Last week while in DC for a work assignment, I took time to connect with a brother-colleague and former professor of mine, Dr. Shaun Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, and served as Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs for the Obama Campaign. As he is gearing up for another semester, he is also in he throes of promoting his new book, The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960 and finds himself well suited to speak to the transformative historical moment and opportunity that is the Obama presidency. As we caught up, shared stories from the campaign trail, and spoke of our common passion for public theology, transformative policy making and ushering in social change informed and fueled by the grassroots, he shared of his enthusiasm for the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and for the work of Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Michele Jolin.
Mentioning her work as Vice President of Ashoka, and with the Center for American Progress, Casey shared how he was hopeful that office’s ability to appreciate the role of harnessing the thinking and experience of community-based, faith-based, and other grassroots located change agents to build policy and enact solutions for some of our most intractable national issues. He recommended that I contact her directly (which I will, so stay locked in to this blog site), and also that I check out a book she co-edited, Change for America. In the book, Casey makes this claim in an article he authored, and which collectively sets forth a blue print of recommendations to the Obama Administration for real…change. I recommend you check it out as well, so that we may continue our blog conversations with it in mind. Read the rest of this entry »
There seems to be no doubt that we have to shift our understanding of the problems that confront us, not just so that we understand what they require as solutions in the traditional sense, but so that we can comprehend what they require of us.
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work shows that many of us have been educated to have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” one that can become concerned first and foremost with our own standing and status. She goes on to show how this is a sure fire recipe for disaster with respect to long-term results, whether one is a professional athlete, a CEO, a teacher, or a parent. If one is considering sustainable (and shared) benefit, then it behooves us to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that entails the ability, humility, and enthusiasm to learn from our mistakes and to help others to do so as well.
That is one of my biggest take-aways from being in DC last week. So many people are caught up in the game that plays out inside the Beltway where you have to make a name for yourself in order to have an impact. Fixed mindsets rein. But just when are you done proving yourself in such an environment? And what impact do we cheat ourselves of under such conditions in the long run?
Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of my friend Scott Lago’s death.? Scott was as much a brother to me as a friend and we worked together bringing the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt around the country in the late 1980s, setting up and managing displays of the quilt, a memorial for those who’ve died of AIDS. He affected my life in many ways, many of them very funny – but the one I’m remembering today is that when we’d be working with a group of people on setting up a display of the quilt, if someone started getting into what seemed like endless details about things he felt were unnecessary, preventing the group from moving forward, you’d notice Scott quietly tapping his watch face with his index finger. He was saying to those of us who knew him, “Can’t we get on with it? We don’t have a lot of time here.” While Scott knew on a cellular level that he didn’t have a lot of time here, I find myself sometimes looking around to see whether anyone else might be tapping their watch face.
And so it is this fine balance we seek to find in social change work – between not wasting what is, truly, precious time with endless details and at the same time, “going slow to go fast” – making sure we build solid agreements and cover enough to set things up for success. Might we sometimes spend a little too much time planning? None of us really have a lot of time here – the world is waiting!
And wherever Scott is, he’s watching what’s happening in the world and quietly tapping the face of his watch.
I recently finished reading “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone, and it really stirred my soul! The historical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh is one of those big books that invite you deep into the artistic psyche. I became overwhelmed by Vincent’s struggle, his compulsive drive, personal sacrifice and willingness to let go of so many conventions. But it’s not until we are three quarters into the book and six years into Vincent’s quest that we come to what is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever read.
