Consciousness of Community

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

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

 

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

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

The two sides of a mind

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The Consciousness of a Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Constructing the Smooth Space

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

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

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

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

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Call to Action

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

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The New Green Deal: Moving Beyond the Hype

A couple of weeks ago we saw the unveiling of the New Green Deal. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a second from Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, stood in front of the media and laid down an ultimatum to the American public and political elite alike.

The New Green Deal makes a compelling case that we have to act now on carbon emissions or face the consequences of climate Armageddon. I agree with this. In fact I’ve been saying it for years. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s plan outlines several broad objectives. Among them; our electric grid must be powered entirely by alternative energy by 2030, and by 2050 our nation’s automotive fleet is to be converted to electric power. There are several other ambitious environmental goals, including retrofitting buildings for conservation. You can dig deeper here for the details.

GND-PR

The New Green Deal isn’t just about combating climate change though. If it was maybe it wouldn’t be seeing such an outburst of resistance from the right. Equally highlighted are the foundational tenets of the Bernie Sanders platform – free college and free healthcare for all. It didn’t take much for the GOP to stamp the scarlet letter of socialism on its front cover. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the specifics of the New Green Deal here and hypothesize what it’ll take to accomplish it and whether it it’s even doable. Let’s just say, I don’t think anyone else did either.

This brings us to Ocasio-Cortez, or as the media has dubbed her – AOC. The New York  based national media can complain all they want about Hollywood celebrities, but their fawning takes no back seat when idolizing their own. One only has to look to our current clown in chief, put there in large part by the unrelenting (New York) media coverage of his every move and tweet; and this continues to this day, as we get a double dose of his antics as clown in chief as well as those who are fighting to terminate his rule. As a counter balance to Trump, the media has now created AOC.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against her and I don’t disagree with the premise of her far-left proposals. I do take issue with her tactics. They’re straight out of the Bernie Sanders scorched-earth playbook – which isn’t surprising since she worked for him. I don’t believe in spewing policy options that have little possibility of being implemented, regardless the accurate articulation of the problem. This is exactly what Bernie did three years ago; and what Ocasio-Cortez is doing now. I believe a lot of supporters of Ocasio-Cortez acknowledge this now, but apparently don’t care. Their rationalization is that by bringing attention to the dire predicament of climate change, the fine print of actually “doing it” doesn’t matter: “We’ll figure that out later.” The proposal is Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a protest, only without the marching in the streets and the risk of getting arresting. I question the value of the publicity for publicity’s sake. Why do our proposed solutions need to be just hyperbole?

I just wonder if a realist road map for implementation was put forth along with the rousing speech and sound bites – wouldn’t we be a littler better off? Why not take a month or two and get it right first; incorporating insight from people who would actually have to implement it. When Charles Darwin unveiled his epic “Theory of Evolution” he first prepared to such a degree that he became his own biggest critic. He anticipated every conceivable objection; and researched and rehearsed his response to each. Understand his adversaries were the hierarchy of omni-powerful and omnipresent “church.” Odds against his theory being accepted by the submissive public were daunting at best and the personal risk he took could not be overstated. But with all this – he succeeded. His process should be a case study for the preparation of movements everywhere, regardless the context. And make no mistake, his “theory” was a movement.

Instead Ocasio-Cortez went off half-cocked, even inadvertently exposing a draft version not intended for public consumption. The proposal has put many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in a difficult position; either support the New Green Deal or risk the brazen ire of the Bernie/AOC fanboys. Whether she knows it or not, Ocasio-Cortez is emulating the GOP Tea Party strategy. Look where the Tea Party is now; virtually gone, relegated to the scrap heap of ill-fated political over-reaction. And if dividing the Democratic party isn’t enough, she did it all less than a month before the Conservatives’ annual convention, CPAC. Conservatives and kooks alike now have a common villain to unite around. Nancy Pelosi has been replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist who wants to take not only our guns, but our airplanes and hamburgers. Every speech at the convention had Ocasio-Cortez in the crosshairs. The GOP and Trump couldn’t have laid out better strategy. Who needs Russia when you have AOC.

It’s not just with ardent conservatives are we seeing the backlash. Both of the nation’s two major farm groups, even the left-leaning National Farmers Union have come out against the New Green Deal. They say it blames farmers for the climate crisis. While I don’t necessary agree with their assessment, I’m not one of them in the Midwest who is critical to the 2020 election. These are exactly people the Democrats are banking on to take back the White House from Trump. That said, farmers have a lot of room to improve in making the impact they have on the environment less so. I can’t see how the nation’s current crop selection bloated with corn used for processing  (including ethanol) is a good thing and has anything to do with the industry’s manta of “feeding the world.”

