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Archive for the ‘Purpose’ Category

rLiving Day 30: Non-Memorial Day (Continuity, Commonality/Identity)

Posted by Simon on May 30, 2010

Memorial Day in the US is the last Monday in May. It’s equivalent to UK Remembrance Sunday which is second Sunday in November. And the message from both seems straightforward: don’t take your freedoms for granted since it was secured by the sacrifice of others, so remember them, and be thankful. Even today there are those dying so that others might be free, so remember them too.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: A relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

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 nation is a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. – Ernest Renan”

The above quote was seen previously in this post, and originally by my friend Dana in the comments on this post . It sums up very well what Memorial Day, and Fourth of July, does functionally for people who call the United States of America their nation. Without conscious remembrance of the sacrifices of the past, a people may well forget who they are or why they are. You can’t build a national identity on a shared history if you don’t continually think about or remember that history. And you can’t build a common identity if you don’t ‘share’ – agree with – the reason for the sacrifices in the first place or if you don’t know or agree on what your ‘common life’ is for which you’d be prepared to sacrifice your life.

The combination of the lack of conscious remembrance and a vehement disagreement over the purpose of recent sacrifices seems to be one reason for a loss of national identity within western nations. I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel it.

But it’s an odd, and slightly uncomfortable, thing to build an identity on a common suffering and death even though that’s the normal context for reference to a nation’s character (i.e. who they are); 9/11 being the most recent example. I say ‘build’ as though it’s a conscious act, but of course identity and commonality is something inexplicable and unique that emerges from that cauldron of suffering. Those who have been through it, like soldiers in war, just know … they just KNOW … what binds them together. And when they forget what it was that bound them, then bound they are no more.

One wonders why then do we want to keep remembering the pain, the suffering, the injustice, the cruelty? Why not forget? Why not instead focus on the future, build something new? Or find something else, something stronger, more positive from the past. Or find something transcendent, something not contingent on circumstance. In fact there’s a paradox in that justice and truth screams at us to keep remembering, to never forget! But the goal of remembering, the goal of all proper attention to evil and injustice, is redemption, restoration, justice and peace. The hopeful future together presupposes the redeemed past together.

This paradox is embedded in the title of the book, “The End of Memory: Remembering rightly in a violent world” (which I haven’t read yet so what follows is pieced together from reviews). In it, the author Miroslav Volf – himself trying to ‘forget’ his experience of interrogation in former Yugoslavia – proposes the need and importance of ‘non-remembering’: “To be fully overcome, evildoing must be consigned to its proper place – nothingness”. But he’s not simply saying, “forgive and forget”. He’s talking about a right kind of remembering, the kind that has an aim to know the truth of what really happened in all its ugliness. The kind that for the sake of justice, Will Not Forget! That’s the “end’, the goal, of memory: to expose and reveal the truth. But ultimately, one wants to really ‘end’ remembering suffering and death. One wants just to not have to remember any more.

Like I say, I haven’t read the book, so I hope I’ve correctly got to the essence of it. But regardless, it does seem there’s a paradox here with memory and memorializing.

It’s likely this weekend is just a long holiday weekend for a lot of people. Time to really gear up for summer. Unless, that is, you happen upon a parade (as we had in Somerville today; that’s my daughter M~ above), or have lost someone in the theatre of war so cannot help remembering. And even if for those watching the parades, and participating. I do wonder how much we’re really remembering as we should, so that we can stop remembering as we should.

Paying proper close attention to – really remembering – the fact and reason for the sacrifice may yet restore a sense of commonality and pride in one’s national identity. The people of the United States have made many, many sacrifices for others. Perhaps with some courageous remembering, the right kind of remembering – even of recent wards – there’s a chance the people of this nation could really feel “a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

As an Englishman, whose father served in Normandy in WWII and died last Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8 2009, I remember and thank you, people of the United States, and your sons & daughters who have given so much for us.


Posted in Continuity, first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 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.

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 21: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Multiplexity and Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 22, 2010

Embarrassed, I turned off my new Verizon HTC Eris droid phone. I’d just checked work email, personal email, and twitter and facebook. Again.

