What if Reputation Ruled the World

Reputation …

It’s a specter that follows us around announcing whether or not we’re someone who can be trusted. If you’re reputable … you’re given the benefit of the doubt. If not, people look out the corner of their eye at you … not daring to gaze directly for worry of a fate not unlike that which Medusa could wield. So instead of risking turning to stone … we avoid; avoid the date, avoid doing business or avoid most anything else. We care about our reputation because we want approval. Having a positive reputation will result in being approved of by more people … and having more success in life, personally and professionally.

A good portion of my adult life unfolded while being a recruiter … or as I preferred a headhunter. In my business, reputation was everything. It hinged on being trusted with information. When doing a search I was entrusted with confidential company strategies and tactics. While respecting this confidentiality, I had to know what I could divulge to potential candidates in order to gain their interest – and what to keep close. I couldn’t be blabbing to the world the ‘ins and outs’ of my clients’ business. I also had to be trusted to confidentially hold personal details on my candidates. If their current employers (most of all the people I recruited were employed) found out they were looking at other opportunities; at best they were put in the precarious position of having to explain themselves … or worse – outright fired.

This tightrope I played was a delicate balancing act. One valuable thing I brought to marketplace (to both my clients and candidates) was being a conduit of knowledge and trends on the industry and its players. I had to share just enough to be seen as an expert while not too much to jeopardize my reputation as someone who could keep a secret.

The success of my business depended on maintaining this reputation. With my narrow niche, the high-end printing and prepress community, news of any breach would spread like wildfire. Maintenance of my reputation was a continual process. Numerous times I wanted to share a interesting piece of info, knowing it could benefit me in the short-term … but I refrained.

Reputation

Through our reputations we gain trust; trust we hope will get people to act the way we want them to do. These actions could be anything from liking us (physically or online), buying something from us, hiring us or even collaborating with us. It all comes down to trust – a direct result of our reputation.

So what actually is trust? According to Gwynne Monahan in a piece titled “How Do We Define Trust?”

Some referred to a “gut” feeling.

Some said they trusted until there was a reason not to, and when asked to elaborate, they spoke of violations or actions that were “untrustworthy.” Stealing, showing up late for work, lying.

It’s almost like trust is not really anything but an absence of fear or hesitation. I like to think we trust until we don’t. For me it’s almost a default position.

I take a Greyhound bus from Montana to Los Angeles twice a year. I like the bus. I get to meet all kinds of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. I gain insight and perspective that’s not common in my circle of normal contacts. During each trip, which lasts a day and a half, there are short layovers. Each of these involves transporting baggage, enough for a at least a month. Invariably at times I have to separate from my bags, leaving them in the public bus terminal (bathroom breaks, etc.). When this happens I have to trust someone to watch them. These “someones” might be people I’ve already met on the previous leg of the trip. But sometimes they have to be someone I haven’t even met at all. Maybe it’s just a person in the chair next to me or waiting in line for their next connecting. There’s really no criteria on who I trust. Sometimes it’s an elderly women, and sometimes it’s someone who had just gotten out federal prison (you can tell by the grey sweatshirt, sweatpants and clear plastic bag of release papers). As Gwynne says: “I just trust my gut.”

Societal acceptance based on reputation and trust is nothing new. In fact reputation was the foundation of nomadic cultures before the advent of farming. Hunter-gatherers were ever vigilant against free-riding and elitism. They viewed both as threatening to the tribe as any predator would be (human or otherwise). They rigidly enforced social rules to ensure that skilled cooperators fared better than self-maximizers. For example, meat was never distributed by whomever made the kill, but by another stakeholder. Enforcement could be by ridicule, shaming, shunning, or even exile. And these practices are still used in modern nomadic tribes.

These socially enforced rules create powerful environmental pressures. This preemptive self-control ends up being the lowest-cost strategy to avoid social penalties. Because “counter-dominant coalitions” punish “alpha-male behavior” (like hogging an unfair share of meat), even powerful members of the tribe abided. Ultimately this becomes kind of a inverted eugenics: eliminate the strong, if they abuse their power.

Shame and guilt enable “self-policed” social norms. Conscious, reputation-based social selection for collaborative activities subsequently became dominant. And those known to have a reputation as poor cooperators would not be selected for joint ventures.

These rules could also apply to governments as a whole. Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon showed us what can happen to a country’s reputation when actions that affect its reputation are taken for granted. Secret cables and emails showed the world United States intelligence services spied on American allies, as well as its diplomats acting out in typical juvenile behavior in what they thought were confidential communications. We’ll never really know how the damage to its reputation has and will affect the United States efforts overseas, diplomatically or economically. Eventually whatever\ you say and do will get out. And too often the consequences aren’t pretty.

Tim Rayner published a brilliant piece describing how reputation can be an effective means of enforcement of the international climate change agreement signed in Paris December of last year. Below is an excerpt:

The review system is more significant than it may appear. Thanks to the transparency created by the system, the entire world will be able to track which countries are contributing to the climate struggle and which countries are failing to do so. Seeing as the world has now committed itself to trying to keep temperature rises below 1.5° above pre-industrial levels, refusing to contribute essentially amounts to giving the finger to the rest of the human race. Such action will carry consequences, political, economic, and otherwise.

