Captain's Log Issue #88 - Curiosity
Julian Stodd, November 2019

I started this week writing with complexity, about the firmament of communities, and tried to end it with simplicity, by writing about the simple behaviours of Social Leadership.

I’m ok with both ends of that spectrum: it’s easy to get lost in complexity, but the only way to find simplicity is to make that journey. Rarely are our thoughts so clear from the start, or perhaps I should say, rarely are my thoughts so clear.

It’s an active process of finding all the dead ends before you find the way.

Within Organisations, this is a harder journey to make: we are generally rewarded either for certainty, or at least for dogmatic self belief. Uncertainty and self doubt are weaknesses in Organisational systems, and yet we cannot learn without them.


In The News

Pop Will Eat Itself

Or in this case, culture: I’m interested in how we use artefacts and rituals to create, as well as celebrate, culture, and this is a good example. Rings are used in American culture more than in British for graduation, and in this case, to celebrate a basketball win, but over time, they can become self referential, or a parody of the thing they are supposed to represent.

With 640 diamonds, I would argue that this state may have been reached. The distinction between the ring (representing the trophy) and the ring as a trophy has eroded. The next logical step is that the trophy becomes a representation of someone wearing the ring. Before we collapse into a reality tv version of me writing about the ring.

Culture as Brand

I share this piece as another circularity, but this time involving De Niro and Pacino in the latest Scorsese flick, The Irishman.

The film could only be made because of the de-aging technology sponsored by Netflix, but with it, the septuagenarian actors could play their younger selves. In a broader cultural sphere, we see actors with established reputations voicing animated characters, which although animal retain some similarity to their voiced over selves, as well as dead actors reanimated for new performances (see Carrie Fisher in the latest Star Wars). Which rather begs the question of where it ends: the current zeitgeist is for actors to establish a real world reputation, and then persist through age and death into immortality. But from a studio perspective it would be much cheaper to avoid them altogether.


My Writing

I’ve had a real focus on getting back into the swing of writing every day, and pleased to have made good progress with that.

The Stuff of Community

I started the week by writing about ‘Community Firmament’, which is an exploration of an idea I have been circling for a while: that perhaps our challenge is not to create one community, but rather to create the stuff that communities emerge from.

The Final Illustration for Apollo

‘To the moon and back’ is heading into production, but the designer came back to me with a challenge that we had two blank pages to fill: I decided to add one more illustration, a panoramic view of the flag being raised on the moon.

Covering Learning Science

This piece I am less pleased with, but it’s the first step on the journey: the Learning Science Guidebook will be released in two phases. This month i will use the prototype version with a closed cohort, then I will update the text and structure according to how it lands, and move to a full release version. I will make the prototype available online in any event, and this is my first stab at a cover.

I wanted to avoid the stereotypes of brain images, cogs and whizzing atoms… but almost entirely failed to do so. But this is ok as a prototype.

A Simple Strength

Feeling a little frazzled by too much business writing, I tried to cut through the noise to find simplicity in my writing yesterday: it’s a simple piece exploring the strength of Social Leaders.

Change lies in our actions: I feel this strongly. We can talk about culture, as something large and aspirational, but in truth the culture we feel is the culture that we create, through our actions, every day. And hence the foundations of change lie in our ability to change ourselves.


What I'm Reading

I am just finishing a book by Winifred Gallagher about the US postal service: it’s a well researched piece, and a fascinating perspective not of how the Post serviced America, but built it.

The subtext is clear: the Post allowed for an enshrined notion of ‘knowledge’ to be available to all, even those pioneers out West. And through access to knowledge, come engagement with governance, although contemporary concerns with fake news and validity may indicate that you can have too much of a good thing. Or at least too much of a sugary and appealing thing.

The book nicely illustrates the dance between technology and progress, showing for example how the Post drove development of the road network, the railways, the telegraph, and the nascent airline industry, through a lens that I had not previously considered.

It’s an enjoyable read, and a reminded that the ‘always on’ access to knowledge, and to community, which we take so much for granted today, was a hard won privilege.

#WorkingOutLoud on the Certifications

My first cohort exploring the new Modern Learning Capability Programme have embarked on their adventure, and we completed the introductory module on ‘The Evolution of Learning’ this week.

With the first two sessions under our belts, I feel less nervous than before: they are of course lovely, and the material feels solid enough! Next week we start the four week Learning Science Module, which is all entirely new material, so that will be the real test.

I have two cohorts taking shape for next year too, so it feels like it has legs. Overall, I am enjoying the Certifications greatly as they free up considerable amounts of my time to develop new work, and prototype it fast, which is the best way to learn and, more importantly, learn what is wrong.

What I'm Thinking About

The first slide that I use in the Modern Learning Programme is the new illustration of the Landscape of Curiosity. It’s just one of a wide range of metaphors that I tend to revert to that describe landscapes: my mind clearly works on a predominantly geographical model.

Our curiosity is bounded by our own knowledge: it may be easy to assume that the more we know, the less ignorant we are, the wider our boundaries, but I am sure that is not true. Ignorance, which is our blessing of opportunity, is probably available in equal measure to us all, no matter how brilliant we assume that we are. Self delusion, however, is more unevenly distributed.

Our own certainty, in the absence of evidence, our dogmatic belief, this is something that we must strive to be aware of. To turn around and question those things of which we were certain, to see if our certainty holds true today.

Change is a funny thing: it’s neither something that resides with other people alone, nor is it something about which we can be certain. If anything gives us the ability to see around the corner, to at least set a foundation for change, it is curiosity. And liberated at scale, it is a powerful force.

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