Vincent finally makes it to Paris and he sees the impressionists for the first time. The scene is one of total awe, the beauty is like nothing he had ever seen before, like nothing he imagined, these were paintings that broke every rule, 300 hundred years of tradition suddenly gone bright with light and color, it was something absolutely beautiful and new. Vincent had worked day and night on his art, he had gone hungry for his art, he had been rejected by artists and non-artists alike, and suddenly here he was, for the first time seeing his burning desires manifest before him, he was awed, he was emboldened and he was inspired. Read the rest of this entry »
Many of us are familiar with the concept of the Hedgehog and the Fox originally sited in an essay by British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin where he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes based on their ways of thinking and being in the world. The hedgehog knows one big thing as compared to the fox who darts from idea to idea. This concept was most recently brought into strategic planning and nonprofit management circles by Jim Collins through his well read monograph, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors“. There he talks about discovering your “hedgehog” by asking three fundamental questions: What are you most passionate about? What are you best in the world at? And what drives your resource engine? The theory of the case is that your hedgehog, your one big idea, your strategic direction, lies in the answers to these questions. Read the rest of this entry »
The Brooklyn Comedy Company Proudly Presents the 4th Episode of season 2 of This Week in Blackness. In the latest episode host Elon James White talks about the past few weeks in so-called post-racial America…and this was even BEFORE the incident involving Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates that happened a few days ago, right in IISC‘s backyard. (For more on that connection and an extension of last week’s lively discussion on same, check out Princeton Professor and MSNBC regular Melissa Harris Lacewell’s recent blog in “The Nation” entitled “Skip Gates and the Post-Racial Project”.) Read the rest of this entry »
“Beware of the stories you read and tell.They are shaping your world.”-Ben Okri
I’ve been very interested to read more about the research of social psychologists focused on the impact of the order of thoughts when it comes to making changes in behavior. David Hardisty has conducted experiments in which people considering whether or not they would agree to a carbon tax to offset their air travel were asked to jot down the sequence of their thinking as they went about making their decision.
What showed up was that in constructing their preferences, the order of participants’ thoughts really mattered, with early thoughts significantly biasing subsequent ones. For example, people who ultimately rejected a carbon tax had negative first thoughts along the lines of, “I will be dead by the time the world is in an energy crisis,” whereas those who ultimately supported the tax had more positive first thoughts about the welfare of their children or subsequent generations. More intriguing, in a follow-up study, when Hardisty asked people to first make a list of the benefits of a carbon tax and then make a list of cons, this affected their preference in a more supportive direction no matter their political inclinations.
As I sat down to write this morning, I was pulled in two different directions. And laughingly realized (again) that I am pulled, actually, toward creating the bridge between them. Recently, Ellen Gurzinsky posted a fascinating article on her Facebook wall by Derrick Jensen called Upping the Stakes: Forget Shorter Showers – Why Personal Change Does not Equal Political Change. Jensen describes in detail that we become convinced that our individual actions will be enough to address major issues like climate change – and in so doing, stop short of addressing the deeper structural issues at play, and the main culprits – capitalism, industry and agriculture. And so he advocates for changing our focus to structural activism.
I also read a fabulous article about a retreat Pema Chodron did in Seattle this week, in which she talked about Boddhisatva practice – and specifically about the importance of not “getting hooked” with emotional reactions that lead to our own and others’ suffering. She describes that this way of being in the world creates real transformation. And in her amazing way, leads us in the direction of personal transformation to bring about transformation in the world. Read the rest of this entry »
That’s in just 11 years, so what is our vision? Things are changing really fast, so how do we take the shift into account. In his TED Talk on the next 5000 days of the web, Kevin Kelly outlines the contours of the world that is emergent, and it is very different than anything we’ve seen before. What is our role, as individuals and communities, organizations and movements – people who want to see a better world – how do we help shape this?
One of the best things that I have read recently is Social Innovation: What It Is; Why It Matters; and How It Can Be Accelerated. In this article the authors define social innovation as “new ideas that work, to meet pressing unmet needs and improve peoples lives”. They introduce us to the stages of innovation from the generation of ideas through prototyping and piloting to scaling up and learning. And they introduce us to the idea of the “bees and trees” i.e. that social change depends on small organizations, individuals and groups who have new ideas and are more mobile, quick and able to cross-pollinate connecting to the trees, which are big organizations like foundations, government and corporations which have the resilience, roots and scale to make things happen.
They posit that it is these alliances that will ensure that new and creative ideas will be translated into new products and services. At IISC we have spent a lifetime steeped in this struggle. We are bees learning constantly, experimenting continually and daunted by the time, effort and cost of turning many of these ideas into real and replicable products and services. While it remains a struggle, it is also our core commitment to “change how change happens” and so it is our dilemma to solve.
