Incremental change vs. paradigm shift

Do you tend to see innovations as massive paradigm-shifting change, or as the incremental achievements built on longer-term trends?  Obviously, there’s some truth in both perspectives, but I think that most people have a tendency to lean one way or the other in how they interpret what’s going on in the world.

If you know me, you know I tend to be an incrementalist.  I think that real honest-to-god paradigm shifts happen, but that they’re pretty uncommon.  And they’re usually much slower than you’d think.

I’m often frustrated by what I perceive as a tendency of consultants and media types (especially new media types!) to frame every innovation as revolution.   I can understand how one might think it makes better copy, makes you a more dynamic speaker, makes you seem smarter and more interesting.  But really, I don’t think it does.  The best talk I’ve ever seen about open source is the one in which Eben Moglen weaves the story of open source into the centuries long struggle for freedom, dignity and human rights. Context is sexy.

Also, as someone whose professional practice is all about helping people make and embrace change, I think it’s usually more effective to connect new ideas to the already-familiar, rather than trying to motivate people with the fear of being “obsolete” or missing out on “what everyone else is doing.”  One of the most valuable things we can do as consultants is to help people fit confusing new chunks of knowledge into a longer-term framework of ideas and trends.  That builds capacity and confidence.

9 changes towards transformation

I’ve been thinking a bunch about the challenges of making cultural transformation in the organizations I work with here at Groundwire.  It’s a tough challenge.  The first step, it seems, is about naming the changes we want to help folks make.

Here are some rough notes that popped out as I was gathering my thoughts for a meeting.  I’d love to know what thoughts they provoke for you.

From –> To

    1. Broadcast –> Dialogue
    2. Formal –> Conversational
    3. Organizational voice –> Personal voice
    4. Goals –> Values
    5. Centralized communications –> Distributed through many channels
    6. Intuitive decisions –> Data driven decisions
    7. Master planned –> Continual refinement toward clear big picture goals
    8. Set the agenda –> Respond to what’s hot that fits your goals & values
    9. Always the center of collaborations –> Partner more, and more informally

      Alternative Gift Registry

      Center for a New American Dream has a nicely done “Alternative Gift Registry” tool (currently the #4 Google result for “gift registry”!) that allows you to create gift registries that de-emphasize consumerism (used goods, donations to charity, experiences rather than stuff, etc.).   This is a great example of a nonprofit advocacy group coming up with a valuable public-facing service that is grounded in its mission and expertise to bring people into the circle of engagement.

      Plone 4: uses 29% less memory than Plone 3

      Continuing on the theme of quick-and-dirty benchmarking of the forthcoming Plone 4 release, I decided to revisit an experiment I did about a year ago in which I looked at the memory usage on startup of Plone 3 vs. Plone 4.  In December 2008, I found that Plone trunk used 36% less memory on startup than Plone 3.1.7.

      But back then, Plone 4 was still a long way off, so I wondered if things had changed lately.

      So I fired up my 2Ghz MacBook with 2GB RAM, I started up Plone 3.3.4 and Plone 4’s current trunk, and Activity Monitor reported memory usage as follows:

      That’s a 29% decrease in RAM usage for Plone 4, from 142.5MB to 102.5MB.

      Sweet!  Plone is not only a lot faster than Plone 3, it’s also much more RAM-efficient.  Truth is, though, it’s not really Plone’s fault.  One of the big changes in Plone 4 is that it now uses Python 2.6 instead of Python 2.4.  Python 2.6 is quite a bit more memory efficient, and that’s where Plone’s gains are coming from.

      So, thanks, Python team!

      Update: See comments below from Hanno.  Turns out Python 2.6 is better at garbage collection, so Plone’s memory usage will increase less as it runs, but Python 2.6 actually causes Plone to use slightly more RAM at startup than it would under Python 2.4 (which Plone 4 does not support!).  But, thanks to all of the amazing work that the Plone 4 team has done to make Plone leaner and meaner than ever, Plone 4 more than compensates for Python’s slightly increased drag.  Whee!

      Bonus: If you’re wondering why I clocked lower overall RAM usage when I tested this last year (97MB for Plone 3, and 62MB for Plone 4), you can blame Snow Leopard for that.  Running 64-bit Python makes it use more memory than 32-bit, and Snow Leopard, new since last year, is now (mostly) 64-bit.  You can avoid this by running your production sites on a 32-bit Python.  I’m just too lazy to do it right now.

      Extra special bonus: One of the many benefits of Plone 4’s new “blob storage” infrastructure for handling files and images is that it is way, way more RAM efficient.  We don’t have hard benchmarks on this yet, but in one very large, heavily used intranet site with 16.5 GB of most documents and media files, the team at Jarn was able to cut RAM usage from 10GB to 3GB with substantial increases in performance.  We expect that most sites with large archives of binary files will see similar resource usage improvements as they migrate to Plone 4.

      Noted in brief – 1/21/2010


      If you didn’t already think that one of the most important long-term issues in our society is the twin hydra of corporate personhood and campaign finance reform, today’s Supreme Court ruling should be a shocking eye-opener for you.  Make no mistake, this is serious, worrisome stuff.

      It’s time for all of the groups in the “progressive” spectrum to come together to mount a major, long-term campaign to end the misguided, extra-constitutional notion of corporate personhood.  It seems to me that everyone has thought this is “someone else’s issue.”  No longer.  If we don’t get our act together here, pretty soon we’re not going to have a democracy left to argue about.  It is well past time to see a serious infusion of resources and organizing around these issues.

      Good starting points if you’re new to this whole issue area are POCLAD’s book “Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy“and CELDF’s “Democracy School.”