Situational Leadership

Greg Owen never thought of himself as a leader; and I’m sure today he still doesn’t. But he a man who who saw an opportunity to help others in his community and took advantage it, for no other reason than he thought he could. His story is inspirational, aspirational and just plain unfathomable. It shows what a regular person, like you and I, can do if they choose to do it. Please, please read his story here.

In 1986, John Gage, then of Sun Microsytems, organized NetDay in California. NetDay was a historic grassroots effort in the classic American barn-raising tradition. Using volunteer labor, the goal was to install all the wiring needed to make five classrooms and a library or a computer lab in every school Internet-ready. If the same work was financed by taxpayers, it would cost more than $1,000 per classroom. Volunteers from businesses, education, and the community acquired the equipment, installed and tested it at each school site.

As a result, 20,000 volunteers helped to wire twenty percent of California schools to the Internet – all on one Saturday in March. By bringing together these diverse elements, NetDay established a framework for lasting partnerships among business, government, educational institutions, and local communities providing ongoing support for the schools to this day. In addition, by the end of 2001, just five years later­, NetDay events were held in 40 states and engaged more than 500,000 volunteers to wire more than 75,000 classrooms across the USA.

Stories like Greg Owen and John Gage are everywhere in our world. There’s teenagers Greta Thunberg and Billie Eilish providing the beacons of hope among their peers in a generation littered by uncertainty and crisis. Some we hear about, and some we don’t. Some are huge and affect our entire society … and some just a single neighborhood. Regardless the magnitude, regular people have enormous power to affect change, literally on their own.

No one elected these leaders to lead – they just stepped up and performed. And others around them saw the leadership in them and followed. This is the prescription for civic engagement and decentralized problem solving. The situation dictated that they were needed and they responded. There was no established hierarchy, nothing to inhibit true leaders rising to the top when their skills and drive dictated so. These are just people with a passion and an empathetic vested interest in the missions they chose to pursue.

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Situational Leadership and the Power of Peers

Last month in the piece Consciousness of Community, I detailed a breakthrough comparison study that highlighted a group out of the University of Wisconsin who have theorized that consciousness is a function of foundational experiences we have that establish the architecture of our minds. I believe this theory can be extrapolated to describe underpinning working of our communities.

At the foundation of every community is its consciousness and what it stands for. This consciousness doesn’t come from governmental edict or legislation. It doesn’t come from its institutions. It comes from the values and expectations of its people and the norms that evolve from them. This foundation will determine a community’s actions and effectiveness of those actions as they address their needs and opportunities. This consciousness, the architecture, can either form on its own often through default from the actions of nefarious actors – or it can arise due to dedicated inclusive efforts of residents. These dedicated efforts are most effectively accomplished through the empowerment and nurture of well-meaning peer leaders and their use of Situational Leadership.

But how can we create the type of community consciousness that will help guide us in making the type of community we truly want to live in? Strategic micro-managing, haphazardly designed and implemented by politicians and civic officials, seldom lives up to the task and has proven time and time again to be bad policy. Even for those competent and well-intended, situations and circumstance change daily rendering even the best laid plans outdated almost immediately. While I don’t condone anarchy, there is a middle ground; one where a strategy is tempered with the realism of societal messiness and uncertainty. This is a direction that relies on the strengths of the entire community, not just a chosen few. It creates an infrastructure that nurtures the inherent talents of those in the community, across all socioeconomic levels and ages; and empowers them to rise and lead in a project-by-project manner. This situational leadership follows the example of Greg Owen, John Gage, Greta Thunberg and Billie Eilish.

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Rhizomes and Civic Decentralization

How can we design our communities in a way that we encourage an inclusive journey of contribution and well-being for all our residents? How can we create environments where everyone has an opportunity to realize their place – whatever and wherever that may be? Resorting to traditional social and civic institutions and the hierarchies that reinforce them is not the solution. We need new alternatives – and what better place to look than in nature.

One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards if resources permit. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant – and a new node of above ground activity.

In 2016, during the construction of my blog series On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” I came across A Thousand Plateaus and the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari; specifically how rhizomes and their actions in nature can be extrapolated to visualize an alternative view of societal development.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into components. From these components we can engineer our version of a locally based civic engagement platform that nurtures inclusion, self-expression and permission on a community level.

  • Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things” and towards its conclusion, a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of rhizomes resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or in the application of a community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of type.
  • Nomad: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of the traditional organizational or societal norm (at least in modern times). The nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change unfettered by systems of organization. The goal of the nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as conventional organizations and institutions most often do. Its purpose is to make things happen, to find opportunities and solutions; not just to “be.” This nomadic behavior also lends itself best to the individual, focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute most, rather than working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient, role or job. In short, being a nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard – being the evolved man.”
  • Smooth Space: The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences and experiences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communications as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space emanates from the Front Porches network, through members of the community who frequent them as they create the community’s societal norms. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It’s the Smooth Space that defines the community’s consciousness and personality created from the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).
  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens on the Smooth Space. It is the result of what the rhizome social philosophy using the nomadic actions of its components (residents) operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members, businesses and other organizations; it’s the Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one. NIMBYism and gated communities or more communal. Tolerant and welcoming or closed and silos. Wall Street or Main Street. These actions built on the consciousness contained in its Smooth Space is who your community truly is.

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Constructing the Smooth Space and Changing Attitudes

In the Billie Eilish piece I wrote a couple weeks ago, I introduced us to her as an example of what we should be looking for in our influencers and peer leaders. She advocates for the normalization of mental health, lead by example in the war against the sexualization of teenage girls, and worked with the mayor of Los Angeles to register and get out the young vote; all the time using empathy, connection and most of all love as her conduit to do it.

Billie, along with Greg Owen, are the exact people we need to nurture and protect in our communities. They show us examples of the Situational Leadership we need to break our addiction to institutional malaise. Neither Billie or Greg are probably cut out to be a governor or president or even a mayor – but no one wants them to be, least of which are them. But for the roles they’re playing – they are perfection. That is very definition of Situational Leadership.

Much discussion, especially in liberal circles, has been put into empowering the masses. This vision is that if everyone is given a chance these same “everyones” will rise up and create an equitable society. It’s a admirable cause, a bit utopian, but admirable nonetheless. But the truth is – not everyone has the potential or even the desire to rise up and be the next Greg Owen. Instead of focusing on only empowering everyone, how about we also focus on identifying the true impact players — and help them lead the way in their own idiosyncratic manner to better the world for all of us. What we should be doing is ferreting out those people, especially young people, who show themselves in unique ways to be able to rise and inspire others – instead of rewarding conformity and their ability to stay in the lane society has chosen for them. It should be everyone’s job to find these leaders among us and they get the support they need.

We need to reassess what we value as a society and in our communities. This will take a hard look at ourselves and what and who we have traditionally put on a pedestal. Our traditional norms and expectations are going to have to be challenged – since they too often don’t align with true leadership. We can’t continually fall prey to the inertia of hierarchy. We have to let the power of the consciousness of the Smooth Space and Situation Leadership take over.

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Collaboration organization

Creating a Situational Leadership ecosystem

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Determining Your Community’s Consciousness Vision

At the core of the transformation to Situational Leadership-based community is the vision or tenets. Laid out by a core group of you and fellow changemakers; it’s not so much a plan as it is a set of desired observations. How you get there will be dependent upon the foundational conscious or Smooth Space our community creates and the actions and engagements (Body Without Organs) that are laid on top of it. The development of both the Smooth Space and Body Without Organs will be spearheaded by the peer leaders in your communities we uncover and nurture. Components of your community’s conscious vision should include (but not limited to): empathy; inclusion; creative expression; designed and serendipitous engagement; and a permission to pursue for all residents, regardless of socioeconomic level, age or any other demographic labeling.