On Wednesday’s edition of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, the Rev. Al Sharpton made a poignant observation about President Obama’s recent trip to the slave castles in Ghana. While noting the psycho-spiritual-historical significance of the First Family’s visit to the infamous “Door of No Return“ his statement was that, contrary to the intent of the enslavers, indeed we (descendants of the enslaved) have returned — as President of the United States, the most important and powerful leader of the most powerful country on Earth.
Journalist Anderson Cooper will air a 1-hr special this weekend on CNN (8p, 11p on Saturday and Sunday) of his exclusive interview with the President during the First Family’s historic tour of these monuments to evil. In this clip, Cooper narrates a tour of the dungeons where captured Africans were held until they would be shoved through the Door of No Return to face their fate of either death during the terror-filled Middle Passage or a life of enslavement in the Americas.
While such observations evoke sobering, grievous as well as prideful thoughts, when coupled with my reaction to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings of the brilliant, exceptionally qualified, impeccably credentialed, and yes, wise, Latina Judge Sonia Sotomayor — I am further vexed about the state of race relations in this country. Read the rest of this entry »
Remember this old song? I don’t. But I heard Garnet Rogers doing a version the other day on WUMB. The timing was quite something, as I was in the car on my way to the office and my return from parental leave, trying to hold on to the reality of my situation. And it’s been on my mind as I get ready to embrace and ease into another transition (just remember, 40 is the new 30). Click to listen to Guy Clark’s rendition.
When I was a young man my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You’re gonna have to learn to let go
You gotta sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Many of us in the United States have been assured from an early age that knowledge is power. While this is true, it is incomplete. Knowledge is half the power. (And if not exactly half, some percentage of power). There are a number of other factors which make up power including but not limited to, race, class, age, sexual orientation, finances, who one knows, societal norms of one’s environment and most importantly, action. Knowledge means little, if it is not acted upon.
We learn every day. Every now and then, we learn of an injustice in the world which hits us just right, to the point that we want it to change it. Often however, we are far removed from the injustice, so either we forget it or become overwhelmed by the task of taking action. As a result, we may fall into a cycle where we simply read more about the issue, or keep telling others of the injustice, but never get around to concrete action. And while action may be hard part, it also seems to be the most rewarding. How do we make that leap to act when the injustice seems insurmountable? How do we harness the energy of those who came before us, who know what tactics work for each issue?
Of course we can!It’s what we do!But can we evolve at will?Can we be a conscious part of our evolutionary process?I’m not trying to get trippy here; it just seems to me like we have to evolve and we have to do it fast.A few weeks back Nicholas Kristoff wrote a piece titled “When Our Brains Short-Circuit,” he tells us that “evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.”His point is that we might be quick to freak out about terrorism (things blow up right away), but terribly slow to act when it comes to global warming (it unfolds over decades) – but which is more deadly?
And our big problem is that the political process we have forces lawmakers to move swiftly on whatever is freaking out the most people, even if it is at the expense of the long-term, or civil liberties for that matter.
We were intelligently designed to run from a saber-toothed tiger, but we have not yet evolved to deal smartly with the massive problems our own “advancement” has created –seems that we evolved unevenly, very fast industrially but very slow morally.And this is where my question comes back in.Is there anything we can do to advance our own evolutionary process?Are there modes of engagement with our selves that might help to catalyze radical shifts in our awareness?Alarmist communications only take us so far.Technical fixes are moving too slowly.Global warming can only be stopped by a radical shift in what Ron Haifetz would call the level of our values, beliefs and assumptions.I call this an evolutionary shift.
You can hardly turn a corner around here without bumping into another example of emergence and transformational change! There is a very interesting convergence playing out between the launch of the administration’s new Office of Social Innovation and what is becoming known as the Fourth Sector.
An aspiration articulated by the new Office of Social Innovation is to challenge the long held assumption that social innovation is the purview of the nonprofit sector only and to look for creative solutions in those organizations and collaborative initiatives that transcend the boundaries of the three sectors. It is exactly these new forms that are maturing finally into what is being called the Fourth Sector made up of organizations that are being described as For-Benefit organizations.
“We have democratized creativity to an extent that would have been unthinkable years ago.”
