Wendi Deng fan club

July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

A public apology in media business is a highly overrated virtue. It skyrockets the media coverage and buys valuable time for the companies to clean up the house and make sure that people will loose their interest in the negative story.  Not many believe in the honesty of these apologies because the business interests are so obvious. Media in general seems to be the blindest guide in this episode. But the hearing of Rupert Murdoch in the British Parliament turned into an antithesis to what the hearing was all about: to publicly disclose the people and management processes that had allowed the violation of the rights of the victim families to their private and intimate information.

Crime against person

The case was totally transformed when the man who attacked the 80-year old Murdoch could manage a similar crime, in the middle of the Parliament premises. By doing that he deprived the hearing and Mr. Murdoch of their right to human protection. The episode plainly showed that it is not only media that has problems; the stupid, inhumane act opened the media gates to populist interests, news videos, and facilitated the diffuse atmosphere of revenge.

Why should it be a heroic act to attack an old man in the hearing? In between the lines, and in the news quite directly, the attacker is treated as an activist, albeit a harmless one. Perhaps this is so because he did not have a weapon, but it is a good question, what would have been a weapon in this case?

There was one hero in the Parliament hearing and in the middle of the confused and sluggish men. It was Wendi Deng who stood up and defended her husband. She protected the person because the others were not ready to do that.  For her, the attack was against the person. Probably for the majority of the audience, Rupert Murdoch was just a representative of his media company and it was comfortable to follow the incidence from a distance and to see if someone from “the system” would take care of it. But not Wendi Deng, she protected the person and took the reponsibility that everyone else in the room should have taken.

Speed of value judgement

Why do I admire Wendi Deng? Of course it was a great sporty performance with the reflexes and eloquent style of an ex-volley ball player. But it was not the physical excellence that radiated from her,  it was the speed of her value judgement. This made the men in the room to look like monkeys wondering “what’s up?”

We needed someone to point us the obvious line between the rights of a person and those of an organization. This is not always easy as we have learned from the World War II nazi trials and the ongoing Hague cases: being an elderly man is no excuse. But in this case there was no doubt about this line of rights, and Wendi Deng saw that faster that anyone in the room. It was not a question of physical defense only.

I have repeatedly wondered why it has become a generally accepted entertainment to deprive people in leading positions of their rights to protection as persons. Many remember the attacks against Bill Gates http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egpelzdc3VE or King Carl Gustaf of Sweden http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1529270.stm, for example.

To me this violent behavior has its roots in a stereotypical racism and discrimination where a person of a certain race, community, country, religion, or organization, is seen as only a representative, with fuzzy person rights, of something disliked. What is even more astonishing is that critical media in general, that is typically against such common stereotypic behaviors, does not really condemn and analyze such aggressive conducts.

I admire Wendi Deng for her beautiful physical timing, the accurate hit and agility that any company strategist could envy, but most of all I admire her for the speed of her value judgement. And it was no a left hook.


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Small creative acts and opportunity perception

July 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Without the amazing skill of opportunity perception we would be an extinct species. But what is opportunity perception? In psychological research it is hardly ever considered and I have not seen it seriously used in the study of perception or attention either. It is a marginal concept, often and originally used in the studies of entrepreneurship failure or success (cf. Gaglio & Taub, 1992). In real life we meet challenges of opportunity perception  daily like the signs below, from Lago d’Orta, Northern Italy, showing the way to the city centrum.

With Mark Nelson at PT Lab Stanford, we have been inspired by the potential value of this concept in designing innovative models, tools and frameworks for peace innovation. How could we learn to see novel and available but not yet perceived opportunities to promote peace and non-violence?  How to better see through the jungle of traditional and dominant ways of perceiving the present reality? There is a massive scale of creative potential in the evolving social, financial, political, and mediated communication in general.

Scene 1. Helsinki Airport. Your flight is just about to leave, you rush towards the gates and enter an elevator to reach the right floor for check-in and security check. In the crowded elevator, in haste you try to find an unobstructed view over the shoulders of your fellow travelers down to the row of buttons to find out which is the right floor for check-in. There really is no extra time for mistakes and a minute objectively lost is an hour subjectively. It’s like an inverse time dilation of subjective relativity in a hurry.

Finally people get out from the elevator and you stare and stare at the buttons for information. To leave the elevator or not to leave? There is no answer to your question, no information offered, you don’t know how to choose, you don’t see an opportunity for this small success, and you just have to guess – or if you are lucky, you can remember it right from your last flight here. Maybe you just try and see. The designers have not been interested in your opportunity perception.

