What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Monday, February 28, 2011

Is the World Becoming Unhinged?

The sweeping changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East and demonstrations against draconian cuts in the US in state budgets, all seem to be coming together to make a "perfect storm" of upheaval that is rocking the world. Are these profound changes simply coincidental or is some larger process at work that is shaking up institutions globally? I would say, well, both. As previously stated, there is no question that globalization is transforming our world. This may be from underlying processes like seismic shifts that send shock waves to the surface. Or it could simply mean that there is a "demonstration effect," where people seeing protest work as a means for bringing about change in one part of the world see it as a way forward in other parts of the world. Is the US copy catting Egypt?

But there is a third factor at work in all of this and that is the power of liberal (classic liberalism) democratic ideals in the postmodern world. I say "postmodern" intentionally, because we are no longer in the indusrial modern age and have long moved on to the postmodern postindustrial age. The postmodern age is not driven principally by issues of class, but by issues of identity. Information is inherently liberating and democratizing. If the events of today seem to have a common thread, it is that democratic ideals are quickly moving through and being embraced globally.

I find most interesting that both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now speak frequently about "universal human rights," in relation to the reaction of authoritarian regimes to legitimate protest. But this is not the first time: during the January visit of Chinese Premier Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, President Obama used the same phrases in relation to China's suppression of dissent. The reference to universal rights unfortunately has been left somewhat vague in the President's declarations. He should more specifically say not only that "we believe in universal human rights," but the concept has been enshrined in international human rights law in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most important legacy of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two treaties (called covenants) that followed protecting civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights, respectively. China voted for all of these human rights documents, and it and all other governments should be held to this universal standard. They should never be let off the hook with the argument that such governments obey a different "cultural tradition."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Global Social Revolution

As we see what has been happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and now Lybia and other places in the Middle East and North Africa, it is easy to say how shocked we all are that this is happening. "Nobody forsaw it." "The CIA was caught off guard." All of this now, however, should seem to have been inevitable. Why are we so shocked by the consequences of globalization that is transforming ou world? If you go back to my slideshow on globalization, you will find one slide on the globalization of democracy and also one on the globalization of private empowerment. In the Arab world, these two trends came together to create a special chemistry that produced an irresistable social and political movement.

Now one other thing happened that is really key to this movement, the rise of a new generation, a youth movement, to fuel this revolution. One cannot separate the emergence of new generations from the thrust of new technology. This has certainly been the "Facebook Revolution." But it has also been the rise of a generation of internet savvy and dependent young people who have set new standards for themselves of freedom and possibilities. I have already written in this blog about the Millennials. In a great sense, the youth movement in the Middle East is part of this Millennial Generation which we are familiar with in the US. I described them in my article, "The Kids from Cleveland," found in an earlier blog. It is not surprising to find generational change across global boundaries. It clearly happed in 1968 and it is happening now.

I had and have great faith in this new generation. First of all, they are liberal and cannot be swept up by dogmas or extremism. That is why their rising is so hopeful for the ME and the rest of the world, presening an alternative to the next generation to extremism. In most ways, these youths speak the language of the West. Let us welcome them in. It gives great hope that we are moving to a global democracy instead of a Clash of Civilizations.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Future of Education

A couple of things made me want to write about education and educational reform in America. I just saw an interview on Charley Rose with Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach for America (now Teach for All). And I also recently sat on a plane next to the deputy superintendant of public schools of Kansas City, Kansas, and had a bit of a conversation with her. Both brought to mind my own experience seven years of working in the New York City schools as a Teaching Fellow, people who are hired based on life experiences who don't have a Masters Degree in Education, but who agree to go to grad school to earn one while they work in the system. I have always been interested in education and believe deeply in the importance of education for human fulfillment, socio-economic advancement, democracy and human rights. Of all the things that can make the world a better place, education along with health, tops the list.

