Defining the ‘field at a given time’ | Lewin | 1943

The field theory in psychology by #KurtLewin 1943 derives from classical field theory (viz. electromagnetism and gravitation), predating quantum field theory (viz. subatomic particles). For psychology, Lewin wrote in 1943 how history (and a subjective view of the future) matters.

It is correct that field theory emphasizes the importance of the fact that any event is a resultant of a multitude of factors. The recognition of the necessity of a fair representation of this multitude of interdependent factors is a step in the direction toward field theory. However, this does not suffice. Field theory is something more specific.
To use an illustration: Success in a certain sport may de- pend upon a combination of muscular strength, velocity of movement, ability to make quick decisions, and precise perception of direction and distance. A change in any one of these five variables might alter the result to a certain degree. One can represent these variables as five dimensions of a diagram. The resultant of any possible constellation of these factors for the amount of success can be marked as a point in the diagram. The totality of these points then is a diagrammatic representation of this dependence, in other words, of an empirical law.
Physics frequently makes use of such representation of a multitude of factors influencing an event. To each of certain properties, such as temperature, pressure, time, spacial position, one dimension is coordinated. Such a representation in physics is called ‘phase space.’ Such a phase space may have twenty dimensions if twenty factors have to be considered. A phase space is something definitely different from that three-dimensional ‘physical space’ within which physical ob- jects are moving. In the same way the psychological space, the life space or psychological field, in which psychological locomotion or structural changes take place, is something different from those diagrams where dimensions mean merely gradations of properties.

Lewin (1943), p. 293

Lewin probes the question of what is a field theory, and what might not be a field theory.

Field theory, therefore, can hardly be called correct or incorrect in the same way as a theory in the usual sense of the term. Field theory is probably best characterized as a method: namely, a method of analyzing causal relations and of building scientific constructs. This method of analyzing causal relations can be expressed in the form of certain general statements about the’ nature’ of the conditions of change. To what degree such a statement has an ‘analytical’ (logical, a priori) and to what degree it has an ’empirical’ character do not need to be discussed here.

Lewin (1943), p. 294

By section 2, “The Principle of Contemporaneity and the Effect of Past and Future”, Lewin aims for rigour by using mathematical notation (which isn’t beyond high school Grade 12 level).

The equivalent to (dx/dy) in physics is the concept ‘behavior’ in psychology, if we understand the term behavior to cover any change in the psychological field. The field theoretical principle of contemporaneity in psychology then means that the behavior b at the time t is a function of the situation S at the time t only (S is meant to include both the person and his psychological environment) … and not, in addition, a function of past or future situations … (Fig. 2).

Lewin (1943), p. 297
Lewin (1943), p. 302

In section 3, “How to Determine the Properties of a Field at a Given Time”, Lewin compares the science of psychology with medicine (and engineering, physics and biology).

If one has to derive behavior from the situation at that time, a way has to be found to determine the character of the ‘situation at a given time.’ This determination implies a number of questions which are, I think, interesting both psychologically and philosophically.
To determine the properties of a present situation or — to use a medical terminology — to make a diagnosis, one can follow two different procedures: One may base one’s statement on conclusions from history (anamneses}, or one may use diagnostic tests of the present,

Lewin (1943), p. 297

Medicine, engineering, physics, biology are accustomed to use both methods, an inquiry into the past and a test of the present. But they prefer the latter whenever possible. [8]

Lewin (1943), p. 298
  • [8] There are cases where a historical procedure is preferable. For instance, the hunger of a rat can probably be better determined by the duration of starvation than by a physiological or psychological test of the hunger at the time t. This conclusion from the past to the present can be made, however, only during periods and in settings where a ‘closed system’ (no interference from outside) can be enforced; e.g., for animals which during this period do the same amount of work, which have been on a known diet, etc. The difficulties of this type of control have lead Skinner (19) to link the problem of drive strength to properties of present consumption.

Psychology has used diagnosis by anamneses rather excessively, particularly in classical psychoanalysis and other clinical approaches to problems of personality. Psychology of perception and psychology of memory have been relatively free from the historical type of diagnosis. Experimental psychology, on the whole, has shown a progressive trend toward testing the present situation.

Lewin (1943), p. 298

In section 4, “The Psychological Past, Present, and Future as Parts of Psychological Field at a Given Time” departs from physics.

The clarification of the problem of past and future has been much delayed by the fact that the psychological field which exists at a given time contains also the views of that individual about his future and past. The individual sees not only his present situation; he has certain expectations, wishes, fears, daydreams for his future. His views about his own past and that of the rest of the physical and social world are often incorrect, but nevertheless constitute, in his life space, the ‘reality-level’ of the past. In addition, a wish- level in regard to the past can frequently be observed. The discrepancy between the structure of this wish- or irreality- level of the psychological past and the reality-level plays an important role for the phenomenon of guilt. The structure of the psychological future is closely related, for instance, to hope and planning (2).