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Creating Your Community’s Infrastructure

  • Front Porch network: Identify locally owned centers of current activity (commercial and other) that can be transformed into civic hubs of engagement working from peer leader efforts. Very often these will be small businesses. Enlist participation from prospective Front Porches through a combination of direct sales (via evangelists and peer leaders), public relations announcements and referrals through guerilla marketing efforts. Leverage the Front Porch owners (managers), employees and patrons to build your network’s Member base (specifically peer leader targets).
  • Member base: Build your community participant base via the efforts of your Front Porch network. Provide Member acquisition, training and guidance to Front Porch management and employees. Reach out to and organize in local high schools and colleges seeding younger generation volunteer movements (e.g. green and conservation actions). Use social media and public relations to identify specific community needs, opportunities to build cause actions around – and in turn act as Member recruiting vehicles. Use the Community 3.0 Member health and well-being Assessment (Three Pillars of Health) as a conduit to attract and spur Member participation – both individually and collectively.
  • Solutions (volunteer projects): Develop Solutions that address the components of the Vision Statement as well as building off the strengths and focuses of peer leaders (both enlisted and targets). Use your Front Porch network as the physical presence and base for Solution implementation as well bringing in a diverse offering of participants. Create a clearinghouse for Solution ideas from all people in your community to be implemented now and later as appropriate. Make dedicated efforts to diversify input socioeconomically and generationally. Use the The Art of Collaboration as a guide to flesh out the ideas and develop implementation strategies. Engage with other communities adopting the Community 3.0 model by sharing Solution ideas and execution techniques — as well as creating cross-community collaboration (regional and beyond).

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Building the Peer Leader Team

Often hidden in weeds are the true leaders of your community – the ones people really follow. These are are your team of evangelists you will need to anchor your ground-up civic engagement efforts. Fight the urge to fall back on community icons from the status quo; instead identify key community segments (often underserved). Ferret out the influencers and solicit their input. The goal is finding that one key member that will contribute in outsized proportions.

  • Breakdown target segments and research peer leader prospects — connecting with the Solution project you’ve identified.
  • Identify the referral sources (Sourcers): Find people in public access position who see what is happening in the community. These aren’t necessary peer leaders as they are eyes to the community. Focus on referrals from the Front Porch network.
  • Recruit the referrals: Meet people where they are using their physical hubs (Front Porches). Offer the access to the system with the blessing of the entire Community 3.0 network.

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Nurturing the Talent and Working the System

Journey of Engagements: Imagine a journey of permission and incremental engagements that specifically aim benefit each individual and the collective health and well-being of the community. This is not rigidly following a plan or adhering to a predetermined destination. It is recognizing the flow that arises from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustments constantly needed due to the dynamic nature of our relationships.

  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique situational alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s Smooth Space. And it’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.
  • The bleedingEDGE system: Enlist a personalized communication platform that nurtures these engagements. The platform uses the information gained from the Assessment upon Member onboarding and periodic updates and uses it to best direct the most applicable engagement suggestions (including where they come from) to each Member

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Creating a Society Within Itself

“It is not necessary to tear down the old system … but rather to create a second system to which to flourish in.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“Current models for encouraging citizens to participate in civic life are geared around citizens influencing decisions making or servicing delivery, rather than individually or collectively making change themselves. This needs to change. Participation must enable citizens to take action rather than just have a conversation.” – Tessy Britton

Now the question is how do we build this new society, one that can function and flourish within the bounds of the greater one we see as grossly inadequate? And how do we build it by reestablishing the neighborhoods and communities that worked effectively in the past, yet rebuilding them on a base firmly planted in the technological world we live in now? However we have to look past how things have always been done. No longer should government and traditional institutions be looked at as the first line defense … rather should be looked at only as a last resort. Power must be decentralized, “Unlocking the Productivity of the People.” It won’t be the ones in power that voluntarily give it to us though. In fact, those in power will do everything to prevent that. Power must be acquired by “solving our community’s problems” in a situational manner, working around the “system” rather than tearing it down leaving only chaos in the aftermath.

We can make the change we need — but it won’t be by thinking the way we’ve always thought and doing what we’ve always done — the way we’ve always been done it.

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The Failing of a State

Two years ago I wrote a post called The Failing of a Town. This tragic piece features the story of Deon Gillen of Livingston, Montana. Gillen was repeated bullied in school, often being called stupid and retarded. After numerous failed attempts over several years by his mother to get the school to intervene, Deon finally relented to the abuse and committed suicide.The school’s excuse was that the main instigator of the bullying was “sneaky and hard to catch.” According to a law suit filed by his mother, Deon was diagnosed by a Billings Clinic doctor as suffering from aggravated post-traumatic stress disorder. Livingston only has a population of 7,500 people. Situations like this do not go unnoticed. This was a collective failure by the community not to take action even when the school wouldn’t. Livingston’s “boys will be boys” or “man up” culture instilled at a young age took precedence over the life of Deon and who knows how many other nameless children who have gone through similar plights in life.

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The Decay of our Civic Consciousness

Recently I’ve focused on the importance of a community creating a set of foundational norms and expectations to guide their civic actions. This was articulated in the piece Giving Permission. At the core of a community’s well-being is its willingness to “grant permission” to its residents to dream and be truly be who they are without prejudice or marred by past societal traditions often irrelevant in today’s world.

In the piece Consciousness of Community I extrapolated on a model of the advent consciousness developed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tononi theorized that consciousness stemmed from specific learned features in the mind’s architecture. This integrated information theory (IIT) suggested that consciousness was an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network. In the case of a community, this “right kind of cognitive network” was the values, norms and expectations a community instills in its residents. Before we can expect to undertake specific actions to produce substantive change, the right architecture needs to be set – resulting in its foundational psyche or personality.

Pragmatically, I believe before we can successfully address any mental health issues such as those encountered by Deon Gillen, we have to address the norms of our community and the expectations we put on our residents. Does the community stress inclusion, creativity, empathy, out-of-box thinking, diversity and benevolence? Or does it prefer to lean on tradition, hierarchy, passivity, ancestral background and preservation of the status quo. These seemingly benign implications will dictate how residents react when confronted with a situation like that encountered by Deon.

Earlier this month I ran across an article by Montana Public Radio about how the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gallatin and Park, and Sweet Grass Counties had secured $250,00 in funding for youth suicide prevention. I started reading the piece not expecting much revelation; but then I hit the second paragraph:

Youth suicides in Montana are about triple the national average. One in ten high school students and one in seven middle school students reported attempting suicide in 2018, according to the state’s health department.

One in seven middle school kids tied to kill themselves last year. Why is it that everyone in the state isn’t scared shitless for their kids? Why isn’t this newsworthy on a daily basis? Why should I have to find it buried in a MPR story online? How much longer are the people here going to quit hiding behind the Montana mystique and the facade of perfection in the big sky country … and wake the hell up!

Whenever I talk to people about living here they always ask, “it must be wonderful there.” The same goes for the national media. You can see it with the talking heads on MSNBC and CNN fawning over Steve Bullock and his ill-advised presidential bid. It’s like he’s going to bring some wonderful insight on how to solve the country’s problems because he is governor of Montana — a state where one in seven middle schools kids tried to kill themselves because because they have no hope. I’d hardly call that an exemplary track record.

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“Cowboy Up” and Mental Illness

Reigning supreme in Montana and the neighboring states is the cowboy. It’s an all encompassing lifestyle; down to the mandatory skin-tight Wrangler jeans. This romanticizing of the cowboy has been proliferated in no small way by Hollywood and big screen portrayal of their ideal; Gene Autry, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, among others. Their world wasn’t one of community: it was one of the outsider – stoic and always hiding their emotions, often not even verbally communicating. This emotional repression was seen as strength – thus the “cowboy up” mentality. Sharing feelings or god forbid seeking out help was a show of weakness. And this went not only for males. Women adopted the “cowboy up” mental also.

