What if things would never be the same again …

Update, January 24, 2017: I wrote this five years ago during the midst of the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring. The change that many of us hoped for never happened. What is happening in the United States today is a whole different matter. Our federal government, and many of the state governments, are hell-bent on imposing upon us their version of change which is nothing more than a dictatorial societal retreat. While not identical, the message of this post parallels our situation today. The status quo isn’t an option – and maybe it shouldn’t be. Progress is not linear. It’s a series of lunges forward, steps back and deep breaths. Patience and persistence must always be with us.

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Published December 15, 2011

Yesterday TIME magazine came out with their “Person of the Year” award. It wasn’t really a person, well not just one. TIME’s “Person of the Year” was “the Protestor.” By it’s very definition a protestor objects to the status quo. Protestors want change. We saw this in the Middle East and the “Arab Spring” and we’re seeing it here – first with Occupy Wall Street and now occupations across the United States and the world.

“Are you ready for change?”

It’s obvious that we are in a period of transition, a period of change. And whether we like it or not, there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if the change was so profound that, “things would never be the same again?”

What if unemployment didn’t drop? What if our “do nothing” government did nothing? What if corporate America didn’t start hiring – but rather continued to ship jobs oversees and spend their ballooning profits on productivity  rather than people?

What if the realization finally sets in that a college degree no longer provides that fail-safe career protection. Instead of the promise of a BMW in the garage and an ever-increasing 401K – you get a five if not six figure school loan debt. And no longer does getting a higher education land you that decade long dream job with a Fortune 500 company.

What if investing in that “white picket fence” doesn’t provide that retirement security it did for you parents. What if buying that house did nothing but turn you up-side down, and send you underwater because of that reworked mortgage you thought was such a good deal at the time. And what if that same mortgage not only strapped you today, but also anchored you to an area where employment opportunities were slim at best … far away from the new hotbeds economic success.

Unfortunately too much of the time, we evaluate ourselves by the money we have in bank, the toys we have in the garage and the address on that diploma on the wall. As we’re finding out now, and as our predecessors found out, times of change, “times when things aren’t the same anymore” – monetary worth is fragile. We may try to hedge, set up backup plans and do whatever we can to preserve our “things” – but we can’t stop the wheels of change. And often our “things” get run over in the process.

If we choose to pursue a life based on security and the preservation of the status quo, we have to make assumptions, assumptions based on the past and the value systems of prior generations. Unemployment will drop, college is a safe bet, buying a house is your retirement and success is “things” – may no longer be relevant.

But “what if things would never be the same again.” What would you do?

A few years ago, I saw a movie about life after an economic and societal meltdown. Things that were valuable before, were no long. And those taken for granted, such as water and gasoline – were invaluable.

Now I’m not predicting Armageddon, but it’s obvious that we’re staring right in the face of change – not just here, but worldwide. What you hold near and dear, may soon be gone. That security that was always first and foremost in your mind, may now become nothing but a memory of “the good old days.” All the constants you believed in … are now just more variables, variables you have to figure out. What are you going to do?

You have two options. You can hang on to yesterday – a yesterday that may never be again. Or you can look forward to living life differently – shedding yourselves of the same, the convenient, the comfortable – and replacing it with the unpredictable, the inconvenient and the exciting. Rather than fearing the inevitable change, what if you embraced it? What if you built your life and raised your children to expect the unexpected and be prepared for it.

When I say unexpected though … I don’t necessarily mean bad. Not having rock-solid security is not a death sentence, it’s not a cancer diagnosis. In fact it may be the key that unlocks the door of your self-imposed prison. Imagine every morning you looked forward to what the day could bring you, who you could meet – that opportunity that could change your life for the better. Imagine this … rather than worrying about what wasn’t in place or what could happen when you retire.

One thing we know for sure – things change. They’re not going to be same tomorrow as they were yesterday, no matter how much you may want it to be. The only question will be is how you handle it.

“The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.”

Personally I don’t do well in the heat, how about you?

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Related posts:

Dugnad … The Next Chapter for the Progressive Movement

“We have to be idealists, thus we can make man what he is capable of being.” — Viktor Frankl

It is striking how many of the world’s problems are created by leaders who lost their way and fail to live up to basic idealistic principles. Somehow idealism is perceived as weakness in current times and not as a sign of courage or integrity. In the words of author and thinker Peter Block: When we defend idealism, we defend imagination. We defend possibility. We defend the world of ideas.” The argument against idealism is an argument against democracy, an argument against love, an argument against justice and equity, and all the things that our culture has abandoned in the name of privatization and economic profit maximization. 

