Peter Drucker and the New World of Economics, Society and the Individual

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The following was first posted ten years ago today, November 19, 2008. It looks at some of the work of Peter Drucker. His prescient ability to see global change should draw us back to his writings as insightful for our time. 

Reflecting on what I wrote ten years ago, I am more convinced than ever that our past, whether capitalist or socialist, is inadequate to the task of informing us as to what our future will be. We are at a transition point in human history that is unprecedented because there is an opportunity to create new institutions and new ways of functioning as a global society. 

What does this future look like? I cannot say with any confidence. However, my conviction is that the political and economic systems that have been dominant for the past one hundred years have reached a point of exhaustion and growing impotence. What follows? That is the question that should be the center of our conversations going forward. The writings of Peter Drucker would be a good place to start this conversation.

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A couple days ago, I was compelled to pull off my book shelf a couple of books by Peter Drucker, that I had read in the early 1990's.  I wanted to see what he had to say about economics, globalism and entrepreneurialism that may be relevant to what has been taking place recently.

Peter Drucker, who died at the age of 95 in 2005, was an Austrian born journalist, lawyer, and academic, who came to America in the late 1930's and became known as the father of modern management. His writings on leadership and management helped to frame how we understand business and the changing global social context. The impetus to start my own business came from reading his Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the mid-1980's. To get a good idea of the range and power of Peter Drucker's mind, download his 1994 The Atlantic Monthly article, The Age of Social Transformation.  I'm indebted to Peter Drucker as one of my intellectual mentors. I hope you will find insight and inspiration in these selections of his writing.

Two books I pulled off the shelf review were The New Realities (1989) and The Post-Capitalist Society (1993). I'l quote from the books and then comment.  

Keynes, the post-Keynesians, and the neoclassicists alike cast the economy in a model in which a few constants drive the entire machinery. The model we now need would have to see the economy as "ecology," "environment," "configuration," and as composed of several interacting spheres: a "microeconomy of individuals and firms, especially transnational ones; a "macroeconomy" of national governments; and a world economy.  Every earlier economic theory postulated that one such economy totally controls; all others are dependent and "functions."  In the marginal-utility world of the neoclassicists, the microeconomy of individuals and firms controls the macroeconomy of government.  In the Keynesian and post-Keynesian worlds, the macroeconomy of national money and credit controls the microeconomy of individuals and firms.  But economic reality now is one of three such economies. And soon the economic region (as in the European Economic Community), may become a fourth semi-dependent economy. Each, to use a mathematician's term, is a partially dependent variable. None totally controls the other three; none is totally controlled by the others . Yet none is fully independent from the others, either.  Such complexity can barely be described.  It cannot be analyzed since it allows of no prediction.

To give us a functioning economic theory, we thus need a new synthesis that simplifies - but so far there is no sign of it. And if no such synthesis emerges, we may be at the end of economic theory. There may then be only economic theorems, that is formulae and formulations that describe or explain this or that phenomenon and solve this or that problem rather than presenting economics as a coherent system.  But there also then would be no "economic policy" as the term is now understood, that is, no foundation for governmental action to manage the business cycle and economic conditions altogether.

Economic policy requires that lay people such as politicians understand the key concepts of economic theory, but economic reality is much too complex for that.  It is already difficult, if not impossible, to give answers understandable to a lay person to the simplest economic question.  If there is not again a simple economic theory - or at least one capable of simplification - then there can be only "economic policies" aimed at a specific problem, such as an inadequate savings rate.  There can be only what might be called "economic hygiene" or "preventive economics." These would aim at strengthening the basic health of an economy so that it could resist even severe bouts of economic crisis rather than at curing a crisis or managing it.  (The New Realities, 156-158.)

Those words were written during 1986-87, over twenty years ago, and well describe the economic situation that we now find ourselves in today. A complex global economic environment that does not yield to simple, completely integrated theories. And yet, these different spheres of economic activity - the individual, the firm, the nation-state, the transnational or global corporation and the economic region - are integrated in such a way that a failed bank in the US or a natural disaster in eastern Europe can impact an Indian entrepreneur or a Japanese merchant.

A half decade later, Drucker wrote.

Only a few short decades ago, everybody "knew" that a post-capitalist society would surely be a Marxist one.  Now we all know that a Marxist society is the one thing that the next society is not going to be.  But most us also know - or at least sense - that developed countries are moving out of anything that could be called "capitalism." The market will surely remain the effective integrator of economic activity. But as a society, the developed countries have also already moved into post-capitalism. It is fast becoming a society of new "classes," with a new central resource at its core. ... the real, controlling resource and the absolutely decisive "factor of production" is now neither capital nor land nor labor.  It is knowledge.  Instead of capitalists and proletarians, the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers. (Post-Capitalist Society, 5-6.)

Political and social theory, since Plato and Aristotle, has focused on power.  But responsibility must be the principle which informs and organizes the post-capitalist society. The society of organizations, the knowledge society, demands a responsibility-based organization.

Organizations must take responsibility for the limit of their power, that is, for the point at which exercising their function ceases to be legitimate.

Organizations have to take "social responsibility."  There is no one else around in the society of organizations to take care of society itself.  Yet they must do so responsibly, within the limits of their competence, and without endangering their performance capacity.

Organizations, in order to function, have to have considerable power. What is legitimate power? What are its limits? What should they be?

Finally, organizations themselves must be on responsibility from within, rather than on power or on command and control. (Post-Capitalist Society, 97.)


As I have tried to understand the political and economic developments of the past two months, I've talked with many people about what they think and are experiencing.  The one constant is the sense of having no power or control over their circumstances. They feel at the mercy of forces beyond their reach. This certainly means that we have fully arrived at the world Peter Drucker saw forming twenty plus years ago.