It was 8pm this evening, C~ and M~ were watching a view Mary Poppins songs on YouTube, so I figured, “ah, they’re watching Mary Poppins, I’ll check my email”. But then I turned and saw M~ and C singing along and just felt embarrassed and, well, just wrong. Sure I don’t have to watch it every time with them, but unless I’ve got a good reason not to, why not? And I’d hardly seen them all week. This was one of those moments just to hang with them, watch it with them, listen to them singing, sing along with them.

Relational Proximity Dimension #3 is “Multiplexity”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier if I interact with them in two or three different contexts than if we only interact in one. This is, essentially, about my knowledge of the other person.

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, identity or experience. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

Earlier in the week I commuted with C~ to her preschool. I also went swimming with her, and with M~. We had breakfast together. I hung her upside down. M~ and C~ sat on my feet like slippers as I walked around. I yelled at C~ for being rude. She yelled at me for saying no. We chatted outside with the neighbors. And finally tonight, C~ also made did some paint and glitter work on a shell.

Don’t interpret that list as any sign that I’m a great or poor parent. It’s just what happened this week.

But it’s the ‘multiplexity’ of it that makes my relationship with her more significant. All those things contribute (for good or for ill) to our knowledge of each other. Interestingly, despite me saying yesterday that ‘purpose/commonality’ was primary, it’s all these multiple shared experiences that creates a ‘commonality’ between us. We get to know each other, and we become close through the bond of common experience. Which is why (among other reasons) it was such a poor decision to check email. Instead, another mysterious bond of being a family would have been sealed by watching Mary Poppins again with them, just sitting down with them to hear them sing along, and then sing with them.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not complicated. You just have to do more different stuff together. And do it more often. A greater ‘bond’ has no choice but to come, without you even trying, because you’ll know more about each other and you’ll have more shared experience, a greater sense of the past (#2, continuity) and if you’re conscious about planning more things, a greater anticipation of the future (#2, continuity). This also applies to groups. organizations, even countries.

Posted in Multiplexity, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 20: Shopping, LinkedIn and Marriage (Purpose)

Posted by Simon on May 20, 2010

Over the 20 days of actively reflecting on relational dimensions of life I’ve come to realize that Purpose/Commonality seems to have primacy over the other dimensions. In other words, dimensions of Directness, Continuity, Multiplexity and Power are constrained or delimited by whatever purpose or identity the two individuals, groups or organizations have in common.

I suspect that a lack of understanding and agreement about what that commonality is – and even, whether it’s wanted or not – contributes to so much of the disharmony we experience in relationships. So know what the purpose is, and knowing that you both know, makes for ease and harmonious relationships. Even if it’s briefly, temporarily, like being on LinkedIn and someone helping me out.

The burglar and the woman and other neighbors in yesterday’s post had a crime as their point of commonality. In that case, Directness (face to face or not), Continuity (did it happen once, quickly, or every day for hours?), Multiplexity (was it just a break-in, or is he stalking also?), and Power (did someone get him back, steal his wallet? is he jailed and powerless now?) all contribute to an understanding of the severity of the crime. Or rather, they explain (and probably predict) the intensity of feeling and entanglement that people have with the criminal and each other.

Marriage is a substantial bond of love and commitment (Purpose/Commonality). Firstly, one hopes that there is common agreement between husband and wife what marriage means (like I say, lack of shared understanding likely explains a LOT of the problems). But even then, marriage has implications or demands for:

  • Directness (nakedness of spirit and body, consummation of the marriage by sexual intercourse, actually BEING there in person),
  • Continuity (shared story of the past, BEING together regularly and for substantial portions of time, anticipating a life together to the very end),
  • Multiplexity (doing chores, making love, going to movies, hanging with friends, hanging with different friends, learning something together or from each other, helping someone together, doing things separately then telling each other about it etc. etc.),
  • Power (mutual respect, mutual submission, mutual support, each using their strengths but not assuming either is better or greater for those strengths).

Marriage, as a sacred bond, confers definite boundaries of fidelity and togetherness. But the details are worked out between the couple! How much, how often and how – these are the privilege and joy and challenge of each couple to work out themselves as they spend a lifetime figuring out “what does it mean to be married?”.

