Thursday, 24 September 2009

Cylon Enneagram

I went to an Area Dean's Day about the Enneagram on Tuesday. It turned out to be an extremely interesting session.
The Enneagram is another tool for thinking about personality - a bit like Myers-Briggs with kabbalistic overtones. We were asked to stand around a sheet with candles and image flows which looked worryingly like a pentagram...
Although a number of us may have had some scepticism about the model, it did provide some interesting insights. I discovered that I was a number three, which means that I am an achiever or performer focussed on the need to succeed in fulfilling tasks - with a temptation to please everyone - which does have a certain ring of truth...
Critics will point out that the Enneagram is similar to other models of personality in that it exhibits internal consistency - perhaps because it defines its own terms which creates an internal logic. There is also something called the Barnum or Forer effect which is that most people tend to agree with random personality statements (like those produced by astrologers) if they follow certain patterns, for example:
  • the subject believes that the analysis applies only to them
  • the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator
  • the analysis lists mainly positive traits
Now I may sound a bit cynical about this, but I'm really not. The Enneagram of Personality doesn't need to reflect the eternal nature of the universe in order to work. It contains some really valuable observations and can be really heplful - as long as you don't allow analysis to become a self-fulfilling prophesy...
It is particularly useful in reminding us that:
a) we all have different personalities, and
b) we all respond differently to stress and have different needs
Now as a fan of Battlestar Galactica I know that there are actually twelve humanoid cylon models - each with their own distinct personality - the final five and the eight that they made. Add these to the original centurions and you've got the basis for a whole other model of personality - a Cylon Enneagram.
Armed with this insight of ancient kabbalistic wisdom, I turn to Wikipedia to check which cylon I might be...
Turns out that number threes (or D'Annas) are creative and keen to uncover secrets. They make good reporters, scientists or explorers. They tend to have a real commitment to the welfare of their people. On the negative side, they have a slight messianic tendency and as leaders can be prone to making decisions without consultation - because it's the right thing to do!
Not bad, I'm sure I can see something of myself in there...
An interesting experiment would be to construct a full Cylon Enneagram and test it out. Would it have enough internal consistency and "Barnum Effect" to work?
Not sure, but it would be fun!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Cross and Skyline

Snapped this shot of the cross at Servant King last night. Shame I didn't have a proper camera. The light was quite amazing as the sun was setting.
We had the second week of Growing with Christ. Seems to be going well, but we do need to build on this good start...

Monday Morning

Got up - but didn't want to. Went for a short run - 5K in 29mins.
Not feeling motivated but got a pile of work to do.
Need to concentrate this week on:
  • Meeting Paul Hardy about a Watling Valley service with the Catholics
  • Deanery Synod - still need to talk to some people about being lay chair
  • The FEAST Day - need to do some more organising
  • Mission Shaped Intro - better re-write the sessions to squeeze six into four
  • Got meetings of Venture FX, Area Deans, Watling Valley Council the MK Council of Faith and Oakhill Community Forum
  • Everything else will therefore have to wait... sorry...

Thinking Together

As I continue to read on the theme of collaborative thinking, a number of key themes do begin to emerge:
NUMBERS are important: The issue of numbers is an interesting one. The more people that are involved, the more "human resources" are available. On the other hand, the scale of the collaboration, particularly if it is voluntary, can result in a great imbalance in contribution between those who do a lot and those who do a little. Collaborative endeavours enable you to harvest the creativity of a large group of people - which is good - but there can be issues of management or governance for a larger group.
NETWORKING enhances collaboration: The networking of smaller groups is not just a convenient way of managing larger numbers. "Small Worlds Networks" provide increases in speed of communication and creativity. New ideas often emerge in the connections between smaller groups. It is the most connected, rather than the most intelligent, who often seem to be the most creative.
SELF-ORGANISATION is essential: Attempts to organise or manage collaboration often end in failure. Teams need to set their own goals and work our how they are to function by themselves. This can be a challenge for larger networks and requires a particular approach to leadership.
Learning takes place in CONVERSATION often resulting in individual action: Collaborative organisations seem not to make decisions very often. Meetings are essential but they tend to take the form of conversations in which ideas, facts and other information is shared. Change takes place at and individual and collective level resulting in consequent individual action. This raises the question of how group decisions can be enforced - and on what level collaborative action is possible.
We need a DUAL ECONOMY: Collaboration works best when it takes place on a voluntary basis. On the other hand, we also need a dependable and equitable "resource" economy to provide infrastructure - and basic human needs. This suggests a dual economy of paid and unpaid individuals co-existing in a creative tension. Such a dual economy is already emerging in many spheres of life, including media, information sciences and the Church. Collaboration makes failure cheap - which is great for creativity - but failure is not an option when it comes to individual or organisational survival...
TECHNOLOGY affects collaboration: It is important not to overlook the impact of our technology on our ability to think, share and act together. This has always been the case, but the current explosion of "social tools" is transforming our ability to collaborate.
SPIRITUALITY should not be overlooked: I am using the term "spirituality" here in a fairly loose way - perhaps in a similar way to the term "world view". Our understanding of the basic realities of human existance and the way we view the world can have a marked impact on our ability to collaborate and the way we understand collaboration. Many spiritual traditions regard each human being as containing, in some way, an expression of the divine. Some world views regard human beings as "fallen" - others as instinct-driven animals. Our spiritualities are therefore significant for the way we work together.