On a positive note, the review system will bring the transition leaders to the fore. Countries that work hard to contribute to the zero-carbon goal by making deep cuts to their emissions will stand out for their contributions. In light of the noble cause of averting climate catastrophe, their actions will assume a heightened significance. These cuts are gifts to a future humanity.

This kind of system, where reputation rewards accrue to agents on the basis of their intentional contributions, or gifts, is the hallmark of a gift economy.

The Paris agreement did not create a bureaucratic mechanism for directing global emissions reductions. It created a gift economy based on carbon cuts. This system could work brilliantly, catalyzing a virtuous competition around emissions cuts, while minimizing the political backlash from conservatives. But to make it work, we need to understand how a gift economy operates.

Or we can extrapolate as Toby Barazzuol states: “Climate leadership is about voluntarily holding ourselves to higher standards in ways that inspire others to do the same.”

What if Toby and Tim’s thoughts on climate change accountability transcended to other aspects of human behavior. And what if reputation could take the place of excess enforcement of often arbitrary societal rules designed to benefit special interests rather than the populace. Rather than religiously following the philosophy of Thomas Hobbs (proponent of all encompassing government) and his pessimistic views of humanity with personal self-interest being the root of all our actions … we looked instead to David Hume. Hume’s philosophy was that we enhanced our reputations through actions formed by naturalistic virtues of just “doing the right thing” for the benefit of the whole. He believed we were born with these virtues of benevolence, trust and commitment. This ‘spontaneous order’ did not need to be enforced by a greater overarching power or institution of human or theological making.

The idea of spontaneous order comes from the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular David Hume who, famously, argued against Thomas Hobbes’ assumption that, without some Leviathan ruling over us (keeping us “all in awe”), we would end up in a hideous State of Nature in which life would be “nasty, brutish and short”. Hume’s counter-argument was that, in the absence of a system of centralized command, conventions emerge that minimize conflict and organize social activities (including production) in a manner that is most conducive to the Good Life.

Steadily, these conventions acquire a moral dimension (i.e. there is a transition from the belief that others will follow the established conventions to the belief that others sought to follow them), they become more evolutionarily stable and, in the end, function as the glue that allows society to be ordered and efficient albeit without any centralized, formal, hierarchy. In short, spontaneous order emerges in the absence of authoritarian hierarchies. (Yanis Varoufakis)

What if how you treated your fellow man – your friends, neighbors and even strangers – counted for more than money, more than the car in the garage and more than the house on the hill. What if having a reputation for benevolence and trust mattered most. What if your contribution to the ‘spontaneous order’ of your community was the mark that was revered to the highest societal degree. And what if taking a step back and learning from the societies of the past was really a step to a new level of wellbeing … one further up the evolutionary ladder.

“Human beings will be happier, not when they cure cancer or get to Mars, but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

The Walmart closures: A community ‘Call-to-Action’

Two weeks ago the announcement of the closure of 154 Walmart stores in the United States sent ripples of anxiety, if not panic, throughout many small towns in America. Many of the affected communities were losing not just a big box store, but their pharmacist, their hardware store, their optician, their money center, their auto center and most of all – their grocery store. So impactful was this decision on some of these towns that the phrase ‘food dessert’ had crept into their local lexicon for the first time. Up to this point, ‘food dessert’ was a term reserved for the urban cores populated mainly by minorities. This couldn’t happen in middle America, especially in the towns that serve our nation’s farms.

But yes it had; and if the past is any indicator of the future – it’s not done happening yet. It isn’t that these stores themselves are doing that bad because in many communities they have virtually no competition (They wiped out most of the locally owned merchants shortly after they arrived). These store closures are due more to the new worldwide competition Walmart faces in Amazon and their online sales platform. Walmart’s profits are forecasted to decline fifteen percent in 2016 and its stock price took a twenty percent hit in 2015. Something had to give and cuts had to come from somewhere. That somewhere was mainly Walmart Express stores in smaller markets.

Walmart closed

It would be easy to take the conventional stance, one almost unanimously taken by the media. All this misfortune is the fault of Walmart and their heartless executives in their ivory towers far, far away. It’s just another way the rich are sticking it to the hard-working middle class folk in small town America. And of course this position has had no shortage of supporters in the towns affected. Well I suppose there’s some truth to it. But there’s also a lot more to it than that. The deeper we dig, the less we probably want to see.

The core of these problems have roots deep in the evolving sociology of not only the communities effected, but in most communities throughout the United States.

About a year ago I began the blog series, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World.” My goal is to create a pragmatic road to societal change through direct civic involvement using the efforts of local businesses and their customers as the conduit for volunteerism. The Norwegian have a word for this, Gugnad: “Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.” I call this Community 3.0.  A year later I’m thirteen posts in with about ten left. This post, catalyzed by the Walmart closures, kind of serves as recap of the first two sections.

The first section of posts, Mile Markers 1 through 6, were called “Rebuilding the Middle Ring.” The term ‘Middle Ring’ was coined by Marc Dunkelman in his excellent 2014 book on the evolution, or should I say the de-evolution of the American neighborhood, “The Vanishing Neighbor.” In his book Dunkelman introduces the concept of the Middle Ring. The Middle Ring is what Dunkelman calls our neighborly relationships. This is in contrast to the inner-ring of family and close friends, and the ever-expanding outer-ring relationships fostered by the digital age and social media.