What are we to do?  I believe we need a shift in perspective about who we are individually, about the nature and responsibility of the leadership of organizations, and what is within our power to achieve in a realistic sense.

First, we need to think of ourselves as personally responsible for our lives, even if we feel that we've lost control of the environment of our lives. Only by accepting responsibility for our lives will we make the necessary changes to create the climate in which we can succeed. A decade ago, Daniel Pink wrote a provocative article in FastCompany magazine, followed by a book, called Free Agent Nation. His singular idea is that regardless of what we do, who we work for or with, that we must think of ourselves as "free agents" responsible for our vocational lives.  We must take charge of our life situation, and not transfer authority and responsibility for it over to some other person or organization. Only by taking personal responsibility will we find solutions to our immediate problems. This requires that we must become more open to new possibilities, new relationships, new directions and new challenges to meet.

More than ever this means that each of us must become learners. If you are bored by reading, try one of the books that offers short selections by Drucker. Stimulate your mind to think about ideas and their application. Begin to write down your thoughts in response to what you read. Think of reading as a conversation with an author. Find someone to share you thoughts, or better, share them on a weblog. It is not enough to read widely, but to think widely by learning to express what we feel in our hearts about what we read and see.

To prepare ourselves to lead in this new world that Drucker describes, we must discipline ourselves to begin to ask questions that lead us to people who can help us learn. If you need help, go to your local community college, sign up for continuing education courses, work on a new degree, learn a whole new field of knowledge, before you need it.  No one is going to come invite you to read and expand your education, even though I am doing that very thing at this moment. We must take responsibility to do it for ourselves. As President Eisenhower said, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." Learn to be an effective reader. If you need advice, just ask.

Ultimately this leads to the conclusion that I've been writing about for many years, that leadership begins with personal initiative. It is the initiative of taking personal responsibility for the environment you are in. Whether you are a CEO, a manager, a sales person, or a line worker, leadership emerges from the initiative of the individual to do what is needed to make a difference right now for the right reasons and in the right way.

Second, I suggest that each of us begin to think of ourselves as knowledge workers. Again, here's Peter Drucker.

Post-Capitalist Society deals with the environment in which human beings live and work and learn.  It does not deal with the person.  But in the knowledge society into which we are moving, individuals are central.  Knowledge is not impersonal, like money.  Knowledge does not reside in a book, a database, a software program; they contain only information. Knowledge is always embodied in a person; applied by a person; taught and passed on by a person; used or misused by a person. The shift to the knowledge society there puts the person in the center.  In so doing it raises new challenges, new issues, new and quite unprecedented questions about the knowledge society representative, the educated person. (Post-Capitalist Society, 210.)


This means that we have to understand what we know and its value in the context of where we live and work.  These are the assets that each of us can develop and use to great effect in organizations and our communities.

Lastly, we need to think of economics as not only the complex set of interconnected spheres, but also as a bottom-up phenomenon driven by entrepreneurs who create new enterprises that form the economic foundation of communities.

Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced. Entrepreneurs need to search purposefully for the sources of innovation, the changes and their symptoms that indicated opportunities for successful innovation. And they need to know and to apply the principles of successful innovation.


But everyone who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur and to behave entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship, then, is behavior rather than personality trait. And its foundation lies in concept and theory rather than in intuition.

Every practice rests on theory, even if the practitioners themselves are unaware of it. Entrepreneurship rests on a theory of economy and society. The theory sees change as normal and indeed as healthy. And it sees the major task in society – and especially in the economy – as doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done.

Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy. Usually, they do not bring about the change themselves. But – and this defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.

Entrepreneurs innovate. Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. Innovation, indeed, creates a resource. There is not such thing as a “resource” until man finds a use for something in nature and thus endows it with economic value.

Entrepreneurs will have to learn to practice systematic innovation. Successful entrepreneurs do not wait until “the Muse kisses them” and gives them a “bright idea”; they go to work. Altogether, they do not look for the “biggie,” the innovation that will “revolutionize the industry, “ create a “billion–dollar business,” or “make one rich overnight.” Those entrepreneurs who start out with the idea that they’ll make it big – and in a hurry – can be guaranteed failure. They are almost bound to do the wrong things. An innovation that looks very big may turn out to be nothing but technical virtuosity; and innovations with a modest intellectual pretensions ... may turn into gigantic, highly
profitable businesses. The same applies to nonbusiness, public–service innovations.

Systematic innovation therefore consists in the purposeful and organized search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation. (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 19, 26, 27,30, 34-35.)


At the heart of my own perspective of leadership is this notion of the entrepreneur. Most of us are "leading from the middle" and are caught in the vise of expectations that are all around us. The only way to "escape" and thrive in an environment like this is to take responsibility for our own development, know our value in the marketplace of organizations, and develop the disciplines of innovation and entrepreneurship that enable us to be effective, impactful people in any and every situation.

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Peter Drucker describes a future that elevates the individual in society to a level of responsibility and influence that has not been known in our life times. He calls us knowledge workers. This insight is a foundation perspective for my Circle of Impact model of leadership. Today, because of these changes, and the emergence of technologies that very few could have anticipated when Drucker wrote, the opportunity for individuals to make a difference in the world is greater than every before. The challenge that is now before us is one where the structures of the world are stuck in seeking to sustain their past into the future, as their performance declines, and their organization become increasingly starved for leadership of the kind that Peter Drucker describes. This is part of what I mean when I say, "We are ALL in transition."


What is Leadership?

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"It's time to stop talking about leadership, and lead."

The voice in my head. One afternoon.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

July 1999.

