done.

Except I’m not.

Interest.
None of this horrid scenario would have been possible if there was no interest charged on loans. An interest charge essentially enables the lender to make money out of money. They’re being paid to lend money. So interest creates a loss of shared purpose right at the get go. If, however, the lender received money from the success of the business, THEN, lender and Farmer Bob have shared interest. Bob gets his tractor, lender gets his money because Bob is successful. Yes, pool money with others, pool with even more others, spread the risk. But keep the source of investment income in the form of business productivity, dividends. Not interest.

Now I’m done. For now.

Posted in Directness, Power, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

rLiving Day 23: Mortgage Crisis (Directness, Power)

Posted by Simon on May 24, 2010

Money, like power, gets a bad rap. It’s seen as so purely evil that we just cripple ourselves with guilt about having it or wanting it. Or else we resent, then reject, the guilt and instead embrace money as though it were God himself, the source of all life and happiness. The Bible calls it “greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3v5).

But money is actually a major cause of human relationships by mere fact that none of us inherently have everything we want or need: we have to trade. We’re forced into a relationship caused by something I have (in the nature of material, skill or time) that you want. And vice versa. ‘Money’ is often the means of that exchange. And that is a very good thing. In millions of fair and equitable transactions every day around the world, from markets in Soroti, Uganda to corporate offices in Boston, MA, relationships are established and built upon and people get and give what they want.

The evil of greed and idolatry is that it focuses on the means, money itself, rather than the ends; a fair trade relationship in which we both gain what we were seeking and even build something new in the process. The other evil of greed and idolatry is that it lusts in power over others; it relishes in being able to extract more than it gives. It leads to injustice. Finally, its irony is that it’s never satisfied. To the question, “How much is enough?”, Rockefeller wisely responded, “just a little bit more.”

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully and know each other better.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

I contend that the more a relationship is mediated – that is, the less direct it is – the weaker it is, because more mediation means less knowledge. And less knowledge means less trust. Less knowledge also means, I think, ‘less human’. When we don’t know people we render them less than fully human, less than ‘normal’. It explains why we demonize some and idolize others – we’re literally ignorant about them. So the ‘less-than-human’ becomes an object, an item, something to generalize about but not an individual with a name, a story, a past and a future.

So if we consider a relationship mediated by an unfathomable array of individuals, institutions and mathematical formula, then throw in ‘disparity’ (unequal power), I think you have an explanation of the mortgage crisis: Relational distance caused less knowledge, then less consideration, then less proper care for the human being at the end of the money chain. There wasn’t a human being at the other end, in fact, they were too distant to even be noticed.

One shouldn’t ascribe evil intent to Wall St bankers, necessarily. Greed and idolatry could just as easily be ascribed to the house buyers. No, relational distance and power asymmetry were objective facts of the matter. Even a heart of gold at either end would have had trouble ensuring an equitable trade, because between the hearts of gold were bureaucratic institutions and non-human mathematic formulae whose goal was, ostensibly, to minimize financial risk and maximize financial profit for the Lender. [UPDATE: This paragraph originally started with “One shouldn’t ascribe evil intent just to Wall St bankers.” This implied we should ascribe evil intent to house buyers also, which was not my intent! Instead, this paragraph was meant to point out that greed/idolatry is neither the sole preserve of Wall St bankers, nor, necessarily, the functional cause of the problem.]

We have a dilemma, however, and I’ll end the post with this. The financial wizardry behind the crises has just been an extension of the sound and prudent engine behind the economic explosion of the last 50 years: the pooling of money and the spreading of risk. What needs further investigation is how to manage the dilemma of relational directness and financial stewardship in such a way that it fosters parity and human flourishing in the context of trading relationships.

Posted in Directness, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

rLiving Day 19: Crime and Punishment (Directness/Power)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

Crime. A man breaks into an apartment at number 23, ransacks the place and steals money and jewelry of sentimental value. He’s disturbed by a woman who lives in the opposite apartment. He knocks her over as he escapes but she is otherwise unharmed physically.

