Weeknotes #215

This week I did:

Went to Wales

I went to the beach, swam in sea, rode the fastest zip line in the world, jumped on underground trampolines.

I can tell you what or when, but not both

We talked about project plans. I made the point I’ve made before about it being impossible to deliver a scope that is fixed upfront in a timescale that is also fixed. You can either have fixed scope and flexible schedule, or flexible scope and fixed schedule. I can tell you what you’ll get but not when you’ll get it, or I can tell you when you’ll get it but not what it’ll be. Everyone agreed that we have to take a stance in order to make delivery more realistic. And then everyone moved on to talk about the next fixed scoped piece of work and it’s delivery deadline. I think this is another small example of the difference between an industrial mindest, where work is conceived of like manufacturing the same thing repeatedly, and a digital mindset that conceives of work as uncovering uncertainty and learning in order to create something new.

A stigmergy for the transformation of the third sector

I wrote a blog post about using a stigmergy for transforming the third sector so that it leads the shaping of society away from individualism and towards collectivism. A stigmergy is a bit like a strategy but rather than requiring centralised control it allows a self-organising system to emerge based on the responding to actions taken. It seems like a much better approach to achieving change in something as diverse and uncoordinated as an entire sector. The post also goes into the idea of the third sector leading a shift in society away from individualism and towards collectivism. (The problem of changing how we think about things rather than just the things we do is a whole other problem).

And I thought about:

Post-humanist philanthropy

I’ve read a few things about the origins and historic connections between Humanism and Philanthropy. And also how some of the issues we face in modern society can be traced back through the humanist thinking of humans as the dominant species (but not all humans, actually just white European males) and how that belief led to the environmental damage, inequalities in society, etc.. So I wonder what Post-humanist philanthropy might look like?


I’ve been thinking methods and modes of thinking. We have lots of tools that help to guide thinking (ideation processes like Design Thinking spring to mind) but I think we’d benefit from being more explicit about the ways we think and so use those tools. I started with a list of words that seem related to thinking to see if this would help me some grasp some relationships but so far I just have lots of questions. Does ‘ways of thinking’ need a hierarchy to help explain how one way relates to another? Is ‘hierarchy’ one of the ways of thinking about things? Do we need to think different about different things, so consider Objects differently to Events? Is thinking really more about information (which Wolfgang Hofkrichner describes as a mediator between subject and object)? Or is information just the ‘stuff’ of thinking and separate from ways of thinking. It’s going to be a long piece of work.

The shift

I’m starting to get some grasp of how to explain what I mean when I talk about digital and digitisation, and it comes from expressing it as a shift away from industrialisation. So whether I’m talking about ways of conceiving of work as above, or how we explain business models, the same approach of showing the shift applies. The premise of my thinking then, is that this shift is occurring so how is it going to affect the charity sector and wider civic sphere?

Direct, discovery, define, design, develop, deliver. do

Over a year ago I started thinking about a linear process for running projects. I’ve started thinking about it again as part of the Fire Control problem where each step towards the goal helps to figure what the goal is. It isn’t quite a Big Upfront approach to project management that assumes we can know what will be achieved by the end of the project, but it follows a clearly phased process. Direct the scope of the project, discover the problems, define which problems to focus on, design the solutions, develop the solution, deliver it, and then do the work to operationalise the outputs of the project.

Personal websites

I’ve been interested in people’s personal websites for a while. Why do we have them (are they part of our digital identity), what do we use them for (recording thoughts in one place). Googling ‘why do people have personal websites’ just gives the usual articles about personal branding from the assumption that a personal website is all about work and career, which doesn’t seem very useful. So, I’ve started looking through the three and half thousand Twitter accounts I follow to see who has a personal website, how they use it, etc., to see what I can figure out. If I learn anything interesting I’ll probably write a blog post.

And read:

A Meta-Layer for Notes

Julian Lehr writes about notes and his “idea for a radically new kind of note taking app“. He talks about how the notes work in Hey (Basecamp’s email product), how postit notes are spatial in their relationship to the object they are about. He says that stand-alone note-taking apps are suboptimal and that, “Neither the creation nor the consumption of notes should be treated as separate workflows”. He talks about notes existing as a layer over all of the other apps that we use rather than within an app that is specifically for notes. I think there is an interesting assumption about what notes and note-taking is for which leads to the idea of surfacing notes in multiple locations as a means of connecting things. Are notes to right tool for creating connections? Does that make them a means of recording interest in something? Does the internet (and our brains) need more connections in this way?

Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society

Technology is blurring the lines between consumers and producers, amateurs and professionals, and laypeople and experts. We’re just starting to understand the implications. The articles starts by talking about how “the manipulation of matter and energy stands out as a central domain of both scientific and technical advances”, and talks through some of the big technologies of the last few hundred years (Electricity, nuclear power, space travel) before making it’s point that, “In the past the flow of information was almost entirely one-way, from the newspaper, radio or television to the reader, listener or viewer. Today that flow is increasingly two-way—which was one of Tim Berners-Lee’s primary goals when he created the World Wide Web in 1990.” It concludes rather abruptly with “For better or worse, we can expect further blurring of many conventional boundaries—between work and home, between “amateurs” and professionals, and between public and private.”, which seems only obliquely connected to the point that the internet is changing the ways information flows.

It’s interesting that the article talks about information and doesn’t mention data (John C Havens talks about data being the differentiator in changing society that we never had before in The Tech Humanist podcast). Information and data are very different things and conform to different rules, but both are greatly affected by the internet. Perhaps the unifying theme is not so much about what data or information is created but that its usefulness comes in how it flows around systems.

Four Ways of Thinking about Information

Wolfgang Hofkrichner’s paper describes four ways of thinking: reductionism, projectivism, disjunctivism, integrativism. I found some of the ideas on information complexity and simplicity, and unity and diversity quite interesting.

And read some tweets:

Changing your mind regularly

Ben Tossell tweeted: “strong opinions, weekly held is definitely a theme running a startup“. It follows the idea of ‘strong opinions, loosely (or weakly) held, but obviously changes it to suggest that the strong opinions should be changed with regular frequency. Avoiding the obvious issues with assuming that cliches contain insight, its interesting to think about what causes someone to change their mind frequently. If someone changes their mind because they’ve learned something new, we’d probably consider that a good thing, so then underlying this is perhaps something useful about ensuring a sufficient pace of learning so that you could change your opinion frequently and easily.

Work like we used hunt for food

Andrew Ruiz tweeted: “Work is probably the most rewarding if it resembles the way we hunt for food“. Which is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, the only reason that any of us are able to do any work other than hunt, gather and grow food is because civilisation figured out ways to produce enough food. In fact the entire premise of society and its progression is that there is enough food to eat. Secondly, without getting too nostalgic for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the idea of hunting a woolly mammoth involving people working in teams towards a single goal, providing value to their community, celebrating success with a ceremony, etc., starts to sound like our modern ideal of work. And it contrasts with the industrial approach to work.

Notes on Weeknotes

Giles Turnbull wrote some tips on writing good Weeknotes. I particularly liked, “The best way to write weeknotes is as a genuine personal reflection of the week.”, mostly because that’s how I use Weeknotes. I’ve often thought whether I write a blog post about each of the things I include if I didn’t use the format and frequency to prompt me, and although I think I might I don’t think they would have the same self-reflective tone.

How do we turn knowledge into wisdom?

We can define knowledge as contextualised, processed information, can only be produced by a person, cannot be replicated, but can be partially codified into information for transmission to generate further knowledge in another person. 

“Wisdom is a quality or state. It requires knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” So, wisdom comes from using good judgement to apply good knowledge.

To become wise we need an effective knowledge management system to ensure we collect, validate, and understand the right information. This learning process builds good knowledge. 

And then we need Hogarth’s “kind learning environments” to apply our good knowledge in situations where we can acquire a match between the choices we make based on our knowledge and the expected outcome. This develops good judgement. 

Someone who has good knowledge and good judgement in a particular field we might call an ‘expert. Someone who has good knowledge in multiple fields and demonstrates good judgement across all because they are able to cross-pollinate is called… ‘wise’.

Organising ideas: abstraction or embodiment

Maggie Appleton, digital anthropologist, did a lightning talk called “How to Become a Neo-Cartesian Cyborg” to discuss the question, “What does it mean to build a “second brain,” and why do we think that’s a Good and Valuable thing to do?”. 

She had completed the Building A Second Brain course and answered the question posed in her talk with, “Yes, if we rephrase building a second brain as ‘Build a Partial Cybernetic Extension of Your Empirical Collection & Reflection System to Help the Small Conscious Part of Your Brain Do A Limited Number of Writing-based Tasks’”.

