Periodic Table of Social Media

31 07 2011

picture credit: Mollye B Peters (click on the picture to go to the source blog)

Periodic Table of Social Media.  An interesting concept!

Not just the World Game…

31 07 2011

The discovery of a soccer-ball-like nebula in the far reaches of the universe has positioned soccer as not just the world game, but the universal game…

Kronberger 61 (soccer ball nebula) (photograph by Gemini Observatory / AURA, as printed on National Geographic website)

The nebula has been named Kronberger 61 after its discoverer, amateur astronomer Matthias Kronberger. It was formed when a dying star released a gaseous shell. I find its similiarity to the familiar soccer ball interesting, given my recent post on Apophenia, Searching for Meaning.

For more information on the theory behind the formation of this phenomena, click here.

Searching for meaning

30 07 2011

the image of a face in the dust of the Cydonia region of Mars

Babies love faces. As soon as they can turn their heads they will turn towards a face. Breastfeeding focuses them on the face of the mother – eyesight focus in small babies is less than 30cm, just about the right distance to focus on mum’s face while feeding. By the age of two months, babies are skilled at recognising faces and are attracted to anything that even vaguely resembles a face. It is a survival skill and helps them begin to learn to communicate and to interpret emotion and expression. A basic representation of two dots and a line in a circle is recognisable to children and adults as a face – perhaps a smiley face.

As normally functioning adults, we seek meaning in the world around us. When seemingly random and inexplicable things occur, we try to rationalise, try to seek an understanding. We use religion, horoscopes, philosophies, karma – all manner of ways to try to understand and control the random and unsettling things that occur in our lives and the lives of others. How many times have you heard “It happened for a reason”?

image of Jesus in the lid of a Marmite jar (Wales)

And while we rationalise the events, our brains also seek to find meaning in the random visuals we are presented with. We see elephants in clouds, a face in the dust of Mars, Jesus in a toasted cheese sandwich and the Virgin Mary in mould growing on a wall. The very fact it is often a religious icon or being could either indicate we are seeking a supernatural meaning – or perhaps the atheists are wrong. Quite why omnipowerful supernatural beings would decide to manifest themselves so often in foodstuffs and other ephemera is not explained.

The Skeptics Society’s Michael Shermer calls this “patternicity” – the ability to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Statistically it would be a Type One error- a false positive.

The technical names for this perception of meaning in random data are Apophenia, or Pareidolia. And this need to seek meaning in a random universe can be used to explain miracles, paranormal phenomena and horoscopes.

Jesus on the cross and Mary below him

This all came to my attention when we decided to research some ghost stories on a particular historical area for a tourist brochure. While I find the ghost stories really interesting and am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment, others in my team are highly skeptical. My basic rule is, if you have to go too far to explain something away, then that is no more valid than going too far to explain it in the first place. The explanation for the ghosts being seen in fog, dust and half-light did seem to fit this theory – some of the other phenomena would perhaps bear further investigation.

Virgin Mary in a pancake

So depending on your viewpoint, we are alone in a universe that we cannot control, where inexplicable and sometimes unfair things happen with random timing, but sometimes serious impact on our lives and the lives of other we care about. This lack of control can be scary, challenging. Is it any wonder we seek to understand, seek to find meaning around us?

Is there any harm in believing something unsubstantiable if it gives us comfort that there is meaning, and harms no-one else?

Live and let live.

Twit by name, Twitter by nature?

30 07 2011

(licensed under creative commons)

One of the topics that particularly interests me is the effect that social media is having on society and individuals. The impact is felt in most areas of life – work, social life, health, education, identity. As an information-junkie (who subscribes to a large number of news Facebook and Twitter feeds), I recognise the positive benefits of social media – but also the less obvious transformative effects which may not be so positive.

The instant feedback, instant gratification aspect of social media was covered in The Impact of Marshmallows on the DS Generation.

The effect of the popularity contest of “like” is having on what we post and hence shaping our thought processes was covered in *like*.

One of the more interesting researchers in this field, neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, raises another issue – the ego-centric view that people will be interested in the utter banality of our every day lives as regurgitated on Twitter, Facebook et al – present company excepted of course!

