Struggling for a metaphor for change

In a skype conversation with Tony Karrer last week, our attention turned to change. Specifically, what is it that is changing in society? With technology? How do these changes impact corporate learning? Or higher education?

Given the breadth of change, is it possible to find a metaphor that can readily be used to capture not only what has changed but what we (as individuals and as organizations) are becoming?

I’m generally fairly cynical about catch-phrase metaphors such as “flat world”, “long tail”, “tipping point”, “[anything]2.0″ and so on. These phrases fail to capture the full complexity of the change they are trying to define. However, as models (and any model is at best a simplified abstraction of the phenomenon they intend to represent), catch phrases serve as initiation devices. It is a far easier to sit down with someone who has not been following technological developments and express change through terms like “web 2.0″ than it is to do a quick review of the history of the web, limitations of early web-based models (one-way flow) and the recent return to read-write web models, crowd sourcing, etc.

What is changing…

Rather than offering a metaphor – largely due to the fact that I haven’t yet discovered one that captures what I want it to – I’ll quickly run through meadows of change and describe what I think exists. This process of trying to define “what is the fundamental nature of change” is one that I have to pathologically tackle annually. In 2006, in Knowing Knowledge (.pdf here), I listed a series of seven broad change factors:

Change is shaping a new reality under the fabric of our daily lives. Seven broad societal trends are changing the environment in which knowledge exists:

1. The rise of the individual: Individuals have more control, more capacity to create and to connect than in any era in history.
Relationships are defined by convenience and interest not geography. We can work wherever and whenever. Time and space no longer limit global conversations.
People are able to connect, share, and create. We are co-creators, not knowledge consumers. Content generation is in the hands of the many. Co-creation is an expression of self…a sense of identity…ownership. We own who we are by the contributions we make.
2. Increased connectedness: Connections raise the potential for adaptation. The power of the human brain is derived from the capacity of each neuron to form many connections. Entities capable of connection forming are capable of adapting. The greater the number of connections possible, the more adaptive the organization.
We are being remade by our connectivity. As everything becomes connected, everything becomes transparent. Technology illuminates what was not discernable to the human eye.
3. Immediacy and now: Everything is now. Knowledge flows in real time. Global conversations are no longer restricted by physical space. The world has become immediate. New information changes markets in minutes. New programs are written in hours, building on the openness and work of others. Leaders must know what happened five minutes ago, not only what happened yesterday. Our filters of information and knowledge assume delays and stopping points, so we can assess implications.
4. Breakdown and repackaging: It is all in pieces. Knowledge is unmoored. The selection, flow, and discussion of knowledge have all moved from controlled spaces (at the point of creation or filtering) to the domain of the consumer. We take small pieces. We mix them. We create personal understandings.
Shared understandings happen only when we absorb similar patterns as others…or when we create shared patterns. Today, we receive our news, our entertainment, our learning, from distributed means. Two people in the same household stitch together different understandings based on the pieces each used.
5. Prominence of the conduit: Connection-forming tools will always create content, but their value lies in our ability to reflect on, dialogue about, and internalize content in order to learn. Content is knowledge frozen at a certain time (a magazine article), whereas a connection is a pipeline to continue to flow new knowledge.
6. Global socialization: We are now able to socialize our activities to an unprecedented level. Technology is opening doors to conversation. Every nuance, every characteristic, can be dissected and represented in multiple ways and perspectives. The notion of what is known is confused with limitless viewpoints. Certainty is clouded by multiplicity.
7. Blurring worlds of physical and virtual: We blend our virtual interactions with face-to-face. Our water cooler conversations driven by last night’s newscast, the comic strip in the morning paper, are replaced with discussions of video logs, or content presented online (personalizing the internet with our views). The creator, the consumer have become one.
The membrane between real and virtual is thinning.
We are starting to exist simultaneously in each.