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The Failing of a State

Montana Governor Bullock has spent every ounce of his political capital over seven years fighting unsuccessfully for pre-school education. While I’m not against this, I can’t see how a more structured environment for three and four year olds should take precedence over every other aspect of a young person’s upbringing. On the contrary, their most difficult period is when they navigate the transition through adolescence to adulthood – especially for those facing a sexual identity crisis in communities where the “real them” in shunned.

The meteoric rise of seventeen year old goth-pop recording artist Billie Eilish demonstrates the need that young people, especially young girls, have to have someone to identify with and be heard.

The contrast between the siblings’ warm, gorgeous pop undergirded by the eerie and sinister may be indicative of our times which for many are filled with tension, unease and anxiety. Seeing a world with so much division and strife, how can this younger generation not feel disaffected or alienated by such an uninspiring, regressive older guard and its inability to effectively lead? That this simultaneous light and dark filled music so deeply resonates with such a wide-swath of youth may speak to the next generation’s understanding of what’s happening and it may help them commune, “feel” and experience that tension together and hopefully move them and us far beyond this moment —something so desperately needed. (Non-Disposable Pop for Now People)

The issues they face in their lives are all but ignored in society. As long as they’re in school, all is supposedly good. Too often that is not the case. The adults of the world have created a world rife with gun violence, unrealistic expectations, environmental catastrophe and hyper-competition. All this is happening while the schools they’re made to attend often have little relevance to the creative world they see online. It instead requires conformity and adherence to societal expectations of their parents. The hypocrisy and disconnect is disconcerting to these formative minds in search for meaning in their lives going forward.

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There’s a lot of attention being paid to human trafficking in Montana, especially in Billings where I’m at. Our civic leaders’ solution is more police, as it is for most every social ill here. Mostly these are not girls who are technically being kidnapped, but are being persuaded to join a group of sorts in search a better situation than they are currently in. It’s a classic gang recruiting technique; providing a family where one doesn’t otherwise exist. No amount of police is going to fix the underlying environments these young people are trying to flee from — or worse yet, kill themselves to escape.

In addition to increased law enforcement, Montana also believes the solution to outlying behavior and nonconformity is more school counselors and mental health professionals. While I don’t disagree, should we focus only on “after the fact” treatment when we ignore addressing the causes and the environments that breed the behavior and reactions in the first place? That said — too often the “after the fact” is poorly executed. For example in Billings they shut down the only place young people can go at night to get out of the cold — as they attempt to flee the horribleness of their home lives. Budget cuts they say. Or when adding school counselors, why do they always put them in the administrative area next to the principals? Gossip spreads like wild fire, even among adults. It’s hard to expect a vulnerable young person to reach out for help when they have to walk past the principals office to get it. This lack of thought in execution dismisses the social dynamics and complexities of a young person’s life.

Communities always say they’re inviting and inclusive. People say hello – sometimes. They hold the door open – occasionally. But much of the time this guise is little more than an exercise in being polite. In Billings, they say they don’t discriminate towards gays, but they refuse to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. They say they don’t need to since they don’t discriminate. You have to love the circular logic.

But what they’re really saying is that we’re not giving you permission to be part of “our” community; because even though we’re not going to say it to your face – you’re not really one of us. “You stay over there and we’re just fine over here.” We’ll be polite if we encounter you in the street: but aside from that – you’re over there and we’re over here. Thank you very much.

These community attitudes can also be very limiting to how young people view their future career prospects. All too often certain professions reign supreme, for no other reason than they always have. I get that in a company town where a single industry dominates, say mining or manufacturing. Much of the time few other opportunities exist staying locally. That said, why is staying in town the only option? Young people are curious and there’s little worse than extinguishing that curiosity by imposing a geographically cautious worldview more applicable for their parents, or even yet their grandparents. This implied indifference or distrust to their geographically nonconformist career choices can be debilitating.

Montana is known for the pride it has in its state. This pride results in a refusal to acknowledge areas of improvement. It borders on zealotry and has turned out to be dangerous to its populace, as documented in its suicide rate topping the nation across virtually all categories, especially the youth. Until its tempered – no shortcomings will be acknowledged or addressed; first and foremost its alarmingly high suicide rates. This behavior is akin to that of an alcoholic or any other addict. Unless you admit you have problem … you’ll never fix it. And in Montana, the problem is pride and the “cowboy up” attitude where showing emotions and asking for help is considered a weakness.

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Intimate Couple

How Do We Fix It

We need to get to the core of our community’s behavior, not just blindly prop up our hope on more institutional action that accomplishes little except prolonging the suffering – all in the name of saying we’ve done something.

A person’s behavior is most influenced by their relationships and interaction with their peers; not their parents, not their teachers and sure not what the government says. As in the post searching for your own Billie I outlined the impact Billie Eilish is having on millions of girls and young women worldwide. Eilish is a misfit popstar. She is unconventional in her music, in the way she dresses and the image she presents to the world. In a society where teens are constantly struggling with feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and self-deprecation, Eilish provides hope that misfits too can reach their dreams and take control of their lives. But she’s still looked as a peer. Just go into the comments section of one of her videos on YouTube. You’ll read a plethora of fans who say how her words and music saved their lives. To know they weren’t alone and someone as famous as Billie had and is going through the same thing and is their age, gives them comfort … comfort that can’t be gotten from an adult. She is the spokesperson for their transition into adulthood … saying what they cannot themselves articulate, yet feel daily.

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First we have to understand we’re addicts; addicted to the cultural norms that are literally killing us. In Montana it’s the so-called manly “cowboy up” attitude and emotional repression. We have to allow everyone, especially our young people, the permission to be who they really are and express themselves accordingly – without being ostracized for not conforming to some archaic societal norm ill-designed for any sort of an inclusive society.

And the vehicle we’ll need to get there is not the monolithic institutions designed to proliferate these exact toxic norms in the first place. No government is going to fix this. You can’t legislate morality or cultural norms. Instead we’re going to have use the our most effective leverage of society and community – us, through the use of influential peers. To quote my last piece, we’re going to have to find our own Billies … and lots of them.

… end part one

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Wisdom from a 3rd Grader: “Boxes, Lockers and Islands”

Too often we fall into the trap of looking at everyone through the same lens. No surprise that our dealings with them don’t always turn out as we wish. This lens we use is normally the one we’ve constructed for ourselves. How we look at things is how we expect everyone else to.

I originally wrote this post eight years ago. I figured it would be a good time to dust it off and give it some light in today’s world.

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I follow Sarah Hodsdon on Twitter. She’s a mixed media artist, author, DIY female McGyver and works in a bat cave … or at least that what her bio says. Maybe she does? Who am I to say. But what she really does is tweet about what her kids say – ages 7, 9 and 10.

I learn more from these three everyday by 8:00 am, than I do from all the gurus, experts and rockstars I follow all day. Their gift is to take complex sociological issues and boil them down in simple terms. We get to see the world through their eyes. The clarity they have, well … we could only hope for.

Well this me got thinking about when my daughter, Alexandria, was seven. Alex and I were living in Tiburon in northern California. At the time I was recruiting and living near and I was having difficulty communicating with a someone who was close to both Alex and I. Alex was in the middle of it. She told me how she dealt with the bone-headedness (her word not mine). “You can’t think she’s like the people you work with.”

Alex has always been a master of metaphors. And this time was no different. She divided people up into “types.” Each of these types were described according to how their brains worked (the big words are mine, but the descriptions still apply).

