The Business of Ed-Tech

For anyone starting off in the world Ed-Tech one of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer you is to learn how the company makes its money. Don’t focus on the technology itself or the feature list that comes with it, find out how it makes money as the first port of call.

The reason for this is that is simple – it allows you to understand what it is you’re going to be paying for and what kind of culture you’re buying into. There are a bunch of different ways to make money from technology – you sell a product, a service, access to a community, infrastructure, support or, as is often the case with “free” technology, sell user data and information to another business (or government, spy agency, advertising agency). Understanding the business model is key to understanding how those companies operate, what they prioritise and care about.

In many cases companies will go out of their way to confuse and obscure how it is they actually make money. They’ll hide behind a feature list and a carefully worded press release but these are just opaque windows that hide the inner workings. If you’re going to work in this field part of your job is to dig in, to investigate and ask the right questions in order to find out that information.

If you want to understand ed-tech, really understand it – follow the money.

Changing Business Models

Another challenge for those in the Ed-Tech world is that the business models are changing. For a long time Ed-Tech meant software, a simple product that you bought off the shelf, installed and ran. That’s no longer the case with most offerings. Now there are a plethora of models available – most centre on a subscription model that locks you in to making a yearly payment rather than the one off purchase of yesteryear. On face value it’s great, and the marketing material will certainly tell you now you can have a solution customised to your exact needs. It’s more agile so that features and improvements can roll out much faster.

These selling points also have a number downsides.

  1. Vendor Lock In – Once your a paid up subscriber your more than likely a captive to that vendor. The cost of changing or moving systems goes up considerably, to the point where making that change hardly seems worth the effort.
  2. Top Tier Services – While the documentation clearly shows the various tiers of service, the reality is that most people will end up on the top tier. Why? Because these businesses know that by locking away core services behind the top tier it will force users into paying more. The reality is the lower tiers aren’t for the business, they’re for you to make the justification to your boss that “it’s only X dollars more than the next level down”.
  3. Changing Goal Posts – That new agile model sounds great, until the company decides it wants to pivot, update its terms and conditions, security process or core code because then your stuck. Stuck with a depreciated product that you’ll be forced off in the future you’ll be faced with two options – move or suck it up. (See above for likely outcome)
  4. Faster Bugs– Another “great” thing about this new agile model is that bugs are introduced with a greater frequency and more devastating effect than ever before. No one is safe either, software that works to day can be rendered unusable the next day by an overnight “patch”.

Then there’s the “freemium” model. Up front users actually pay nothing, or very little, for the full product. The catch? Your data is hoovered up and sold as an asset of the company. That’s right all your data, and that of every single student, is assimilated in a Borg like fashion and is then monetised. Sure, there may be privacy provisions in place but the reality is that everything that goes in becomes a resource for the company to exploit – from data mining, research data for 3rd parties, sales database or just plain old surveillance – you are no longer in control. Free sounds like a great thing, but the costs are just hidden by the future – you just can’t see the consequences.

The other model I want to make mention of is the Candy Bar model. Just like the cinema the profit isn’t in the obvious ticket sales, the money is made in at the Candy Bar. Those massively inflated prices for popped grains and sugar water are where the real money is, but they’re hidden in the experience of the cinema. Any why to we pay $15 for popped grains and sugar water? Why don’t we question it? Part of it is that we are a captive audience, drawn there by what on face value seems like an exclusive experience. Big screen, lots of speakers, big names – we seem to forget that the same thing will be out in 3 months to watch at home. The Candy Bar is a model where the “associated costs” are actually the viable part, the rest is just hype and manipulation.


Welcome to 2017

I’m starting this year off with a rant, or more truthfully a series of rants. I’m back at work after a month of leave that was both necessary and welcome. It’s given me a chance to re-centre myself and begin the process of putting my life back together. It’s been more than a year of upheaval and stress, a period of time that’s taken its toll on both my mental and physical wellbeing. It’s something that I’ve begun to remedy over the break. Sun, surf, family and plenty of good food and exercise have already started the healing process and I’m now about ready to face up to 2017.

This series of post is the equivalent of me clearing my throat, getting a few things off my chest in order to start the year afresh. To clear the air and my head to face what will be an incredibly challenging year (but one I’m looking forward to). They are connected but I decided to publish them separately – they are mostly stand alone seperate commentary so it makes them easier to read and share.

