“Herding Cats” and the Art of Collaboration

In one of my last pieces, Growing an Evolved Society. I strongly suggested we take the resources and connections we have and think like Solutionists rather than farming out our thinking. And if the current American presidential election doesn’t make this obvious enough – what will?

The vehicle to the transition to this Solutionist mindset is civic collaboration. It’s time to use the creative power of the collective for the betterment of our communities. But for us to truly engage we need an operational platform to synthesize our efforts. In their rhizome societal organizational theory, French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called this platform the Smooth Space. And the players operating on it do so on the Front Porches of our communities; most often taking form at our locally owned businesses. It’s this participation by the collective, the “people in the streets,” that is the foundation of the collaborative hybrid governance model I metaphorically described using my daughter’s Bengal Cat, “Orion.

This Smooth Space mentioned above must be an open-ended platform where invitations are extended to all, regardless professional credentials, religious affiliation or rung occupied on the socioeconomic ladder. This all-inclusionary platform will provide us the tools and guidance. Diverse groups will align around the collective causes and solutions we seek to pursue – not those pre-picked by governments, the media or the marketing budgets of self-perpetuating national non-profits and NGOs.

This platform is not to be hierarchical, but organizationally flat, as describe in Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome metaphor. The nodes of this decentralized power structure form spontaneously according to need or Solution pursued. When a problem or opportunity arises, groups of Solutionists (Contributors) organically form around Front Porches, roles are created and activities dispatched using the resources and constructs of the platform and those involved. Volunteer Contributors move from cause to cause depending on their current passions, abilities and availabilities. Nothing is wasted. Resources are maximized and put towards the solution, not to the preservation of the organization and its ongoing administration.

Herding cats

“Herding Cats” 

Unfortunately this whole collaboration thing isn’t as easy as we would like it to be. Results don’t just magically happen with a wave of a wand … no matter the intentions (or alumnus status from Hogwarts). Working with the crowd is a lot like “herding cats.”

For many in avant-garde business and social circles, collaboration is next to godliness. Firms and organizations shovel their staff into open-plan office pits to encourage serendipitous encounters. Managers oblige their underlings to add new collaborative tools such as Slack and Chatter to existing ones such as traditional social media, e-mail and telephones. Corporate thinkers urge workers to be good corporate citizens and help each other whenever possible. (excerpts from The Collaboration Curse)

Gunther Sonnenfeld makes some very important observations as a veteran of over fifty collaborations. He breaks them down in what he calls The Truth About Collaborations.” Rather trying to paraphrase it (of which I couldn’t do it justice), I suggest you read it yourself. It’s good stuff.

Simon Tegg argues that while the internet makes massive on-line collaboration technically feasible, it also contributes to its cultural challenge.

A fundamental obstacle to scaling collective intelligence is that claimed benefit is vague and uncertain – and this by itself does not provide enough motivation for most people to participate. While there are civic-minded people who will contribute for social good, when the initiative depends solely on civic altruism it will struggle to scale beyond the core of committed activists and stakeholders. Initiatives are literally competing with cat gifs for people’s free time.

Efforts to scale collective intelligence must invest in social architecture — on-boarding, process and experience design, valuing and creating opportunities for participants at least as much, if not more, than software features. (Scaling Collective Intelligence – Simon Tegg)

As Simon pointed out, the internet can be an effective tool, but not one without problems. Identifying and synchronizing the different motivations and goals of the ‘players’ can be very difficult to do online. Whatever emotional momentum initially achieved is difficult to maintain. On the contrary, meeting face-to-face enables engaging in trust building complex conversations easier. And it’s trust that carries the interest and desire to continue when activity wanes or disagreement surfaces. This is a disadvantage of online collaborations.

The goal here is not to look at collaborative decision-making as an “either or” proposition (online or face-to-face), but rather determine what are its most effective applications and develop ways to make it work in the situations where it has the highest likelihood of success. Here the context is local and community driven efforts. Taking advantage of the physical proximity of community settings, let’s use the Front Porch as the conduit for participation and governance, as I covered in the last post. That’s not to say online collaborative tools can’t be used in conjunction. In fact their use is an integral part of the management of the implementation process.

Empathy and Inclusion

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Fundamental to the Community 3.0 Front Porch collaboration philosophy is talent. Every member of the community is unique and adds to the fabric of the community; and from this fabric its personality is sown. To not use all the fabric available, is to create a misrepresentation – a forgery of our communities. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. Our communities are only as strong as their weakest and most unfortunate.

At the beginning of this series in the posts Empathy and Shared Experiences and Cross-pollination and Creating Your Personal Renaissance,” I went into great detail on the importance of practicing empathy and embracing diversity as an integral part of community building. Left to their own volition most people will associate only with others like them (including age). They seldom take that chance and step outside their comfort zone. But if we won’t make this step, how can we truly acquire the empathy and the trust needed to have constructive conversations? How can these conversations be the one required to build the relationships necessary to create the consensus and collaborations needed for our neighborhoods and communities to serve all its residents?