Lewin (1943), p. 302-303

Following a terminology of L. K. Frank (6), we speak of ‘time perspective’ which includes the psychological past and psychological future on the reality-level and on the various irreality-levels. The time perspective existing at a given time has been shown to be very important for many problems such as the level of aspiration, the mood, the constructiveness, and the initiative of the individual. Farber (4) has shown, for instance, that the amount of suffering of a prisoner depends more on his expectation in regard to his release, which may be five years ahead, than on the pleasantness or unpleasantness of his present occupation.
It is important to realize that the psychological past and the psychological future are simultaneous parts of the psychological field existing at a given time t. The time perspective is continually changing. According to field theory, any type of behavior depends upon the total field, including the time perspective at that time, but not, in addition, upon any past or future field and its time perspectives.

Lewin (1943), p. 303

The the last section, 5, on “Psychological Ecology”, Lewin responds to some issues brought up by Brunswik.

Within the realm of facts existing at a given time one can distinguish three areas in which changes are or might be of interest to psychology:
1. The ‘life space’; i.e., the person and the psychological environment as it exists for him. We usually have this field in mind if we refer to needs, motivation, mood, goals, anxiety, ideals.
2. A multitude of processes in the physical or social world, which do not affect the life space of the individual at that time.
3. A ‘boundary zone’ of the life space: certain parts of the physical or social world do affect the state of the life space at that time. The process of perception, for instance, is intimately linked with this boundary zone because what is perceived is partly determined by the physical ‘stimuli’; i.e., that part of the physical world which affects the sensory organs at that time. Another process located in the boundary zone is the ‘execution’ of an action. [….]

Lewin (1943), p. 306

The essence of explaining or predicting any change in a certain area is the linkage of that change with the conditions of the field at that time. This basic principle makes the sub- jective probability of an event a part of the life space of that individual. But it excludes the objective probability of alien factors that cannot be derived from the life space.

Lewin (1943), p. 309


Lewin, Kurt. 1943. “Defining the ‘Field at a Given Time.’” Psychological Review 50 (3): 292–310. Alternate search at


#field-theory, #kurt-lewin

Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management | Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016)

Many who cite #KurtLewin haven’t read the original 1947/1951 writings, say @strategybuild @ToddBridgman @kgbphd with the “refreezing” part of “unfreezing → changing → refreezing” emerging in a subsequent career of an idea that can be traced genealogically and archaeologically.

Kurt Lewin is widely considered the founding father of change management, with his unfreeze–change–refreeze or ‘changing as three steps’ (CATS) (see Figure 1 …) regarded as the ‘fundamental’ or ‘classic’ approach to, or classic ‘paradigm’ for, managing change ….

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 34
Figure 1. Change as three steps
Figure 1. Change as three steps.

CATS has come to be regarded both as an objective self-evident truth and an idea with a noble provenance.

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 34

The authors suggest going back to reread the original Lewin 1947 paper, to remove some of the distortions introduced with multiple reinterpretations.

By going back and looking at what Lewin wrote (particularly the most commonly cited reference for CATS, ‘Lewin, 1947’: the first article ever published in Human Relations published just weeks after Lewin’s death), we see that what we know of CATS today is largely a post hoc reconstruction. Our forensic examination of the past is not, however, an end in itself. Rather, it encourages us to think differently about the future of change management that we can collectively create. In that spirit, we conclude by offering two alternative future directions for teaching and researching change in organization inspired by returning to ‘Lewin, 1947’ and reading it anew.

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 35

Lewin (1947) does have a subheading as “Changing as Three Steps: Unfreezing, Moving, and Freezing of Group Standards”, but doesn’t use the term “refreezing”.

Lewin never wrote ‘refreezing’ anywhere. As far as we can ascertain, the re-phrasing of Lewin’s freezing to ‘refreezing’ happened first in a 1950 conference paper by Lewin’s former student Leon Festinger (Festinger and Coyle, 1950; reprinted in Festinger, 1980: 14). Festinger said that: ‘To Lewin, life was not static; it was changing, dynamic, fluid. Lewin’s unfreezing-stabilizing-refreezing concept of change continues to be highly relevant today’. It is worth noting that Festinger’s first sentence seems to contradict the second, or at least to contradict later interpretations of Lewin as the developer of a model that deals in static, or at least clearly delineated, steps. Furthermore, Festinger misrepresents other elements; Lewin’s ‘moving’ is transposed into ‘stabilizing’, which shows how open to interpretation Lewin’s nascent thinking was in this ‘preparadigmatic’ period (Becher and Trowler, 2001: 33).