Maybe you really make it in time, but you have already paid an unwelcomed psychological price for this uncertainty. You realize that you have missed something but what is it? This feeling is deeply bothering.

If your frustration is repeated, you start thinking of a better route or service provider next time. But of course, you learn on the way and at least you know better next time in this elevator. You will not miss the opportunity to find a way to do what is valuable to you, despite the design hindrances. It is not your problem, not in these elevators.  But now you have new and important knowledge: someone else will face that problem. This is real collective knowledge and experience of a bad service. It is very difficult to study in any market research because of its distributed and meta-knowledge nature, but it is real knowledge that has serious but difficult-to-predict consequences for customer behavior and attitudes.

This familiar incidence is a peculiar type of user/consumer situation:  you are required to know how to behave in order not to miss the opportunity to perceive and to do what is valuable to you. But you don’t know how to accomplish that and the design solutions don’t help. Hundreds of travelers daily make it so that from the outset this might look like the design solution had succeeded. What about the experiences of the people who used the elevator? Nobody knows. Is it a design success? In a collective and invisible sense it is not.

These small incidences are significant because they concern asymmetric consumer experiences. It is not a matter of zero-sum game because the missed subjective opportunities and negative experiences have multi-dimensional, subjective weights and it takes more time to build positive experiences than to get rid of the effects of the negative ones. In addition, a good customer experience cannot be created by just removing the reasons for the bad experiences.

The designer of the elevator controls has blocked your personal opportunity perception, and prevented you from a small act of personal creativity. They have removed this joy from your travel.

Scene 2. San Francisco Airport. The same story, now you are at the check-in automat of AA. It has a clear and readable display that tells you which buttons to push and instructs you to slide in your passport in order to input your personal information in the machine and to receive your tickets. But it’s 5.30 AM and you are not really interested in putting your passport anywhere, all that you want is to see an opportunity to go through the check-in and the security gate as fluently as possible. But that opportunity is not offered to you and you have no chance for a small creative act that would help you at this early morning hour.

There is no place to insert the passport and you try to slide it into a horizontal slot below, where you see an inviting, red laser lighted square and bar code symbol. The passport matches nicely the size and form of the slot, you can even insert it there, which seems like a natural thing to do. “Excellent affordance” as Gibson would comment on it, but unfortunately a false one, an illusion of opportunity. You try and try. Nothing happens and apparently there is no place for your passport in the automat. And you are in a hurry to the next queue for baggage drop.

You opportunity for a small creative act, a fast move to the gates has been blocked.

Reality and subjectivity

But of course there was information about the right floor in the elevator and the signs were really easy to see and understand. Of course there was a place for your passport, even written in so LARGE AND CLEAR LETTERS , on the top of the automat that anyone should see them – if he/she happened to look there. This is where the roads of the human designer and an engineer designer depart.

For a careful engineer, the information is there simply because it was well and wisely defined in the design requirements and it has been placed there accordingly. For a less careful human user, there is no information if it is not within his or her opportunity field. It does not help even if his life were threatened, quite the contrary.

This is negative engineering magic by which the systematic and standards-obeying designers fool us and repeatedly make us understand how bad we are in   r-e-a-d-i-n-g    t-h-e-   i-n-s-t-r-u-c-t-i-o-n-s  carefully. Or maybe they implicitly think of the Gaussian distribution of intelligence and decide that a loss of stupid customers is no real loss. The less intelligent ones are not the most valuable future customers anyway. Perhaps they are right, perhaps not.

The immaterial power of opportunity perception

Opportunity perception is a most non-physical, immaterial, and human phenomenon. It is difficult to put into the design requirements and it is more than attention or cognitive problem solving: it is a creative, holistic, forward-orienting human and animal process of perception and experience. So far, computers don’t have even a capacity for intelligent attentive behavior and those who claim otherwise simply fool us. We don’t even deep-down know what attention is.  That is why engineers so often either neglect it (don’t pay attention to it), misinterpret it (as a problem of simple perception), underestimate its psychological consequences (don’t see the impacts) or just over-scifi it (use too specific scientific models to deal with it). Opportunity perception has not been perceived in perceptual psychology.

Present psychological and neuro-physiological models of attention and perception have very little to offer to opportunity-friendly and naturally engaging design. The studies on human attention are interesting theoretically but they are simplistic and seldom authentic (they deal with problems like e.g. serial vs. parallel search, automatic or not, exhaustive or non-exhaustive search, feature based search or not, single channel vs. multiple channel etc).