These, I think, are the big brush themes that I need to explore further. What do you think? Have I missed anything?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cross and Stable

On Sunday I led worship at Cross and Stable Church in Downs Barn. It's a small congregation but one that works hard to be as inclusive as possible. I felt really welcome and enjoyed sharing in worship with them.
Music was provided by myself and John the churchwarden - who played the opening line for each hymn on the piano and then led the singing. It was a good atmosphere and I hope everyone felt, in John's words - "dejaded".
It was good to meet them all properly and I did my traditional photo of the congregation - sending their greetings to everyone else...

Church Openning at St Mary's

After the Biblothon in the summer there was enthusiasm to open St Mary's for the public on one morning each week. A rota of volunteers was organised and the church was opened up. They now have an A-frame notice board by both gates and free coffee and cakes available for passers by.
It's been great to pop in over the past couple of weeks and see this project develop. They've cleared the side chapel which is now set up for prayer (instead of being a junk room) with candles and chairs. They've also arranged for music to be played quietly in the background which creates a very warm and friendly atmosphere.
On one occasion I popped in and there were seven people - including a baby. The church feels open, friendly and alive.
This week we added morning prayer to the schedule on Wednesday and Thursday at 9:00am. Karen Reeves and I led one of these each with others helping out with readings.
Moving forward, we need to find ways of enabling people to make prayer requests - perhaps a little post-it board? Alison Baird is keen for morning prayer on Saturday in Advent - and the Service Planning Meeting have already been approached about a Wednesday evening communion...
It's great to see mid-week activity in this very pretty church. It feels like there's something important going on. It's all fairly simple and uncomplicated but that is often the most powerful thing when it comes to God-stuff. Well done St Mary's! - and I look forward to seeing how this all develops...

Saturday, 19 September 2009


Long day today. Managed to get some work done - clearing the in-pile slightly faster than the work coming in...
Good evening though - went to see the Toomeys for a Chinese takeaway - yum!

Here Comes Everybody

How change happens when people come together
Clay Shirky
Allen Lane, London, 2008

This is a well written and interesting book about the way the social tools created through the internet have an impact on the way we communicate, share and collaborate.

Clay Shirky has some very interesting things to say about online collaboration based on stories and empirical evidence. Some of these are fairly counter intuitive; for example his observation that the contributions made by different individuals can vary dramatically in quantity – but that this is normal for large scale social activity.

He raises some difficult questions; for example, who decides what is right in a piece of self-organised mass collaboration. Is it those with power derived from their determination, enthusiasm, ability or appearance?

The following notes were taken as I read the book and are for my own future reference:

Chapter 1: It only Takes a Village to find a phone

Shirky opens with the story of stolensidekick and the way this was returned after a huge collaborative/on-line effort. “…the power of group action, given the right tools.” P7

Dan Gillmor “…the author of We the Media, calls “the former audience,” those people who react to, participate in, and even alter the story as it is unfolding.” P7

Shirky reflects on the story: “It demonstrates the ways in which the information we give off about our selves, in photos and e-mails and MySpace pages and all the rest of it, has dramatically increased our social visibility and made it easier for us to find each other but also be scrutinized in public. It demonstrates that the old limitations of media have been radically reduced, with much of the power accruing to the former audience. It demonstrates how a story can go from local to global in a heartbeat. And it demonstrates the ease and speed with which a group can be mobilized for the right kind of cause.” P12

“But who defines what kind of cause is right?” p12

Shirky observes that some of the comments on the site were racist or sexist “… the point is that once a group has come together, those kind of issues of community control aren’t simple. Any action Evan took, either letting the conversation go or stifling it, would have created complicated side effects.)”p13

The story could be read as a fight for justice or of a rich white man bullying a poor Puerto-rican and the NYPD into doing what he wanted.

“The story of the lost Sidekick is an illustration of the kinds of changes – some good, some bad, most too complex to label – that are affecting the ways groups assemble and cooperate. These changes are profound because they are amplifying or extending our essential social skills, and our characteristic social failings as well.” P14

Shirky discusses the inherent social nature of human beings: “Building an airplane or a cathedral, performing a symphony or heart surgery, raising a barn or razing a fortress, all require the distribution, specialization, and coordination of many tasks among many individuals, sometimes unfolding over years or decades and sometimes spanning continents.” P16

“..almost everyone belongs to multiple groups based on family, friends, work, religious affiliation, on and on. The centrality of group effort to human life means that anything that changes the way groups function will have profound ramifications for everything from commerce and government to media and religion.” P16

“…new technology enables new kinds of group thinking…”p17

“The transfer of these capabilities from various professional classes to the general public is epochal, built on what the publisher Tim O’Reilly calls “an architecture of participation””p17

“When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” P17

“So it is with human networks; bees make hives, we make mobile phones.” P17

Intriguing point: “..the costs incurred by creating a new group or joining an existing one have fallen in recent years, and not just by a but. They have collapsed. (“Cost” here is used in the economist’s sense of anything expended…” p18

“The difference between an ad hoc group and a company like Microsoft is management” p19 – coordination

“In a way, every institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing the effort. Call this the institutional dilemma – because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice…”p19-20

Change: “We now have communication tools that are flexible enough to match our social capabilities, and we are witnessing the rise of new ways of coordinating action that take advantage of that change.” P20 “…we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.” P20-21

“By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management (and its attendant overhead), these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort (the limits that created the institutional dilemma in the first place). They haven’t removed them… but the new tools enable alternative strategies for keeping that complexity under control.” P21

“For most of modern life, our strong talents and desires for group effort have been filtered through relatively rigid institutional structures because of the complexity of managing groups.”p21

Shirky observes that the world is changing although old institutions continue to exist – in fact they must exist since they are necessary – government, media multi-nationals, denominations, etc… “None of the absolute advantages of institutions like businesses or schools or governments have disappeared. Instead, what has happened is that most of the relative advantages of those institutions have disappeared – relative, that is, to the direct effort of the people they represent.”p23

Change is inevitable, the only question is when and what….