Duke Law Professor and founder of Creative Commons, James Boyle, gives a talk at Google Zeitgeist 2008 on the subject of “Copyright and Openness”.
Boyle advocates that, given our penchant for closed, centralized, ways of handling content, we need re-wire ourselves towards open, decentralized forms and norms when dealing with creative content.
Gend Leonard takes this theoretical framework and makes it practical it in his talk, “Getting Attention 2.0”. Presented to the Scottish Audience Development Forum in October 2008, Leonard outlines several savvy tactics artists [and all content creators] can use to share their content for free, while cultivating big numbers of loyal listeners/followers and still make money. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I had the privilege of co-delivering a workshop on collaboration and effective teams to this year’s crop of New Leaders for New Schools Residents as part of their Summer Foundations experience. These principals-to-be truly give one hope for the future of education in this country.
Prior to our two days of delivery, I heard Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute deliver a presentation to the Residents on the difference between what he called a “performance orientation” and a “learning orientation.” Howard’s claim is that schools often fail when they overemphasize student and staff performance at the expense of learning, and his message to the future school leaders was that they needed to think hard about what is most important as a long-term goal for the people in their building.
At IISC, we’ve talked a lot about how huge leaps are made in thinking when you spend time at the intersections between different fields.A recent book, the Medici Effect, Puts this out in the popular literature.That it is, in fact, living at the intersections that allows for different views into the world.And at this very moment in time, when the old approaches are falling behind and the world is so in need of new ways of looking at things, it seems a very good time to be spending time on the corners.
I’ve had some direct experience – as when Katy Payne and I discovered that humpback whales use rhymes in their songs.We were studying humpback whale songs, reading poetry and reading about oral transmission of folk literature.Suddenly, we had an “aha moment,” realizing that the patterns in humpback whale songs resembled human rhymes – that they sang the same grouping of sounds at the end of each section – and wondered if humpback whales, as well as humans, may use these repeating patterns as mnemonic devices.We’ll never know for sure – but spending time at the intersection between those fields is what brought the moment forth.
The thing with paradigms is that they inform EVERYTHING we look at, a paradigm is a lens with which we make sense of the world. This is why a paradigm has an uncanny ability to replicate itself in system after system. I recently read a fascinating article in the New York Times, Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe, and while it focused on the world of science, it described conditions that are easily identified throughout the social sector. I identified more than 15 such similarities, here are just four of them:
The grant system has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with a focus on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer.
It has become lore among cancer researchers that some game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue.
“There is no conversation that I have ever had about the grant system that doesn’t have an incredible sense of consensus that it is not working. That is a terrible wasted opportunity for the scientists, patients, the nation and the world.”
Some experienced scientists have found a way to offset the problem somewhat. They do chancy experiments by siphoning money from their grants. “In a way, the system is encrypted,” Dr. Yamamoto said, allowing those in the know to wink and do their own thing on the side.
Maeda embodies and articulates facilitative leadership and has embarked on building the collaborative organization which he calls an “open source administration”. Web2ExpoSF 09: John Maeda, “Open Source Administration“ Interestingly, even today, the idea of an accessible, communicative and transparent leader is seen as unusual and breakthrough telegraphing just how hard it is to move from the old to the new.
What is so unique to John Maeda is his combination of talents that are so apt for this moment in time. He is an artist, a designer, a techie; an educator and an MBA not to mention young and hip with a “genuine ability to distill, simplify and inspire”. Like President Obama he models what it means to lead today from a place of thoughtful creativity, wholeness and…..joy.
While John Maeda and Barack Obama are among the famous there are so many leaders across the generations, the sectors and the world that are showing the way simultaneously changing the world one individual, one family, one organization and one community at a time.
In her analysis of leverage points to intervene in a system, the late Donella Meadows highlighted mindsets as one of the most fundamental levels on which to focus if one is hoping to make deep and long-lasting change. The case for this is well made in a recent article in Mass Audubon’sSanctuary Magazine.
Katherine Scott writes in “The Wind in the Wash” about the lost art of the clothesline in America, largely obscured by the now ubiquitous clothes dryer. In this day and age, notes Scott, many children haven’t the remotest idea of what a clothespin is. She is not simply waxing nostalgic, but making an important point about the way we think.