Earlier this year we saw a movement in the United States spearheaded by young people. Bernie Sanders, with no help from the media nor the party establishment (in fact just the opposite), made a serious run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Seventy-five years old, bespectacled with white disheveled hair, visually he was the not the prototypical candidate to embody the hopes and dreams of the Millennial generation, those fifty-plus years his junior. But in many states garnering over eighty percent of that demographic’s primary vote … he was.

While many pundits attach Sander’s popularity with his campaign promises of free college education and universal healthcare (whatever that’s means) – I’ve believe there was something less concrete behind it … something more philosophical. Even though he was a self-proclaimed socialist, he attracted people who would never have referred to themselves as that. I believe what drew people into Sander’s lair was his nebulous aura of idealism. He represented something that could be; something different from what currently is. His primary opponent Hillary Clinton embodied the status quo. Sanders did just the opposite.

Unfortunately for his supporters, and for idealists everywhere, his campaign couldn’t make up deficit it was put in by those in power in the Democratic National Committee. How different things might have been if Sanders and Clinton entered the race on even footing. Thus was not the case – so here we are with our presidential options consisting of a career politician who is the very definition of a Washington insider … and an orange clown who nobody knows what level of Dante’s Hell he could relegate us to. To put our future in the hands of either, thinking they will lead us to the “promised land,” is well … not very idealistic.

But this doesn’t mean we need to throw in our civic towel and spend the next four years licking our wounds. I’m afraid to say, Washington probably won’t be much different then than it is now. Regardless of party, who we put in the White House is going to have to stare down into the same abyss of governmental dysfunction.

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

What we need to do is not waste this momentum of “striving for something different.” Rather than let our idealism whither with the defeat of a candidate, let’s rejuvenate it by taking it to the streets – and turn it to reality ourselves through action … not just voting.

We are in a precarious position right now, both as a nation and worldwide. Most of all it affects our young people. The Millennial generation is often looked at as being entrepreneurial and breaking the mold. In actuality, this is not true. Millennials are less entrepreneurial than their parents. The reason for this are multi-fold. The societal obsession of higher education for everyone and the debt that accompanies it has created a generation more risk-adverse. Young people are so loaded up on school loans they have to get regular jobs to pay for it. And maybe even more so, a stifling preponderance of mega-corporations owning the business landscape has left little opportunity for a fledging entrepreneurial idea to take wing. America has become much the same as the oligarchy-ridden Gilded Age of a century ago or even Russia today. No presidential candidate, no matter the promises and well-intentions, is going to change this. 

“The man in the white hat, the man on the white horse … he ain’t coming.”

Change will have to take place in the streets by those who live there … not in the ivory towers of Washington D.C..

Ecovillage
Evolution Institution

Dugnad is one of those concept type words. You know the ones that cannot be defined by a few sentences on paper because they embody so much more than that. They are words with cultural resonance that represent a way of life or an expectation, which is not easy to translate.

Dugnad can best be described as a type of civic and communal mindset where people get together and volunteer to fix, clean, paint or tidy things up for the betterment of their community. If you live in Norway I am pretty certain you will have already heard this term or even participated in one. Dugnads are organized in neighborhoods, blocks of flats, at summer homes, marinas, mountain cabins even at schools and especially places of work. The dugnad knows no bounds! It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing to the community that you are a part of. Most of us belong to several communities or groups so it is possible that your presence is required at multiple dugnads throughout year.

Last month the World Economic Forum released a study ranking countries on their ability to convert economic growth into well-being for their citizens. Norway came out on top. While there are many reasons for this, I’m sure no small one is their focus on community engagement in the form of dugnads. Not only do these civic gathering entities mend the social safety net, they build the Middle Ring, or neighborhood relationships that transcend ideologies and politics.

It’s around the concept of dugnad that I’ve organized the Community 3.0 platform for civic engagement. It’s time we all pull out our sewing kits and get to work mending the societal well-being safety net our alleged leaders have so negligently let almost fray to the point of no return.

Our call to action must be one of taking to the streets, not to protest but to act … to implement our idealism ourselves. In the Community 3.0 model, the dugnads take form in the Front Porches of our communities. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring or neighborhood relationships flourish. This is what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed as the source of America’s “exceptionalism” of the 1800’s.

As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can result from Front Porch collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter. By no means is this roster complete, but it’s a start – enough to get your synaptic connections firing.

