Pancake past and possibility

Week seven

The future will always be what we make of it. While “we” includes many “I”s past and present, and “it” contains infinite possibility, core fundamentals are evident. We can see the layers that have been built over time and predict those yet to come.

Weinberger (2011) shared five concepts as ideal to support the “networking of knowledge.” These were conceived as part of the information explosion, resulting from the Internet, and how best to provide adequate access to endless information. Important now, these concepts become increasingly critical as knowledge, systems, and people continue to evolve. For leaders today and in future to be successful, we must:

  1. Open up access – make available to everyone everything that is available.
  2. Provide the hooks for intelligence – help key knowledge to “filter forward.”
  3. Link everything – “show your work,” repeating a grade school math phrase.
  4. Leave no institutional knowledge behind – include the past in the present.
  5. Teach everyone – employ the Web, but also evaluate and embrace it.

Weinberger (2012) spoke of knowledge as linking together differences given knowledge lives now in the network versus in individuals. Greater danger exists at the same time. We enjoy today a much larger, louder echo chamber, preferring opinions that reaffirm our own, and a vaster network of affirmation is more dangerous. It becomes exclusionary (All Tech Considered, 2016). It creates “digital islands of isolation” (El-Bermawy, 2016).

As a communicator, Weinberger’s (2012) linkage of knowledge to storytelling gives me my own affirmation and caution. The author stated that “knowledge is beholden to its beginning,” which includes language, culture, history, and family. Stories can teach us about those beginnings. What we “know” depends on where we started, and storytellers have a choice and “moral duty” to spread knowledge in the selection of a beginning. If, for example, a tale begins from the assumption that every princess needs a prince, a certain race is inferior, or individuals have outlived their usefulness at a specific age, we expect and therefore see that trope echo in media coverage and society. This is because “the world matters equally but differently to different people” (Weinberger, 2012). Stories have the power to marginalize the thoughts and feelings of those excluded from or misrepresented in said stories, thereby perverting knowledge. Alternatively, stories may include multiple beginnings and perspectives to enhance and extend the universal body of knowledge.

Echoing the importance of the beginning, Kelly (2016) outlined we may steer specifics by embracing larger trends. As “cognification” occurs, whereby everything becomes increasingly smarter, intelligence moves from a single dimension of noise to a multidimensional symphony or harmony. To extend Kelly’s (2016) musical analogy regarding the role different types of intelligences may play, so also does varietal leadership have a part now and in moving forward. It is not just many types of intelligence, or skills, that matter, but the way those are employed by different leaders.

Leadership is about effectively leveraging resources and always has been. From developments in the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age, the fundamental need to adapt and manage resources is the same today as it was as it will be. Technology simply requires we increasingly be more agile and flexible in approach than ever before (Libert, 2014). We have different resources and we employ them differently. The future will mean more of the same, so the dynamic, aware leader is the one who will succeed.

Considering changes to come and the speed at which these may arrive, the only consideration potentially missing from Weinberger’s (2011) “networking of knowledge” list is an ethical one. Leaving no knowledge behind covers our history (and the possibility of repeating history to a degree), but in looking specifically forward, we must ensure technology has all we can give it in terms of safe design (Bostrom, 2015). This last point alone is no mean feat for a leader. We do not all agree on ethics today, and teaching an AI to value the myriad ethical considerations beyond or even equal to straightforward decisions is daunting. Seeing the many layers that form the whole, and conceptualizing where future change will occur is not easy. It is necessary (Machen, 2014).


All Tech Considered. (2016, July 24). The reason your feed became an echo chamber – and what to do about it. NPR. Retrieved from

Bostrom, N. (2015, March). What happens when our computers get smarter that we are? [Video file]. Retrieved from

El-Bermawy, M. (2016, November 18). Your filter bubble is destroying democracy. Wired. Retrieved from

Kelly, K. (2016, December 13). How AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution. TED. Retrieved from

Libert, B. (2015, February 6). Is your leadership style right for the digital age? Knowledge@Wharton. Retrieved from

Machen, D. (2014, March 25). The future is what we make it: Human vs. inhuman, it’s our choice. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2012, October 3). The networking of knowledge and storytelling: David Weinberger for the Future of StoryTelling 2012. Future of Storytelling. Retrieved from

13 thoughts on “Pancake past and possibility

  1. Your point about the ethics and AI is interesting. MIT Tech Review had an article recently about the ethical dilemma of automated cars. How should the car be programmed to act in the event of an unavoidable accident? Should it minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants, or should it protect the occupants at all costs? Should it choose between these extremes at random? The programmers are working now on issues such as a child suddenly dashing into the road, forcing the self-driving car to choose between hitting the child or swerving into an oncoming van. Walker-Smith noted that, given the number of fatal traffic accidents that involve human error today, it could be considered unethical to introduce self-driving technology too slowly. “The biggest ethical question is how quickly we move. We have a technology that potentially could save a lot of people, but is going to be imperfect and is going to kill.”


    1. Julie,

      Great post, and I particularly appreciate your reference to the necessity of ethics among the many layers informing and impacting leadership. Kelly’s trend of “Questioning” seems such an important part of this focus, and I agree with Weinberger (2011) that “it will take a network to make the wisest decisions” (p. 171)…presumably because the network itself is most-capable of asking the best or right questions (as compared to the individual). Anecdotally, it seems almost the default “ethics mode” is to slow things down, and to not let things advance beyond our capacity to “police” them. The question posed in the MIT Tech Review article, suggesting that in some cases it may be ethically problematic to not advance as quickly as possible, is a very interesting one. This has definitely added a new layer to my thinking on this. This added complexity doesn’t make it any easier…but you are absolutely right that it is necessary.