  • Boxes – with closed lids: Members of this archetype organized ideas and thoughts in large groups. They had lots of different types of thoughts in single boxes, and they could easily put them together. These people had more than one box. They could jump from one box to another, but not without effort. Also sometimes they moved their stuff from box to box. The close lids, however, made it kind of hard to do that; thus switching cerebral gears. She said most people we dealt with had “Boxes – with closed lids.”
  • Boxes – with open lids: This is pretty much like the “Boxes – with closed lids,” except that the person could move between boxes (e.g. Meta thought groups) easily. She said these people can be kind of hard to follow though. It took practice to see the connections they they were trying to make. Alex said I have “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Lockers: People with lockers were organized: and they had multiple lockers.  Everything was segmented and in its place, more so than “Boxes.” People with “Lockers” were perfectionists and didn’t jump to quick decisions unless it was a micro-decision and all relevant input was contained in that locker. It just took a while to open the lockers. Alex had “Lockers.” As she’s gotten older though, I think she’s evolved to “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Islands: People with “Islands” existed in their own myopic cerebral world. “If you are on an island how are going to be exposed to what other people are thinking?” Empathy seldom is a priority – if even possible. There might be other islands out there that they can see … but if they can’t swim or don’t want to learn – they’re stuck in their own world; on their own island. The person in question I was having problems with had “Islands.” And as Alex said, “and she’s not leaving her island anytime soon.” We  just had to deal with her that way.

Islands

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Now, let’s come back to 2011. There’s a million books on relationships and how to communicate with people. But it all comes down to realizing that people are different and all our brains work differently. Whether they have boxes, lockers or islands, you just have adapt your communication style accordingly if you want to get your point across. What works for you, doesn’t necessarily work for them. And you can’t really change them. You just have to figure out how they use their brain.
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But then again, there’s always help … maybe there’s 3rd Grader available.

“It may not be about you!”

It’s so easy to be wrapped up in our own worlds we look at everything as “us” centric. We assume what goes on with other people we interact with is somehow always due to our presence in the situation.

A few years back I was traveling on Amtrak from Orange County, California to Seattle to visit Jennifer, a friend of mine from way back. Trains are great … way better than planes and cars. You get to spend hours together with people you’ve never met and probably will never see again. All you have is that single experience. You are submersed in this environment where no one has the upper hand on their home turf.

At the beginning of the trip, I met and sat next to a young man who happened to be a Buddhist. Now he didn’t look like the stereotypical Buddhist; no shaved head, no robe … just kinda look like I looked thirty years ago (except probably better looking). For miles we talked, ate and talked some more.

Note: Coincidentally, I did meet two “typically looking Buddhists” the next morning a few hundred miles up the road after being left a train station; That’s different story for different day.

Buddhist

One of topics of our conversation was his girlfriend – who lived with him in a Buddhist compound outside of San Diego. Over the last couple of months their relationship had declined. She would come home from work in a surely mood and stayed that way through the night. “What was wrong and what had he done to cause her malaise,” was his daily question.

“What can I do to make you happy,” was the pretty much how every evening ended up.

At wits end, my new Buddhist friend went to his monk for advice.

This is it:

“How can you be so arrogant and self-absorbed that you think everything in her life revolves around you and is caused by you.”

The next time you beat yourself up over something having to do with somebody else, try empathizing. Look at the world from their perspective.

Believe it or not – it may not be about you.

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Note: This story may be one of the most important bits of wisdom I’ve shared as a parent with my daughter in her 29 years of life. It has given her a sense of relief in difficult situations, personal and professional, where control is assumed to be the normal course of action … but instead just stepping back is.

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Peer leadership and searching for your own Billie

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its colorful fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. And just maybe their words are the exact ones you need to hear.

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I love metaphors. The connecting of apparently unrelated items and circumstances provides a cerebral stimulation for me. Especially interesting is when I can connect pop culture to how we could better ourselves and others in this world of ours. And on top of this list is music. Maybe it’s my concert promoting experience during my formative years in college, or just the enjoyment of music I get coupled with the creative personalities of those who create it.

Pop culture is so much more than just the demeaning term of pop that’s attached to it. For much of the population in the western world (and increasingly beyond), especially the young; it’s what we choose to put in our brains when we’re not doing the things we have to do and often don’t want to be doing. And even the things we have to do are often influenced by pop culture. Assuming you’d want to, it’s virtually impossible to escape it’s grasp; whether it be music, fashion, film, advertising, and on and on. Many in the adult world, where they say the real business of life happens, make every effort to dismiss it as adolescent trivialities. This is especially the case, and always has been, with music. “Subversive messages are being put out to undermine their authority and their beloved status quo.” In reality all these dismissive types are doing is disconnecting themselves from the forbearing messages of the future that will articulate the upheaval of their positions of power in society’s hierarchy.

I’ve become addicted to Spotify; not the premium version, the free version with the commercials and random song interjections. Many of these random interjections turn out to be songs from artists I’ve never heard of and have ended up becoming staples in my favorite list. One of those such artists was Billie Eilish and the song was Ocean Eyes.’ In the summer of 2016 I first heard her ethereal voice and immediately favored it. Normally I look look up the artist and delve into their backgrounds if I hadn’t heard of them – but for some reason I didn’t with Eilish. Over the next couple years I tagged a couple more of her songs I had heard, but it wasn’t till last year I did a do deep dive on who she was. In 2018 Billie Eilish was sixteen years old: and then I realized I had been listening to her since she was only fourteen. With the vocal maturity she exhibited, I could have sworn she was ten years older. Midway through 2018 Eilish began gaining traction in my little personal attention span; much having to do with an appearance on Ellen singing the bizarre (but addictive) spider-ridden song, You Should See Me In A Crown,’ and a get-out-the-vote PSA with Eric Garcetti (mayor of Los Angeles). By the time 2019 rolled in … her popularity had exploded.

Over the last year my psyche has drifted into an abyss of malaise. Maybe it was my ongoing battle with the after affects of chemo from the year before: but probably more accurately it was the relentless bombardment of half-baked political ideas conjured up by equally half-baked political candidates, all claiming to fix all that ails us. But what’s worse than the ideas themselves is that they’re taken seriously, especially by the media. To most of them anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth must be considered legitimate policy and taken verbatim. The issues of feasibility and implementation don’t play into it, let alone the unintended consequences that could very well make things worse. We’ll deal with the messy stuff like actually doing it later. Now is the time for sound bites, the news cycle and rhetoric, specifically rhetoric for the white working class in Trumplandia. Regardless, I’ve been in a dark place. Then Billie Eilish thrust herself front and center in my mindspace – literally jump starting my synapses. Music, specifically its sociological implications, has always been a huge influence in my life.

But there was something different here.

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Billie and Finneas

Billie Eilish (age seventeen) and her brother Finneas (age twenty-one) grew up in Highland Park, California, a predominately Latino inner suburb of Los Angeles. They’ve lived in their current two bedroom house their whole lives. Each kid has a small bedroom and their parents, working actors, slept on a futon in the living room. Both kids were home schooled with their curriculum being their daily lives where music and creativity was in abundance. Finneas began musically collaborating with his sister when Billie turned thirteen. A year later, ‘Ocean Eyes’ was uploaded on SoundCloud; intended only as Billie’s dance choreography assignment. It went viral and very soon there after the young sibling collaborators and their parents were meeting with music executives.

At present Billie Eilish is the #4 most streamed artist on Spotify and has eight songs over 100 million streams each. Her latest release (and first official album), ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 313,000 units in March of this year; the second-largest sales week for an album in 2019. It also made her the first musician born in the 21st century to top the chart; as well as the youngest female act to top the chart in 10 years since Demi Lovato did so, and the youngest female artist to spend more than one week at number one since Britney Spears in 1999. Billie Eilish has officially arrived.

Billie’s music is beyond genre classification. You could hear, ‘Bad Guy and say it’s pop and then listen to “Bitches Broken Hearts” and think Frank Sinatra was about ready to step in and sing the second verse. Her influences growing up, seeded by her parents, range from Green Day and the Beatles to Sinatra and Peggy Lee; from Linkin Park to Etta James. What comes from Billie and Finneas is a synthesis of their lives unfiltered by conventional schooling and traditional parenting ideals with a dash of Los Angeles and all that it offers, good and bad.