The Solutions I listed above are mainly the products of the volunteer work of an single independent Front Porch. But that doesn’t mean multiple Front Porches can’t band together for a larger more community-wide common cause. An extreme example of this is the Let’s Do It! worldwide clean-up effort I mentioned in a recent post. But regardless of the size of the project, this dugnad approach to civic engagement involves a significant change in societal thinking: “one of doing rather than waiting for someone else to do the doing.”

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all governments do, the Community 3.0 Front Porch approach focuses on destroying the“silos”that retard our evolution. This bridging of chasms improves the overall well-being of our community including the physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health of its citizens.

The priority of these Front Porches is to create environments that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectations … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

Build … Don’t Tear Down

I know it’s frustrating to think that our options look bad and worse. The seeds of optimism that took hold with the Bernie Sanders campaign are running the risk of being starved of the emotional momentum they need to survive. And without metaphorical food and water, it’s doubtful they will withstand a another four years until the next election.

Never doubt that a small group of committed, citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

But this is the case only if we view our only option is turning over our lives to someone sitting in the White House. Our real solution lies right here in our home towns – both large or small. It is us who must make the change, not the government. It’s always been that way … whether we realize it or not.

But being committed does not mean marching in the streets demanding those in the ivory towers change their ways and all of sudden adopt policies of empathy and altruism. However noble this cause may be, Don Quixote best be left to the annuals of fiction past.

Rather than tear down … we must build. We need not walk into the lion’s den and challenge the lion. We starve the lion. After all, the lion is a captive of ours. Our problem is that all along we have been feeding him through our habitual actions, creating a societal mega-corporate personality we’ve let dictate our world.

At first there will not be many of us. But as our success stories spread – others will want the same (i.e “starving the lion”). They will see there is a road other than the one they habitually travel without thinking. We must find ways to work with those intrenched in the status quo. Direct conflict will only harden their cemented views … accomplishing nothing.

There will be defeats. There will be times we want to throw up our hands, let our impatience take over and rush head long into the lion’s den. These are the times we need to continue to build, meticulously one societal brick at a time. Eventually our evolutionary construct will be complete.

Only each one of us can make the decision if we are willing to stand up straight and pull our knuckles off the pavement and reach for the sky. And to do this we all need each other.

The movement of idealism and “hoping things can get better” will only wither if we let it. It will only starve is we assume its success is dependent on others and not the direct volunteer action of us in the streets. The Norwegians made this part of the their communal mindset and even coined a term for it, dugnad.

Maybe it’s time we follow their lead and adopt it for ourselves.

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Join me in building your own neighborhood dugnad … and create your own societal evolution.

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Related Posts:

 

Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”

Update 7/9/2016: I originally posted this piece after the Orlando massacre at the gay club, Pulse, thinking its content was relevant. Only three weeks later – that seems like old news. In just the last few days we’ve had the questionable police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul (who both were black) – and retalitory Dallas sniper attack killing five police officers. Thus it’s time again to “Ask ourselves …”

Sunday morning, June 12 of 2016, Omar Mateen walked into the Orlando club, Pulse, and executed 49 people. This massacre now qualifies as the most horrific gun crime in the history of the United States. Pulse is known for being a popular gay club. While the news media and most politicians want to label it a terrorist attack, fueled by allegiance to ISIL; make no mistake … this was first and foremost a hate crime. Mateen’s hatred of gays was well know, even to his father. “He had hatred deep inside him,” said the elder Mateen.

For Donald Trump, Sunday’s mass shooting in Florida was a moment to redouble his call for tougher action against terrorism and to take credit for “being right” about the threat. For Hillary Clinton, it was a time to reiterate her call for keeping “weapons of war” off America’s streets. And then later Clinton proclaimed, “For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.” It seems like this disaster was an opportunity to reinforce political ideologies. But in both cases – it was “us versus them” whomever them may be. Of the statements from Montana’s congressional delegation, none mentioned the shootings happened at a gay bar or that it was a hate crime. All three mentioned terrorism however.

I don’t wish to discuss Trump’s misdirected xenophobic blame on Muslims, nor do I want dive into the debate on gun control, even though I believe the guns laws in this country are absurdly inadequate. Neither conversation will do anything but further cement the country’s polarized views only sending us deeper into the abyss of “government needs to fix the problem.” Isn’t it obvious that government isn’t doing a very good job fixing much of anything? Why should we assume more rhetoric about yet another gun massacre will produce any different results, especially when it’s automatically blamed on Muslims and terrorists. Both camps will simply just circle their respective wagons, doubling down on their existing positions.