I went to teach in NYC as part of an experiment, following the takeover of the schools by Mayor Bloomberg and his appointed Chancellor Harold Levy. I had taught at the college level before for a few semesters and also spent a lot of time in schools. I approached teaching with some idealism, although I was not sure I was ready to face a classroom full of teenagers every day, quite different from the work I had done as a diplomat and nonprofit manager. I did not succeed as a middle school teacher in the Bronx, trying to do bilingual teaching to Spanish speaking 13 year olds. But I did experience the new philosophy and the new techniques being introduced into the schools by a reformist administration. It turned out to be a learning experience for me. Teaching fellows taught alondside Teach for America teachers as well as otherteachers being employed in New York, such as teachers from the Philippines and Australia. Of course there were the older teachers who remained the most numerous. Some represented continuity while others represented "the problem," imqualified teachers who had stayed on for years, some of which had not even passed the basic exam to hold a teaching credential.

I have been observing the debate about school reform. They make it seem like the only thing you can do to improve kids education in tough inner city schools is to find great teachers and put them in the classrooms and weed out teachers who do not suceed in raising test scores. I did not stay in teaching long enough to be evaluated, but it seemed to me that even good teachers confronted problems in these schools that would be difficult to overcome.

It would be easy to blame a lot of the problems in the schools as a result of the social milieu in which they operate: students come from poor, dislocated families with little education, high levels of family breakup, constant moving around and little discipline. This comes directly into the schools with the kids. Second, with middle school kids, one confronts what some teachers call "raging hormones." Both boys and girls are feeling their sexuality and spend a lot of time trying to impress each other by doing outrageous things and behaving badly.

However, I would say a lot of the problem is that the schools are not organized to help teachers teach. First of all, one cannot teach without what is called "classroom management." Discipline is the first barrier to teaching. Classrooms are on the edge of breaking into chaos without a very firm hand on the part of the teacher. But the schools do not help in this regard. The biggest threat a teacher had against a misbehaving student is to call his or her parents (actually the boys are the biggest problem), but it is nearly impossible to get a phone number for them. Kids are allowed into or return to school without administrators making sure they have a working number for a parent. Kids will intentionally give you false numbers to avoid having their parents informed of their shenanagans.

We were taught some methods to gain control of a classroom, but from what I saw, the most successful teachers in this regard were those who I liked to called "Nazis." These were really tough teachers who could scare the kids into compliance through screaming or different forms of intimidation. Having a thick New York accent helped a lot. Of course there are other methods. One is keeping kids so busy they can't get out of control. Another sure method of calming down a class is to engage in reading to them or making them read to each other. It is amazing how kids like stories. But you can't do this all day. Some teachers do very well by using slides, transparencies and projectors to teach, which takes advantage of the inherent instinct of kids to be captivated by visualizations. When I started teaching, nobody prepared me to prepare this kind of teaching tool or even how to get the use of a projector. Of course, today where I work in the military and business world, powerpoint presentations are the principal means of communication, but it was something of a novelty for me seven or eight years ago.

One would think it would be easy to begin a new semester by being assigned classes and the books for the classes. What I found, however, was that I had to find and figure out which textbooks to use and where in heaven's name they were kept. All this only started the same week school began. It was a race against time to get and assign books, let alone familiarize myself with them or begin to figure out what I was supposted to be teaching. The dirty little secret is that nobody actually tells you what you should teach.

Now, I have to admit that I learned a lot in the graduate courses we had in the summer before we started teaching, although they were focused on the subject matter I was assigned to teach, namely English as a Second Language (ESL). The teachers who taught those courses were of course model teachers. We were also taught to "teach to the standard," following a methodology called standards-based teaching. You make a connection from the State teaaching standards to your required daily lesson plans. We did get tips and lessons on how to teach ESL. Too bad I was not assiged to an ESL job. Althought the NYC schools had hired a bunch of us for ESL, when it came to finding a job within the system, the jobs were not there. What I learned was that the schools hold back hiring ESL teachers until they know how many non-English speaking students will be enrolled, which apparently changes considerably from one year to the next. So when I saw the opportunity, I grabbed onto a bilingual ed teaching slot instead of waiting any longer. Unfortunately, in addition to English, I found myself teaching both math and science in Spanish with no realy preparation and also was happy to teach social studies in Spanish. But I had no real clue about how or what to teach in these subjects beyond the textbook.

There was a big push in the NYC schools to teach reading and math. I appreciated the short seminars we attended that focused on reading. I did not attend the math prep courses which were only for math teachers. We were actually given in each classroom a small library of about 200 books to work with. This was great but at times, the books only served for students to break out into pandemonium and start throwing the books at each other or all over the classroom. Now some of my students, the boys, loved to play a trick on the girls: we had a large coat closet in the room and the boys' greatest pleasure was to shove a girl into the closet and hold her in there as long as possible. The girls usually came out laughing and happy as opposed to being scared or crying. It was all part of the rituals of spring, I suppose.