Chapter 2: Sharing Anchors Community

“Groups of people are complex, in ways that make those groups hard to form and hard to sustain; much of the shape of traditional institutions is a response to those difficulties. New social tools relieve some of those burdens, allowing for new kinds of group-forming, like using simple sharing to anchor the creation of new groups.”p25

Shirky illustrates the complexity of human connection through the “Birthday Paradox” – which demonstrates how the number of possible links increases exponentially as the number of people rises.

Fred Brooks, Mythical Man-Month – “…adding more employees to a late project tends to make it later, because the new workers increase the costs of coordinating the group.”p29

“The typical organization is hierarchical, with workers answering to a manager, and that manager answering to a still-higher manager, and so on. The value of such hierarchies is obvious – it vastly simplifies communication among the employees.”p29

“.. no institution can put all its energies into pursuing it mission; it must expend considerable effort on maintaining discipline and structure, simply keeping itself viable. Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says.” P29-30

Ronald Coase, 1937 – hierarchies are better than open markets because they reduce complexity and transactional costs… p30

Richard Hackman, Leading Teams, “Because of managerial overhead, large groups can get bogged down…whenever transaction costs become too expensive to manage within a single organization, markets outperform firms…” p31

“Activities whose costs are higher than the potential value for both firms and markets simply don’t happen.” P31 – this would be a good measure to use to track why things don’t happen in our organizations…

Shirky contrasts this with the ease of picture sharing made possible with digital media and flikr. Note concept of a tag as a way of making links. Flikr doesn’t manage collaborative events but it does provide a platform… Question: how to create the tag?

Shirky discusses the 7/7 London Bombings and the way Flickr provided a mechanism for reporting and sharing…

“The basic capabilities of tools like Flickr reverse the old order of group activity, transforming “gather, then share” into “share, then gather.””p.35

Reflecting on the role of new media in big events: “The groups of photographers were all latent groups, which is to say groups that existed only in potential, and too much effort would have been required to turn those latent groups into real ones by conventional means.” p 38

The first org chart was created to help deal with the complexity of railway management.

Shirky discusses Coase’s theories about institutional costs and observes that small changes in transactional costs can have a big difference in the function of an institution. “So long as the absolute cost of organizing a group is high, unmanaged groups will be limited to undertaking small efforts – a night out at the movies, a camping trip. Even something as simple as a pot-luck dinner typically requires some hosting institution. Now that it is possible to achieve large-scale coordination at low cost, a third category has emerged: serious, complex work, taken on without institutional direction. Loosely coordinated groups can now achieve things that were previously out of reach for any other organizational structure, because they lay under the Coasian floor.” P47

Cooperation is the next rung of the ladder. Cooperation is harder than simply sharing, because it involves changing your behavior to synchronize with people who are changing their behaviour to synchronize with you.” P 49-50

“One simple form of cooperation, almost universal with social tools, is conversation…” p 50

“Conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does, but it also introduces new problems.” p 50

Collaborative production is a more involved form of cooperation, as it increases the tension between individual and group goals… no one person can take the credit… at least some collective decisions have to be made.” P 50 – see Wikipedia

Collective action, the third rung, is the hardest kind of group effort, as it requires a group of people to commit themselves to understanding a particular effort together, and to do so in a way that makes the decision of the group binding on the individual members.” P 51

“…collective action creates shared responsibility, by tying the user’s identity to the identity of the group…” p51

Tragedy of the commons – sheep grazing – selfish overgrazing of common pasture reduces the available pasture for all… - similar to prisoner’s dilemma…

Two solutions – elimination of the commons by private ownership or governance. Hardin: “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.”

This is why taxes are never voluntary.

“Collective action involves challenges of governance, or put another way, rules for losing.” P 53 “For a group to take collective action, it must have some shared vision strong enough to bind the group together, despite periodic decisions that will inevitably displease at least some members.” P 53 “In the current spread of social tools, real examples of collective action – where a group acts on behalf of, and with shared consequences for, all of its members – are still relatively rare.” P 53

Chapter 3: Everyone is a media outlet

“Our social tools remove older obstacles to public expression, and thus remove the bottlenecks that categorized mass media. The result is the mass amateurization of efforts previously reserved for media professionals.” P55

In this chapter, Shirky discusses the development of publishing and news distribution from scribes to printing to the internet. On the way, he makes some interesting observations about professionals and the link between professionalization and scarcity.

“A profession exists to solve a hard problem, one that requires some sort of specialization… Most professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management…” p57

Q. Wilson, Beaurocracy: “A professional is someone who receives important occupational rewards from a reference group whose membership is limited to people who have undergone specialized formal education and have accepted a group-defined code of conduct” p 58

“A profession becomes, for its members, a way of understanding their world…” p58

“In any profession, particularly one that has existed long enough that no one can remember a time when it didn’t exist, members have a tendency to equate provisional solutions to particular problems with deep truths about the world.” P59

Shirky notes that universal availability of publishing does not equate with mass professionalization of amateurs – but mass amatuerisation of journalism.