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 37

The “Change as Three Steps” idea can be traced backwards (genealogically) before 1980, and then moving forward (archaeologically) after 1980.

Prior to the early 1980s, Lewin’s CATS was largely unseen; by the end of the 1980s, despite the fact that its form was anomalous to what Lewin actually wrote or likely intended for the idea, it was the basis of our understanding of a fast growing field: change management.

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 41
Figure 2. CATS as a grand foundation
Figure 2. CATS as a grand foundation

Kurt Lewin passed away at age 56 in 1947, with a heart attack. The 1947 paper is titled “Frontiers in Group Dynamics”. Where might he have continued research, if the untimely interruption had not occurred?

Lewin outlines many frontiers in the 1947 paper from which CATS is developed, but the two to which he devotes the most space, and which interconnect to most of the other frontiers he wrote about, are the first and the last in the article. The first is that when studying change the unit of analysis must be the group, not the individual (as psychology might direct us), the organization (as modern management studies is want to think) or wider society (as may be the want of the sociologist). The last is a call for advances in mathematics and statistics, advances that would enable multiple variables relating to individuals and groups to be analysed as a system, so as to enable the other frontiers he has outlined to be reached. Seeing these two aims as foundations for the future could, we believe, have profound effects on research and teaching now.

Cummings, Bridgman, Brown (2016), p. 51


Cummings, Stephen, Todd Bridgman, and Kenneth G Brown. 2016. “Unfreezing Change as Three Steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s Legacy for Change Management.” Human Relations 69 (1): 33–60. Alternate search at

Lewin, Kurt. 1947. “Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change.” Human Relations 1 (1): 5–41. Alternate search at

“Unfreezing change as three steps” | Sage | March 10, 2016 at

#change, #change-management, #kurt-lewin, #organizational-change

Group Sizes of Wolves Hunting Bison | MacNulty, Tallian, Stahler , Smith (2014)

Human organizations may learn from wolves, with groups of 2 to 6 taking down elk, and cooperative expert groups of 9 to 13+ taking down larger bison. #DanielMacNulty, #AimeeTallian #DanielRStahler #DouglasWSmith (2014).

Abstract: [….] Whereas improvement in elk capture success levelled off at 2–6 wolves, bison capture success levelled off at 9–13 wolves with evidence that it continued to increase beyond 13 wolves. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that hunters in large groups are more cooperative when hunting more formidable prey. Improved ability to capture formidable prey could therefore promote the formation and maintenance of large predator groups, particularly among predators that specialize on such prey.

Group-size specific success of wolves hunting bison

The influence of group size on the success of wolves attacking and capturing bison was not linear (Fig. 2). The top models of attacking and capturing included a linear spline for group size (Table S1), indicating a threshold at which the effect of group size on hunting success suddenly changed. [….]

Figure 2. Effects of hunting group size on the probability that wolves attack (a) and capture (b), bison.

The threshold group size was smaller for attacking than for capturing. The confidence set of spline models for each predatory task (Table S1) indicates the threshold group size was 3–6 wolves for attacking and 9–13 wolves for capturing. The most parsimonious models in the set included thresholds at 4 and 11 wolves for attacking and capturing, respectively (Fig. 2a–b). […]

Comparative effects of group size on the success of wolves hunting bison and elk

… attack and capture success were effectively constant beyond each threshold. Below these thresholds, each additional wolf had a slightly larger effect on the odds of attacking bison (OR  = 1.67) versus elk (OR  = 1.45; Fig. 3a) but a similar effect on the odds of capturing each species (bison: OR  = 1.40; elk: OR  = 1.44; Fig. 3b).

Figure 3. Comparative effects of group size on the success of wolves attacking (a) and capturing (b) bison and elk.

Whereas the threshold group size of wolves attacking bison and elk was the same (4 wolves; Fig. 3a), the threshold group size of wolves capturing bison (11 wolves) was nearly 3 times larger than that of wolves capturing elk (4 wolves; Fig. 3b).

Source: MacNulty DR, Tallian A, Stahler DR, Smith DW (2014) Influence of Group Size on the Success of Wolves Hunting Bison. PLoS ONE 9(11): e112884.


Effect of Size on Group Performance | Hackman and Vidmar (1970)

Completing tasks in teams of two produces the most satisfaction, but members are most comfortable with 4 or 5 people, found Hackman & Vidmar (1970).

Experimental laboratory. The experiment was run simultaneously at two institutions (Yale University and the University of Illinois, Urbana) using male undergraduates at each institution as subjects.

