Vision, MicrotrendingMay 18, 2010 Leave a comment
A couple of weeks ago, during a training with early childhood advocates from around Connecticut, an interesting conversation ensued about vision. This was prompted by one participant’s comment that in this day and age, “There is no such thing as vision. There is no such thing as magic or miracles. People are cynical. People just don’t respond to vision anymore.” There was some immediate push back to this comment, and also some acknowledgment that vision may not be what it used to be, thinking of the old standards a la MLK and JFK.
In the opening of our workshop (focused on collaborative leadership), Melinda offered our refrain that in this post-Cold War, post-Civil Rights, post-9/11, social mediatized, economically recessed and (climate) changing world, the very concept of leadership is very much up for grabs. Clearly big questions exist around the old command-and-control and heroic models as we understand that reality is often much too complex to bend to the whims or wants of any individual. As such, conceptions we had of vision associated with these leadership models is up for some scrutiny as well. Which is not to say that vision, or leadership for that matter, is dead.
If we were to believe the likes of Mark Penn, author of Microtrends, we might see that “small is the new big.” Penn says that with the power of individual choice reaching new heights, there really are no big trends out there. More sophisticated citizens and consumers, armed with a host of Web 2.0 tools, expect that the world will fine tune itself to their individualistic needs and respond to their unique self-expression. “We don’t have to join the herd to be heard,” says Penn. All we need to do is find the right channel for our passion and connect with that relatively small group of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people through Facebook or Twitter and, voila, we have ourselves a customized (micro)movement. This may be good news for democracy and those who never thought of themselves as visionaries or movement builders.
On the other hand, the growing number of microtrends and visions may point to a challenge that exists in uniting these smaller movements into something larger and perhaps more meaningful. Beyond the threat of further polarizing existing political extremes (a topic addressed recently by David Brooks in his NYT column), do we now stand to create too much distinction between those who are essentially on the same team? When we split ourselves into groups pursuing visions of green buildings on the one hand and healthy buildings on the other, do we end up creating more work for ourselves in the end? Does the microtrending of vision risk serving the individual at the expense of the collective?
I think yours is a prescient question Curtis. As someone who is really enjoying the newfound ability to connect to my tribe across time and space through these social media tools, I do get the excitement behind the microtrend hypothesis.
I’m not sure I can answer your question, but I wonder if it has to do with paradigms, and by that I mean paradigm writ large, the type of paradigm that defines a cosmology, the type that shows up everywhere you look because it is the lens through which we see the world. Might this vision writ large have something to do with the emergent paradigm shift and might it be found in patterns that underlie many of the emergent microtrends? The “battle,” then is at the level of paradigm. The ethnocentric meme, the paradigm that builds border walls is the same that informs terrorist acts – what is the cosmocentric meme? Can we tap it when we find it underlying these microtrends – cand it be the web that brings us together as we seek to imagine a new world?
Gibran, I think you are onto something when you talk about the paradigm underlying these microtrending visions, which may not just necessarily be a knitting together of those separate (content) narratives, but also could be the larger story as told by our collective (process) ability to reach out beyond time and space to connect using these new technologies. In this sense, microtrending itself could be seen as the new big trend that could be an indication that there is potential for us to wake up to the cosmological meme (and truth?) of our interconnectedness. Could this give rise to the empathic civilization that Jeremy Rifkin writes about?
We certainly do not want the proliferation of factions. What we desperately need is an ultimate end we can all agree on (this must be the creation of the happiest possible society). This ultimate end can then serve to be the integrating point for all of these microtrends. Instead of having a bunch of groups with different customs and goals we’ll have each group playing a distinct role in the pursuit of our agreed upon ultimate end. But for this to work we all need to become less single-minded thinkers. We need to seek out a fuller and fuller perspective; we need to critically seek out the truth and falsities in what others are saying; we need to pursue the attainment of the mental level that allows us to clearly see the interrelatedness of seemingly distinct actions, for society is a system, which cannot be understood through studying its parts in isolation.
Christian, thank you. I especially appreciate what you say about the mental level needed to see the interrelatedness in seemingly distinct actions, and I’m wondering if you have ideas and/or experiences that point us in the direction of how best to develop/acquire that capacity.
Curtis, Step one would be in attaining a broad education with an emphasis on the social sciences and philosophy, since these are the disciplines which directly address hoe the world works. Step two would be to interact with those from different occupational backgrounds from your own. I was thinking about this last night in relation to the meetups I go to. These are interest based groups, so they mostly bring people together with the same talents. This could be useful in some instances, but what would generally be more useful is bringing together a diversity of people. This would create an environment rich in learning and collaboration opportunities. So imagine what would come out of a group like this that has been regularly meeting for a long while. The participants would end up understanding other worlds and perspectives much more clearly, which would allow them to see more and more of the interrelatedness of phenomena in the world.
Thanks, Christian. I am in total alignment around the need to have people interacting more regularly with people from different occupational (and cultural) backgrounds. It seems to me that there is a need for a new cosmological framework whereby we see both our collective location in the universe differently AND understand that it is the sum of our perspectives that create a greater truth. That is what worries me about micro-trends that could be viewed as competing as opposed to complementary. For example, how can we understand the apparent oppositional perspectives of progressives and conservatives as feeding vital parts of a larger whole, not necessarily in terms of positions on issues, but certainly in looking at underlying values (loyalty, justice, etc.)?
I wonder about the place of the natural sciences in your first step above. In this country in particular, it seems we have trivialized the contributions of the natural sciences to our detriment. I think the Union of Concerned Scientists has made a particularly good case for this around climate change – http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/.
Thanks for good conversation!
Curtis, I like your point about the importance of seeing the complementary aspects of the perspectives of progressives and conservatives. I think this holistic view we are advocating would lead toward the answer to your question. Additionally, it seems to me that non-ideological dialogue between apparently opposing sides is another key (here I’s a big fan of what the Public Conversations Project is doing).
As for the natural sciences in the curriculum, I certainly agree with you that they should not be neglected. They ought to be an integral part of the curriculum, and students should be allowed to pursue in-depth study in them if they have a special interest in them. However, what worries me is the push from business interests for a disproportionate emphasis on the natural sciences in order to “keep America competitive.” I don’t think our educational system should be a factory for the production of the specialist scientists that high tech businesses love to have at their disposal. This is not to say that I don’t think our educational institutions should produce experts in the sciences. What I’d like to see instead is the production of top notch scientists that also have a solid understanding of the larger picture, and thus are keen on seeing the possible (positive and negative) consequences of their own and others’ scientific developments.
Oh, and I’m enjoying the conversation too, Curtis. Thank you!
Christian, I appreciate what you are saying about the mix of politics and the natural sciences, and I think we’re beginning (or continuing) to see that with the social sciences. Behavioral economics occasionally presents as a way for government to gain an upper hand on citizenry – how can we “nudge” people into adhering to certain policies. There’s a fine line there, and I guess the key is trying to keep the application of any science as broad as possible to the public interest and shared values. And I think having a depth and breadth of understanding is critical.