He also notes that the invention of the printing press did not cause the reformation, but the reformation was possible because of the printing press. Radical social change can lag behind technological change by a couple of decades…

“A professional often becomes a gatekeeper, by providing a necessary or desirable social function but also by controlling that function…” p 69

“Professional self-conception and self-defence… become a disadvantage in revolutionary [times], because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession… What was once a service can become a bottleneck…” p69

“Journalistic privilege is based on the previous scarcity of publishing. When it was easy to recognize who the publisher was, it was easy to figure out who the journalists were. We could regard them as a professional (and therefore minority) category. Now that scarcity is gone…” p 73

Shirky also discusses the issue of professional photographers…

N.B. Jeff Howe - Crowdsourcing

“…what seems like a fixed and abiding category like “journalist” turns out to be tied to an accidental scarcity created by the expense of publishing apparatus… What was once a chasm has become a mere slope.” P 76-77

Shirky notes one “professional” organisation which attempted to reclaim its previous status. This was a French bus company that sued three of its former customers when they decided to try carsharing… p78

The talk about professions and scarcity is interesting since it has direct relevance to the de-professionalization of ministry and the rising ecology of collaborative ministry. Now that most people can have access to theological learning and knowledge – and even to training or supervision – where is the distinction between lay and professional in the church? The concept of “setting aside” remains helpful in some form – but for a smaller and smaller range of activities…

Chapter 4: Publish, then filter

“The media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact.” P81

In this chapter Shirky discusses the issue of the ease with which user generated content can be produced. He establishes a distinction between material produced for public consumption and personal messages uttered in public spaces.

“In this world the private register suffers – those of us who grew up with a strong separation between communication and broadcast media have a hard time…” p89

He also discusses the problem of fame, ie the more people you could interact with, the less you are likely to do so. “The web makes interactivity technologically possible, but what technology giveth, social factors take away… Fame is simply an imbalance between inbound and outbound attention… Though the possibility of two-way links is profoundly good, it is not a cure-all. On the Web interactivity has no technological limits, but it does have cognitive limits…” p 91

“Whether Oprah wants to talk to each and every member of her audience is irrelevant: Oprah can’t talk to even a fraction of her audience, ever, because she is famous…” p 92 “Egalitarianism is possible only in small social systems…” p 93

For many of us, dealing with emails is a similar issue – many small messages come in – but how many are we capable of returning? (see illustration on p 94-5)

Filtering is crucial, but it is no longer done by professionals before publication.

Shirky concludes that the internet can’t be compared to broadcast media.

Cory Doctorow: “Conversation is King. Content is just something to talk about.” P99

The web provides a platform for what Etienne Wenger called “communities of practice” in which people discuss what they do and how they could do it better. P 100

Chapter 5: Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production

“Collaborative production, where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, is considerably harder than simple sharing, but the results can be more profound. New tools allow large groups to collaborate, by taking advantage of nonfinancial motivations and by allowing for wildly differing levels of contribution.” P 109

In this chapter Shirky discusses the origins, development and functioning of Wikipedia as an example of collaborative production. He makes a number of interesting observations, including the following:

“A Wikipedia article is a process, not a product, and as such is never finished…” p119

“…since anyone can act, the ability of the people in charge to kill initiatives through inaction is destroyed.” P121

“…many more people are willing to make a bad article better than are willing to start a good article from scratch. In 1991 Richard Gabriel, a software engineer at Sun Microsystems, wrote an essay that included a section called “Worse Is Better,” describing this effect…” p 122

There is huge imbalance in participation, illustrated by a chart on p. 123 A tiny proportion of the participants usually do the greatest proportion of the work – and this pattern is similar for all social tools…

“…the imbalance drives large social systems rather than damaging them. Fewer than two percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users. And among those contributors no effort is made to even out their contributions…” p 125

“To understand the creation of something like a Wikipedia article, you can’t look for a representative contributor, because none exists…” p126

Shirky tells the story of a Shinto shrine that is not being classed as a historic place even though it is 1300 years old – because it is demolished and rebuilt with fresh wood every so often on the original design.

“Wikipedia is a Shinto shrine; it exists not as an edifice but as an act of love. Like the Ise Shrine, Wikipedia exists because enough people love it and, more important, love one another in its context. This does not mean that the people constructing it always agree, but loving someone doesn’t preclude arguing with them…” p 141

Chapter 6: Collective Action and Institutional Challenges

“Collective action, where a group acts as a whole, is even more complex than collaborative production, but here again new tools give life to new forms of action. This in turn challenges existing institutions, by eroding the institutional monopoly on large-scale coordination.” P143

In this chapter Shirky explores the catholic abuse scandals which became significant during 2002. He looks at the way new forms of sharing and simple group formation made collective action possible.

“The communications tools broadly adopted in the last decade are the first to fit human social networks well, and because they are easily modifiable, they can be made to fit better over time.” P 158

“…many of the significant changes are based not on the fanciest, newest bits of technology but on simple, easy to use tools like e-mail, mobile phones, and websites, because those are the tools most people have access to and, critically, are comfortable using in their daily lives. Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviours.” P 166

Chapter 7: Faster and Faster

“As more people adopt simple social tools, and those tools allow increasingly rapid communication, the speed of group action also increases, and just as more is different, faster is different.” P 161

This chapter is about protesting with flash mobs, twitter and facebook as tools for collective action.