My first post, Rebuilding our Neighborhoods through the ‘Middle Ring’, was sort of a trip down memory lane growing up in Minot, North Dakota. My neighborhood back then was a functioning Middle Ring where everyone looked out for each other. Not everyone agreed politically, socially and especially in their professional football fandom … but it didn’t matter. It was the neighborhood that matter first and foremost.

Posts Two and Three were more of sociological discussion on what we could do as individuals to rebuild the societal foundation of our neighborhoods and the Middle Ring. Empathy and ‘Shared Experiences’ concentrated on exactly that – empathy. Unless we can put ourselves in others’ shoes (or at least try to), how are we going to expect to overcome our differences and see them as collaborators in the betterment of our communities. 

‘Cross-Pollination’ and Creating your Personal Renaissance takes empathy a step further by suggesting we venture out of our comfort zones and seek out people who are different from us. And instead of being blinded by differences we need to focus on the strengths of diversity and the growth we can achieve through it. One of examples of this I highlighted was my encounter with a homeless gentleman collecting bottles and cans from a dumpster … and especially the insight I gained from him.

In Posts Four and Five I elaborated on what I believe is American’s biggest societal divide – its generational gap and the loss of tremendous resources that fail to materialize because of it. ‘Bridging the Gap’ focused on the problem and ‘The Kernel,’ A Cross-Generational Makerspace Ecosystem was my idea of one part of the solution. Imagine combining the lessons and fundamentals of the past and modernizing them using the resources of today.

In the last piece of “Rebuilding the Middle Ring” I waged war on Silos. Everywhere we have organizations, whether they be public or private, we construct metaphorical silos. We build barriers, maybe for self-preservation and control – or maybe just because we don’t think there’s any other way. Regardless the reason, silos hold us back, individually and as a community. We spend more time excluding than including. Resources are left on the table because of duplication of efforts or just because one group doesn’t know what another group could offer. 

Nature provides a desirable alternative to conventional silo-ridden structure in the plant-based Rhizome theory of societal organization developed by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. Rhizomes feature societal cross-pollinated connections that allow for multiple non-hierarchical entry and exit points. This metaphor has become the organizational foundation that anchors Community 3.0.

The second part of the series, “Buy Local,” Mile Markers 7 through 10 – introduces local business as my conduit for rebuilding resilient neighborhoods and communities. Not all bad that happens to communities can be avoided, but a lot of the damage can be mitigated. The closing of a longterm large employer can happen (such as what we’ve seen throughout the Rust Belt); but a community can also hedge against such a thing by making a conscious effort to diversify through locally owned enterprises. This should be standard practice when times are good and there’s money in public coffers and the community is healthy. Unfortunately few do, thinking the proverbial Golden Goose will forever remain fertile. Such is never the case though.

While it’s bad when communities hit hard times, it’s worse is when the adverse affects are compounded by decisions made by civic leaders that further decimate the area and its local business base. These so-called leaders too often fall for the lies and deceit coming from big box stores and Wall Street chains’ mouthpieces. City and county officials are vastly overmatched in this game of sleight of hand. All they can see is the ‘glam and glitter’ of more jobs in a land of Oz, not the price to be paid getting there and the misleading actions of the ones behind the curtain.  These charlatans’ cries for government help and handouts (a regulation here, a mandate there, and a whole lot of subsidies and tax breaks) is seldom ignored. And in the end our civic leaders have created an alliance with big business. And unfortunately by default, they’ve made their enemies of free-enterprise and our local Main Street entrepreneurs.

This is exactly what happened in those 154 communities throughout America when Walmart moved in. But now it’s even worse because they’ve left with nothing but civic, economic and social carnage in their wake. The Pied Piped has been paid … only in this case – he never even got rid of the rats.

In the last three posts in “Buy Local,” I discuss the relationship between the residents of a community and their locally owned businesses. Even though the title of this section is “Buy Local” – that greatly understates this relationship. To automatically patronize a local business because it’s locally owned may seem like you’re helping them out; but it in fact you may be only enabling behavior that is detrimental to their success in the long term. Buy Local … or maybe not! asserts holding local business to the same standard that you would any other one while “Where Everyone Knows Your Name” actually promotes being a collaborator, by being a set of eyes on the street for your local business community. My intent here is to motivate us as customers to help coach local businesses rise to a higher standard, one that raises the bar to a level so they can compete favorably against the parasitic box stores and chains.

A community where its small businesses are intertwined with their client bases is one that is very difficult to uproot. And when this relationship is taken even a step further into the philanthropic realm via small business civic volunteer hubs, like those in the Community 3.0 model … your community’s defense system will be virtually impenetrable.

All this leads me to the issue at hand and the title of this piece, The Walmart closures: A community ‘Call-To-Action.’ We can all jump on the media bandwagon; play off the jingoism of “our town” and blame anyone and everyone outside our borders. But I can’t see how that is productive though. I can’t see a better future resulting from playing the blame game. We all share in the blame for the effect the Walmart closures have on our communities because we all shared in the foothold they established. While can’t necessarily keep them out (without bankrupting our towns and cities); we don’t have to let our civic officials hand them subsidies and tax breaks. We don’t have to shop at Walmart or any other chains at the expense of our local entrepreneurs. Those few dollars we think we save tend to turn to cents or less when all factors are taken into account.