If the Tea Party was a testament to lack of staying power, then Occupy Wall Street is one that exemplifies the peril of having no plan, “after the flag is raised.” No matter how much someone agrees with you on the problem, at some point the details of solving it becomes relevant. You would assume Ocasio-Cortez, being from New York City, would realize this. But apparently not. For her, it’s the protest that matters; the noise – Bennie-style. Throwing out a premature proposal of aspirations can do more damage than good if we aren’t organized to combat the inevitable push back. We saw what happened after the Sandy Hook massacre and the resultant mobilization of the NRA and its minions. Troops were rallied, more lobbying money was raised, more guns were sold … and no legislation was passed. These are the same people. They’re just waiting for reason to hate on liberals (aka socialists) and a villain to focus on. And now they have it.

Now let me establish something: I am not a “green Luddite.” On the contrary, I was on the front lines of the alternative energy movement before Ocasio-Cortez was born. In 1978 I even had a giant bubble solar panel on the back of my home in North Dakota. During this time, while in college at the University of North Dakota, I sold solar and wind systems and created a Fortran code (remember that) model on the college’s IBM 306/370 mainframe using punch cards. My model predicted the economics any of solar or wind system installed anywhere in the Unites States. And if that wasn’t enough, I wrote a state legislative bill for net electrical billing (with future North Dakota Attorney General Sarah Vogel). Unfortunately, the national lobby for the REC (Rural Electric Cooperatives) flew in from Washington D.C. in force and hammered it to oblivion. Now forty years later net billing is ubiquitous throughout the country.

It’s time we get past rhetoric. I’m exhausted thinking a grand vision is enough, a start that goes nowhere else. Most of these pontifications are little more than lip service, vacuous political promises; kicking the proverbial can down the road isn’t going to do it. It’s just an excuse for not doing what it takes to burrow down into the details of execution. It’s lazy policy making and it’s lazy on our part buying into it – not requiring more of ourselves.

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Diving Deep Beyond Rhetoric

Now enough of the naysaying.

I believe we can make this happen, but it won’t happen by only looking to Congress and some airy proposal created by people with none of the requisite skills needed to pull it off. A truly progressive society that is dedicated to creating a better world needs to differentiate between pragmatic policy outlines and protest slogans. It just needs to be tactical, not just ideological. We need to sweat the details.

Now for details.

The government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies; including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants. It shouldn’t require the decommissioning of nuclear plants (regardless the objections of what’s left of the anti-nuclear movement). It should also provide incentives for higher density in urban areas, since sprawl contributes to emissions. It should also implement a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy). This would engage corporate polluters and encourage them and their factories to reduce carbon output. A carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy) would also encourage air and sea travel, as well as other sources of emissions, to search for lower-carbon alternatives. It should also remove the incentives for farmers to not grow food; and where needed help build out the logistic channels for changing crop selection to real food.

The United States government’s role in environmental restoration should extend beyond its borders also. American companies, with the help of federal research dollars, should strive to discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement, concrete and other materials used in building without carbon emissions. Along with reducing emissions from agriculture, this will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. This would leverage the technical innovation expertise here in United States empowering it to become a leader in the “new world” – all while working to save it. This is the new economic opportunity

“Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale
solutions within a large-scale framework.”

Even with an aggressive far-reaching federal government commitment, we also need a decentralized approach that will spread locally and takes advantage of expertise distribute throughout the communities of America. We need to uncover and support local leaders who can spearhead efforts in their respective communities. This nurturing needs to start in our schools. Just preparing our young people for gainful employment might have been a noble directive in the past; but today we need leaders to inspire their peers to act with purpose and rapid commitment to restore the environment around us.

We need an abundance of deep thinking and expertise in supply chain management – supplies of everything, tangible and other. We need a thousand community activists and logistical virtuosos to coordinate all the moving parts making our aggressive goals a reality. We need not only the public sector, but even more so, we need the private sector – specifically the business community. We need businesses that see that abundant economic opportunities can be had from “greening their communities.” And we need local elected leaders to understand their position isn’t a reward … but a responsibility.

We need citizens and consumers to form the foundation of support. We need them to use their purchasing power to force businesses to green up; and we need them to use their power at the ballot box to hold their public officials accountable by making decisions that are not only economically prudent, but environmentally vigilant.

Decentralized solar needs to spread like a wildfire. For that to happen we need rate payers to in buy and buy. We need to force utilities to support green energy and offer financing to make it a reality – not fight tooth and nail to protect the bad decisions they made in the past. We need zoning changes, and where we can’t get long-term policies, we need situational variances until we can. We need private financing options. That means banks not being conservative to a fault while they “hold onto yesterday.” We need people to install the millions of solar panels we have to sell – which is no easy task in a time a low employment. We need schools to catch up and be the labor conduits. Trade schools, community colleges and even high schools need to partner with private companies, develop curriculum, ramp up instruction and training, and create apprentice and intern programs. And maybe most of all, we need the manufacturing capacity to create the products we need to evolve to a “green economy.” This means companies and production capabilities to make and sell them, and the banks willing to finance the production of these systems.