I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to find ways to organise ideas in ways that helps me to connect them, either linearly because one led to another, or in an expansive divergent way. At the same time, I try to keep myself in check by reminding myself that the map is not the territory, the model is not the reality.

So, does Maggie’s definition help me be clearer about what I’m trying to do with organising ideas? A random stream of consciousness about the topic…

I tend towards the abstraction of ideas, Maggie favours the embodiment of ideas.

Are we talking about different ways to do the same thing, or are we talking about different things?

Embodiment is about reasoning, abstraction is the mental constructs. 

Data (raw, uncontextualised) can be interpreted, creating information (contextualised, formalised, organised), which can be transferred knowledge (only held within the person), which can be partially codified as information in order to be transferred.

Does there need to be a distinction between a mechanised process of a computer interpreting data to present information and the human perceptual system of the senses collecting unconsciously data about the world around us and transforming it into conscious knowledge?

A distinct piece of codified knowledge is what I would call an idea. It’s a useful building block. It is abstracted from its original context, purified almost to its simplest clearest expression. 

Where Maggie talks about second brain as practice, a process of reasoning that relies on embodiment not abstraction. 

I guess I don’t disagree with the Embodied Cognition premise, that cognition is shaped by the body which is cognising, but is it something to reduced or removed, or am I falling into a cartesian trap of thinking that an idea is purer if it just of mind?

The idea, as a piece of codified knowledge, could contain metadata about its origins (even just conceptually), almost the genetic code that controls how the idea behaves and will result from interaction with another idea.


Abstraction – the quality of dealing with ideas rather than events.

Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal (“real” or “concrete”) signifiers, first principles, or other methods.

“An abstraction” is the outcome of this process—a concept that acts as a common noun for all subordinate concepts, and connects any related concepts as a group, field, or category.[1]

Conceptual abstractions may be formed by filtering the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, selecting only the aspects which are relevant for a particular subjectively valued purpose.

Embodiment – a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling.


Embodied cognition 

Embodied cognition is the theory that many features of cognition, whether human or otherwise, are shaped by aspects of the entire body of the organism. The features of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, bodily interactions with the environment (situatedness), and the assumptions about the world that are built into the structure of the organism.


My biases:

  • Rationality is not neutral.

Markets for Information Goods

Much has been written about the difficulties that “information” poses for neoclassical economics. How ironic that ICE–information, communication, and entertainment–now comprises the largest sector in the American economy. If information poses problems for economic theory, so much the worse for economic theory: real markets seem to deal with information rather well.

This paradox is the central theme of this essay: information, that slippery and strange economic good, is, in fact, handled very well by market institutions. The reason is that real markets are much more creative than those simple competitive markets studied in Econ 1. The fact that real-life markets can handle a good as problematic as is a testament to the flexibility and robustness of market institutions.

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done. For more than 150 years, modern complex democracies have depended in large measure on an industrial information economy for these basic functions. In the past decade and a half, we have begun to see a radical change in the organization of information production. Enabled by technological change, we are beginning to see a series of economic, social, and cultural adaptations that make possible a radical transformation of how we make the information environment we occupy as autonomous individuals, citizens, and members of cultural and social groups.

Information, communication and alignment

Alignment of people and teams in an organisation seems directly proportional to how information about things like strategic priorities is communicated. And at first glance it looks like a goldilocks problem; too much communication and people get information overload, not enough communication and people don’t know what is going on. Either extreme diminishes alignment, and so the solution seems to be to communicate just enough.

But perhaps it isn’t a question of quantity. I think the solution might be more to do with how information flows rather than how much is communicated. If information only flows vertically through a hierarchy, and relies on the skills and actions of an individual to pass on information then two things occur, bottlenecks and interpretation. These slow down the flow of information and change the message, resulting in different people across the organisation getting different information at different times, even if they started with the same information.

Networks that allow information to flow more freely through multiple routes speed up the transmission of the message and allow the same people to receive multiple interpretations and so question the message to reach a more well-rounded understanding. Networks don’t rely on a one-way flow of information, which means that rather than alignment being the result of compliance with a single person’s or small group’s vision it is something that emerges from the collective communication across everyone in the organisation. Power can be hierarchical in an organisation with communication having to follow the same structure.