When these piranhas leave our towns, they don’t leave it untouched; and often those hurt the most are the ones we that granted the most. These are our friends who provide us with what we need … even after hours. No longer can they be taken for granted. Now is the time for us to come together and show we are communities by more than just name, but by spirit – and most of all …. by our actions.

Even if the heartless actions by Walmart don’t directly affect you and your community … you can still use it as a wake-up call. It’s only a matter of time before Walmart or another Wall Street behemoth economically rapes and pillages your community. Use this time to come together and rebuild your neighborhoods and your Middle Ring of community support.

Use this time to decide who your real community is.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

 

Why don’t I know who you are?

Social media discussions most often disregard context, context based on the perspective of author. Instead most discourse happens only on a surface level.

What if instead of automatically jumping into a discussion and making judgement calls we first looked at the background of the authors and commenters. But this can only be accomplished if we know something about them. And we can only do that if information is available to us.

Speaking to no one

More times than not virtually nothing is available though. Aside from LinkedIn (which really isn’t a discussion platform), On Facebook and Google+, where the majority of conversion happens, profiles are virtually blank: no locations on where they’ve lived or even live now, no the type of work or type of company they’ve worked at – or not even a personal statement that isn’t so cryptic that little can be gained without any other context. I’m not looking for a resume … but, jeez – help me out a little.

The first thing I do when engaging with someone on social media is to look at their profile page and then often delve deeper into their background by investigating any links they may provide. Just knowing the country where someone lives gives me insight, especially when discussing deep social and political issues. Context is everything. Even in the United States nothing should be taken at face value (i.e gun control). Someone who’s lived most of their life in Montana (where I currently live) will have a completely different life view and set of societal norms than someone from Los Angeles (where I used to live). I encounter this reality everyday.

For the sake of disclosure and context, I should mention I spent fifteen years as a headhunter. My livelihood was dependent on how well I knew one of my candidates. I looked not only at resumes, but at their families, their dreams and the real reasons why they were talking to me in the first place. Nothing could be taken at face value, references were checked and motivations critiqued.

While I shouldn’t assume everyone is going behave the same way I do; I’m sure some do … or at least would like to if the information was available to them. I don’t know why so many people don’t disclose much if anything about themselves. I suppose it might be a privacy issue. That’s cool. But then again often those with least available background on themselves are the most prolific commenters – with some of the most intriguing things to say. Someone who wishes to be known as a contrarian can make a much stronger case if its taken in their personal context.

The rise of social media can be looked at as a societal double-edged sword. On one hand it brings people from all over the world together to discuss issues that affect all of us. But what good does it do if we don’t know who these people are and how they’ve come to have the views and articulations they wish to have us hear. So instead, rather than bring us together, social media polarizes us because comments on controversial issues are taken out of context. Rather than gaining empathy and expanding our minds – we dig in our heals even more.

While all this might seem laborious for just social media. But if we really want to take this incredible phenomena to the transformative place it can go, it’s a lot less laborious than just wasting time regurgitating our same old positions based on our same old set of experiences – blind to nuances of the backgrounds and experiences others around the world.

 

My Road to Political Disillusionment

It was late winter 2008 in Southern California. I split my time between a printing plant in Los Angeles and the high desert on the back side of the Angeles Mountains north of Los Angeles. Eight years of a Bush White House were coming to an end; and it seemed like America might be turning the proverbial corner. The Democratic primary race appeared to be between a woman and black man. Such a thing seemed inconceivable just a few years prior. For being the birthplace of modern democracy … the United States sure hadn’t put practice into what they preached.

From way back I’d been interested in politics. Actually interested may be an understatement. I remember being consoled while crying by the flag pole by the principal in 1968 as a 4th grader in North Dakota. It was the day after the Humphrey/Nixon election and I couldn’t understand why the blacks constituent in the South side of Chicago didn’t turnout to vote as Democrats hoped. If they would have; Illinois would have swung to Humphrey, no one would have had a majority (George Wallace was also in the race) – and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives. Having a Democratic majority, the House most likely would have voted in Hubert Humphrey as president. And at the time that was a big deal to me … for some reason.

It wasn’t that I liked one party more than the other – I just seem to like Humphrey. I hung around at the campaign headquarters for both parties that year pretty much every day after school. My room was so full of campaign paraphernalia that I had to move yard signs to even get in bed at night. When you’re nine, reasons for doing things don’t seem to make as much sense looking back. Regardless, the event was permanently imprinted in mind and started me down the path of political obsession.

In high school I (with my best friend Bill Thomas) organized a campaign for a Vo-Tech addition for our high school. From the time I could vote … I voted. I voted in every election – big, small, presidential, interim, national and local. Not only did I vote, I researched every race ad nauseam; even judges – yes judges.

While living in Irvine, California I ran my precinct for three years. I was a registered Democrat in a precinct that was 73% Republican. Not only did I run the precinct, I made sure that we were the first one that reported in our city. It was ‘game on’ and I was ready. It was an election.