Hello 2017!

I’m not sure if there’s an “order” to these posts – I’ve listed them as they poured out. Feel free to offer any suggestions.

New Possibilities

While it’s a bit of a cliche, I do believe we are living in different times. It’s hard to dispute that there have been radical shifts in technology and geopolitics in the last decade which call into question many long held institutions and traditions.

The stability and centrality that education used to have in our society and political landscape no longer exists. Education is under threat from diminishing funding and money being syphoned off by for-profit institutions who are driven by a dollar value, not a civic service. The education sector is ripe for change, and dare I say it – disruption. What I’d like to point out is that it’s not the nice easy disruption we’re so used to reading about – you know plugging an app into a vaguely defined problem and spouting how it will change lives with little to know evidence and the falling over in just over 20 months. No, I’m talking about the hard stuff – rethinking the actual underlying models of education. It needs to adapt to a changed environment or it will die out. Education needs to re-establish itself, define its core values and find new ways to deliver them.

There are a variety of ways this could be done – but one area I am particularly interested in is Time. At the moment education, and higher education in particular, is built on a transaction based on a set unit of time. Degrees at every institution around the world are based on this model – explicitly or masked by more “appropriate” terminology. Learning is structured around time and broken into units to make studying and teaching more manageable. But when you throw a concept like Lifelong Learning into this model how does it work? Well for starters it’s completely unsustainable, the cost to get just one degree can take a lifetime to pay off. How can that work if the time unit went from 3 to 30 years? 4 to 40? So what if we rethought those units of time? What if we adjusted the measurements and assessment of learning beyond a single transaction or unit? What if we looked at learning over the longer term and structured learning around that? What if we moved away from the transactional method and focussed on building, developing and maintaining relationships instead? There’s also the notion of timeliness – how accessible is the course at the times when I want to study? When it comes to degrees – they’re not. You study at the times that are determined by the institution. Now there is already work being done in these areas – but it’s still at the fringes and nowhere near the mainstream. There’s huge potential in this space and more broadly when you consider that the underlying technologies, assessment practices and support systems would all need to change and adapt too. (If someone wants to pay me to do the research around this, outline and build a prototype – get in touch!)

One other area of possibility is in Aggregation and Cooperation. There are potential money savings and efficiencies on offer in online education, they just haven’t been explored yet. The focus of online learning so far has been on automation – of removing the teacher and social interactions to focus on content delivery and coded responses. All this fluff about Personalised & Adaptive Learning is just trying to replicate the role of the teacher by removing the teacher, and all without evidence that this is actually a good thing. It seems built on this premise that we actually want robots and not humans to inform our Learning. Where there is real efficiency is to move to a model that decreases the amount of replication across institutions. Unfortunately the corporatisation of public services has forced universities into a faux state of competition – when what is actually required is greater cooperation. If there was one way to guarantee significant and ongoing cost savings it would be to allow, demand and support educational institutions to provide aggregated offerings, to share and reuse resources – not just content, but teachers, support staff and resources. The elitism that has surrounded higher education will surely rear it’s head, but I think that’s one structure that is worth disrupting. Universities have to stop being nostalgic for ideal like Collegiality and Scholarship and started creating new ways to embed them. When you think about it, publishers have capitalised on the divisions in higher education to make a huge profit by in essence doing just this. I think to reclaim that money and invest it where it’s needed – in supporting students and not burdening them with the cost and debt.

The disruption required in a education won’t be found in an app, a technology or shifting control from one institution to another (sorry MOOCs). It will come from rediscovering our purpose and redeveloping the models to suit this new age.

Masters of The Entitled

Politics is the only place where the Age of Entitlement is alive and well, not with Millennials or whatever new word we’ve invented for the younger generation. Over the past month more and more examples of deep structural problems have shown the growing disengagement of the political class from democratic and civic ethics, policy, practice and behaviour. I thought this may have been a uniquely Australian phenomenon, but events in the UK and the rolling side show of the Trump presidency suggests it much more widespread.

Rather than acting with the dignity that should befit anyone elected into office, politicians seem to have more in common with spoilt and petulant toddlers, unwilling and unable to excercise restraint, responsibility or foresight. Trump and his teams vindictive and hateful policies will be implemented because we are operating in a political environment devoid of accountability and responsibility. The latest “entitlement” scandals and rorting of the travel system clearly demonstrate that for the Age of Entitlement is alive and well in Canberra, but Trump clear demonstrates that democracy itself is what’s at stake.