Hackman and Vidmar (1970), p. 40
Hackman and Vidmar (1970), p. 48

What is the optimal team size? Research by Slater (1958) suggests one straightforward means of estimating the “optimal” group size — simply determine what size group members prefer. Although both Hare (1952) and Slater find a general increase in dissatisfaction as size increases (a finding replicated by this study), Slater further proposes that five-person groups may be optimal.[4] The reason, Slater suggests, is that smaller groups are too intimate and members may be inhibited from expressing disagreements in them.

Hackman and Vidmar (1970), pp. 47-48
  • [4] It should be noted, however, that studies by Ziller (1957) and Miller (reported by Thomas & Fink, 1963) found no consistent relationship between size and member satisfaction.

The present data allow reexamination of Slater’s conclusion. Items one and two of the Member Reaction Questionnaire (“the group is too small”; “the group is too large”) reflect two opposing types of general dissatisfaction with the group size. If item scores are standardized (assuming interval data) and the data is plotted on a graph with size on the abcissa and satisfaction on the ordinate, the intersection of the two items will indicate the point of optimal reported satisfaction with the size of the group. Since neither task type nor laboratory interacted with size, the data were averaged across these variables before converting to standard scores. The results are shown in Figure 1. Consistent with Slater’s finding, optimal satisfaction with size is found between four and five members. Slater’s groups were from a single population and worked only on “human relations” tasks; the conclusion may now be generalized over three types of intellective tasks and two laboratory populations.

Hackman and Vidmar (1970), pp. 48-49

Yet the finding that members are most comfortable with groups of size four or five is, in some ways, inconsistent with other data from the same people. According to items on the Member Reaction Questionnaire, members of dyads were clearly the most satisfied, and dissatisfaction increased, in approximately linear fashion, from size three to size seven. Further, the middle-sized groups (i.e., sizes three through five) were less creative than the dyads or the relatively large groups. Why, then, should members of these groups report that they are the most satisfied with the size of their groups?
It may be that members of smaller groups feel unusually “exposed” and, while in fact they experience few objective difficulties in working together, they are still vaguely uncomfortable. The present data do not, unfortunately, address this possibility. The data are clear for larger groups. In these groups, members are unhappy, and the reasons center around the coordination difficulties they encounter (see Table 2). Yet even if the above line of reasoning is valid, we must explain why performance tended to be less adequate in middle-sized groups than in dyads and in very large groups.

Hackman and Vidmar (1970), pp. 49

[Editorial note: In Table 2, Group Product Characteristics are: (i) Action orientation; (ii) Length; (iii) Originality; (iv) Optimism; (v) Quality of presentation; (vi) Issue involvement; and (vii) Creativity.]

One possibility is that middle-sized groups are, in a sense, too comfortable for their own good. It appears that members of dyads may have responded to their “exposure” by pouring their energies into task performance. And, since there are very few coordination problems in these groups, the result was relatively good performance.

Hackman and Vidmar (1970), pp. 49

Source: Hackman, J. Richard, and Neil Vidmar. “Effects of size and task type on group performance and member reactions.” Sociometry (1970): 37-54.

Slater, Philip E. “Contrasting correlates of group size.” Sociometry 21, no. 2 (1958): 129-139.


The Rule of Seven for meetings | Blenko, Mankins, Rogers (2010)

Meeting effectiveness is reduced after 7 people are involved, say @BainInsights consultants #Blenko, #Mankins, #Rogers.

Follow the Rule of Seven for meetings. Who should come to a meeting is always a sensitive issue, and the basic precept is often “The more the merrier.” But more is rarely better when it comes to making decisions. Our research highlights what we might call the Rule of Seven: every person added to a decision-making group over seven reduces decision effectiveness by 10 percent. If you take this rule to its logical conclusion, a group of seventeen or more rarely makes any decisions. Of course, a larger group may sometimes be necessary to ensure buy-in. But organizations trying to make important decisions should limit the size of group as much as possible.

Blenko, Mankins and Rogers (2011), p. 88

Source: Blenko, Marcia W., Michael C. Mankins, and Paul Rogers. Decide & deliver: 5 steps to breakthrough performance in your organization. Harvard Business Press, 2010. [Google Books]

Bain Insights:  Effective decision making and the rule of 7
Bain Insights: Effective decision making and the rule of 7


2019/04/24 19:00 Lisa Taylor + Fern Lebo, “The Talent Revolution”, Toronto Reference Library

Presentation by Lisa Taylor@changepaths @Challengfactory and @fernlebo with new  @utpress book The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work, in the Hinton Learning Theatre @torontolibrary.