But even within marriage, there are other ‘purposes’. For example, shopping. “Shopping“, when you’re doing it for two or the family, is the particular binding element, the commonality. But you can be better shoppers for each other if you realize:

  • A text message may be perfect for mediating the relationship for this purpose; you don’t have to do it together, and you certainly shouldn’t do it naked!; (Directness)
  • That you remember each other’s preferences; plan for future meals(Continuity)
  • Going together in a street market, at a milliners, at the car showroom (Multiplexity – Knowledge from different contexts)
  • Who sets the menu? Who assumes the other will make the decisions? (Parity)

Well you get the drift, and maybe I’m overdoing it. But each little thing, to the degree that a relationship is formed around the common purpose, a whole bunch of opportunities arise that require different ways of applying the dimensions.

Finally, social networks. I’m on LinkedIn. The ‘relationship’ I have with a lot of people on there is through work, but with some, the only thing we have in common is that we’re on LinkedIn. Since the only purpose, so far, is to simply ‘be connected’, they’re perfectly healthy relationships. Any increase on any of the dimensions would solidify the relationship, making a ‘strong link’, as opposed to a ‘weak link’.

Sp earlier this week I updated my LinkedIn status with that research question. One “weak link” LinkedIn connection, ‘Mick’, responded. We’d only met once ever, briefly. “I’ll have a look”, he said. Thus we found a new common purpose, for a short time, which led to this. Given that purpose the implied and assumed agreement of that purpose enabled us, without even thinking, to select:

  • Appropriateness of media choice (email only; directness),
  • Length and frequency of conversing (twice; continuity),
  • Extent to which we got to know each other (not at all, beyond the nature of my question, which was unambiguous; Multiplexity)
  • Who had the power (equals, but he was better at research; Parity)

It felt a bit of a stretch with ‘shopping’ but actually in the end it still makes sense that Purpose/Commonality is the binding and determining factor. To the degree that there’s shared agreement about it, whether assumed or explicit, it provides the practical analysis and ethical reasoning for the other four dimensions.

Posted in first-follower, Purpose, 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 15: World Peace (Purpose/Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 14, 2010

“Social Networks are fundamentally connected to goodness, and what the world needs now is more connections.” Nicholas Christakis

“I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we’ll project into the world, and the more peaceful our world will be.” Jill Bolte Taylor

“When people of all different persuasions come together working side be side for a common goal, differences melt away and we learn amity and we learn to live together and to get to know one another. Karen Armstrong”

I have a contrarian side to me, and whenever I see hyberbole like this my snarky side switches on. Besides, I’m wikid tired right now so I’m not in my usual upbeat and bright-side mood.

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.

There’s rarely been a TED ( talk I didn’t enjoy and which didn’t fascinate me. It’s a great platform, wonderfully presented, and the technology, the discovery or the personal experience is invariably gripping and exciting. And what they’ve done to spread the ideas and concept is excellent. It has been accused and defended of elitism. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic way to make use of rich people’s money and to spread great ideas. If anything, however, the problem is that the speakers just can’t seem to help overstating their point. With an audience paying six grand a pop, just 20 minutes to pour out your life’s work, the spotlights … I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

But I also think they and their audience actually might believe their overstatement. Unfortunately the overstatement takes the talks from being mostly excellent, scientifically grounded and true-to-life to, well, amazingly utopian wishful thinking. (I speak as an idealist myself). Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing description of watching her own brain have a stroke (truly, jaw-droppingly amazing) ends with an apparent choice between left brain individualism or right-brain universal life-force. My emotional & violent right brain freaks me out sometimes. And what part of the brain is the ‘we’ that’s doing the choosing anyway? Nicholas Christakis asserts that connections will solve the world’s problems. Connections like the Stazi had? Like the world banking system had?

