Solutionists and Community Empowerment Concierges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a new attitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative morass
Credit: hongkiat.com

Join me and become a Solutionist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building community through Empowerment Concierges

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

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

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

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

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

After all, even the Neanderthals evolved.

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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

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10 thoughts on “Solutionists and Community Empowerment Concierges

  1. Hi Clay, long time no crossing paths! I like your idea of solutionists and empowerment concierges! That’s what I’ve been working on for a while now too. Working across silos is key. What I think though is that trying to channel the energy that people put into one thing into something else is likely to fail. I think it’s important to identify the ‘positioning’ of activist groups on various dimensions of engagement and the areas of overlap on each of these dimensions. The points where were the hows / possible pathways and priorities overlap.

    It’s something I have written about a lot. Most recently this presentation. This is for a project that may well accomplish something similar to your Community 3.0. Platform.

  2. Many years ago I gave as an excuse for not working in a campaign that government was corrupt, politics was rife with unsavoury compromise, etc. The woman who wanted me to work on her campaign team said “how’s it gonna change if people like you keep saying that?” She got me, and I worked in politics for 7 years after that. What I found was some of the hardest working and most principalled people in my life (the crooks and lowlifes were the minority). I bristle now everytime people knock government and politics because there are far, far more boondoggles and do-nothings in every other walk of life that I have worked in.

    1. I appreciate your comment Lindar. But what you said about the people working on the campaign is exactly how I opened my piece. These people are well-meaning and work very hard. I know, I’ve worked on campaigns and even ran my precinct for several years in California. But working on a campaign has little to do with the effectiveness of whether government does what it’s suppose to do once a person is elected. I also mention that.

      The purpose behind this post is hopefully to take some of the energy that these well-meaning people exert and channel it in ways that I believe will be more effective in accomplishing the goals that they wish to achieve. It’s no knock the people at all. The issue lies in whether one thinks government can solve our problems and take advantage of our societal opportunities in it’s present form (regardless of party) – or can a form a community empowerment using a flatten organization structure work better. That’s all.

      1. I think the willingness of people to work on campaigns has a huge connection to the effectiveness of governments. When people don’t get involved, tune out and allow political offices to simply be bought through advertising, big spending, you get bad government.

  3. Insightful article and great story about how even groups that would seem to share common intention can turn a deaf ear when it comes to an action plan. It feels like we are at a critical turning point here and, as you point out, we need fully committed people with facilitation skills and a willingness to see beyond the borders of their own perspective. The need for an “All-In” commitment to community, rather than relying on the old paradigm, is something I touch upon in my community-minded book Collective Manifestation: Heart-Centered Blueprints for Creating Intentional Community. Thanks for your contributions to clarity around this. How we cross the divide will make all the difference.

  4. Clay, from the perspective of a newly elected (April) local official, this is spot on. It is difficult and frustrating for those of us who are in the system and working for engagement, involvement, transparency, partnerships and collaboration to begin to break down those silos and find paths through the bureaucracy. As a blogger myself, I have done pieces on silos. I look forward to reading more. I love the concierge idea.

    1. Thanks Kathryn. Keep tuned for an upcoming piece I’m writing on “HealthCare Concierges.” It’s a more detailed example of how the concept can be executed. You should like it.

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