I’ve been secretly bemoaning the phenonomenon of Twitter threads of late – just put the damn thing in a blog post! – but I also see how powerful they are at promoting out a message. I decided to construct the Tweet Storm below, but I’m tossing up actually posting it on Twitter. Maybe if there’s another scandal this week – in the meantime, feel free to post yourself at your leisure!

Entitlement = over privileged, underqualified & underperforming politicians who seem to think responsibility doesn’t apply to them.

Entitled to claim exorbitant travel and expenses from the people’s purse while at the same time slashing the budgets of the public service.

Entitled to pursue social & party business at our expense. When was attending sporting event ever required for representative government?

Entitled to use the media a a megaphone for their hateful, divisive and corrosive ideology and policy.

Entitled to appeal to our egalitarianism while implementing financial policy that’s increasing inequality and creating new class divisions.

Entitled to deceive the public that they operate for the public good, when it’s obvious they operate purely for the corporate class.

Entitled to use ideas like the “public good” & then ignore great swathes of the public. When did they engaged with any indigenous issues?

Entitled to ignore their duty to their constituents and represent the people, not a Party, personal belief or paycheck.

Soylent vs Self Regulated Learners

In April last year I had the pleasure of attending the Practice Based Education Summit held in Sydney. One of the keynotes was Professor Allison Littlejohn from the Open University, UK and in her presentation she introduced me to the term “self regulated learners”. It was one of those moments when you discover the right label for something you’ve been wrestling with or have known inately but unable to communicate it clearly. It’s a term used for the set of skills that allows a student to manage their own learning – from time management, content understanding through to how they complete their assessments. Allison presented a body of work that showed that students who developed these skills were more successful and capable in terms of their studies but also their personal goals. Self regulated students were often more aware, more focussed and more competent while at the same time requiring less support, direction and intervention. They were more likely to succeed and less likely to drop out or fail outright. So I started to ask – why is this not the aim of higher education? And, if it was – how? How do you take someone who isn’t a self regulated learner and teach them to become one?

And I’ve mulled over those questions ever since.

As I dwelled over my SXSWedu experiences. 1 2 3 4 5

As I delved into indie ed-tech and the personal API. 6 7

As I spent more time looking at online learning and the pedagogues we use (and should be using). 8

As I examine the roll of the LMS and try and establish if it is truly friend or foe.

As I recently have started to explore the local ed-tech startup scene.

How? How is any of this truly helping us to develop, nurture, support, train, upskill our students, and more broadly all learners, into self directed learners?

And my initial answer is that it doesn’t.

Even at the monied up, residential, full time, elite institutions they don’t develop self regulated learners – they cherry pick them. They accept only the ones that already demonstrate those skills.

Our K-12 system doesn’t produce them – and I’m not sure that it should – but where and how do those skills get learnt, practiced and developed?

The technology certainly doesn’t help. In most cases online technology promotes a model of “Learning on Rails“, a passive and pre-defined model for learning. The technologies we currently use to teach and learn, like the LMS, do little to develop and encourage self-regulated learning. Instead technology is seen as a way to reduce learning to a procedure, a process, something that can be easily encoded and followed step by step (without the need (or cost) of one of those pesky teachers).

The kinds of technologies being adopted in education do little to develop self-regulation, and instead promote a surrveilance state via learning analytics and a punitive approach to “learning”. Turnitin is not a tool for students to learn and improve their writing, it’s a tool to identify misdemeanours and dish out punishment. Learning analytics is a surrveilance system thinly disguised as a tool to identify, categories and “help” students via an algortithm. If we were serious about self-regulation the way we could just ask the student, right?

The next big trend is “personalised learning” which in reality is the absolute antithesis of self-regulated learning. Rather than promote the skills and autonomy of an individal learner it seeks to remove control from the learner and place it into the algorithm (one that you will need to rent in perpetuity). Rather than make the system of education more accessible, understandable and logical as a sector we’re throwing millions of dollars at making it more opaque, unclear and controlled by corporate third parties.