This synthesis has seeded is more than just a unique sound though. It’s a different world she’s created, fueled by her muti-sensory synesthesia. Each song takes on a color, a feel, a smell and even a number to Eilish. Upon kicking off the launch of her debut album, Billie and Spotify created an immersive experience in downtown Los Angeles which guides you through the album with 14 rooms dedicated to each track, featuring the sounds, smells, colors that Billie imagined composing each. It’s essentially a look into the mind of Billie Eilish.

And what a story it is. With “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” Eilish has imagined a universe of her own making — a place that exists entirely within the miniature aural world of her LP. To say that her album possesses its own atmosphere — its own flora and fauna, even — is an understatement. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is like no place you’ve ever been before. Why? Because Eilish hadn’t invented it yet. (“Billie Eilish is the new pop intelligentsia” – Kenneth Womack: author of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin; and Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University.)

But maybe more than the music Billie and Finneas produce – is what it represents … more specifically what it represents to the legions of devoted rabid fans.

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Transcending the music

I may sound like a fanboy, but to me Billie Eilish represents so much more than her music. She shows us a view into humanity that has the potential to model the communities where we live … one where creativity and expression reign over conformity.

First Billie Eilish and her creations represent the disregard of existing structures, conventions and the way you’re supposed to do things – but not in an anarchist way. She’s not trying to tear anything down; but rather use love and expression as a road to connection. All her music was recorded and produced in her brother’s bedroom – not an expensive recording studio. This isn’t your basic do-it-yourself quality project though. Her latest album will likely spawn four Grammy nominations, including best album. Now the “establishment” is scrambling to replicate the magic that was born from Finneas’ bedroom. I rather doubt it will happen anytime soon.

If the oft-repeated note that the Spotify generation is one unfettered by genre is true, then Eilish is the epitome of this. She’s a new kind of star that can go from the ukulele sing-along of party favor to the industrial throb of bury a friend without apology or pretense. This refusal to be classified is unnerving to all those who strive to put everything neatly in boxes, and have their lives directed by predetermined definitions – whether it be music, politics, ideologies or just societal norms and expectations of how one’s life should go.

It’s one thing to be unique, but the bar for quality the siblings have set, especially with the resources restrictions they faced, is extraordinary. They take you to places where it’s easy to identify with – but in a way like nothing you’ve heard. For example, she recorded a dental drill taking off her braces and included it in ‘bury a friend’ – and it fits perfectly.

Billie’s creative expression at such a young age has spurred creative expression from her fans. They see it’s possible, no matter how old they are. Art creates more art – and expression creates more expression and from this expression comes confidence. That in itself is worth more than one can describe.

Her authenticity extends beyond her music to her very being. There is no one like Billie Eilish. Her fashion sense is closer to that of a male rapper than her female peers and their skin tight leggings. Her androgynous wardrobe shuns the sexualized look thrust upon teenage girls by adults in the music industry and society in general. She empowers young girls to be and dress how they want, not unwillingly having to showcase conformity to some unrealistic body image depicted everywhere and played out everyday in school. Maybe more than anything, authenticity has cemented her reputation. “I don’t care what you don’t like about me,” she says. “I care what I have to say.”

Coming of age in a decade that can feel apocalyptic, she is attuned to the concept of a future on the brink. Her music reflects that throughout as she tackles global warming, depression, suicide as well as normal teenage angst. “I really care about the world, and global warming, and animals, and how everything is ending and I feel like nobody’s really realizing it,” she says.

Maybe the most heartening thing about the Billie Eilish ascent is her connection with her fans, which she hates calling them. To her they’re siblings. I know it sounds trite, but she consistently comes across as genuinely having respect, connection and most of all love for them. She performs live not like a star on stage, but like a fan herself. Her shows are giant sing-alongs where everyone in attendance knows every word of every song. Her breathy intimate voice is most often drowned out by that of the crowd. This empathy and connection attracted the Ad Council. They are currently featuring Billie in their ‘Seize the Awkward’ mental health campaign. She is normalizing mental health by stressing to her peers (and beyond) that it’s alright and normal to ask for help – and it’s the responsibility of everyone to initiate and reach out and help. This is how you break the stigma – not sequester help to a counselor’s office next to the principal where everyone is surely to see you go in. This peer responsibility and connection at our most vulnerable times is the very definition of community. Young and old, we should all learn from it.

Billie-Eilish green hair -- yes

She has become a voice for a generation that is tired of manufactured pop stars put together by adults; singing lyrics that mean little to them. Billie speaks to them in subject material that is dark – but resonates with what so many are going through as they’re growing up. The world adults have given them is not a pretty place. It’s riddled with expectations so many can’t identify with; and an environment that continues to be destroyed as adults act in ways contrary to what the science they are suppose to learn tells them. And on top it, their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have turned over the country and their future to a bumbling narcissistic fool.

In step with what you’d assume, there are words of warning coming from the adult peanut gallery. To have their children exposed to something dark and different, especially something that resonates so deeply is to be looked at with skepticism if not dismissal. The rise of Billie Eilish shows how out of touch many adults are, parents included, as few even know she exists. We may claim to be in a digital age but most adults participate little more in it than Facebook, email and streaming Netflix. There’s a reason why young people are fleeing Facebook, it’s the platform of their parents and that of little relevance to them. Gen Z is using the internet, especially Instagram and Twitter, to rally its brethren around issues such as gun control (MFOL), climate change (#fridayforfuture) and now Billie Eilish and her therapeutic lyrical discussion of mental health, depression, suicide and other teenage issues of angst. Adults get sucked into the propaganda of cable news (regardless their political persuasion) and the vacuous promises of the next messiah, regardless if it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders. It seems most are yearning for a time pre-Gutenberg when thinking was not part of the human repertoire.

Many adults look at Billie and see baggy clothes and blue hair (or white, depending on the week or whim). They see a slacker, someone who doesn’t care about anything; and this is what they see influencing their kids. On the contrary, her and Finneas are the antithesis of that. They are accomplished professionals of the highest degree (again, wait till the Grammy nominations come out). On the song ‘Bad Guy’ Billie re-recorded one word forty times to get the tone and intonation just how she wanted; how she felt it would best reflect the song’s message. I would hardly call that slacking.

Our children on the other hand are looking for and willing to give and receive empathy, and want permission to know that they can be who they think they are. They see that in Billie; someone their age who has shattered the creepy adult-driven sexualization of their their still developing teenage bodies and emotions. They want to be part of creating the world they live in for themselves. They want the issues that should matter to everyone, regardless of age, addressed – and addressed now. Tradition and institutional process is not to be revered for the sake of its existence, but rather questioned and confronted head on. It’s an attitude we all should adopt; one where we actually use our minds, not just ignorantly search for next “savior on the white horse” to protect us from whatever demon of our own making lives under our beds. We are bumbling through life doing what we’ve always done, because we’ve always done it, letting anything or anyone lead us over a cliff if it’ll absolve us from thinking too hard.

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Looking for leaders among us

Billy Eilish has urged her fans not conform to the sexualization of teenage girls through the baggy clothes she wears. She’s also advocated against drug and alcohol use by writing, xanny,’ a song that depicts the unattractive and stupid side of getting high and wasting your life on drugs and booze. These are issues that hit her demographic square on. ‘xanny’ currently has 79 million streams on Spotify (up 6 million from two days ago). Her matter-of-fact anti-drug message hits a huge a amount of young people and reinforces it every time they listen to the song. Her unique look is ubiquitous as kids (and adults) are reminded of it in every picture, video and interview she does. It’s textbook marketing; authenticity, honesty, and then repeat … and again. She is setting the foundational values and norms for young people in our communities everywhere. It cool not to get drunk or use drugs and your clothes don’t have to be for other people to judge your body by. Add to that her outspoken advocacy for mental health – her value as a positive influence is infinitely more valuable than any endless parade of politicians pontificating values and vacuous legislation from their disconnected viewpoint in their ivory towers.