And eight broad trends influencing our relationship to knowledge:

1. Abundance: Knowledge depreciates rapidly when new knowledge is constantly being created. The life-span of knowledge is shrinking. An expectancy of relevance and currency of knowledge, for a cycle of years and decades, has now been reduced to months and years for many disciplines. Fifty years ago, education prepared an individual for a life-long career in a particular field.
2. Capacity for recombination: The ability to connect, recombine, and recreate are hallmarks of knowledge today. Small pieces, which stand on their own, can be recreated in different media, contexts, and used to create more personalized, complex structures. The material used to build a car must be put together in a precise manner in order for the vehicle to function. Knowledge can be woven, connected, and recombined in limitless ways…creating the possibility of personalized networks of knowledge.
3. Certainty…for now: Knowledge is not directly related to certainty. We think that “to know” means to abolish doubt. But knowledge is often more about knowing that we do not know…where not knowing is held in context.
Certain things we can know for certainty, but only for now. The pressures of change form quickly from non-traditional corners. Developing countries, the masses, the oppressed—all can be partakers in shaping the direction the wind of knowledge blows.
4. Pace of development: Books take years to publish. Conferences take months to plan. Magazines take weeks to write. TV newscasts take hours to produce. End user created media takes minutes to produce and circulate.
The filter of time, to take the edge off of reactionism, is torn away. Events are deciphered in real time. The ferocity of responses, views, and dissemination walks a path of passion, not cold reason.
5. Representation through media: Ours is a world shaped by diversity—text, video, audio, games, and simulations represent ideas, concepts, and emotions. The power of text fails to cast its shadow as broadly as previously. The creators of knowledge do well to think beyond text. The passivity of text is disturbed by media.
Images, video, and audio now communicate the breadth of our experience with emotion and life. A picture released by an observer in a disaster zone (war, hurricane, earthquake) is worth many times more than the commentary of an expert. An image sears the brain, “lending immediacy to images of disaster” .
6. Flow: Feedback shapes original knowledge sources. We have moved from hierarchical to network. It is end user driven. A right decision today may not be right tomorrow.
In a knowledge economy, the flow of knowledge is the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy. Creating, preserving, and utilizing knowledge flow should be a key organizational activity.
Knowledge flow can be likened to a river that meanders through the ecology of an organization. In certain areas, the river pools and in other areas it ebbs. The health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of flow.
7. Spaces and structures of knowledge organization and dissemination: Spaces and structures are the organizational elements of society. We dialogue and function within these elements. Spaces—schools, online, museums, corporate boardrooms—provide the environment in which we do our conversing, meeting, knowledge sharing, and dialoguing. Structures—classification systems, hierarchies, command and control, libraries, government—provide the process and manner in which decisions are made, knowledge flows, and things get done.
Structures and spaces direct affordances. New structural approaches permit the formation of organizations prepared to manage diverse and rapid knowledge growth. Building a baseball diamond enables competitive baseball (or an impromptu soccer game). Creating a concert hall permits performances and concerts.
8. Decentralization: Aggregation of knowledge/information sources has really changed over the last few years. Until recently, most of our information was delivered through a centering agent—a television, newspaper, magazine, or radio. In this model, our primary task was to absorb or consume the structure of information created by a third party.
The centering agents have come undone. Knowledge agents continue to connect and form, but not according to the views of others. We have become active organizers of individual agents. We weave our networks.

Earlier this year, Peter Tittenberger and I listed a series of change pressures influencing the future of education in our Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning (.pdf). These change pressures were grouped into four categories: global, social/political, technological, and educational (social learning theory in particular).

My weekly elearnspace newsletter/blog) is an eight year running attempt to capture and briefly explore the impact of trends from numerous fields on education and training.

Everyone is trying to give voice to change

Popular literature and media demonstrates an obsession with trying to define what is changing in society: Friedman’s World is Flat, Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, YouTube videos (Machine is Us/ing Us, Did You Know?), and numerous sites (trendwatching) and organizations (World Future Society).

Society and its institutions are fixated with understanding the nature of change. And they should be: successful organizations will ones that are capable of sensing, responding, and adapting to trends.