You live over the road at No. 20 and hear about it a couple of days later. It’s been a quiet neighborhood and that kind of thing has never happened before. So you’re a bit spooked out by the whole thing but you hear the woman hasn’t been able to sleep since. The person who lives in the apartment hasn’t been able to go back there.

Punishment. The man is eventually caught and given a jail term.

Justice? What are the relational dynamics between the burglar and the others and you? What relational factors have been dealt with by the justice system?

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity. This dimension can also be considered in terms of fairness, or justice.

A relationship has been established between the burglar and the woman, the owner, and all the neighbors including you. If you like, the commonality (dimension #5) of the crime has bound you all together.

There has been a direct face-to-face relationship between the burglar and the woman, which makes the relationship more significant even as it’s hideous. [Makes me think I should change the definition of directness to “makes the relationship more significant” rather than “better”. What constitutes ‘better’ is determined by the purpose/commonality].

One reason it’s hideous is that he’s created an enormous injustice, an imbalance of power (actual, in terms of his physical assault, and perceived, in terms of his having left her feeling afraid). Because of your proximity to the scene, and you being neighbors (another commonality with the woman), you also have a relationship with the burglar, albeit mediated, but also negative since you too feel an insecurity and fear or powerlessness.

What has the jail term done to restore or make right these relationships?

“Restorative Justice” is something I’ll explore again in the future, but for now, watch this video that tells a similar tail. If you can’t understand the thick London accent let me know and I’ll translate!

Posted in Directness, first-follower, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 18: Global Team Dynamics (Relational Proximity)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

IMHO, “Team Interaction Dynamics” should replace “virtual teams” or any notion of a difference between “virtual” and “non-virtual” teams. Unless you’re literally within spitting distance, you’re a virtual team, until you come together again physically in shared space. So the question is, how does a ‘team’ interact,how often and why? How are relationships amongst teams mediated and managed for optimal performance? I want to look at this research and match it against the Relational Proximity model and see how Relational Proximity holds up as an analytical model, and perhaps even a predictive one.

Studying the Effectiveness of Global Virtual Teams. In 2000, Martha Maznevski and Katherine Chudoba published a paper entitled, “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.”[1] Their 21-month study of three ‘virtual’ (i.e. not geographically co-located) teams in a major US producer of technological manufacturing equipment revealed that certain factors distinguished the two successful teams from the one unsuccessful team that was eventually disbanded. They were examined with respect to the dynamics of technology use, choice of media, and group outcomes. This is my summary of a summary by Elizabeth Kelley, “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.”[2].

What made teams effective? What characterised the effective teams had to do with an interplay between task, ‘interaction media choice’ and ‘rhythm’:
– the nature of the task or group (not, “I prefer email”) determined media choice
– if tasks were interdependent they met more frequently
– if tasks were more complex (so the ‘message’ was more complex) they chose richer media
– if the team was composed of greater cultural/professional/national differences they chose richer media
– they prioritized building relationships to enable trust and shared views (this was mostly face-to-face & telephone)
– as trust increased, message complexity decreased, so they changed media choice
– the ‘planned’ meetings were only coordination meetings, regular conference calls, impromptu conference calls
– there was a ‘rhythm’ to their meetings

More about rhythm: “Effective teams also exhibited a strong, repeating temporal pattern to their interaction incidents. The basic rhythm was set by intense face-to-face meetings, with the interaction between meetings defined by a response to previous meetings or anticipation of the next. The researchers characterized the face-to-face meetings as “a heartbeat, rhythmically pumping new life into the team’s processes, before members circulated to different parts of the world and task, returning again at a predictable pace.””

Interpreting findings through Relational Proximity Lens: There’s more to the study, but I’ll take a look at just these findings. Remember, this is what characterized effective teams.