A community is the product of its people. Diversity is an advantage if not a necessity. A community is a living thing, a microcosm, and a lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (literally and figuratively). Social inbreeding creates a weak species, vulnerable to adversaries, internally and externally. A community that allows this inbreeding, assumes its byproduct, myopic thinking. It will not be able to combat the problems of the future … let alone realize its potential.

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

The priority of the Front Porch is to create environments that nurture hope. By creating avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset, the inherent benevolence inside us can bloom. Making “helping others” our societal norms and expectations will empower us to supplant the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system with more altruistic ones.

The Art of Collaboration

The Minneapolis-based rap collective Doomtree is a case study in collaboration. Going against a history in the genre where many would rather kill their peers than work them. For the record (literally and figuratively), this has changed in recent years – but still Doomtree is different. The five rappers who collaborate with the crew’s two DJs are forward-thinking in that they view the idea of hip-hop as a collaborative enterprise; and it’s evident in the group’s work. Their most recent album, I’m sure not unintentionally, is titled: “No Kings.” To accomplish their distinctive results, they religiously abide by four axioms:

  • Check your ego: Most of the members have been in situations where rap is considered a competition. In fact Eminem’s famed psuedo-biopic, “Nine Mile” was all about how he used a rap competition to rise above his sordid upbringing. But in the end, as troupe member Sims says: “We’re a band … there’s no killing anyone else here.”
  • Get to where you need to get: This sounds mundane, but if everyone can’t get together physically – you can’t collaborate. And by getting together, you committed. It says this matters and “I’m prepared and willing to take the time.” In Doomtree’s case, “We end up driving a few hours from home, out of cell-phone service, like a cloistered jury or something,” Dessa says.
  • “Let’s get this done:” Once they’ve set up shop, Doomtree doesn’t do a lot of waiting around. Once one of them throws a good idea, whether it be a beat, verse or rhyme – they run with it. Not having to be the one who starts it is liberating. “I don’t have to have a verse, or I can make my verse a little bridge. It’s freeing in a way,” Sims says. “I find it really fun—it allows me to be more playful and take more risks, because if they don’t work, I don’t care.”
  • Trust the collaboration: Trusting yourself and your collaborators to know how to run with a creative instinct is a gift that comes with the freedom that this sort of process brings. And it’s something that is easiest to find when you’re not looking over your shoulder, or trying to hoard all of the elements you think you need to be great.

Below are outlined the six components of the Community 3.0 “Herding Cats” collaboration model crucial to building a Front Porch and “holding the party” for your group’s collaborative Solution efforts.

  • Building the Front Porch: “The Where”
    • Create a personality
    • Be Solutionists
    • Move around your physical location
    • change up your gathering times
  • Building the Team: “The Who”
    • “The smaller the better”
    • Diversify your team
    • Train your collaborators
  • The Facilitator
    • Leaderless organizations aren’t really leaderless
    • Beware of hidden hierarchies
  • Selecting the Project: “The What”
    • The Menu of Conversation
    • Using demographics and maps
    • Getting past the first bad idea
    • Community 3.0 Solutions
  • The Collaboration: “The How”
    • The long-lasting narrative
    • The Doomtree Method
    • Understanding participation levels
    • The “Serendipity Portal”
    • Collaboration mechanics
    • Bottlenecks
    • Deep-thinking and the time drain
    • Don’t forget mentoring
    • Nurturing communications
  • Implementation: “Walking the Talk”
    • Resource maximization
    • Solution template
    • Solution guidelines
    • The post-mortem feedback loop

For a complete breakdown: see the “Art of Collaboration” in the Community 3.0 page.

“Herding cats” … revisited

Breaking from my normal utopian outlook, I can’t stress enough a transition to a participatory society won’t be easy. America’s founding fathers proclaimed democracy is a messy endeavor. And one where “the people” actually do the work will be even more so.

However well intended collaborations are, and how they attempt to represent an equality of views – they almost inevitably end in creating bottlenecks. Often little gets done without getting run past informal “top contributors.” Special effort must be made so the most active and overburdened collaborators know how to filter and prioritize tasks and requests. They have to know it’s alright to say no (or to allocate only half the time requested). And maybe best of all, encourage them to make an introduction to someone else when the request doesn’t draw on their own unique contributions. (insight gained from Collaboration Overload)

We also can’t lose fact that the “deep thinking” needed to bring a project to fruition is a solitary task. Collaboration runs contrary to this assumption. Collaborators need to know when to collaborate and when to remove themselves from “the party” and burrow down and inside themselves.