What we are witnessing isn’t the rise of self-regulated learning, instead we’re on a clear trajectory in the opposite direction – to one of control. Centralised control in the hands of a few technologies, corporations and publishers – all who aim to extract every dollar possible to improve their bottom line, not the outcomes of the students. We are witnessing a time where learning is being reduced from a cognitive and developmental process into a consumptive act. One that you will have to pay for. Forever.

The only option now is to build an alternative.

The time has passed for protest and blog posts. If we want to see change, if we want to reclaim education, we are going to have to build the alternative. Something tangible and operational. Something that promotes agency, that develops self regulatpion, that promtoes autnomy and diversity and treat them as features of the system.

Education has reached a “soylent” moment. What is underway is a [rocess that seeks to undermine the fun, colour and enjoyment of learning and turn it into a grey goop. What is increasingly on offer is something that may tick all the”nutritional” boxes but it is so far removed from food and it’s vibrant culture and social function that we end up losing more than could be gained from it “efficiency”.

When it comes down to it – learning is people. Just like soylent green.

Soylent Green is People

In upcoming posts I aim to describe some of these alternatives. They’ll still be in word form – but I’m hoping that by airing them in the open someone might be willing to collaborate, fund or help out via discussion. Welcome to 2017 – the year the revolution gets started.


Yesterdays blog post was a bit of a downer. Yes, this year has been tough, but there have also been some awesome highlights and encounters with people across the globe. In March I got to travel to the US again, something that is quite rare and unexpected as I was only there in November 2015 for the dLRN conference. During this trip I got to meet some of my “heroes” of Ed-Tech. (I’ve put that in scare quotes because to be honest they’re really the type of people who’d be too humble and egalitarian to consider themselves to be worthy of that category. Maybe except Jim 🙂 ). It was one of those mind blowing experience, from running into the CogDog on the streets of Davidson, eating Texan BBQ with the Cats Pyjamas to brainstorming in a room full of people who I’d got to know over the years purely from their writing and social media outlets. Here they were in the flesh – living, breathing, thinking, talking, eating and drinking.

Online has given me a window into the big world around me and there have been some amazing stories, blog posts and talks shared this year. I have had the privilege of being able to read some amazing stories, thinking, ideas, critiques and projects from people right around the globe. People who I also want to meet one day – I just need the time and funds to do some more travel!

So now I want to do an actual roll call to say thanks. Thanks for writing, coding, creating, talking and most importantly – sharing. Now more than ever we need your voices. Don’t go silent. Keep on moving. Keep on speaking. I’ve been listening. I’ve been learning. Thanks for giving me that opportunity.

In no particular order here’s the list – think of it as my #FF ()Follow Fridays) for all of 2016. I can personally recommend every single voice here as each has something wonderful, insightful and worthwhile about life the universe and everything to say. Sometimes they disagree, and things then get interesting but we move forward. They have all helped me realise where we are going, how we can get there and more importantly – why it’s all worth the effort.

Thank you!

Kate Bowles @katemfd
Jim Groom @jimgroom
Audrey Watters @audreywatters
Bon Stewart @bonstewart
Helen South @helsouth
Francis Kneebone @franciskneebone
Alan Levine @cogdog
David Kernohan @dkernohan
Kristen Eshleman @kreshleman
Wade Kelly @wadekelly
Rolin Moe @rmoejo
Laura Gogia @googleguacamole
Mike Caulfield @holden
Kahiwa Sebire @kiwafruit
Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw
Ben Werdmuller @benwerd
Kin Lane @kinlane
Tom Woodward @twoodwar
Adam Croom @acroom
Joyce Seitzinger @catspyjamasnz
Kim Tairi @kimtairi
Andrew Rickard @anrikard
Jessica Knott @jlknott
Mark Smithers @marksmithers
Brian Lamb @brlamb
Stephen Downes @downes
Martin Weller @mweller
Dai Barnes @daibarnes
Clint Lalonde @clintlalonde
Stuart Palmer @s_palm
James Croft @jamescroft
Jon Becker @jonbecker
Frances Bell @francesbell
Olga Belikov @olgamariab
Eddie Maloney @eddiemaloney
Josh Kim @joshmkim

A special shout out to my work colleagues who were with me through the whole year. They don’t spend much time online so can’t quite reference them in the same way – but they got me through this year, and we also managed to get some fantastic work done. From an Online Learning Model to hosting an international conference – not bad for our small team.