Over the past three decades I've lived and worked in the world of leadership. Part of my passion has been the desire to understand the intersection of organizational structure, culture and human nature with the phenomenon of leadership. From early on in my training and study, it was clear that my perception of leadership is different than many who write about it and the practitioners of the leader craft.

Two Trends

There are two trends that I see that I find problematic for effective leadership in our world today.

The first is the relationship of organizational leadership to globalization. Many people think that as we have become a more globalized society, that we are living in a much larger arena. The fact, that during the course of a day, that I can engage in conversation and project work with colleagues in Europe and Asia would initially suggest that this is a much bigger playing field. However, I am convinced that one truth remains.

It is that all work is local work.

It ceases to be local when a business no longer requires human beings to do the work. Regardless of how big an environment that we live and work in, the work is still done in communication and collaboration with people whose proximity to us is made closer by both their physical presence and the aid of modern technology.

I want to suggest that the importance of local proximity, even through a screen, has become even more significant as our possibilities for world-wide impact have grown. In some respects, our vision for that impact has not kept up with our reach.

People no longer dream of grand visions. Our lives and work are more fragmented, more confined into ideological and socio-political enclaves. The Steve Jobs' and Elon Musk's of our world stand out as visionaries because they are exceptions, and not the models to follow.

I take my reference point for this perspective, President Kennedy's Houston Speech in 1962. In that presentation, he challenged the nation to believe that we could go to the moon within the decade.

 

And we did. 

I have tried to identify similar grand endeavors that were presented to the people of the world that catalyzed society to act in unity and harmony toward a grand goal of achievement. I have yet to identify one.

The second trend has been around as long as I have been involved in the world of leadership.

When James Magregor Burns published his text Leadership in 1978, we were a few years passed landing on the moon, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and, the Watergate scandal. From Burn's Wikipedia entry:

Burns shifted the focus of leadership studies from the traits and actions of great men to the interaction of leaders and their constituencies as collaborators working toward mutual benefit. He was best known for his contributions to the transactional, transformational, aspirational, and visionary schools of leadership theory.

This was a significant shift in understanding the nature of leadership. Yet it is a shift that has never been fully realized. Today we still live in a time where conceptions of leadership presented to us in popular media are about individuals whom some editor or producer has determined to be today's great leaders. This personalization or celebrity-ization of leadership marginalizes many people whose leadership is an embodiment of Burn's description.

These transformational leaders live in the shadow of their shared accomplishments with their partners in leadership impact. They are individuals and teams that are not interested in the title leader, or any other title like, facilitator, convener, mentor, catalyst and servant.  These transformational leaders are the hidden leaders that do not attract large advertising budgets, but makes every organization on the planet function as well as they do.

What, then, is Leadership for Today?

Leadership begins with individual initiative. If every person who reads these words would do one thing that they have never done before, based upon some concern or passion to make a difference in the world that really matters, then we'd notice. People in Mumbai may not notice what's happening in Monte Carlo, or people in Memphis know what's happening in Munich, but the people in those locales certainly would. 

We live in a time of great pessimism about leaders and organizations, which in many cases is justified.  I'm not a pessimist, nor am a starry-eyed optimist. I am very much a realist who believes that the strength of a society is found in the individual leadership of its people.

So, may I encourage you to focus on two things.

First, look closely at your local community. Where you have questions, ask someone. Find out what needs your community has that are important to you. It maybe education or children's health, or, racial reconciliation.

Take seriously the idea that you can make a difference. Do not let the pessimism and fear that exists in so many places convinced you not to care.

Second is to decide to do something to make a difference. Understand that most of the leadership we do is not world changing in the moment, but when combined with thousands and millions of other individuals' initiative, then impact can truly be world changing.

Where to begin

If the two areas of focus is a bit much, as I'm sure it for some people, then may I suggest that you look at the story that you'd like to tell about your community. Write a short story of what your community would be like if all the major issues began to be resolved. Just try a sentence at a time, then a paragraph. This is how I began to learn to write years ago. Words, phrases and fragments of sentences on scratch paper.

If you write something, send it to me. Let me celebrate with you a statement of hope that could become a reality if folks like you cared enough to take initiative.

This is what leadership is today. It is the best part of us giving ourselves to people and places we care about.


From Fragmentation to Wholeness

 Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

To create order is to create a structure for control. To release control creates a opening for initiative and collaboration. This is the transition point that modern organizations are passing through from hierarchy to the network.

If you know me, you know that meeting people from diverse walks of life is a passion for me. I find people infinitely interesting, their background, their thinking, how they found themselves doing what they do, their hopes and dreams, and their perception of their strengths and potential.

There is a reality that I see in many of them that is equally interesting.  Many of them are unfulfilled in their life and work. It isn't that they don't have a passion for something, or don't know enough about themselves to know what their strengths and gifts are. No, it is that most have never found themselves in either the social or organizational setting where they could flourish as human beings.

As I write this I'm mentally scrolling through the places where I live and work. I'm thinking about the people whom I've met and known over the years. Thinking about common characteristics that distinguish them and united them together.

What are the common characteristics of non-fulfillment and of life fulfillment.

Here are three.

Do you have a purpose, a mission, or a calling? Can you define this as something more than what you do as an activity, and more as something you create and achieve?

Do you have a supportive, encouraging, open and honest network of family and friends? Are there people who understand you, who stand by through thick and thin, who believe in you, your mission and the impact  you want to achieve?

Does your workplace and home life provide a context where your purpose and your relationships can flourish? Are you constrained by the structures that frame your life? Or, does the lack of order within your calling mean that there are opportunities that you fail to achieve?