First, noticeable is the absence of learning styles, personality types or personal media preferences as a factor. Kelley’s summary doesn’t mention them. It was an intense 21 month study and I’m sure they would have controlled for those factors or rather picked teams similar enough that styles, types and media preferences wouldn’t vary greatly between teams.

Second, there were three driving factors for interaction media choice a) interdependence of tasks, b) complexity of task, c) level of trust and mutual understanding. In terms of Relational Proximity dimensions, I want to say the nature of the relational Purpose (dimension #5) is the driving factor for appropriate relational Directness (dimension #1). In other words, what they were about and their sense of common agreement on that determined how they chose to interact.

Third, a predictable yet flexible rhythm to their meetings was a major factor in success. The rhythm was determined and adjusted according to a) an upfront decision b) level of mutual trust and shared understanding (esp. in cross-cultural/professional situations) c) previous and expected outcomes. In terms of Relational Proximity, the regularity and future reliability of the meetings (dimension #2, continuity) was determined by their goal (dimension #5, Purpose) and by shared agreement (dimension #4, Parity).

So Relational Proximity is confirmed here to a certain extent. The dimensions have broad definitions and I may be stretching or confusing them a little. ‘Shared views’, for example, is clearly about Purpose/Commonality. But one could argue it’s also about power: agreement requires not forcing your opinion to dominate others, or being will for your opinion to change. I’m not sure if the proximity model has anything to say about task complexity or task interdependence (though the latter implies multiplexity, dimension #3).

Task drives (social) media selection, not the other way around! This study is 10 years old, so it was before the SoMe explosion. But that should only have added media options. It still should be the task at hand that drives media choice, not the other way around. You might ask, “ooooh! what can we do with this new tool?!”, but don’t ever just say, “well, we’re going to have blogs and wikis” without knowing why. Maybe there’s more recent research that builds on this? I know I came across an MIT study in the last couple of years. Can’t find it though. If you know of any on the topic of team interaction dynamics, media choice and the nature of the task/group, let me know. And if you have other thoughts or comments on this research and analysis, I’d love to hear it!

[1] Maznevski, Martha and Katherine Chudoba. “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.” Organization Science; Sep/Oct 2000, Vol. 11 Issue 5, p473-492
[2] Kelley, Elizabeth. “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.” Academy of Management Executive; May 2001, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p132-133

Posted in Continuity, Directness, first-follower, Multiplexity, Power, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 16: Knowing the poor 2 (Directness)

Posted by Simon on May 16, 2010

This morning at church two guys from our class led us in the third discussion about Poverty. In our first session they asked “Do you know the poor?” and, “Who are the poor?” and “Why are people poor?”. The questions helpfully uncovered assumptions, personal experiences, and a full range of possibilities as to causes, without descending into idealogical/political debate or absurd characterizations of the poor or ourselves.

Last week, and again this week, we were asked, “Do you know the poor? Literally, do you know anyone who’s poor?”. I haven’t asked permission of the group to share our discussion so for the sake of this post, just ask yourself that question.

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

If you don’t know anyone who is poor then I suggest you get to know someone who does (even an organization). You’ll then have a weak link that holds enormous potential.

Merely being conscious that I am, in fact, connected to someone seems to make a difference to me being more compassionate and more committed (i.e. doing something about it). ‘Directness’ as a relational dimension of life helps me think more concretely about my place in the world. This helps both when thinking about the poor, but also, among other things, in thinking about food and trade. A human being with a beating heart picked my asparagus. I am connected to them (and therefore have a responsibility to them), albeit mediated by a number of organizations, financial transactions and people. Directness probably explains why child sponsorship works well, because you can see the link.

Very simply, you could be just two or three degrees of separation from someone who needs something that you have. What I don’t like about the diagram above is the dollar signs. It bothers me that my relationship with the poor, or anyone else, is defined in monetary terms. I don’t like it because money, like power (another relational dimension, see post and comments from Day 13), seems to confer value in so many people’s eyes. Money of course IS power in this relationship, but it’s not the only power (unless it’s the only mediator, which in most cases it is) and it still shouldn’t confer ‘value’ or dignity. It also reduces their multidimensionality to a dollar figure. To mitigate that I gave everyone a beating heart.