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Moving Past the Movement To Reality

Represent.Us is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to reform our election process. Rather than using the tried and not-so-true methods most activists use (March For Our Lives not included) – their road to national reform winds through the state and local levels. In the following video, their spokesperson and board member Jennifer Lawrence introduces us to what she calls the line (at the 7:45 mark). This line represents when an issue, say gay marriage equality, reaches a tipping point of state adoption. At this point support spreads exponentially to eventually force federal law. This local and state approach not only anchors key grassroots support in a plethora of locales – it strengths its ability to fight any anecdotal overturn in the Supreme Court.

 

This is the approach our “green campaign” should take … and we have two models we can emulate.

First is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state and local governments in the United States. ALEC is a big reason the United States is run by a conservative minority. Their successful efforts to commandeer state legislatures has resulted in gerrymandered districts in key states that resulted in the Trump presidency and contributed greatly to the House of Representatives turning red in 2010. While the Democrats completely abandoned state and local politics during Obama administration, the Republicans through ALEC filled the void. In addition to losing the national House in 2010, Democrats lost control of over a 1000 state and local seats. And with that, America ushered in Trump’s reign of terror in 2016.

To appreciate ALEC, we have to look past the context and what they advocate for. I’ve brought them up before in social media and was most often greeted with open hostility. People on the left can’t look past the objectives of their operations to appreciate the logistics they use and the success that has resulted from it. Unless the “green movement” turns these 1000+ seat back over to Democrats, how are state and local governing bodies going to pass the legislation that is needed for the movement to succeed? And how will we be able to build the momentum to achieve the tipping point (the line Jennifer Lawrence alluded to) we need to generate rooted national legislation? It’s all about operations and tactics, not context.

The second case study I want to look to is March For Our Lives. Last year, high school students from Parkland, Florida turned the deaths of seventeen of their friends and teachers into an incredible example of how to use local organization and social media to build a movement. In a piece I wrote last Spring, I contended the real value of the MFOL movement is its ability to uncover, nurture and give confidence to young leaders through the establish of local chapters (currently in over 200 cities in America). The potential of these groups and their leaders transcends their mission of gun legislation. Not only have they continued the push for sane firearms control – they’ve rallied for student mental health and voter registration by launching Vote For Our Lives ahead of the 2018 mid-terms. This effort is continuing on through the 2020 presidential election. Leaders of the green movement should take note and engage with these young leaders. Their networks could be invaluable as their members are the exact demographic who would be passionate and organized enough to invoke change.

A bunch of kids (actually young adults) won’t necessarily lead the charge for zoning changes – but their parents can. Also, there are millions of rooftop solar systems that are needed to be installed. Who is going to do that? Logistics aren’t glamorous and don’t get the press – but without it, the protests, press and AOC’s vision of a perfect world is nothing but a sugar high. We need young people to participate on multiple fronts. We still need the vocal activism and loud protests, but let’s make sure our message is succinct. That was the beauty of March For Our Lives. They articulated four bullet point objectives; specific legislation they wanted passed – not just generic gun control, but four specific objectives. Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal lays out only very broad climate change remediations. Add in the boilerplate socialist-depicted talking points – and the message is muddied, opening the proverbial oppositional can of worms.

We need to use young people to spearhead this green movement, but their action need to be directed and pragmatic. They have the most to lose in future and least amount to sacrifice today. Their lives haven’t been built on the oxymoron of material wealth and well-being. We need their out-of-box ideas, sweat equity and urgency. However incomplete it may be, a lot of the Green New Deal came from the minds of young people. We just have figure out how we can take the pertinent ideas, work out the logistics and do it.

Now we can sit around and expect the federal government to come riding in to save us — which they have absolutely no recent history of being able to do; or we can add them to the mix which includes us and our kids all working in concert in our neighborhoods on solutions fitting the specific places we live, utilizing the strengths each of our communities embody – all while taking into account the obstacles that may exist due to local social, cultural and economic baggage put there by us and our ancestors.

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Solutions, Suggestions and Front Porches

Now of course we need a national and even an international plan – but we can’t expect that to be all. We need to be able to act without approval from some elected body. We need to create hubs of civic engagement independent of government. These hubs will be where the real expertise and leadership will surface; the exact expertise and leadership required to succeed at this monumental task ahead of us. It’s too big to entrust to a single entity that may or may be up to the task or even if the want to undertake it.