My observation is that these characteristics are in descending order of occurrence. More people have a sense of purpose, fewer people have a truly healthy social network, and by a large margin, the fewest people work and live in social and organizational contexts where they can flourish.

The Circle of Impact


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For a decade, I've been using this diagram as a conversation / thinking tool to help leaders and their organizations understand where the gaps are in their business.  Here's a simple description of what I see.

Leadership is a function that every person can perfom to take "personal inititative to create impact." 

I am not defining leadership as a role or an organizational postion. Like many leadership theorists, I see these roles as management, rather than leadership.

Therefore, the Three Dimensions of Leadership that every leader must address are Ideas, Relationships and Social & Organizational Structure. Ideally, every person within an organization takes personal initiative through their ideas and relationships, within social and organizational structures to create impact. As a result, a company becomes a leader-filled organization, rather than one starved for leadership.

The four Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact provide the glue, the ligaments and tendons that create the wholeness of an organization.

Each of the three leadership dimensions must be aligned with one or more of the Connecting Ideas. Here's how.

The social and organizational structures are aligned with the organization's purpose. If these structures aren't, there is conflict and fragmentation.

The relationships within an organization are aligned with the values that create a common identity and character as a community of people.

However, it is not enough, to have values. Many organizations have a strong value system, but lack purpose. A community of people need a vision for how their purpose that makes a difference that matters.  It must challenge them to grow, to remain open, and to inspire leadership initiative all with their community. 

The Connecting Ideas permeate all aspects of an organization. Every person, every unit, office, group, committee, or board needs purpose that guides, values that unite, a vision that inspires, and an understanding of impact that defines the future of their organization.

The Structure Dilemma

Having been working with this perspective for over a decade, I've come to a challenging conclusion.

The problem in most organizations isn't the attitudes and behaviors of people. The reality is that people are products of their environment, or the social and organization structure of your business dictates what attitudes and behaviors fit within that system.

Most organizations work from a hierarchical stance. There are bosses and managers who direct employees work. This industrial model of management worked well when the tasks of work were non-creative, repetitive and mechanical skills based. Today, we live in a world of creativity, information and the skills require are for human interaction, communication and collaboration. The old structure doesn't align well with this new reality. Network

As I wrote in The End and The Beginning, this shift from hierarchy is an epic one. As I said recently, "Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, just leaders."

The emerging structure for organizations is the network. Each person participates by their own initiative. Each person contributes through their own unique offering to the network.

I call this "leading by vacuum," which simply means that people do what they are gifted or able to do, which opens up the environment for people with different talents and skills to contribute.

In an hierarchical structure, the efficient ordering of the parts and their compliance are primary. This structure is highly susceptible to fragmentation, compartmentalization and corruption through concentrations of power.

In the network, personal initiative, collaboration and communication make human relationships central.  This is an emergent reality, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The power resides in the network and those who know how to engage more people to contribute. It is a leadership of facilitation and ingenuity, rather than control.

I first saw this reality in mid-1970's when I heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in concert. Sitting in a large concert hall with these quiet instruments I saw these four musicians communicating through them. Here is MJQ playing one of the signature tunes, Django. Watch for how their unspoken communication and timing work together.

 

Each person in the band is essential. Each person has their part to play. The impact is a sound which transcends one instrument, and blends the four into something evocative.

The Quest for Wholeness

If you know that your business or organization is fragmented, splintering apart, difficult to hold together, then what you are experiencing is the end of the viability of a traditional hierarchical structure. You feel it before you can truly see it. By feeling it, you know that others do too.

Bringing wholeness to your structure begins with the Connecting Ideas.

Reaffirm your purpose.

Identify the values that build connections between people.

Create a vision that inspires personal initiative.

Define the difference you seek to create so that you and everyone else can be absolutely clear as to what your impact is.

Begin this process in conversation. Use the Circle of Impact Conversation Guides. Hire me to come facilitate the conversation, if necessary. I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you and your leaders.

Creating a network business structure starts with establishing relationships of respect, trust and mutual reciprocity. Out of those healthy relationships, the network emerges to provide a platform for leadership initiative to create impact.

As the network grows, allow it to establish the organizational structural components that it needs. Remain open to change. Stay vigilant in affirming and acting on the Connecting Ideas.

The future is the network. And the future is now.

Creating a Network of Relationships

Here are some additional conversation guides that can help you understand how to create your own network of relationships.

How Social Networks Work
How To Expand Your Social Network
How Information Flows Through a Social Network


Change: No Lines, No Waiting - A Personal View

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Last spring, when I was plunged head first into the bottom of the recession, I thought I understood what change was about. I did and I didn't.

Let me put it another way.

When we enter an unknown territory, we tend to rely on past experience to guide us through.

Take the above picture for example. You are walking up this hill for the first time. You may assume that what is on the other side is just like this side, but it isn't.

What if the other side looked like this.

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If it was, you would be ill-prepared to face it. For many people this is what they have experienced with this recession. Increasing, but manageable hardship, then, boom, the bottom drops out, and you have to descend in order to reach the bottom so you can begin to move up.

I'm beginning to think that very little of my past experience prepared me for what I've experienced. The degree and kind of change required of me was not what I expected.

I thought change was about looking for new markets as I "re-invented myself." In retrospect, what my best efforts did was delay the inevitable. We think that change is about markets, programs, branding, and organizational structure. Those are just tactics that follow something else.

What I discovered is that I had to change as a person.

Even saying that doesn't capture what I've learned. It doesn't because it isn't about me.

Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. This idea has been part of my methodology, embedded in my Circle of Impact materials, for over five years. But how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

Therefore, here's my recommendation. Ask the following questions. Write down your answers.

1. What do I do right now that has the greatest impact upon other people?

How do I make a difference that matters?

