Invisible Children, The Kony 2012 Video and the Processes of Influence globally

March 12, 2012

A Video from a little-known charity, Invisible Children, becomes an astonishing on-line success. It draws attention to the actions over a period of years of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The simple message of the video is the exploitation of children who become caught up in committing hideous war crimes. The influence forces at play require careful evaluation

Tudor Rickards, Editor Leader We Deserve

Two inter-related stories

There are two inter-related stories here to consider. The first concerns the actions attributed to a powerful and militant Ugandan leader and the monstrous methods deployed including rape as a military weapon, and the use of child soldiers. The second is to do with the nature and implications of messages that trigger change globally through the power of social media.

Kony 2012

The video, Kony 2012, turned into a global phenomenon last week [3rd -10th March 2012] reaching an estimated 70 million hits on YouTube. Subscriptions to support actions against Kony also mushroomed, and political awareness and actions may also have been triggered.

Going viral: a personal definition

The multiplicative effects of a trending message on social media are well illustrated. Twitter endorsement by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey helped the process of explosive growth of an on-line message, which is my personal definition of going viral.

The New York Times critique

The New York Times offered an insightful critique which serves as an excellent examination of the story and its implications for global issues and leadership. The article is among things against reducing a complex argument to an over-simplistic message. Ironically, it is in the reduction of complexity to simplicity that seems an essential feature of the processes through which a story goes viral:

The grounds for objection to the video are many. Some critics begin and end with its deep misrepresentation of the current state of play, including the fact that Mr. Kony has largely been defeated and is in hiding. Others object to the reduction of a complex situation to the story of a single “bad guy” whose capture [implies that it ] would magically restore harmony to a conflict-scarred region. For some, the backlash becomes an opportunity to promote longstanding arguments. Evgeny Morozov, the author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” objects that the video is another example of a kind of low-impact concern he calls slacktivism. It can all evoke George Bernard Shaw’s insight that “all professions are conspiracies against the laity.” Yes, “Kony 2012” may be crude, simplistic and shallow, but can it really be counterproductive if it prompts young people to ask why a well-known warlord with 30 years of atrocities to his name has not been caught and prosecuted?

Other examples

The article selects as parallel examples the online protests against conditions at the factories in China that produce Apple products, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. It then suggests that the viral phenomenon will have unintended consequences.

Ethan Zuckerman, an expert on social networking and Africa, came down against the “Kony 2012” video [drawing on] research done by Séverine Autesserre, a political scientist. Mr. Zuckerman wrote that “the focus on rape as a weapon of war, Autesserre argues, has caused some armed groups to engage in mass rape as a technique to gain attention and a seat at the negotiating table.”

Already, some have credited efforts by Invisible Children before the video with spurring the United States government to send 100 advisers to help capture Mr. Kony. We are entering an age when the shallow political power of the public including those too young to vote will increasingly help shape our policy debates.
Navid Hassanpour, a researcher the Yale political science [commented] that by creating advocates for one side in an internal struggle in a foreign land, it could lead to more intervention by the United States and other Western powers. And that might be the biggest backlash of them all.

New wine, old bottles

Systems theorists will recognise the ‘backlash against a lash’ as one more example of how systems react against intrusive shocks. Actions still promote counteractions, although there is always the possibility of complete systems disruption (going into meltdown remains a 21st century possibility of the 20th century nightmare metaphor based on a nuclear reactor going critical). But systems thinkers also tell us that lash and backlash tend to be manifestations of turbulence rather than simple causal chains that can be judged good or bad. Which is the simple (and complex) message that I am getting from the New York Times article.


Image is from the merely logic blog

The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

January 27, 2012

Why is is often difficult to distinguish between conceptual map-reading, map-testing, and map-making? Set theory provides one explanation

Big maps have little maps…

One explanation is that any conceptual map draws on other previously created maps. Sometimes you will find yourself reading a map, which itself indicates some map-testing that had gone on during the map-making. From that starting-point it can be seen that map-reading, map-testing, and map-making are not totally isolated one from the others.

