Example of the (false) metaphor of the tube

I was flipping through my old college business communications textbook (_Business Communication: Process and Product, 4th Edition _by Mary Ellen Guffy) when lo and behold I came across the (false) metaphor of the tube for communications:

Guffey - Communications sketch

I will give the textbook some credit since there is some explanation that it’s not so simple as just putting up a semaphore:

Only when the receiver understands the meaning intended by the sender—that is, successful decodes the message—does the communication take place. Such success, however, is difficult to achieve because no two people share the same life experiences and because many barriers can disrupt the process.

But this is a very message-centric view of communications.  As I’ve learned in my experiences, when you think of communications as “messaging” you are concentrating on the process, rather than the outcome.  As I would argue, the outcome is that you induce an action in the other receiver.  By action I mean either physically (getting the receiver do something) or mentally (changing the way people think is the very basis of Public Relations and Perception Management). This action can be external (getting someone else to do something), internal (writing this out will help me understand it better) or temporal (I’m writing in my diary so that I can tell my future self how I’m feeling right now; or, I’m adding a memo to the file so that, in the event of a future audit, the auditor will know what happened and not decertify us).

I would say that a better explanation of how communications takes place is as follows:

  1. You (the sender) define/desire something to take place (in relation to your worldview/nature)

  2. You identify individual(s) with influence or affect over your desire (the receiver)

  3. You define the action/change you want to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature) that corresponds to you achieving your desire

  4. You identify the mediums the receiver can accept and how using that medium might affect the action/change you wish to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature)

  5. You decide upon a medium and appropriate message that will most effectively/efficiently induce the action/change in the receiver.

  6. Then you send it.

Now I’m not saying that you need to do these as discrete steps all the time—human social evolution makes us incredibly efficient at doing these types of things without thinking …most of the time. But those innate skills break down when talking with people of different cultures (or subcultures, e.g. liberals and conservatives or baby boomers and millenials) or life experience, you need to take into account the whole process before the message is sent.

The key part in this is understanding—as best as possible—the receiver’s worldview/nature.  This is why the key skills to communications are curiosity, observation, listening, understanding, and empathy—not to mention broad life experiences.  Which is not to say that effective communications requires touchy-feely feel-goodery: not at all.  In some situations being an asshole is effective and efficient; in some situations it isn’t. Being able to know the difference is the key for communicating effectively.

Satyagraha versus Duragraha

This year’s Symposium on Values, Spirit and Business has the theme “How to Grow Your Business by Integrating the Gandhian Philosophy of Satyagraha”.  The Wikipedia has this to say on Satyagraha—and that “passive resistance” is not descriptive of its tenets—:

Gandhi contrasted satyagraha (holding on to truth) with “duragraha” (holding on by force), as in protest meant more to harass than enlighten opponents. He wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.”

Pratfalls to writing authentically

I go back and forth with my mom—a library media teacher—about information literacy: for me, the future of communications is not about authority, but authenticity. Below is a list of self-deceptions writers put into their writing from Writing to Be Read by Ken Macrorie (also author of Telling Writing) :

No writer knows how often he deceives himself and his reader until he becomes a professional and listens to the complaints of editors and readers. Then he often sees that he has unconsciously

  1. not written what really motivated him to put pen to paper, or
  2. not spoken truly when he thought he was being faithful to the world he experienced, or
  3. told only a small part of the truth, or
  4. forgotten to tell the reader the facts that make convincing what he insists the reader must be overwhelmed by, or
  5. grandly asks questions that everyone knows the answer to, or
  6. apologized for not being an expert on what he writes pages and pages about, or
  7. uses awkward and phony language that does not belong to him, or
  8. used six words where his reader needed only two.

The best writers commit these sins. You cannot rid your writing of them, but you can learn the identifying marks of the snakes and where they are likely to slither into your paragraphs.

Harnessing inequality

The following quote from Here Comes Everybody is interesting in that it exposes dewy-eyed optimism surrounding equal participation (rather than equal access or equal ability) as untenable:

…imbalance drives large social systems rather than damaging them. Fewer that two percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users. And among those contributors,  no effort is made to even out their contributions. The spontaneous division of effort driving Wikipedia wouldn’t be possible if there were concern for reducing inequality. On the contrary, most large social experiments are engines for harnessing inequality rather than limiting it. Though the word “ecosystem” is overused as a way to make simple situations seem more complex, it is merited here, because large social systems cannot be understood as a simple aggregation of the behavior of some nonexistent “average” user.

This follows discussion of power-law distributions (in contrast to bell-curves) and the 80-20 rule.