Lisa Taylor, president of The Challenge Factory

  • Urban Land Institute names as one of Canadian’s top 100 women
  • Military transition back to civilian life
  • 2019 Norway symposium, International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy
  • First career in psycho-geriatrics
  • Second career, corporate communications
  • Adjunct professor at Auburn U.
  • Third career, on Talent Revolution

Fern Lebo, President of FrontRunner Communications

  • Author, speaker, trainer, and coach

Lisa will speak first.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting,based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Lisa Taylor, Fern Lebo, The Talent Revolution
Lisa Taylor, Fern Lebo, The Talent Revolution


Day after the book launched, in the library where much of this was written

Why the book?

  • Because of demographics, people hitting an age when they would exit the organization, but don’t feel like they want to stop working
  • Resources for people to reinvent themselves at age 50s and 60s
  • No resource for companies, employers, who would hire late 40s, 50s, 60-years olds, in the way they think about talent
  • People dressed up, with nowhere to go
  • Time for employers to wake up on how the world of work is changing
  • How do demographics and longevity fit in, as well as technology?

5 drivers shaping the world of work

  • World of work often discusses technology
  • Had a 12-year technology career, but when in the world of work, it isn’t the only story
  • The future of work is human contribution potential

1. Demographics of longevity:  Baby boomers are the revolutionaries driving change

2. Career ownership:  shift in power between employees and employers

3. Freelance economy:  gig economy

4. Platform environment:  B2B, B2C

5. AI and robotics:  What’s the human impact, what potential does it free up?

We’ve been through revolutions before

  • Horse and buggy:  focus on making more comfortable, but it wasn’t about the horse
  • Buggies evolved
  • Go back to first principles, Aristotle said simplest form
  • Transportation in the simplest way, let’s invent something new, rather than evolving
  • Today, we hear a lot of tweaking around the edges
  • What do we want?  Not building fancier carriages

How would we design the world of work, if we went back to first principles?

  • A dialogue, without being out of reach

Demographics:  the biggest driver

  • Workforces being changed more by demographic change, than technological change
  • This doesn’t show up in the media
  • Aging is not a problem, the alternative is a problem
  • It used to be start career, get promoted, prepare for retirement
  • The retirement age was set in U.S. and in Canada in 1935 at 65, with the life expectancy of 62
  • Retirement was brought in as a workplace palliative program for the aged
  • Now, life expectancy is 82 years
  • Yet all of talent structures, career plans, statistics Canada has 65 as the finish line
  • At 65, nowhere near aged
  • So, is 60 the new 40?  No one wants to go back
  • 60 is a new 60, need a new mental model
  • Start with a foundational career
  • Take ownership of mid-career, not preparing for promotion — transition with purpose
  • If you’ve been an accountant for 30 years, you don’t need to be an accountant for next 20 years
  • Have an ability to choose what you want to do next, with decades to learn, transition and transform
  • The challenge:  individuals have figured it out, companies are slow
  • There are a lot of baby boomers who are hitting this threshold
  • Companies who don’t handle the baby boomers retiring will be like companies who weren’t on the Internet at 2000

Is demographic change a revolution?

  • There are models of revolution
  • 1. Impacting norms, situations and behaviours:  ageism
  • 2. All at the same time, not sequential order
  • 3. Affects everyone, everyone is aging, the workforce is a system, where people aren’t reaching their full potential
  • 4. Understandable patterns, and is predictable:  we can see aging coming, and plan for it
  • 5. Right now, and urgent:  It wasn’t urgent in 2005; a little interest in 2011
  • Since Monday, have done 13 media interviews, spoken twice, and we’re only halfway through the week

If we know it’s important, then what are the myths inside organizations that are thought to be true?

  • What is preventing companies from hearing?


“I don’t know the facts, but here’s what I think” — which is a trouble statement

  • Opinions without facts
  • Biases from fear, media, own experience
  • New term:  fake facts
  • Biggest myths are around ageism

5 myths

1.  Age-based myths are generally focused on performance or costs

  • Aged aren’t contributing their fare share?
  • Older workers paid too much, not encouraged to stay on?
  • Intergenerational performance:  e.g. millennials aren’t loyal; or she’s too old for training?
  • Best-before dates:  people are encouraged to think about retirement earlier?
  • Diminished productivity:  can’t be as productive?