One of the biggest threats a teacher has over a student is forcing him to miss recess or lunch, keeping them to detention. It became more and more clear to me that the wilder students actually liked detention and the more they were placed there the more other students wanted to be with them in detention. I was quickly informed that while I could detain students during the lunch period, I could not make the actually misss lunch. It was a bizarre situation, but it was even hard to punish misbehaving students in any way that made them feel some degee of contrition.

So when people tell me that educational reform is all about the teachers, I think, well yes maybe. But it is also about the kids, their fmailies and the schools themselves who don't always make it easy for teachers, especially new teachers to figure out how to teach with the best of intentions.

Oh yes, when I left my Middle School,a bit precitiously I should say, to take this job with the military in Virginia, I went to see the Vice Principal, who had been nice to me, to say goodbye. When I told her where I was going, she said, "Can you take us with you?" I guess I was not the only one to feel frustrated at the systemic difficulties of teaching in an inner city "under-served" school. And when I said goodbye to the principal, who tried to manage the chaos, feeling a little guilty I was bailing out, he said to me, "Don't worry, you didn't do too much damage."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A World Defense Force?

While nobody wants to admit that we are moving towards a form of world government, it is evident that there is a constant movement towards world governance, i.e., efforts by the international community to find solutions to global problems. The hardest part of governance is enforcement. At the international level it is even more difficult because it depends on decisions by international organizations and the voluntary contribution of troops. We have now had about half a century of UN peacekeeping experience and now there are currently 15 peacekeeping operations all over the world and have been over 50 from the UN's beginning. Peacekeeping missions are something like a boy with his finger in the hole in the dike, holding back a flood. They rarely are decisive in ending conflict and merely suspend it. Now NATO--or some other regional organizations like the OAS in Haiti or the OAU in Somalia--interventions have been more vigorous, in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan. They can actually lead to a new status quo with hopes of solutions to conflict. But it also means a willingness to engage in armed conflict to defeat one side or another in a conflict.

There are lots of drawbacks to both peacekeeping and NATO interventions. Countries must volunteer troops or other assets, and they usually joint with certain "caveats" that prevent them from engaging fully in all aspects of conflict. NATO countries often commit themselves to a tentative engagement and struggle with public opinion that is often pacifistic and tentative. We are seeing in Afghanistan, for example the withdrawal of certain countries from the field or to forms of support that remove their troops from the battlefield such as the training and advisory missions (which are also essential, but with less risk).

However, I would put forward that gradually but clearly a form of international defense force, loosely organized, is taking shape. My most significant experience is with the NATO and ISAF effort in Afghanistan. I find it quite amazing that armed forces from almost fifty countries manage to coordinate and work together in as complicated a task as security. I have worked with officers from a number of NATO countries who work side by side with American counterparts. What strikes me as most interesting is that soldiers from different countries, who often speak different languages, share a common military culture, use the same professional vocabulary and the same procedures for conducting military operations. It took me quite a bit of time as a civilian to adapt to military langauge and acronyms. However, foreign officers are fully steeped in the stuff. And even more interesting is how well this is a coaliton of warriors who work together and respect each other's national differences. The normal military comraderie is made stronger by the multicultural nature of the effort.

What is also clear is that this culture is largely American-made, the result of the undeniable fact of American military predominance in the world. Countries are not "doing us a favor" by joining us in Afghanistan. There is a common understanding of the stakes there, perhaps more among the military than their civilian masters or their publics. Ultimately, however, these officers could not participate in coalition warfare without a basic guarantee of political and diplomatic commitment at the level of the NATO political leadership.

I see this development as progressive although slow to evolve, but inevitable nonetheless. The international community can no longer afford to have terrorism, piracy and rogue regimes and non-state actors without some force to count on to bring enforcement of international law and norms. This is an extremely hopeful trend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Globalization Encore

When I first started this blog, I was smitten with globalization as a force reshaping the world. It is easy to forget how important this force really is. A recent email from a cousin reminded me of it. He said of himself and his wife, "We both feel a major worldwide transformation happening before our eyes especially in the areas of money, energy, technology, food, health and privacy and more. Kinda like what our parents have told us about but worse. I feel powerless to do much about it at this time. Just dealing with life a daily basis and trying to stay positive and creative." I guess I just forgot this underlying transformation that indeed helps to explain most things going on in the world, even what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East right now.