I call these hubs of civic engagement Front Porches. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Through our community’s Front Porch network, we can create environmentally restorative civic Solutions that bring us together – regardless our political affiliation. It’s through this network we can establish new community norms of conservation and environmental stewardship; creating expectations of each other that will empower all of us to succeed individually and collectively by taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves as well as ensuring our children and grandchildren have a hospitable world to live in. We have to re-condition our thought processes. No action or decision should be immune from what effect it will have on the environment and how best we can conserve and economize. Consider the adage; “Think globally, act locally” … only on steroids.

Every candidate we consider for public office should be scrutinized on their commitment to the implementation of our green agenda. Schools need to be pressured to include “living a green life” into the curriculum — from the earliest ages. All of this means we have to think. We have to engage with the world around us. Shut off your autopilot – and pressure those around you, young and old, to do the same. Stories of the successes we achieve in our own communities need to be shared with other communities. Any efforts we make will be all for naught if they’re not synthesized with those of others.

Even though we might take solace in the litany of promises by our many public figures (current and want-to-be) – the societal measures we need to fight this demon of environmental destruction we’ve created will come through our personal and professional efforts, and those we persuade in our communities to join in.

Complacency is not an option … but pragmatism is required.

Now is the time to build a clearinghouse of ideas on how we can restore our world to place we can be proud to bestow to our children and their children. Check out the Community 3.0 site for how we can create a network of environmental accountability that put our habitat first. We invite you to respond at the end of “If not us … then who” with your ideas. Or if you prefer, just comment below.

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Creating Communities of Permission

In Giving Permission,”(posted December 20, 2018), I did a deep dive into what I believe it means to have a community of inclusion; one that is built on giving its residents permission to be and do what drives them. While it can be, we cannot assume that this permission is implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It’s taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow residents, whether or not they hold the same demographic characteristics or social standing you may (for better or worse) … still warrant your attention, reaction and respect. Without this acknowledgement, your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. Through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; one to compensate for the one too often left to fray by our decaying institutions.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The first step to achieving this model of embrace is for us to individually reach out and actively make it a point to include – to give permission, to our neighbors and fellow community members . Every encounter is an opportunity to “raise the collective tide.” And the more we engage, the easier it becomes. Turn acknowledgement and benevolent engagement into new community norms and expectations. Through these norms and expectations of inclusion we are giving permission for others to feel comfortable in being who they are and pursuing what they may dream. We are making engagement and permission contagious. We’re creating an ecosystem of strength and support under the assumption that engaged diversity will benefit us all. Repeating what John Kennedy famously said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The higher our levels of engagement are individually and collectively, the more well; physically, mentally and socially we will become. Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Our community focus should be to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity – personally, socially and civically through behaviors that benefit us physically, mentally and socially. 

The question is … how do we create this ecosystem that nudges people towards this positive activity? Forcing people to be benevolent and kind will probably only produce the opposite effect. Our efforts must be rooted in action, not just conversation; physical engagement that organically grows from the individual and collective needs and desires of the people. We need to create a journey where all citizens will travel together … all pursuing our own dreams in parallel – but also in collaboration for the good of the community.

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“On the Road” … Embracing the Journey

About twenty years ago while building my recruiting firm, I coined a term, “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” In a nutshell it means; in life and all its nuances (including work): it’s the journey that matters not the destination. It’s our experiences that create the human beings we are. But maybe more than that – it’s how we think about those experiences and most of all … how we react to them.

Not being tied to the destination through an overly rigid plan can provide a sense of relief; a freedom to act, assess and adjust; a going with the flow. All the best laid plans will eventually go awry. Being unnecessarily shackled to an arbitrary figment of utopia creates a detachment from what’s happening around us. As community leaders and change instigators we too often relentlessly pursue control; trying to stay meticulously on task in pursuit of this utopia. Regrettably this “utopia” was probably conceived under circumstances far different what we are confronting today – bringing a disaffected approach to the issues of current relevance.

 

“The difficulty we face is that the ecology of the biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions.” ~ Nora Bateson

Decision makers and the researchers they depend on have an overwhelming habit of thinking in terms of functioning parts (especially those in the academic, scientific and medical communities). Our human tendency is to deconstruct our complex world into smaller, digestible, independent parts. These “parts” are much easier to understand in isolation rather than in their entangled, chaotic whole. This is misleading for our future inquiry of living, co-evolving systems.

We must evolve from a culture of static planning to one of learning to appreciate the messiness of uncertainty and contextual interconnectedness. Our mission can’t be control – but rather the nurture of ever changing relationships. Nora Bateson has led pioneering work in the world of this “messiness.” Like with my “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” Bateson looks at the world as journey of relationships – and the actions and reactions needed to respond to the volatility and unpredictable nature of them. All we can do is prepare best we can and adapt accordingly. By no means should we trash our goals and objectives, but see them in more nebulous terms; more of a guiding force than an equivalent of a personal and civic GPS unit. The destination we’ve plugged in may not be anything like what we’ll see when we arrive there, assuming there’s even a place to arrive to. We must be always collectively learning and readjusting as we go. Batesom calls this phenomenon, Symmathesy: learning together. It’s imperative we understand that all parts are connected and the learning opportunities due from changes in circumstances are available to all parties.

