March 29, 2015

Summary "Pressed for time" by Judy Wajcman

Pressed for time by Judy Wajcman
The acceleration of life in digital capitalism

The first and most measurable form of acceleration is the speeding up of transport, communication and production, which can be defined as technological acceleration. The second is the acceleration of social change, meaning that the rate of societal change is itself accelerating. The central idea here is that institutional stability (in the realms of the family and occupations, for example) is generally on the decline in the late modern societies. The third process is the acceleration of the pace of life. It is the focus of much discussion about cultural acceleration and the alleged need for deceleration. The pace of social life refers to the speed and compression of actions and experience in everyday life.

It only makes sense to apply the term acceleration society to a society if ‘technological acceleration and the growing scarcity of time (that is, an acceleration of the pace of life) occur simultaneously. Interrogating this time pressure, paradox is the central quest of my book.

As per Geographer David Harvey, the history of capitalism has been characterized by speedup in the pace of life, while space appears to shrink to a global village. For him, the driving forces behind social acceleration are globalization and innovation in ICT that facilitates the fast turnover of capital across the globe.  Fast capitalism annihilates space and time. Time becomes beyond control as distance disappears in a world of  instantaneous and simultaneous events.

Such discussion of acceleration typically invoke Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism and the constant need to speed up the circulation of capital. The faster that money can be turned into production of goods and services, the greater the power of capital to expand or valorize itself. With capitalism, time is money and when time is money, then faster means better. Technological innovations play a key role in that improvement in the conveyance of communication, commodities and bodies reduce the cost and time of capital circulation across the globe (what Marx called the annihilation of space by time). The extent to which such time-space compression would be fulfilled, however was unforeseen by Marx.

Electronic communication has increased this speed in exponential ways. The velocity of automated financial trading, which is now moving from milliseconds to microseconds (millionths of a second), has become emblematic. This is faster than human reaction times, which typically range from around 140 milliseconds for auditory stimuli to 200 milliseconds of visual stimuli. In this context, even a 5 second pause can seem like a very long time. Indeed, the exponential growth in Internet transmission speed over the last 100 years is accelerating to the point where data can be transferred at a sustained rate of 186 Gbps, a rate equivalent of moving 2 million GB in a single day.

Trading centers are large warehouses, consuming vast amounts of electric power to dissipate the heat generated by fast computing. There are relatively few staff, but rows and rows of computer servers and digital switches and miles of cabling connect those servers to the matching engines and the outside world. By today’s standards, a very large data center might be  a five hundred thousand square foot building demanding fifty megawatts of power, which is about how much it takes to light up a small city.

Moreover, contrary to perceived wisdom, the ultra-fast reaction time actually increases the importance of spatial distance,. It turns out that high-frequency trading firm's rent space for their computer servers in the same building as an exchange engineer precisely because the obdurate physical reality of collection is still important. For all the breathless talk of the supreme placelessness of our new digital age, when you pull back the curtain, the networks of the internet are as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone systems ever was.

French philosopher Paul Virilio, for whom issues of speed and technology are pivotal. For Virilio, speed, the cult of speed is the propaganda of progress and its consequences are devastating. Refreshingly, although Virilio is known as the ‘high priest of speed, he argues that speeding up is not unique to the digital age. Rather, he suggests that we can read the history of modernity as a series of innovations in ever increasing time compression. His analysis of speed encompasses 19th century transport (trains, cars, and airline) that dramatically shortened travel time, 20th century transmission (the telegraph, telephone, radio and computer & satellite communication) that have replaced succession and duration with simultaneity and instantiation that compress time by providing xenotransplantation and nanotechnology. Each of these technological innovation enhances the independence of the social relations of time from space and the body.

Virilio’s dromological law, which states that increase in speed increases the potential for gridlock, seems more and more apt. He is also aware that political conflict may ensue, because acceleration affects different individuals, groups, and classes in uneven ways. For instance, traffic jams and waiting time do not have the same impact on everyone as they money rich but time poor can use their wealth to purchase speed.

The more we become connected and dependent upon inter-connectivity in our jobs and other aspects of our lives, the more we will live in an accelerated mode. The most influential commonsense assumption about the relationship between technology and society is technological determinism. The key here is the idea that technology impinges on society from the outside that technical change is autonomous and itself causes social change.