So I decided to post the slideshow I produced for Tidewater Community College two years ago. I had only posted portions of it at that time. You can view the whole thing by cutting and pasting this link:


I am a SME

Recently I updated my entry in Linkedin, the professional/business connection website, kind of a Facebook for serious people. Linkedin cleverly asked me if I wanted to connect to everyone in my private address book who were also members, so I said yes. This has resulted in an amazing set of reconnections to people I had not been in touch with for years and I am actually having fun with that. However, when asked to update my profile, I realized that I had placed a job title at my company that had mysteriously been switched from Senior Technical Director to Subject Matter Expert, or SME. Of course, in the military environment and in the IT company where I work, the term SME is quite common. But I had never really looked into the meaning of the term beyond its obvious meaning if you break down the words.

So I did some online research and came up with the following defintiions of a SME, which I found interesting in more specifically indicating the situations in which a SME is used within an organization. I had not really thought of myself in this way. And the term SME is used more specifically in the IT world than in the military world. For the military, anyone who brings some specific knowledge to any job is a SME. In that case, I am a political and governance SME. More commonly, however, I am referred to at work as a political analyst and a governance theme manager. I should say that while I do think of myself as a political specialist, I consider myself more essentially to be a generalist as you would expect from someone who aspires to be a visionist. Plus, any form of social science expertise would certainly be less technical than expertise in engineering, IT, or the physical and natural sciences. But no matter. In the current world of work, in which terminology is changing, being a SME is not a bad profession as it is in synch with current information age changes that are transforming our world. So here is what a SME is according to various sources:

subject matter expert
someone particularly knowledgeable about a certain topic
Sales and Marketing Glossary

Specialty Expressions: subject-matter
Subject-Matter Expert
An individual recognized by his or her peers as an authority on a specific topic. (references)
Webster’s Online Dictionaryexpert

Professional who has acquired knowledge and skills through study and practice over the years, in a particular field or subject, to the extent that his or her opinion may be helpful in fact finding, problem solving, or understanding of a situation.
From BusinessDictionary.com

Definitions of Subject matter expert on the Web:
• A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who is an expert in a particular area or topic. When spoken, sometimes the acronym "SME" is spelled out ("S-M-E") and other times voiced as a word ("smee").
• (or Data Expert): A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is the individual or unit responsible for advising on the appropriate use, protection, access, degree of sensitivity, criticality, and risk tolerance of a specific data set. ...
• Staff possessing special expertise in an ES&H program, for example, industrial hygiene, confined space entry, or lead abatement. Some SMEs may be outside of the ES&H Division, for example, hoisting and rigging SMEs reside within the Conventional and Experimental Facilities Department.
• The term subject matter expert, or SME, is used to refer to personnel who are used at different phases of the test development process because of their extensive knowledge of the content and competencies being assessed by the exam. ...
• An expert in a particular field who contributes or verifies the accuracy of specific information needed by the project team.
• An individual who exhibits the highest level of expertise in performing a specialized job, task, or skill within the organization.

ThinkTank Blog
Social Networking: The Subject Matter Expert
Posted by Gordon Plutsky on Fri, Nov 07, 2008 Are you a subject matter expert? A subject matter expert is the “go-to” person for their customers and social network contacts. These experts are seasoned professionals with references and a portfolio of proven success. Subject matter experts get the customers, win the bids and are answering the phone rather than cold calling
Interested in being an expert? Then begin thinking like one. An expert by definition is “having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.” In other words if you can demonstrate that you know more than most and are recognized as a leader within a community you are an expert.
In the 1980’s it could take you years to establish yourself as an expert. With today’s social networking communities you can be recognized almost overnight. Let’s look at two communities and how to position you and your business as leaders.
LinkedIn is established to be a business networking community. You have the opportunity to ask questions, answer questions and participate in discussions. The more time you dedicate to positioning yourself the more you will differentiate yourself. Include links to your sites (blogs included) and where possible share your books or white papers on the subject. References also speak volumes. Anytime you can say “don’t take my word for it, read what my customers think” the more credible your opinions and suggestions become.
You can also join “like-minded” experts on LinkedIn. These are small groups inside of the larger community that often focus on a discipline (e.g. marketing, sales, recruiting, human resources, or accounting) or on a specific interest (e.g. events, public relations, consulting). Groups are reflected on your profile and allow people to see your affiliations and interests.