Just as a virus is constantly adapting as the immune system trying to defeat it, the change movement must learn to evolve. Being wedded to the form that leads to early success is a sure route to failure. Unless the change effort mutates to fight the organisational anti-bodies, its legacy will be nothing more than a sense of what might have been. You may not be able to plan in advance just when or how you will need to change the way you change, but you need to be very aware that at some point you will have to. What you end up with may not be what you first envisaged, but it will be real and lasting.

The key is to see change as not simply about moving from A to B. The key is to see it as a much more fluid and organic process. You never really know where it might end up. As the organisational identity acts to re-assert itself, the rebels and radicals need to morph their efforts into something else. The approaches and energy that provoke the response are not the same as the approaches and energy that overcome that response. The leadership that manages the status quo is not the leadership the moves into a radically new space. (How the Organization Subverts its Subsersives – John Atkinson)

A primary obstruction to the “fluid and organic process” Atkinson described above is silos. Traditional institutions and conventional organizations are built on hierarchy and the silos that support them. Communication, let alone collaboration is seldom fluid in these situations. Their structures are built for preservation and the illusion of certainty. What we need is the antithesis of this – a phenomenon constructed to accommodate uncertainty and a flow that optimizes resource maximization, taking advantage of the situational skills and abilities of those in our community.

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Building a Rhizomes-based Decentralized Ecosystem

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

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)

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

Collaboration organization

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

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

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

  • 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” (the destination); 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 conventional 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 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. 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 Front Porch network (the small business community), healthcare providers,NGOs and the members of the community who are their patrons, along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates on its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (e.g. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization) that produce positive societal outcomes.
  • 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, organizations and businesses; it is 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 siloed; 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 (e.g. government) – 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.

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james rizzi city main
James Rizzi

Nurturing a Societal Evolution

How do we tie all this together into a functioning array of response to needs and opportunities while not resorting back to traditional top-heavy hierarchies? Our focus must be on the empowerment, not just the management of our civic ecosystem. The Smooth Space is your community’s desktop, its workspace. Let it take form as the situation dictates.

“Too many algorithms are centrally designed with a singular philosophical view of the world, using contextual data but via a single lens” ~ Indy Johar

The flow arising from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustment will be the cornerstone of our community’s inclusive success.

  • Journey of Engagements: It’s about the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community … not the plan and destination.
  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique situational alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s Smooth Space. And it’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

“Our challenge is not bringing order to successful chaos but creating successful chaos within a well-ordered failure.” ~ Charles Marohn, ‘Strong Towns’

Let the journey begin …

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Rebuilding Alexandria

About twenty years ago, my daughter Alex and I were living in Marin County above San Francisco. During this time I became addicted to reading. I don’t know if I was trying to make up for lost time or what; but a pile of five books (all in various stages of completion) became a permanent fixture on my dining room table. At least once week, and more often more than that, I made the trek to my local independent bookstore in Corte Madera down the road to see if there were any new current event titles I could add to my menu of cerebral digestion. Normally a book stayed a couple of weeks until I was done with it – only to make way for another to take its place. There was one book however that stuck around a lot longer. The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart written in 1992.

Hart’s book was fascinating to me. Since I was in grade school, I’ve been a history buff – even reading the entire encyclopedia sitting on the living room floor when sub-zero temperatures and three-foot snow banks put a damper on outdoor activities (obviously it was a pre-video game era). What intrigued me about “The 100” was that Hart didn’t pass value judgement on whether the influence the person had was good or bad – just that the person had influence. Jesus and Sir Issac Newton figured prominently, but Hitler and Genghis Khan were also ranked. He also went into copious detail on why he ranked them where he did. A lot of the reasons weren’t obvious, but once brought to light – made complete sense. George Washington for example, was ranked in the top 40 not because he was the first president of the United States, but rather because he chose to voluntarily relinquish his office after only two terms, setting a precedent that would remain intact until Franklin Roosevelt 150 years later.

Being immersed in the printing industry as a headhunter, I loved the fact that Johann Gutenberg and his printing press made the Top Ten. But the one person that took me by surprise was the one Hart ranked as Number 10 overall. That was Euclid. I didn’t know who Euclid was – even with my encyclopedias and three-foot snow banks.

Euclid and Alexandria

Now for those of you who are as uninformed as I was, Euclid is known almost solely for writing the math text, Elements.

Euclid (fl. 300 BCE) was a Greek mathematician, often referred to as the “father of geometry”. He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I (323–283 BCE). His Elements is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics, serving as the main textbook for teaching mathematics (especially geometry) from the time of its publication until the late 19th or early 20th century.