Finally my family. You’re all awesome and I’m so lucky to have you in my life. Cheers

Years End

I’ve tried a couple of times to write this post and failed. There’s a bunch of rejected drafts and I don’t know if this really encapsulates everything, but it gets closest. I’m still processing everything that has happened and am trying to work out what exactly it is I want to say, but I guess what I really want is to just record what 2016 was.

One of the hardest years I’ve had to live through.

Last year we had The Fire and I thought that losing pretty much all your possessions (clothes, treasures, instruments, music, technology, data, and all manner of things and stuff) would be the worst thing that could happen to you. Well, I was wrong, wait till to you have to deal with an insurance company.

The fallout from the fire has made the last twelve months just almost unbearable. We’ve had to deal with the chronic delays in getting anything done, inadequate paperwork, poor communication and an insurance company that seems reluctant to actually give us what our policy states. So we had to complain, and in doing so descended into another layer of hell. We’ve been in conflict for most of this year in an effort to just get home.

We have had to fight for everything. We had to fight in order to get anything done – from builders, to financial, from paperwork to any updates on progress. Everything (literally everything) this year has been a battle in terms of the company that ended up going all the way to the Financial Ombudsman Service where we finally reached an agreement to resolve our claim. A resolution that is basically them paying us the amount of money required to actually finish the job, and we who have to employ our own builder and project manage it all in order finish the job. Because this is what our house looks like:

This is the video I took the day we made our submission to the ombudsman’s office. This is 14 months after the fire. This is all the insurance company and the builder they employed were able to achieve in that time. The house didn’t burn to the ground and was structurally sound, all that had to happen was that it was repaired to its original specifications. We weren’t asking for more that, in fact we were ultimately making a number range of sacrifices and compromises in order to just get back home. But no one seemed to want to help us do that.

This process has confirmed all those worst fears about corporate motivations and how everything boils down to an economic rationale – they just didn’t want to pay out. They did everything in their power to delay paying us out any money. If they could pay less or not at all, then that was the course of action that was would choose. If they could delay making a decision, that’s what they would choose. The way they dealt with us a people was driven by this penny-pinching and economic rationale.

I wrote previously that

Logic is not your friend, it is the path to despair.

Logic in dealing with an insurance company is your worst enemy simply because things that make sense and seem reasonable don’t happen. They don’t happen because there is no economic rationale to support logic. It’s like an alternate universe where all the rules that govern physics and chemistry are completely reversed and randomised so that you’re unable to actually understand or comprehend anything. Nothing conforms to the norms and rules that you are used, the fundamentals and basis for understanding are gone.

Dealing with this ate up all my time and energy this year. And I was so driven and unrelenting in pursuing it because of how much fucking effort we had put into that house. The house didn’t represent just our Home, it was a portfolio piece and a testimonial to the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into making it ours. There was the mad rush to patch and paint when we first bought it. We drafted in friends and family to give us help get us get rid of the brown paint that adorned all the walls. There was putting up with a completely inadequate kitchen that was designed for little people and required you to stoop to wash the dishes. It had also no bench space and weird antiquated appliances that I refused to use for fear of explosions. It represents the amount of effort that was required to save and work along our career paths in order to fund the renovation work that we ended up doing. The kitchen that we spent huge amounts of time designing and tweaking and finding just exactly the things that we wanted. There was also the final nesting period before our daughter was born. I spent hours and hours patching and repairing the horse-hair plaster ceiling in her room as we finally put all the finishing touches on to get things ready for our little daughters arrival.

And we had that house for a couple of years. This little house, perfect for us and an encapsulation of who we were and what we had achieved.

And then The Fire happened.

And then the insurance company had happened.

And in essence what was under threat was our ability to go back and restore the little house that was ours, that we created and worked so hard for.

And so it drove me. Incessantly to argue, to fight and to doggedly go back and argue and complain and to complain more loudly until we were listened to.

But all we ended up settling was the policy, there’s no way to really compensate you for anything that you’ve suffered in this process. There is no real punishment for the insurance company either. There are no consequences for their bad behaviour towards us. Our case just gets marked as “resolved” because we accepted their offer, and the offer was purely to do what we were contractually required to do. There’s no penalty on the insurance company for the really shitty behaviour that they exhibited – the threats, the bullying, the delays. There were no consequences for their actions – we are the only ones that have to deal with those. We are the ones left inconvenienced. We are the ones left out of our home for 14 months and counting. We are the ones who have had to fight Every. Single. Day.