3 Fortunes

Three fortunes I received following pho:

  1. _Encourage me, and I will not forget you.


  1. Commitment is the hinge upon which the door to success hangs.

  2. Everything serves to further.

Cold-Start car advice

A quote from a Slashdot story on a new fast charge/discharge lithium battery:

…in any high current circuit, the power wasted in the circuit as heat can be very high. It’s current squared times resistance. With batteries that have a high internal resistance, that power heats the battery and is also power that’s wasted. With a high current delivery capability, these would have very low internal resistance and under heavy loads, the batteries would run cooler and would be able to deliver more power to the actual load instead of throwing it away as heat.

Just to illustrate battery self heating - if you ever get stranded in extreme cold because your battery doesn’t have the power available to turn the engine over, just turn on the headlights for a while. It’s a medium load but will heat the battery from the inside due to internal resistance and make the battery better able to start the car. This really works.

My dad also has a story of a his school teacher in Alaska keeping a Coleman stove underneath their Volkswagen Bug and rushing out to tend to it between periods

Cell phones and "personal" computing

One morning a month or so ago, I was listening to a really interesting story on how the US and Japanese vise and view cellphones and the internet. The emphasis in the following transcript is mine:

MARK PHILLIPS: This brings up one of the biggest differences between U.S. and Japanese cell phone culture. While most Americans use computers to develop an intimacy with the Internet, the Japanese access the Internet primarily through the cell phone. U.C. Irvine’s Mizuko Ito:

PROFESSOR MIZUKO ITO: Broadband Internet came in relatively late compared to, say, the U.S., and the mobile Internet came in relatively quickly. You saw in the late ’90s that people were really starting to orient towards the mobile phone as their primary portal to the Internet, and this bias still persists today.

MARK PHILLIPS: Many Japanese actually say they prefer the cell phone keypad over the computer keyboard because they can type faster on it. And perhaps, most importantly, they don’t have to share their phones with anyone else. That’s why the pager fad exploded in the ’90s, because it was so personal. DeNA’s Satoshi Tanaka.


SATOSHI TANAKA VIA INTERPRETER: With computers, although there may be one per household, it’s unlikely that it would be your own. With cell phones, on the other hand, it would belong to you exclusively. Thus, you have the freedom to access anything, whenever you want.

MARK PHILLIPS: This has produced two different trajectories for cell phone evolution. In the U.S. we’ve been upgrading our cell phones with the hope of recreating the Internet experience we’ve had for years on the computer. In Japan, since the cell phone has traditionally been the gateway to the Internet, the evolution has instead been in the incremental improvement of the cell phone network and hardware.

This last part is really interesting because I experienced some of the value of personal computing when I volunteered at Boston Tech Day and volunteered for technical support on some middle and high schooler’s laptops. As part of the school program, some had individually received Eee netbooks. The relationship these teens had to these machines that were theirs was quite different from the teens that brought in a family computer to be fixed. Those with their own netbook showed a lot more responsibility for their computer and seemed to be more active and able in their literacy of its operations.

Quotes on Thought and Process

For hundreds of years we have believed that if something is logical in hindsight then logic should have been enough to get the idea in the first place.  This is complete and total rubbish in a patterning system.  Most of our thinking and education is based on this absurdly false belief.

Edward de Bono, in the forward of A Smile in the Mind

Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.

Robert Heinlein, Assignment in Eternity

At heart, the problem isn’t in your actions, it’s in your thinking. So long as you focus only on what you do differently… you will fail to break new ground.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most

Double Loop Learning

While reading a snarky review on Amazon of Difficult Conversations, I was pointed to “Action Science a la Argyris”.  Googling around I came upon this:

[Chris] Argyris (1976) proposes double loop learning theory which pertains to learning to change underlying values and assumptions. The focus of the theory is on solving problems that are complex and ill-structured and which change as problem-solving advances.

Which is pretty interesting since that sounds a lot like the type of Capacity Building issues I deal with on a day to day basis. It goes on:

Double loop theory is based upon a “theory of action” perspective outlined by Argyris & Schon (1974). This perspective examines reality from the point of view of human beings as actors. Changes in values, behavior, leadership, and helping others, are all part of, and informed by, the actors’ theory of action. An important aspect of the theory is the distinction between an individual’s espoused theory and their “theory-in-use” (what they actually do); bringing these two into congruence is a primary concern of double loop learning. Typically, interaction with others is necessary to identify the conflict.

