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Tuesday, December 19th, 2006


This post has been prompted by Lexington Green, who was kind enough to give me a nudge via email.

Recently, Chris Anderson, the editor of WIRED magazine and author of The Long Tail , had a recent ” thought” post proposing radical transparency as an innovative vehicle for Wired magazine, which he followed up with further thoughts. While Anderson was concerned with print media becoming more interactive, his prescriptions have widespread application to different types of organizations, particularly those in which the manipulation of knowledge is a critical skill-set.

Show who we are.
Show what we are working on.
“Process as Content.”
Privilege the crowd.
Let readers decide what is best
Wikify everything.

Anderson’s “tactics” represent a nice synthesis of ideas that have been emerging in various tech centered fields in recent years that Chris has welded together to make a media hybrid that fuses a traditional “gatekeeper” controlled, closed shop media with new “open-source” production trends. Applied to a magazine like WIRED, this is a strategy for media modularity.

Chris’ post elicited two responses that extended the discussion. Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine insightfully suggested:

“Ah, but those two tactics still separate the magazine from the crowd. It’s still about commenting on what the magazine does (’but enough about you…’). Go the next step, Chris: Recognize that the crowd has stuff to say that may have nothing to do with what the magazine may be working on but that is of value to the rest. Or as a group, they have information that is valuable to the group. I’ve been saying I want to know the best-selling books among New Yorker readers. I also want to know the best-selling phones among Wired readers (and why).
The magazine is the crowd.”

This is using a conversation to build a community, albeit a virtual one; which, if more transient than a physical community, is also more dynamic, flatter and trends toward a higher velocity of conceptual transactions. Strengthening communty ties (i.e. building a social network) as outlined by Jeff cultivates a sense of primary loyalty in members by the psychological attachment created when membership in the community helps individuals satisfy their needs.

John Robb moved the dialogue to a new domain, national security, when he tied the transparency tactics to building societal resilience and increasing moral cohesion:

“Within the context of 21st century warfare, moral cohesion and innovation (particularly given open source opponents) have emerged as paramount concerns. Up until now, nation-states have relied on propaganda to mobilize the public for war and maintain the effort. In parallel, black box decision making has been relied upon to produce ongoing improvements in capabilities/technology. However, in this long war, these methods are more of a liability than an asset. Propaganda has proven to be both ineffective and harmful (see my critique:Propaganda Warsfor more on this) — and — black box decision making has yet to yield any meaningful improvements in capabilities. In my view, an update to our decision making process (to take advantage of vastly superior information flows) through radical transparency would be a far superior means of maintaining our moral cohesion and innovation over the long haul.”

In the early Cold War years, when the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts were first being made, there was considerable internal USG debate as to whether to use these media organizations as vehicles for black propaganda and disinformation campaigns against the Soviet Bloc or to keep their journalistic mission uncontaminated by PSYOPS meddling. Forgoing the short-term benefits of crude propaganda paid longterm dividends as the credibility of these organizations gave them believability, authenticity and most importantly – moral authority -in the eyes of their target audience. It wasn’t so much that the Soviet nomenklatura that tuned in to the VOA on their illegally imported foreign radios thought that everything Western media reported was true -they just knew most of what their own Communist media reported was false. Credibility once lost, is lost.

Decentralized input of information and analysis accelerates the correction of mistaken assumptions. Transparency enhances credibility and discourages shilling by the negative feedback it immediately produces so decisions produced carry greater weight for having been systematically vetted by an unforgivingly ruthless process of open examination that respects the cultural norms of official institutions to a far smaller degree. This does not guarantee perfection or prevent all errors, blind spots can be a collective as well as an individual phenomenon, but it reduces some of the wanton distortion of insider groupthink.


Open Source Center Runs Closed Intel Shop” –Shloky

Getting wiki with it Haft Of The Spear

Breaking the analyst / collector divide” and “Google adds Wiki to the Blog” –Kent’s Imperative

Security: Power To The People” – John Robb

Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience” – Opposed System Design


The virtuous circle on security: the slippery slope to resiliency” – Thomas P.M. Barnett

Civilizations, Complexity & Resilience” – Stephen DeAngelis

Self-organizing Rule Sets” – Stephen DeAngelis

Sunday, December 17th, 2006


Busy day in the non-blogosphere world for me. Hope to be online later tonight but here are some fast and furious recommendations, Iraq themed:

Dave Schuler’s Colloquium –Directions on Iraq : Day 2 receives top billing.

The Small Wars Council – ” Victory in Iraq” thread.

Colonel Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis -“Stalingrad on the Tigris? “

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett -” The freeze out of the Iraq Study Group seems complete:

William Lind at DNI – ” Knocking Opportunity

John Robb – ” The Darwin Principle

Victor Davis Hanson – “War-Making and the Machines of War

Parenthetical aside: Hanson is a historian whose work I genuinely enjoy reading, but nevertheless, find at times to be irritating. It’s fine to take 4GW and Network-centric Warfare to task as he has done on various occasions, but it would really be helpful if Hanson first took the time to understand what the hell they actually were. Just a thought.

Wiggins at Opposed System Design – “Iraq, Vietnam and Legacies

Dr. David Kaiser at History Unfolding -” Confirmation from Washington

That’s it!

