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Noam Chomsky

“As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, 

human science is at a loss.” Noam Chomsky 


Yesterday evening the Second Life group called Matanomics hosted Noam Chomsky from MIT to discuss issues of the day.  In one part of the interview he eloquently and profoundly describes the Sustainability issues that face the world, the opportunities, and the systemic obstacles to progress.  One of those obstacles that hit home for me – is the corporation.  The business whose (note the “business as a person” represented linguistically here) core mission in life is to make profit for its owners while at the same time they can and often ignore the true costs of externalities within the supply chain.  Part of this mission is the secondary goal to pay as little taxes as possible which can ultimately result in moving the choice away from people outside the business to people with power inside the business – on how much and where to invest these funds from their voluntary CSR programmes.  For Chomsky, there are many benefits that Capitalism brings us, but he considers this a major systemic and institutional flaw and obstacle to achieve sustainability!  One of the opportunities helping bring the costs of externalities into the corporation is by addressing these issues at the “grass roots” for consumers and employees via innovative educational research.  I believe that Noam Chomsky is both a thought provoking scholar, and one of the worlds greatest contemporaries on Sustainability.  I hope we get to hear from him repeatedly in the coming years.


Now moving down to my research dilemma.  Firstly, becoming a researcher feels a bit lonely in a very real sense.  Often you feel like nobody is really interested in what you are doing – and if you stopped nobody would care, nevertheless, I must acknowledge I have two marvelous people on my supervisory team and patient friends who chip in regularly to support me, not to forget the visionaries like Noam Chomsky who support by their example.


I left my last blog entry wide open on the whether Sustainability would be part of my research after being knocked off balance by the devil’s advocate, note how I am being kind here!  I have had little to write about, and I left my mind to wander all over the place looking for equilibrium!  So was the last 6 months a waste of time, do I change direction, do I change university or have I made progress, and am I exactly where I need to be?  What follows are my musings inspired from conversations with my team as I tried to answer these questions.


I will be well to learn that I don’t have to take all the problems on my own shoulders and, I need to allow the “team” into my consciousness.  One of the ways I can help my team help me – is to play the game a little better.  From that I mean it is a better strategy to start small, not trying to sound like I am trying to change the whole world, just taking an area of relevance and interest, keeping it tight, and bringing in the other areas of interest slowly into the programme!


Being passionate about the work, building a character ready to defend research is important on one hand, but one needs to “hold on to issues lightly” according to one of my supervisors.  Sometimes people on the team are not going to agree with decisions – that is the nature of teams and equally must not too easily derail your ideas.   This seems like a dichotomy with the previous point on being personally driven but flexible at the same time. :o)  Perhaps an analogy might help by thinking of fresh water running down from the mountains to the sea – it has its own considerable force removing sediment and carving out routes in the rocks along the way over the thousands of years, yet it turns frequently and moves with some agility.


According to one advisor, I do have another 6 months before the research question really needs to be nailed so that robust literature review and initial research preparation can begin.  That gives me space to keep looking and focus on learning the ropes so to speak on research methods and methodology.  The same person told me that research will to a certain extent always be problematic and uncertain even up to the very end – so hold on tight.


I have learned this week that domains and disciplines do have Kuhnian style dominant paradigms when it comes to research methodology, so I need to make some time to get to know what the Department of Management within SBS is! :o) I have also learned that there is a need for me to read and critique better – seems strange, at 41 saying I need to learn how to read but I must grow from reading as consuming to reading as researching.   There might have been times I read anything and everything I could get my hands on – but I have been more selective in recent times.  The reading though does help inform direction and I have moved the points around on the project DNA quite often (see the new one at the bottom of the page), but that has been getting less and less, nonetheless it moves again today.  10 days ago the focus was on Learning Theories, Sustainability and 3D Virtual Collaborative Spaces.


  •   Learning Theory is still in and fundamental to organizational change towards Sustainable practices but it will move from individualist to connectivist focus.
  •   Sustainability in business is still in – as sustainability for organizations is at the heart of this programme.  It is where the passion comes from, and it is the passion that is needed when going up against the dominant economic paradigm – and getting the research done!
  •   3D Virtual Collaborative Spaces will take some place in the research but with a greatly diminished role in the realization that finding innovations for organisations to embrace change needs both a scalability that current 3D virtual technology cannot provide, and a reduced learning curve to be used effectively in learning.  I believe innovations are better supported in conjunction with other Web 2.0 technology.


So where are the changes?  Well in one sense there are none – but in another sense I think there is a major shift towards research that brings organizational benefits as well as benefits for the cause called Sustainability.


Simply framed, if one could deliver education using the flexibility of Web 2.0 technology and the potential power of connectivist learning to your entire organization in one hit – this seems like an effective proposition for any organization that would like to work on subjects like values, leadership, strategy development, sustainability, innovation, knowledge management, and other interesting subjects.  It of course can even go much wider than one organisation by helping connect industry sectors or government agencies in forms of macro and micro level learning!


Learning about sustainability is at its core about individual living and working with a certain mindset, yet tackling education on individual one at a time seems inefficient, plus the fact that it is when people in groups can come up with wonderful new insights and solutions through the group participation and connectivism.  Take Strathclyde University as an example.  They have the David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability within the Civil Engineering School, and yet they still ranked 131 in the UK (see blog post http://web.me.com/kiwicito/Site/My_Blog/Entries/2010/7/30_Can_HE_contribute_to_the_Sustainability_Agenda.html ).  How much change has been effected so far from traditional change programmes like these?


Here I can see a special Web 2.0 connectivist learning programmes for example using a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) that could reach a sample of thousands of employees and students all at once, in an asynchronous and synchronous manner that suits the preferences of time, effort and content to the participants whose output feedback into the learning environment from blogs, twitter, email etc. creates virtuous cycle of learning and content.  If you take HSBC with 100,000+ staff, or take the global aviation industry with even larger audiences, you may see just how can we leverage the collective social capital and spirit in a cost effective manner that brings about change – be it strategy, sustainability or otherwise…


Recently, I have been participating in a MOOC called #PLENK2010, and while I had a slow start working out what it all meant, when it clicked I immediately saw the value for this research.  There is a downside in that technology is still a barrier i.e. your skill in using it influences the results that come from it, hence, getting to know the Web 2.0 technologies will be an essential first start for participants but more on that in a later blog post.


For the first time since starting this programme I can see the real possibility of useful productive experimentation with an entire organization of some kind.  There is of course much work to do but potentially much less than trying to set up a full 3DVW university elective, and certainly less hoops to jump through – as by definition a MOOC is Open and Free.


So to end my post by answering my starting questions – I have not wasted my time, I am not changing direction violently, although I’ll admit I have broadened the technology front,  thankfully there is no need to change university, and I am exactly where I need to be!!!  


I am back!!!!


To finish, here is another great quote from Noam Chomsky –

Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; 

it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.


Chomsky Quotes from: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/noam_chomsky.html



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