Last month Nesta published its report “Mass Localism”, which builds on an emerging theme in political and activist circles. Last year John Denham led the charge with “Making Local the Answer” lecture at the RSA, ironically saying after 10 years plus of centralisation “local” is the big idea…
The Nesta report is OK, wishful thinking in places and idealistic perhaps but the application of community led approaches to achieve sustainability goals (“The Big Green Challenge”) may have some lessons for a cash strapped public sector who need to allocate limited funds (but perhaps lets not call it a “challenge” or competition). It also suggests that the local angle can be delivered in poorer communities as well as the more affluent, where active village leaders are thought to be much easier to find.
Expect to hear a lot of buzzwords like localism and communities over the next four weeks of electioneering, but probably less and less after one of the parties actually gets elected. The Conservatives are speaking about “big society” instead of “big state” and want to recruit 5,000 “community organisers”, with a new role for government ( “no role for government” is not what David Cameron is telling the Guardian readership, who unsurprisingly don’t appear to believe him).
But I always thought that centralising and controlling is the default political mode (just see episode 16, “The Challenge” of YesMinister for a masterful exposition of the ground rules by Sir Humphrey). For my part I am looking to see what the new neighbourhood business model will be when we want to deliver HS2 – perhaps 263 separate sections of track autonomously funded, built and managed by enthusiasts?
Every year I repost/review the Edge Annual Question as a refresh/reboot as my new year starts. The 2010 Question – “How is the Internet changing the way you think?” appears at first as a bit mundane, but as the 137 writers approach the task with their own personal take on the question I find enough to provoke some – um- deep thinking.
A few of my favourite behavioural themes get an airing – Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan, considers the impact of information:
So consider the explosive situation: more information (particularly thanks to the Internet) causes more confidence and illusions of knowledge while degrading predictability.
So much information, so much ignorance is his view – before he switches off the internet and returns to his well stocked physical library. David Myers states the obvious that the Internet as social amplifier can work for good and evil, and Chris Dibona (Google) doesn’t think the net creates ignorant people – they are just as likely to be ignorant without it. Most of the other authors accredit the net to broadening their horizons and despite the brain power on show often in relatively simple ways. (I was expecting Andrew Keen to pitch in on how we are letting the amateurs take over, but sadly no room for just one more iconoclast). Brian Eno finishes his answer/essay off with:
I notice that almost all of us haven’t thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed.
I notice that my daily life has been changed more by my mobile phone than by the Internet.
Stephen Pinker is robust:
To be sure, many aspects of the life of the mind have been affected by the Internet. Our physical folders, mailboxes, bookshelves, spreadsheets, documents, media players, and so on have been replaced by software equivalents, which has altered our time budgets in countless ways. But to call it an alternation of “how we think” is, I think, an exaggeration.
OK… no need to read every essay but surf the names you know or the titles that take your fancy – we still need the Edge Question every year.
It is with some quiet satisfaction I report that a Japanese study (admittedly sponsored by Yamaha) led by the nueroscientist behind Nintendo DS Brain Training, Ryuta Kawashima, has tested a number of middle aged men who after returning to motorcycling saw improvements in memory, information processing and concentration functions.
The riders said they made fewer mistakes at work and felt happier.
Kawashima said “Our final conclusion is that riding motorcycles can lead to smart ageing.” So can I get some tax breaks on my health plan that involves more motorcycling?
Also in the comments on Hell for Leather– “you don’t stop riding because you get old, you get old because you stop riding”
and another cafe racer image for the fans out there – Ala Verda – Norton Commando engine, Laverda frame:
Just a quick redirect to an article by Kevin Kelly (not the guy from Long Now, Wired, etc) in Forbes about risk and innovation, which has been a topic I have spent a lot of time on this week. Apart from the references to our old friend Daniel Kahneman (see 18 previous posts) Kelly makes some valid but perhaps a bit general points on the balance between risk and innovation – one bank executive’s innovation is another civil engineers risk, as I might have said to Rod earlier this week.