My 100% hitting streak continued on to 2008 and the first Barack Obama election. I switched my registration to Culver City, California (where my friend Bill Swann’s printing plant was located) because I wanted to vote in an area that was highly minority (which I’m not). Bill’s plant was kind of like a ‘Front Porch’ for politics and black social issues. Bill is from Washington D.C. and was routinely prohibited from restaurants when he was growing up because he’s black. There were always people hanging around taking Obama and the possibilities he represented. The prospect of change was everywhere. It wasn’t that Obama was just black, it was he was young. Not since Kennedy did America have a presidential nominee (at least about to be) the young people could get behind. It seemed like he listened to them and genuinely wanted to help make the United States a place for all generations.

Even though I was a minority geographically speaking, I fit in. Being from North Dakota I had credibility. Senator Kent Conrad, head of the Senate budget commitment and one of the most powerful people in Washington was the first senator outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Plus Conrad was a friend of my dad’s and used to speak at his high school class in North Dakota. I was “The Man” by association.

Well Obama was elected and I loved being in the middle of ‘hope.’ I got ‘high-fived’ by on the bus and at the grocery store. It was like the Lakers won the championship – for the first time.

Change illustration

But unfortunately, the rays of hope that had shinned so brightly only a few months before became obscured by dark clouds of reality. Chinks in Obama’s armour of change began to appear. His campaign promises seemed more like lip service than the foundation of the new America.

In response to their decimation of the economy – the ‘too big to fail’ banks were bailed out, let off without recourse and even allowed to consolidate more and get even larger.

Granted, the United States exited Afghanistan, but the drone hit squads didn’t stop; on the contrary, their use increased as much as the technology allowed it.

The War on Drugs, and the resulting societal destruction it reigned upon the primarily black urban cores – continued unabated. Using police force to address socio-economic shortcomings didn’t work during the eras of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the other Bush … and it wasn’t working under Obama. Not only did this flawed policy have racial undertones, it was also generationally motivated. America’s younger minority generations were squarely put in the crosshairs while those committing the financial shenanigans that contributed to their plight were left unscathed.

For all its societal benefits (of which are many), Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the foundation of his legacy, the Affordable Healthcare Act – was built on the backs on the mandatory premiums paid by young people. The concessions (mainly coverage of pre-existing conditions) given by the insurance behemoths were in lue of the promise of young healthy enrollees.

And don’t get me going about Obama’s feet dragging on legalizing gay marriage. If it wasn’t for Joe Biden’s Freudian slip, who knows when Obama would have joined in the inevitable wave of public opinion.

But maybe most of all, the Obama administration, under the command of Education Secretary Arne Duncan (an old Chicago crony) – accelerated the use of the regimented standardized testing for America’s public schooling. This obsession focused on the memorization of often irrelevant facts and figures. What this misguided policy did was nothing but leave much of our youth woefully unprepared to face the increasing complexity of a future nothing like the one those setting the policies had to face. And the ‘every student should go to college’ model left an entire generation faced with debt that they will carry decades in the future … with often little to show for it.

The irony of it all was that these were the exact people, the voters, that put Obama in the White House in the first place. And now he had systematically turned his back on them.

Maybe it wasn’t Barack Obama as much as it was Washington and its ever-increasing polarizing dysfunction. In fact it’s the probably the latter. However I can’t let him off the hook. Because of the mismanagement of the Democratic party’s leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz (ultimately under Obama’s ‘thumb’)  – decisions to virtually abandon campaign efforts on the state and local levels have left the party in a precariously absent position where it matters most – closest to the people. Those elected to these positions and their decisions may not get the media attention, but affect our lives the most. This along with the party’s obsession over maintaining the Clinton aristocracy with its decades long relentless support for Hillary has gutted the party of any future national prospects.

All this coincided with the Hunger Games phenomenon and its eye-opening dystopian depiction of the future; as well as the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This confluence of events put me firmly on my road to political disillusionment and searching for alternatives outside the boundaries of the traditional two-party representative governing model. My disgruntlement drained me, for the first time in over thirty years, of the energy to go out and vote in the 2012 election. My streak ended … and I left the park.

During the this time I was creating my small business marketing and loyalty program. I was working from my experiences recruiting talent in the digital and one-to-one marketing field. But there was something missing, the project didn’t quite feel complete. However nobel I thought the cause was to help small businesses compete against the invasion of the big box stores and Wall Street chains … it wasn’t enough.

But when my disillusionment and political frustration seeped into my professional creativity – hijacking my synaptic energies … Community 3.0  was born. I realized the marketing platform was just a piece of a bigger solution, an integral piece, but still just a piece nonetheless. I had to set the bar higher – much higher. My goal had become to create a pragmatic road to societal change through direct civic involvement using the efforts of small and local businesses as the conduit for participation.

No longer was it enough to vote, to campaign, and then expect someone else to come up with and implement the changes I felt necessary. Too often these politicians came with ulterior motives or were hand-tied by an bloated hierarchical system of governance designed for a time of much less complexity. I wanted a society that drew off the cultures of old where trust and reputation and the benevolence of neighbors and community were the cornerstones. Our current incarnation of pseudo-democracy was not doing it. In fact it was doing much to destroy these cornerstones.

If the insanity of America’s current presidential race doesn’t underscore the need for a new way of looking at things  – I don’t know what will.

