The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. – Einstein
For several years now, I’ve been studying the intersection of technology, culture and communication, the impacts of social media, the relationship between creativity, innovation and design, and the potential of various futures.
I’ve had this gnawing sensation at the edges of my mind that all these areas were held together by a common thread, but I couldn’t put my finger on the connection. My intention is that by taking this out of the incubation stage in my head and putting it into words, it will become clarified and provide some value.
First off, let me lay out a framework . My ideas are based on 3 main concepts:
* Social media is fundamentally changing the human experience.
* The world is increasing in complexity.
* We are experiencing accelerating change.
And a brief explanation of each:
Social media is fundamentally changing the human experience.
We can all agree that social media technologies are here to stay. It’s not a fad – it’s a new form of communication. We’re never going to go back to the ‘old way.’ Those of us who actively participate in online environments understand that there is a shift underway, and tomorrow’s leaders will be the ones who know how to leverage the new social ecology:
The businesses are asking: “how do we monetize this?”
The educators are asking: “how do we teach this?”
The youth are asking: “how do we hang out here?”
The nonprofits are asking: “how do we use this for social change?”
The designers are asking: “how do we facilitate interaction?”
Every sector is trying to figure out how to integrate the platforms to serve their particular purposes, but the deeper message is that this is becoming a pervasive social technology that is changing everything about how we live, both in work and in play.
The world is increasing in complexity.
This is not to say “the world is becoming more complicated,” (well, that too), but I’m referring to the evolving role we’re all playing in becoming a node in a complex adaptive system.
The online social networks we form become entities in themselves, a collective, global brain, capable of some pretty tremendous things – we haven’t even scratched the surface of this potential.
We are experiencing accelerating change.
The rate of technological advances is increasing at an exponential rate, meaning that the speed at which ideas and information can be transmitted and shared is also accelerating.
This is creating opportunities for mass collaboration, experimentation, and rapid innovation. It also suggests the need to adopt a non-linear view of the world in order to fully grasp the upcoming implications of technological ‘progress’.
Based on this information, it seems the most critical skills for success in the 21st century include the ability to anticipate, plan for, and adapt to change.
Because the nature of information is fundamentally different, it will also be necessary to update our frameworks for how we obtain and process information.
We need to develop strategies for using social media tools to access real-time data, crowdsource information, and harness the power of our social networks to data mine the kind of information we need in an economy based on knowledge work and attention.
We also need frameworks for understanding what it means. Now that we can be both consumers and producers, it is increasingly difficult to filter the quantity of incoming information, make sense of it, and contextually organize it into our worldview. The blur between these roles raises questions about how we should decide what information is credible, relevant, and necessary, and who to rely on and collectively trust as our experts and guides.
I’m proposing that this may require a new approach to thinking in general, a new “thought architecture”; to expand thinking to a systems level in order to develop a big-picture understanding of how information is related. I haven’t found a term that accurately describes this concept, so I’ve been referring to it as “metathinking.” My theory is that by implementing this approach, it will cause a reorientation in the relationship we have to information, and cause a paradigm shift that would:
* enable us to develop better strategies for critical thinking
* facilitate creativity and innovation
* equip us to anticipate and rapidly adapt to change
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to roll out a series of posts that will outline potential frameworks for making this happen. Some of the methods are tried and true formulas that I’m just going to repackage via a social media lens, others I’m still experimenting with, so it will be an evolving process. Any feedback, comments, or collaborations are welcome. 🙂
up next: metathinking framework #1: Environmental Scanning
The Law of Accelerating Returns
Ephemerization – R. Buckminster Fuller
STEM Compression – John Smart
Complex Adaptive Systems
Creativity, innovation, and change is well served by this new paradigm. Critical thinking however is in short supply. To usher in this new world, tools for thought, not control are absolutely critical. Tools for control are too easy, and a real danger today.
Marco Guardigli said:
I would say that social media
is enabling new ways of thinking.
An idea is not anymore forged
Into a single mind, but emerges
From a collaborative interaction
And I personally dream of new
Ways of interactions (currently
Mostly verbal) that will encompass
Let’s build a better world,
Marco Guardigli said:
Oh, regarding the word, my opinion
Is that “metathinking” is not the
Best word for it.
What about one of:
The meta- prefix is not implying the
Venessa Miemis said:
hmmmm….. ok, will keep working on it.
although, ‘metathinking’ is based on the idea of metacognition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metacognition) – i wanted it to implicate an awareness of our cognitive processes.
collaboration and social networking falls under that umbrella, in the sense that we gain/add value from engaging in those processes when they are done with intention and conscious purpose
Marco Guardigli said:
Metathinking is also here: http://bit.ly/4akIW4 did you check?
One of the GREAT thoughts I got from your paper is the idea that some substantial part of the overall thinking does NOT occur into a single brain.
maybe ExtraThinking? Exthinking? Esothinking? Esogenous Thinking?
Meta- brings to my mind the old dualistic stuff. Plato.
This Social-Thinking (probably this is the good one for my meaning 🙂 ) is not happening on some upper different “meta” layer. It is simply a way of accelerating and extending the process of thinking itself, involving others in our -previously private- mind processes.