Prominent expressions of change

Given the discussion of change above, what types of trends should trainers, leaders, and educators be aware of? Well, for starters, we really need to do away with traditional planning models (i.e. rigid multi-year plans) and instead adopt a futures thinking model. Futures thinking is concerned with defining current trends and creating multiple potential future scenarios. Both strategy and planning should be done in an iterative manner (see Should you Build Strategy Like you Build Software?). After all, the reality of change is quite simple: rapid change reduces the ability of an organization to control outcomes, requiring smaller planning stages to be initiated so that adaptability (i.e. responding to trends) is increased.

Finding our way…

How are leaders to make sense of trends? I’ll suggest a five stage process:

Managing Trends

Managing Trends

  1. Become adept at change observation – note trends, reflect on potential disruption of sustained trends on existing organizational processes
  2. Identify trends of relevance – which trends have “life”? Which trends are more than an anomaly? Begin to aggressively track these trends and engage in conversations with co-workers, industry, and fields experiencing similar challenges
  3. Plan a small-step response: Experiment. Pursue those experiments that show promise.
  4. If trends are pronounced and a fundamental alteration to the existing field is noted, involve others in futures thinking, exploring scenarios, and planning responses. The best way to lead is still to get in front of a parade :) . The key focus at this stage is to consider implementation responses to trends that have demonstrated themselves to be resilient and sustained.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you retire

What does this look like in practice?

Change is a constant (go Heraclitus!). Numerous change pundits suggest any combination of the following changes that will influence society in the next several decades:

  • Workforce change: aging workforce, different mindsets and expectations of younger generation, work-at-home, outsourcing, insourcing, whatever-else-sourcing, developing world will contribute substantially to future workforce, immigration will continue to grow to developed countries to replace reduced population due to smaller families, etc. New fields, new careers, and new corporate models (i.e. the “uncorporation”) will develop.
  • Globalization will continue to influence society and the renegotiation of values and world views: rise of extremism, tourism with grow, we’ll continue to buy the newest stuff (causing increased conflict between a society organized to serve consumerist needs with those seeking spiritual basis of life).
  • Environmental concerns: sustainability becomes a growing concern (cynic in me: due largely to the ability of governments and organizations to transition the capital and financial benefits to a green economy), greater pressure on travel reduction, water shortage concerns, human impact on planet continues to drive extreme sub-culture groups in society (of a growing militant nature)
  • Technology: more, better, faster. And a growing debate to what it means to be human. Military use of drones and development of robotics for household use will increase. Consumer devices will continue to be defined by social purposes (communicating and connecting) but will be amplified with greater touch-focus and location-awareness. RFID and surveillance cameras will raise concerns of individual rights and privacy. The things we share through Twitter, Facebook, and other tools will begin to influence simple things such as house insurance (”I’m going to Bahamas today” is an open invite for burglary) and even personal insurance. Legal systems will face an unprecedented role in redefining personal, government, and corporate rights.
  • Knowledge remains king. Societies around the world will continue to compete for the gains of a knowledge economy. University systems will become more prominent and important. As will corporate research initiatives. Public/corporate intellectual property will be a fun fight to watch. Research in universities will continue to be under pressure for open access. No so with corporate research. Patents and intellectual property will make life suck, because things will get more absurd before they get better.
  • Everything digital. Business meetings, publications (newspapers, books) and information in general will continue to be digitized. Once RFID tags are prominent in all information and physical products, the internet of things will blend the digital with the physical. Digital is not simply an add-on to physical. It’s a separate world (see next point)
  • Cyber-security. Governments and corporations become increasingly concerned with security. Digital information is technically accessible from anywhere. Credit cards, health records, research, and roughly any other data of value needs to be protected. Cyber-security wars will become a real concern.
  • Multinations. Big companies will get bigger. And more integrated. Corporations, not powerful governments, are the new hegemonic agents in promoting globalization. While some suggest transparency (through social media and ability of consumers to quickly organize) can play a role in keeping these organizations accountable, I’m less optimistic. Ultimately, any time a group of people get together, they will create entities to extend the reach of power in pursuit of their ideals: religion, government, corporations. This is the century of corporate power.
  • Economic shifts. The economic development of China, India, parts of Africa, and parts of South America will produce a capital (and thereby power) shift: north to south, west to east. Capitalism is far from dead, in spite of those who eagerly declare it so after the 2008 crash.
  • Education. Complex integrated societies and an economy based on knowledge will require continued education. Lifelong learning – touted for decades – is quickly becoming a reality for many individuals. Education will become more specialized, raising the importance of cross-discipline conversations and information sharing. (remember a few decades ago when “the computer guy” did everything technology-related in your organization?)
  • New sciences. Development in nano and neuro technology (blended with techno-biology) will force a rethinking of the human species in terms of free will (does a brain lesion that influences a persons disposition to violence=free choice?). New sciences will arise to dig more deeply into fields that are only being explored at a surface level today. Biology, for its amazing advances, is still a relatively young field. Greater computational power will provide new research opportunities and advances. For that matter, robots and technology will become active researchers (outside of full human control…we may not call this autonomy as some programming will be required).
  • Advanced research in the field of change. Behavioral economics, decision making theory, and game theory will provide insights into how people make decisions and change. Marketers will quite enjoy this. Change as a discipline of study will develop. Why do companies change? What are the primary principles of change? Does environmental change provide any insight into how markets change? Or how companies compete and innovate?
  • Demographics. Cities will continue to grow in size, population growth will continue (9+ billion by 2050), people will live longer (except, some developed countries may experience a drop in life expectancy due to obesity and diabetes). Apparently, location still matters even in a digital world, even if only to foster creativity (i.e. Richard Florida)
  • Amount of information. I don’t really need to provide evidence for this. Go check your inbox. Or your “to read” list. The impact of information abundance, however, is the real area of attention. As PW Anderson stated, more is different. Rapid growth of information requires organizations think of new ways to cope, compete, and cooperate.

