The Emperor’s New Facts

The Emperor’s New Facts

“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, it’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.”  Artemus Ward We’re focussed on helping people improve their businesses in Near Future.  And we think a lot about how we might do that. A part of that involves improved thinking, and asking awkward questions.  I’ve found over time that most ideas are logically constructed and the best way to challenge ideas are to challenge the assumptions, the basis on which they’re built.  If the assumptions are wrong everything else falls apart. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert L Sutton wrote a wonderful book on evidence based management a few years ago called “Hard Fact, Dangerous Half Truths & Total Nonsense” which poked holes in many of the modern Shibboleths of management. One of the myths that Sutton and Pfeffer explored in their books was on the nature of Financial Incentives. The evidence shows that incentives sometimes demotivate, sometimes motivate the wrong behaviour and often attract the wrong sort of talent. Even in the best of circumstance are damn hard to get right. Even a company as clever as Microsoft has managed to design disastrous incentive systems that it has now abandoned. We are planning a breakfast event in a few weeks in. It will be on the theme of what we know that isn’t true.  It is designed to break open a few management myths, the Emperors New Facts. The event will be invite only and we have a few open slots, email dermot  @nearfuture.io if you’d like to be included in this or future events that we might... read more
How do you categorise your children?

How do you categorise your children?

The Primary Online Database is one of the worst ideas I’ve come across.  Dave Molloy wrote a good piece about how easy abuse of the system could be. I want to pick at one of the little threads. The ethnic or cultural background categorisation Its useful when looking at a system to take apart the assumptions underlying it . There is a much longer piece to be written about categorisation and we’ll take one element here.  This is a list of drop down choices for one of the pieces of information for the Primary Online Database. Ethnic or cultural background (drop-down list) White Irish Irish Traveller Roma Any other White Background Black African Any other Black Background Chinese Any other Asian background Other (inc. mixed background) No consent The comment I used on Twitter when I first saw this list  “The word you’d use to describe the list of ethnic/cultural choices in the Dept of Eduction planned Primary Schools Database is WRONG.” Categories are artificial ways of slicing up the world.  Dave Snowden wrote an interesting post on Categories recently. In it he quoted a passage from Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ which is worth quoting again here. Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to... read more
Our dopamine driven present

Our dopamine driven present

Hans de Zwart has written a piece on how Al Wei Wei the Chinese artist is living in all our futures. The whole thing is well worth a read. There is a lot to unpack in it. The paragraph that points to the New Intermediaries (Google, Facebook, Netflix) that sit between us and everything else is worth a book on its own. As is Disney normalising surveillance and quantified self technology through MagicBands. I was once asked to help someone start a business that put trackers on kids.  I found it deeply creepy and still do. Though as a parent of kids a little piece at the back of your mind is going. “Well it’d be nice to be sure”. Which is why these things will probably sell despite them being creepy. The end of the piece points out another problem with constant monitoring We need failure to be able to learn, we need inefficiency to be able to recover from mistakes, we have to take risks to make progress and so it is imperative to find a way to celebrate imperfection. The bit that really resonated with me was on Casinos and Natasha Dow Schüll and her book  ‘Addiction by Design’. In it, she clearly shows how the slot machine industry has designed the complete process (the casinos, the machines themselves, the odds, etc.) to get people as quickly as possible into ‘the zone’. The player is seen as an ‘asset’ for which the ‘time on device’ has to be as long as possible, so that the ‘player productivity’ is as high as possible. The comments on the use of... read more
Packaging up your children’s data (no date on a sale)

Packaging up your children’s data (no date on a sale)

The Department of Education are requesting that data on all primary school children be captured into a Primary Online Database. The list of data they are asking for is comprehensive. It includes PPSN numbers. This is what we know A new database of primary school students will gather personal information, including PPS numbers, information on ethnic and cultural background and religion. Some details will be kept for up to 30 years (Irish Times) List of data  includes: • First and second names • PPS number • Mother’s maiden name • Date of Birth and gender • Full address • Mother tongue • Ethnicity • Religion • Irish language exemptions • Enrolment date, teacher / class details • Previous school / pre-primary education • Learning support details There is also a free text box for “Notes about a pupil”. The Departments reference manual on the Database states Notes about a pupil may be entered into the ‘Notes’ tab. At present, notes entered here can be seen by Department of Education staff but this is to be changed so that only the school user may see the notes. The Department is also claiming that it is compulsory for parents to register their children. In the event a PPS number is not available for a student, the Department will use the mother’s maiden name to look up Department of Social Protection records. The Department also reports that only information on ethnic and religious background requires the consent of a parent of guardian. The data to be captured on the system may be captured on esinet.ie or an excel spreadsheet or on a schools  own system. It is not clear... read more
New Year’s Resolutions and a single thought

