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June 25, 2008

Networks are linking without hierarchy

Louisville, Kentucky -- Networks live on participation, hierarchy on authority.

Michael Wesch, cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, talked to the national eXtension community of practice conference today. The people attending are content experts from land-grant universities who work collaboratively across state lines to put peer-reviewed unbiased information on the national Web resource, www.eXtension.org.

Wesch said to make working collaboratively successful
• Empower your members
• Engage them in meaningful projects
• Make room for creativity and play
• Listen
• Inspire the members of your community

“Nobody is as smart as everybody.”
Wesch attributed the quote to Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog (1952- ).

Social media is impacting our lives in profound ways we may not realize, a cultural revolution, Wesch says. He talked about the power of networks citing Reed’s Law, the assertion of David P. Reed, American computer scientist (1952- ).

Reed's Law
The utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network. This grows much more rapidly than either the number of participants or the number of possible pair connections.

It’s civility in action— empowerment, engagement, creativity, inspiration and accountability.

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, http://www.ksu.edu/sasw/anthro/wesch.htm

"Reed's law." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed's_law

June 23, 2008

Compassion when a coworker’s parent dies

I found a blooming azalea ‘Promise’ at my mother-in-law’s memorial service several weeks ago. It was from my coworkers. Del’s mother-in-law died while we were at the ACE conference; he left to go directly to Muscatine. And Dennis, our coworker from Utah who worked a sabbatical with us, also left the conference to go to St. Louis. We coworkers sent memorial donations.

In times of family illness, deaths and other life tragedies, coworkers and friends become family…at least here in Iowa. Compassion…empathy…friendship…thinking of you…civility.

Dennis sent this tribute about his mother’s last seven hours. I print it with his permission.


Unless you are in close contact you can’t really hear a person’s heartbeat.

But breathing; you can hear that from a spouse, your dog or a snoring neighbor. Breathing is rhythm and heartbeats are percussion.

When my mother was in Intensive Care I could see and hear all the beeps and blinks of her monitors but her breathing was almost drowned out.

When they decided there was nothing more they could do to improve her condition, they moved her to “comfort measures.” Not really a hospice, but a private room with no instrumentation and lights you could turn off.

By this time mom was only a shell. She was unresponsive to touch or sound. I don’t like the term “brain dead” but she was unaware.

At first her breathing was loud and labored and I cowered in the corner of the room checking my email and looking at baseball scores to try to distract myself from the sound of fighting death. Then it turned to almost snoring but still unbearably loud. I just wanted it to stop, I wanted to go home and have someone tell me when it was over.

But ever so gradually the volume went down to that of a contented nap, to that of a snoozing dog, to that of a sleeping child….until it became so faint that I had to move closer to hear for sure… until it became so faint I could tell only by looking at her mouth…. so much fainter… so faint, so faint… so…..

There weren’t any last words, no dimming of the glow in her eyes, no grip left in her hands; just breathing; letting me know she was going peacefully.

--Dennis Hinkamp, June 15, 2008

June 19, 2008

We are the Keepers of the Seven Generations

Art by Debra-Ann Pine, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians on 1996 USDA NRCS poster

“Trails lead anywhere. We need to know where we’ve been to move forward,” Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. June 11, 2008

Seven generations are important to many indigenous North Americans.
There are always seven generations alive walking through time.

A core tenant of life---any decision which might impact the lives of The People should be looked at and considered from the perspectives of the very old, the very young, those in the middle, those who have passed from this world and those who are waiting to come in.

Looking ahead seven generations
Ettawageshik talked about long-range planning and the consequences of today’s actions as caretakers of the earth’s resources. What we do affects people for 120 to 140 years, seven generations in the future. He said Native Americans have the freedom to govern themselves. They may choose wisdom or be as dumb as can be. “This is a moment in history. This configuration of people will not happen again.”

He said it takes involvement, caring and communication to make good decisions.

Rule of civility: respect the environment
Anishinaabe peoples live as tribal governments or bands in the northern United States and southern Canada, chiefly around the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. The Anishinaabe honor those who have walked ahead of them, respect those who walk with them and consider those yet to come.

Frank Ettawageshik’s ancestors passed on the role of taking care of the Great Lakes. “In traditional teachings and in the Anishinaabe world, we’re taught that water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. People don’t understand how fragile our Great Lakes ecosystem is,” Ettawageshik said. He sums it up:
• If it’s harmful, don’t do it.
• If we’re already doing it, stop.
• If we’ve already made a problem, clean it up.

June 17, 2008

Self-discipline to self-absorbed, 5 terms

Definitions from online sources --

Self-discipline, correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement

Self-restraint, control imposed by oneself on one's own feelings, desires, or actions

Self-esteem, a confidence and satisfaction in oneself

Self-expression, the expression of one's own personality: assertion of one's individual traits

Self-absorbed, absorbed in one's own thoughts, activities, or interests

These terms are in a news article
Signs of the times? Civility may be at all-time low
Copyright Deseret (Utah) News, May 11, 2008

According to the survey, 67 percent say people have definitely or probably become less civil during the past decade. On the other hand, nearly half, 45 percent, say they personally have become more civil, while 37 percent see themselves as unchanged.

“People, in general, in surveys see the problem but very seldom do they see themselves as part of the problem,” said P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University. He identified schools, workplaces and road as places that seem to bring out the worst in people.

Utah State University special education professor Richard West:
“Civility has taken a backseat to brash behavior, abrupt behavior and winning. A lot of this has to do with our celebration of competition over collaboration.”