How can we populate our communities with Billie Eilish type peer leaders who embody the the traits we value in our communities; authenticity, inclusion, expression and awareness? How can we find these people who are individuals, not mindless conformists; not afraid to call out difficult issues, and propose and implement solutions, not unrealistic political rhetoric and ideological nonsense. And how do we find these people who are doing it by example – not just talk.

Our communities must become breeding grounds for these peer leaders, regardless their age or socioeconomic level. We need to find those who will exert the influence we need to evolve. Not everyone will be Billie, but there are people out there who will and are. And once we find them, we must nurture them. These are our true leaders who will provide the guidance and empower us to help ourselves rather than just look for next “white hat on a white horse.”

Not every leader, peer or otherwise, should be expected to step up and lead in all situations though. This is the quagmire we often find ourselves in under our reliance of traditional institutional structures. We elect a leader and expect them to provide expert guidance across the full spectrum of civic responsibilities. Such will never be the case; instead we find ourselves void of true leadership in the majority of circumstances we face. We concentrate on structures, organizations and the process of anointment to positions of power – regardless of whether the competence exists to actually get anything done.

My remedy is not only peer leadership, but making that leadership situational. Situational leadership ebbs and tides according expertise levels, need requirements and resource availability. The rhizome model of civic engagement I’ve written about details this methodology well. This infrastructure template abhors static roles and instead promotes inclusion and the use of human resources and skills appropriate for the need or opportunity when and where needed.

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In much of the world, we are living in a dark place. Certain sectors of the population; often elderly, white and traditional are scared, very scared, of the changes they see all around them. They see inclusion and minority empowerment as a threat: and as a reaction they are pushing back against the exact things we should advocate for. Many are afraid of uncertainty, and anything and anyone different. Their reactive tactics are aggressive and punitive. They are actively looking to punish anyone who does not conform to their antiquated version of society: and they’re using government and many of our traditional institutions as their tools. We cannot be passive about our response to them. We cannot assume our institutions are there to support us. We must push hard and fast for inclusion, creativity and diversity. Too many in the high rungs of power are not willing to compromise – and will fight to the end for their ideologies and pathologies. We must match their commitment and their resolve. And our execution must come from the situational leadership of those we find among us – not through the traditional positions of institutional power who are there first and foremost to sustain their positions and promote the status quo.

Our future hangs in the balance.

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Draft and notes

Consciousness of Community

One of the great questions of our time, or any other for that matter is: “what is consciousness?” Some think it doesn’t exist. Others think it’s everywhere. Regardless, we are nowhere near to solving this seemingly unsolvable question. But why should it be unsolvable?

Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them. The initial aim is for the advocates of two leading theories to agree on a protocol that would put predictions of their ideas to the test. Instead of each camp championing its own view and demolishing others: researchers, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation will collaborate and agree to publish in advance how discriminating experiments might be conducted — and then respect the outcomes.

According to the cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris conscious behavior arises when we hold a piece of information in a “global workspace” within the brain. This argument assumes all of cognition, including consciousness, is merely a form of computation; just an algorithm. This view is dominant in scientific communities worldwide. It also provides the basis of motivation for the technical community who thinks we can create an artificial brain since with enough processing power – it’s only a hack away. This hypothesis is called global workspace theory (GWT).

Dominant doesn’t mean consensus though. The other view competing for viability is one championed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tononi and his collaborator Christof Koch, chief scientist and president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. To them consciousness is not a product of just inputs and outputs but rather an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network, one of specific features in its architecture. Tononi calls this view integrated information theory (IIT).

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The Consciousness of a Community

Personally I’m a proponent of Tononi’s integrated information theory; but not just as it relates to individual human consciousness. I can extrapolate and envision it relating to how a community is designed and develops. We can’t just “hack it to get it where we want.” We have to have an architecture or foundation to start with: and how this foundation is designed will determine what can be built on top of it. From this architecture will come a serendipitous synthesis that will be a product of its components. These components consist of a mash-up of a community’s values, norms and the expectations of its residents created through both overt and subliminal means. Think of it like the genetic makeup of an offspring. They may or may not directly resemble their parents – but the parts are in there; whether they be dominant or recessive, they’re just waiting to show themselves down the line when paired in the right combination. We can’t just wish something into existence by adding a few more inputs and taking away a few others.

Collective mind

Over the last few years, the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari has dominated my societal thinking as I’ve attempted to “find a better path to an evolved society.” In their treatise One Thousand Plateaus, written in 1980, Deleuze and Guattari introduced the concept of rhizomes as a metaphor for the constructs of a society.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

I distilled this rhizome metaphor down to the community level in my piece Growing an Evolved Society. One of the main tenets of this rhizome hypothesis is the assumption that the workings of our society (or community) lie on the Smooth Space, or underlying social architectural of a community and its foundational definitions or components.

The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communication, actions of existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of my model, Community 3.0, the Smooth Space includes the small business community, non-governmental organizations (Front Porches), the members of the community who are their customers and members; along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and how it creates its Smooth Space will determine its personality and the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the Rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to accommodate and nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community that best serve the collective (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).

Upon the foundation of the Smooth Space a community is built. The Smooth Space will take either an intentional form … or an accidental one if no conscious effort is made to create otherwise. As with Tononi’s theory of consciousness, you can’t create something if the right ingredients aren’t present to build it on.

The subsequent actions of the community are then dependent on the norms and expectations first established in the development of the Smooth Space. Deleuze and Guattari call these actions the Body Without Organs.

Body Without Organs is what happens, the actions. It is the result of what the Rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community infrastructure are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its residents. The individual and collective projects and serendipitous acts of goodwill (or malice) that result from the values established in the development of the Smooth Space compose its Body Without Organs. If empathy, inclusion and connection isn’t a norm of the community – what happens there will reflect it. You can’t build on what isn’t there.

We can all organize annual cancer marches and fundraising efforts until we have no more free weekends; but they will still only be one-offs, single events that don’t leverage beyond their singular purpose – if there isn’t a deep foundation of benevolence built into the community in the first place (Smooth Space components). If we still find reasons to exclude people based on where they used to live, what color they are or how old they are – our efforts will produce little lasting value; and can often do more harm than good. Our primary focus must first be to create our Smooth Space, our foundation where our seeds of goodwill can grow rather than just consumed at the moment.

But what are the components that we’ll need to create this fertile ground?

Every community must be responsible for its own Smooth Space and making it unique to that community. This is your community’s personality. That said, certain elements are nonnegotiable. These elements must transcend political, geographic and ideological differences.

  • Every member of the community is unique and adds to fabric of the community. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no mater their age or social standing. It should be responsibility of all us to help everyone realize their own worth and where they can contribute.
  • Tradition and the static nature of institutions cannot be revered to the point of impeding flourishment. Existing structure and archaic systems are too often the foundation and reinforcement of ideologies, prejudice and exclusion. The value of the status quo and its trappings must continually be assessed.
  • The ideal of resource maximization must permeate all our actions and reactions. ”Don’t worry about what you don’t have … use what you have.
  • Conservation and environmental constraint must be held at the highest of priorities. Unfettered growth and consumption must be curtailed. Every action we make, macro and micro, must be looked at in so far as what effect it has within the larger ecological system, societal and environmental.
  • Wealth is not just about money. It’s about quality of life: and your “personal currency” can take any form.
  • Cross pollinate – personally and professionally.
  • The future of the community is its youth. We nurture them and things will take care of themselves.

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Constructing the Smooth Space

How do we create this foundation for our community though? How do we establish the values and norms to guide ourselves and our children; and help them build the type of places we will all be proud of? But we can’t just sit around and have conversations about it. Talk is easy, but most often it’s fleeting. Conversation seldom roots anything beyond more conversation. Action begets more action – and with it the behavior that sets community norms.