And we can’t forget the collaboration “time drain.” More collaborations mean more meetings. And more meetings mean more time spent in meetings … and less time actually doing the work. Even though the social aspect of collaborative efforts is important, having meetings for the sake of having meetings shouldn’t be the default. Just because it’s a collaboration … doesn’t mean it automatically needs a meeting. Make the time together worth everyone’s time. Collaborations should be synergistic … not antagonistic.

Not everyone flourishes under a system self-determination either. Gabriela Krupa illustrates this on her experience with Holacracy:

“I caught myself in a paradox: I’m happy to have leeway in my work and be able to do things as I see fit, but at the same time I would appreciate someone who could point me in the right direction: ‘this is right, just continue that way’ or ‘change direction, you can do better.’ I caught myself looking for confirmation that my choices and actions were right, wanted, or useful for my colleagues.”

Just because an open organization doesn’t have a formal management structure, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t set up informal mentoring arrangements. In fact these informal relationships can work much better than formal hierarchical ones. Making these informal arrangements easy to set up should be a priority of your collaboration as they can result in substantial member development.

The above obstacles are not normally encountered in traditional hierarchical structures. But just because collaboration based organizations have their problems doesn’t mean we should shy away though. We can’t accept the status quo and the inefficiency, inequality and ineptitude it’s giving us. A society based on collaboration and inclusion must be an ideal we strive for. We have to accept the fact its going to be a challenge, a challenge that will involve a collective effort probably unlike anything modern society has seen. “Herding cats,” especially Bengals is not supposed to be easy.

Fortunately, by definition … we will not be alone.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


On June 25 in 1876, two mortal enemies found that the differences they had between them paled in comparison to the a threat both encountered.  After the Civil War, the U.S. government turned its attention to the Wild West and the fight against the Indians – or as they called them, “savages.”

Two warring tribes, the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne were being relentlessly pursued by the U.S. Army – and specifically, General Armstrong Custer.  After numerous skirmishes with minor military leaders, they learned of Custer’s intention of attacking them in Southern Montana.

Separately neither the Sioux nor the Cheyenne had the upper hand … but together, maybe the result could be different. Unprecedentedly, Lakota chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull met secretly with Cheyenne chief Gall and devised a plan for their mutual survival.

The Sioux encampment of 6,000 plus was set on the banks of the Little Big Horn River in Montana.  Starting the night of the June 23, Sitting Bull moved the Sioux women and children down river out of harms way while the warrior chief Crazy Horse amassed the Sioux warriors in the cover of brush on the river bank.  After numerous skirmishes with Gall and his Cheyenne on high ground on 25th, the next day Custer moved down towards the banks of the Little Big Horn only to come face-to-face with the Sioux.

The infamous battle of Custer’s Last Stand lasted only twenty minutes with Custer’s army being annihilated.

Custer's white crosses

While the current economic climate and the fate of your community may not equate to the dire situation the Sioux and Cheyenne faced (or maybe economically and socially it does) … lessons can still be learned.

A community can’t isolate itself in a silo

A community’s resources extend beyond it’s borders: physically and socially. The borders and boundaries arbitrarily drawn a hundred years ago are nothing but an impediment to growth today. Let rivalries end on the high school basketball courts and football fields. A community can’t isolate itself in a silo in an attempt to ‘hold onto yesterday.’ And yesterday wasn’t really as good as we remember it. Civic and cultural myopia is a disease. A community should have it’s own identity and that’s good, but that doesn’t mean that identity shouldn’t evolve and expand. And with that evolution comes breaking down the ‘silos’ arbitrarily constructed many decades ago for purposes not at all relevant today. Threats and opportunities change as time changes. It’s a community’s responsibility to open their eyes and minds to all resources available to them, whether traditionally geographic or not. 

The boom in sports facilities is the latest version of a flawed strategy by cities — “building bling to accelerate growth,” said Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, a Brainerd-based community development organization. “You could be like the guy who has the big house and the big truck that are all under water.”

City and county municipalities concern themselves often only with their image and not so much of the actual welfare of their residents. We see this across all government entities. Ultimately this creates unhealthy competition amongst civic neighbors. Whether it be competition for property taxes generated by oil refineries in Billings, Montana or a Wal-Mart Superstore in Southern California, municipalities wage war in revenue ‘fight to the death’ cage matches – each trying to outdo each other offering freebies and rebates. And seldom is any consideration given to the indirect costs. Police, fire, sewer and water services aren’t delivered by Santa Claus.

An interesting piece came out in the Atlantic earlier this year called, “The Miracle of Minneapolis.” Ironically it should have been called “The Miracle of the Twin Cities.” The piece details the success the Minnesota metropolitan area has had in combatting neighborhood inequality. The Twin Cities have broken down the silos of individual cities and municipalities and worked as a unit. The region plans as a single unit and shares tax revenue as a single unit. For the most part no neighborhoods are left to blight and ruin because not having a sufficient tax base. Of course the Twin Cities plan is not perfect, but it seems to work better than any metro area that condones infighting amongst its constituent towns and cities (which is pretty much every other one).