Where I’ve seen hope though has been with people in the street in communities, literally all over world. While I’m sure these vigils of solidarity were organized by leaders in gay communities, their participation has by no means been limited. On the contrary, these mourners have used the bloodshed as a uniting factor for inclusion. It seems like the ones that don’t get it are the politicians. They’d rather extrapolate this incident to paint an “us versus them” picture. While of course there are exceptions and I’m sure there’s many who have put down their ideological battle axes for a day or two. We’ll see how this lasts though. 

urban decay

If all this isn’t enough to make us wake up from our cerebral stupor … then what will?

It’s time for us to assume a new role, a new place for us in our communities and in the world. It’s up to us to use the massacre in Orlando, this hate crime, to evolve – and make it more inclusive by setting new societal norms. Ideology based policy and zero-sum political games must be relegated to the boneyards of the past. In this war of “us versus them.” The “them” may very well be us ourselves. It’s not enough to just agree to the status quo isn’t working and move on expecting someone else will fix it. We must assume the power ourselves. We must be the guides to show the collective a better way – one where the direction is set not by federal mandate and legislation, but rather by community expectations of behavior and thought.

In his brilliant piece from 2011, “From Patterns of Emergent Cities: 1. The Founder,” Seb Paquet gives us, those who must be the shepherds, a philosophical guide to what we must provide those in our communities in our efforts to lead society to a new evolution.

A departure: an escape route from the old and tired, into an open space with few constraints;

A sense of possibility— the promise of a new freedom he has had a glimpse of, but has not yet experienced;

Mystery, adventure, and challenge— an experience; danger, even!

An opportunity to contribute his unique talents towards creating something meaningful that, in his eyes, deserves to exist;

And finally, the chance to design a new ‘home’, a new life for himself and others.

This departure from “the old and tired” of the our current civic malaise must be replaced not with just new faces; because the problems lie much deeper than just “who.” The problems stem from decades of systemic decay of an institution never designed to solve all that ail the 300,000,000 of us in the United States alone (and billions more worldwide). The foundation of all society (both here and abroad) must rest on the underpinnings of direct civic participation and “sweat equity.” And by participation I mean volunteerism – whether that “sweat equity” be manual labor, expertise or organizing those that can.

We must use what we have and maximize it – following the Indian practice of jugaad innovative fix using few resources. We must not ask “what something is going to cost,” but rather what resources do we have to get it done – and then do it. We must not limit our perceptions to solving problems … but broaden it to include seizing opportunities. We must use well-being and hope for all our fellow residents as the standard-bearer for societal advancement. We must be Solutionists!

I paved a road to my version of this Perfect World in the post “Orion … a Feline Metaphor of Hybrid Governance.” Rather than assume the only way to reform is rehashing the tired old economic debate of state vs. markets, I explored a hybrid alternative pulled from the philosophies of 19th century Scottish thinker David Hume and Nobel Prize winning American economist Elinor Ostrom. Both stressed that the people can best govern themselves within the bounds of the community. Only in the event of large civic applications such a mass transit systems, national defense and power grids should overarching hierarchy be preferred.

The vehicle for the community governance expression I have chosen is the phenomena of decentralized activity in plant rhizomes observed by French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in the 1960s. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.

The “nodes” at the center of this rhizome organization are the Front Porch gathering spots in our communities and neighborhoods. Most often these Front Porches reside in the locally owned business community of our communities. From these often informal, non-structured gatherings will come collaborations that solves the problems and realize the opportunities our communities encounter. The peer-to-peer structure of the Front Porch governance model empowers all members of society – regardless of their social or economic status. This emphasis on diversity will ensure our communities will be able sustain themselves in the most inclusive manner possible during the most adverse times.

Imagine …

Close your eyes and think about where you live – your neighborhood. What does it look like? Imagine walking the streets, looking at the broken playground at the elementary school down the block, the vacant lots riddled with weeds, the elderly woman outside the blue house that hasn’t been painted in years.

Imagine looking inside the local middle school where you know there are children that have fallen behind, and could catch up with just a little extra help – but won’t get it. And think about how they will probably drop out … forever handicapping their future.

You walk down Main Street. Remember when it was “the place” to go, whether you wanted a gift for your niece’s birthday, those few special grocery items or even that “once-a-month” night out. It’s not the same now. The Walmarts, Wall Street chain restaurants and big box stores have made those memories a distant thing of the past.