But the most interesting part about Euclid was that Elements wasn’t really that much of an original text. He didn’t make any groundbreaking revelations like Newton or Copernicus. He pretty much just took the works of other scholars, many of which lived and worked in Alexandria, and synthesized into one book a comprehensive guide to geometry. In summary – Euclid was a curator; and a prolific enough of a curator that Michael Hart had him ranked Number 10 in the list of the most influential persons of history. Holding a curator in such high regard, especially at that time in history where personal contact was really the main way to spread knowledge – brings up an interesting point. Euclid was a product of his geography and those who resident in his civic proximity. Euclid embodied the very essence the of Alexandria, Egypt … the diverse cross-pollinated intellectual melting pot of the world. Rather than beset by religious and societal division, it was a bastion of inclusion and open thought. Thinkers worldwide traveled from afar to participate in the collectivism.

In January of 1989, my wife Mitra and I found out she was pregnant. I vividly remember the discussion of names. Before we knew the baby’s gender, we picked both a boy’s and girl’s name. We didn’t necessarily agree on the boy’s name (which I don’t even remember). The girl’s name was a different story. The decision on Alexandria came quick as our first pick, even though our reasons were different. Mitra liked the name itself (as did I). But I really liked what it stood for. It’s hard to set the bar much higher for your child than being named after arguably the most prolific center of learning in the history of the world. If some of that rubbed off on her … all the better.

On October 11, 1989 in Burbank, California – Alexandria Noelle Forsberg was born.

Two years ago, as part of my series on community-based societal evolution, I wrote “Silos.” “Silos” outlines the need for communities to rise above their provincial jingoism in order for them to truly pursue sustainable policies. Cross-pollination; whether its gender, sexual-preference, ethnic, racial, age-based or especially geographic – must be fundamentally encoded in a community’s civic DNA. All to often however, especially where I live, the opposite is often preferred. How far back your Montana roots go back somehow makes you a better person – not more geographically myopic which is actually the case.

Community and the Value of Diversity

Everyday the environment we live in changes. These changes are a response to external stimuli. Darwin’s theory of evolution states that the flourishing and ultimately the survival of a species (or any other anthropological entity) is based on its ability to adapt to stimuli. Diversity is an advantage if not a necessity. Lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (literally and figuratively).

My daughter Alexandria breeds exotic snakes, specifically Rainbow Boas. She goes to extreme lengths to make sure the gene pool of her breeding stock is as diverse as possible. It may be a lot easier and less expensive to acquire stock domestically – but due to inbreeding (often unintentional) by less diligent breeders, genetically based pathologies often occur. To counter this, Alex has imported snakes outside the genetic pool from Finland and Great Britain. It’s much more difficult and more expensive – but it’s her only option with the bar she’s set for herself and her projects.

Your community really isn’t a lot different from Alex’s Rainbow Boa community (aside from the preponderance of scales). Any community is the product of its residents. Social inbreeding creates weak species and weak communities; vulnerable to adversaries, internally and externally. Inbred societies rely on decision-making and responses founded in a narrow historical perspective – severely limiting its response to challenges and opportunities.

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem solving. Diversity can lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers. Scientific America

A community is the collective sum of the value of its individual inhabitants multiplied by the community’s ability to synergize these individual parts (by curating organized and random encounters). Every encounter or engagement has an opportunity to be a synergistic one. Empathetic cross-pollinated engagements are the key. The city of Alexandria during the time of Euclid was a perfect example of this. Even though there were organized discussions and forums, just walking down the street could lead to a serendipitous encounter that might result in a groundbreaking discovery.

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. 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. The more expressively diverse a community is, the more resilient it is and more potential it has to invoke change – both inside and outside its walls. Our focus must actively be on inclusion, not retreat into personal protectionism and paranoia of those different from us. We must resist the temptation of the comfort of “sameness.” Nothing happens in our comfort zones. If we don’t venture into the land of wonder … we’ll never see, let alone realize the possibilities life avails to us.

Designing for Serendipity, Synergy and Collaboration

Cross-pollination doesn’t happen easily though. People of different fabric may inhabit the same locale, but that doesn’t mean their views and ideas will synthesize and your community will be built on Alexandria-type collaborations. You have to reach out and try to understand these people not like you. You first need to empathize with them. The most effective way to do that is through shared actions – specifically shared community-beneficial actions. For example, building a school playground with your neighbors of different ideologies can bridge chasms that would otherwise be uncrossable. It’s amazing what work for the common good can do. This is what happens in disaster relief efforts. I doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democratic, everyone bands together to help rebuild the town they all live in. We just have to not rely on disasters to bring us together. Community commonalities are everywhere. We just have work to create opportunities for everyone to share in them.