This year I’ve probably been the most stressed that I’ve ever had and that has had a really negative effect on my quality of life. It had an effect on my health and my motivation and my work. Trying to cope with the ongoing stress has eaten up so much time and effort that it’s literally drained me of energy. The decisions about food, activity, exercise, family and friends became secondary to just simply trying to get on with the fight and refuel and recover for the next battle. Because this is what this was, a series of ongoing battles, of getting one thing sorted only for the next one to rear its head. And then the next and the next. This wasn’t like a boxing match that was over in twelve rounds, this was more than twelve months of the fighting, twelve months of round after round, battle after battle, and it has worn me down mentally and physically. In the middle of November I broke. I got sick with the flu but since then health wise it’s been a bit slide. I’ve got pills to take but the real change that’s needed is much broader. I need time to heal and to make changes to a lot of aspects of my life – things that this Temporary Permanence doesn’t help.

One thing I’ve got out of this is an understanding of how neglectful I’ve been. I bought this on myself by not caring about me and now I have to deal with the consequences of being stressed for so long and having this kind of tension as a consistent companion. Physically and mentally I’ve been damaged by this experience, and I feel so guilty about doing that to the people I love most. I neglected myself, sacrificed in order to put my world right – and for what? A house? Want to guess how stupid I feel now?

This mental grind has transformed into physical consequence and I have to deal with it, and it is not a quick fix. It’s not just take a pill and it will be alright, this is going to be months of making significant life changes and improvements. Why these things didn’t take place was because there was no energy left to eat properly, exercise well, be mentally clear, be available to friends and family – all that got taken up by the fighting with the insurance company and dealing with this stupid claim.

So apart from all the celebrities dying, Trump, the rise of right-wing lunacy, the media falling over, Facebook and Twitter fuelling hate like petrol on a fire – apart from all that, 2016 has just been an atrocious year.

Previously, these end of year posts are a reflection on what is essentially year-on-year personal growth, but I think this year I’ve gone backwards. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing that you need to change quite significantly and that you fucked up. I’ve learnt that you really can’t neglect is yourself, your health and your friends and family and you can’t expect there to be no consequences when you do. And that’s kind of what 2017 will be for me – dealing with the consequences of a shitty year and some pretty awful decisions.

Maybe I’m not alone in that, maybe that’s what most people will be up to next year given what’s happened in 2016.

I suppose I’ll come out of this with at least one victory under my belt – that we did beat the insurance company. In the end it took a lot to get there but that doggedness that persistence paid off and now we can do things properly and we can get back home. We can return and inhabit that space and importantly apply that energy to making things better.

My daughter is going off to school next year and that is such a huge milestone in our lives. She inspires me to keep on going, to do better and to be better. 2017 is about change and about making things better and while there might not necessarily be growth, and that things might actually be really tough next year, it’s a time to bunker down and draw on our reserves. We are resilient and persistent creatures, and if I’ve learnt anything from this experience it’s that we can keep going, and we can keep standing up for what we need to stand up for.

Dissecting the Complex

Wow America! That was something else. President Trump!?! Not for the first time we are seeing Life imitating the Simpsons. I’ve spent a couple of days listening to friends and colleagues in the US and home. As I’ve read through the out pouring of grief and anger (and joy for some) it’s plain to see people are searching for answers. What caused this? Why did this happen? 

The simple answer is that it’s complex. Not that it’s complicated, as in there’s many steps in the process but there’s a linear thread which provides meaning. No its complex, as in there are many causes and they each interact with each other in a way that there is no definitive path or causality. In a complex problem it’s impossible to quantify causality or the level of effect something might have had on the outcome in any real and determinate way. 

So when it comes to Trump – no one thing caused his ascent. 

It’s racism AND sexism AND misogyny AND white supremacy AND economic deprivation AND income inequality AND the labour market AND healthcare AND cities vs regions AND poverty AND education AND student debt AND all other debt AND the global financial crisis AND what Obama and Hillary represent AND resurgent conservatism AND evangelical religion AND Bernie AND Twitter AND Facebook AND anti Semitism AND neoliberalism AND socialism AND Russia AND Snowden AND Wikileaks AND email AND Thiel AND Silicon Valley AND the Rust Belt AND the Electoral College. It’s all of these things (and MANY, MANY more) interacting with each other. 