Sets within sets

In set theory, the concept might be examined as overlapping sets (Venn diagrams). This offers hope of isolating out the three ‘pure’ processes, plus various examples of overlaps, including the triple overlap of map-reading, testing, and making.

Recursiveness in systems

A related way of looking at it (another mapping) is through the wider systems notion indicated above of recursiveness. This proposes that systems replicate fundamental aspects of themselves at different levels of system. (Think biological cells, organs, individuals, sub-species etc).

That’s why the question does not have a simple answer

We have two theoretical possibilities suggesting why the question does not have a simple answer.

The good news

The good news is that those same principles can be put to positive use, as you reflect on your own mapping processes. If you believe you are primarily map-making, that’s your map of what you are doing. If you are testing (beliefs), you are map-testing (beliefs). This ‘get out of conceptual goal’ card relies on another powerful map known as the interpretative or sometimes the sense-making map. But that would be the subject for another post

An example from Tennis

I’m ‘reading’ (literally, on my PC) an account of the tennis battle at the Australian Open between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The score is one set all. The commentators say that Djokovic is fatiguing. That’s their ‘read’ of what’s happening. Someone adds ‘he sometimes appear to be struggling but isn’t’. That’s testing the fatigue idea.

I am noting the evidence that Murray may be having a mid-match slump or nerves. That’s testing another idea.

Djokovic recovers from his apparent fatigue. Does this test conclusively refute the ‘fatigue’ idea? Do we need the more subtle idea of ebbs and flows of energy?

Commentator says: “Whoever wins this set wins the match. That’s not a fact, that’s just what I think might happen”. Notice how the commentator shows awareness of the difference between a fact and a ‘map reading’ of ‘what might happen’.

Djokovic eventually wins a close match lasting nearly five hours. Murray on interview ‘reads’ the experience as evidence he is getting closer to the play of the World No 1 (and to Nos 2 and 3, Nadal and Federer)

Think map-reading as sense making

The Tennis story also shows how conceptual map-reading is rather like examining and making sense of a map.

Rugby is more like chess than you might think

January 22, 2012

Chess and Rugby games both start with two sets of eight ‘forwards’. In chess the forwards are called pawns and most of them get taken out of the battle as each game is played

The beautiful parallel came to my attention through the remarks of a commentator on one of the Heineken cup games yesterday [Jan 21st 2012]. Rugby is like a game of chess, he said. I began to look more carefully at the structure of the game I had been watching.

The dynamic structure

You may find what follows easier to understand if you already have some knowledge of both games, but the main point is easier to grasp. I am looking at the dynamic structure of two systems, chess and rugby. Some of the surface characteristics are similar. There is a deeper structure that has even more system similarities.

The forwards are like two sets of eight pawns …

The point was deeper than I first thought. First, consider the configuration of the forces involved. Each game begins with two sets of eight forwards. In chess, the pawns (forwards) advance towards each other, clash, and many are often are taken out of the game. Most rugby games start and end with two sets of eight forwards (pawns). The scrums and line-outs are mini-battles as the two sets struggle for advantage. Chess players are taught that the pawns are the soul of chess. Most forwards say the same.

The lineouts

I played rugby as far away from the forward skirmishes as possible. Their black arts are lost on me. Yesterday the wonderful replay-graphics revealed the deep structure of the lineout battle. It was far from the unitary structure I had imagined. I had ‘read’ lineouts as taking place with the two sets of very tall players rigidly assembled and arranged one against like two sets of chess pawns (only in two files, rather than in two ranks). Lineouts (and scrums) are after all called set-pieces.

The basic idea is that the ball is thrown into the lines of players. Elite jumpers compete to catch the ball, aided by support players who lift the jumper. Yes it is a bit like ballet although few rugby players will see it like that.

The three clusters

The lines of forwards moved more dynamically that I had imagined. Instead of obedient sets of eight, the system morphed itself into three clusters. Each cluster was a sub-system with players from each team. The three clusters are still arranged in a sequence at the front, middle and back of the line-out.