So, our minds reverberate and work more efficiently if allowed to socially interact with these new tools.
Venessa Miemis said:
oh, son of a……!!!! apparently my search to make sure that word hadn’t been used yet was not thorough enough. sigh.
well, now i suppose i *have* to come up with a new term, don’t i?
that is a good point to bring up, that a part of our learning process is now based in a distributed intelligence, and maybe that concept needs to seem more obvious from the terminology……
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Andrés David said:
Venessa, a few months back when I was testing Meme and helping my wife with ther doctoral dissertation I got to summarize my views about the information flow and how to understanding it in the following paragraph:
“The real problem of the real-time web is not how to make things work in real-time. Neither it is how we as individuals deal with the increased flow of information. The real problem is how all that information gets classified, sorted, compiled, edited so we can access it, analyze it, process it, mix it and “whatever it” we want to do with it. I see it as something analogous to our own processes of perception and memory.”
I think you are on the right track; the problem can be best approached by drawing parallels (without falling in the “it’s like a brain” fallacy) from cognitive sciences. If you haven’t read it, I recommend Daniel Schacter’s “In search of memory” for a great overview of the state of research in memory, I think it will spark new ideas for you.
I arpepciate you taking to time to contribute That’s very helpful.
Andrés David said:
Oh, and I forgot to mention the related concepts of “cognitive prostheses” and “extendend cognition”. Both can be of help.
Venessa Miemis said:
Andres, excellent resources, thank you.
The concepts of extended cognition and cognitive prostheses are definitely informing this framework. I’m working on how to package that information so that it’s accessible for those who have never heard of it or think it belongs in the world of science fiction. I was lucky enough to attend the Singularity Summit a few weeks ago here in NYC (http://www.singularitysummit.com/), and it’s good to know that a lot of really smart people are dedicating their lives to thinking about the potential impacts of these technologies.
This project is pretty exciting for me already – within 24 hours of posting it, collaboration has begun. Ideas and resources are already being exchanged, here and on Twitter. Just more proof to me that there is a new process of ideation and innovation going on, where we discover solutions collectively.
I’m curious – what is the topic of your wife’s dissertation?
You are welcome. If I come across something else I will let you know.
My wife is working on memory in old age, along the line that old people seem “to live in the past” and (apparently) remember more easily events from long ago than more current ones. Initially it was conceived as part of a therapeutic process with reminiscence as its main tool but her experimental findings have shown some interesting effects related to how memories work during periods longer than a year. She will finish writing around february, if you want I can ask her to send you a copy.
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Frank Spencer said:
Venessa, I love this! Looks very promising, and a great complement (or other way around) to my work on Holoptic Foresight Dynamics. I love this part:
– enable us to develop better strategies for critical thinking
– facilitate creativity and innovation
– equip us to anticipate and rapidly adapt to change
Because, we not only need better strategies for using SM, or better frameworks for understanding what it means, or better “thought architecture” (all of which I agree with, and big time!), but we need new environments from which to operate from within – a shift in operations – that are conducive to this type of thinking and activity, and open doors for us to adopt this type of thinking. Of course, it’s a give and take – the environment facilitates the thinking, and the thinking creates the environment.
In other words, it’s hard for people to really implement foresight thinking and expand its untapped power (as it evolves) because our present environment (in biz models, governance, policy, religion, social initiatives, etc.) hinders a foresight view and flow. It’s similar to our present economic model being a hindrance to human development, and realizing it wasn’t healthy to begin with.
I love your “metathinking” word-smithing!
BTW, I’m big on CAS and complexity theory – start talking about complexity and decentralization, and I get juiced!
And, I knew you were too sleepy to see it the other night, but thought you might enjoy this simple slide presentation I use on SF, and some of the ideas it contains to explain the unfolding future:
Let’s continue the conversation – I think we have an opportunity to collaborate that could benefit us both.
Since you mention the Gaia theory and all, you might find an old presentation i put together useful from a framework perspective. I basically used environmental theory as the basis for looking at the emerging digital landscape.
I’ll look forward to you next posts…..
Venessa Miemis said:
I love this! I laughed out loud at the slides:
How does this mesh with traditional business thinking?
It doesn’t 😉
I’m definitely going to use this as a reference in some upcoming post. I like your blog too.
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Mitch Anthony said:
Vanessa- This is a great question and you’ve sparked a great thread. I’ve been thinking about this question for most of my adult life, but through a slightly different lens. I ask, what will it take for humanity to overcome the survival responses that lead to short-term, me-first thinking? The tragedy of the commons is too well documented. And while I am ecstatic that new technologies and new processes hold promise for a greater and more productive hive mind, I am frightened by a species that has no trouble choosing this year’s sexiest guy but is stymied by something as basic as climate change.
I suggest that we are, in fact, talking about a change in consciousness. As you explore this further I suggest you consider looking through very well established doorways to consciousness, in tools such as Buddha’s Five Mindfulness Meditations.