Break down our self-imposed limitations in search for solutions to citizenry wellbeing

But even with the success of the Twin Cities enlightenment, we need to look past governmental entities and the traditional description of civic demarcation … and expand our cerebrally self-imposed limitations in our search for solutions to citizenry wellbeing. 

On the global front we’ve seen this search take us to the formation of non-governmental organizations where their participants are united not by geography or politics but rather by cause, ‘solutions’ and the desire to voluntarily make an impact.

The term “non-governmental organization” was first coined in 1945, when the United Nations (UN) was created. The UN, itself an inter-governmental organization, made it possible for certain approved specialized international non-state agencies—i.e., non-governmental organizations—to be awarded observer status at its assemblies and some of its meetings. Later the term became used more widely. Today, according to the UN, any kind of private organization that is independent from government control can be termed an “NGO”, provided it is not-for-profit, non-criminal and not simply an opposition political party.

One characteristic these diverse organizations share is that their non-profit status means they are not hindered by short-term financial objectives. Accordingly, they are able to devote themselves to issues which occur across longer time horizons, such as climate change, malaria prevention or a global ban on land mines. Public surveys reveal that NGOs often enjoy a high degree of public trust, which can make them a useful – but not always sufficient – proxy for the concerns of society and stakeholders.

The devolution of the Nation State

Parag Khanna, Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a geostrategic advisory firm (amongst other things) hypothesizes the decline of the nation-state:

“The broader consequence of these phenomena [devolution of nation states] is that we should think beyond clearly defined nations and “nation building” toward integrating a rapidly urbanizing world population directly into regional and international markets. That, rather than going through the mediating level of central governments, is the surest path to improving access to basic goods and services, reducing poverty, stimulating growth and raising the overall quality of life.” 

While Khanna was speaking mainly of nations and federal governments, the same postulates can also be applied to local governments. Why can’t a socially connected geographic area function as a NGO around common cause and joined concerns? Granted most local charities and non-profit groups that help out operate this way, and these groups may be geographically inclusionary … their focus and direction probably isn’t. Normally they operate as silos themselves focused on their own funding raising and disbursement of resources acquired. Each have their own cause and flag to bear. Seldom do they cross-pollinate efforts to synergize around the overall wellbeing of the communities they serve. Non-profit classifications and tax reporting create environments ‘holding on to their own.’ The sharing of donor and membership lists is often considered taboo. Competition here is not unlike that we see with municipalities. Many national and international concerns, by nature of their visibility and marketing resources, monopolize prominent ‘do gooders,’ leaving little more than scraps for local causes that often make a much larger impact in the community in areas of higher concern.

Imagine if silos, governmental and not, were taboo. Imagine sharing was the norm, not the exception. Imagine if the only concern was the people … not who was doing the helping. The goal should be breaking down silos of municipal and charity jingoism in lue of ‘making things happen.’

Individual volunteers and ‘Solutionists’ that can move from cause to cause

Imagine if the goal was to create an open-ended platform where invitations were extended to all, regardless of high school nickname or charity religious affiliation. This all-inclusionary platform is here to provide tools and guidance for diverse group aligned only around the causes and solutions they seek to pursue – not those pre-picked by marketing budget or the media.

This platform is not to be hierarchical, but rather organizationally flat. Any power structures created are only done so for each cause or ‘solution’ and the pursuit of them. On going organizations, constantly in pursuit of a cause and existing only for the act of self-preservation, are taboo in our evolved ‘solution’ based societal norm. When a problem or opportunity arises, groups are immediately formed and activities dispatched using the resources of the platform (including the human resources connected only to 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.

We need to look past these artificial restrictions we impose upon ourselves. And to do that, we should look past only the organizational concoctions devised by the human species. Nature provides many desirable alternatives including a Rhizome theory developed by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Rhizome features societal cross-pollinated connections, that allow for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points. Their theory is depicted in the example of the “orchid and the wasp” taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Deleuze and Guattari called the organizational representation of the serendipitous platform of ‘solution’ activity I described above, the ‘Smooth Space.

As humans we put too much trust in hierarchy, structure and institutional control. In theory some of this is fine, but in practice in puts too much authority and power in the hands of few. We can’t assume all of those we entrust in leadership positions will be as benevolent as we wish. We need to only look at the statistics of the ever-increasing levels of inequality, especially in the so-called developed world. The more developed a country gets, the higher it seems is the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons of its population. This is an institutional problem, not a people problem. And blind jingoistic allegiance to these organizational structures produces little but inefficiency, bloat and inequitable distribution of affluence to those in power.

We need to think new and break convention, especially on local levels where change can occur easiest, and where it can occur while working within the constraints of the system. Let’s not build structure for the sake of structure and create silos because we always have.