If I can break rank  … we all can.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime inSeptember when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

Make 2016 the year you change your ‘Chief of Staff’

Well it’s now the beginning another year; this one being 2016. And with it comes a resurgence of optimism taking form in our annual resolutions. We all want to believe that this year will be the one when all the promises we make to ourselves to lose weight, save money, stop smoking, or whatever – will last longer than just the end of January. Who knows, maybe you will be one of the few where they do. Or maybe you’re one of those cynically realistic ones that believes the whole resolution thing is pointless. In the past I kind of fell somewhere in the middle. I still can’t let go of this optimism thing.

Being 2016 – it’s a presidential election year … if you call it that. I view it more a grotesque call-in reality show. But that’s just my opinion. Regardless, I’m not here to debate its legitimacy, but rather to have discussion on the logistics of politics, governing and specifically the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ otherwise known as the Chief of Staff.

According to Wikipedia, a ‘Chief of Staff’ provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive’s direct-reporting team (amongst others). The chief of staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often a Chief of Staff act as a confidante and advisor to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas.

Don’t we all have an internal Chief of Staff; the part of us that determines what we’re going think about, what we’re going do and how we prioritize?

Gulliver 3

Metaphorically speaking, our minds are kind of like Gulliver of the famous English work of satire by Jonathan Swift . Every minute of every day we are pushed, pulled and tied down by our own Lilliputians. These mental intruders can be our family, our friends, our co-workers or even the media we see on the television or bloggers on the internet. But most of all … they are ourselves taking the form of our definition of societal norms and expectations. They are the parts of us that make us afraid of things we shouldn’t be afraid of.  They make us preoccupied with our To Do lists – lists that often are prioritized with tasks that are more habits than anything else. “We have to check our emails first everyday rather than write a letter, listen to music or just relax and clear our minds.”

These things that dictate our thoughts and actions are really no different from what the President deals with daily. He is bombarded by his staff, members of Congress and lobbyists … all with their own personal agendas and priorities. These priorities often have nothing to do with those of the President. If he (or she) had his way, they’d probably spend their time thinking – pondering the big picture … hopefully trying to make the world a better place (again my naive optimism showing).

It’s the job of the Chief of Staff to determine who occupies the President’s attention, and in turn his agenda and priorities. Imagine if there was no Chief of Staff though.  It would be endless barrage of “squeaky wheels” … with no WD40 anywhere in sight.

Whether we know it or not, we all have a Chief of Staff. Who this is and what effect they have on us is completely up to us. Do we push them to the side and just react the whims of our many influences and intrusions, both external or internal?  Or do we give them the power to cut the Lilliputians’ ropes mentally tying us down? How we delegate this authority, this gate-keeping – will determine how we live our life.

But how does your personal ‘Chief’ interact with these intrusions? Is your Chief of the “in your face” mode of Rahm Emanuel, or more of the “in the background” demeanor of Obama’s current Chief of Staff (who’s so much in the background, I don’t even remember who he is). You probably don’t want to be hostile to your kids for wanting a ride to the mall (that’s so ’80s); but conversely, you don’t want to be so passive to let every mundane intrusion run your life.

First you need to communicate with your Chief or Staff about your priorities. Make sure ‘gatekeeper’ knows the things that excite and energize you … the things that allow you to be who you want to be, not just tasks on a To Do list. Don’t let other’s representation of the world and what they think should be important dictate yours. Yes ‘media,’ I’m talking to you and all your scare-mongering terrorism hysteria. It’s hard to concentrate on ‘good’ things and on helping the world when you’re scared of anyone not like you because underneath you think they’re nothing but a terrorist or some other “trumped” threat promulgated by the media (for their own benefit).

Or is your Chief of Staff a holdover from past administrations such as your parents or even your grandparents. Societal expectations such as the white picket fence, the virtue of a college degree (and it’s mainline to financial and social success and stature) as well as the goal of a career with one company (retirement at 65 and then a life of golf and fishing) – are little more than distorted memories seen through rose-colored glasses of those generations past.

If you’re one of those who are still believes in resolutions – your resolutions can’t operate in a vacuum. It’s like addiction recovery. Just ‘stopping’ doesn’t work. A wholesale change needs to happen with the addict’s ecosystem. Going back to the same environment, with the same acquaintances (I hesitate to call them friends) and performing the same daily routine will lead nowhere but the road to relapse. First the addict has to not only change the priorities of their Chief of Staff, but give them the boot and start new. While your situation starting out 2016 may not be as drastic as this … your world may still require a changing of the guard to accomplish the goals you’ve set for the new year.

Who you select for your own internal Chief of Staff, and how they act, is up to you. Remember you are the President of Yourself … and your mind is your White House. And maybe it’s time to shake things up.

After all … it’s a new year.

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

Thoughts on a ‘Perfect World’ for 2016

Imagine …

Imagine if we were immune from the constraints of “so-called” societal norms – free to determine our own fates, our own definitions of happiness … free of the expectations of others.

Imagine if the default was to include … not exclude.

Imagine if we embraced and yearned for the future and change – rather than the past and the ways things were – or how we mistakenly thought they were.