Sunday, December 17th, 2006


Courtesy of tech business guru Dave Davison of Thoughts Illustrated, I encourage you to check out Shelfari – a new social networking site for serious readers. I began constructing “my shelf” this morning, though despite Shelfari’s user-friendly app it is going to take some time to get even a reasonable percentage of my collection up online, given the volume of books.

Tailor made for a number of my blogfriends. :O)

Friday, December 15th, 2006


Dave Schuler’s colloquium on Iraq has formally begun !

Here’s a snippet:


The opening contributions in the colloquium are from James Hamilton, Michael Cook and Shivaji Sondhi, and Rasheed Abou Al-Samh.

In his contribution James Hamilton makes the case that creating an economic system in Iraq that generates jobs and incomes, particularly for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, is as important as military action or political reconciliation in the country.

In his contribution Rasheed Abou Al-Samh hones in on the concerns of Saudis at the plight of Sunni Arabs and the prospect of a Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East.

Shivaj Sondhi and Michael Cook propose that the United States focus on reassuring the Sunnis into accepting a regional solution to their aspirations in Iraq – specifically, that it underwrite a deal in which the Sunnis secure their provinces in return for their share of national oil revenues.”

Go to The Glittering Eye to read Part I. :

Friday, December 15th, 2006


Steve DeAngelis at ERMB had a post today on the attempt to revive world class higher education in globalizing India ( most non-Western universities, even national flagship institutions like the cited Tokyo University, compare unfavorably with well-funded “Big State” public universities in the U.S. such as the University of Illinois, much less Harvard or MIT). DeAngelis was calling attention to the NYT op-ed by Yale’s Jeffrey Garten, “Really Old School” on a proposal to revive the ancient, polycultural, Indian university of Nalanda. This is the functional equivalent of the EU deciding to rebuild Aristotle’s Lyceum.

Steve quite sensibly opined:

“Garten is right about the importance of “global connectedness,” even in education. It is an important part of the movement of people necessary to make globalization work. For Asia, a world class university that can rank among the world’s top institutions would foster cultural pride as well as new knowledge. Among the billions living in Asia, there are undoubtedly new Pasteurs and Einsteins waiting to have their intellects unlocked.

(I also recommend an earlier, related, post by Steve -“Raising the Educational Bar” and today’s NYT article “Expert Panel Proposes Far-Reaching Redesign of the American Education System“)

Which brings us to the point that world class universities are about something far more critical than possessing awe-inspiring endowments and first-rate brick and mortar facilities; it is about building resilient”cognitive cultures” that emphasize intellectual curiousity, resolutely defend free inquiry and reward creativity. None of which Asian educational systems are fostering at present, by the admission of the high education officials from these nations themselves ( arguably, you could make a case that, despite ostensibly having these values as a raison d’etre, American universities aren’t doing as good a job at these things either. Or at least a universally good job. It’s just that we are relatively better at it than is the rest of the world).

In early 2006, Dr. Von related his experience consulting with educational officials from Singapore:

I know from personal experience Singapore is serious about trying to change their system to some degree to begin to mimic aspects of the American education system. Last spring I was asked to meet with a group of educators from one of Singapore’s top science and math high schools. They were here observing both successful high school and university programs, and I met with them at Northwestern University. They picked my brain about how to get beyond student memorization of facts and more into developing creative solutions and higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, which are much more important in the long run than memorizing a few facts (that can be easily forgotten after a test). It is one thing to remember a solution to a particular type of problem and repeat the solution on a test, and something entirely different to truly learn an important principle or concept, and then having your brain take it and use it to create a new/original idea, discover a new principle, or expand on someone else’s idea.

Part of the process is to get kids thinking about how the material applies to their lives, and allowing them to discuss that and put it into their own words. The guests from Singapore had not really thought that something like this should be a priority. Zakaria’s article[1] brought this back into my mind because he mentions that a friend of his from Singapore recently moved back from America and put his kids into one of the top Singapore high schools. He described the difference, that “In American schools, when my son would speak up, he was applauded and encouraged. In Singapore, he is seen as being pushy and weird.” This is a vital observation and feature of our schools, and we should continue to pursue and push for it. Our children must continue to be encouraged to think and contribute, and not just sit there and memorize test strategies and facts that are gong to be on the next standardized test. “

The culture of expectations shapes not only academic performance but cognition as well.

You can very easily vertically educate the creativity out of anyone and, to a large extent, with our k-12 public education system, we do. Our school system is regimented by the clock, institutional legacies, non-academic socialization priorities and frequently defective teacher education programs to produce an atmosphere that mitigates against students practicing valuable cognitive behaviors in favor of memorization and practicing basic skills.
The difference with Asian school systems is that the wider American culture and economy contradicts rather than heavily reinforcing the habits of mind inculcated by formal schooling. Our relatively egalitarian higher education system also provides the broadband access for late bloomers to rise.

My advice, were it to be heard by the governments behind the Nalanda project, would be not to simply look backward to ancient Buddhist India. Or even to make a carbon-copy of a top tier American university as a regional center ( though that would be a major accomplishment in itself). The monks of Nalanda did not build their innovative university by retreating into the distant past but by creating something new. Instead they should think systemically and create boldly.

The 21st century will not belong to those who can best ape the old forms but to those who can usher in the new.

1. “Newsweek (Jan. 9, 2006; page 37)

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