We need to create community ideals and norms that are based on action and engagements among residents; ones that nurture environments and gives permission to everyone to venture out and attempt whatever they choose. This society of permission is made up of residents who don’t just lobby for services, services they feel the government entitles them to – but rather actually go out and act to create their own solutions. Our communities must be workspaces of action, not just talk. It’s from these actions and the relationships they create, will come the norms, values and expectations we need to create the architectural foundation of community will sit on.

Our paradox is that in order for us to create these actions; we need the space that contains the components that are best created from these exact actions. It’s the chicken or egg first dilemma. How do we rectify this? We must force the seeding of interaction and engagement— specifically by using peer leaders. I imagine the mechanics of this seeding process below:

  • Build a team of peer-leading evangelists to anchor the efforts. Often hidden in weeds are the true leaders of the community – the ones people really follow. Fight the urge to fall back on community icons from the status quo; instead identify key community segments (often underserved, ferret out the influencers and solicit their input. Find that one key member that will contribute in outsized proportions: and when you find them:
    • Create a web page announcing your collaborative intention (brand accordingly)
    • Breakdown target segments and research peer leader prospects
    • Recruit
    • Meet people where they are using their physical hubs (Front Porches)
  • Build your community’s Front Porch network:
    • Identify locally owned centers of current activity that can be transformed into civic hubs of engagement working from your peer leader efforts
    • Use a combination of direct sales (via evangelists), public relations and covert guerilla marketing
    • Leverage the owners, employees and patrons to build your effort’s member base and network
  • Build your community participant base via the efforts of your Front Porch network:
    • Provide member acquisition training and guidance to Front Porch management and employees
    • Reach out to and organize in local high schools and colleges seeding a cause-specific young generation movement (e.g. green and conservation actions)
    • Social media, public relations focusing on community specific causes
  • Template civic volunteer projects, specific to your community, designed to kick-start the emotional momentum for a new street-driven empathetic civic engagement attitude (Body Without Organs)
    • Use your Front Porch network as the physical presence and your evangelists to bring in a diverse offering of participants
    • Create a clearinghouse for ideas from all people in your community to be implemented now and later as appropriate
    • Engage with other communities adopting the Community 3.0 model by sharing your ideas and execution techniques
  • Construct/acquire a communication platform/vehicle that will maintain the emotional momentum and upkeep of the Smooth Space foundational components. The building process must be ongoing to combat outside influences fighting to undermine transition to a more evolved inclusive community (often from traditional sources of power – corporate, government, etc.):
    • Community-wide guerilla organization and participation
    • Content-driven Front Porch based communication
    • Civic-focused content and messaging
    • Database-driven customization and personalization

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Call to Action

Putting the above tasks in play may seem like a lot – but it doesn’t have to be. Just take each one at a time. Building your initial team of diverse peer leaders is step one. This is recruiting function is not unlike that a headhunter would use. I did this for fifteen years. The process isn’t magical: it’s methodical. Patience is not just a plus … it’s mandatory. So strap in for the long haul; but it will be well worth your effort.

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Related posts:

 

Creating a New Healthcare Paradigm

The healthcare community has been abuzz the last couple weeks over the Apple Watch’s ability (or not) to detect irregular heartbeats in attempt to predict atrial fibrillation. Enthusiasts, naysayers, survivors, Eric Topol, and everyone else in between have been giving their assessment of the results of 400,000+ person study done in conjunction with Stanford University. Some praised the results, others obsessed on the chance of false positives causing unnecessary alarm in apparently healthy young adults. I’m guessing where someone’s opinion fell is pretty much where it started out.

That said, the new Apple Watch, Version 4 is not a FitBit. This is not about adoption of a new-fangled gizmo that after a month will end up in the top drawer of your nightstand next to the (no offense to the FitBit). This is the next generation of that smart device that never leaves your side, or your wrist. I’m not trying to be an Apple commercial … rather just acknowledging a bellweather fact of a societal shift in how we view health and what it means to take care of it.

This is a serious entry into a market by the largest, richest example of capitalism the Western world has ever seen; one whose iconic founder’s last corporate directive was to disrupt healthcare in a way he successfully did to computing, telecommunications, music, retail and essentially culture as we now know it. And it’s one that its current leader has fully taken to heart.

In an excellent piece on digital health usage among young people, Susannah Fox, former Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found these teens (14 to 17-year-olds) and young adults (18 to 22-year-olds) making extensive use of a wide range of digital resources to access health information, tools, peer support, and providers online (Digital Health Practices Among Teens and Young Adults: Key Findings):

  • Nearly nine out of ten (87%) teens and young adults say they have gone online for health information: the top five topics searched are fitness (63%), nutrition (52%), stress (44%), anxiety (42%), and depression (39%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they have used mobile apps related to health, including for fitness, sleep, meditation, and medication reminders.
  • The majority (61%) say they have read, listened to, or watched other people share about their health experiences online, whether in podcasts, TED talks, or YouTube videos.
  • About four in ten (39%) say they have gone online to try to find people with health conditions similar to their own, using methods such as participating in online forums or closed social media groups on specific issues, doing hashtag searches on social media, or following people with similar health conditions.
  • One in five (20%) young people report having connected with health providers online, through tools like online messaging, apps, texting, and video chat.

To the old guard firmly ensconced in their white coats and stethoscope technology conceived 100 years ago … ignore at your peril. Retirement may best be had earlier than later.

James Rizzi - Summer in the City

The world is increasingly becoming one whose inhabitants have never been without a smart phone – a computer in their hand. Texting and social media isn’t something they take breaks from – anymore than eating or breathing. And that’s not just your teenage kids … it’s becoming everyone. Imagine your life without a car. It’s no different.

The healthcare industry in the traditional sense can longer be debating whether they should acknowledge these gizmos in their patients hands anymore than we can debate that climate change is real. Denial only shows an allergy to change and says little of the context and everything of the person. Physicians and providers will very soon need to put forth all available resources in integrating these digital tools into the process of their patient’s care. If they resist … well, I’ll say it again: it’ll be at their own peril.

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Consumers of Health

We can’t just limit our attention to that of cardio health technology though. The Apple Watch and its siblings competing for our attention and our dollars represent much more. They are an emblem of the empowerment to take control of our health. Being constantly reminded of your health status transcends the once a year check up by putting it front and center on demand. The level of our potential awareness is omnipresent. And with this elevation will come modification of our behavior; maybe not always overtly, but at least covertly. Consumers of cheeseburgers can now be consumers of health. And with that will come changes in what the marketplace offers. For example, McDonald’s just announced they’ve removed artificial ingredients from their seven classic burgers, including the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac. While no bastion of healthy eating, McDonald’s actions show a recognition that health plays a role, an increasingly larger one, in the decision-making of their patrons. These same people will also demand the same empowered recognition from their physician and health provider. And with each day their voices will grow louder. Patient collaboration improves self-efficacy. If patients think what they are doing is going to help their outcome … they’re much more likely to do it. And the act of “doing” is power in itself.

To accommodate this new paradigm, healthcare providers will have put forth resources, both financial and attitudinal, to accommodate the movement of patient health data; or as they call it in the industry, interoperability. This interoperability must extend from within the confines of their clinic walls to other providers (often competing ones) to the personal data gathered by the health consumers themselves. In their new empowered state, patients and consumers will want access to their health information no matter where and how it’s gathered. And if the healthcare provider wants to maintain market share, they will have to oblige. The OpenNotes movement is making strides raising awareness and organizing patients to demand their providers give them access to the notes physicians take during and after their visits. At last count over 26 million consumers are represented by healthcare providers who subscribe to this process … and this number will only increase exponentially. Just yesterday, I was involved in a Twitter thread on the realism of recording patient/physician office visits.