Luckily there are also context related approaches like the ones offered by the human factors community research but it is a mystery how can it be such a long distance from for example the excellent airplane cockpit design to other apps at the airport? We all know the organizational answer to this but it is a weird pathology of design cultures: you would think that even stealing these good and simple ideas and concepts would be easy and profitable.

Design briefs that can take the test of life

Sören Ingomar Petersen has analyzed the huge benefits of design (see e.g. http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/publications/news/viewpoints/nv_vp_sip.htm) Perhaps this could be a useful addendum to his holistic views:  The main reason for failures in opportunity-friendly designs is that perception of opportunities is always connected with complex human intentions, interest, feelings, will, motivation, need, social situation, near and far history, and preferences. If and when these simple everyday drivers but complex theoretical and design-related entities are missed, no psychological theory in the world helps to a better design. In future service design these human behavior needs and drivers must be taken as the most basic starting points of any design solution. But we need a concept to map these life processes in a valid way.

What are we actually doing that designers should know?

Bank at home. Almost all personal and home bank applications are designed to help us self-service the bank processes. They have taught us to take care of both our own accounts and the bank’s accounts. But this is a major design failure. People are not at all interested in managing their personal accounts, let alone their bank’s accounts and processes. Their main interest is to manage the everyday life, economy and finances fluently, securely, profitably, and in a way that makes economic follow-up and planning profitable, useful, easy, fun and practical for the family if needed.

To provide account apps to us is a totally different matter than to provide real economic help and services. Family finances if any are full of challenges for opportunity perception. There are also major disasters easily available to anyone seeing illusions of opportunities. For example, in a few seconds anyone can destroy his/her financial life and future totally with these self-destruction allowing systems. How can this be possible today!? A true opportunity-oriented system would help us see also the opportunity threats.

Going for a holiday trip. When we prepare for a holiday trip it is not the just the trip we are interested in but everything that is connected with it – in our personal world. A trip is never the same for all of us. We are not mainly interested in finding and choosing the best place to stay. Almost always we want to share that visit, interest in it, and planning with someone, often with a friend or a family member. We enjoy visioning and planning our time and life arrangements around the trip. We enjoy preparing for it in many indirect ways, including various aspects of our life logistics, coordinating with our other activities, creating possibilities for relevant activities before, during and after the trip. The internet materials available for browsing travel destinations are excellent, but there are practically no inspiring, cumulatively functioning, collaborative services available for this. Miniscule signs of this thinking can be found in various sites but the offerings are scarce. The good side of it all is that there are huge possibilities for competitive advantages already.

When a service want to become intimate

Our everyday life is full of opportunity perceptions and we are continuously oriented towards the possibilities of these small, enjoyable, and creative acts of everyday life. When businesses and service providers manage to support that aspect of our life we allow an engaging relationship with them. If our intimate life processes and contexts are then well served, we will enjoy it spontaneously.

When any service intends to touch our lives and to have an intimate role for us it has to earn this right. It becomes necessary for service designers to understand the basic human perception, behavior, and experience drivers that are then relevant. In these example cases, the designers did not understand our life processes and our need for small creative acts of life and living. They did not respect our ways and will to perceive opportunities. At those particular moments they failed to create a bond of trust with us and will have difficulties in future to do so.

Psychology of primary data

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The hate and love felt by citizens and public organization representatives for Wikileaks bears an astonishing resemblance to the hate and love affair that many psychological, medical, and social science professionals have with psychoanalysis. In their deepest sense, both Wikileaks and psychoanalysis deal with the question of the value and significance of Black (evil) and White (good) knowledge for us as individuals and as members of the society.

We live an inspiring era of evolution in open source, open innovation, open science – in the middle of a widening spectrum of open X worlds. Novel solutions are needed to deal with Black and White knowledge: better understanding of knowledge creation processes, new storage strategies, re-thinking ownership and ipr, innovative broadcasting models, relevant sharing platforms, sustainable use cultures, and finally – ways of leaking when necessary. But that is not all: we need a will to learn to build open X in a way that is healthy for individuals, communities and the society in the long run.

Since our childhood we have all recognized the division between good and evil knowledge, but the question of how to best deal with it is an acute and difficult problem to solve. As the open X concepts evolve, so will also new forms of using, benefitting from, and protecting valuable information and knowledge. The problem will not only be how to break all present and traditional forms of knowledge protection and management, but how to be prepared for the new and evolving ones.

