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Long Version: Playing Well with Others in a Creative Era


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Full-length talk about need for, obstacles to, and ways of improving interdisciplinary work. Presented April 2009 at U. Nottingham.

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Long Version: Playing Well with Others in a Creative Era

  1. 1. Playing Well with Others in a Creative Era David E. Goldberg Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL 61801 [email_address]
  2. 2. The World is Flat & All That <ul><li>Widely asserted that world is flat and returns to creativity are increasing. </li></ul><ul><li>For example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tom Friedman, The World is Flat. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Richard Florida, Rise of the Creative Class. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>But universities haven’t undergone upgrade in a while. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Roadmap <ul><li>Creative era as motive for playing well with others. </li></ul><ul><li>Conceptual barriers to playing well: envy, namecalling, and a paradigm. </li></ul><ul><li>Organizational/Institutional understanding & mechanisms aids to playing well: meso-level dot-connectors & pairwork. </li></ul><ul><li>Role for information technology in facilitating organizational change. </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of playing well: ETSI, WPE, iFoundry & OIP. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Cold War Mindset in an Internet World? <ul><li>In final days of the Vannevar Bush era. </li></ul><ul><li>Headed US wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development. </li></ul><ul><li>Report, The Endless Frontier, set stage for NSF and ongoing funding of scientific research. </li></ul><ul><li>Curriculum, funding, P&T, and institution adapted to this change. </li></ul><ul><li>Hierarchical specialized industrial organizations. </li></ul><ul><li>Universities follow suit with departments & isolated, specialized disciplines. </li></ul>Vannevar Bush (1890-1974)
  5. 5. The Missed Revolutions <ul><li>Changes adopted in industry. </li></ul><ul><li>Largely missed in the academy. </li></ul><ul><li>We teach, but do not practice what we preach. </li></ul><ul><li>Missed revolutions since WW2: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality revolution (teamwork). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Entrepreneurial revolution (startups). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>IT revolution (innovation at a distance). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Teach the “revolutions,” but do not integrate lessons into academy or curriculum. </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Technoeconomics of Now <ul><li>From cold war to creative era. How’d we get here? </li></ul><ul><li>Technoeconomic effects: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Transport and communication improvements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Network effects. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Transaction costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Small agile firms connected by communication/transportation networks. </li></ul>Karl Marx (1818-1883)
  7. 7. Implications for Creative Era <ul><li>Smaller organizations, sticking to knitting, interacting easily with others at a distance. </li></ul><ul><li>Easily find/connect with others at distance. </li></ul><ul><li>A recipe for creative action. </li></ul><ul><li>Koestler’s term: bisociation. </li></ul><ul><li>Creativity at the intersection of disparate disciplines. </li></ul><ul><li>But all is not well. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Dueling Departments/Disciplines <ul><li>Missed revolutions & power of departments/disciplines. </li></ul><ul><li>Most universities as Italian renaissance experience. </li></ul><ul><li>Warring factions in Venice, Rome & Florence. </li></ul><ul><li>Fighting for treasure, loyalty, allegiance. </li></ul><ul><li>Machiavelli would have been at home. </li></ul>Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)
  9. 9. Conceptual Barriers to Interdisciplinarity <ul><li>What makes it hard to cross disciplines? </li></ul><ul><li>Misconceptions of “the other” one key. </li></ul><ul><li>Will do an analysis of engineering vs. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Science & math </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Humanities & social science </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Engineering” in large sense as social practice of creating complex technological artifacts for others. </li></ul><ul><li>This includes computer science and all “applied” sciences. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Consider Applied versus Basic Science <ul><li>What is engineering relationship to math & science? </li></ul><ul><li>NAS meeting: Some say “engineering is merely applied science.” </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering academics are concerned with “rigor” and “the basics” (math, sci, eng sci). </li></ul><ul><li>But engineering is so much more. </li></ul><ul><li>Myth: radar and bomb won WW2. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering envious of math/science. </li></ul><ul><li>Especially in the academy. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Relation to Humanities, Arts & SS <ul><li>Humanities, arts & social sciences (HASS) increasingly important to engineering. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet, engineering academics use strange words. </li></ul><ul><li>Call HASS “soft” as contrasted to “rigorous.” </li></ul><ul><li>View engineering as superior to HASS. </li></ul><ul><li>We envy scientist/mathematicians and consider ourselves superior to HASS. </li></ul><ul><li>A epistemological classism. </li></ul><ul><li>A totem pole in engineering minds. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Trapped in Cold War Paradigm <ul><li>“ Paradigm” traces to Kuhn’s, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering is stuck in cold war paradigm. </li></ul><ul><li>Defending “rigorous” curriculum is not an argument. </li></ul><ul><li>Offending HASS as “soft” is namecalling. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The basics” include science, but belief in “the basics” not itself scientific. </li></ul>Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)
