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July 16, 2009

Come From the Heart

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

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July 15, 2009

Knowledge is Half the Power

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?

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July 14, 2009

Can We Evolve?

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.

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July 13, 2009

Intersections and Social Innovation

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.

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July 10, 2009

Copyright or Copyfight?

“We have handed over the tools of creation.”

“We have democratized creativity to an extent that would have been unthinkable years ago.”

–James Boyle

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 More

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July 9, 2009

Prove or Improve?

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.

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July 8, 2009

Hanging Out on Corners

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.

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July 7, 2009

Cancer Grants and Social Change

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.

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July 6, 2009

Leading with Joy

My son, David, recently wrote an article for the Providence Phoenix about John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design and author of The Laws of Simplicity, The Laws of Simplicity – The MIT Press.

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.

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July 2, 2009

Mind Over Laundry

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’s Sanctuary 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.

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July 1, 2009

Streamlining Meetings in Twenty Words or Less

Had a fun conversation today with Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps about some ideas about how we might improve meetings. (20)

Jessica asked me, “what if, in meetings, everyone had to keep comments to 20 words – a la Twitter’s 140 characters?”

I laugh tonight, thinking of our Irish colleagues’ comments about American verbosity, how they’d love it if we did this. (20)

Would English be the standard? Or Spanish? Something else? Would we need the same number of words in every language? (20)

I’m not sure I’ll be able to just talk in a meeting again. I’ll probably count out the words first. (20)

What would happen if we did this (even for an hour)? I’m ready to try. Thanks again, Jessica and Jeff! (20)

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June 30, 2009

It's Like a Computer Model

Network Theory and Social Technology have become so tightly bound that it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about networks for social change without having one of our nonprofit-types freak out about technology, learning curves, accessibility, etc. I have been looking for ways to sift through the distinctions in a way that salvages core network lessons for movement building; here is some of what I’ve come up with:

  1. The network approach works offline as well as online (it is a logic, not a technology)
  2. We should move from an organization-centric paradigm to a network-centric paradigm (our organizational structures can evolve in this direction)
  3. Our leadership models must evolve in order to handle decentralization (deemphasize control and emphasize connection)

I have been using a “rocket building” analogy. Building a rocket is too expensive for us to just start building at random. Instead, we first build a computer model of the rocket, there we adjust for all sort of variables, the pull of gravity, energy needs, the best types of material, etc. We see how it works on the computer, and then we build it.

Similarly, we could not have dared to build an offline world that allows for as much decentralization and self-organization as the online world does. Our current organizational structures – from the state, to the corporation, to the foundation and the nonprofit – are too strongly cemented. Breaking down organizational walls and internal hierarchies would have put too much at risk.

The online world has provided an unprecedented space for large-scale experimentation in new forms of organization. It has become our own computer model and it is showing us amazing things about what is possible not only online but also offline. Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine has gone as far as calling this The New Socialism. And while I’m sure that Marx is turning in his grave, what I continue to argue is that an entirely new paradigm is finally emerging and that it is through our participation that we’ll actually have a chance to shape it.

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