It is only a matter of time that revelations like those offered by Wikileaks will become obsolete and new strategies are needed; this will be an invariant challenge for the future knowledge world to come. There is no reason to believe that the ethos of information management would change from what it has always been: a valuable strategic asset. Even new business models will face a tough challenge in trying to create open knowledge markets. I still remember an old Swedish proverb from school, more than 50 years ago, which read “Gyllene bojor äro också bojor” , that is, “Golden chains are also chains.” Money is not the solution even by providing new and clever ways to value our individual ipr’s.

Wikileaks as a societal therapy?

On the Wikileaks home page we can read:

“We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”

Accordingly, their familiar role is to leak information to journalists that are presumably taken as “trusted” parties, or who represent what W characterizes as  “A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media.” This is hoped to be for the good of the global society.

Journalists carry out tasks similar to those of the therapists who help their patients in bringing unconscious information to the consciousness and to be aware of it.  But they are not required to behave like therapists, and typically they do not have the same mission and responsibility. A journalist can have the role of an investigator, a participant as Tanja Aitamurto has adviced me, a constructionist, or a societal therapist, for example. However, in general these motivated journalist roles are exceptions. Hence, anything can happen in their hands to the “patient”, especially if he/she/community has done something that is believed to be wrong and as long as the fragile, general journalistic ethics are followed. The responsibility lies elsewhere, on the shoulders that we don’t know.

The aim of W is also to reveal “suppressed and censored injustices”.  While this is a very practical aim, it is quite fascinating to compare it against the mission of psychoanalysis, especially the first and last sentences in the following. The concepts of “suppression”, “censorship”, “injustice” indeed belong to the everyday language of psychoanalysis. On the home page of the American Psychoanalytical Association APsaA  we can read:

“The purpose of psychoanalytic treatment is to help people change and progress in their lives. The development of self-awareness/insight is a step in achieving that progress.

People make the best choices they can, given the limitations of their assumptions about themselves and their circumstances.

Psychoanalytic treatment gives patients the opportunity to examine these assumptions, understand their origins in their lives, modify them if necessary, and make better choices for themselves.”

Wikileaks and psychoanalysis: parallel beliefs

APsaA explains that psychoanalysis wants to “help people change and progress in their lives” and that this can happen by developing their self-awareness/insight and that the psychoanalytical process (therapy) allows the patients to observe and analyze the important aspects of their lives, for their own good.

In summary then, Wikileaks and psychoanalysis have at least the following beliefs in common, that is, they believe in:

  1. the healing power of increasing self-awareness (individuals, society),
  2. the positive value of better self-perception (individuals, society),
  3. the necessity of protecting the anonymity of their sources, and
  4. their own processes in providing conditions of better self-perception, awareness and health.

Wikileaks and therapists face similar serious problems as well. In psychoanalysis, of course, it is not possible to protect the patient from the primary data of his/her White and Black unconscious knowledge. In therapy, when a patient encounters valuable knowledge during the process, the experience becomes attached to a specific person like father, mother or a loved one or to some other significant personal relationships. Not quite unlike this, Wikileaks failed to protect one of its major sources in USA and who will now face terrible consequences because of that. People involved in the leaked cases in general cannot be totally protected. The possibilities for responsible compensations remain open in the cases of such damage.

The therapist must try to protect the real person sources, if possible. However, I believe that often it is not possible to do this since patients will inevitably carry their personal therapy experiences to their everyday life and family context in their attitudes, fears, and interpretations. The consequences are extremely complex and can be devastating as some examples of false memories evoked in (non-psychoanalytical) therapy sessions have shown (see the work by Elisabeth Loftus, for example, Scientific Am., 1997; http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/sciam.htm). Also Wikileaks suffers from the problematic side effects that their data may cause in different contexts to people and communities who have been only indirectly involved in e.g. hiding important data.

The right to interfere is based on professionalism and compassion

In psychoanalysis as in other serious therapies the motivation to interfere with patient’s private life is based on the assumption, belief and wish that the patient will benefit from this sometimes painful and burdensome process. I’m not a psychoanalysis specialists but it is my own observation from some patients that I have known to undergo such a therapy that psychoanalytical treatment can lead to a (temporarily) strong individualistic life style. The social and societal consequences of the individual therapy processes are not well understood nor even routinely extensively monitored by the therapists.

Wikileaks lacks the compassionate understanding of its “patients” that would be similar or analogous to what is described by APasA: “People make the best choices they can, given the limitations of their assumptions about themselves and their circumstances.” W does not entertain this understanding: it explicitly wants to reveal the suppression, hiding of critical data or otherwise – from W perspective – repressive behavior that has taken place, whatever the local source conditions might have been (that remain often unknown). It wants to reveal these evil deeds. In this sense it is like brutal therapy that is believed and hoped to save the patient. Wikileaks wants to help correct the evident injustices through journalistic processes.