From these opportunities and resultant actions will come serendipitous relationships; relationships that create synergies that move your community ahead in ways no one envisioned. That being said, we have to design environments; physical, social and personal so that these opportunities, actions and relationships become baked into our society. In business applications we strive for economies of scale. These efficiencies are mainly mapped on vertically axis or are niche based. Building for serendipity takes community economies of scale and expands their opportunity on the horizontal axis across defined multiple niches and focuses. This solution thinking stemming from diverse thought breaks through conventional siloed vertical constraints.

Imagine if your community had a Department of Horizontal Integration, where its primary role is to break apart the silos of the status quo power structures and connect dots from the pieces. This department wouldn’t need to be housed in the government. In fact it would be best if it wasn’t – for obvious hierarchical reasons. It could rely on your community’s true assets; its people and where they congregate, the Front Porches of the small business network.

Rather than abide by a top-down governance model run by those embedded in the status quo of mediocrity – we must create a platform of serendipity where matchmaking happens organically through interaction uncovering commonalities between the participants. Think of a synergistic mixing bowl of opportunity; obliquitous, indirect, organic relationship building.

Now imagine organizing set gatherings where this serendipity is on the menu. While there’s no guarantee your group will change the world – increasing that chance through proximity of diverse thought and motivation sure increases its chance. And what if the overarching goal of your gatherings was to improve the human condition in your community. How this is accomplished would be determined by those in the room not by a top-down bureaucracy mired in inefficiency and out-dated procedures. Everyone is here for the same reason and they are here because they WANT to be … not have to be because of an overriding need to fuel ego and status. 

For arguments sake let’s call your gathering, Serendipity. Serendipity could be a petri dish for how to solve civic and social problems directly rather than through government. It would be the platform for inclusion and experimental benevolence. The bar would be set so that no area of community need would be untouched. If something needed to be fixed, or something needed to be done – there would be no questions and no siloed jurisdictional squabbles … it would just happen.

In 1986, John Gage, then of Sun Microsytems, organized NetDay in California. NetDay was historic grassroots effort in the classic American barn-raising tradition. Using volunteer labor, their goal was to install all the basic wiring needed to make five classrooms and a library or a computer lab in every school Internet-ready. If the same work was financed by taxpayers, it would cost more than $1,000 per classroom. Volunteers from businesses, education, and the community acquired all of the equipment and installed and tested it at each school site. As a result 20,000 volunteers helped to wire 20 percent of California schools to the Internet. In addition, by bringing together these diverse elements, NetDay established a framework for lasting partnerships among business, government, educational institutions, and local communities provide ongoing support for the schools to this day.

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement from those in the streets? The more engaged our residents are … the more empowered they would be. They would feel more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy.

What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in our time of need. What if the streets of our community became melting pots of diversity-driven serendipity – places where curiosity was bred. What if engagement, well-being and self-efficacy was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics. And what if getting up in the morning was a chance to nurture our hope … and engage with others to help them do the same.

Building Your Own Alexandria

It’s obvious the human species must evolve. The ascent of Donald Trump to the forefront of our attention has presented us with some hard facts. We all have to take look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we got here. We will have to change our thinking – or maybe just start thinking. Instead of relying on past expectations, and cultural assumptions and metrics as our guides — we have to envision what could be … not just what always has been and try to bring it back to life.

But vision is only part of the journey. We have to look past how things in past have been done. No longer should government and traditional institutions be looked at as the first line defense … rather should be looked at only as a last resort. Our reaction should be to assemble our friends and neighbors at our local Front Porch, organize and do what has to be done — developing self-efficacy, individually and collectively along the way. And we best accomplish that by inclusion and reaching out to those around us who normally we may feel uncomfortable doing so. These outliers of our social circles may be the exact people who ensure the our very survival.

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

If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo and helping me build a new civic alternative … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and well-being is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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“A Saturday in May” … a study in engagement

A few years ago, when visiting my daughter in Los Angeles, I was on a walk through West L.A. when I ran across a homeless man collecting cans and bottles from a dumpster. I stopped and we talked for about for fifteen minutes.

We talked about a lot things; the weather, the BP oil spill and eventually the economy. His take on the economy was that he thought things were getting worse, rather than better – as what we’d been hearing from the news media. “How did you come up with that?” I asked him.

“Well I see more cheap brand cans in the garbage than I used to. Even last year when things were supposedly worse, people still drank Coke and Budweiser. But now it’s changed.”  It’s Shasta and Natural Light.

His astute observation was definitely not a perspective I would have gotten through my normal channels. But it made sense – and for here it was probably more accurate than any economics professor would have come up with a few blocks down the street at UCLA. But that was only the start of what turned out to be a very memorable day.