Now, increase the amount of time that you spend doing that.

 

2. What am I doing right now that seems like nothing more than an obligation?

Begin to plan now for ending it as soon as possible.

 

3. Pay off as much debt as soon as possible.

Build your cash reserves so that you'll have the freedom to stop and start again.

 

4. Create a list of the assumptions upon which you make your major decisions. Write them down.

Be skeptical of each assumption.

Make sure that each is valid, not simply a good sounding idea.

 

5. Be patient, persistent, and light-hearted.

I call this Resourceful Optimism.

Practice it and you'll get through.

Change is going to happen regardless of what happens. it is best be prepared for it when it comes.


The Speed of Change

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In 2010, I wrote a post, Change: No Lines, No Waiting, where I stated the following.

Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. ... (I learned that) how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

As I edited and republished that post last night, I began to think about the "speed of change" phrase.

Two images come to mind.

Image One.

Change is like a wave.

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A large wave. It comes at you, and if you are standing still it hits you - Whappp! - then drags you in its wake until it has moved on, and you are left gasping for air. Then the next wave of change comes along, hits you, and instead of being the master of change, you are hanging on for survival.

Instead of standing still and being hit each time by change, you have to climb on top of it and ride it until it begins to run out of steam, you curl off of it, to prepare for the next wave.

This is the kind of change we are all in today.

I'm no different than the rest of those who have been run over by a wave of change that came out of nowhere, doesn't even have a name, and is gone.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that what we once thought of as stability, consistency, and continuity in life was just our experience of the slowness of change. There has always been change, but it just never reached the level of a hurricane storm surge. Until now.

What is it about us as human beings that we want to remain where we are?

Why is change what we resist instead of boredom and unfulfillment?

Why are we willing to make our world small and confined just so we can feel in control?

If it sounds like I'm calling for us to give up on our commitments and do whatever is before us, that would be wrong. That is not the point, at all. Instead, it is questioning what we mean by commitment, focus and staying the course through to the end. It is questioning what we think it means to be effective and successful.

Life today is not a placid pond where we can gently float through our days.

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Instead, life has become an endless series of big waves, roaring down a mountain river full of rocks, whirlpools, massive amounts of water in your face, with no place to escape, it seems.

One after another we are seeing changes happening in our world that are totally disruptive to everything we have told ourselves is the way the world is.

Change forces us to simplify. We simplify by being clear about our values, and clear about the impact we want to have. Too many of us are more committed to the processes of our work than we are to the impact. When process takes precedence, we become disconnected from the outcome of the process. I know I live in a world where process is everything, and hardly anyone can say what the outcome of our work is.

The speed of change magnifies the problem because an overly process-centric organization cannot maintain former process levels when things speed up. The wave of change crushes processes. Instead, we need to know how to trim back the process, and move to knowing how to create impact in the moment as the opportunity presents itself. That is how to ride the wave of change.

Image Two.

Change is a door, a threshold, to what is next.

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Showing you a door is misleading. It suggests that we enter, and we stay awhile, but that doesn't get at the real issue at the heart of the speed of change.

Instead, let's see change as a series of doors in an endless progression, coming at us an increasingly level of speed.

Between each door, we enter a specific context or situation that demands that we perform at our best. As I was thinking about this, this scene from Monsters, Inc came to mind.

This is what change is like. Moving from one context to the next, without continuity, and, at a pace that does not allow us time to think through every single possible option.

The speed of change requires us to think fast, decide fast, act fast and move on fast. 

It means that we need to have more than tactical skills for change, and, more than a long range strategy for impact. It means we have to be prepared to be the person who can walk into the room and know what we have to offer to whomever is there.

This means that we have to simplify our lives, become more clear about who we are, who we are not, and, what we want from the life and work that gets offered to us on the other side of every door.

Even this picture doesn't fully get at the real issue we face with the increasing speed of change. There is something deeper, more personal at work in this context of change.

The modern world has robbed most of us of the confidence that former eras had from doing, making, creating and crafting things. Today, we are manipulators of objects, processes, financial resources and people. We do one thing, but we rarely see the outcome of that one act of work. The result is a vague sense of accomplishment, or, none at all.

Today, we find our confidence in our affinity towards ideas or symbols. For example, most people I know who are die hard Democrats or Republicans find it easier to tell you why they are not members of the other party, than their own. Their affinity is not to the outcome of the party's policies, but to the culture of symbols that the party claims as their distinctive value.

Same with sports teams. I have been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life. Not because they won, but because I started following them as a kid, and still do. People follow the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team, because they symbolize something specifically American in the minds of many fans. 

The confidence that we find in these associations is not the kind of confidence that makes it easy for us to deal with an increasing speed of change. We look for strength and security in our affinity associations. It is why fans are fickle, faithful until a rainy day spoils the parade to the championship or election.

To gain the confidence that we need, we have to be able to quickly move into a new space, and, know what our contribution can be.

This is what I mean by having a story that we tell ourselves.

We enter a room. We don't know these people. They may be Yankee fans or hate football. There's no affinity. Yet, we have to deal with the situation as it is presented to us. The story we tell ourselves is of the impact that I can have with at least one person. Just one person is enough. Maybe two is better, but one is enough. Because one can lead to more.

We are not thinking about how to fit in the group. We are thinking about how I can connect with these people so I can make a difference in their lives right now. Making that connection is essential to finding what it is that we can do to create some good in the moment that we are there.

There are three things we need to recognize every time we pass through a new door.

Context: We need to be able to see the social, relational, cultural and organizational context quickly.

We need to be able to assess what is going on, so we can move into action. We cannot assume that what is on the other side of the next door will be the same as the last two or ten doors. We must develop the capacity to understand what is going on as quickly as possible so we can move to begin to make a difference.