SME - Subject Matter Expert
By: Bruce Bahlmann

A person whose up to date experience and knowledge exceed that of the rest of the project team or organization. Frequently, the SME is an expert contracted or assigned by an organization to consult on a specific project or is a member of a Technology Advisory Board (TAB). SMEs know what is critical to the performance of the task and what is nice-to-know. SMEs typically have participated with standards bodies and/or have development or operations experience that dates back to the inception of their area of expertise that provides them with uncommon wisdom and patience.

Subject Matter Expert Job Description
By Alyssa Guzman, eHow Contributor
updated: May 25, 2010

A subject matter expert is the definitive source of knowledge in a specific subject area.
A subject matter expert (SME) is the definitive source of knowledge, technique, or expertise in a specific subject area, such as business management, information technology, software development, process engineering, plus others. The SME functions as the organizational ambassador for their knowledge area, and applies their expertise to support an organization's vision and strategic direction.
Main Duties and Responsibilities
1. A subject matter expert understands, articulates, and implements best practices related to their area of expertise. Depending on the work environment, the subject matter expert may lead or be an active participant of a work-group with the need for specialized knowledge. The subject matter expert provides guidance on how their area of capability can resolve an organizational need, and actively participates in all phases of the software development life cycle.
Software Development
2. During software development assignments, the subject matter expert is responsible for defining business requirements and recommending a technical approach to meet those needs. He also generates design specifications for software development, which typically involves translating business requirements into detailed algorithms for coding. The SME oversees the development, testing, and implementation of the technical solution, and validates the final product satisfies the defined requirements. He reviews technical documentation, such as user guides, training manuals, and system specifications, prior to distribution to end-users, and ensures their subject area is accurately represented.
Business Relationship Management
3. A subject matter expert must cultivate and maintain effective working relationships with a variety of stakeholders, including end-users, project managers, engineers, and senior staff members. The nature of the position involves actively participating in multiple work-groups at one time, and disseminating information across all levels of the organization. The subject matter expert is articulate and communicates information effectively to diverse audiences. She translates subject matter terminology into business terms, and recommends alternatives to both senior management and software developers. The SME also performs product demonstrations in a variety of settings, including internal meetings, training sessions, and trade shows.
4. Employers generally require candidates to have completed a bachelor's degree program; individuals with a bachelor's degree in business, or an MBA/advanced degree are preferred. In addition to certification(s) in the individual's area of expertise, Six Sigma Black Belt or Green Belt professional certifications are highly desired credentials. Individuals interested in pursuing the position of subject matter expert must have a minimum of ten years of directly related work experience in their area of expertise. Related knowledge and experience in business management, core system configuration, software development life cycle (SDLC), RICEF (Reports, Interface, Conversion, Enhancement & Forms) development, systems testing, and business process re-engineering are considered beneficial. Individuals who have worked in a global, highly matrixed business environment are especially effective in this position.
5. According to salary data from Glassdoor.com, the median expected salary for a subject matter expert in the United States is $77,560 as of 2010, while the average salary of jobs with related titles, including intelligence specialist, program manager, and systems/applications developer, ranges from $58,000 to $134,000. Factors such as employer, industry, experience and benefits can dramatically affect a subject matter expert's compensation.
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Read more: Subject Matter Expert Job Description | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_6549153_subject-matter-expert-job-description.html#ixzz1DCTiZZOY

Subject Matter Expert - SME
The Subject Matter Expert is that individual who exhibits the highest level of expertise in performing a specialized job, task, or skill within the organization.

An SME might be a software engineer, a helpdesk support operative, an accounts manager, a scientific researcher: in short, anybody with in-depth knowledge of the subject you are attempting to document. You need to talk to SMEs in the research phase of a documentation project (to get your facts straight) and you need to involve them in the technical validation of your drafts (to make sure that your interpretation of information matches theirs).
Six Sigma Principles