Judge Richard Posner: “Conspiracies are punished separately from single-offender criminal act, and often as severely even if the conspiracy fails to achieve its aim, because a group having some illegal purpose is more dangerous than an individual who has the same purpose.” p 161

“The military often talk about “shared awareness,” which is the ability of many different people and groups to understand a situation, and to understand who else has the same understanding.” p 163

Shirky discusses large scale group protests in Liepzig (1989) and Belarus in recent years. He concludes that the mechanism of protest has changes: “Now the organization of group effort can be invisible, but the results can be immediately visible.” p 168

Shirky discusses the success of Blitzkreig and attributes this to the use of radios by the German tank commanders: “The ability to turn a collection of tanks into a coordinated force rested on two very different kinds of things, in other words. First, it required the media with which to coordinate the tanks. No radios, no blitzkrieg. Secondly, it required a strategy that took the new possibilities of radio into account. No new strategy, no blitzkrieg either. Neither the technological change nor the strategy alone was sufficient to ensure German victory, but together they changed the way the world worked.” p173

Howard Rheingold: Smart Mobs

Shirky tells the story of a protest against HSBC coordinated through Facebook. He notes that social tools “lower the hurdles to doing something in the first place…” p 181 “Having a handful of highly motivated people and a mass of barely motivated ones used to be a recipe for frustration. The people who were on fire wondered why the generl population didn’t care more, and the general population wondered why those obsessed people didn’t just shut up. Now the highly motivated people can create a context more easily in which the barely motivated people can be effective without having to become activists themselves.” p 182

Shirky then talks about Evan Williams who invented Blogger and Twitter. He lists some ways that Twitter is used by activists in the middle east.

Chapter 8: Solving Social Dilemas

“There are real and permanent social dilemmas, which can only be optimized for, never completely solved. The human social repertoire includes many such optimizations, which social tools can amplify.” p 188

In this chapter Shirky raises the question of the Prisoners Dilemma.

He then references Robert Putnam Bowling Alone, 2000 – and the issue of social capital. Societies with high social capital – living in the “shadow of the future” – do better than those with low levels – where trust and mutual cooperation are low. This involves direct and indirect reciprocity – indirect reciprocity means that you do something for someone else knowing than a completely different individual may do something for you.

Putnam observed that social capital was important but that is was also in decline. Better communications have contributed to the problem.

Shirky discusses the concept of cyberspace noting that “The overlap is so great, in fact, that both the word and the concept of “cyberspace” have fallen into disuse. The internet augments real world social life rather than providing an alternative to it.” p 196

N.B. Scott Heiferman launched Meetup to help people realte geographically on the basis of online interests.

Shirky discussed the issue of groups that exist for purposes that we may disapprove of – such as a self-help network of Pro-Ana (pro-anorexic) girls who were swapping advice on how to get thin.(!) He observes that it is easier for such groups to form and harder for society to police them.

Latent groups become real groups if the transactional costs drop low enough for them to form.

Three kinds of loss:

  1. “people whose jobs relied on solving a formerly hard problem” p 209
  2. “damage current social bargains…” p 209 e.g. definitions about who does what…
  3. “The third kind of loss is the most serious…” – better organisation for crime and terrorism… p210

“This is going to force society to shift from simply preventing groups from forming to actively deciding which existing ones to try to oppose…” p 211

Chapter 9: Fitting our Tools to a small world

“Large social groups are different from small ones, but we are still understanding all the ways in which that is true. Recent innovations in social tools provide more explicit support for a pattern of social networking called Small World pattern, which underlies the idea of Six Degrees of Separation.” p 212

Shirky discusses the fact the you are likely to find a connection with a random individual that you might meet on a plane. He explains that this is because people social connectedness follows a power curve – i.e. a few people are very well connected and you – or the other person – are more likely to know one of those than any random average individual.

1998 Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz “Small World Network”: “Small World networks have two characteristics that, when balanced properly, let messages move through the network efficiently. The first is that small groups are densely connected… The second… is that large groups are sparsely connected…” p 215

“When you list the participants in a Small World network in rank order by the number of connections, the resulting graph approximates a power law distribution: a few people account for a widely disproportionate amount of the overall connectivity. Malcolm Galdwell, in The Tipping Point, calls these people Connectors; they function like ambassadors…” p 218

Ronald Burt, The Social Origins of Good Ideas – “…most good ideas came from people who were bridging “structural holes,” which is to say people whose immediate social network included employees outside their department.” p230

Chapter 10: Failure for Free

“The logic of publish-then-filter means that new social systems have to tolerate enormous amounts of failure. The only way to uncover and promote the rare successes is to rely, yet again, on social structure supported by social tools.” p 233

In this chapter Shirky discusses the fact that most social networks/activities are latent – and only a few of those that are tried are successful. Failure is an essential element of social behaviour – and yet it can’t be tolerated in traditional business structures. The use of social tools lowers the cost of failure and therefore enable greater risk taking…

“Open source is a profound threat, not because the open source ecosystem is outsucceeding commercial efforts but because it is outfailing them.” p 245

“Why? The most important reasons are that open systems lower the cost of failure, they do not create biases in favour of predictable but substandard outcomes, and they make it simpler to integrate the contributions of people who contribute only a single idea.” p 245

“This metaphorical environment is sometimes called a “fitness landscape” – the idea is that for any problem or goal, there is a vast area of possibilities to explore but few valuable spots within that environment to discover.” p 247

Chapter 11: Promise, Tool, Bargain

“There is no recipe for the successful use of social tools. Instead, every working system is a mix of social and technological factors.” p 261

In this chapter, Shirky sets out his theory that in order to succeed, each social endeavour needs three things:

1) A Promise – this is the offer or possibility of benefit that can be gained from engaging with the activity.