Content: We need to have something to offer people.

This is the content of our thoughts and character as a person. We enter into these situations confident that we have the substance to make a contribution that means something to someone or the group.

This content is best presented as a story. It isn't the story I'm telling myself, but the one that I've prepared to tell others. To not have a story is a lack of confidence. To have a story is not egocentric or arrogant. It is rather being prepared to connect with people at a deeper level than is typically happening at the moment of introduction.

Connection: We establish connections with the people because it will be these relationships that move with us through the change we experience.

As we encounter the speed of change, we need to move more quickly than we have in the past. We will find when we do, that much of what we are now doing is adapting to changing circumstances. The quicker we do so, the better off we will be.

This is what I've learned. I no longer fret over change. If anything, when I see change that needs to be made, I'll become more impatient, ready to move through the door and catch the wave as it moves forward.

Resistance to change has as much to do with our lack of confidence as it does with the change itself. Fight the resistance. Be clear about what you stand for as a person. Keep telling yourself your story.

Look for the opportunities to make a difference, do it, and move on. What we'll find is a new set of patterns in our life and work will emerge. This is the truth I have found, and so can each of you.

Many thanks to David Pu'u for the wave pictures. Check out his pictures, videos and blog at www.davidpuu.com.


When the Souvenir Becomes the Social Object

UPDATED!

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"A book is a souvenir of an idea" - Seth Godin

"The term, "Social Object" can be a bit heady for some people. So often I'll use the term, "Sharing Device" instead." - Hugh McLeod / Gaping Void

Seen in these pictures is the 19 lb Behemoth - This Might Work - compilation of Seth Godin's blog posts for the past seven years.

I'm sure many of those who received it, have it sitting on youre desk or office coffee table.

I'm using it, not as a souvenir of Seth's blog posting, but as a social object, "a sharing device" as Hugh McLeod suggests.

How a Social Object Works

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Open up the book, and people want to look at it. 

Open to a page like either of these, and it provides a prime opportunity to begin to talk about change.

I've carried the Behemoth into several different settings this week, knowing that virtually no one there will know who Seth God is.

The intense interest that these pages foster demand conversation and exploration of the ideas in it.

My recommendation is find a way to take it with you, and when you have a few moments, take it out, and begin to read it. Share it with people, and talk about the ideas that have made a difference in your life and work.

I bought a copy of Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?, the abridged version of It Might Work. I'm using it as a loaner. You can too.

Using It Might Work as a Source for Social Objects

The design of It Might Work provides opportunities for using the images as conversation starters. That essentially what a Social Object provides. A way to start a conversation that can lead to a relationship, and maybe tomorrow, change the world.

Take pictures of the large format ideas pages like I have done here. Post them on your blog or Facebook page with your own insights into Seth's ideas. Make it a conversation.

Just look at these images. If you posted one a week in your office by the coffee machine, what kind of conversations are possible.

  LizardShutUp Passion AbundanceScarcity  PeopleNotOrganizations TrueFans LazinessEmotionalLabor LastForever Soon Ideas1-2

Ultimately, the Behemoth is not a depository of past ideas from Seth Godin. It isn't a relic, or souvenir. It is a tool for sparking conversations about ideas.

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As a creative compilation of ideas, it fascinates people, just as it did my friend, Jina Hong, seen here.  As an artist, she was inspired by what she saw.

Books are great to share. But it is rare that a book can be utilized in quite the same way It Might Work can be.

If this still seems a bit weird, try this.

Take the book to a public place, and begin leafing through it. When a page captures a person's imagination, take her picture, and posted at your blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Get her email, and send her the picture.

You've not only made some new friends, but have made a difference in their lives by inspiring them with one of Seth's ideas.

This takes effort, but I'm certain it is worth it.

Thanks.


Five Steps to Get the Best From Your People

 

Team

Whether you are a small business person or a corporate executive, getting the best work out of your people is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. It takes more than attractive compensation packages and inspirational pep talks. It takes creating a culture of trust that unites people together around a common desire to give their best. Here are five steps any leader can take to build a relationship of trust with their team.

  1. Believe in them, so they will believe in themselves

Every person that works for you has something to teach you. If you are open to learning from them they will gain the confidence to do their best work as partners with you.

  1. Free them to do their best work

Don't micro-manage them. To do so sends two messages. Your lack of confidence in them. And, your lack of confidence in yourself. Remember people can smell the fear in leaders, and will respond accordingly. Be clear in expectations. Let them do it.

  1. Trust them

Trust is hard to win, easy to lose. Trust everyone until you have a real reason not to. Be constant and consistent in trusting them. Train and supervise with trust in mind and a culture of trust will grow.

  1. Thank them personally

Gratitude is not a reward. It is appreciation. It is hard to be grateful if you don't know them personally, by name, and what their work for the company is. Gratitude has its greatest impact when it is least expected. Making it personal, makes it real.

  1. Honor them

This is part gratitude, but more the way you treat both individuals and teams with dignity and respect. Remember, they don't work for you, but for your customers. You work for them to create an environment of belief, freedom, trust and gratitude that enables them to do their best work. This is what leaders do.

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For more insight on how to inspire leadership for a change that matters visit EdBrenegar.com.


The Spectacle of the Real

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Afghan Mujahideen camp

Afghan / Soviet War

Chitral, NWFP, Pakistan

July, 1981

We live in a time of images. They form our understanding of history and engage us in the present. These faces of Afghan freedom fighters from three decades ago sustain a memory of an encounter that I had with them as a young refugee worker. This image helps me understand the continuity of history in the region.