In 2013 Marc Dunkelman wrote an excellent book on the evolution, or should I say the de-evolution of the American neighborhood, The Vanishing Neighbor.” In his book Dunkelman introduces the concept of the Middle Ring. The Middle Ring is what Dunkelman calls our neighborly relationships. This is in contrast to the inner-ring of family and close friends, and the ever-expanding outer-ring relationships fostered by the digital age and social media. Unfortunately the “middle” is not holding, collapsing from pressures on both sides. Social media sites have brought our closest contacts closer and expanded our reach to include ‘weak ties’ that we know only through cyberspace. Compound this with the proliferation of politically and socially segregated cable and internet news outlets, we have little time or attention for anyone else, physically or philosophically. And what suffers are our neighborhood acquaintances, our communities and the memories of what they used to stand for.

Our new society, our “Perfect World” of civic participation, will use the sociological premise of the Middle Ring as the foundation for us to build on. A society should be a construct of people’s dreams and plights. And it is the purpose of this society help its people realize the former and assist in alleviating the latter. From these efforts, we will weave them into a unique tapestry that are the communities we all live in. And from the Solutions we create through our local collaborations – we will scale the effects to evolve society on a broader scale. Or as the societal thought leader (and he is one of the few deserve the acclaim), Indy Johar, professed: We need first mile solutions for our last mile crisis.

“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.” – Albert Einstein 

I believe most of us want to leave the world a better place than when we found it. Or as I like to say, “Leave person, every place and everything … better off from you being there.” How we do that depends on our stories, chapters of our personal journey on the “Road to our Perfect World.”

Mine was never what you’d call conventional. Whether it be promoting rock concerts in college or raising my daughter, Alexandria, as a single father … my road was often less than smooth. I feel my life has been like a box of chocolates, as my Australian friend, Annalie Killian says: “Sometimes it’s good and … well sometimes, it’s like those awful ones with the cherries in them.”  Thank God for a waterproof tent and: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Just ask Alex (her side seem to leak more than mine). And just last year another of those ones with cherries popped up again as I a spent the year battling lymphoma. But as before I had a waterproof tent (this time metaphorically speaking) and I’m in remission.

I have had the opportunity to rub elbows with those in ivory towers, the ones that built those towers and the ones that clean them. And often the ones that have given me the greatest insight have been the latter. What all these experiences, these people and this “road” has taught me (potholes and all) is that it all comes down to community. Because without community, no matter how big or small; or what rung on society’s supposed ladder of success you are  – it’s really all we got. This is why I’m here, and why I think you’re here reading this.

And how I want to leave this world … is using community to make it better for all of us.

Good morning full.jpg

I ask you – let our roads intersect and we travel together. I ask you join me in helping our world, our society and our communities in making them places where we really want to be and live – not in places other people tell us we should live. I want you to travel with me, combining your journey with mine; joining me in an effort that alone we cannot accomplish.

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.

When you’ve circled back to here … contact me.

Because hopefully you’ll see …

“If not us, then who … If not now – then when?”

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Clay Forsberg

Growing an Evolved Society

Our true destiny is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places. – David W. Orr

In my last piece, What do the genetics of a Bengal Cat and the evolution of economics have in common?”, I proposed a hybrid type of governance as an alternative to our current political malaise and civic ineptitude. But thinking about it maybe governance isn’t really the right term. Governance implies more a state of control. What I really propose is more of a change in mindset – a mindset of community empowerment rather than a dependence on hierarchical forces housed in institutions rendered grotesque caricatures of their former intent. But to realize this new alternative we must first shed ourselves of these relics and the constraint incumbent in their archaic system design created for much simpler times ages ago.

This new hybrid is based on the conceptions of 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume synthesized with the pragmatic research on the commons by Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom. Working off the premises of these two scholars, we can bring this hybrid civic mindset to reality using a set of societal and economics tools we have in the form of community Front Porches or informal neighborhood gathering places. In my model I suggest these Front Porches can take hold in the small and locally owned business community of our towns and cities.

This direct participation civic mindset is illustrated by the “wild side” (the Asian Leopard Cat) of the hybrid model I metaphorically call “Orion” after my daughter’s hybrid Bengal Cat. This mindset and the resulting direct engagement model is not focused on maintaining itself as a static organization or institution, but as a dynamic situational platform. The participation platform is designed to identify the needs and opportunities of the local community it serves while addressing them using whatever resources are available … whether monetary or not. Think of this “resource maximization” drawing from the times of our grandparents when neighbors and community members were treated as extended family and relied on as the primary “safety net.” (The other half of the hybrid, the traditional governance half, is reformed via the methods of Transpartisanship).