So What?!?

Many more elements of change can be considered, but, for now, the above list provides a bit of an indication of what’s happening. For educators, trainers, and others somehow involved in the field of learning, the big questions boils down to: so what? We know things are changing. What does it mean? What should I as an academic or learning and development leader do with the list you’ve provided? What is the core, the central element of change (assuming one even exists)? What does it mean?

That’s where I’m stuck, and it brings me to the start of this post: What possible metaphor can capture the impact of these many change elements on education? On learning and development? How should organizational leaders respond?

Responding to change is much easier when the nature of the change is understood (duh). Are we at a point now where the world economy is resetting, similar to what occurred during the industrial revolution? There isn’t much of a point in talking about how to respond when we aren’t really clear on the change itself.


Resources to consider:

Shift Index (.pdf)
World Future Society (including special report of 55 trends shaping tomorrow’s world)
Trends in Global Higher Education (.pdf)
My delicious tag on trends
Ontario in the Creative Age
Global Trends 2025: A transformed world (.pdf)
Learning in Tough Times (Conference Board of Canada – for purchase, though Canadians can get it for free)

14 Responses to “Struggling for a metaphor for change”

  1. @bfchirpy says:

    I think you were on the right lines when you mentioned the article ‘Should you build strategy like you build software?’.

    Here’s my first thoughts here:

    Sorry, too long (I got too enthused – thanks) for a simple comment.

    But, a summary: Currently, industrial metaphors work for education. In the future, education and learning will be more like a craft.

  2. Alan Levine says:

    You know how I love theory and I do get a bit glossy at schematics of “change models”. The 5 step process makes sense at a generalized level, but it also begs a questions of why must there be a single model how change occurs? Why expect a Grand Unified Theory?

    What you outline as an iterative model (which seems like evolutionary theory of gradualism) seems to ignore what can happen when someone jumps the curve as Guy Kawaski describes (“jump+the+curve” when some person, company makes a leap over the norm– more like catastophism in the scale of change)… both seem to happen in nature, so why not in organizations?

    In fact, I blogged this last time — see “George Needs Help” (at least for the photoo;-)

    I agree that metaphors are tricky, but also things like “Web 2.0″ are memes that take off because of some crowd effect, not because someone picked a clever name. There is a great bit in Chris Anderson’s “Free” where he talked to Stewart Brand about his coining of “Information wants to be free” where that was actually half of what the original statement (it included the paradox that “information also wants to be expensive”) and Brandt shrugs it off as more or less “that’s the way the meme goes”.