We tend to overrate the impact of new technologies in part because older technologies have become absorbed into the furniture of our lives, so as to be almost invisible. Take the baby bottle. This technology might be thought of a classic time-shifting device as it enabled mothers to exercise more control over the timing of feeding. It also functions to save time as bottle feeding allows for someone else to substitute for the mother’s time.

The paths opened by the Internet are determined not by technological capabilities alone, but through a multitude of intricate social process in which a diverse array of actors with various goals participate in a rapidly evolving ecology of games. For example, search engines like Google, predispose uses to access well-linked and highly connected website and exclude poorly linked and less connected websites.

According to Carey, the telegraph was the critical instrument in making time the new frontier for commerce. Before the telegraph, markets were relatively independent of one another and the principle method of trading was arbitrage: buying cheap and selling dear by physically moving goods around. When the prices of commodities were equalized n space as a result of the telegraph, however, commodity trading moved from trading between places to trade between times, shifting speculation from space of time, from arbitrage to futures.

In order to develop futures markets required three conditions: that information moved faster than products, that prices were uniform in space and decontextualized and that commodities be separated from the receipts that represent them and be reduced to uniform grades. The shift of market activity from certain space to uncertain time was the first practical attempt to make time a new frontier, a newly defined zone of uncertainty and to penetrate it with the price system. In a sense the telegraph invented the future.

Economic historians Tim Leunig and Hans-Joachim Voth argue that mechanizing the production process of the car was a as valuable in terms of consumer welfare as inventing the internet and much more valuable than inventing mobile phone.

The popular promise of automobile speed was to be short lived as more and more car hit the road. The automobile and its infrastructure dominate most North American cities in the literal sense that vast tracts of land are required to accommodate it. Not only for the roads, but also for bridges, service stations and parking spaces. Half of all urban space is dedicated to the automobile. Rather like the experience of surfing the internet at a computer screen, the driver is both stationary and mobile at the same time.

As David Morley notes, despite all the talk of global flows, fluidity and hybridity and mobility, it is worth observing that in the UK at least, there is evidence that points to continued geographical sedentarism on the half majority of the population. Over half of British adults live within five miles of where they were born. Even in the more geographically mobile USA, two out of three people do not have a passport.

“The time we have to spend each day is elastic: it is stretched by the passions we feel; it is shrunk by those we inspire and all of it filled by habit.” - Marcel Proust, In search of Lost Time.

When we say that someone has more time than someone else, we mean to say that she has fewer constraints and more choices in how she can choose to spend her time,. She has more autonomous control over her time. Temporal autonomy is a matter of having discretionary control over your time.

Flexible working hours, 24/7 working time and contract work create coordination problems, as working times and locations are increasingly deregulated and scattered. Middle class tends to meet more by prearrangement, the working classes use public spaces to meet where there is a strong likelihood of meeting network members by chance. The widespread use of partially and totally prepared food reflects the desire to save time, as those with more money and less time buy more of it.  While family meals retail their symbolic scheduling problems in getting people together in the same place at the same time. For a significant proportion of people, planning to meet people becomes a major preoccupation.. While the market for convenience foods has increased exponentially, so too has the practice of eating out, even though it requires temporal and spatial coordination, Today half of the money used to buy food in the USA is spent in restaurants.

The pew internet survey describes most working Americans as networked workers because they use the three basic tools of the information age: internet, email and cell phone. Networked workers' jobs have also become more complex and demanding as they are continually required to update their skills to keep up with the latest technology.

Electronic technologies are integral to our experience of space, time, communication and consciousness, crystalline new ways of being, known and doing. They as much reflect our high speed culture as shape it. There is a disjunction between the cultural allure of speed and the common experience of always feeling rushed, but this can be a source of creative tension,. Smart, fast, technologies provide an unparalleled opportunity for realizing a more humane and just society, only we need to keep in mind that busyness is not a function of gadgetry but of the priorities and parameters we ourselves set. Now is the moment to contest the euphoria of speed and the technological impulse to achieve it, harnessing our inventiveness to take control of our time more of the time.

March 21, 2015

Summary "The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems" by Christian Madsbjerg & Mikkel B. Rasmussen

The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems by Christian Madsbjerg & Mikkel B. Rasmussen

What is default thinking?