The human mind is adaptable and able to mold to situations and needs, both in itself and others. Let’s take advantage of it.


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.


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

The “Kernel,” Your Community’s Cross-Generational Ecosystem

“Beth Jacob is a New Orleans architect and historian whose research specializes in the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of New Orleans’ public markets. Jacob found that these markets and public spaces did more than just offer a space for communities to buy staples. They were true neighborhood places that served as anchors that attracted other businesses to the area as well as providing a physical space for civic discussion.”

These community oases, such as the public markets described above by Beth Jacob, won’t create themselves. In fact any community based effort is competition and will face obstacles put in front of it from big business and very often local government compliant in their activities. It’ll take a concerted effort by all residents of the community, young and old. In my previous piece I discussed the need for us to “Bridge the Gap” between generations as a vehicle for community and societal sustainability. Now it’s time to become pragmatic.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting and it’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create the environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for “shared experiences; serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds, worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And I described in my previous piece, we don’t need a Lady Gaga reaching out to a Tony Bennett on every corner in each of our communities and neighborhoods. We just have to give serendipitous encounters some space to happen.”

But to do this we need to expand our minds to the definition of what these spaces can be. Public markets are just one type of these ‘spaces.’

What this bridging of generations will do is form the foundation for the re-building of the ‘Middle Ring’ housing the melting pot that innovation needs to percolate. And we have a movement, or should I say a mindset, afoot right now that may well prove to the perfect vehicle for this foundation, the makerspace.

A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, or art can meet, socialize and collaborate. In general, makerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Makerspaces function as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

“Bridging the Gap” through film and 3D printing

“With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”

But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man, Caballero twisted technologies, including 3D printing, to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming “How You Doin’ Boy?”

With his 3D printed inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.”


Technology is often a great divider amongst generations. But it doesn’t have to be. Technology is nothing but a means to an end. And it’s this that can be the common ground that connects people regardless of age. Remember the workshops of our fathers and grandfathers, and the tinkering that went on there? It was the same with our grandmothers and their crafts. How many grandparents homes aren’t adorned with needlepoint on the walls. Our grandparents didn’t buy art, they made it.

Bill Zimmer, a middle-aged software engineer at the Asylum in New York City, says that what’s going on in the maker movement would be more familiar to denizens of the year 1900 than any period since, because manufacturing is not only being domesticated — it’s being democratized.

Makerspaces aren’t a new thing, they’re an old thing. They’re that old shoe box on the top shelf of the basement closet that you’ve now figured out there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it – stuff that is surprisingly relevant today. Regardless of age, boys and girls like to make things, just like their grandparents do. Why don’t we create a ‘space’ where they can do it together? And let’s make it a space where one can mentor the other.

The older generations can teach the younger generations on the basics and history of ‘making things.’ And then the younger ones can teach their surrogate grandparents on how to bring these basics into the year 2015 through technology advances.

A makerspace should be a community serendipity hub where collaborative ideas can turn into real life things. And the more generationally inclusionary your makerspace is … the more your community will benefit from it.

This ‘space’ can be the seed of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative. We need a ‘Kernel’ … a space where things can grow – physically and sociologically.


A cross-generational co-creating ‘space’ where everything and everyone is a project

Imagine your community having a ‘space’ where everyone is welcome regardless of age, wealth or any other differentiating factor. Your ‘Kernel, would be a place where things happen, not just talked about. Your ‘Kernel’ is a ‘space’ where people come together under common goals, working together. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being your community’s hub … a place where anytime of the day of night – things would be discovered, transformed and created.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a makerspace not unlike a modern-day version of your grandfather’s shop – only where the skills and knowledge of yesterday are synthesized with the technology of today. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being craft center much like you’d see in grandmother’s spare bedroom when you visited her, filled with yarn, paints, fabric and any other material you’d need to ‘make things’ you’d end up taking home to hang on your wall.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a ‘space’ where the smells of its latest culinary concoctions emanate from its doors and windows, all created in a  physical melting pot representative of the metaphorical melting pot making up your community’s residents; young and old, male and female, rich and poor. And all these creations are started right there at your ‘Kernel’ in its greenhouse and gardens. And of course what isn’t eaten of premise is delivered to your community’s unfortunate and those most in need.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Your ‘Kernel’ must be about help, cohesion and collaboration. Every member of your community in unique and adds to its social and intellectual fabric. And every member of your community has gifts, talents and resources to offer. Sometimes they are evident to those who possess them. But often they’re not. It’s at this time when it’s up to you and your fellow community members to uncover them and expose these talents to the light so all can see them and benefit.