This is the first of five posts outlining my game plan to make this evolved civic mindset a reality. In this piece, Growing a Societal Evolution, I lay out the philosophical and structural foundation of the direct participation model I analogized in the “wild side” of Orion.

Kevin Beiler rhizome network

Rhizomes and Decentralization

Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

To find a model for organizational structure built around resource maximization and decentralized civic participation and collaboration, we need to look no further than our backyard – 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 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.

This phenomena of decentralized activity in Rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s.

“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 several components. Below are several that are applicable to a community based construct. From here we can extrapolate to arrive at our version of a locally governed civic participation platform – the “Asian Leopard wild cat” of our hybrid.

  • 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 looks towards conclusion of those “things;” 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 the Rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a Nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the 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, and is 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. The goal is to make things happen, to find opportunities and solutions; not just to “be.” This Nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just 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 the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be 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 that inhabit it. As outlined above, these influences can include meaningful communication, existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is the small business community, Front Porches, the members of the community who are their customers along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will determine 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 (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).
  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. 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 are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members and businesses; it’s its 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. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.

A contemporary version of this Nomadic Rhizome organizational approach is referred roughly as Open allocation. Open allocation is a management style in which employees are given freedom to choose what projects to work on, and how to allocate their time. They do not necessarily answer to a static manager, but rather to the specific project they are working on within a company or organization. They can transfer between projects as they wish as long as they are providing value. Open allocation has been described as a process of self-organization. Rather than teams and leadership arrangements existing permanently in the organization, relationships form as they are needed (around causes and projects). When the projects are completed they disband. (excerpts taken from Wikipedia)

Types of Open allocation arrangements are happening in various organizations globally in the form of peer-to-peer movements. A main societal proponent is the P2P Foundation headed by Michel Bauwens. On the corporate side, attention should be paid to the Holacracy consulting practice founded by Brian Robertson. Their highest profile client to date is the Las Vegas based internet commerce firm Zappos owned by Amazon. Zappos is an interesting case of injecting a radical systematic change into a workplace that may or may not have been culturally ready for it. There are lessons than can be learned from their transition that I cover in an upcoming post.

But probably the biggest success story for a corporate self-governing organization is the Dutch home-care organization Buurtzorg Nederland.

Buurtzorg founder, Jos de Blok, has a critical role in the company. He exerts practically no formal power or control over the decentralised teams who deliver the services and innovate new ideas. It works incredibly well and Buurtzorg easily outperforms its traditionally structured counterparts in the healthcare sector.

However, de Blok’s presence is clearly strongly felt by all. Without even needing to codify a ‘mission statement,’ there is a powerful energy in the organisation around his founding vision of transforming community healthcare by operating with a very different organisational model. De Blok is holding the space for his vision to emerge, yet allowing the thousands of employees to have all the power they need to make it happen, sometimes in ways de Blok would never have conceived himself.

Without de Blok’s direct control, they develop more and better ways to realise and expand his vision, growing Buurtzorg’s impact over time in ways he could never orchestrate as a traditional top-down leader. But he still appears to be holding the vision for the whole, at the very highest level. This is most evident through his practice of personally participating in the induction new recruits, so they truly understand the purpose of the organisation. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia does this too. These founders know that if they have made the overall vision clear, they can set their people free to realize the vision autonomously, using all of their creativity. (Tom Nixon “Resolving the awkward paradox in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations“)

Evolution Institution
Evolution Institution

Front Porches and Societal Evolution

The goal of Community 3.0 is to take principles of resource maximization and incorporate them with the naturalistic examples of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. This result is a platform for community self-governance and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings, otherwise know as Front Porches. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities.

Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all civic governments do, Community 3.0 Front Porches will focus on destroying the “silos” that retard our evolution and ultimately improving the overall well-being of our populace including physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health.

It will be the priority of these Front Porches to create environments in our communities that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectation … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.

People will gravitate towards what they want to do … and in turn do what they do best. This lifestyle of self management of interests and activities will not only benefit them, but also their community. Lives based on economic status will be replaced by those of self-actualization. Civic participation and altruism will elevate them and empower them to evolve as humans.

This is Community 3.0 … and welcome to our next societal evolution.

“The capacity of communities to solve problems may be impeded by hierarchical (whether public or private) division and economic inequality among its members. This is a perfect reason for practicing empathy and well-being as a main tenet. Inequality of income (as measured only in its limited sense) cannot be solved … but maybe inequality of attitude (and self-defined wealth) can. ~ Tom Reeves

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

My Road to Political Disillusionment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change illustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I can break rank  … we all can.

