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Conversations and Knowledge, Fast and Slow

Copied from the OGM Wiki page of the same name by Pete, 2021-10-13

After /Meetings/OGM Thursday, 2021-10-07,

Pete wrote,

@channel, on yesterday's check-in call, I was saying that I thought we could, and should, be better at collective memory, collective thinking, and collective intelligence.

I think we can level up from being an oral culture that thinks big thoughts but doesn't do much else together, to being a culture that uses technologies like reading and writing and drawing to create persistent artifacts and thinking spaces.

one of the collective wishes we have is "wouldn't it be cool if an expert or a genius took our calls and made something wonderful out of them?"

while I don't disagree with that wish, I think we can get a lot of the same value by doing that making ourselves. and, that we would learn more and think more together, by doing it ourselves, rather than depending on an external specialist to do it for us. and heck, some of us might become experts and geniuses at distilling knowledge and wisdom, if only we started practicing what we wish for!

as you know, some of us individually collect, curate, and enhance the knowledge and wisdom from our calls.

but, i ask you, how many of us find those artifacts and curations accessible, and useful? how much do we know, together, rather than individually?

if we are to have collective intelligence and collective wisdom, there needs to be a team, or probably even better, several teams -- a number of people -- doing collective intelligence and collective wisdom together. we need to decide to do it together. we need to decide what we want to build and do together.

who wants to do more, together?

what do we want to do, together?

Bentley wrote,

I'm open, but I don't have any great ideas. The Canonical Debate Lab has been doing well in this area (not by me) by crafting documents in the meetings. Not notes but specific documents with specific purposes which are updated during and between calls. Maybe updating a wiki of active content instead (in addition to) call notes.

Ken wrote,

Thanks Pete for these provocative thoughts. Lauren and Charles did some fantastic work in creattng Miro board for Cicolab. Once I got some basic skills in using Miro, I found using it live with others was a powerful tool for collective mapping and note-taking - which, in theory, can be a powerful adjunct to collective sense and meaning making. Something I learned long ago in my early days at the World Cafe was the power of having visual facilitation, aka, graphic recorders, who would capture and display various aspects of the group conversation creating, along the way, a map of the major points and the relationships between them. I think that with practice, we could use Miro for much the same purpose - to map out the big outlines and show the relationships between differing ideas and perspectives. So, it seems to me that forming a team of people who would like to learn how to use Miro and who are interested in mapping would be a great step along the way and it's something that I would like to do with others. Anyone else?

Charles wrote,

have plenty of thoughts on all this 🙂 and a few protocols largely untested

i daresay the imperative is the DKR-NIC with IF sprinkled liberally

dynamic knowledge repository(DKR) networked improvement community(NIC) interoperability flow(IF) — values/ patterns of collaboration

Hank wrote,

Very thought provoking conversation starting up here. I absolutely agree with you, Pete, when you say, " we would learn more and think more together, by doing it ourselves, rather than depending on an external specialist to do it for us". And lots of us are doing it in different ways. We only have to bring this collective eperience into our 'commons'. visual facilitation, as Ken writes, is a very powerful tool. The Positive Cartography process I am co-developing is based on using visual images to help people tell their stories - and doing it on Miro. Miro may not be the best platform for mapping relationships between ideas and perspectives, but it it easy to use (no big learning curve) and does the job sufficiently to start with. I can share some of our work in progress here - and later. For example, the photo I just oploaded as the Miro board seeded with photos for late September's Mapathon 21. And this past week, somehing similar for a workshop on Futures of Sustainable business with Norwegin entrepreneurs etc.

an image with no alt text

I woiuld welcome co-creators and prototypers to make this 'mapping' process more effective. So I'll join your 'team of people who would like to learn how to use Miro and who are interested in mapping', Ken

Hank wrote,

And your teams, Pete, of people doing collective intelligence and collective wisdom together. To reply to the question "what do we want to do, together?" I would propose, (1st step) Take an issue of mutual interest, (to my mind a social or societal challenge), and map the existing technologies worldwide, already in use (or on drawing boards somewhere), that can be used to address it. Then (2nd step) map 'best and worst practice'. Then (3rd step) consolidate 'collective intelligence' and apply it in practice to a real-world situation, in one or several of our cities. Or something along these lines

Rob wrote,

i like the idea of a Miro board -- we would need some ground rules, can you move, edit, delete other people stuff. For me it would work better to have asynchronous work time and then syncronous time (cxalls). I like the idea of one topic per board. there would have to be some focus or it might sprawl. Pete, what would be the goal... to record? to share? to Sense-make?