And Karen Armstrong’s talk seemed grounded neither in anthropology nor anything like a robust theology. The ending actually I agree with (“get to know each other” would presumably comes first – I’m sure it wasn’t her best line, she looked exhausted). But the ‘common purpose’? It’s the “Compassion Charter” signed up to by 46,179 compassionate people so far. Sorry if you’re a fan but isn’t the problem uncompassionate people?? And I don’t want differences between me and others to go away, I want them transcended. I’m not saying we couldn’t do with more love, but not even the 10 commandments prevented human ingenuity for evil. A group of people simply agreeing to be more compassion isn’t, I’m desperately sad to say, going to solve our deepest problems. I totally commit to be being more compassionate. Then another day happens. As Solzenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

I love and appreciate the longing for peace and goodness and love in these people and in their statements. The confirmation of relational proximity found in these social science, neuroscience and and humanistic statements I wholeheartedly welcome. But, firstly, mere ‘relational proximity’, socially networked togetherness, isn’t the whole answer; it just points the finger more acutely on the problem. I’ve said (in the 30-day index) that the five dimensions of relational proximity are nothing without love and commitment, and that love and commitment can barely consist without them. That’s why relational proximity I think is so powerful, and so much more powerful than nebulous ‘social networks’. If used to examine our lives, I think it reveals the reality of our choices and our relationships. Secondly, the that these connections are FOR something is crucial. What is the common purpose? Christakis says in his video that our global human network is a super-organism, it has a life of its own. I think world peace and compassion are good goals, but I actually think they’re penultimate; they’re derivative of something bigger, something, perhaps someone, more creative and dynamic and Personal.

And that is way too much thinking for one night. See below for all three videos and let me know what you think?

Posted in first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

rLiving Day 14: Meaning (Purpose/Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 13, 2010

There’s a debate I’ve been wanting to have with anyone who’d be willing about whether ‘meaning’ is constructed or found/discovered.

I’ve always leaned towards ‘found’ because meaning necessarily means a story bigger than my own. If I construct it then I’m the author, but the author needs a story too. The other thing about self-constructed story or meaning is that it doesn’t fit with other people’s stories unless there’s a meta-narrative (uh oh, theology alert). And if it does fit then it’s not just my story, I have to discover how mine fits with others’ and all stories, which brings us back to what meaning means. Yet – and maybe I’ll contradict myself here – we do participate in its formation; meaning-for-us wouldn’t exist without us living, loving and creating as we do. But I think it’s derivative, like happiness. It comes out of the blue, when we’re seeking and doing something else.

That something else I want to say is ‘purpose’. And like meaning, it’s common purpose, something that involves me in other people’s lives.

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.

Despite my desire and advocacy for directness, the best relationships seem to consist in something external, something that compels us individually towards a third party, yet brings us together: a purpose or identity that somehow forms the relationship and makes it what it is. The absence of a third party, a common purpose – especially the absence of your conscious awareness of that common purpose – makes for a much harder relationship. It makes it hard to know what is worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, worth dying for one another.

It happens on multiple levels and in a thousand ways: sports club, family, a project, a company, artistic performance, nationality, marriage, accident, a book … on and on. The thing that makes life and relationships so rich is the bazillion ways we find purposeful (even if frivolous) things to do with each other. Think of any relationship and I think you’ll find that its health, depth, significance, correlates with how strong your sense of common purpose is. It could be your work group, but if you’re closer one person than another, there’s likely something else that binds you, but it’s still something “else”.

And ultimately, maybe it’s someone else. I did give you a theology alert! In an ultimate sense, these smaller and greater spheres of meaning we experience and seek, do find themselves cohering in a big story. We want our lives to matter, to someone. Not just ‘matter’. So true meaning is derivative, it comes because of someone. And I contend, I think with many who have contended for thousands of years, that a personal God, who loves us, is the one in whom we will find ultimate meaning. We may not find it in this lifetime, but as a child can rest confidently in the knowledge of its mother’s love without knowing what everything means, so can we in God’s. There’s more to say about it – such as what keeps us from God and from each other – but it won’t surprise you to know that Scripture describes Jesus Christ as the mediator who paradoxically draws us closer than you could possibly imagine. So I’ll leave it here with the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer:

There is no way from one person to another. However loving and sympathetic we try to be, however sound our psychology, however frank and open our behaviour, we cannot penetrate the incognito of the other man, for there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul. Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbours through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbours, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship….