    In the 1990s we had a group at Maricopa that reviewed innovations that happened in the system and developed a sort of “river/lake” Chart for Change model

    with what I always thought was a clever piece I’ve not seen elsewhere, what they call the “bail out” path as an exit.

  3. Martyn Cooper says:

    I find an interesting and often useful way to reflect on change is to consider the things that don’t change amid it. There is no real evidence for any substantive evolution in human intelligence or social-nature over the last 250,000 years and certainly not over the less that 10,000 years of recorded history. Key to this is our use of language to think and to communicate and the desire and ways we construct communities. Now the communities we construct today may be distributed, in some cases more transient and dynamic but they are still built on interconnections between people.

    There seems an arrogance in modern man that we have somehow transcended our past; that our rapidly changing technological context has created a new world. However I observe the same human nature and interpersonal dynamics played out in the (I hate the shorthand too) Web 2.0 world as described in Shakespeare or Homer or encountered in the supposedly “underdeveloped” cultures of the current world.

    I make this point not as a cultural historian or anthropologist but as a systems engineer working in educational technology whose prime interest has become how people interact with technological systems. In our struggle to understand change and to seek to influence it “for the common good” we need to understand the diversity and commonality of humanity. Man has a very long history of reflecting on that!

    Sorry if that seems tangential but its the thoughts your very interesting blog entry triggered in me.

    Martyn Cooper
    Institute of Educational Technology
    Open University, UK

  4. Gary Lewis says:

    Hi George – I wish I could offer suggestions for the metaphor you seek. Instead here’s an article by CS Hollings that I think you’ll find interesting. It’s called Collapse and Renewal.

    Here’s a quote that provides some flavor of the article:
    “Change that is important is not gradual but is sudden and transformative. There is a common base cycle of change in individuals, in ecosystems, in business, in society. Increasing rigidity halts a long, slow period of growth and increasing efficiency. That begins a period of creative destruction and a fast period where uncertainly is great, where novelty emerges, and where new foundations are formed for a new cycle to begin. That is where we are now internationally.”

    Hollings’ article is, at least in part, a transcription from a speech he made. So some of it rambles, particularly in the beginning. But once you get to the section called “Views of Change” things improve. His notions on resilience, adaptive management, panarchy, complexity etc may provide some help as you search for that metaphor.

    I discovered Hollings’ article in a link in Michel Bauwens’ blog. If you’re not familiar with this blog, you may want to check it out. Bauwens reads and blogs voraciously in many diverse areas (including education). I’ve found it a good resource for things “at the edge” of what I think about.

    Best regards, Gary

  5. Ryan Lanham says:

    Hi George, I think the search for metaphors is right on. There is a hopelessness looming for lots of people. Workforce development, transformative change, all these terms are empty without a plan of what to do. Learning how to learn is nice talk, but it doesn’t get one a job nor does it keep it. Those things still revolve around credentials. There is a serious gap between credentials and capacity for useful action. For some reason, we have achieved little in closing that gap.

    Ryan Lanham

  6. John Jamison says:

    A nice job of laying out the many facets of the changes taking place. My view has been to compare it to moving from any one culture into another. There are thousands of differences, and no way to encapsulate them into a single analogy, pattern or diagram. And the more involved you become in the changes, the more differences you identify. For anyone who has moved from one long-experienced culture into another…into one that they intend to be more than a “tourist” in, this feels very familiar. I see today’s approach to change as less a ‘management’ and more an ‘enculturation’ activity. It is a long-term process, that requires immersion IN the new culture.

  7. rani says:

    I once heard an Arab proverb that stayed with me because of the yearning, and sense of place. It goes like this:

    I came to the place of my youth
    And asked, “My friends where are they?”
    And echo answered, “Where are they?”

    now it would be updated…

    I came to the place of my youth
    And asked, “My friends where are they?”
    Cellphone answered,
    sms, email, blog, facebook, twitter, linked-in, google, updates
    they are here, they are everywhere
    do you need directions?