Good morning full

Imagine if we were all seamstresses mending the “safety net of life” for all around us, rather than sitting by idly on the sidelines as our friends and neighbors fall through.

Imagine if we looked at the health and wellbeing of all not as a profit center, but as a journey we all go on together throughout our entire lives.

Imagine if the older generations embraced and nurtured the younger generations and viewed them as a source of knowledge, rather than view them as irrelevant and show them disdain. And imagine if the opposite was also true, with the young not only recognizing the knowledge of the old … but seeking it out.

Imagine if we took responsibility as our the primary educators of our children, and not just turn over their futures to a system ill prepared and ill motivated to be of any assistance.

Imagine if we were not preoccupied with the irrelevant people and events that are put in front of us by those in the media with only their own self-interest in mind.

Imagine if we were looked at for the talents we bring, and those talents were embraced as part of the greater solution.

 It’s the eve of 2016 – and that is my ‘Perfect World.’

Dream I may … but doesn’t everything start with dream.

Solutionists and Community Empowerment Concierges

An untold effect of government is that it sucks the time and energy from wonderful well-meaning people who believe they can change it.

A couple of months back I had an experience with an environmental activist group up here in Montana where I live. Yes believe it or not, there is such a thing in Montana – the land of coal and the only state to vote for Ron Paul.

This group who will remain nameless (to protect the not so much innocent) has been active in environmental issues for about thirty years. Their efforts are focused almost exclusively on preventing the state legislation from creating carnage on the environment. This is noble pursuit, even if it is futile the majority of the time.

While I’ve always known they were here, I never paid much attention to them. At least not until this February. I noticed an article in the Billings Gazette (our local newspaper) about a speaker they were bringing in to talk about the benefits of supporting a local food economy. Even though this area is dominated by farming, virtually none of it makes from the farm to our tables. Feed corn, sugar beets and barley contracted for beer pretty much exhaust all available farm land and resources.

Coincidentally I had just published a piece outlining a ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ cross-generational entrepreneurial solution  as means to rural and small town prosperity. I reached out to the group by forwarding them my piece and was pleasantly surprised when I received a response the same day. From that I scheduled a meeting to see what sort of collaboration we could generate. I was excited. Kindred spirits have not been abundant in the four years I’ve been here. Here was an opportunity for things to change. Anyone who has read this blog knows my passion is community empowerment, and local food is a big part of it.

Well I met with the group, for two hours. I brought up every possible point of connection I could think of. And without going into copious detail, there were many. But in the end, after two hours … their one question was: “What are your views on influencing policy?” It was like 120 minutes of talk of community empowerment and how ‘the streets’ can change the community completely fell on deaf ears. Apparently their only concern has been, is and will be – what will government do to protect us from the proverbial big bad wolf. And in Montana … it’s not much.

After I left though, I still held out hope our meeting would produce some sort of fruit. I sent follows up emails thanking both people I talked with. I included additional relevant material, as I said I would. The response … well, there wasn’t any. No thanks for coming in. No thanks for following up. Nothing!

Their ambivalence surprised me … even though it shouldn’t. Needless to say no collaboration has come to fruition … nor am I naive enough to think it ever will.

And I’m afraid this isn’t an isolated incident. So what’s the problem? It’s like we haven’t moved from the attitudes of the Middles Ages; depending on kings, queens and lords to take care of us, telling us what we need and then giving us just a taste while we toll endlessly for these same kings, queens and lords. In the 21st century our governments don’t have the same physical control over use they once had and granted we don’t run the risk of being starved or beheaded (for the most part). But we the populace have made a conscious effort to be  just as passive, letting self-serving egotists make decision that determine our futures … and the futures of our offspring, all in hopes of maybe getting thrown bone. We do this because it’s easier. It’s easier to not think … to let others make the decisions. And even if the decisions they make are well-meaning – their abilities to implement them are questionable at best if not nonexistent.

I agree we do need the government to step in a provide a little counter balance to the corporate shenanigans we are subjected under the guise of capitalism. But does that mean we have neuter ourselves to a position of being modern-day serfs. Apparently for many of us – it does.

We need a new attitude

For two years I’ve pushing the idea of creating a ‘system within a system’ using local business as the conduit to protecting us from megalomanical corporations and functionally incapable governments, here and abroad. The response has been good, actually very good … but there’s been a disconnect. It seems like the people who I thought would be the most excited, they’re excited – don’t get me wrong … aren’t quite onboard.

It’s not about where we need to go. We agree on that. It’s how to get there.’ And in fact the ‘how to get there’ seems to be as much of an obstacle as agreement on where we’re going. It’s all about the action plan we need to take. If people agree on an action plan, say cleaning up a vacant lot or rebuilding the neighborhood elementary school playground, then political ideologies kind of don’t matter. It’s all about the ‘Middle Ring’ then. But if you can never agree on a plan of action … then nothing gets done, regardless on any commonality of goals.

By not buying into ‘the federal government will solve all of what ails us,’ I’ve been branded at times as a  libertarian. Now I have nothing against libertarians. In fact I espouse some of their tenets. But I don’t think government should be abolished. And I’m not some ‘leave me the hell alone with my cows’ rancher in Montana. I live next to these people so I can say that. Even the idea of wearing a seatbelt is an intrusion of epic proportions up here.