Companies are ill-informed about the real costs of their workforce

  • Fail to consider costs of onboarding, training, replacing the new work who just wants to build bio, and moves on after 4 or 5 years
  • Earning potential is maximized at early 40s, so can’t compare 60-year olds to 20-year olds
  • Couldn’t find calculations for loyalty, know-how, expertise
  • Onboarding and orientation costs represent up to 93% of an employee’s salary

2. Diminished productivity

  • Unless you’re doing something (e.g. you’re a brain surgeon), maybe you should quit?
  • Maybe we should count backwards from 82, rather than counting forwards from 65
  • Everyone is an individual, can judge for themselves if they should contribute

3.  Perception of productivity depends on the attitude of the employer, not the output of the employee

  • Young worker more than the mature, they’re not being invited to participate, or be given choices
  • Expectations of retirement are premature, we start preparing for people to leave about age 49
  • No one asks what you would like to do next, a lateral?
  • Maybe instead of an increase in salary, you would like more time off?
  • Capelli 2013, Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age:  insight, experience, expertise, patience, you’ve stopped building your resume, are concentrating on what you want to do
  • Universal message that skill building is only for the young:  ran workshops for Fortune 500 companies, where are the older?

4.  Unintended consequences from maintaining myths

  • Lost opportunities to use talent
  • Employees want opportunities
  • VP of telecommunications company now working at Home Depot, he’s happy
  • Loyalty fades:  older workers are far less likely to leave than younger ones, in 5-year comparison, they’re not going to find jobs easily, so they stay

Misuse or underuse of old workers and their talents is what is expensive


Why go through myths?

  • We are living through revolutionary times
  • Workforce is structured, as if last century
  • True for organizations, policy-makers
  • We make off-hand comments about age, we would never do that on gender or race
  • Models are out of date, revolution not evolution

The future of work:  how do we prepare for the tsunami of retirements?

  • In revolutionary times, we don’t prepare (get things ready for a predetermined outcome)
  • The future of work is ours to shape
  • We need to stop preparing for the future of work, we are all actors
  • We need to shape the future of work

Asked 1000 people on a national conversation on the future of work

  • When you think about your children’s childrens view of work, what are you appalled by?
  • … what do you hope?
  • Then can see steps between

Need to shift thinking, using outdated models, with a finish line that no longer serves us

  • Stop dividing the work by age

My kids will live past their 100th birthday, they need to plan a career that doesn’t end in the 60s

  • Need to conclude a few years before
  • There is a generation now that will provide paths forward

All dressed up and nowhere to go

  • What does it mean to have a world of work, where everyone is vibrant and productive?
  • Why do we keep the old structures?

Video on Youtube:  The Talent Revolution at

  • Intergenerational workforce


Always children’s children:  (i) fear, dread or dismay; (ii) hope and dream for

Any companies doing something?

  • Journalist asked how long before employers get on board?
  • Typically, see within sectors that have a lot of older workers:  mining, utilities
  • The numbers don’t work, have to get people to stay
  • Premise:  a separate program for onboarding, then leadership development, then succession planning — instead of separating them, making a single curriculum
  • Onboarding into leadership development, working with someone in legacy career
  • Relationship between 3 generations, reduces program costs, forces intergenerational programs
  • See in unionized environments, public sector, as early days

Tied to a larger context, other pieces in world of work, old industrial model, employees are debits not assets

  • Demographics is a driver
  • Career ownership looks at employer-employee, who is responsible for maintaining?
  • Organization used to tell people they’re in charge of their own careers, but then could show career paths where they could go
  • Now, gig economy, doesn’t follow standard career path
  • Not a manifesto against ageism, a strategy on longevity in other factors
  • In the third section of the book, a chapter on employees not seen as assets, not right way, because assets are acquired and depreciated, need a different way of looking at employees as equity

Gen X managers say employees are phoning it in, towards retirement.  What can they do to engage?

  • Disengagement of a 30-year old, why not the same conversation with a 62-year old?
  • First and second books were for companies that didn’t have significant HR
  • The actual level of productivity turns on manager’s perception:  seen as phoning it in, will result in phoning it in
  • Employee needs to recognize, managers need to learn new skills
  • [Fern]:  Perception is often that it’s a kindness to let them coast, it’s not a kindness.

Has there ever been an employer saying why didn’t you come up with this book earlier?

  • [Lisa]: Yes, U.S. pharma company
  • CPG companies had launched “Your Encore
  • Are some signs of early experiments, starting to move to early stages

Governments provide financial assistance, what role should they play?