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

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+

Apollo 13, MacGyver and ‘Resource Maximization’

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the service module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.

Aploolo 13 duct tape
Credit: NASA

The astronauts of Apollo 13 had to do what they had to with limited resources, none of which were designed for the task at hand. But all the same, they made it work and gave us one of the great examples American ingenuity. It’s now time for this ingenuity to come home … home to our communities.

Forward to 2015

It’s July, 2015 and we are submersed right in the middle in of the abyss of useless junk otherwise known as the 2016 presidential election and all it’s irrelevant glory. Daily we get reports from the various campaign junkets. Hillary Clinton is stumping in some coffee house in New Hampshire. Jeb Bush is probably across the street trying to figure out how to duck and roll from inevitable questions concerning the debacle his brother and father caused in the Middle East … unsuccessfully so if I may say so myself. The rest of the inhabitants of the Republican circus bark their tired anti-Obama clichés as they rumble down the road.

Everything is about the game. The media discuss only a candidate’s ability to attract donors or at best what a candidate might want to do if god help us, they get elected. But most of the time, we don’t even hear that. The best we can hope for is some sort of soundbite on their views of a current event or disaster the media deems worthy of throwing in our face ad nauseam. There is zero fourth estate critical discussion and analysis. Only a secured seat on the Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz campaign plane matters. Fear of ruffling a feather reigns supreme at risk of getting kicked to back of the bus or worse yet out the door.

But regardless of who the American people deem worthy or least repulsive, the effects of their decision aren’t likely to have much of an impact on public’s lives … regardless of what the media portrays. The real game is will be played on the state and local levels. The political shenanigans being played out at these levels will have a much large effect on the state of our communities and our wellbeing than anything happening in Washington. Under foot is a movement nationwide, led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), designed to roll back just about any semblance of safety net this country has constructed. The targets on the front lines of this movement are state legislators and local elected officials. These are the people we don’t pay much attention to during our trips to the voting booth. Who we choose in these races is often an afterthought, with decisions probably being made according to strict adherence to party lines. And this is exactly what the right-wing austerity kings are banking on – literally.

Just a couple of week ago it was announced that mega donor oligarchs Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Aldenstein will join forces to push their 2016 agendas of political rape and pillage. Our state and local governments are in dire risk of being overtaken by this newly constructed joint machine of conservative influence and mayhem.

Unfortunately, even if the other side had an answer to this unbridled assault on all things for the common good – they seem powerless to do anything about it. However well intended the Democrats, liberals or progressives may be, their ability to counter the organizational and monetary prowess of this malignant metastization is nill. This is especially the case in many areas where the push back is needed most. Urban progressive and liberal strongholds are holding their own and in many cases, such as Los Angeles and Seattle, making inroads (i.e. minimum wage legislation). But much of the rest of the country, such as the midwest and former labor hubs like Wisconsin and Michigan, is going just the opposite direction. And the ones politically leading this middle class deconstruction are the exact ones who are leading the polls for the GOP presidential race, such as Koch brothers puppet Scott Walker of Wisconsin. If you are a pro ‘big government will fix all what ails’ type of person … you’re probably crying in your beer right now. If you find the money to pay for it. The future does not look bright for you and your idea of the American Dream fast becoming a distant memory.

‘We the People’ need a new strategy

I read an interesting piece few months ago by Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design. Catapult Design are designers, engineers, and educators working with forward-thinking organizations using technology as a means to drive social change. Their process features a human-centered approach to social challenges. The piece I read follows the same train of thought as the Apollo 13 example I used above, but only its metaphor is based on the ’80s TV show MacGyver. Below, according to Ms. Fleming, are MacGyver’s ‘four enablers of creativity’ or as I call it Resource Maximization – utilizing what you have to its fullest and not worrying about what you don’t have.

  • He is a do-er. It’s easy for teams to sidestep creativity when taking on a new endeavor by quibbling over objectives. Ambiguity is uncomfortable. MacGyver uses action to work through the ambiguity. He could sit and have a discussion about his options, or create a tradeoff matrix, but he chooses to learn by doing.
  • His resources are defined. One of the first things he does at the start of a design project is figure out what he knows and what he doesn’t know. He makes constraints. It’s a contrast to what we associate with creativity—which is blue-sky, free-thinking, no rules. But the lack of constraints, or lack of a creative process, is in fact a deterrent to producing innovative results.
  • His goal is clear and a deadline is imminent. For MacGyver, the bomb is always ticking down. He has a defined amount of time. Failure is not an option. It’s similar to that feeling you get the night before a deadline, when the creative adrenaline rushes in at 2 a.m. The pressure is necessary to drive action.
  • He doesn’t have to ask for permission. Imagine if MacGyver had to stop with 15 seconds left on the bomb ticker to get clearance to use a set of pliers. Creating an enabling environment—tools on hand, creative ‘places,’ ‘time’ for creativity, diversity in thought—is what helps him get the job done.