  8. George,

    I love metaphor as it is such a rich way to express a message or transfer knowledge and context together. I am starting to test my thinking on this through tweeting as Metaphorage (seeking to find something higher through metaphor) and through my Organizational Zoo animal metaphors to characterise behaviours. Animals work well for beahviours largely because fo david Attenbourough documentaries and our long history of being close to animals as food, pets and cultural icons. However, they are not so good for change.

    For me a better metaphor for change is music. Music has the built in oxymoron of being a mathmatical based language in how it is coded, but has the emotional tags embedded which are perceived differently by different pe4ope and cultural groups. One person’s beautiful music is anothers antagonistic noise. Change (music) that you feel positive about is engaging and makes you happy, change(music) that you do not identify with gets ignored or worse, generates negative emotional reactions.

    We are all greatly impacted by music (change) which can greatly impact how we lead our lives and who we interact with. Our reaction to it (accpetance or rejection) forms part of our identity and impacts the decisions we make. The logical basis of music (the score) does not accurately predict how it is performed. The outcomes of music performance and the quality is largely dependent on the level of participation and the degree of harmony that is achieved in its delivery. The local high school band and the Melbourne Symphony orchestra can “play the same piece”, but it may be hard to recognise it as the same thing. The environment, the leadership and the emotional links between those involved form part of the outcome which determines if the performance was a success or not. The value of music comes from truly engaging with the performance and feeling opart of it not seeing it as a distinct object. for change and music, the Human interactions are important throughout the entire piece- “judgement” of success is not about the final note -especally since each performance is unique and may even adjust the tone and melody to suit the specific environment and mood.

    So an appriopriate metaphor for me: Change is music and positive change is music beautifully performed and conducted in harmony for an appreciative audience who were eagerly anticipating being involved. Hope this helps your thinking on your journey (several years ago I used music as a metaphor for Knowledge).

  9. Mary Rearick says:

    Gary Lewis suggested that we look at C. S. Hollings work on Collapse and Renewal, and so I did. Thank you, Gary.

    In following the links to sources and references, I found myself reading an article by J. M. Anderies, Brian H. Walker, and Ann Pl. Kinzig entitled “Fifteen Weddings and a Funeral: Case Studies and Resilience-based Managment which was published in 2006 under the License of The Resilience Alliance. in Ecology and Society 11(1): 21.

    The metaphor used in the section of the article entitled “Shooting the rapids: navigating transitions to adaptive governance of social and ecological systems” seems relevant in my experience as an educator:

    “Shooting the rapids” is used as an organizing metaphor in Olsson et al. (2006) and an analogy for the periods of abrupt change or turbulence observed in managed social-ecological systems in which previous rules and social mechanisms may no longer apply. Successful transformation to a new kind of SES that meets social welfare expectations consists of two distinct phases, a preparation phase and a transition phase, linked by a window of opportunity. They are followed by a phase of building resilience in the new trajectory. A comparison of five quite different case studies shows that two components, (1) building knowledge and networking and (2) leadership, are always critical in preparing the system for change. The existence of shadow networks that can be triggered into action by a crisis is an important attribute that enables transformation toward a system of adaptive governance. Leaders can prepare an SES for change by exploring alternative system configurations and developing strategies for choosing from among possible futures. The key attributes of leadership that enable successful transitions include the ability to reconceptualize issues; generate and integrate a diversity of ideas, viewpoints, and solutions; communicate and engage with key individuals in different sectors; move across levels of governance and politics, i.e., span scales; promote and steward experimentation at smaller scales; recognize or create windows of opportunity; and promote novelty by combining different networks, experiences, and memories.”

    The quotation reminds me of some ideas put forth by a psychologist, Robert Kegan, who uses object-relations theory to explain human development and the evolution of consciousness over the life span–The Natural Emergence of Self” and “In Over Our Heads.” He presents an evolutionary view on social and cognitive development and highlights the transformative role of social and cognitive support in helping people cope with the motion and the emotion, which are are aspects of human growth and development.