      1. EA, thank you as always. Yes, I found the ethical dilemma regarding the slower speed interesting too. And you are right, our default seems to be to slow down. This makes sense to me though. When I consider the consequences of moving too fast versus moving too slow, not doing it thoughtfully feels far worse. While no one would want loss of life or preventable accidents by taking too much time, I fear there will be no “take backs” if we get AI wrong.


    2. Dr. Watwood, thank you for the additions. The ethics of not moving fast enough is an interesting angle to the debate in addition to Jason’s question regarding who is creating the ethical framework to be implemented. Though it is a fictional show, Person of Interest adds yet another complexity in examining what happens when you have two competing AIs with opposing ethical programming.

      I agree with the warnings and recommendations Hawking, Musk, and Gates voiced in that there needs to be a regulatory body overseeing ethics (Sainato, 2015). I feel it has to be at the international level if it is to have any success managing AI related ethics for the whole. If one company were to program its cars to protect occupants, and another company prioritizes another aspect, the risk that neither AI will achieve its respective goal is high.

      Sainato, M. (2015, August 19). Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates warn about Artificial Intelligence. Observer. Retrieved from


  2. Good morning,

    Your points about a vast network of information and its ability to yet be exclusionary are an issue that I believe we all see today. With the wide array of sources of information on the web, it almost seems contradictory that we would be experiencing this time in history when confirmation bias is so strong. Back in 2009, Hsu reported on research conducted Ohio State University that found people are more likely to favor reading news that is similar to their own views than to read opposing views. Today, I think we would all respond to that by saying, “well, yeah!” Some, like Scott Bixby (2016) blame this, in part, on the rise of Facebook. There, users, particularly from the millenial generation, can mute and block those views that are opposed to their own, shielding themselves from conversation or debate either internally or with others when views are in opposition to their own.

    So what can we as leaders do to push back against this trend? I have seen in the my own teams that people are more likely to walk away from a conversation when opposing views are presented rather than engage in healthy debate on the merits of opposing ideas. It seems that only by exposing ourselves to broad views and new ideas can we widen our base of knowledge. Any thoughts on we can contribute to the reversing of this trend?

    The Ayes Have It


    Bixby, S. (2016, October 1). ‘The end of Trump’: How Facebook deepens millenials’ confirmation bias. Retrieved from

    Hsu, J. (2009, June 7). People choose news that fits their views. Retrieved from


    1. Ayes, thank you for the comments. Confirmation bias does seem to be getting worse, and the echo chamber is a very real thing. Social media has some fault in amplifying this trend.

      Answering your question as to what we can do as leaders, I appreciated the suggestion an NPR article offered. It said we need to actively seek out and engage a diverse group to encounter more diversity in opinion and of information. This can be done in person in addition to online though more work is needed online to have an effect on the algorithms (All Tech Considered, 2016).

      The suggestion seems so basic, but I believe in its power if put into practice. It reminded me of the intentional work that nonprofit Soliya does to gather students from around the world to share for the purpose of building a better understanding. We as leaders can make an impact, however small in feel, by modeling engagement individually and helping to facilitate it for those around us in our organizations and communities.


      All Tech Considered. (2016, July 24). The reason your feed became an echo chamber – and what to do about it. NPR. Retrieved from


  3. Good morning. I enjoyed your blog this week. I am curious to hear your thoughts on what which of Weinberger’s five concepts you feel is most challenging for leaders? I lean toward open access as being the greatest challenge. I look forward you hearing your thoughts.



    1. Jason, thank you… My opinion is that no one is more difficult than another. The five concepts are differently difficult, depending on leader and context. I could see where leaders in one country might find open access challenging given their culture or political environment. I think we are struggling with teaching everyone in this country. We technically have access to most if not all information, but we do not necessarily know how to consider and vet it properly. Another leader might struggle with finding the right “hooks,” using metadata that would make sense to her/him but not to a great degree of others, and the information therefore remains hidden. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is in ensuring all five concepts are happening in concert because leaving any one out would risk defeating the overall goal.


  4. Hi Unicorn Magis-

    Great post! Your thoughts on storytelling reminded me of Walter Lippman’s Public Opinion. In his book, Lippman said that while people live in the same world, they think and feel in different words (Lippman, 1922). I think we are seeing this currently in our culture. It happens in organizations as well. I have seen this at my institution. We are in the midst of several changes, but each department is telling a different story related to the new way of doing things. It is not surprising that each department’s response appears to be related to the story they are telling about the changes.


    Lippman, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Simon and Schuster.


    1. Shelli, thank you! Yes, the art of storytelling and its use as a vehicle for knowledge speaks to me not only as a communicator but also as a human. I love where technology itself can even be used to tell a story. For example, a robotic arm was employed as part of a campaign to raise money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The entire concept was incredibly cool, but the best part is that the arm was intentionally programmed to write as a real sufferer of the disease last wrote (Machen, 2014). This told the “story” of the disease, communicated knowledge and leveraged technology to do it.

      Machen, D. (2014, May 25). The future is what we make it: Human vs. inhuman, it’s our choice. Huffpost Tech. Retrieved from


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