Having reviewed and worked with hundreds of strategic plans for some of the world’s largest corporations, we have learned that something is missing. It is striking how similar to one another the strategies look these days. The structure, language, key analysis, evidence, arguments, recommendations are almost identical, whether it is a beverage company, a producer of building materials, or a retail chain.

Most of these strategies, created with a linear model of problem solving, aim at getting the maximum growth and profit out of the business through rational and logical analysis. This linear mind-set borrows its ideals from the hard science like physics and math:learn from past examples to create a hypothesis you can test with numbers.It works extraordinarily well when the business challenge demands an increase in the productivity of a system. But what happens when the challenge involves people’s behavior? When it comes to cultural shifts, the use of a hypothesis based on past examples will give us a false sense of confidence, sending us astray into unknown waters with the wrong map.

Less straightforward challenges - navigating in a fog - benefit from the problem solving utilized in the human science like philosophy, history , the arts and anthropology. We call this problem solving method sensemaking.

How do the human sciences differ from other sciences?
  • The human sciences include disciplines like anthropology, sociology, and psychology as well as art, philosophy and literature
  • Unlike the more quantitative arms of the social science, the human sciences, primarily shed light of phenomenology: how do people experience the world?
  • The hard sciences are focused on data with properties (hard objective facts like weight and distance), while the human sciences collect data that allows us to see aspects, or the way people experience such properties.

Default thinking               
Hypothesis-based inquiry       
Answers, what and how much?     
Research on what is and has been       
Problems with lower levels of uncertainty   
Hard, measurable evidence           

Exploratory inquiry
Answers, why?
Research on what is to come
Problems with higher levels of uncertainty
Qualitative evidence

Three levels of business problems
  1. A clear-enough future with a relatively predictable business environment
  2. Alternative futures with a set of options available
  3. High levels of uncertainty with no understanding of the problem

If we really want to understand why we continue to get  people wrong, we need to unpack the fundamental assumptions that make up the culture of most of our days.

Assumptions 1: people are rational and fully informed
Assumptions 2: Tomorrow will look like today
Assumptions 3: Hypotheses are objective and unbiased
Assumptions 4: Numbers are the only truth
Assumptions 5: Language needs to be dehumanizing

Thinking outside the box and default thinking are ultimately two sides of the same coin. The coin atomizes the complexity of human behavior into discrete parts, neglecting the importance of holism and context. it is the coin that continues to get people wrong.

How thinking outside the box works?

Let’s us explore five of fundamental assumptions about creativity in business.

Assumption 1: Creativity is strange
Assumption 2: Creativity is a process
Assumptions 3: Ideas come from out of the blue
Assumptions 4: Creativity is about radical change
Assumption 5: Creativity is playful and fun

The big-data solution seduces us by promising a win in markets. Someone needs to have a perspective on what the algorithms deliver. It is this perspective - the moment of clarity - that requires time, deep thinking and experience. Big data can’t deliver on any of those solutions (Steve Jobs solution, customization solution, social media solution)

The human Sciences

Human sciences or soft sciences are not based on the quantitative methods of natural sciences. the study of people, cultures, relations, power, norms, and values requires different skills from those required in the study of molecules, crops, and stars.

Phenomenology is the study of how people experience life. Phenomenology is the philosophical inspiration behind a method like sensemaking. it is the study of everything we feel in the world, everything that gives our lives meaning.

We break down the study of human experience into three blocks:

  1. A fairly sophisticated outlook on what it means to be a human being and on life in its totality
  2. Human-science theories and tools such as ethnography, thick description, an understanding of worlds and double loop
  3. The methodology of abductive reasoning

Martin Heidegger, the philosopher who argued that human beings are at their best when deeply embedded in the world. Not every decision people make is rational and diligent. They buy things they don’t need, do things that are a waste of time, and sometimes hold sacred their various decisions made on a whim. This is why religion, magic, love, art, beauty, literature and national parks don’t make any sense in a rational universe.  Over the last millennia, this deep divide between rational thought and real life has led philosophers to divide human beings into strange sets of two: body and spirit, subject and object, sense and sensibility.

In Plato’s philosophy thinking things (human beings) strive for perfection in rational thought; the cleanness of theory is better than the particular things around us; and we are subjects giving meaning to objects in the world.

