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Free-range Thoughts

Marinating in the Mooc

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dreamingZindy Zone drawings


I went to a live play — with an African-American theme — attended by a mixed race audience. Half way through the play suddenly stops. Just like that: stops! I was very impatient and irritated. How rude to just stop the play. I felt that it was an insult to the theme and to the people it was about – African Americans.

The audience was left to complain amongst themselves. I told a few of the organizers that I thought it was quite thoughtless to do such a thing. They informed me that this was designed on purpose. It was supposed to stop midway and leave the audience hanging in the silence.

I eventually met the author of the play. She clarified her purpose: “There is more to our story than endlessly retelling and re-retelling our story in the context it has always been told. I left you hanging so you could find the “new”. I purposely disrupted the past.”


The alarm goes off  and I realize, now awake, that in my dream I had descended to the bottom of the “U” below anything that had happened in the past, below the base of the inverted hierarchy of power. It’s no accident that I was reading about this very thing in Leading From the Emerging Future just before going to sleep.


I lived in West Africa for three years during the early 1970s. During this time I recorded music and provided sound for a series of documentaries in Burkina Faso, distributed by African Family Films. Besides the cultural exposure I was also able to experience being a minority for a significant amount of time at a very formative period of my life (early twenties). This left me with a foundational view that life can be very different in a different culture/geography. What I experience at any moment in time from my culture and in my town is certainly not the only reality one can experience.

Life in the bush in the early 1970s was very much like life in the savannah 10,000 years ago. The only difference consisted of the addition of three technologies: bicycles, radios and gas lamps. Minus these technologies, I was experiencing village life as it has been for millennia, since the dawn of the agricultural revolution. Most striking about life in a West African village is the dignity with which people carry on with their everyday tasks. Some young boys are tempted to the big city, but they soon find that reality wearing and difficult.

These experiences have informed and enriched my experiences with African Americans because I have been able to see both cultures:  the un-traumatized Africans and the remnants of trauma experienced by African Americans due to slavery. Because of this, one of my chosen charities is the Southern Poverty Law Center.

** = Zindy Zone drawings:



It’s been awhile!

I  write when I am completely inspired and enthusiastic about something. And today I am.  I found my way to Otto Scharmer’s MIT mooc: Transforming Business, Society and Self. It’s been terrific. I had Otto’s Theory U book on my shelf for a year or two, maybe since the Pegasus Systems Thinking conference came to Seattle. Faced with the flu and being in bed for days, I finally grabbed Theory U. Alas in my weak condition, I was too weak to hold up this big tome.

The ipad was more manageable if I propped it up against a pillow. So investigating Otto, I found my way to the MITcourse, and haven’t looked back. We are in Week 4 (5? if you count week 0). 26,000+ people have joined and we are dividing out into coaching circles using the Presencing Institute’s platform. Our recommended text is Leading from the Emerging Future by Otto Scharmer.

… with our language. As technology, innovation and change speed up, I have noticed that our language is not keeping up. It shows up in group discussions as participants attempt to describe a phenomenon or negotiate an understanding of something of shared value. We all use different descriptive language but all pointing in somewhat the same direction. It’s very messy.

Not only is our language not keeping up descriptively (I started a desktop publishing business before the word was invented) but our language (decidedly linear) is structurally incompatible with emerging and interrelated phenomenon such as we see in system dynamics.


Our shared language has no time to stabilize and I begin to wonder how we understand each other at all.

On the other hand, now that our static run-of-the mill knowledge is easily available online, it frees us up to tread into new non-linear cognitive territories such as systems thinking, gaming, design thinking, programming, and robotics, to name a few.

Now that I have written this down, I can forget it. Let the internet save it, and free up my brain space.

I am finally getting around to posting about my experience (long ago now, 2010) with the Urgent Evoke game.  From their website:

EVOKE was created by The World Bank Institute as a direct response to African demands – namely, universities’ request to develop ideas to engage students in real world problems and to develop capacities for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  Developing nations face steep challenges, and resources in these areas can be limited.  These challenges demand the most robust and innovative of solutions.

urgent evoke game spring 2010

Logan – Future Languages

Logan in The Extended Mind theorizes that there exists an evolutionary chain of languages (1-speech, 2-writing, 3-math, 4-science and 5-computing) each of which evolved when the “informatics capacity” of all previous languages failed to convey “some new level of complexity.” Recently he added a sixth language, the Internet and suggests that virtual reality and expert systems may represent the seventh and eighth languages. Can you identify the early signs, signals, trends, scenarios (futurist methodology) that exist to bolster his claims for the two emerging languages, and/or do you see other languages emerging. Give evidence. How does each emerging language address the new level of complexity we find in our present era, its’ possible, probable, and preferable future.

Another question I have would be impossible to answer: What did we give up in the way of capacities when humans acquired language and conceptual abilities? Was there some cognitive recycling of older more ancient dispositions?

I just learned about the MyBrain software in my Think-Know Tools course with Howard Rheingold. I’m sold! This product is very efficient even though I’m not fond of the graphic display. It could be improved. But it is a great start for not only mindmapping but it is far more functional than that. Documents can be attached. Events can be flagged and put in your calendar, tags and types help you sort and prioritize “thoughts” and you can search through all of this content. Unbelievably cool. Here is an example of how an IT engineer might use the software.


And here is another example for writing and projects:

I am very excited about the summer course I am taking. And, although I always start off excited about every course, this one is more suited to my interests than most courses I take.

Think-know Tools dives into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. Now that we have access to powerful mind-amplifying devices and self-evolving collective intelligence networks, we can benefit ourselves and improve the commons by learning how knowledge technologies work and how to work them:

    • Modules on Roots & Visions of Augmentation and The Extended Mind establish a basis for understanding and discussing both the origin and future of tools specifically devised to magnify thinking capabilities and group problem-solving capacity.
    • Modules on Social Bookmarking, Concept Mapping, and Personal Knowledge Management introduce tools and practices for finding, storing, refining, sharing, exploring knowledge.
    • Learning activities include group bookmarking as focused collective intelligence, concept map-making for understanding systems, construction of knowledge-plexes with Personal Brain.

The Syllabus is here if you want to join me.

rheingold U