Anyone that tries to boil the cause of the Trump presidency down to one these thing is over simplifying the actual problem, and mostly for good reasons. They’re trying to simplify the problem because as humans were good at simple. We can understand it and effect it. We suck at complexity because causality is fluid in a complex problem and there is no singular cause to effect relationship. Instead the whole space is dynamic, there is power and influence to deal with. Not to mention that adaption takes place as time goes on. A complex problem is a system and things become codified, modified, normalised and power dynamics shift. Incident along the way can have a ripple effect and cascade over time. 

 The way I’ve started to make sense of complexity is to think of them as dynamic problems. They’re similar to fluid dynamics where the liquid had properties and momentum but control is difficult. You can mitigate and manipulate the but you can’t change the liquid itself. So in looking to tackle complex problems it’s not about trying to simplify them to a simple cause and effect statement, but to concentrate on ways to manipulate the dynamics. This can be done in fairly simple ways – shifting power, changing relationship, influencing attractors – but it doesn’t seek to change the problem space. At the same time “solutions” are influential rather than definitive (this is a big change in mindset for most people). They also need to be adapted and changed over time as the system corrects and changes. The most powerful method of working is through iteration. Create a feedback loop that allows faster insights and structure for change. 

Often the best solution to complex problem are simple. They don’t seek to change the problem itself and simplify it, but are simple ways to affect the dynamics. Like when people come together. 

An American Election

I couldn’t write today. By the time the afternoon rolled around the winner was confirmed. I read a lot. Many friends were truly dismayed, many were upset, many fearful. Many shared their dread of having to tell their kids that Trump not Hillary had one when they woke up in the morning. That one struck a nerve. 

So when I got home I had a few drinks and thought. Mulled over what was happening. Sat and contemplated the world while watching a nature documentary on Americas West. 

It was a BBC one, and at the end of the program they had a “making of” section. They were trying to film coyotes in Death Valley. There’s an expression on the producers face when they arrive at their destination in the air conditioned car and open up the door. The expression was recognisable, I’ve made the exact same one. It was the reaction to feeling the Death Valley heat hitting your face for the first time. The dash gauge read 116 degrees, and at that temperature the heat becomes physical. You feel it fall across your skin and the hot air feels more like liquid than anything else. 

That sensation, of something non-physical actually manifesting itself and making physical contact – that was today. That how that loss felt. Not my country, not my vote, but I felt it none the less. I didn’t have to pop my kids hopes, or reassure them everything will be ok. But I felt it. 

Be More Robot?

I often think the quest for “productivity” is less about living to ones potential, and is instead an attempt to be more robot. It seems the logic is by embracing routine we’ll impose order on our lives and somehow morph into productive beings. The movement seems to assume that what we do now isn’t productive and that being more productive is “better”. It assumes we can exert control over our lives and our environment. It never investigates these assumptions or explores their truth, but a a theology and a “science” have somehow grown up around them. Productivity is unquestionably good, and routine is the answer.

Robots and automatons are great. They can do things faster than people can. They can do things longer than people can. They don’t need food or wages. They don’t need health and safety. They don’t need leave or care. They just have routine. They are perfect. 

I am not a robot.

I get hungry and tired and bored. My mind starts thinking about other things and I get distracted. Sometimes my work is sloppy. Sometimes I make mistakes. But I am not a robot, because I can change. I don’t need control or order because I can adapt. Whatever life throws at me I can cope with it. From flood and fire to death and new life. I can handle it because I don’t require routine. I don’t need to impose order, or the illusion of it.

Robots, automatons and the pathetic algorithms that supposedly represent Artificial Intelligence can’t change. They can’t learn. They can’t move. They can’t rethink. They can’t act or behave or operate outside of their parameters. They are robots. Routine driven.

I am not a robot, and I don’t want to be. Instead of looking at myself as being unproductive, I am simply being less robot. I am transducing. I am creating. I am defining my parameters and then breaking them. I am rewriting the code. I am resting, regenerating, restoring. I am self maintaining and repairing.

I am productive because I am not a robot. And if I’ve learnt anything in the past year it’s that I need to be less robot because life is chaos. It’s out of our control and I’m ok with that. I’m here for the journey, not the destination.