Even with this data flying in all directions – a true health collaboration runs the risk of being siloed in the domain of only the technical assessment of the physical body. We are much more than that. We are an accumulation of our experiences; our environments, and the actions and reactions we make in those environment. We are products of how we grew up, our education level, the work we’ve done, where we’ve done it – and maybe most of all who we’ve done it all with. This is our narrative, or as I call, an Engagement Narrative. The idea for this came from many inspirational discussions I have had with the patient engagement leader, Jan Oldenburg – as she puts her interpretation of it to use in real life. This narrative must be taken into account when looking at our health and well-being – and what we should do about it going forward in our lives.

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The Ivory Tower Must Go

The days of the patriarchal middle age white male in a white coat standing in front of you as sit on a hard exam table in an open back gown, stripped of all power and dignity, are fast becoming a relic only to be seen late at night on second tier cable television. Today’s physicians are not different from the people we see everyday. Many are just as tuned into technology as their most informed patients. They’re health consumers and patrons of Apple and Amazon just like us. They reflect the population. Women and ethnic minorities represent an increasing portion of the demographics making up the industry (though not nearly enough).

It’s not just that our physician demographics have changed; so have the societal conditions around us. Our population is aging and with it is the increasing role played by caregivers. With the prospect of Trump-induced knee-jerk governmental austerity measures looming daily – our mental health is constantly being put to test. Health happens outside the clinic walls more than it does within them … and someone has to be there to assist. In most cases this role is played by spouses, adult children, grandchildren and other family members. But we can’t discount the part played by other stakeholders outside immediate family. Friends and neighbors should be considered an active part of the support solution. This will be even more the case with the government trending towards abdication rather than responsibility. These components of a changing technical and sociological health landscape are demanding a new vision … a new paradigm.

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A Collaborative Health Paradigm.

We must create a national movement of empowerment, one of New Power, revolving around health and well-being that transcends our current definition of “healthcare.” The traditional position of fee-for-service reimbursement is coming to an end – though not nearly fast enough. In its place I hope will be compensation models that reward healthcare providers for their role in elevating the health and well-being of not only their patients, but also the communities they operate in. And this new role will require collaboration from parties beyond the constraints of “healthcare” itself.

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The Health Consumer as a collaborator

If we, as health consumers and patients, don’t look to ourselves as being the main source of  health – the actions of our healthcare providers don’t really matter. Past are the times when your physician was the only source of good health. And gone are times your annual checkup is the only times you even think about your health … if you even do that.

The first step in taking control of your health is creating an Engagement Narrative. The Engagement Narrative is much more than just your story though. It’s an exercise in self-awareness. The very act of writing something down makes it real, something you can refer to and build on. Creating the Engagement Narrative also gives you an unprecedented opportunity to involve those close to you to shed light and become more involved in your life. This collaboration will provide more insight and commitment than if you just composed it yourself. And with it carries accountability. Not only are you writing down where you’re at and where you want to go … it’s being shared with your closest confidants. There’s no escaping now. Whether you like it or not – you have a team behind you.

Even with an enhanced physician relationship brought on by your Engagement Narrative, your path to health involves much more. Inspirations for well-being comes from everywhere. Just your normal day-to-day comings and goings give you a multitude of opportunities to better yourself through simple engagements – however insignificant those engagements may seem. Participating in a local clean up effort gets you off the couch and gives you an opportunity to meet new people; taking you out of your comfort zone and building synaptic connections. Deciding to walk to the store rather than … well not, can start a habit that literally can change your life.

Your positive actions will also have an effect on others – contributing to their health and collectively that of the community. A simple compliment in line at the grocery store can not only make a person’s day; it may cascade into the validation of a decision they made (say a new hair style) that empowers them to carry themselves with confidence before an important meeting or job interview. No act of kindness is too small. No engagement is insignificant.

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Healthcare providers as a collaborator

My idea of the healthcare provider isn’t a physical clinic at all, but a relationship; beginning with one person, a concierge, who would direct me to who and where I need to go (including transparent options) for specific situations, including prevention advice. Imagine a human health interface. Accompanying this human component would be comprehensive AI functions integrating and managing my care, as well as suggestions to elevate my self-efficacy. All administrative functions would be hidden from me (appointment setting, forms, etc.) – synced with my personal data wherever its origination, and available on the technological communication conduit of my preference. In addition to my technical data, my healthcare provider (physician and any support staff) would refer to the Engagement Narrative I provided them (personal and professional history, etc.). We’re all on board recognizing health is a function of my environment and my interaction with it as much (if not more) than anything happening between the four clinic walls.

Being a healthcare provider, we need you to lobby for our communities to be places that prioritize people and relationships – not cars, parking lots and box stores. We need you to take the money you don’t pay in taxes and invest it in community gardens, farmers markets and street fairs that showcase local art encouraging creative engagement. We need you to lead the way advocating for healthy eating by including cooking and nutrition as an integral part of our treatment. And while you’re at it – include our stakeholders. We need you to be advocates for engagement and “getting out of the house.” Communities that encourage something as simple as allowing dogs in parks will boost their residents’ collective health and well-being. Why not propose that at a city council meeting?

But however substantial your clinic’s direct efforts may be, whether it be setting up a farmers market in your parking lot or organizing mentor groups for current cancer patients – we need you to do more. We need you to use your stage and your megaphone to reach the entire community. We need you to be vocal when you see politicians and government not doing what they should to improve the human condition of our communities. You should be a regular contributor in the OpEd section of the newspaper. You can’t hide behind the nonpartisan label just because you’re afraid of losing a few ideological wayward customers. Losing them is nothing compared to losing your integrity and human decency. And believe it – there are people out there like me, who can write better than I can, who aren’t afraid to call you out on it … publicly.

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The community as a collaborator

Our actions and reactions determine our physical, mental and even social health. We our products of how we interact with our environments – as well as choosing what environments to put ourselves in. In the post A Saturday in May … a study in engagement, I chronicled a day of incredible experiences I had entirely due to breaking outside my comfort zone.

We need to use our daily routine as a source of good health and well-being. Everywhere we normally go has the opportunity to nudge you in a healthy direction – we just have to look at it that way and engage. We have to be present and mindful. I call these physical sources of opportunities in your community, Front Porches, named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Only in this context, they’re very often small businesses … places we probably already frequent, like the corner grocery store or our habitual morning coffee shop. But it’s not just businesses that can be Front Porches though. It’s anywhere where people gather than can be turned into hubs of social interaction and civic engagement; schools, parks – even our neighbor Bob’s garage with the big screen television. From this engagement we can create home-spun volunteer efforts that mend the social safety net commonly let to fray by our traditional institutions. These efforts can range from to fixing a school playground, to organizing an elderly outreach effort, to even spearheading a high school mentoring program.

Ivan Illich argued that it is not a case of ‘either/or’ (community or institution), so much as a question of, which comes first. He contended that an institutional inversion had taken hold in modern societies, through which the community role becomes that which is left after the institutions and their professional helpers have done what they think they can do better or more expertly. Illich contested this inversion, and argued for its reversal whereby the institutional and professional role should be defined as being that which is left after the community has done what it can and wants to do. (Cormac Russell in “Does Medicine Make Us Sicker?”)

Ecovillage

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Today … looking forward

Healthcare is changing. Reimbursements are now starting to be tied to community health metrics. No longer is it only about number of procedures and tests. But still – this progress is slow. It needs to be turbo-charged. It needs all parts of the community working together for individual and collective goals. The days of the silos of healthcare and looking at health from only the perspective of medicine are numbered.

We must create a societal “wave” of health and well-being. It will be up to all parties, including healthcare providers, to decide which side of the societal evolution they wish to be on. Profits and revenue can be very fickle … and fleeting. Pleading ignorance or thinking that substantive change is beyond the parlor rooms of their ivory towers isn’t a viable option.

The barbarians are at the gate … and they’re the ones who are paying the rent in those ivory towers.

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