Daniel Suarez talk is one I think everyone should watch. The more I consider his words the more I’m convinced that he is right in calling for international ban on the development and deployment of autonomous killer robots. He makes many good points during the talk but here are the ones that really made me stop and think:
because as we migrate lethal decision-making from humans to software, we risk not only taking the humanity out of war, but also changing our social landscape entirely, far from the battlefield. That’s because the way humans resolve conflict shapes our social landscape … Now if responsibility and transparency are two of the cornerstones of representative government, autonomous robotic weapons could undermine both … And this is why we need an international treaty on robotic weapons, and in particular a global ban on the development and deployment of killer robots. Now we already have international treaties on nuclear and biological weapons, and, while imperfect, these have largely worked. But robotic weapons might be every bit as dangerous, because they will almost certainly be used, and they would also be corrosive to our democratic institutions.
I’ve been reading a lot over the last few months, and whilst I wish I had the time to write a fuller review of each of the following, I know I just wont have the time. Therefore I’ve written a short review for each of these titles.
On Internet Freedom – Marvin Ammori Marvin Ammori is a leading campaigner and legal expert on net neutrality and keeping the internet free. This is an excellent book – and it brings together a set of stories that underline why the Internet changes not only how we think about free speech, but how we must seek to protect and promote it. The message is a simple one – that the Internet has come to be the most important engine of free expression in history. Yet it could also be broken due to the missuse of government and corporate power – motivated by fear, greed, and misguided notions of responsibility. This book does succeed in providing some hope that the spirit of activism on the Net is mobilising people to defend their rights.This book was written against the backdrop of SOPA and was therefore very timely.
Mortality – Christopher Hitchens I’ve always admired Christopher Hitchens, and over the years have read many of his articles and books. He was never one to shy away from making a principled argument. It comes as no surprise that one of the most remarkable polemicists this country has ever produced didn’t leave without having a few important things to say. It is a sobering and often harrowing account of Hitchens final “year of living dyingly” as describes his battle with Cancer in seven essays. The essays begin with Hitchens being diagnosed in June 2010. The openness with which he relates the news is, I think, brave, and his shock is palpable. But I think what I admired the most was rather succumb to rage he instead favours Curiosity. The cancer robbed him of his two main attributes: his voice and the energy to write and its his reflections on these two aspects of his illness that are the most poignant.
Church of Fear : Inside the weird world of Scientology – John Sweeney There is something fascinating about cults and I’ve read about many over the years in particular learning about the human rights abuses they were guilty of, and often trying to understand how they got away with it. Scientology is one of the worst offenders. I was introduced to it when, at the tender age of 17, someone tried to sell my a copy of Dianetics after asking me to take a “test”, I had time to kill so humoured the individual but I recall after a 20 minute interview I’d learned enough to know it wasn’t something I wanted to be part of. Many people have seen John Sweeney’ documentaries about the Church of Scientology which were disturbing and often difficult to watch. This book lays bare just how terrifying this organisation has become. Sweeney details many examples of people who have either left the church and are critical of it and then extraordinary lengths to which the Church will go to harass and besmirch these individuals. Found myself agreeing with Sweeney when he wrote:
It is as if there is in the United States an eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not criticize another man’s religion” The danger is that in America they are so afraid of religious un-freedom that they fear to discriminate between a religion and a confidence trick.
How they started in tough times – David LesterI’ve never read any of the other books in the “How they started” series. However this one was recommended to me by a friend, and it was well worth reading. The book profiles a wide variety of businesses most you will have heard of. Many insights are given into just how these businesses got started and survived in hard economic times. Given the current economic climate, I found the book actually offers hope rather than the typical doom and gloom. The particular companies that are profiled include Wikipedia, Moonpig, Mumsnet, LinkedIn, Walt Disney, Penguin and many more. Pretty inspirational actually.
After the Apocalypse – Maureen F. McHugh I love reading science fiction and fantasy, this was a wonderful collection of short stories that are about life after an Apocalypse. Any large enough catastrophe is an apocalypse of sorts, leaving lives altered in its wake, with survivors who still need to live in a changed world. What I really liked about this collection is that those survivors are simply everyday people caught up in events, and the choices they make are as varied as human beings can be. With “near-future” being one of the hot topics in science fiction at the moment After the Apocalypse succeeds where others don’t by depicting ordinary people trying to get on with their ordinary lives as best they can, despite the hopelessness and horror around them.
Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, it’s hard to believe that its been five years, and yet here we are; so much has happened, so much has changed and yet so much remains the same. I miss him so very much, I miss his wisdom, his humour, his strength but most of all I miss the comfort I felt simply knowing he was there. It was while I was thinking of him that I recalled this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow … which somehow feels apt…
(What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist)
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Finds us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, -act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.
“Lack of passion leads to poor performance, which will damage any future chance of success. As a consequence it becomes progressively more and more difficult to be passionate”; Inertia is a self fulfilling prophecy.
It’s been so long since I’ve actually written a blog post I thought I’d try something different. Start with something that sounds like a conclusion … and try to piece it all together.
…but first a personal note …
I haven’t written anything particularly meaningful on this blog in a long time, somewhere along the way I lost my voice. I’ve been trying to understand why; some of it I cant remember or am probably still unwilling to remember at least not in enough detail to examine those feelings honestly. It’s amusing, at least to me, that all of this was brought into sharp relief when I read this simple sentence yesterday on an old friends blog1:
Not being able to speak manifests in not being able to write too.
That is so fucking true.
Which in turn linked through to a different post that also had a profound effect on me; by profound I mean made me feel angry and ashamed all at once2:
What does it feel like to remain silent when you should have said something? I bet you can think of occasions looking back when you wished you had found the words, any words, to say something. Say Something.
When I first started blogging it was, in no small part, due to a request from another friend, Ian Davis who back in 2006 asked me to start blogging and sharing my thoughts. Whilst I was nervous and unsure of myself, Ian convinced me to try and more importantly – to believe in myself. I was still fairly new to Talis at the time and I remember asking him “what if I say something you don’t like? or the company doesn’t like?” and Ian’s response was something along the lines of “its your blog and your voice … you can say whatever you want”. Of course I realised that he wasn’t giving me free reign to give away our trade secrets (not that we had many), or use it as a platform from which to hurl abuse at managers. What he was doing was saying its ok to question, it ok to share thoughts, even concerns because if we are an organisation that values our people then we have to encourage them to have a voice. For me it was this that made us far more ‘human’ or ‘people’ focussed than the company I left in order to join Talis. Ian left Talis a few months ago, I know he has a lot to deal with, and he is! But I do miss him. He has always inspired me and he still does; for that I will always be grateful to him. I wish I had said that to him more often, I hope its something he already knew.
So, back to Attitude reflecting leadership.
This is a rather old post on The Apathy Cycle vs The Passion Cycle. The quote at the beginning of this post was taken from this. Whilst the post itself is quite short there’s some interesting discussion in the comments that is also worth reflecting on. What do Passion and Apathy have to do with Attitude and Leadership … perhaps nothing … perhaps everything.
There’s been a lot of change recently, not only at Talis but also in other aspects of my life – family, friends, other projects I’m involved in outside of work. About the only thing that seems to remain constant is the fact that things keep changing. Dealing with change is not always easy – But you deal with it, right? I used to believe that everything changes and all that matters is how we, as individuals, choose to deal with it. But I’ve been re-thinking my position on that recently. Particularly when I think about it in the light of those things I’ve been really passionate about recently and those things I’ve been pretty apathetic towards.
The catalyst for this was several closely related questions that I was asked by two different people in two completely unrelated contexts (one was at work and the other on a different local project I volunteer with). But for the purposes of this I’m going to reduce those to just one and use that to frame the rest of this discussion:
What is it that makes the kind of leader you would choose to follow?
I’ve read books on leadership, team building and organisational culture; I’ve discussed these at length with others often more experienced in this subject area than I am. There are so many different ways of answering ‘what is a good leader’, and often when people answer they do so by pointing out the differences between Leaders and Managers. There is an important distinction, but difficult at times to articulate – I think what they all agree on is that the difference lies in the way that Leaders or Managers motivate the people who work or follow them. I know for some that’s a gross over simplification, so I’ll try to qualify this a little more. Leaders have followers, whereas Managers tend to have subordinates. Again, this is also over simplified since in many situations the same individual will have a Leadership position that requires him/her to Manage others. They are not mutually exclusive.
For me the leadership qualities that are required to make a good leader will vary in different companies, teams and situations. They are entirely context-dependent. What does that mean? every situation we face is different – I am a leader to some but a follower of others. No one is always just one or the other. One of the best examples of this, certainly one that helped me understand the importance of context was the play The Admirable Crichton, in which a Lord and his Butler swap their roles as leader and servant, as the situation changes. For example: when on a desert island the butler’s practical skills are essential for survival.
