May 31, 2007

Reboot9: Trusted space, nature's rules

The Prior Revolution
In Galileo's day people believed the earth was the centre of the system and that the world was flat - does anyone still believe these things? ;-) There was a powerful institution that would persecute you if you challenged these things. Galileo, however, did challenge these perceptions. What did he do to create his revolution? He played off Reality versus Dogma. Galileo observed nature and discovered the laws. In natures the laws are rooted in mathematics, not dogma. But, that said, just because you can see something is happening, does not mean that it is accepted.

Natural Human Organisations
The Roman legions provide a superb outlook on how humans organise themselves. The foundation for the legion's life was its smallest unit, the conterburnium, conterburnales meaning 'mates'. The conterburnium was a small tent like home, where a group of eight men would sleep, eat and all the rest together for up to 20 years. Were they close? Absolutely. The fire service use the same system now. Ten of these groups was a century of 80 men run by a Centurion, for which there were 64 grades of promotion over 20 years. Six centuries made up a Cohort and the legion was made up of 10 cohorts, with 5400 men.

'Head Office' in Rome didn't care what was happening in these small groups of small groups of small groups. HQ was a talent clearing house, finding the Centurions who, in fact, ran the show. The whole system was run on trust and reputation.

Powerofgroups Magically, though, the Roman structures fit all kinds of magical number combinations, most of all the Dunbar number. We cannot have close personal friendships with more than seven or eight people. We can't have efficiency with more than 80 people. Beyond 80 we lose all sense of efficiency - we can't work effectively. All those guys with 3500 friends on Bebo and Facebook... they're lying, I think. This makes me think, too, of Gore Tex's structure - when a factory gets to 100 employees they split it in two and create a new one.

These are Galilean observations. They should be telling us something about our online and face-to-face relationships. But they aren't. We still live in a machine world, where we are put into groups which create friction, teams which are efficient but not much care is involved. We want to be working with friends where our attachment to each other helps the project succeed best.

Release the Power of the Human
We are primates. If we observe our monkey ancestors we can see it, and we can see what we need most: Touch and Conversation. If given the optimal initial conditions every part of nature will grow to its natural optimal design.

Plant one acorn seed and you will get a whole forest eventually, given the right conditions. Given the wrong conditions you might get a tree or a clearing, but not the forest. Think about our classrooms. Are they optimal conditions for growing relationships and making collaboration count more? Given the Dunbar number a class of 20-30 students is the most destructive sizing we could have. We need classes of eight or 80 - just like the amazing and high-performing 75 student classroom I saw in Canada three years ago.

Nature knows best: optimal relationships
We have so much to learn from nature. Look at a flower, like this one, and every petal is arranged in an optimal place so that every petal gets the maximum coverage of sun and rain. Do our petals in school get all the sun and rain that they need? Do they get attention from the centurion and HQ that is required? Probably not, since our ways of working are not conditioned to be like this from the start. In our schools of hundreds, thousands of individuals, kids are forced into creating their own conterburnium, which take the form of gangs and bullying. It's natural, and nature shows us.

We need natural human leadership

Natural Human Leadership
A real leader, not an administrator, is what we need. We natural sifting of talent based on trust, trust that is earned from leading at the front, not administering from a desk behind the front line. We need to observe nature and use its lessons to inform our structures, our relationships, our expectations and our leadership.

Trusted space, nature's rules - the Reboot Talk page summary


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Ha, after two years running I couldn't extract myself this time to reboot, sounds as interesting as ever though!

Ewan, it's a bit late on this comment... you've got quite a powerful concept here. Although, I am still a bit confused about the reference to Dunbar's Number. If Wikipedia is correct, it's 150. I'll do a bit of research into it. I am intrigued by the number 8. It's seems common sense to me and worth the looking into. The Canadian example sounds wonderful.

RE the comment on the nature analogy:

"Do our petals in school get all the sun and rain that they need? Do they get attention from the centurion and HQ that is required?"

That could be construed differently by administrators. I'm afraid that is what America's No Child Left Behind strategy was supposed to address, and we know what a abysmal failure that has been. For a country hell-bent on free enterprise, our schools are about as Communist as one can get. No extra chips for the best and brightest! Those should go to the kids at the bottom!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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