  13. 13. Overcoming Conceptual Barriers <ul><li>Emphasize common heritage & toolkit. </li></ul><ul><li>Model thought with unifying construct. </li></ul><ul><li>Recognize that discipline is convenient organizational grouping, not tribe or religion. </li></ul><ul><li>Start linguistically to bridge understanding. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Emphasize Common Toolkit & Heritage <ul><li>Missing basics of engineering ties all disciplines. </li></ul><ul><li>Traditional curriculum to senior design, they </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t ask questions (Socrates 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t label things (Aristotle 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t model qualitatively (Aristotle 102, Hume 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t decompose problems (Descartes 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t experimen t or measure (Locke 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t visualize/ideate (daVinci/Monge 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t communicate (Newman 101). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Gifts to civilization dating back ~2500 years . </li></ul>Socrates (470-399 BCE)
  15. 15. Consider Unifying Mental Construct <ul><li>1958 book was called “anti-philosophy” book. </li></ul><ul><li>Used by many as “model” of argumentation. </li></ul><ul><li>Jurisprudential view. </li></ul><ul><li>If-then rules with backing, qualification, & exceptions. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Discipline is not Clan, Religion, or Tribe <ul><li>Many disciplines privilege their perspectives and methods. </li></ul><ul><li>Science wars as example. </li></ul><ul><li>But smart people in all organized disciplines probably doing something right. </li></ul><ul><li>First step: toleration of disciplinary difference. </li></ul><ul><li>Actively seeking interpretations that make sense. </li></ul><ul><li>Easy to say, but hard to do. </li></ul><ul><li>Start with language. </li></ul><ul><li>Toward discipline of interdisciplinarity. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Overcoming Linguistic Naiveté <ul><li>Tolerance first step, but language is still a barrier. </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistic naiveté: (LN): belief that words have single, fixed meaning. </li></ul><ul><li>Disciplines become disciplines by defining words in specific ways; encourage LN. </li></ul><ul><li>Must understand ways same word can be used in different disciplines. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Organizational Obstacles & Solutions <ul><li>Not much new under the sun: Universities ancient, departments merely old. </li></ul><ul><li>Why stuff everything into one vesicle? </li></ul><ul><li>Handy’s gods are at the University. </li></ul><ul><li>An analysis of functions, space & time. </li></ul><ul><li>Meso-level dot connectors. </li></ul><ul><li>Pairwork then network. </li></ul><ul><li>The credit assignment problem. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Universities Ancient, Departments Old <ul><li>Universities date back to middle ages. </li></ul><ul><li>University of Constantinople, 425 AD. </li></ul><ul><li>Modern departments date to 18 th and 19 th centuries in French & German models. </li></ul><ul><li>Research journals in 18 th century. </li></ul><ul><li>Can we sustain activities today on innovations of two centuries ago? </li></ul>Theodosius II
  20. 20. Why Put Everything in Departments? <ul><li>Department centered resources: money, people, space. </li></ul><ul><li>Department-centered functions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Identity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Space allocation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Communications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clerical support </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Budget allocation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Teaching assignment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Research evaluation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hiring, P&T. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Louisiana Tech, Ruston </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Separate admin functions from academic. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Academic directors: Administrative leaders, hiring, budget, not necessarily in discipline. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Program directors: curriculum & advising, usually in discipline. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Analyzing Functions, Space, Money & Time <ul><li>Inertial analogy. Activities light versus heavy. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Light activities easy to change. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Heavy activities difficult to change. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hiring, promotion & tenure are heavy. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Space & budget assignment are heavy. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Coordination, innovation, and decision making are light. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Time: Some activities recur, some are one off. </li></ul><ul><li>Space: Some activities benefit from collocation, others less dependent. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Analyzing Activities Culturally <ul><li>Charles Handy, Gods of Management: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Zeus, club culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Apollo, role culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Athena, task culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dionysus, existential hero culture </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Universities: All is role culture, but not everything a role. </li></ul>Charles Handy (b. 1932)