As social animals, we learn the rules of our worlds fast and adapt to them collectively, just as instruments in a symphonic orchestra are tuned together before the concert begins. Attunement - getting in sync with the a world or learning its rule is a key social skill that we all have.

Abductive Reasoning

In the late 1800s, American philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce became famous for defining the three kinds of reasoning used to solve problems: abduction, induction and deduction - each appropriate for different levels of certainty. Peirce contended that only abductive reasoning - starting with observation and then moving next to possible hypotheses -was capable of generating new ideas. Deduction effectively evolved a hypothesis but was unable to incorporate new information. And the problem with induction, Peirce argued, was that the analysis was never exhaustive - one could always find more ways of looking at something.

Peirce said, putting forth four offenses that we commit when we reason:
  1. We make an absolute assertion that we are right
  2. We believe that something isn’t knowable, because we don’t have the techniques or technologies to figure it out
  3. We insist that some element of science is utterly inexplicable and unknowable
  4. We believe that some law or truth is in its final and perfect state.

We break sensemaking into five phases:
  1. Frame the problem as a phenomenon
  2. Collect the data
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Create the key insights
  5. Build the business impact

Difference between decision makers and sensemakers

Aspect of leadership              
Primary role           
Nature of effort                  
Primary skills needed           
Relationship to phenomena   
Role of data           

Leaders as decision makers:
Make timely and informed decisions   
Evidence based       
Analytical skills
Detached from phenomena       
Data gives clear answer       

Leaders as sensemakers:
Discover future direction
Judgment based
Synthesis skills
Absorbed in the phenomena
Data can be conflicting

We have observed three fundamental characteristics of great sensemaking leadership:

1.  Sensemakers care deeply about the products and services they make and the meaning that these offerings create for people

2.  Sensemakers have a strong perspective on their business - a perspective that stretches beyond the current time horizon and the current company boundaries

3.  Sensemakers are good at connecting different worlds inside the company. An organization should have a diverse set of skills to understand the big idea, translate it into action, and maintain the operation.

Martin Heidegger claimed that care is the very thing makes human. care is such a fundamental human condition that is noticeable in an instant - as its absence.
Cognitive scientist and linguistics have long argued that by using metaphors, we can see world in new ways. Since we have a hard time visualizing something unfamiliar, we instead take a word or concept we are familiar with and recast it into an unknown or abstract concept.  We understand new things by comparing them to things we already know. That is why a control unit of a computer is called a mouse, a tall building is called a skyscraper and a new pair of lightweight running shoes is called Air. metaphors open a new word for us by explaining how we will experience this world or the aspects of its particular phenomena.

A perspective is a strong view of what you would like the future to be, or how you want your company to shape the future. Normally there are four horizons is front of you. A perspective enabled you to lift your head as a leader and look out onto the furthest of the following four horizons:

  1. Yourself and your career: focus on what the company does for you, how much you earn, what career jump you can take and what legacy you will leave.
  2. The company: how can company improve its performance
  3. Industry: Who are the consumers, and how can we satisfy their needs?
  4. Society: What is our role in people’s life.

The human sciences provide the theoretical scaffolding that helps us get people right:

Human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures
We make most of our decisions according to our familiarity with the world
We change our preference according to the mood and social setting we are in
Our choices are often made spontaneously
We are at our best when we are fully engaged in the world

We believe that the best first step is to create a crisp and clear problem frame that precisely targets the issues you are dealing with and at the same time, encourages curiosity and discovery: re-frame the problem as a phenomenon. A good way to do this is to involve your colleagues in spotting signs that your company might be in a fog. Use the following questions to guide the conversation.

What is our long-term perspective on our business? Is it clear and inspiring?
Do we know where the future growth will come from?
Are we creating excitement in the market?
Do we understand the changes that are going on in the periphery of our industry?
Are we good at spotting and acting on changes in the market?
Are we creating demand or are we following the needs?

A more sophisticated method is to audit your current proposition to your customers. Use this to discuss the following questions:

Who are our customers?
What are we helping our customers achieve?
How do they experience our offerings?
Do we know the logic of how customers adapt to new products?
What will inspire and excite customers?
What don’t we know about our customers?

None of this will be easy. Changing our minds and our habits never is. Journey towards an understanding of how your customers actually experience life. This is the only journey that can deliver the moments that change everything: moments of clarity.