But without that direct engagement, this image maybe more surreal than real. For there is no life context in which to interpret what was taking place when the picture was taken.

Just a few days after the above photograph was taken, this man, an Afghan refugee, honored me with an expression of thanks after our team of refugee workers brought food, clothing and shelter to his refugee village on the desert plain outside of Peshawar, Pakistan.

Afghan man - Peshawar desert camp

Images influence our sense of what is real. Without direct engagement, however, they can deceive us.

Simulating the "Real" Story?

The Boston Marathon bombings (April 15, 2013) were watched by millions on television and discussed across all social media platforms and in online communities. The event, though, was mostly absorbed through pictures. The bomb at the finish line exploding over and over again. The pictures of the injured and maimed being wheeled away to rescue workers and hospitals. The faces of the two brothers as they became known as the bombers. Facts were few in number; reporting rich in conjecture, and all born through images that touched our emotions.

Fueled by a 24/7 news cycle, actual news - a statement of "facts" that an event, an accident, a death, an agreement, a visit or something has taken place, described in the traditional journalistic parlance of "who, what, when and where" - is transformed into a spectacle of opinion and virtual reality driven by the images of faces speaking words of crisis, fear and self-righteous anger. Televised analysis - more important than the "facts" of the story- drives the news through the ambiguity of the visual image and is its source of validation.

Imagine a gathering with family and friends, catching up on the news of each other's lives, and the conversation is like the panels of "experts" who fill televised news each day. No one intentionally chooses their backyard barbeque guests to mirror the political divisions of the nation. That would be boring, tedious, and just inhospitable and unwelcoming.

These televised events aren't conversations seeking truth, but, rather, people talking at and past one another in a game of leveraging images for social and political influence. We are drawn to the image on the screen of these "experts" having something to say that is meaningful, hoping that at some point some sense of the moment will be revealed, bringing reality into view.

Political Speculation.

Politics has degenerated into a unreal media-driven spectacle of dissimulation and simulation.  What we are given is not a story about what is real because to do so, the experts and our politicians would have to admit to their own limitations of insight and foresight.

Rather, we are given a simulacrum, a virtual story whose narrative appearance conceals a different purpose, enveloping the listener, the viewer, in an alternative world of meaning. Politics is a game of deflected attention, a sleight of hand, an allusion to the real that is an illusion. Get the public to focus on what inflames their passions, isolating them into their defensive enclaves, then we can go about the real purpose for which we were elected, to secure the next election and pass legislation that the public would not approve if they really knew. This is what the modern practice of politics has become.

French theorist Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, describes how the portrayal of what is real has become the hyper-real.

To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But it is more complicated than that because simulating is not pretending. "Whoever fakes an illness can simply stay in bed and make everyone believe he is ill. Whoever simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms" (Littre'). Therefore, pretending or dissimulating, leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, it is simply masked, whereas simulation threatens the difference between the "true" and the "false," the "real" and the "imaginary." Is the simulator sick or not, given that he produces "true" symptoms? (emphasis mine)

This is the game of appearances. In one instance, it is like the child pretending not to have the pilfered cookie that is in his pocket. Dissimulation is the lie that we learn as children where we hide what we have. It is a denial of reality, based on what everyone knows is true.

Simulation, on the other hand, is an imitation of the real.  Some simulators, like those that train pilots, are meant to mirror the real world as closely as possible. Other simulations are intended for the exact opposite, to create an alternative reality.

The Main Street of DisneyWorld is a simulated image of a typical American small town. Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and linguist, writes about this in Travels in Hyperreality,  

"... the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake."

"The Main Street facades are presented to us as toy houses and invite us to enter them, but their interior is always a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively, believing that you are still playing,".

This is a simulacrum of a small town. It looks, on appearances, that it is a small town. But instead, it is a place of commerce hidden behind the image.

Simulations Abound

Patriotism is a common theme to simulate. Particularly in the use of the American flag as an icon of all things good about America. Print the flag on a can of beer, a bikini, a holiday table cloth, woven as a blanket, painted on motorcycle gas tank, flown in a church, and in massive numbers on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and on Flag Day, and you have attached the greatness of America to your consumer product. The image on the product distracts from the real purpose of the flag and its history in the founding of the American republic. The flag has become an commercial icon attaching itself to a powerful emotion - love of country - by simulating the perspective that buying is patriotic.

Pornography, in a similar way, is a simulation of love and intimacy. Televised sex is a provocative restatement of social relations for the purpose of advocating the primacy of sexual expression and pleasure for modern human beings. Pornography is a simulacrum that defines human beings, not as social beings, but as sexual ones. The erotic power of sex fills a person with intense sensory feeling, and by it, alters how a person views their relationships with others. The logical outcome is the practice of having friends with benefits.

Human beings may be animals, but we are not just animals. We are human animals for whom human fulfillment is more than intense sensory release. We desire to be known in the realness of our lives. We are not fulfilled by "playing" a part, but by finding relationships of openness and mutuality. The mutuality of human love, of giving, receiving, sharing, is at the heart of the sexual intimacy that is so key to human flourishing.  The lie of pornography is that sex = love and love = sex. It is a simulacrum of the appearance of intimacy, though without the other conditions that drive human communion.

Spectacle as Simulated Reality  

Simulations can become a simulacra, a virtual reality, a hyper-reality, a replacement reality of the world of meaning.They are a kind of diversion, a deflection from reality that commands our attention. This is the nature of the spectacular event.