All too often people treat the knowledge and expertise as possessions to be kept close. It’s up us to show them it’s better for this knowledge to be is spread throughout their community … especially to the young. Your ‘Kernel’ should act as a nexus for these mentoring activities. Research indicates that community centers, even in much lesser forms than what I propose here with the ‘Kernel,’ provide young people with a physical and emotional safe haven. These ‘spaces’ result in higher levels of self-esteem and confidence for its participants than any other social settings including family and school.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises” ~ Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)

Mentoring and guidance in your ‘Kernel’ need not be limited to the young though. Consider your ‘Kernel’ an “Idea Farm” where through collaboration and expertise sharing, pipe dreams turn into community entrepreneurial ventures. Consider your community’s ‘Kernel’ a technical innovation hub where it’s power is derived from solar and clean energy. And the tools available for creative endeavours include 3D printing technologies, laser cutters, screen printers, electronic lathes and all the latest software to run them. And imagine everyone, regardless of age having access and teaching other.

Gugnad (Norwegian): Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

View your community’s ‘Kernel’ not just a technical incubator, but also one for social innovation. Imagine a social hub where organization, groups and individuals can come together under no auspices of hierarchy to create a new evolution of community involvement and betterment … a hybrid or sorts. And these ideas being shared amongst other ‘Kernels’ throughout the world.

Your community’s ‘Kernel’ should be a melding of librarians, civic leaders, students, professors, union members and trades people. It should combine high teachers with grade school students and grade school teachers with high school students. It should mix small business owners with the unfortunate who make their way via the streets and shelters along with the retired. And your ‘Kernel’ can even bring government and elected officials into the mix … as long as they understand their position is no higher or their influence no more than anyone else.

It’s impossible to calculate the effect your ‘Kernel’ will have on your community. The old will transfer their valuable professional and life skills to the young who are so in need of them. These same young will in turn have a ‘space’ where they can focus their attention and their dreams, other than biding time waiting for the other shoe to fall – standing on the street corner.

Your community will turn into one of a problem solving mentality where everything is a resource and waste has been truncated to a ‘four letter word.’ ‘Resource Maximization’ will be imprinted in the minds of everyone. The elderly, rather focusing only on their next doctor’s appointment, will be exercising their minds, their bodies and the most of all … their spirits. And they’ll be doing all of it in an outwardly community benevolent fashion rather than just holed in their home obsessing about their personal condition.

Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. And these will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on – ensuring its legacy and prosperity.

Old building

The concept of ‘Resource Maximization’ should not start once the walls of your ‘Kernel’ have been constructed. It must start at the very beginning. Assume traditional methods of financing won’t be available. Assume bids will be irrelevant, let alone the lowest one. Your ‘Kernel’ is about community and the resources it has available. Create your ‘Kernel’ with materials that are indigenous to your community’s locale using what’s at its disposal. And most of all … assume money is not first priority, but only the last resort when all other acquisition options have been tried and exhausted.

Your ‘Kernel’ should be a co-op venture between property owner and tenant. Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, landowners should participate in the success of the ‘Kernel.’ This success can be defined in returns on joint ventures created in the facility, or it could be participation on monthly users fees by members of the ‘Kernel’those not on scholarship because of age (young or old) or waivers due to income restrictions.

Schools and existing community buildings could be co-oped. In return the landlords would get use of the facility for projects they would otherwise be able to do. Your ‘Kernel’ could even act a recruiting firm for local businesses in need of talent. A business could pay a retainer for access to contract expertise and mentoring generated by your ‘Kernel’ or a contingency is a member referred to them is hired full-time.

“Start your own personal industrial revolution” ~ Mark Hatch, CEO TechShop

Your ‘Kernel’ is an ‘opportunity ecosystem. It is the physical manifestation of my community employment platform, Community 3.0. It provides a ‘prototype’ cross-generational, cross-collar, entrepreneurial learning Hub for smaller communities and neighborhoods in larger communities.

Your community’s empowerment starts with a seed … it starts with a ‘Kernel.


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.


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

Is Your Community Investing in its ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’?

Two days ago I opened the newspaper to a proclamation that President Obama was proposing a $478 billion public works infrastructure revitalization program. This is no surprise to me. The word infrastructure has been bantered around for the last few months as we ready ourselves for yet another chapter in book of the endless presidential election cycle. “America is losing its edge and is in jeopardy of loosing its vaulting status as the ‘Exceptional One.'” Reminds of the Eddie Murphy movie of the ’80s, “The Golden Child.” No matter how misguided it may bewe must protect and sacrifice for the infrastructure.

The previous chapters have been dedicated to the illusion that education reform would be the savior protector. Now with the not so stellar result results of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top,’ the fleeting attention span of the electorate has been redirected to building things. Not so much new things per se, but rebuilding old things; highways, bridges, pipelines, maybe some electrical lines and transmitters, but mainly stuff revered in support of the almighty automobile. Eisenhower’s corpse six feet under probably has a smile on its face. And believe it or not – as I’m writing this on comes a commercial for NASCAR on Spotify (apparently I’m too cheap to spend the eight bucks a month).