Venessa Miemis said:
I agree with you, we’re talking about a change in consciousness. I read a lot of eastern philosophy, practice meditation and yoga, and consider myself to be a spiritual person. I feel like I’m seeing many different fields now talking about ‘awareness’, ‘presence’ ‘awakening’ ‘shift in consciousness’, so maybe there is a convergence going on, and we will hit that tipping point where we start to see the world with new eyes. Moving away from a capitalist culture and the values associated with it would also be helpful.
I have great expectations for the potential results that will be possible through social technologies. A lot of people are still thinking about how to use social media to monetize, and I understand that. But there’s so much more going on. I think that being able to connect to the world is changing us in a way that’s never been possible before in human history. I think that barriers can be broken, and assumptions and stereotypes and prejudices can be questioned, and general empathy towards other humans is possible now that we are able to peek into other people’s realities and see what they see. I don’t expect there to be a complete eradication of hate or war, but I hope there to be more peace and love.
I think as we continue to develop solutions to give people basic needs (water, food, shelter, economic potential to thrive/support a family), the types of global conversations that are being had will shift to a higher level. We have a long way to go, but I’m trying to do my small part on this blog, by suggesting new ways of looking at and thinking about things.
You brought up tragedy of the commons, which just made me think of something…… as I’ve been doing research to help build this metathinking theory, and as I look at these ‘classic’ texts and papers that we consider foundational for understanding human behavior and motivation, I’m realizing that we may need to abandon much of what we “know” as we move forward. The environment we live in today is fundamentally different than when those things were written, and we can’t study today’s reality through an old paradigm or framework that doesn’t apply anymore.
hmm… i wonder what that would mean for understanding the meaning of “knowledge” anymore… (a great read on this question is the book The Postmodern Condition, by Jean-Francois Lyotard).
sure, humans are humans, and we have our basic drives… but i wonder if technology is forcing a kind of cultural evolution?
Mitch Anthony said:
You ask such good questions. In his new book Whole Earth Manifesto (a must-read) Stewart Brand makes the case that humans have made significant social progress only during times when we have lived within our supporting ecosystems’ carrying capacity. However, when we exceed that capacity we go to war.
Your question about technology forcing a new kind of cultural evolution is a great one. It points to the fact that we are living in a time when by conventional definition we are exceeding our carrying capacity in unprecedented ways.
If a new kind of cultural evolution will be forced by the new convergence, the components of that convergence will likely include not just new tech, new process, new information and/or greater spiritual awareness. It will likely also include a heaping dose of ecological disaster as well. And from here it looks like all of these elements are on the immediate horizon.
But I don’t want to sound like a doomsayer. I agree with you that such a transformation is not only possible but inevitable. Following the teachings of the Aikido masters, our challenge is to learn to take adversity and to transform or sublimate it’s energy into creative and productive growth.
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As we move forward in our metathinking, it may help to ensure the foundations are solidly built. Your recent tweet about Richard Saul Wurman and the five ways of organizing information led me to this.
Information Architecture by Cognitive Design Solutions
The Problems to be Solved
Information architecture must deal with at least three key realities:
The glut of information — A research study in 1999 showed that 50 percent of the managers interviewed felt they are unable to handle the vast amount of information they receive. 65 percent reported diminished job satisfaction because of the stress that comes with information overload. We are inundated with information — much of which is useless or irrelevant, and creates a fog-like barrier that obscures the specific information we are seeking. Our own communication flow must take place within this context.
The “information overload” effect occurs on at least three levels:
First it is a logistical usability problem (building a IT system architecture that works from a user-interface/ usability point of view).
Secondly, it is a communication problem (managing “cognitive load” in communication).
Finally and perhaps most importantly, it is an emotional problem involving stress, distractibility, and loss of meaning (directly disrupting an individual’s perception and motivation during work tasks). See Richard Saul Wurman, InformationAnxiety2 (2nd ed, 2001) pp. 4-12.
A concrete example that illustrates this overload in business communication is the important and demanding role of daily e-mail — including the fact that uncontrolled “spam” can make the email ‘in box’ painfully dysfunctional.
Increasing demand for mission-critical information — We are constantly asked to create information and make it understandable. How can we best structure our ideas, and the ideas of others, so they make sense? How can we ensure our audience understands what we are saying? How can we create systems that make it easier to publish the needed information?
Maintenance — Researchers estimate that for most Web sites, 80% of the cost goes toward maintenance. Changes to poorly architected sites take a long time to implement.
Jeremiah Boughton said:
This is a great topic! I was drawn to it after hearing the word “meta thinking” I quickly Googled the word and this is one of the pages I was drawn too! The first time I heard the word, “meta thinking”, I was immediately drawn to it. For many years I have been misunderstood yet allowed to keep going in my work because of results. Meta thinking is the perfect wording on how to actually describe myself.
Stuart Dobson said:
Personally I would refer to this framework as “super-concept integration”. It’s a term I coined years ago to address ideas that encompass a large selection of ideas into a complex, forward looking concept. This “super-concept” usually exposes self evident gaps and enables the complete concept to be integrated without all the component parts.
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