2) A Tool – this is the social tool, media or space which makes the activity possible.

3) A Bargain – this is the conscious or unconscious deal struck between the host, organiser or provider and the users or contributors. The Bargain can be a legal contract (as with UNIX or Wikipedia) or it could be an informal understanding (as with the StolenSidekick…)

Shirky argues that most collaborative activities fail because one of these elements is absent. He also speculated that collaborative action has yet to be significant because we are only in the early days of establishing effective methods of creating a Bargain – he thinks that legal structures may arise to make this possible.

In the epilogue Shirky discusses the Sichuan earthquake and the impact of social tools in the aftermath – particularly relating to the protests about badly built schools.

He discusses the growing impact of social tools on ordinary life. He notes the “network effect” which is that “networks become more valuable as people adopt them.” p 301

“Most of the work on supporting collective action around starting or sustaining work is speculative at this point.” p 318

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Can you Crowdsource Vision?

Yesterday I was given an hour to talk to new MK ministers at a Mission Partnership Orientation Day. I think I was there to talk about fresh expressions, but combined my input with something about local shared and supported ministry - and then drew the conversation off onto collective thinking.
I argued that we need fresh ways of expressing Christian faith in an emerging culture. In other words, like Paul before us, we need to re-make church so that it is able to challenge the people who live in this culture and help them to become authentic disciples of Christ. Hence the term "fresh expression" should not be capitalised since it defines a phenomenon rather than a movement or programme. A fresh expression is any form of church activity or community that follows a journey from radical listening through community and discipleship to some form of Christ focussed existance.
On the other hand, fresh expressions can only flourish in our age if we have an alternative model of ministry. We need to view ministry as something primarily derived from the local disciple-community; in which ministry and decision making are shared; and which is supported by the wider church. As with fresh expressions I am increasingly keen to see local shared ministry as an emergent phenomenon rather than a strategy, programme or structure. In other words, it is not possible to direct, manage or govern the development of a local shared ministry, but it would be possible to recognise, nurture and encourage its development.
In conversation this innevitable led to questions of authority, organisation, power and decisicion making - as I fully expected that it would. I was interested to see how readilly concepts of local collaboration flowed from the participants. We talked about the self-organising power of the hive - and the need to release people to explore their own calling.
At this point we started to get theological - exploring issues of boundaries and the role of the Spirit. We spoke about the need to recognise God at work in all people and the difficulty this causes with tradtional concepts of a boundaried church. We recognised that the concept of the Holy Spirit means that the voice of God must be listened for in all people - particularly members of the community. Everyone seemed to find it easy to grasp that both local shared ministry and fresh expressions can only flourish if there is a clear understandning of the church as a spirit-filled, collaborative community.
One of the organisers raised the question of power and organisational structure and we could have begun a conversation about collective intelligence and so on, but time was short. I have been thinking about this since then and have been wondering (as I have been recently) about the interplay between conversation and action...
The question that this raises for me is how a group is able to make authentic decisions without resorting to formal business structures. It stikes me that the key to this is a shared vision and purpose - but is it possible for a group to generate these without having them impossed from above in some form. Hence the question: Can you crowdsource vision?
And this drew me back to thinking of a small forgotten element of the SHIFT process in 2001. We asked each church member to write three ideas on a small piece of paper. These could be their hopes or dreams for their church - although they often expressed a fear or a simple statement. When we anlysed the slips we found there were some remarkably common trends. These were then used to create a list of six values - which reflected, as far as we were able, the common mind of the community.
Now some of these values would not have been chosen by those in power - I mention "tradition" in this category - but that is exactly why this process was so interesting and so useful.
Can you crowdsource vision? I would say yes - although it probably requires a very large sample group.

Useful Links for Collective Thinking

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Blog Analysed

I've just been looking at Google Analytics to see what's been going on with my blog. Unsurprissingly, while my blog activity has dropped I've had less visitors - dropping to around twenty a day during the past month.
It's been interesting to see which pages people have been visiting though.
Over the past year I've had 2,781 unique visitors who have looked at 13,512 pages.
The most popular old pages that people have revisited have been:
  1. The Scratch Band - which has been sought out 197 times - all during February 2009!
  2. The whole month of December 2008 (!) - which has been viewed 148 times - why?
  3. A review of David Robertson's Collaborative Ministry - 79 times
  4. Martha's Passion of Christ - 79 times
  5. Ordinations - 77
  6. Sainsburys - 72
  7. What is Local Shared Ministry - 72
  8. My Sunday Services - 71
  9. What came first, the chicken or the egg - 68
  10. and Living Faith in Milton Keynes - 68
Runners up include The Shenley Nativity (which appears a number of times under different searches), How to annoy a vicar's wife, Moggerhanger Clanger, What makes a healthy church and A job description for church members... Speedos is still climbing up the charts with more comments coming in as we speak...
It's interesting to know that most people seem to visit the page for the day rather than stumble in through a specific page, but it's also interesting to know what pages they do go looking for...