Pete wrote,

Rob, I like the idea of a Miro board, too. We have the CICOLAB experience with it, and we have at least several people who feel comfortable with it.

Even better, I'm not very good with Miro, so I won't get out ahead of other folks so much as I might in another medium. :slightly_smiling_face:

The overarching goals for me:

  • collective memory
  • increased collective intelligence
  • more collective and collaborative thinking and doing

For OGM, and other communities, I'd like there to be a community memory/brain, that contains "what does the community remember", and "what is the community thinking about".

The best tools for a community brain will allow the community to think together asynchronously in the information space, over a variety of time scales, from short (hours and days) to long (weeks, months, even years).

I really want to emphasize the community part. A good community brain is accessible to most of the community, and is edited by many in the community. It represents persistent, accretive knowledge and wisdom, of the entire group.

We already have knowledge artifacts -- YouTube videos, Otter or AWS transcripts, Jerry's Brain, meeting notes in OGM wiki. Each is a snapshot of what the group was thinking during a call. But they are not an interactive, living collaboration space, where the group remembers and thinks together.

So that's what I want. A community brain, where we remember together, and think together, in a way that's accessible and used by most of the group. Bonus points if that's in the public commons.

I was inspired to complain this past Thursday because I had been reading this Alan Kay interview in Fast Company.

Kay talks about "oral society" being one of the human universals -- something that humans do naturally.

Things like reading, writing, drawing (and more -- agriculture, deductive mathematics, empirical science, equal rights, etc.) are invented technologies, that allow humans to reach another level.

Engaging in another level of thought takes practice and effort, because it requires using our invented technologies on top of our natural, built-in ability to do oral culture.

It feels to me like OGM -- like much of the world, even the corporate world -- is an oral culture. We tell stories, and hopes and dreams and fears to each other.

Some of us write some of those things down.

But we don't have a culture of writing them down together. Of reading them back to each other, together.

Until we do, we're missing out on an opportunity to level up our thinking, to become collectively intelligent, rather than just individually intelligent.

Multiplexing Between Talking (easy) and Writing (harder)

and between expounding (easy) and reflecting (harder)

It's hard to write things down as you're talking, and only a little less hard when you're trying to listen.

Wendy Elford and Bill Anderson and I (Pete) have been exploring this tension, and have observed that if you have one person talking, one person listening, and one person trying to keep up with written notes, it's easier than if you just have one person talking and one person listening and trying to write notes.

(Another thing we've noticed is that a three-person conversation feels more collaborative than a two-person conversation. Two-person conversations are wonderful, of course, but they end up being "intimate" and harder to share, because a lot of the conversation happens within the context of shared language and tacit knowledge. When you get the three people, the conversation is more shareable, because the conversation naturally ends up being more in the context of social knowledge, rather than private knowledge. (I think Bill knows of a connection here between the number three we came up with, and The Art of Gathering, by Priya Parker.))

I think another thing that eases the tension between talking and writing notes when Wendy and Bill and I talk, is that we have an unwritten rule to take turns -- moving the talking, listening, and writing roles around, usually at the end of each expository turn. I don't know if we do a great job of it, but if we did, it would help.

I wanted to compare and contrast several ways of "taking turns" talking and writing.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we could have a meeting -- say, an OGM Thursday call -- where one person checks in by talking, with one or several topics. Jerry and maybe a few other folks respond, by talking. A few more people respond to that, by talking.

