Posted in What We Are Reading

July 28, 2009

Lust for Life

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 More

Leave a comment
June 4, 2009

Generation G

In the final chapter of “What Would Google Do?” (recently referred to by Marianne), Jeff Jarvis makes a provocative statement about the future and promise of a networked world.  Many of the points Jarvis makes appear to turn things on their head, at least compared to the way that many of us might first react to developments in our ever more densely connected and information-rich world.

A few things to ponder:

1.    This current generation is growing up with an ability to stay in touch with nearly everyone they meet throughout their entire lives.  Whereas those of us who grew up pre-Facebook may have lost track of old childhood friends and college buddies, this generation has the possibility of always being more directly in touch with the different chapters of their lives.  Scary?  This seems profound to me, and yet I don’t really know exactly how.  What might this do to the very nature of relationship?

2.    The flip side of TMI (too much information) is greater transparency.  Young people are putting so much more of themselves and their lives out for public consideration.  Often this gets construed as risky and/or a kind of exhibitionism.  However, if more people are playing the same game, then perhaps the rules will enforce greater overall acceptance and safety of full and liberating self-expression.  Jarvis quotes author David Weinberger  – “An age of transparency must be an age of forgiveness.”  Wow.

3.    And what about all of that apparently inane information that people share about their bunions or the mold growing on the bathroom tile?  Well, how about the benefit of “ambient intimacy” (Jarvis quoting blogger Leisa Reichelt –www.disambiguity.com), swapping the small details of our daily lives?  This may just help us to develop stronger relationships as we come to know more about people who would otherwise be just acquaintances, or grease the wheels for the next time we physically see one another or talk by phone (less catch up time).

Throughout these and multiple other points, Jarvis seems to be suggesting that more integrated lives and more widespread trust are a result of living in the Google age.  Given that collaboration thrives on trust, and that collaboration may be our saving grace as a species (see Charles Darwin and my post “The Group Effect” – ), shouldn’t we all be striving to be fully exposed and (wireless) card carrying members of Generation G?

Leave a comment
May 21, 2009

The Group Effect

I keep returning to the cover article of the New York Times Magazine of a few weeks ago entitled “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” Other than being a fascinating piece on what might prevent people from getting into a more environmentally sustainable mindset (and therefore sustained sustainable behavior), it makes a very strong case for collaboration as a smart (and potentially species saving) decision-making process.

Author Jon Gertner has spent considerable time with behavioral economists, looking at the limits of individual decision-making when it comes to long-term trade-offs. For example, researchers at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University have pointed to the shortcomings of two different ways individuals process risk: (1) an analytical approach that seems to have less tolerance for delayed benefits and (2) an emotional approach that is restricted by one’s lack of experience with certain phenomena (such as rising sea levels). Both approaches disincline individuals from making choices that have short-term costs (reduced consumption, paying a carbon tax) but may ultimately be better for the planet. Hence, say some decision scientists, the tragedy of the commons – the overgrazing of land, the depletion of fisheries, the amassing of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Just when Gertner is ready to say, “We’re screwed,” he points to other research that suggests that an answer to our individual failings on the front of risk assessment may lie in our associational tendencies and community-based intelligence. For instance, Michel Handgraaf has conducted studies in Amsterdam that show that when people make decisions as a group, their conversations gravitate more to considerations of “we” and delayed benefits. Similarly, anthropologist Ben Orlove at UC-Davis has studied farmers in Uganda and observed that when they listened to rainy season radio broadcasts in groups, rather than as individuals, they engaged in discussions that led to consensus decisions that made better use of forecasts – collectively altering planting dates or using more drought resistant seeds.

In other words, it may behoove us all to collaborate more, and with a twist. Evidence suggests that it is best to begin thinking through decisions in groups, rather than weighing them as individuals and then coming together. This just might get us more quickly to the “group effect,” to a collective identity and ability to think and act long-term. As Jon Gertner puts it, “What if the information for decisions, especially environmental ones, is first considered in a group setting before members take it up individually?”

What if? Why not? How to? What say you?