Government serves a purpose. I just question the ability of those involved in it to devise a competent plan and execute it. And it doesn’t help that the Fourth Estate has completely checked out. Any media critique of government is limited to campaign fundraising numbers and access to fat cats. Even any analysis of qualifications is a stretch. It seems the profession of being an elected official requires zero background or ability related to doing the job at hand. It’s like the only thing that matters is the interview process. Yet these are the exact people so many of us blindly entrust our futures to … and more unfortunately, the futures of those who have no say in the matter – our children. We are pathetic!

A big part of this ‘government-can-fix-all’ is positioning capitalism as the villain … all forms of capitalism. The new Nomad movement (or to many, the sharing economy) is the new target in their crosshairs. By just posting a single piece on the virtues of the ‘sharing movement’ I created such a frenzy amongst pro-union labor advocates, caused me to almost delete the entire stream. “We must go back to the way it was. Our old institutions need to be brought back.” Why is this attitude any different than that of the the libertarians? There is no “Holding onto Yesterday.” Yesterday is gone, and the circumstances have changed. Instead let’s take what we’ve learned, grow from it and make things best we can with what we have. And who knows maybe they’ll be even better than they were in the supposed ‘good ole days.’

In my last piece, “Apollo 13, MacGuyver and ‘Resource Maximization,” I lamented on how we already have what we need to make things better – better for all of us, rather than a select few. We just need to refocus and abandon our reliance on traditional hierarchies and the top down control they create. The power and solutions we need are in the streets with those of us who inhabit the streets … not of those living in the ‘ivory towers’ above the reality of the one whose backs they have are standing on.

Creative morass
Credit: hongkiat.com

Join me and become a Solutionist

We just need to take the resources and connections we have and think like Solutionists rather than farming out our thinking. But for Solutionists to truly excel we need to have a operational platform to operate on and synthesize our efforts.

This platform or operational foundational is not to be hierarchical, but rather organizationally flat. Any power structures created are only should be done so for each cause or ‘solution. On-going organizations and traditional institutions existing mainly for the act of self-preservation, are taboo in our new evolved ‘solution’ based societal norm. When a problem or opportunity arises, groups of Solutionists organically form and activities dispatched using the resources and constructs of the platform. Individual volunteers or Solutionists move from cause to cause depending on their current passions and availabilities. Nothing is wasted. Resources are put towards the solution, not to the preservation of the organization.

Imagine a network of volunteers emulating nature in a biomimetic fashion with resources being directed where and when need … all for the benefit for the community.

Solutionists cannot operate in a bubble though. They have to transcend Silos and arbitrary boundaries to truly reach their goal of resource maximization and collaborative community empowerment by the people.

A white-haired clergyman leans forward in deep, intent conversation with a lady with a shaved head. To the right, three shiny-suited investment bankers cluster around a banking reform activist in his twenties. Over the course of the evening, 60 people drink red wine and laugh together in the heart of London as they watch an improvisational opera singer sum up the findings of the day: the characteristics of a financial system they would collectively be proud to put their name to.

This is not a surreal scene painted by Salvador Dali, but rather a workshop convened by The Finance Innovation Lab out of London. The purpose? To capture the energy created by the financial crisis to bring together people who don’t normally talk to one another to design a new financial system. This group knew that unusual solutions were needed — ones that acknowledge the complex interconnected issues that make a failing system so hard to transform.

The range of activities these Solutionists, or as The Finance Innovation Lab calls them, Systempreneurs is broad and heavily dependent on the system they are working on. There are some common themes in how they get their work done however:

  • They create pathways through seemingly paralytic complexity
  • They host “uncomfortable alliances” amongst friends and foes
  • They create groundswells around new solutions

Whether the issues being addressed are global, such as the international banking dilemma mentioned above, or just a neighborhood clean-up effort, Solutionists understand the contributors responsible for devising and executing the solutions. They understand them by relying on empathy. They don’t impose their world or local views and preconceptions onto the group – but rather foster collaborative workable solutions.

Building community through Empowerment Concierges

Solutionists strengthen the Middle Ring. They understand that the neighborhood and the commonalities of geographic proximity can and need to transcend any differences the group may initially bring to the table. Their goal is operable solutions. After all, they’re Solutionists.

In my Community 3.0 ecosystem, the next evolution of community empowered society oriented towards street level solutions, I call them Community Empowerment Concierge. These are the Solutionists in your community that connect the people of the streets together by creating metaphorical ‘Front Porches, places where neighbors discuss what matters in their neighborhoods and communities. These are neighborhood centers of ‘do it yourself’ community problem soving. They pull from the time of our grandparents where community and neighbors were the only option. This is the basis of Community 3.0.

Now it’s easy to say what we need. And it’s even easy to say the type of people need to do what we need. But how are these people, our Community Empowerment Concierges, you and I, make this happen.

Well fasten up! I’ll cover that in the next Mile Marker of the series “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as we delve into the ‘art of collaboration.’ And I invite you along for the ride … and most of all, I invite your participation and insight. 

Maybe with your help, Community 3.0 and community empowerment can be our next societal evolution. And maybe we can pick up our hands long enough to quit ‘dragging our knuckles’ on the pavement of our passive ‘past times behind.’ 

After all, even the Neanderthals evolved.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+