A few of us write a few things -- a short, pithy phrase, or a link to something relevant, in chat. Other topics are bubbling in the chat, too.

We move on to the next check-in. And the next, and the next.

At the end, Mark Carranza has his MX session; Jerry has curated some more links between thoughts in his Brain, there is a long, messy (not meant pejoratively) chat. The audio-video recording is posted to YouTube, the zoom chat is available somewhere, as perhaps is a machine transcription by Otter or AWS.

Something we could do afterwards, but haven't very much, is to "harvest" all the exciting news and thinking from that call. Let's have one (or several) persons listen to the whole call, and try to map out what was talked about, what the group thought, or might have been thinking about.

I've done this for a number of zoom calls (some OGM, some other formats). I can attest that for me, I need to feel like I understand precisely what words were said, before I can dig into a higher level understanding of what was said, and even starting with a machine transcription, it can take me a couple hours per hour of recording to feel like I have a "clean" transcript. To sensemake after that, to make a thought-map or idea-map or knowledge-map, could take a few more hours, at least.

Along with just the time investment, with post hoc harvesting, there's no way to be interactive. "Did you mean this or that?" "Did you consider this other thing?" "How do you think that relates to our previous understanding...." "Hey X, what did you think about what Y just said?" Etc.

At the end of a harvesting session, the harvester(s) have become very familiar with the material, but all of the sensemaking they did happened in their heads. It's very hard to convey out all the nuance that they were able to glean from the discussion. Sure, it's possible to write a summary, or even construct new narrative to explain what happened. But that has become knowledge archaeology; it is a rough picture of a tiny slice of what happened; it is not interactive knowledge.

Having explained that, I would like to wish not for "harvesting", but rather "interactive knowledge creation", with artifacts unfolding during the discussion. That's not to preclude subsequent asynchronous enrichment of the knowledge, but rather, to mesh real-time oral culture and asynchronous interaction, starting at the point where we are co-braining in real-time.

I'm happier when the notes and the drawings and the diagrams are happening more or less simultaneously; or, at least, at the time scale of each small exposition, rather than happening ex parte, post hoc.

I think that means that the conversation has to slow down, so the people performing the technology of writing, drawing, diagramming, weaving can keep up. I know that often, if feels like if we slow down the talking too much, we'll drain all of the energy and spontaneity out of it.

I think that's not true; I think if we practice together, we be as productive, thoughtful, and spontaneous, and come out of conversations not just with a good feeling, but actual artifacts around which we can continue to remember, think, and evolve.

I also know that practicing before we get good at it will feel unfamiliar, difficult, confusing, upsetting, and we'll wonder if it's even worth it.

(Bill) Pete has highlighted several ideas and practices that I want to re-enforce. First is the notion of "interactive knowledge creation", to led me to think of knowledge construction. We are trying to build some thing here that includes (1) some things that hang around, like wiki pages and (2) some practices we can explore, like "co-braining". Second is Pete's insight that our conversations will slow down. This will let us be more deliberate in taking actions, such as starting a new wiki, or of reaping a harvest from a collection of wiki pages or Mattermost or email posts. Third, and this just occurs to me, working this way will be supported by more conversations among several of us or between only two of us. Incorporating the results of those interactions will be another practice to explore.

(Pete) "... conversations will slow down. This will let us be more deliberate...." Wendy Elford and I have been exploring some other techniques along with slowing down: preparing on the topic beforehand, so the discussion is more clear and clean (see Clean Language); taking strict turns, listening intently while one person speaks until they are done, without interrupting them; using VNC to "single-track" (and make the single-tracking very obvious) the process of taking text notes. I don't mention these to say that they're techniques for everyone, or for every context, but to provide some more examples of how to co-brain, or collaboratively construct with knowledge.

Like learning and doing any technology -- playing the guitar, flying an airplane, drawing a portrait -- it takes time to get good at it. And some of us may never be great at a particular skill. But we can all aim for some literacy, some proficiency, at capturing and participating in technology-assisted knowledge, and I think it would reward us richly when we do.


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