Social Network Analysis is an exploding field that could eventually help us better realize our connectedness to each other (see Nicholas Christakis’ video at the end of Friday’s post for an example). But just being aware that you already have a relationship with the poor is a first step.

Actually, make that a second step. How much do you disclose of your personal needs – material or otherwise – to other people, even people close to you? Same here. It’s probably the same for them, too. If we’re not prepared to be vulnerable to one another in our current socio-economic relationships why do we think we’ll have the right attitude to love the poor, with humility and respect, when we meet them? This is where the other element of directness comes in. We need to learn to unmask ourselves, to expose ourselves enough that our relationships can become ones of mutual giving and receiving.

Anyway, give that diagram a ponder with respect to your relationship with the poor, or those who grow your vegetables or make your shirts. How does it help your thinking?

Posted in Directness, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Day 11: Neuroscience 1 (Directness)

Posted by Simon on May 10, 2010

It turns out, according to neuroscience research gathered together in David Rock’s popular book, Your Brain at Work, that our brains are wired for social connection.

No WAY!? I hear you thinking.

Sorry for the sarcasm. But just writing that first sentence made me realize how ‘duh!’ it is that the brain would be wired in such a way that matches how we experience life. Anyway, here’s a tidbit of the neuroscience (social cognitive neuroscience, to be precise) that appears to support “Directness”. And it’s all based on recent (since 1995) discoveries of “mirror neurons”.

Image: UCLA

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

It’s a pretty cool discovery actually (despite my ‘duh!’ comment). Mirror neurons, scattered throughout the brain, light up when they observe “intentional action”. That is, they won’t light up if they see random acts, but if they discern intent behind the action, the same neurons fire in their brains as though they themselves were doing it. (Effects of commercials on children, anyone?). The powerful limbic system that triggers a response to threats or rewards obviously kicks in once the intent has been discerned. Here’s the explanation from Christian Keysers, a leading mirror neuron research based in Holland:

What happens is that when we witness another’s facial expressions, we activate the same in our own motor cortex, but we also transmit this information to the insula, involved in our emotions. When I see your facial expression, I get the movement of your face, which drives the same motor response on my face, so a smile gets a smile. The motor resonance is also sent on to your own emotional centers, so you share the emotion of the person in front of you.” (p160)

Here are a couple of other quotes from the book that seem to support the idea that ‘directness’ is an important factor in building good relationships:

“The more social cures that are stripped out of communication, the greater the likelihood that the intent will be misread. “The more we can see each other, the better we can match emotional states”. (P160)

Collaboration with people you don’t know well is a threat for the brain. Perhaps, after millions of years living in small groups, the automatic response to strangers is “don’t trust them”. (p162)

An abundance of social cues makes people connect more richly, perhaps in challenging ways at times. For example, when there is an abundance of social cues, emotional information can travel swiftly between people in a type of contagion. p161

And now a few application thoughts/questions (some mine, some from the book):
1) Workplace learning. What learning performance is lost with online training? Do virtual worlds provide a close enough approximation to real-life that our brains might learn social behaviors from avatars? Is there an optimum amount of time a team needs to gather face to face to be most effective? (I’ve misplaced a piece of research MIT did on that, something to do with a ‘pulse’ (gathering, moving away to research, coming back again, pulse-like).

2) Management. Think that your attitude or stress-level has no effect on your workers? Their brains can’t help but be affected by you.

3) Communication. Precisely because we don’t want to discern another person’s reaction (and therefore trigger a reaction of our own), we resort to sending emails, or doing nothing, rather than face them.

4) Autism spectrum. It appears that mirror neurons show damage in people with autism. It also appears that therein lies a clue to a better response/treatment.

What would you add?

Posted in Directness, first-follower, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: