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Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #44
From the fetish of agreement to the problem with impact measurement and the age of extreme overreaction
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THIS WEEK → 😈 The Fetish of Agreement 📈 The Problem With Impact Measurement 😱 The Age of Extreme Overreaction
Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #44
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas that I’ve come across lately, plus some fun extras. Enjoy!
#1 😈 The Fetish of Agreement
An older but very timely article, because the extreme social and political polarization we are currently witnessing around the globe is definitely to some extent a result of our fetish of agreement, in that we have this need to agree with other people before we befriend or even continue to talk with them. In my opinion, this is also a huge problem within the environmental and social impact movement (as also noted in the article below). Activists or changemakers only join forces when there is full agreement, which consequently makes building a bigger movement and a bigger vision almost impossible.
“This [the fetish of agreement] is the assumption that agreement is always the preferred condition. This unquestioned motivation is everywhere, especially in the nonprofit sector. […]
In fact, I have to come to a point, after years in the sector and movement work, that I strongly believe that there is very little on which we have to agree. It’s almost become a mantra for me, seeing how it squashes variance and creativity. […]
In my consulting work, particularly with networks or platforms, most of the presented challenges disappear after I offer that they move beyond needing to agree on everything. Without fail, every time I suggest this, there is a sigh of relief and expansion of possibility. A reframe is made possible where differences are allowed to be and even designed for.
A funny and relevant version of this appears in a recent story in MIT Technology Review headlined, “The hipster effect: Why anti-conformists always end up looking the same.” The article comments on Jonathan D. Touboul’s paper, “The Hipster Effect: When Anti-Conformists All Look the Same,” which finds that people who set out to oppose mainstream culture end up looking and acting the same. […]
Adult development researcher Jennifer Berger Garvey’s latest book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps lists agreement as one of the five leadership traps. She writes, “Humans are drawn to agreement as a sense of connection. It’s deep in our systems as an early force of our survival.” […] However, this doesn’t work so well in complex, fast-changing situations, where “we will not ever be able to agree on the one best thing, because that simply doesn’t exist.”
In these situations, seemingly bewildering or wrong perspectives are likely speaking to something in the system worth paying attention to. Garvey suggests we use “conflict and disagreement as a way to deepen our relationships and expand our possibilities.”
#2 📈 The Problem With Impact Measurement & A Better Solution
Super thought-provoking opinion piece here that cleverly explains why measuring and “delivering” impact doesn’t really make sense in a complex world, and actually holds us back from being more impactful. Essentially, the important lesson here, in my opinion, is to take a systems thinking approach and embrace the – very new to me – concept of Human Learning Systems (see link at the end of the excerpt). Also, true impact comes from the heart, not the mind.
“The idea that we can measure our impact to understand how well we are performing is seductive, but fundamentally flawed. […] Using “impact” for any form of performance management makes it much more difficult for organisations to do impactful work. This is the uncomfortable truth that leaders must face if genuine impact is to be created in the world. […]
In a complex system, it is impossible to distinguish the effect of particular actors on the overall pattern. This is because complex systems produce emergent, nonlinear behaviour. The tiniest change in input variables creates potentially huge changes in results. […]
If we want to achieve impact in the world, the crucial uncomfortable truth that must be faced (from the perspective of traditional management thinking) is that impact isn’t something that can be “delivered”. […] When we think of impact as something we can ‘deliver’, we are pretending to ourselves to make the task of managing social change easier. And the purpose of good management is not to make the task of management easier, it is to confront the uncomfortable messiness of how the world actually works. If we care about making impact in the real world, we need to stop pretending.
When people/organisations are asked to provide data which demonstrates their impact, they create a fantasy version. This is obviously terrible — because if we’re not telling each other the truth about the work we do, how does any of this work get any better? […]
If we’re not asking organisations to demonstrate their impact, how can we create accountability for spending resources well? […] The key shift to make here is to move from funding for “demonstrable” impact (because this — paradoxically makes real impact harder to achieve) to funding for collaborative learning and adaptation [check out the concept of Human Learning Systems]. The evidence shows, this is how real impact is made.”
#3 😱 The Age of Extreme Overreaction
The article below reminded me a lot of the concept of Quantitative Aesthetics (“where data points dictate taste”) which I shared previously and this idea of virality = quality. And to actually also link this back to the impact measurement challenge laid out above: I think all in all, we are in a crisis of measurement, where we’re using the wrong KPIs to measure what’s good or creative, same as we use the wrong KPIs to measure “development”, wellbeing or success. And as briefly noted above, maybe measurement itself is the wrong approach to begin with.
“The internet has always traded on hyperbole, but that hype is growing exponentially louder, always needing to one-up the last round of over-excitement. The latest example of this is the response to Barbie: a film built to promote a doll with some nice sets and a handful of good jokes, underpinned by feminist platitudes. Not only has it become the biggest box-office success of the past decade, the reaction online has reached a screeching fever pitch, with thousands (if not millions) of people suggesting it’s one of the best films that has ever – ever – been made.
We are living through an age of extreme overreaction, where anything popular immediately becomes synonymous with not just good, or great, but the best. A bland record by Harry Styles was crowned Album of the Year at the Grammys after a slavering reaction from fans; repetitive novels popular on TikTok sail to the top of best-seller lists. [...]
Taste is, of course, subjective. But the need to justify every piece of popular entertainment as high art leaves little room for critical debate. It’s hard to assess genuine merit over the noise of the fanfare: even before Barbie came out, it was being celebrated for the on-set paparazzi images, the vague quotes from its director Greta Gerwig, and an aggressive marketing campaign. Our cultural memory of Barbie will be less about the actual contents of the film and more about the months-long hype that preceded it.
Online reactions can overwhelm critical responses – which could change how those with the power to fund films operate. Marketing teams increasingly prioritise social media campaigns over critics’ reviews, because they are almost guaranteed free marketing for whatever they’re promoting. As Manuela Lazic noted in the Guardian yesterday (1 August), at a London press screening of Barbie attendees were heavily encouraged to share their “positive feelings” online, even though it would be days before the embargo would lifted on reviews. Not only that: the audience was also predominantly made up of influencers, presumably invited to make shiny, uncritical promotional content in the week leading up to the film’s debut.
This culture of overreaction will only lead to worse popular entertainment.”
📕 Mutualism: Building the next economy from the ground up by Sara Horowitz
📝 Alliance for Ecological & Social Transitions - Co-Creating The Pluriverse by The Culture Hack Labs
💡 Devote yourself to the cause of your life by Evan Armstrong
🐦 Decolonization Is a Climate Policy by Climate Vanguard
💡 Global Boiling by Kate Mackenzie and Tim Sahay
🚿 Shower Thoughts
That’s it for this week!
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