There are four basic steps in the action theory learning process: (1) discovery of espoused and theory-in-use, (2) invention of new meanings, (3) production of new actions, and (4) generalization of results. Double loop learning involves applying each of these steps to itself. In double loop learning, assumptions underlying current views are questioned and hypotheses about behavior tested publically. The end result of double loop learning should be increased effectiveness in decision-making and better acceptance of failures and mistakes.

This is actually pretty clear, and considering this was proposed in the mid-70s, I can say with certainty that this type of process is pretty well-established in current management literature—which is maybe why it seems clear to me.  Of course, that quote above doesn’t really talk much about why it’s called Double Loop, so I looked that up and found in a very interesting article:

When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.

With this illuminating graphic:

Double Loop

This is very applicable to a lot of the work I do with Capacity Building because it demonstrates a very clear difference between what I would call Technical Assistance (Single-Loop) and true Capacity Building (Double-Loop).  Sometimes all you need is Technical Assistance (like a snazzy new CMS), but often times once you have it, you realize that it’s not being used because your governing culture and values don’t align with the needs of the project (no one in your organization cares about non-targeted external communications); so you have a larger problem.

Excerpt: Sectors of the US Right---Active in the Year 2001

With the political talk about Rush Limbaugh being in charge of the Republican party I—serendipously while cleaning out my office—came across a list of definitions for the US Right from Defending Democracry: An activist resource kit. In reading over the list, the question for me that comes to mind is: if that’s the Right, what is the Left?

There is much overlap and sectors are not mutually exclusive. Populist, apocalyptic, and conspiracist styles can be found in several sectors. Methodologies range from cautious moderation, to activism, to insurgency, to violence. Forms of oppression—racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism—vary in each sector.


Secular Right

Corporate Internationalists—Nations should control the flow of people across borders, but not the flow of goods, capital, and profit. Sometimes called the “Rockefeller Republicans.” Globalists.

Business Nationalists—Multinational corporations erode national sovereignty; nations should enforce borders for people, but also for goods, capital, and profit through trade restrictions. Enlists grassroots allies among Regressive Populists. Anti-Globalists.

Economic Libertarians—The state disrupts the perfect harmony of the free market system. Modern democracy is essentially congruent with capitalism.

National Security Militarists—Support U.S. military supremacy and unilateral use of force to protect U.S. national security interests around the world. A major component of Cold War anticommunism.

Neoconservatives-–The egalitarian social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s undermined the national consensus. Intellectual oligarchies and political institutions preserve democracy from mob rule.

Christian Right

Christian Nationalists—Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. America’s greatness as Godʼs chosen land has been undermined by liberal  secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in school. Includes some non-Christian cultural conservatives. Overlaps somewhat with Christian theocracy.


Christian Theocrats—Christian men are ordained by God to run society. Eurocentric version of Christianity based on early Calvinism. Intrinsically Christian ethnocentric, treating non-Christians as second-class citizens. Implicitly antisemitic. Includes soft dominionists and hardline Reconstructionists.


Paleoconservatives—Ultraconservatives and reactionaries. Natural financial oligarchies preserve the republic against democratic mob rule. Usually nativist (White Racial Nationalist), sometimes antisemitic or Christian nationalist. Elitist emphasis is similar to the intellectual conservative revolutionary wing of the European New Right. Often libertarian.

Regressive Popular Patriots—Secret elites control the government and banks. The government plans repression to enforce elite rule or global collectivism. The patriot and armed militia movements are one response from this sector. Americanist. Often supports Business Nationalism due to its isolationist emphasis. Anti-Globalists, yet support noninterventionist national security militarism. Repressive towards scape-goated targets below them on socio-economic ladder.

White Nationalists—Alien cultures make democracy impossible. Cultural Supremacists argue different races can adopt the dominant (White) culture; Biological Racists argue the immutable integrity of culture, race, and nation. Segregationists want distinct enclaves, Separatists want distinct nations. Americanist. Tribalist emphasis is similar to the race-is-nation wing of the European New Right.

Far Right or Ultra Right—Militant forms of insurgent or revolutionary right ideology. Separatist or genocidalist ethnocentric nationalism. Reject pluralist democracy for an organic oligarchy that unites the idealized homogeneic nation. Conspiracist views of power that are overwhelmingly antisemitic. Home to overt fascists, neo-nazis, Christian Identity, Church of the Creator.

There was also in the book an interesting graphic explaining the “Producerist Narrative used in Repressive Right Wing Populism” from Right Wing Populism in American: Too Close for Comfort.  I think it’s an interesting use of design to explain a dynamic narrative (click the image to view a larger version):

Producerist Narrative

And as a chaser, it would be could to review The 7 Things Everyone Wants—specifically #4.