The same Mediator who makes us individuals is also the founder of a new fellowship. He stands in the center between my neighbour and myself. He divides, but he also unites. Thus although the direct way to our neighbour is barred, we now find the new and only real way to him–the way which passes through the Mediator. [Discipleship, 106-113]

Post-script: What led to this post was a prayer meeting at church tonight. Part of the prayer that I had to lead was “Prayer for the Nation” (i.e. the USA). I’m English, the guy who led it is Ghanaian-born, our church has people from 60 nations in it, our home is the USA for now; I have my family (siblings etc.) and family (wife, children); I’m involved in great projects at work; I live on my street here; I play guitar with a neighbor; I’m a Christian. In all these are layers and spheres of purpose and meaning. I’m clueless what they all mean, how they fit together. But in all the different ways these different purposes and commonalities explain my relationships very well.

Posted in first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

rLiving Day 12: Oily Subcontractors (Purpose/Continuity)

Posted by Simon on May 12, 2010

For a moment there, it looked like IBM had planned to reduce its employee workforce by 75% by 2017, but that turned out to be false. It would have been a great factoid for today given that I also know that Accenture planned to add 50,000 employees this year (which is true, also because I heard from their CLO). The contrasting strategies of employee vs. subcontractor between these two massive consulting companies would have been a nice little talking point.

So I’ll have to settle for BP and ExxonMobil instead.

Furious fingers are pointing at BP for that hideous gloop infecting the Gulf of Mexico right now. One jabbing finger is at the fact that BP let go ALL of its experts and engineers and entrusted subcontractors. This, according to Tom Bower, author of Oil: Money, Politics and Power in the 21st Centrury (on Here and Now– on my local National Public Radio station, WBUR this lunchtime).

Under the leadership of John Brown, who took over as CEO in the 80’s, BP went from a money-losing company to No. 2 in the world. How? “More for less!”. As Bower put it, “let’s get 100% by paying 90%”; subcontracting caused profits to skyrocket.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: A relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

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.

This story is ostensibly about trust, but I propose that trust comes, in part, from a sense of common purpose, a sense that the parties involved have a stake in something together. Trust also comes from an expectation of future partnership. Is there enough common purpose (beyond $$) with your subcontractors, and enough shared vision and stake in the future, to enable trust, accountability and a fruitful, creative relationship?

The two main subcontractors involved in this oil spill are Transocean (responsible for the rig and drilling) and Halliburton (the cement casing). The argument appears to be what BP knew or told Halliburton about drilling depth, which makes a difference to the type of concrete used. [Did you know they’re drilling 6 miles down?!]. The argument is also increasingly turning against regulators.

Who’s watching? Interestingly, both BP and Exxonmobil use these subcontractors. A difference is that ExxonMobil retain an army of experts and engineers to ‘second-guess’ (as Bower puts it) everything Transocean and Halliburton do. As I would interpret that; they double-, triple-check everything the subcontractors do, therefore maintaining their standards and maintaining accountability. BP, however, leave the subcontractors to it. In other words, they trust them. Or you could say, the subcontractors trusted BP for the right information. And what of the regulators? Who do they trust? Who do we trust?

Comparing subcontractor relationships I’m curious to know what the relationship is like between ExxonMobil’s engineers and the subcontractor engineers, and what kind of productivity and safety performance they achieve. People scream for regulators (while they also scream for infinite freedom for themselves), but potentially there’s a perfect relationship there, working fine without the need for underpaid, under-qualified (according to Bower) regulators. A comparison between BP’s subcontractor relationships and ExxonMobil’s would be illuminating, I think: shared ownership? shared risk? not just shared profit? Similarly with continuity: is there a future-vision? Not just asking if the contract will be renewed, but do they have a creative vision for the future together?

Anger at “BP” or “Regulators” is understandable even though they’re made of people (or, People, who surely are to be trusted!?). Anger against subcontractors in general is less understandable, unless you’re a cynic. But I think a relational proximity analysis between entities involved in the creative, productive work, would be reveal more hopeful path of trust AND accountability than just blame and more external regulation.

What do you think? No, really, go on. Tell me. Don’t be shy! 🙂

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

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