New Year’s Resolutions and a single thought

Sometimes its better to slide up on things sideways. Somewhere along the way I got more exercise and improved my weight this year, slightly by coming to them sideways. There’s a longer thank you post to come on some of these things. I’m wary of over general advice because context is everything. So rather than making and sharing a New Year’s resolution (or many) here’s a single thought. An Uncle of mine died during the year. I used to be at a loss of what to say to people at funerals. “I’m sorry for your loss” just never sat right for some reason. It just felt wrong. When talking to one of my cousins I said “be kind yourself. Grief comes in waveSome are strong and deep and some are fast. Let them wash over you and don’t beat yourself up over things. Give yourself time.” I think the thought “Be kind to yourself” is good advice. I’m not the only one. It’s something a friend pointed out to me. If I’d being paying attention I might have figured it out sooner myself. Being a bit kinder to myself in 2013 led to some of the better things in 2014. Shit will happen. Be kind to yourself when it does. And be kind to others too. Image by Marjan Lazarevski on Flickr shared via a Creative Commons... read more
#RebootingIreland 2000AD, Metaphors and Messy problems

#RebootingIreland 2000AD, Metaphors and Messy problems

Lucinda Creighton has launched a new political party.  Or launched a #hashtag. I’m not quite sure which. As I tweeted yesterday “First thought on #RebootIreland When rebooting a computer you don’t get a different operating system” There was a lot of comment on Twitter. Dave Winer said recently Twitter can have a tendency towards “high fructose emotional rage medicine.” Mostly the comment was cynical rather than hate filled. My first thought was of a comic. There is a panel somewhere in my mothers attic from an episode of 2000AD. It’s from the story Strontium Dog. The storyline is set at the end of a war. A military police force is being disbanded and being replaced. Panel one has the old police force. And panel two has the new police force. Same group. Different uniforms. Same system. Plus ca change. I was reminded of that panel when thinking about #RebootIreland. When we exchanged Fianna Fail for Fine Gael and Labour a few years ago that was the transition. Mostly because the state was governed by the Troika and administered by the politicians we elected. I’m not sure that what’s intended here will be any different. I took a look at the #RebootIreland website. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. As Tommy Collison commented “This party will champion human inventiveness.” What does that even mean? #RebootIreland — Tommy Collison (@tommycollison) January 2, 2015 I have equal questions of what some of the other statements mean Fostering a spirit of entrepreneurism in our public sector that will reward those who work the hardest and deliver the best results for our public services. I’m not... read more
The Internet’s Memory Gap

The Internet’s Memory Gap

The Internet has a funny memory. We are concerned with the lack of privacy and that nothing is ever forgotten online. It is possible that in some NSA database somewhere is every piece of information ever placed on the Internet. But a lot of time the Internet forgets.  And the Internet is a curious mix of the missing, the broken and unremembered. Its hard to find stuff on Facebook. That photo you saw in that group you’re a member of two months ago. Good luck finding that again without scrolling through months of posts. A few months ago the image below started doing the rounds on Twitter it was from flowchainsensei   From the style of the image I knew it was Hugh MacLeod. So I went looking for it. It was only when I went back that I realised Hugh’s original was different. Despite both being widely shared, there was very little reference back to the original when the new one was shared. Frequently there was little reference to who created the new version either. Then in the last few days I’ve seen this variation on the meme. Also funny as “everything on the internet eventually results in reference to cats” (Casey’s 5th rule) When I try to figure out who created it I get “Found shared in the Web, by Unknown Artist.” among other links. The oldest link to it I’ve saw is on this page from the 5th of Feb 2014.   There is also a link to it on Facebook from the same date. Eventually after a litte digging the original traces back to Ron Letkman on Twitter. (Ironically his own website... read more
The Teachers Strike, Fool’s Mate and Strategic Play in Education

The Teachers Strike, Fool’s Mate and Strategic Play in Education

The teachers are on strike today. My wife among them. So I have skin in the game. I’ve lots, I’ve three kids as well. Still at primary with some superb teachers and I want the best education possible for them. There is a good post here on why one teacher is going on strike and in it John Killeagh points out some of the things done on behalf of education reform so far Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools Increase the pupil/teacher ratio Cut capitation grants to schools Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year) Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs John Killeagh in his piece states that “I don’t trust the motivations behind these measures.” He’s right not to. Simon Wardley in another context talks about “Fool’s mate” and the where of Strategy. Most of the problem appears to be that companies cannot see the environment (i.e. they have no map) and aren’t used to any actual form of strategic play. I’m not going to draw a map in this context but I want to point out the strategic play in the education environment. This is only partially about the assessment of the Junior Certificate. It is an important part of the play. Implementing continuous assessment may or may not be a good idea. If its done as planned it will start the creeping corruption of the Irish Education system that Fintan O’Toole has talked about. Twice. And the Ministers idea of 40% rather than 100% assessment. Well can you be 40% corrupt or 40% evil? Yes those are inflammatory words and if there are principles... read more