I have to say when I first started blogging, I was extremely self-conscious. Was it presumptive of me to think that every thought that crossed my mind might be of interest to others? (A = yes) That blog has now thankfully disappeared into the archives of time. Instead I try to focus on explorations of external topics that interest me, rather than what is going on in my life.

Are we actually thinking about to whom we are posting these comments, and whether they are really interested? It is certainly true that there is a lot of irrelevant and uninteresting trivia on there.

Are we turning ourselves into commodities to be marketed to the world through trivial updates? How does this feed back into our self-image and self-esteem, particularly for teenagers who are still forming their identity? Is this some sort of ultimate expression for the Me generation – whichever generation you happen to think is the Me generation.

Social media is still a relatively new phenomenom, and evolving constantly. It is hard to imagine that we will know the answers to these questions until the effects are already realised and widespread.

The article from Daily Mail is available here.

In praise of the Gen Y employee

30 07 2011

I should start by declaring that I am not a Gen Y. I am Gen X. So no conflict of interest to declare here!

Recently there has been a lot of traffic regarding the Gen Y employee. They move around a lot, they don’t have the same loyalty that Gen X and particularly Baby Boomers have. How do you motivate them? How do you keep them? How do you manage them? How do you deal with their concept of work-life balance?

In every challenge, there is opportunity. This posting is in praise of the Gen Y employee. Providing you get the right one. (See Harvard Business Review Blog: 3 tips For Hiring New Graduates for hints in this area.)

1. They are IT literate. Not only can they ALL type, they are also a generation brought up understanding the logic behind software programs. Hence they are not only familiar with the range of Microsoft programs, they also pick up other IT programs quickly.

2. They can be outspoken if something is wrong. Unlike those of us who have been in the office for a long time, Gen Y-ers are often not acculturated to the office, and they are confident that their opinions are of value. So if you have a process that makes no sense to them, you will hear about it. And maybe you needed to hear it.

3. Their work-life balance can mean a positive and happy person in the workplace. Which is great for team morale, providing they are also doing their work.

4. They have a low boredom threshold. Must be growing up in the technological age with computer games providing constant stimulation. The low boredom threshold can work in you favour providing it is channelled correctly. This requires both the right attitude from the Gen Y-er, and from the supervisor. If they are coming to you telling you they have finished their work and they are bored – find something new for them to do that will stretch them – a developmental or quality improvement program that no-one else has time to do. They are often keen to try something new, and this may be a great way to keep them interested, encourage them to stay and see what ascertain their potential.

5. They move around a lot. While some see this as a negative, it can also be a positive, providing they are not moving every couple of months. Picking up ideas and processes from other workplaces and other industries is a great way of gaining different perspectives which can be applied to your workplace.

6. They are often less interested in financial compensation compared to other forms of reward which facilitate their lifestyle. Which is possibly a lesson that we should all learn. And in these days of tightening budgets, learning about other ways to reward employees may be of benefit to the organisation at large.

Gen Y is a label for a stereotype and therefore does not apply to every Gen Y-er – any more than the terms Gen X and Baby Boomer apply to every Gen X and Baby Boomer. However Gen Y is the future so we, the other generations, need to know how to work with them for the betterment of us all.

to restructure or not to restructure…

30 07 2011


That is the question.

Often a new executive or manager coming into an organisation will restructure. This has the effect of looking like a “go-getter” action sort of person who is getting things done, addressing the issues and making changes.

International literature indicates that a restructure hold an organisation back by 12 months. A merger or demerger has an 18 month impact. For that period of time staff are busily working out their roles in relation to others, reporting structures, remaking committee structures and reporting lines, budget lines and delegations, policies and procedures, remaking relationships with other units – a significant productive-work-time cost. While time is spent reforming the organisation, other innovations get put on hold. Meanwhile your competitors may be working on their product and service innovations.

On top of that there may be direct financial costs: new staff and executives, new letterhead, business cards, websites, signage. The effect on staff of restructures and particularly frequent restructures is cynicism and change-fatigue (leading to change-resistance), particularly if a “spill and fill” methodology is employed. Such a method can also cost significantly in payouts for those who are retrenched as part of the restructure.