    The quotation also reminds me of another book I read, which influences my thinking. Bonds of Love: Circuits of Recognition: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Dominition, written by Jessica Benjamin. In that Book, Benjamin outlines a strategy for thinking about how relationships are transformed as people disentangle “bonds” and “create “circuits of recognition.” The communicative action that leads to intersubjective understanding develops over time and by people who are willing to listen and learn from others and with others.

    Andries, Walker and Kinsing suggest that we are living in uncertain times require us to become “Owlish.” To exercise “wisdom,” “artistry,” and “understanding.”

    I appreciate the way that members of this particular group are negotiating the “seas of change”, evolving as practitioners and scholars, and building circuits of recognition, and I do hope that the metaphor(s) that we use will reflect the nature and substance of the good work(s) that is/are coming out of the network.

    Thanks, George.

  10. I have been pondering many of these areas of change as dialectical tensions which push and pull along different continuums. I am not sure exactly how to name all the continuums of value dimensions which we want to track but here is a listing of some of what I call info-tensions….the stresses that change is producing in the info-sphere.
    Documenting info-tensions along different continiuums help to reveal societial values underlying wars of words.
    Here are a few that come to mind.
    (1) Info-tension searchable continiuum might have two end positions
    tagged,marked………..real time conversation
    (2) Info-tension location continiuum might have two end positions
    geotagging…………….. privacy protected
    (3) Info-tension different access continiuum dimensions might have two end positions private via password………. open
    (4) Info-tension different access continiuum dimensions might have two end positions binding agent to scource……..loose coupling

    (5) Info-tension power continiuum might have two end positions
    hierarchy…………flat network

    I am sure that we can collectively develop many others to begin to capture the nature of the change as we attempt to find a metaphor to help us adapt and grow.

  11. I have been pondering many of these areas of change as dialectical tensions which push and pull along different continuums. I am not sure exactly how to name all the continuums of value dimensions which we want to track but here is a listing of some of what I call info-tensions….the stresses that change is producing in the info-sphere.
    Documenting info-tensions along different continiuums help to reveal societial values underlying wars of words.
    Here are a few that come to mind.
    (1) Info-tension searchable continiuum might have two end positions
    tagged,marked………..real time conversation
    (2) Info-tension location continiuum might have two end positions
    geotagging…………….. privacy protected
    (3) Info-tension different access continiuum dimensions might have two end positions private via password………. open
    (4) Info-tension different access continiuum dimensions might have two end positions binding agent to scource……..loose coupling

    (5) Info-tension power continiuum might have two end positions
    hierarchy…………flat network

    I am sure that we can collectively develop many others to begin to capture the nature of the change as we attempt to find a metaphor to help us adapt and grow.

  12. Irena White says:

    I like the metaphor of a mandala for both change and collaboration. Also, there are so many ways to create a mandala, with each one a unique object, yet there are common elements in each design and lifecycle. Just like being human.

  13. Thank you for allowing us to benefit from your post and the comments.

    One metaphor that comes to my mind would be biodiversity. From an evolutionary standpoint, species (learners) share similar needs but vary in access. Populations adapt to fill niches depending on variables such as proximity to other life forms and climate. In this way change extends in multiple dimensions for both individuals and populations. What is happening with communication and knowledge is driving the evolution of the human brain and social systems – we are branching out in so many ways, like the biodiversity ‘tree.’

    My perspective is influenced by Ken Thompson’s posts about bioteams and organizational biomimicry ( He discusses features of nature’s high performing animal populations that exhibit collective leadership and collective messaging systems in the context of organizational traits. I see a strong connection from his ideas to new learning styles and learning community attributes.

    The model of neural networking for learning is certainly biologically based. Maybe this is a metaphor you have already explored and I apologize for my naivete if so. Ken Thompson has been talking about this for a while so in Internet time it’s kind of old news. Still ~ this is a great conversation you’ve started and I couldn’t resist.

    Thanks for the chance to comment and really, for the work you are doing!

  14. [...] through the blog entries and quickly found one of interest.  This particular blog entry was Struggling for a metaphor for change.  There are several interesting points in this entry, but I want to focus on one aspect of it in [...]