Social Notworking

During the past month I have had some serious Internet trouble. It's not been so much a question of "outages" as "innages" - on some days I've only been able to connect to the Internet for half an hour a day - or less. A few years ago this would have been annoying - now it's downright disastrous. All those jobs that pile up on my computer - emails that are hard to write on a mobile phone - files that need sending - web pages that need adjusting - and so on...
I've been able to keep up with Facebook and the occasional email - through my phone - which has been good - but the inability to connect with the world wide web properly has felt like a kind of amputation - weird!
What have I learnt from this digital fast?
I suppose a big lesson has been the fact that we are so dependent on our technology - and take it for granted. This is fine for those who have, but not so good for those who can easily become the "information poor".
At the school open day, a parent raised the issue of children who don't have access to a computer at home - given so much was done through the "online learning portal". The teacher's response had a sympathetic tone but included a long list of further material that would only be available to those with Internet access.
At the Watling Valley web site meeting we discussed the advantages of social networking for community building - acknowledging as we did so that those who may need it most would not even think of using it...
On the other hand, it seems to me that our online social networks are only one of the many networks we belong to - and human social action seems to depend on the interplay and mutual indwelling of the various networks of which we're a part.
For example A knows B - through the Internet. A knows X as a friend. B knows Y though a club. X is connected to Y (through the Internet) even though neither of them may use it.
In other words, an attempt to avoid Internet use through a commitment to social justice would only impoverish the social network of those who don't obviously use it.
Whatever we may think of the inclusion issue the inevitable truth is that social tools are here to stay. Whether we use email, twitter, facebook, google wave - or any other tool that may not have been invented yet - online social networking will be a feature of our lives for some years to come.
I've been reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky - I'll post my notes when I've finished it. This is a fascinating book which explores the way social tools are transforming the way we think and act. His work contains some intriguing counter-intuitive observations. For example, he observes that the activity of people on social tools follows a "power curve" rather than a normal distribution curve.

In this example, one or two contributors posted the vast majority of the images on flikr for a particular event. Shirky suggests that all social networking may follow a similar pattern - as evidenced by other online activity - for example Wikipedia. In all his examples, Shirky suggests that there is no problem with this apparent inequality. Although a few may do a lot and the many may do a little, the overall benefit is far greater than it would be if each person contributed an equal amount - and in most online activity this is considered quite normal and no-one complains...
Shirky says, "The spontaneous division of labor driving Wikipedia wouldn't be possible if there were concern for reducing inequality. On the contrary, most large social experiments are engines for harnessing inequality rather than limiting it..." (!)
Which is interesting when it comes to reflecting on the way our churches and voluntary organisations function. We tend to worry endlessly about the 80:20 law - that twenty percent of the people tend to do eighty percent of the work. If Shirky is right, this is completely normal for a voluntary human social network - in fact, a more even distribution of effort would actually be harmful for the life and work of that network - intriguing...
This has relevance for the observation that we need a gift-orientated rather than a task-orientated approach to ministry. What are people called to do? What are they equipped to do? What do they want to do? There may be inequality in the amount of time and effort that each person will put in to any one venture - but Shirky's observation would suggest that an uneven distribution of effort will produce maximum gain...
Which is OK until you add in factors of compulsion, income and duty. Those who are paid to work - or are under a burden of responsibility to work - cannot obey the rules of social networking (or notworking). They must contribute a quantity and quality of work which is proportionate to the rewards or restrictions placed upon them.
This suggests a dual economy with the exciting activity taken on by the volunteer community - supported by a steady, reliable and equitably managed workforce.
Welcome to the twenty-first century church!
As I've said before, there are many things that the volunteer church community can do that employed or stipendiary ministers simply can't. Only a volunteer community can truly harness the creative power of its members - and be something greater than the sum of its parts. Paid staff are self-limiting - constrained by the limits of fairness and equality - although they do tend to be more reliable. Paid staff provide the infrastructure which enables creativity to flourish - or should do.
Networking or notworking, we live in an interesting age in which old assumptions may not be helpful any more. We need to keep thinking about how we function in an environment which is rapidly changing as we change the way we connect and communicate. Interesting times are ahead.

Monday, 14 September 2009

God's Gift

Unwrapping a Spirituality of Ministry

The world is filled with people who seem really committed to the good of others but have no joy in their lives. They have a need or a desire to serve, and this is expressed in word or action but the service they provide drains them and leaves them lacking somehow. You may feel like this yourself - at least from time to time. Service can easily become servitude.

Perhaps the key to understanding this phenomenon is to consider what often motivates people to serve:

Duty: A feeling that a burden has been placed upon you. Your service is something that you must do - or you have failed. This is linked closely to...

Guilt: A feeling that you can make up for your own failings by doing something good.

Responsibility: A feeling that only you can meet a particular need. If you don't act - all will be lost. This is usually a self-delusion.

Self-worth: The need to be needed. Some people want to be indispensible and make themselves essential - in organisations, families, businesses and churches...

Your Country doesn’t need you! The key to escaping from the servant trap is to recognise that you are not essential. If you were not there, someone else would fill the gap. The work that you do could be fulfilled by someone else. You are not as crucial as you may think.

The Gifts of the Spirit

In the New Testament, acts of ministry are described as a gift given by God - usually through the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are given to the world through the church.

There is a tendency to think of these gifts as things that we are given in an objective way - for which we have to act as stewards. The parable of the talents is often read as a moral warning not to waste the gifts/talents that God has given...

The gifts of the Spirit are not packages to be used by those to whom they have been given. In fact, they are not actually given to those who seem to exercise them. They are given through individuals to the whole people of God - and through the Church to the whole of creation.

We are God's gifts

I believe that the key to a healthy spirituality of ministry is the recognition that we are God's gifts. God has created us, sustained us, redeemed us, called us, sent us and equipped us. We are God's gift to each other.