  • Hopeful
  • What does this mean for pension reform?  Have been working on this for a long time
  • Seeing the first hint of changes in the policy
  • Budget announced last month:  Canada Training Benefit is a small amount, that people can withdraw over their lifetime, should recognize the structure — if you wait 10 to 15 years, the contribution is larger
  • We normally don’t do lifelong learning, with a benefit that increases over time
  • e.g. taking $5000 after 20 years to retrain
  • Comes from Singapore
  • Can only withdraw funds until you’re 65, the Challenge Factory will take this on



2019/04/22 18:00 Lucy Suchman, “Apparatuses of Recognition”, UToronto

Marquis event featuring #LucySuchman, presented by Jackman Humanities Institute and Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, at Innis Town Hall


Also opening of Reading Faces, Reading Minds art exhibition at the Bissell Building.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting,based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Introduction by Brian Cantwell Smith, Professsor of Artificial Intelligence and the Human

[Lucy Suchman]

Lucy Suchman, Apparatuses of Recognition, UToronto
Lucy Suchman, Apparatuses of Recognition, UToronto

(Video replay at

Sketch of research in progress

  • Technology in militarism
  • Will unpack predispositions
  • 3 indicative technologies


  • U.S. citizen, moved to Canada
  • Possibility of threat to the world
  • U.S. military budget exceeds the next 8 combined
  • 70 bases
  • Discourse of U.S. vulnerability, also arms race based on AI

Counter-move to human and non-human

  • Climate and environment
  • Human relations with multiple species, multi-materiality
  • Humanity, cut in relations in humans

Karen Barad 2007 Meeting the Universe Halfway:  One cut between friend and enemy

  • Apparatus as specific material discursive practices, holds matters and meaning together
  • They produce differences:  integral cut in the phenomenon produced
  • Recognition, from social and bodily engagement withe world, more than just the eye
  • Recognizability maintains use through practices
  • Normative differential responsiveness
  • Objects not intrinsically delineated, reiterated cuts

Brian Cantwell-Smith, concept of registration, in The Promise of Artificial Intelligence Reckoning and Judgment (MIT Press forthcoming)

  • Judgement requires holding rationality to registration

Judith Butler:  Limits of registration to the site of possibility

  • Bodies that Matter 1993:  Nexus of power and knowledge that gives rise to intelligible things, but also the breaking point where it fails
  • Both the conditions on which the object is constituted
  • Domain of intelligible body

Butler, 2016 Frames of War:  human and non-human targets

  • Technology of war, but operation of technologies depends on how it works in the field
  • Technological grasping and circulation
  • Interpretative manoeuvre, who is a target?

Recognition of another as human, tied to faith

  • Face recognition is machine analytics
  • Correlations in face recognition have nothing to do with faces that we recognize
  • Mapping of output to the faces depends on human sensemaking
  • Last year, ACLU ran tests, incorrectly mapped 28 members of Congress as people who committed crimes, Amazon protested on confidence levels too low, but the fear of a threat leads to false positives, disproportionate arrest of people of colour

Three cases

Situational awareness, core doctrine of command and control

  • Major Brad Dostol,  2001Center for Army Lessons Learning, first use of armed drone in Afghanistan, killed everyone except the intended target
  • Ability to maintain a clear mental picture, friendly and threat
  • Must provide situational understanding
  • This is an idealized view, god-like of situational environment

1. The training situation (immersive simulation, 2016)

  • Culture and Cognitive Combat Immersive Training Demonstration, Flatworld Archive, USC of military with the film industry (photo)
  • New pedagogies of training
  • Anthropological critique in immersive viirtual reality
  • C3ITD at Institute for Creative Technology, demonstrated in 2006, with intensive in Iraq
  • Military training assumes the recognition of that which is already a threat
  • Division of friend-enemy, military training produces the body that the practices are meant to cover
  • Reiteration, but materialization never quite fits
  • Soldier:  the enemy isn’t out there, but becomes viable depending
  • Construction of the enemy is self-productive of the enemy, a mode of reiteration
  • Rather than simply preparing the soldier, simulation contributes

2.  Remote control, to separate the soldier from the combat

  • NY Times, QinetiQ, Nov. 2010, remotely control, some armed robots are operated with video-game-style consoles
  • Focus on interfaces that configure warfighters between subject and object
  • International Humanitarian Law, developed after WWII, as part of Geneva Convention
  • Rule #1:  Parties must distinguish between combatants and civilians
  • Adherence to rule #1 is problematic
  • Derek Gregory, June 2015, Geographical Imaginations, noisy network of threats, sweet target, sweet chiild
  • Full motion video from Predators and Reapers, all seeing eyes, to see a fully transparent battlespace, but vision is more than biological
  • Google’s march to the war must be stopped“, Lucy Suchman, May 16, 2018 — on the Maven project
  • Objects of interest include vehicles, buildings and human
  • Further automation of dystopic regimes can only server to worsen situations
  • Rendering of precision air strikes, 2004-2015 by Pitch Interactive
  • 190 identified as children, 534 civilians, high value targets 52 (known, and an imminent thread), then 2565 people as “other’, not identified
  • John O. Brennan, 2012:  a weapon that can distinguish between a civilian and a terrorist
  • U.S. counter terror air strikes doubles in Trump’s first year, and secrecy has increased