The chess nature of the contest was picked out in the video. Each cluster or sub-system has one of those elite jumpers plus an undefined number of support players. There is wonderful scope for feints and ploys to confuse the opposition. Some are obvious. A jumper will run back or forward, perhaps from one cluster to another, triggering responses in the opposing line.

A game of threes

Rugby players might want to think of the similarity in the structure of forwards in the scrums: the front row, then in the middle, and the back row. Then there are clusters of players across the entire team: the forwards, the half backs and the backs. Rugby is a game of threes.

In principle, in the line-out…

In principle, the team with the advantage of the throw-in should win the line-out ball. Increasingly complex moves of the kind makes the lineouts more interesting and competitive. The game also has rules and structures which permit intense and balanced competition. Systems theorists call that ‘requisite variety’.

Then there are the scrums

I have even less understanding of the dark arts of the scrums. But I now see again the rule of three, and the chess-like nature of the grunting and groaning. Who said that the backs play the music and the forwards are bred for carrying the piano?

A thought for Christmas: How Feedback loops work for your web traffic

December 24, 2011

Peter Senge

A Christmas message from Tudor Rickards

I noticed today how a decision I made had contributed to a little bit of web traffic (or lack of it), in the build-up to Christmas.

Over the last few days, [Dec 20th-23rd] visits to the Leaderswedeserve site have dropped roughly to half.

I might have become more active, but…

On discovering this, I might have become more active, tweeting furiously, or posting something from a small stock of draft posts kept in reserve for times when stories are hard to come by…


But instead, at first I took the view that if there’s not much traffic, there’s not much point in blogging.

Peter Senge’s feedback loops

It’s a nice example of one of Peter Senge’s feedback loops. A change in inputs lowers outputs which produces further change in inputs and so on. Business down, wait for better times, which (maybe) sends business down further …

Systems theory does work…

Systems theory does work. Although, sometimes action can ‘break the loop’. [Do I hear a faint cry of Bah Humbug from somewhere?. A Happy Christmas, everyone.]

But I did post this, didn’t I?

Well spotted (if there’s anyone out there spotting). Just let’s say it’s a triumph of optimism over rationality. And a way of [b]logging the idea about feedback loops.

Joined up Management and the Ackoff-Beer Contribution

November 26, 2009

Russell Ackoff

Joined up Management is a Very Good Idea in theory. I look forward to finding convincing examples of it working in practice

The concept has been around for some while, and still crops up regularly in business speak, particularly in the public sector. There seems little recognition that mostly this sounds like the mouthing of rhetoric. Its basic idea is that of systems thinking. This provides an explanation of organizational silos, and proposes remedies which permit improved integration of previously sealed-off knowledge packages.

One distinguished systems thinker is Russell Ackoff who is still going strong, and has been talking much sense on the subject over several decades.

Ackoff is regarded as a serious academic who may have been hindered in promoting systems theories by a distaste for the art of the guru. He likes to quote his old friend, the late Peter Drucker noting that the only reason people called him a guru was that they did not know how to spell the word “charlatan”.

Systems theory makes the essential dilemma of joined up thinking clear. You connect up some sub-systems more strongly at the expense of others. That was why matrix management – an early attempt to overcome management silos – failed to deliver what was optimistically expected of it. Turned out that one dimension of the matrix would get privileged over the other. Incidentally, that was why the tripartite system set up by Gordon Brown to improve the UK’s financial system a decade ago was intelligent attempt to replace silos with joined-up thinking. But it was never going to solve a problem, only help expose possible dilemmas and ambiguities of control.

Ackoff worked with Stafford Beer on his trips to the UK, on a plan to remodel business educations along more holistic lines. The first of their experiments was in The Manchester Business School whose first leaders (in the late1960s) introduced a systems-based management system. The system attempted to foster creativity and a healthy operational environment. This was to be a ‘viable self-structuring system’ with appropriately open communication with egalitarian leadership. Come to think of it, the Ackoff-Beer vision was an early attempt to design an organisation based on joined-up management.