Discourse in a Rapidly Changing World

On the heels of Geoff Livingston’s post addressing the roots of civility, it is prudent to address the significant loss of critical thinking and discussion. It appears as though people have forgotten how to have two-way conversations in the land of the Internet. In a digital world without borders, we have generated our own great walls surrounding and protecting those who think like us, look like us, and remind us of ourselves or who we think we may be to the world at large. In an act to share knowledge with the world, the fishbowl has prevented and discouraged divergent opinions and reflective thought.

In this spectacular TEDSalon talk in London 2010, Noreena Hertz raises the issue of how and when to talk to experts (video below). Now, doesn’t this topic get your heart pumping just a bit faster? Perhaps because in the world of social media, the term expert is extremely common? I thought it might. As Hertz, claims with scientific research, we have become too dependent on experts. We crave the expert’s definitiveness and certainty to such a degree, we have created silos for ourselves away from people of opposing views and forgotten how to think and question for ourselves.

While we may not agree with everything everyone says, surrounding ourselves with opposing viewpoints allows us the opportunity to examine for ourselves why we feel so strongly about the issue and perhaps view from a different perspective. We have the opportunity for reflection; an action often skipped in the real-time of social media communication.

All of us are experts in some form. So, let’s stop debating on who is calling whom an expert. It is what it is. Anyone can hang a virtual or physical shingle out front and claim to have knowledge on a subject, but it is up to each one of us to start standing up for what we believe, examine why, and in some cases, upon reflection, choose to go another direction. All experts and workers today will need to embrace critical thinking to survive the future. Robert Reich, author of The Work of Nations, identifies these four areas of critical thought as necessary to master:

  1. Command of Abstractions: recognizing patterns and meanings;
  2. Thinking Within Systems: examining why the problem arises and how it is connected to other problems;
  3. Testing Ideas: judging and interpreting the transmission of information;
  4. Learning to Collaborate and Communicate: articulating, clarifying and then restating for one another how to identify and find answers; seeking and accepting criticism from peers, soliciting help and giving credit to others.

Reich calls this worker a “symbolic analyst.” Perhaps it is time to stop worrying so much about who is an expert (and who is not) and discovering how all of us can become symbolic analysts, surround ourselves with those like-minded individuals, and strive to be a better society. Your thoughts? How are you taking strides to develop the “symbolic analyst” in yourself and others?

Empowering yourself to be powerless

1053107766_17b6656ef8 Leave it to Valeria to make me do some deep thinking before any caffeine intake this morning. She asks, "What is the most empowering word?" Then goes on to describe the imagery of the word "empower." Personally, I despise that word. Immediately, I get a bitter taste in my mouth upon hearing the word…empower. To me, it is a buzz word senior executives use to help them sleep better at night. IF I were truly "empowered" I would not have to be told I was so.

"What other word would you use to signal that you are taking charge? Is it the most self-fulfilling word of the future?" — Valeria Maltoni

For me the most powerful word is "powerless." Until I admit I am powerless and have no control, my life will be unmanageable. This thought process serves me well in both my personal and professional lives. Breakout! It feels so good to let go!

So, are you empowered or powerless? Something different altogether?

(Photo courtesy rustyjaw.)

Step 12: Thought Leadership

Communicators Anonymous Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to communications practitioners and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

(Those words highlighted are words differing from the original twelve steps text as written by Alcoholics Anonymous.)

To carry this message is to practice thought leadership. We claim not to be experts, but come to the table as professionals with knowledge and experience to back up our statements. "It is okay to make definitive statements, but the risk you take is being able to admit when you are wrong and take responsibility for your actions." Issues change; challenges change, but the principles remain the same.

Yesterday, Geoff Livingston tweets: "There are few new ideas. There are only rehashed ideas from other eras repackaged for new media forms."

My response: Voltaire, "Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all."

Fear not of letting go of intellectual property of which you never had possession.

"Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and retaliate." BB pg. 62