The culture of the spectacle, of the event that captures our attention for the moment, has become the driving force in the culture of news, entertainment, sports and consumerism. The spectacle deflects us from the real toward the hyper-real through the intensification of the historical moment as beyond history, as a singular moment in time that we must become immersed in to be alive or to be "informed." Not just a different version of the story, or different narrative, or a different perspective; but a different reality. This spectacle is a simulacrum. A iconic image event that simulates a representation of values or meaning, regardless of whether the reality of the event was about the moment being represented.

Reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing became a platform for speculation and conjecture based not on what was known about the bombing, but a projection of individual bias as expert opinion. The nature of the spectacle requires linkage to other spectacles to establish a pattern that validates credibility. This is now the nature of the news as presented throughout the day, everyday. Everyday, every event, is a spectacle for drawing attention to the screen.

As news became an entertainment medium, entertainment lost much of its distinctive appeal. The "news" isn't about the news, but a sensationalization of opinions about the news for the purpose of ratings and increased advertising revenue. On-air time space must be filled, and be paid for by ads. Without the sensationalism of the daily spectacle, no one would watch. The entertainment value of the news is the hook to tie us into a consumer culture of serial exhilaration and boredom. The difference between CNN or Fox and TMZ is one of degree, not of the difference between news and entertainment. The difference between the reality TV of news and entertainment and the actual lives that people experience is the difference between the simulacrum and reality.

The Game of Entertainment

Professional sports is a televised entertainment spectacle, less a sport, no longer simply a game to be played by talented athletes. It is the business of entertainment. The game is just the hook. The simulacra of professional sports has permeated the games that children once played, so that now, play is an adult managed hyper-organized simulation of college and professional athletic competitions. No longer do children just play on their own initiative, but are socialized into the developmental system of organized sports, essentially trained to become part of the entertainment spectacle of modern sports. 

The NFL is the master of the weekly sports spectacle.  Fantasy sports leagues now provide outlet for filling the attention gap when games are not on. It is real only in the sense that the contest happens. But it is unreal because, as a spectacle, it exists less as pure sport, and more as a collection of one-off entertainment events.

Winning a championship has meaning for the moment. By the next day, the thrill is gone and the addictive pull of the next spectacle returns. The spectacle isn't the event itself, but rather all that precedes it.  College basketball's March Madness has turned what was a locally focused, end of season tournament by regional conferences into a national three week spectacle, where even the President's "bracket" makes news. The entertainment pull is to analysis and the set up for the next spectacle. It is a consumer culture of diversion and hyper-reality.

Living in a world of impermanence.

The simulation of reality, the game of appearances, a hyper-real experience, diverts us from the mundaneness of daily existence, towards more pleasurable diversions that take us out of the real world.  Watching news, sports or entertainment programming are diversions of the type that scientist / philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about in the mid-17th century.

Sometimes, when I set to thinking about the various activities of men, the dangers and troubles which they face at Court, or in war, giving rise to so many quarrels and passions, daring and often wicked enterprises and so on, I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to be quiet in his room.  A man wealthy enough for life’s needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he knew how to stay at home and enjoy it.  Men would never spend so much on a commission in the army if they could bear living in town all their lives, and they only seek after the company and diversion of gambling because they do not enjoy staying at home.  ...

The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

The triumph of the culture of simulation is that it replaces the reality that we don't want with a hyper-reality that simulates what we do. But the simulation is not the same as reality. As Baudrillard wrote, "To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have." This is the power of a world that exists increasingly like an immersive video game, where I can "play" a role, a character, and live a fuller, more complete life in a Sim-ulated world, than in the real world of home and work.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle describes this simulated reality in her book Alone Together.

"After an evening of avatar-to avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?”

Simulation is not real life, but an artificial one. The result is that life becomes a series of spectacles, events that command our attention, one or more at a time in serial progression without continuity. The diversion works if we do not think too deeply.

French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in his book, Society of the Spectacle, was one of the first to explore the spectacle nature of the modern world.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ...

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. ...

The concept of "spectacle" unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.

The life of the spectacle, therefore, is a hyper-reality lived through the images of the event. During the 9/11 attacks, the images of the Twin Towers burning, then collapsing, became a reference point for people to share their shock, their sadness, their anger, and ultimately their compassion for those who lost love ones.

But the nature of the spectacle is that it is too intermittent an experience to foster a life of continuity. Moving from one self-contained event to the next is not a sufficient ground for a society or community to find a common life together.  Something else must provide that glue that makes civic life work.

Recovering Reality

Living in the world of the image and the spectacle is a world where reality is an appearance and beyond our capacity to determine is this real, true and the way things actually are. This is a hyper-real world which turns reality on its head.

The dilemma we face is not directly with the spectacular or simulated realities. Rather it is not having a ground upon which to distinguish between the real and the hyper-real. Some people may choose to believe in the reality of the hyper-real world, which leads further into the world of spectacle and its consumer driven nature. But reality has a way of confronting such an artificial world with economic collapses, environment catastrophes, and the experience of disease, brokenness and loss.

To recover reality is not to challenge the simulacrums of our time. But rather seek to understand the larger context in which these simulations / spectacles function.

The ancients would describe this capacity to discern reality as wisdom. While wisdom is certainly in short supply and in great demand, it is only one piece of a wider fabric of reality that is needed.

One of the results of the world of simulation and spectacle is the loss of the capacity for open, trustworthy, mutually caring relationships. Instead, we have connections with people. We have "friends" whom we've never met, had coffee or seen face to face.

I am convinced that the recovery of reality comes through the establishment of relationships of genuine meaning and love.

For to love another person requires a kind of reality that allows for honesty, emotional intimacy and commitment to the care and nurture of the relationship.

There is a choice we can make here. Live in the midst of the spectacle of the real or step back and try to understand how we can begin to live in ways that make a tangible difference in the way the world we live works. 

*Originally published May 2013.