  23. 23. Aligning Cultures, Activities & Resources <ul><li>Different types of institutions will value different activities. </li></ul><ul><li>Highest priority activities should receive heavy resources. </li></ul><ul><li>Central institutions should be aligned with those activities. </li></ul><ul><li>Lighter activities can be placed in the whitespace. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Research institution versus liberal arts college. </li></ul><ul><li>Create named entities, for fixed periods, w/ temporary space, budget. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Create Meso-Level Dot Connectors <ul><li>Heavy resources remain in departments. </li></ul><ul><li>Getting different groups to play requires some work. </li></ul><ul><li>Dot Connector: Meso-level organizational structure </li></ul><ul><li>Gather people intellectually, virtually, and physically. </li></ul><ul><li>Buying lunch an effective bribe. </li></ul><ul><li>Sustaining networks easier in world of digital and social media. </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: ETSI, iFoundry, APIE2. </li></ul><ul><li>May benefit from pairwork. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Example: Evolution of ETSI & iFoundry <ul><li>ETSI = Engineering & Technology Studies at Illinois. </li></ul><ul><li>Started as lecture series & website in 2006 following blog post. </li></ul><ul><li>Grew to grassroots network of faculty in engineering, arts, SS, and humanities. </li></ul><ul><li>Evolved into iFoundry, Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education. </li></ul>
  26. 26. From Pairwork to Network <ul><li>Went from solo to teamwork in the quality revolution. Skipped pairwork. </li></ul><ul><li>Georges Harik, early Google employee: pairs 20x more productive than singletons. </li></ul><ul><li>Get </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Large opportunity for complementary skills. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Low coordination costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Maximal opportunity for marginal creativity. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Effective emotional leveling. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Great pairwork yields great networks. </li></ul>Wilbur Wright Orville Wright
  27. 27. Credit Assignment <ul><li>How do research, teaching dollars flow to different units? </li></ul><ul><li>Same problem in computer science: credit assignment problem of machine learning. </li></ul><ul><li>How do you set up triple jump in checkers? </li></ul><ul><li>Reinforcement learning (Q-learning) solves problem as iterative approximation to dynamic programming. </li></ul><ul><li>Notion of state critical. </li></ul><ul><li>Contributions to state: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Who hired. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Who invested in startup. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Who provides office. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>External reputation. </li></ul></ul>
  28. 28. Lessons from/for the IT Landscape <ul><li>Human networks trump electronic networks. </li></ul><ul><li>IT does help overcome space & time. </li></ul><ul><li>Some inobvious lessons: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>E-mail is dead. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook rules & wikis drool. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mining, learning, & the future of active collaboration. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Overcoming NIH disease. </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. E-mail is Dead <ul><li>You’re a postmodern. You use e-mail. </li></ul><ul><li>Your kids don’t. </li></ul><ul><li>Sharethis did study of twentysomethings & there’s demographic wave moving through. </li></ul><ul><li>Computer usage: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>AIM box </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook page </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give e-mail password to parents to check. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What they seek: Immediacy, publc/private persona, relationships & sharing as primary values. </li></ul><ul><li>IT lesson: E-mail is commodity service & not central to creativity-interdisciplinary enhancement. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Why Facebook Rules & Wikis Drool <ul><li>Social networking (SN) & Facebook exploded onto scene. </li></ul><ul><li>Wiki usage in industry and academy hit and miss (4 dreaded words: “We have a wiki.”). </li></ul><ul><li>Key differences: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook offers rooted public/private identity to individuals & groups emerge from individual interactions. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wikis offer largely private group identity & groups are often primary centralized focus. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook powered enthusiastically by participants (Linkedin, too) & Wikis die when creator loses interest. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wikis exhibit tragedy of the commons. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>IT lesson. Model future IT after SN model </li></ul>
  31. 31. DISCUS & Active Collaborative Systems <ul><li>DISCUS project between Illinois Genetic Algorithms Lab and Automated Learning Group at NCSA. </li></ul><ul><li>Distributed innovation and scalable collaboration in uncertain settings. </li></ul><ul><li>Use text mining, social network analysis, and genetic algorithms to model semantics & networks. </li></ul>Semantic Visualization w/ KeyGraph
  32. 32. Overcoming NIH Disease <ul><li>NIH = not invented here. </li></ul><ul><li>Universities are secretive, prideful entities. </li></ul><ul><li>Seek competitive advantage by “owning” systems, content, IP, curricula, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Leads to closed systems & reduction in influence. </li></ul><ul><li>Internet is open world. OCW, open-source software, and commercial sharing sites. </li></ul><ul><li>Offer advantages in traffic, convenience & influence. </li></ul><ul><li>IT lesson. Move toward openness on multiple fronts, including use of commercial systems. </li></ul>
  33. 33. Bottom Line <ul><li>Have considered </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Framework for understanding change. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Human dimensions of creative interdisciplinarity. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lessons from and for IT landscape. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Times demand greater support of interdisciplinary research, education, and service. </li></ul><ul><li>Organizational (human) problem comes first. </li></ul><ul><li>IT has supporting role for creating mesolevel support of dot-connectors. </li></ul><ul><li>Universities that “get it” will prosper, and those that don’t risk falling in stature to those that do. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Playing Well with Others in a Creative Era David E. Goldberg Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL 61801 [email_address]