Earlier this week I wrote an open letter to state of North Dakota, where I grew up. Their legislature approved a 800+ million infrastructure bill to rebuild the what the oil industry has decimated in the short time since the oil boom began a few years ago. The state is going to build more roads on top of the ones they’re planning on rebuilding. Dirt roads will get paved and two lane roads will turn into four lane roads. They’re going fix bridges and build overpasses and new sewer systems and whatever else they figure out they can use a backhoe on. Oh, they’ll be some new schools too. After all, those people doing the digging and building need a place to put their kids while they’re doing all that digging and building.

And if it’s not enough for public municipalities to do the building, they’ll be  handing the keys to the city to outside corporate conglomerates in hopes they will be the proverbial “white knight, in the white hat on the white horse” by doing more building. Seldom, if ever, does this work out though. Civic planning textbooks (which apparently aren’t read) are littered with a plethora of stories of corporate subsidies pledged in return of promises of “jobs.” Oh that word “jobs;” it’s as intoxicating as the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden (if you believe in those things). But the apple and the snake … they didn’t work out either. But it doesn’t matter if politicians can say they’re working to provide “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” Look at the craziness we’ve had to endure with the two years of Keystone Pipeline debate. If you’re a politician from anywhere close to where the proposed pipeline is running nasty carcass – you’re touting “jobs.” It doesn’t make any difference that there’s only going to be thirty of these full-time “jobs,” it’s still jobs.

And it doesn’t matter what politicians are doing the talking. They could be Democrat or Republican. They could be federal, state or local. They just can’t help themselves. It’s like crack to them, no  matter the quality.

Coffee Shop posterize

 This insanity has to stop

Now I’m all for “jobs.” But it seems all these jobs being talked about are pretty much the same, as I said “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” This is fine, but not everyone wants to work ‘hard.’ And by hard I mean ‘blue collar hard.’ And I’m willing to bet that a lot of those doing the ‘blue collar hard’ jobs are doing them because they don’t really have any other option. Given the chance I’m sure they wouldn’t mind using their mind instead. Trust me, money or not, it no fun working outside in North Dakota in the winter.

Information technology and the internet have changed work opportunities dramatically. However, few of these opportunities are being taken advantage of in places like North Dakota and other states that are composed primarily of small and medium-sized towns and cities. These ‘new economy’ opportunities are seen mainly in urban areas. But it’s not like they couldn’t be distributed more equitably. These opportunities are not geographically bound. Unfortunately few leaders in the public space understand the real potential here. They are myopically focused on getting the most ‘bang for their buck’ with that new backhoe they proudly acquired for the city.

Apple created $10 billion in revenue for third-party application developers for the iPhone and iPad in 2014 alone. That’s more than all of Hollywood generated. And these developers can live anywhere, even in their parent’s basement in Devils Lake, North Dakota. How much of this flowed to North Dakota or states like that. I don’t know, but probably not much.

The ‘Nomad Economy’ is what I call the makeover of this new workforce. These are people, (mainly young but not entirely) who are either self-employed or own small businesses. It’s estimated that by the year 2020, forty percent of America’s workforce will be freelancers. These are NOT the jobs doing the building and digging in the traditional sense. Most of the digging these people do is digging in their minds and figuring out how to navigate the future which is ever evolving and so much less stable than that of their parents. “Holding onto yesterday” and expecting the life of the long-term corporate employee is no longer an option, or preferred.

Introducing the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’

Even though the ‘Nomad Economy’ is not geographically constrained, it still requires infrastructure. But it’s not the infrastructure you would think. It’s more of a ‘Cerebral Infrastructure.’ By this I mean accommodation for the physical and mental spaces these self-employed, small business owners or ‘Nomads’ need to congregate, collaborate and create – molding the future for themselves and those around them. Schools can help, but they’re only a part of the solution. We need to look past tradition and what worked in the past to now and beyond. What might have worked a decade ago, may be obsolete today, let alone tomorrow. This is time for elected officials and those they appoint to starting asking questions more relevant than the one they asked even five years ago.

  • Do their cities and towns have co-working HUBs designed to nurture entrepreneurial dreams and turn them into job generating start-ups?
  • Do they have the bikeways, parks, public transportation and community gathering places Millennials, the bulk of the ‘Nomad Economy,’ require?
  • Do they have Makerspaces; places where younger and older generations can learn from each other using 3D printers, laser cutters and CAD (computer aided design) technology to make the unimaginable a reality?
  • Is Twitter prominently used both in the public and private spheres where thoughts and collaborations know no international boundaries?
  • Are there state and local sponsored efforts to not only encourage, but assist financially with these collaborations? Or are they looked at with disdain … as something that comes from where elsewhere and doesn’t belong in its revered culture from the past?
  • Do state and local municipalities utilize technology that involve residents in civic decisions and corresponding operations?
  • Are today’s cities, towns and states collaborating with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to solicit ideas on how to make its residents leaders in the realities of the new Nomadic economy?
  • Are they creating contests to attract the best ideas from their best people to build their communities in ways that will benefit all its residents (not just the few in its primary industries)? And do these contests provide financial rewards and mentoring assistance?
  • And are their communities places where the country’s best and brightest would want to move to, to use not just their hands – but their minds; and not only use their minds for others, but to build companies of their own? If it’s not … then why not?