So why would you restructure? It is not always a bad idea – sometimes restructures can make a quantum leap for the organisation.

1. When the current structure doesn’t actually work. This may be because the industry has changed, but it may also be that the current structure has grown over time rather than having been designed to fit organisational outcomes.

2. To align with the CEO’s mental map. For the CEO to have a good grip on the organisation and an understanding about work flows and process flows, it does need to align with their mental understanding of how organisations work. This is probably the least easy reason for staff to understand.

3. To cut costs through significant savings. As noted above, there are very significant costs inherent in a restructure, so the savings predicted by the new structure need to be significant. As opposed to the immediate costs of a restructure, the benefits can flow long-term – providing you aren’t going to restructure next year and the year after….ad infinitum. Cost savings might be realised through eliminating a unit or function, or through merging two or more units. However these need to make sense from an organisational point of view – eliminating the R&D section because they are costly and not directly linked to an income stream is not going to help the organisation long-term.

4. If the industry or the goals have moved. If the organisation is undergoing significant change in purpose, a restructure might be necessary to change the direction. When Nokia changed from manufacturing rubber boots, cables and consumer electrical products into focussing on electronics, it would have been necessary to restructure to meet the needs of the new industry.

Have you been through a restructure, merger or split recently? Has the dust has settled, has it worked? Did it achieve what it was meant to achieve? Was the process well managed?

A childhood dream

24 07 2011

Vesuvius looms over the town square at Pompeii

In about 1974 or 1975 an exhibition of artefacts from Pompeii toured Australia. I visited it at the SA Museum in Adelaide. I was probably about 9 years old. I still have a postcard of one of the statues, carefully stuck into the back of my childhood photo album.

I had been fascinated to hear that when they were excavating Pompeii they kept coming across holes in the ash with bones in them. They tried filling the holes with plaster before they exposed them – and discovered that they were producing plaster casts of the people and animals who had died when Vesuvius erupted.

My lasting memory of the exhibition was of the plaster cast of a dog – arched around on its back with its legs in the air.

Fast forward to 2011.I am in the main square of Pompeii. Vesuvius looms large in the background, ever the reminder of why this town is the way it is. Pompeii is massive. They estimate between 12000 and 22000 people lived here. It is also remarkable not just for the preservation, but for the things we can find out about Roman life. They had plumbing throughout the town – lead pipes. There were water fountains and wells. The houses each collected water for the central use. Storm-drains funnelled rain away from the footpaths.

Stepping stones enabled people to cross the road without stepping in manure from the chariots. Deep ruts have been ground into the stones paving the roads – evidence of the iron-rimmed chariot wheels. This is one of the most amazing things I saw – evidence of actual human activity worn into stone.

inside a Pompeiian house

The houses were large with spacious rooms. Bars, bakeries and shops lined the paved streets. The most popular visit for tourists these days is the brothel – complete with paintings on the wall – our trilingual guide explains in Italian, English and French, that it is “like the menu in MacDonalds – you point at what you want”. Peppe is not only fluent in three languages, he is witty in them as well.

The plaster replica of a dog from Pompeii that I remember from my childhood

The baths were made of marble, as were the counter-tops in the bars. Houses had tiled mosaic entrances and brightly coloured murals on the walls. Pictures of Vesuvius show a forested pointed mountain, very unlike the denuded flattened top that exists today, post-explosion.

The plaster casts are eerie. Some of them, you can see the bones through the plaster. They apparently died from gas prior to the town being covered by ash. It wasn’t a pleasant death – the bodies are contorted. Some hold their hands over their faces. Families lie together – parents cocoon children.

In the afternoon we climbed Vesuvius, a very steep climb. The crater at the top is large and still smoking. The volcano overlooks Naples. They say another explosion is overdue, but that when it happens they will know in advance.

evidence of life - ruts from Roman chariot wheels

This was my childhood dream, to go to Pompeii. Next time I want to see Herculaneum, the other town lost to the same 79AD explosion.