Life With Alacrity

A blog on social software, collaboration, trust, security, privacy, and internet tools by Christopher Allen.

Deep Context Shared Languages


Opening Scene of Darmok, STtNG S05E02If you consider yourself a futurist or an agent of change, you should read this article from The Atlantic "Shaka, When the Walls Fall". Yes, it uses a Star Trek episode as an allegory, it is a bit confusing and has a lot of complexity and depth, but it is a good introduction to a topic I care about — Deep Context Shared Languages.

I consider one of my missions in life to be to "create tools that allow people to communicate about complexity". There are many problems to address and many possible solutions to those problems. My Infinite Canvas Suite app tries to address problems of linearity. Another way to manage complexity is facilitating the creation and learning of Shared Languages.

Some of what Shared Language is is tribal — it has an elemental power to help a group form. But what a shared language also does is allow a group to take shortcuts. For instance, with the Group Works Deck Pattern Language, I can say the phrase "Viewpoint Shift" and practitioners know that I mean "Step from your usual perspective into another in order to better understand someone, shift energy, reframe meanings, open up new ideas, or simply see a situation with new eyes." But they also know more than that — they can connect that concept to their own experience of doing this practice.

The first time I was introduced to this concept was by expert facilitator and futurist Matt Taylor, who has in his communities a Shared Language concept called a "Glass Bead Game", which is from a story by Herman Hess. As Wikipedia cites it:

"The Glass Bead Game is "a kind of synthesis of human learning" in which themes, such as a musical phrase or a philosophical thought, are stated. As the Game progresses, associations between the themes become deeper and more varied."

Solution Box, Insight, Philosophy, Schematic DesignWhen you know the shared language of Matt's community, you can express concisely "In the SOLUTION BOX I am at INSIGHT, PHILOSOPHY and SCHEMATIC DESIGN." Which means, in other words, "I have a mature idea that I feel is a synthesis of all the challenges inherent in the project, I can talk about it with some clarity and express it as a visual solution. I have done a lot of work yet I do not have a buildable design." Someone familiar with the language can then respond in kind, rather than coming from a different perspective in the solution box and think that I have built something that is ready for production.

Sometimes hash tags are a more contemporary expression that there may exist a Deep Context. For instance, just saying #‎GlassBeadGame is a challenge for someone to respond in kind with a model of their own. Hash tags like #‎Intrapreneuring or #‎FreedomToFail also have Deep Contexts with different communities. If someone says to me #‎Cynefin I know that we share an understanding with me about the difference between "complicated" vs "complex" and how to work with each.

So what makes for great deep context shared languages? I don't know, but this article touches on it. It is more than just metaphor, more than allegory, more than meme. But if we can figure out how to create and teach it, it may be a powerful tool for communicating about complexity.

KEYQUOTE: "Here we might distinguish between the invocation of a particular logic and the simulation of a creature, thing, or idea by replicating its image. The simulation of life in art often concerns the reproduction of surfaces: in painting, the appearance of form, perspective, or the rendition of light; in literature the appearance of character or event; in photography and cinema the rendition of the world as it appears through optical element and upon emulsion or sensor; in theater the rendition of the behavior of a character or situation.

While all these examples “simulate” to various extents, they do so by a process of rendering. For example, the writer might simulate a convincing verbal intercourse by producing a credibility that allows the reader to take it as reality. Likewise, the actor might render a visible behavior or intonation that is suggestive of a particular emotion, event, or history that the theatrical or cinematic viewer takes as evidence for some unseen motivation.

A logic is also a behavior, but it is a behavior unlike the behavior of the literary or theatrical character, for whom behaving involves producing an outward sign of some deeper but abstracted motivation, understanding, or desire. By contrast logics are pure behaviors. They are abstract and intangible and yet also real.

If we pretend that “Shaka, when the walls fell” is a signifier, then its signified not by the fictional mythological character Shaka, nor the myth that contains whatever calamity caused the walls to fall, but the logic by which the situation itself came about. Tamarian language isn’t really language at all, but machinery."

Another post about Shared Language:

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