I might argue that in general a good leader is someone who thinks strategically, has a vision that is the source of their passion and communicates it effectively to others, inspiring them to follow; in other words enthusing others to work towards that vision because they too believe in it. Good leaders are also the ones that understand thats it’s important to boost the self esteem of others, it’s amazing what people can achieve when they believe in themselves. If you want to be technical then yes I am listing some of the qualities that are attributed to transformational leadership as opposed to transactional leadership where people are often motivated by reward or punishment and there’s a clear chain of command. I found the table at the end of this page helped as a talking point during one of the discussions I had. I don’t entirely agree with it but it was useful nonetheless. The other thing that helped was the film Twelve O’Clock High which was a more visual way of examining the effectiveness of different leadership styles and in different contexts! (had the damnedest time convincing them to watch a black and white film).
I personally believe that certainly with relation to the work that I do, or the projects I’m involved in, particularly those in and around social innovation, tapping into people’s passions and empowering them works better than diktat or command and control – I’ve witnessed for example at P2PU how far passion can take a community, that is led in an open and transparent way towards shared vision. I’ve also seen how corrosive it is when people’s motivations aren’t aligned behind a shared vision. It creates uncertainty, disillusionment and possibly most damning of all … a fundamental lack of trust. Often actually more through a lack of communication and transparency than anything else.
So when the question above was put me most recently, I answered:
‘the leader provides a vision, but he cant get there on his/her own – First I ask is the vision something that I believe in, does it inspire me, is it something I feel passionate about;. BUT then I ask myself how is that shared vision reflected in everyone else; In their words and actions … because you aren’t just following a person your also joining a team/community/movement.’.
The prevailing attitudes embodied within any team/community/movement are a reflection of its leadership. Apathy isn’t always a result of bad members, more often its a result of uninspired leadership.
That’s probably enough to think about for now. Hope this has been useful for those who asked.
Anyone can achieve their fullest potential,
who we are might be predetermined, but the path
we follow is always of our own choosing. We should
never allow our fears or the expectations of others
to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can't
be changed but, it can be challenged.
Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
... Hamlet: Act 2 : Scene 2
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-- William Ernest Henley
From time to time we all need a little inspiration.
Being told I have to stay at home and rest is always difficult for me, I get bored very easily, so I thought I’d lye in bed and catch up with some feeds – when I came across the above talk. I’ve written about Karen Armstrong and the Golden Rule before, it was heartwarming to listen to her talk, she has so much passion and faith and hope for a better world, which I find inspiring. I know some people will argue about the practicalities of the Charter for Compassion which Karen is talking about. For me though, as a sentiment, as an ideal, or even as a hope I think its a beautifully simple and wonderful idea.
But it requires a change in each of us, which makes me wonder whether I’m strong enough to make that change.
Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.
A very useful and thought provoking talk, Dan does well in describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and if nothing else it should force you pause and reflect for a moment on what actually motivates you.
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo says happiness and success are rooted in a trait most of us disregard: the way we orient toward the past, present and future. He suggests we calibrate our outlook on time as a first step to improving our lives
Interestingly enough having recently re-read George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By , Zimbardo’s perspective seem’s to make a lot sense. Lakoff’s book also opens with a lengthy discussion of how the ways we talk about time influence the decisions that we make: time is money, time is a resource, time is moving, etc. he also goes on to discuss how much our mindset, which is shaped by culture, affects our decisions. Not entirely sure how comfortable I am with Zimbardo’s thesis on the optimal temporal mix, although at first glance it seems to make perfect sense:
So, very quickly, what is the optimal time profile? High on past-positive. Moderately high on future. And moderate on present-hedonism. And always low on past-negative and present-fatalism. So the optimal temporal mix is what you get from the past — past-positive give you roots. You connect your family, identity and your self. What you get from the future is wings to soar to new destinations, new challenges. What you get from the present hedonism is the energy, the energy to explore yourself, places, people, sensuality.
Any time perspective in excess has more negatives than positives. What do futures sacrifice for success? They sacrifice family time. They sacrifice friend time. They sacrifice fun time. They sacrifice personal indulgence. They sacrifice hobbies. And they sacrifice sleep. So it affects their health. And they live for work, achievement and control. I’m sure that resonates with some of the TEDsters.
Zimbardo seemed to be rushing along very fast which is probably why its taking time to fully appreciate his ideas, yet there is something that resonates deeply within me. What do others think?