Imagine taking a portion of the money used for roads, curbs, gutters used to reinforce the idolization of the automobile. This money could be used to create a ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure.’ North Dakota has a state-owned entity called the Bank of North Dakota. Other states, and even local governments could do the same thing. Not everything has to go through Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Citibank or any other of those blood sucking Wall Street devils that have none of your residents’ wellbeing in mind.

Current I live in Montana. The state has a coal fund that grants or loans money (I’m not sure of the exact details) to businesses based in the state. In theory this is all well and good. In practice … not so much. You see Montana’s coal fund requires any recipient business to back it with collateral. That’s good for brick and mortar businesses like casino/convenience stores and car dealers that ironically don’t provide any real benefit since they just cannibalize other local businesses. But it’s not good for ‘new economy’ businesses and the self-employed like the ones Apple paid $10 billion to last year. It’s also is not good for ‘new economy’ firms like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and the ‘Nomads’ they provide opportunities to. These firms and those like them have raised ten of billions of dollars in venture capital over the last couple years.

This new ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure’ can’t act like a bank though. It has to act like a venture capital/private foundation morph. This division’s goal is not to make money directly though. It’s to help generate third-party economic activity which will in turn generate benefit for the community, some directly financial, but most in indirectly as a private business stimuli and resident wellbeing costs savings.

This concept is called obliquity: “the best way to achieve a goal when you are working with a complex system is to take an indirect approach instead of a direct one.”

From competition to ‘Resource Maximization’ using the multiplier effect

The fun part of this ‘project’ would be generating the ideas from the public. The “Division of Cerebral Infrastructure” could hold an annual contest with the applicant projects being voted on by the public via the web. A similar vision of this was implemented by LA2050, a non-profit initiative in Los Angeles that gave away $1 million in grants to winning projects focused improving and transitioning the city to the year 2050. Your community could do the same thing only on a more applicable scale (large or smaller). And the LA2050 people might even give you some advice setting it up (if you asked nicely).

If the public has to vote on it, then the presentations would have to be visually attractive and able to concisely communicate the vision of creators and the benefits to the public. Picture these like the way Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects present themselves. Maybe a contest like this would even bring back some expatriates who jumped the metaphorical ship for greener pastures elsewhere like the urban areas that do offer what they require. And imagine if projects that weren’t funded directly, gained attention and were financially ‘kickstarted’ via other means. Just another example of obliquity. This could go on and on once it got started. In fact, it would be hard to stop –especially if the contest became an annual affair.

When I was at school at the University Of North Dakota, my microeconomics class taught me about bank reserve multipliers. Every dollar put in a bank supposedly generates ‘x‘ times that in economic activity via loans, etc. And by depositing money in the “Division of Cerebral infrastructure” and investing or granting it locally this multiplier concept could become a reality that takes place in every community in the state. Imagine $100 million magically turning into a half of billion dollars. No offense to roads and bridges, but you ain’t seeing that kind of return in traditional infrastructure improvements.

Street fair posterize

But if you have to make physical improvements, don’t make everything so car-centric. The Millennial generation, the foundation of this new Nomad economy, wants bike paths and sidewalks and trees. They want ‘places.’ They want their towns, cities and neighborhoods designed for them and their fellow residents … not for cars. They don’t want to be an afterthought, a nuisance to the automobile culture of their parents and grandparents. Hell, maybe their parents and grandparents would even like these new ‘places’ too given the opportunity.

If a city doesn’t provide these amenities (or actually basics), they have NO hope of retaining their ‘best and brightest’ – let alone attracting them from elsewhere.

No matter the state, all cities, all towns and all neighborhoods are the same


This conversation should be had in every state, every city and every neighborhood in this country and abroad. To rely on the same thinking that caused many of the issues we face today is a prescription of ‘more of the same.’ “Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers.” It’s time for us to redefine the definition of public infrastructure. The infrastructure we need should be focusing on is what’s between the ears, the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’ … not just what’s between the curbs and gutters.

It makes no difference if you’re in an official decision making capacity for your state or your city or town. Change can come from anywhere. In fact it normally comes from outside the established power structures and ‘ivory towers.’ Regardless it’s still your community. If you sit idly by and let the ‘same old’ become the future … there’s no one to blame but yourself.


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


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