Unavoidable injustice in life

In psychoanalysis, almost always, the therapy process touches personal knowledge that is a consequence of unavoidable injustices that occur in many layers of our lives: problematic parent histories, tragic life and family experiences or just random disastrous events that have changed either our own or our parents or spouses lives. These things juts happen in life, despite the explicit claims by the parents, fro example, of doing their best. These injustices cannot be avoided and often they cannot be mended or corrected, their factual causes may have disappeared already and even the people involved might have died. Still the patient can be helped to live with these subjective forces and to understand their role in his/her life. It is possible to help them to improve life by liberation and relevant interpretation of such negative unconscious factors.

Wikileaks could benefit from an exchange of ideas with open-minded psychoanalysts. It could even lead to specific Wikileaks modes of dealing with original sources of Black knowledge by compassionate understanding of the conditions of these real sources and in this way, perhaps even further encourage secure revelation of sensitive and ethically sustainable data.

When people hide information and knowledge, their reasons to do that can vary even for totally similar data and circumstances. So, when their secret data becomes exposed, the consequences of this are also socially and personally variable. As Wikileaks surely has learned thousands of times, every data has a history, a context, numerous owners, stakeholders, and they are dynamic in the very human and social sense. It is not a matter of truth or non-truth, only.

Need for a societal theory of healing?

Analogies can be misleading, but there is an insightful parallel in these two separate worlds. Wikileaks acts as a forceful therapist who makes the “patient society” to see the material in its hidden unconsciousness, to see it “as it is”. W declares a belief in the positive power of these activities and it sees itself explicitly as an organization that heals the society (http://wikileaks.org/About.html):

“Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.”

Opinions about the healing power of Wikileaks are divided, politically, economically and psychologically. What some consider as “stolen” can be seen as “liberating” and “truthful” information that Wikileaks brings to the national and global consciousness. What a therapist might see as “revelation of repressed knowledge” can be in e.g. a parent’s eye a shame, a cause of conflict, and a disaster to the family.

While it can be argued that Wikileaks helps the nations to heal themselves it is far from clear how this healing process might or will take place. The same is true with the psychoanalytical process of healing: it is not known what exactly happens in the brain of a healing person and besides, there are reason to believe that the healing process is not a unique one and that several different ways to healing are possible.

An interesting counter example to the psychoanalytical or Wkileaks way of thinking about healing, is provided by cognitive therapy. Its aim is to change the patient’s negative life and thought patterns, models and reaction styles. The question of “what is the objective content of a patient’s unconsciousness” is not the most relevant issue then. There is quite a lot of scientific controversy about this topic in the psychology and surely Wikileaks experiences the battle of opinions. But it is a genuinely fruitful question to ask: what are the alternate ways to healing?

Primary data without a theory has no immediate value

Just like a good therapist, Wikileaks may avoid directly touching or revealing the most devastating or “dangerous” information that for some reason might be evil for the patient (the society) and for the healing process. But for both Wikileaks and the therapists it is impossible to know – without a reliable theory – what will follow for the patient from processing such difficult information. Hence, therapists or other actors  dealing with Black and White knowledge need a theory, explicit or implicit, about the world in which we live. This theory should be openly available for testing and evaluation. There is some knowledge of the consequences of therapy processes but Wikileaks and its relatives are still too young, but experiences from the “impact studies” of therapies show that it is far from a simple research problem.

We all know that simple primary data – an observation, record or a measurement can change the world. In empirical sciences all this is simple.  The core idea is to apply total and detailed transparency to the theory applied because without the knowledge of the exact theory, the primary data has really no meaning. Why would anyone care which object hit the ground first in Galilei’s experiment?

In the case of an observation we need that theory as well. A good question is, who should fulfill the conditions for this transparency? What happens when data is publicized without explicit theories of the observed phenomena? And still, it is true that sometimes we just have to publicize the data, even without a theory. It can be a precondition to building ones.

Finally, a therapist may or may not like the patient but the main aim of a committed therapist is to help the patient in all cases. Without that motivation and relevant skills the “therapy” will turn into a game of intrusion and a cheap means for attention catch, just like the famous public presentations of hypnosis where people are made to behave in ridiculous and shameful ways.  There is a clear border between these different interests, but not everyone is willing to respect it.  A recent example of this is the news about the possible hacking of the phones of the relatives of dead UK soldiers http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk/ . How is this different from leaking? We should know.

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