Leave a comment
May 19, 2009

What Would Google Do?

What Would Google Do? is a question that I have been asking myself for a number of reasons lately, not the least of which  is because I am reading the book right now. I am reading this book and multiple blogs (Meg Hourihan, Clay Shirky, Deb Kantor, Kris Krug, Z Plus) really in the hopes that I can locate myself, our organization and the clients with whom I work squarely in the “new paradigm, “the quantum age” repeating the mantra as I go, “do what you do best and link to the rest”.

This mantra was ever-present for me as I worked this week with a group of folks who are at a most critical juncture in their effort to build a field, the goal of which is to increase awareness and funding to address the root causes not the symptoms of social injustice. A core of the larger global network has been convened, knowledge and product gaps identified, and a commitment to moving forward together has been made. This group was then tasked with figuring out “whither next?” Now what?

Their task is to create a road map that will involve the appropriate people and resources to increase the knowledge and expand the network. As the collaboration-centered process “experts” building collaborative road maps that creates the container for creative engagement, emergent thinking and right action for greater social impact is what we at IISC do but the question remains: what would Google do?

As in most of my life-long searches, I look for some basic princples: the Ten Commandments; the Four Noble Truths; the six articles of faith; burn more calories than you eat and I found some. Here are a few (and like all basic principles have the quality of…..duh…until of course you really, really contemplate their meaning and worse, their implications for your life)

  • make mistakes well – admit them, share them, learn from them;
  • life is beta – everything is a work in progress and can always be improved; when you make a mistake iterate your way out of it, learn your way;
  • be hon est –  be direct, authentic, say what you mean;
  • be transparent – make your process explicit; hand over control through openness and information
  • collaborate – include, include, include….co-create
  • don’t be evil – well, here we’re back to the Ten Commandments, the Four Noble Truths etc….

My own answer to the question is: learn, connect and of course, Google!

Leave a comment
April 28, 2009

The Power of Positive

I have been boning up on systems theory and thinking because of an upcoming presentation that I will be delivering and because I am so interested in applying its wisdom to our own organization.. Oh to find the trim tab!!!!!

So, I am seeing everything through the systems lens when I stumble across this article on positive emotions and there it is in black and white with systems sprinkles to go. See below!

As background: Two distinct psychological states are positive emotions which are triggered by our interpretation of our current circumstances and pleasure which is what we get when we give the body what it needs right now!! Positive emotions tell us what we need emotionally, what our future selves might need. They help us broaden our minds and build our resources…they have that go-forward quality.

Happiness is the overall outcome of many positive emotions which are more narrow, more day to day, moment to moment. It’s not about being happy in general but focusing on being positive day to day which ends up building up our resources so that we can become the best version of ourselves.

It’s one thing for individuals to build their resilience through focusing in the day to day on their strengths and assets, practicing kindness, expressing gratitude, staying in the moment but how does this work in groups?

In a study of 60 work teams conducted by mathematician Marcial Losada it was shown that the really high performing teams had a ratio of 6:1 positive to negative statements where as the low-performing teams had ratios of less that one to one i.e. more than half of what was said was negative. The high performers had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own point of view and an equal measure of focusing outward and focusing within the group. The low-performers were essentially not listening and simply waiting for their turn to talk.

He then looked at the behavioral data and wrote algebraic equations that related the positive and negative behaviors to each other and discovered that these equations matched the very famous equations called the Lorenz system. happiness-equationFamiliar to us from our reading on systems, Edward Lorenz is the scientist who identified the famous “butterfly effect” the idea of an attractor…an identifiable pattern or hidden coherence that appears in all that is incoherent. Some attractors are strong and some are weak. In this case Losada discovers that underneath the dynamics of the high-performing team was a “complex chaotic attractor” which produces unpredictable or novel outcomes. Underneath the structure of the low-performing teams was a “fixed pint attractor” that caused the team to spiral to a dead end.

And, p.s. there is research that shows that when married couples are in a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions they are in a solid relationship.

It seems that no matter what corner one turns…you come up against the same wise messages be still, be focused, be grateful and breathe.

Leave a comment