June 12, 2008

Social responsibility in an organization

In the business world, it’s known as a double bottom line. The traditional bottom line shows a financial profit or loss.

The social bottom line
• improves the professional lives of employees
• provides a product or service that adds value for the customers
• contributes to the community
• helps or at least does not harm the environment

Those who favor social responsibility feel businesses and organizations benefit from society and, therefore, have an obligation to improve it.

Businesses and organizations serious about social responsibility make it a core value.

They demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility internally as well as externally. They
• value employees, supporting a structure open to fresh ideas
• help their community’s charities and governments
• review products and services to gauge the value to society
• seek to decrease the use of energy and materials and reliance upon the Earth’s natural resources

The Association for Communication Excellence social responsibility group
The group asked all attending the conference to bring used books to Traverse City, Mich. The books are being donated to the Grand Traverse Area Literacy Council to help others build their literacy skills. Because we are communicators including writers and editors, this was a natural tie for us and something easy for us to do for our host community. We decided we would do a similar book drive for next year’s conference in Des Moines.

ViNSiGN, a full service Internet solutions provider in Labuan, Malaysia, has several educational social responsibility articles as part of its contribution to the community. The Importance of Social Responsibility,
Organizations should give due consideration to the design of work organization and job satisfaction. A number of leading companies have taken steps to develop more ethical cultures and systems by involving individual employees in corporate affairs. Good internal communication avoids misunderstanding. Workers enjoy their work and work efficiently. The quality of goods and services of the organization therefore increases. Social responsibility is important in the internal environment.

Social initiatives taken by organizations tend to promote goodwill, public favor and corporate trust, and these may contribute to the long-run success.

The measurement of social investment deals with the degree to which the organization is investing both money and human resources to solve community social problems.

June 10, 2008

Wish you were here

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Sand underfoot, two of us sat under a beach umbrella that really offered little shade given the angle of the sun. Laura and I talked about a blog in our minds for the Leopold Center that Fred will author, all the posts he could do, all the people he knows.

There was sun for water-logged Iowans and enough wind for white caps onto the sand. Ducks bobbed on the waves. A dog and his owner were at the end of the dock.

Peace…and civility
Just the free flow of ideas between two people. Shore visible on the left and right and then the opening out to the Great Lake, Michigan. Picture perfect clouds and blue sky. Wish you were here.

It’s a common line on scenic and humorous postcards of days gone by. We used to receive them along with tidbits from friends and families on vacation.

Do we send or receive them today?
Once in a while a coworker will send the office a postcard from a vacation spot. So rare, the cards generally get posted on a bulletin board even if the coworker is back before the card arrives. If the coworker had sent an email, would it get posted?

A travel postcard is perhaps a ritual but it says there is a relationship, a sense of community. Someone took the time to search for it, get the proper postage, write about five lines, address it and mail it.

I’m in Michigan at the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) conference. I’ve written and sent some postcards, more to go to family and friends, including my coworkers who didn’t come to this conference. Handwritten postcards = civility.

June 04, 2008

Try sentiment analysis

This week’s post on dysfunctional communication has been on my home computer for some time. Was it too negative for a civility blog? How about rewriting…flipping it 180 degrees? It wouldn’t have the same impact.

It took me two weeks to link in my mind that post and a ‘sentiment analyzer’ a fellow Iowa State communications specialist had provided. This week I plugged the text into the analyzer. It came up ‘Overall Sentiment: Positive’. Enough of a green light for me.

Sentiment analysis is
a statistical analysis of the adjectives you use, tone, cues, polarity, culture and more…gauging the attitude or opinion of the communicator. (This is what I glean from a document by people from Google Inc. and the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University. It’s noted at end of this post.)

Shel Holtz, Accredited Business Communicator, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology wrote on his blog, (http://blog.holtz.com/index.php/update)---
Sentiment Analyzer
Enter the text of an article and watch the Sentiment Analyzer parse the document and then let you know whether it was mostly positive or negative, highlighting the elements that fall into each category. Notes David Phillips, “This kind of development is useful for analyzing sentiment of news articles, blogs and other content, which is its primary purpose but it also has applications in evaluating style and bias all of which are very useful to the public relations industry, regulators and watchers of political sentiment on and off line.”

Give it a try
Plug in an email or any text. It gives you positives and negatives. Remember it’s a computer…algorithm and all that. But it might be better than your own biased opinion.

For the people more technical than I

Large-Scale Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs
Open-source RapidMiner for data mining and analysis

June 03, 2008

Dysfunctional Communication Leads to Dysfunctional Work Places

• Units operate in silos that are unaware of the efforts of other units. One’s work may well impact another’s. They may be working on similar projects or the same project.

Roles and responsibilities are unclear, intertwining or no one oversees units to ensure each focuses and adheres to their roles.

• People hoard information so others feel disempowered.

• Overall organizational goals are unclear or nonexistent.

• Creativity and innovation take time and collaboration with an open trusting atmosphere, but workers are expected to produce every minute possible.

• Fear-based management stifles workers so they don’t ask questions crucial to an initiative’s success.

At the heart of these dysfunctions is the lack of meaningful civil communication. There’s no respect for workers. No civility. No compassion. No listening. Assumptions and gossip abound. Workers are not connected in healthy relationships.

What’s lost?
Creativity, integrity, collaboration, community, effectiveness and efficiency. There may be a frenzy of work, but are the accomplishments meaningful?

Exemplary communication needs to be part of the heart and soul of any organization or business if it wants to be successful. Then all workers feel empowered because they understand where to focus their energy and time…..So many good things result—creativity, community and change.