My friend Fernando Flores (see here, here, and here, and, for readers of Spanish or those who know how to get a web page translated, see here) briefed me last week about his new venture. I asked him to send me something in writing about what he is doing, and I reprint below substantially all of what he sent me. I recommend you read his invitation and consider it carefully.
As we discussed, I am in the process of starting a new enterprise that takes the work that we have done together in the past to the “next frontier” if you will, by putting it in the center of what people need to cope and thrive in the reality of our world today.
I have no doubt that the work we did together in the past, at Action Technologies and Business Design Associates, was world class work. Among other things, we invented The Coordinator, we developed a theory of communication and conversation, we created a discipline for software design rooted in the claim that an enterprise is a network of commitments, and we created a discipline for process analysis and design rooted in the same claim. Many people have experienced the benefits of learning to be what we called “the observer of the observer” and of developing the capacity to design while fully engaged in action.
As you know, the central aspect of our work is the understanding that the world is not a fixed reality. Human beings are not passive Cartesian observers. We are intentional actors, inventors, ‘configurators’, and interpreters of the world.
However, we are not only intentional beings. We are also social and historical beings. We are receptors and inventors of traditions, religions, philosophies, institutions, laws and so forth. For everything, we depend on everyday coordination with others.
Paradoxically, people feel more and more isolated in the increasingly global, interconnected world. As our access to information and web-enabled networks grows, and our capacity to connect to other people expands, people are generally more lost as to how to articulate their identities, build a reputation, develop new offers. Many people realize that they don’t have the skills necessary to navigate in a constantly changing world, but don’t know what to do about it. Hence, many people live in fear and anxiety about the future, and lack confidence not only in their capacity to cope with the reality at hand, but with our leaders’ capacity as well. Over and over, despite the best of intentions, we see our politicians making things worse.
Yet, there are a few who are not lost. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are interesting case studies for us of people who have been able to successfully navigate the realities of the world today. None of these men have PhDs in management — two of them did not even finish college — yet, they were receptive to the world around them, knew how to resonate with situations they found themselves in, and they all invented themselves, and their companies accordingly. As Alan Kay once said: ” the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” But how were these people able to configure the world that they invented? Were they born with this capacity? Why aren’t there more examples of people like Gates, Jobs, Page and Brin?
A simple answer is that our schooling has been focused on the acquisition of knowledge and the application of concepts, but as knowledge becomes a commodity, it is increasingly evident that this is not what we need to cope and thrive in today’s world. Instead, we need new practices that are not trivial — practices that allow us to cope with an increasingly global, constantly changing world, where communication is instant, and our identities are examined and at risk at all times.
As you know very well, practices are new ways of being that evolve over time. To configure and master them requires biological transformation, social mastery and spiritual strength. In our work together, we had some important successes in configuring and bringing new practices to our clients. However, we were limited by the amount of time required to “cook.” Our experience showed that we could produce practical business results for clients, but we could not produce “embodied wisdom” for the individuals we worked with without a significant amount of reflection, a luxury that is not always available for people. On the other hand, reflection alone is not sufficient. If people only study and read about what we are talking about, they will not necessarily learn to act. In the end, learning happens in the body. A person is said to “know” once he or she is able to do something they were not able to do before. As such, immersion in a space where action is required is critical for embodied learning to take place.
Technology today, combined with the work that we have done in the past, opens up the possibility to move people quickly from theory to practice, allowing us to produce a significant breakthrough in the embodied learning of skills and practices that are critical for the 21st century. One of the tools that I have been using to teach people to navigate this new world, for example, is games — online social games. Using these games, we have been able to create virtual laboratories for embodied learning where people learn to:
- work with others in teams;
- work with other cultures;
- work across distances;
- create trust and intimacy with others, particularly with people from different cultures; and
- develop “mastery of network orchestration,” a new term that I’ve coined to capture the idea of being able to mobilize many resources in a network, external to an individual or to the organization he or she belongs to.
I am leading a conference in San Francisco on February 11th – 13th on the work that I am doing. The price for the three day conference is $2500. (Depending on people’s circumstances in this economy, I am open to making certain discounts. )
I look forward to your thoughts and further conversation.
Best wishes for 2009.
If you are interested in registering for the February conference Fernando is offering, fill out the contact form below and I will see that it gets to the right person.
For those of you who are not familiar with the work of Fernando Flores, a little introduction …
I met Flores 28 years ago, after he had been released from a Chilean jail through the combined efforts of the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, Stanford University, and some others. Previously he had served as a Dean at the Catholic University School of Engineering and as the Minister of Finance for Chile (at a very young age). He currently serves as a Senator in Chile, having returned there in 1999-2000.
In my opinion, he is responsible for some of the most original and powerful contributions to the understanding of management, communications, computers, and education during our lifetimes. His books are taught in graduate schools, and some of his ideas have become the common sense of our times, but much of what he invented has not yet begun to reach a public audience.
Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design, which he wrote with Terry Winograd (Addis0n Wesley Professional, 1987), is a classic in the field of Computer Science, and was selected by Byte Magazine as one of the 10 most important books in the first 5o years of the computer industry. His Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity, written with Charles Spinosa and Hubert Dreyfus (MIT Press, 1999), is a daring and deep dive into the question of how human beings take responsibility for the challenges we face, and invent new worlds.
He and his colleagues trained over 60,000 people in new ways of understanding the way that we human beings communicate and coordinate with each other. He pointed to the paradigmatic role of computers as communications devices in the 1970s, and the technology of personal communication still has not begun to catch up with much of what he invented in The Coordinator.