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July 22, 2009

I Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

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 More

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July 21, 2009

By the Year 2020 We Will…

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?

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July 20, 2009

The Birds, the Bees and the Trees

So much is in the ether about “social innovation.” There is a new office in the White House dedicated to the idea as well as a prestigious journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review and multiple books.  The following are only two such examples: Geoff Mulgan’s The Process of Social Innovation 2007 and David Bornstein’s How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas,Updated Edition.

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.

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July 17, 2009

The Door of No Return

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.
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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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