3.  Autonomous weapon systems

  • e.g. Samsung’s sentry robot, on Korean DMZ, heat and motion detectors across 2 miles
  • Precursor to fully-autonomous, any warm body is a body out of place
  • Compared to Berlin Wall, actually a space between 2 walls
  • Human figure in surrender, outside of combat, under protection of war, signal is clear
  • Collateral damage, image released by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks, Permission to Engage, killing of Reuters cameraman, man in van who wanted to help, and his child in the van
  • Camera was read as a weapon, van was read as military
  • Fraught with uncertainty
  • Misreading, premise

3.  Autonomous weapon systems

  • Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, CCW:  prohibition on excessively injurious or to have indiscrimate effects
  • Testimony on machine autonomy, 5 minutes:  problems of situational awareness, accepted as distinction between legitimate and illegitimate
  • Machine autonomy c.f. autonomy of a person
  • Can’t fully specify in an autonomous weapon
  • NGO Article 36 proposed meaningful human control, for acceptability, has been accepted by CCW
  • Presence of a human in a loop, as essential for accountability
  • However, remote control, the human and the loop are in distributed noise
  • Only meaningful to intelligence, in identification of targets
  • Situational awareness requires an openness, including performative consequences
  • Require time, and intent for communication, that warfare diminishes

Military power that diminishes distinction

  • Human rights lawyer, Payam Akhavan, CBC Massey Lecture 2017
  • Protection of human rights at a distance
  • Serving human, we must first be broken open
  • Fantasies of recognition
  • More dangerous in the moment, into a horizon of endless war
  • Challenge inevitable AI
  • If we are part of the world becoming, then commitment to collective transformation


Any good news?  This is depressing.

  • With Akhavan, looking for an alternative
  • Human rights lawyer, looking for multinational bodies with some force, creating legal structures to govern warfighting, so that people can be held to account
  • Becoming part of interventions, in the hope that there will be a growing articulation of the problem, with the trajectory
  • Hopeful of interruptions in the cybernetic loops

Any evidence (China, Russia) taking a different approach?

  • Tend to frame in terms of militarism
  • Not framing China and Russia as military powers
  • Most people don’t appreciate disproportionate, more than the next 8 combined
  • Not an expert on China and Russia, need more discussion
  • Google Maven points to China and Russia as command economies, and democracies are handicapped, e.g. Defense Innovation Board between military and Silicon Valley
  • AI systems are fielded, and then found to be impossible, sent back into lab

Surveillance to be used for good, and not evil?  Collateral damage.  Forensic architecture doing similar things, working within legalistic.

  • Counter-surveillance initiatives are interesting
  • Forensic architecture recreate, and then uncover illegal, kept in the dark
  • Doesn’t help unwind pervasiveness of surveillance infrastructure, but does redirect

Any legal consensus on humans being held accountable for autonomous?

  • Under laws of war, humans must be accountable
  • Opens questions of how accountability will be maintained
  • U.S. has lots of military lawyers, working on chains of accountability
  • Is it the software developed?  The operation commander?
  • Have been in meeting with senior military officer about lethal autonomous weapons, said that he wouldn’t deploy unreliable.
  • A lot of pushback, but accountability is messy.
  • What forums do we have to pursue those questions?

Criteria of recognizability, and achieving discrimination makes killing by algorithm or autonomous weapon illegal.  Human killing also becomes a form of illegal.  Undermining AI, undermines entire appartus.  Counter-argument of threshold of reliability?  Recognizability won’t work. A sense of the backup to the argument, to protect against a sufficient threshold of reliability.

  • Not sure what that looks like.
  • Rule #1 of IHL is clear.
  • World of irregular warfare, has undermined that.
  • Fundamental criterion
  • Next principle of proportionality
  • Proportionality still predisposes a distinction, about how much collateral damage
  • A resource, feels problematic
  • Want to hold the military, those who are operating in the governance structure, to the fundamental principle

International law as reasonable to limits to armaments?  Big contracts.  Protecting from external threats.  Naive to think laws will limit.

  • Agree, not naive.
  • Questions on efficacy on the rule of law.
  • Come less from the idea of real threats, than military-industrial complex, deep and invested interests in militarism.
  • Agree that law is only significant to the degree that there are bodies to enforce them, and the U.S. has undermined those
  • Don’t want to see rational actors, reject that description as inevitable.

Has research taken you to what would happen in the U.S., when there aren’t funds available to do this work.  Diversion of funds from education to military.  Social chaos.

  • Depressing.
  • How long can this continue in the absence of revitalization of domestic education and health?
  • A political struggle, from the street to congress.
  • Important to interrupt the assertion that the U.S. is engaged in necessary defence.
  • Not in proportion to thread
  • Every person killed is a friend or family to another, network effects