Kelly says “Everyone is taking, if anything, too little risk.” well yes, but lets explore that…while the points he makes about framing and emotion reflect Tversky and Kahneman, its still a stretch in the current economic situation to feel that corporate risk taking will save the day. Or maybe I misread it – if so I blame the last glass of red wine. I did, however, like this bit:
“How can you as a leader instill a culture that makes your employees wisely embrace risk and figure out new ways to build revenues? Here are three suggestions: (1) Ensure employees see unanimity across the senior team about the firm’s priorities; (2) encourage mistakes. “If you fail, try again. Fail again. Fail better,” said the playwright Samuel Beckett (we can learn a lot from the creative process); (3) make collaboration desirable. Complex problems require collaborative solutions. Where leaders fail to persuade their people to collaborate, ambiguity and competitiveness rush to fill the vacuum.”
Avoiding work constructively and so enjoyed some old clips from Yoram Bauman, PHD and the self styled world’s first “standup economist”- although a little theoretical knowledge might help in crossing over the humour barrier for mere mortals (or neo Keynesians).
Recent gigs at Chartered Financial Analyists local meetings… World tour promised, the LSE should book him now.
He was also on PBS today (which why I checked out his YouTube back catalogue, in a long tail sort of way) and in a relatively straight interview, surprise, surprise, he got asked about the recession – almost missed the reference to Black Swans, though.
Imagine the scene – you get Dan Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Sendhil Mullainathan in a room in California to deliver a master class on behavourial economics, courtesy of Edge. In the audience you have Jeff Bezos, Nathan Myhrvold, Danny Hillis, Ev Williams, George Dyson and other A listers.
6 sessions, with videos and text, plus Q&A. As an example – session 1 – Thaler’s Nudge theory, choice architecture and “libertarian paternalism” are explored – interesting that he was going to call his book “Everything Matters”. I like the phrase “one click paternalism” as well if not the possible negative outcome. Maybe we can get the opt out choice architecture right on our company car share scheme.
While its not an instant fix – behavioral econ rarely is – its worth the investment in time to get up to speed on the basics.
BTW The use of the Enron film title is just me being ironic…
Working my way through this years “Pop!Casts” from Pop!Tech I settled down for the Malcolm Gladwell show. The premise of his new book, Outliers, leaves me a little underwhelmed – “so what” comes to mind – and I know that there has been some cultural critics who have argued that we have seen diminishing returns from Tipping Point to Blink to Outliers.
I haven’t read it yet so will reserve judgement, but as bloggers take plenty of credit for compiling other sources of information and thought surely it would be a bit wrong to characterise Gladwell as just a pop sociologist, reading the difficult books so you don’t have to?
Watch the video here and you decide.
The New York Times adds its voice to the emerging acceptance of behavioural elements in economics and markets generally, in an op-ed by David Brooks. Lots of good lines-
“”My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking.”
“So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception.”
The writer’s comment that “choice architecture”, as per Richard Thaler’s Nudge theory, will only work in limited cases echoes my own views, but if markets and governments fail to influence the decision making process then what? back to the individuals non rational decision making again…
And with halloween approaching read how the Vancouver Sun charcaterises current markets as Motivated by Fear, with yet another mainstream introduction to neuroeconomics – also on BBC Radio 4 yesterday –“Money on the Brain”
Somethings happening in this area when the big guys start to pay attention.
Mark Earls blogs on his own site and the Marketing Society site, yet again hitting several topical nails on their heads. Read the full blogpost here, but I can’t help myself in picking a choice quote:
“To be honest, copying is much more important than independent thinking to shaping human behaviour and is much more common: as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahnemann puts it, humans are to independent thought as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we really want to but will avoid it like the plague if we can…”
With the reference to BrettConsult’s favourite behavioural economist how can he go wrong?
In related news my new model for travel behaviour change is getting some attention (virally, of course) and another article beckons. My paper for European Transport Conference has been published and a copy is available here – aet-paper-081006. As always some feedback would be welcome.