The great thing about a gift is that its value is greater than its practical significance. For example, you may be given a frying pan as a Christmas present. This may be useful but its true value is not dependent on its function. It may be more important to note:

  • Who gave it to you? What is your relationship to the giver?
  • What does the gift say? What does it mean?
  • Is there anything unusual about it? Is it special in any way?

Some gifts may not have immediate practical use - but they may have other values. Are they interesting, beautiful, playful or just bizarre? Gifts can be extravagant, thought-provoking or simply a sign of love.

I think we need to start seeing ministering people as God's gifts to us. They themselves are gifts from God and God gives to us through what they do and through who they are. This concept of gift is more important in ministry than anything else.

Needed or Valued?

In churches we tend to get bogged down with long discussions about tasks and who is going to do them. Some people feel trapped by responsibilities that they can't escape - and often have to resign or die to avoid.

Inevitably there is usually someone there to pick up the work. Even professional ministers like vicars, priests and pastors are not essential - there are many churches which seem to exist perfectly well without them - although many church members (and ministers) would like to think otherwise...

Yes, tasks do need to be done and there is work there for us to think about. There is a desperate need for people to choose to be servants - in the best sense of the word. The important thing to remember is that although no individual is by themselves essential - each individual is unique and special in a way that only they can be. They are a gift and should be valued for their own unique and distinct worth.

It is always good to welcome new ministers. What I particularly enjoy is the fact that we can usually welcome them knowing that we don't need them - the basic tasks can always be covered - somehow...

This frees us to value them as themselves - and to be open to what they bring because they are who they are. In other words, to look for the gift that God is giving through them.

We need a more gift-orientated rather than task-orientated approach to ministry. We need to spend more time seeking to discern what each of us uniquely brings...

Seeing others as God's Gift

I think most of us would feel very differently about ourselves if we thought of ourselves as God's gift. The problem is that you can't achieve this by telling yourself that it's true. You either become arrogant or delusional - trying to convince yourself of the truth of something that your heart denies.

I suspect the best way to build a gift-orientated spirituality is to look outwards rather than inwards - to see other people as God's gift to us - to celebrate and be thankful. In a thankful church, we would all begin to appreciate each other and our identity as gifts from God would be released.

What do we do with Gifts?

Gifts can be rejected. We can attempt to send them back, return them to the shop or throw them away - break them, misuse them or just ignore them. They can be left on the shelf - unused and unwanted...

Sometimes, gifts are not passed on. Those who have them in their hands may choose to keep them for themselves. They may get lost in the post...

I'm sure it wouldn't take too much imagination to see that we treat our human gifts from God in similar ways...

A Gift-Orientated Church

A gift-orrientated church is not an easy option. There are challenges here for our wisdom and discernment - for our self-understanding and our attitude to others. A gift-orientated church will always strive to balance the needs which have to be met - with the people God has given to meet them. At the end of the day I still believe that God always gives us what we need in order to fulfil what he wants us to be and do.

The purpose of the church is not to do what we want, but to be the gift of God to the world. Ministry is the privilege of being allowed to be part of God's work in creation. God, after all, is the origin, means and end of all that he is and all that he purposes.

Training Programme

Second week of my exercise plan. Four runs last week and one, so far, this week. Next stop: avoid chocolate and other evil vices...

Monday Morning

Another day begins, but, for the first time in weeks, I have steady reliable internet connection (I hope).

There's so much going on here at the moment with the Watling Valley Scenarios, the fresh expressions events, the Deaenry Plan and so on... It's going to be difficult to see the wood for the trees for a while... On the other hand, a lot of this activity is really good and I'm convinced we're heading in the right dirrection.

I'm feeling particularly positive about Growing with Christ - our new nurture programme in Watling Valley. We've had a good start but this will need some careful nurturing if we're going to embed it as part of our ongoing discipleship work...

I'm also pleased with the steady (and occasionally bumby) development of fresh expressions in Milton Keynes. The CafeChurch team and the FEAST Day are looking interesting, even if we had to cancel the msm course...

Alighned with these positive projects there are a whole host of other activities - some good, some less so. The thrick is going to be to find ways of managing time so that we can keep the show on the road while giving appropriate time to the good stuff - always harder than it sounds I know...

Anyway, this is just a blog ramble - which is what blogs are for. Normal service has been resumed, whether you want to read it or not...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Longest Lever

The Greek philosopher and scientist Archimedes once said, "give me a lever long enough and I will move the world."

It turns out that the lever wasn't that long. In fact it's small enough to keep in your mouth. In the words of the Apostle James, it's the Tongue - or rather, communication.

The human ability to communicat, it turns out, is the most powerful tool we have, providing a lever that has been powerful enough to move the world many times over the cenuries. Today, of course, it is more powerful, universal and easy to use than ever.

Archimedes used it himself and, as I discovered when I googled "lever quote" he's still out there...

James chapter 3 contains a wonderful rant in which he is scandalised by the aweful observation that both good and evil spring from this seemingly insignificant yet powerful source. In our own day we should heed his warning, but not be afraid to speak up. We are capable of great good and great evil but, in the words of another global communicator "with great power comes great responsibility."

Let's not take communication lightly, but responsibly and reverantly in the sight of almighty God... Don't be afraid. Open your mouth, turn on your computer, paint a picture, pick up your camera - and ask God to fill your communications with love, joy and peace - and maybe allow him to use your lever to change the world occasionally...

(This post is, of course a brief summary of this Sunday's sermon)