A community must maximize what it has … and not worry about what it doesn’t

Every community has an abundance of resources. To identify, uncover and ‘maximize’ these resources, is the trick. A top-notch web designer could be sitting in a high school English class. An unemployed electrician could be at home just be waiting for an opportunity to help his community rather spend another day sitting on the couch watching home improvement shows. A neighborhood card club might want to deliver homemade food to a shut-in rather play that hundredth hand of Pinochle. And the less we have, the more resourceful we need to be.

Indians have an expression called jugaad – meaning an innovative fix using few resources. While this thinking may conjure up the enterprising street merchant, the meaning is often used to signify creativity to make existing things work or to create new things with meager resources. The definition of our resources today is no longer those that we have been given or directly control, but those around us we can access. But this only works if we have the mindset to see it that way, and the resourcefulness to access it. We especially see this with the proliferation of the sharing economy.

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the first alternative energy movement was taking hold.  Jimmy Carter’s investment tax credits and an energy crisis had created a new booming business. Everybody was talking solar energy.  At the time, when my Dad wasn’t teaching current events in high school, he was selling, talking and living solar energy.

There was this little town down the road from where we lived in North Dakota called Surrey.  They wanted to jump on the bandwagon and heat their new community swimming pool with solar.  My dad went out to look at the situation and give them a bid.  The problem was, Surrey only had about two thousand people and not much of a budget for anything, let alone a solar heated pool.

The consensus was to put several panels on a nearby roof and pump the heat to the pool.  Problem was … that solution cost two to three times more than they had.

Now the pool hadn’t been built yet and the only work done was the excavation for the new tennis courts next to it. Now what is a solar panel but just a way to collect the sun’s heat a send it where you need it.  And what is one of the hottest things we encounter in our daily lives? Asphalt! My Dad’s solution was to run PVC pipe under the tennis courts and circulate the pool water through it.  No solar panels, just asphalt. Surrey got it’s solar heated pool … and under budget.

Look at your community in different way … a way where YOU are the solution

“Imagine” … close your eyes and think about where you live – your neighborhood. What does it look like? Imagine walking the streets, looking at the broken playground at the elementary school down the block, the vacant lots riddled with weeds, the elderly woman outside the blue house that hasn’t been painted in years.

Imagine looking inside the local middle school where you know there are children that have fallen behind, and could catch up with just a little extra help – but won’t get it. And think about how they will probably drop out … forever handicapping their future.

You walk down Main Street. Remember when it was “the place” to go, whether you wanted a gift for your niece’s birthday, those few special grocery items or even that “once-a-month” night out. It’s not the same now. The Wal-Mart, Wall Street chain restaurants and big box stores have made those memories a distant thing of the past.

Everywhere, when you really think about it, you realize help is needed …everywhere. And everywhere there are opportunities to help, to make your community better. But in most cases, it’s only those that live in those communities, in the neighborhoods – who are the ones that can help.

Government isn’t going to help. Especially now, with dysfunction being in vogue. Resources available five years ago have, or are in danger of being severely cut. Schools are now more concerned about budgets than they are about children. Local beautification efforts, well – that’s a thing of the past. Food banks are full of patrons, but food on the shelves … not so much. Communities need help.

I’m not a libertarian or anti-government aid. I’m a realist though. To debate endlessly about what should be done by someone else is counterproductive if it isn’t likely to happen anyway. We can look at our circumstances two ways. We can reminisce and wish they were better, maybe like they used to be (or least how we thought they were). Or we can look at our ‘little worlds’ as opportunities, opportunities to do something, to make things better. We don’t have depend on someone else or some government to do it for us. Just grab the people around you, your friends and neighborhoods and ‘fix’ something in your community.

Your resources are everywhere. You just have to open those eyes you closed when you imagined what needed to be done. Now is the time to take examples from MacGyver and the heroes of Apollo 13, and even my Dad – take what we have … and ‘maximize’ it.

Now is time for our communities and the people in them to come together – and instead waiting for help … help themselves!

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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+