After meeting the astute homeless man I mentioned above, I caught a bus to Skid Row to meet up with a woman I knew only as Special K. Special K was a photographer and homeless activist I was introduced to through a friend. She invited me to Skid Row to help with a clean up she had organized. I’d been through Skid Row before – but never not in a car. Today there was no car, only me on foot in the midst of the largest homeless community in the United States. 

It was Saturday morning about 11:00 am, so this was about as good as it gets down there. It was eye-opening. There were people literally laying everywhere. But one thing I noticed … there were no stores, nowhere to buy anything.  But what there was, were soup lines.  There were several of them, pretty much all put together by local churches. I felt like I was transported to an area that had just been hit by a natural disaster – a hurricane or tornado or something. But there wasn’t anything natural about this … just disaster.

After about a half an hour, I found Special K and I helped her organize a crew of about fifteen others and began cleaning the sidewalks, the streets and anything that needed it. There was one thing that surprised me though. There was hope. Not everybody acted down and out.  For example, there was Richard. Richard had just moved to Skid Row – not that he had to be there.  He had just moved from Laguna Beach (high rent district for those of you not familiar with Southern California). He moved here to help … it’s where he said he belonged.  

One of our most energetic workers was an attractive young woman named Veronica. I thought she was just another of the volunteers like me … but she wasn’t. She’d been living in Skid Row for the last two and half years. I commented that she didn’t look like she was in the situation she was. This was her response:  

“I may be homeless, but I don’t have to look like I’m homeless. If I look like I’m homeless, I’ll always be homeless.” 

Veronica took, “faking it till you make it” to a new level. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone like Veronica. I can say my life is better because of it. And I thought … what a day! – as I got on the bus for 90 minute ride home. I’ll just use the time to relax let everything sink in.

Twenty minutes into my ride back to West L.A., we turned onto Wilshire Blvd. Wilshire was my old stomping grounds. On two occasions during the time I lived in Los Angeles I worked on Wilshire, mainly mid-Wilshire or Koreatown. Shortly a young Asian woman and what I found out to be her parents got on the bus. They were all well-dressed, not the norm for the bus. The young woman sat in the seat next to me and her parent in front of us. They spoke what I found out later to be Mandarin. She spoke English, but they didn’t. After a brief conversation, I found out she was going to school at UCLA and this was for her parents, their first time in the United States. They wanted to take the bus so they could get a “real” feel for the city. This was my opening.

I spent an hour playing tour guide: The Ambassador Hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot, Koreatown, Little Indonesia, The LA Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits and even the ARCO headquarters, home of the Armand Hammer Museum and the man who launched the Los Angeles oil boom.

Around 4:00 pm I got off the bus, alternating between being mentally exhausted and hyper-stimulated. Whatever it was, I was charged up – and only had a ten minute walk to Alex’s apartment. I was wrong. Ten minutes turned into an hour.

The weather was great and people were walking their dogs and generally milling around in Alex’s neighborhood. A block from Alex’s I saw an old woman sitting on her 2nd floor balcony. I yelled up at her, “Good afternoon.” She responded back and inquired about my day. My response was a 90 second recap of my engagement filled day. Then she invited my up for a cup of coffee. At first I thought, I should just get home – I’m exhausted. But then, how many times does this elderly women, who looked about ninety years old, get a chance to entertain. I accepted. Margaret it turned out to be was a Holocaust survivor. For almost an hour she recounted her journey to the United States after being liberated from one of the camps. Fortunately she had only spent a short time there as a child. 

Now she lived in West L.A. nestled between Beverly Hills and UCLA, one of finest institutions of higher learning in the world. If that isn’t the American Dream … then what is?

I don’t if could have made up the stories that comprised that Saturday. But I do know that none of it came to me without an effort on my part. I initiated each the encounters I had – and because of it I’ve added so much to my life and the make-up of who I am. And that’s only one day. It would have been easier just to listen to music on my iPod consumed by my own thoughts and songs I’d heard dozens of times before. And plenty of times that’s exactly what I’ve done. It’s easier to stay in your comfort zone. But that Saturday … I didn’t.

We only have so many minutes in life. It’s easy to dismiss that, thinking that what’s a few minutes, or an hour or two – or even a day. What it is – is an opportunity lost. It’s an opportunity lost to become a better person, to enhance your well-being … and most of all help others to do the same.

Time is the bedrock of scarcity. If a person isn’t doing something meaningful in a given moment, they’re wasting opportunity. By meaningful, I don’t mean productive, in an economic sense. I mean important to the person, to her own well-being.  It’s not that we should be doing something meaningful with our time, it’s that we should want to. We should want to express and receive affection. We should want to be part of a group, a community. We should want to be accepted. We should want to be human.

Our goal as a society must be to accommodate this need to engage, and not instead create barriers (which often the case). We have enough of those right now with the often generationally-driven entropy of community dissolve that is making isolation the norm rather than the exception. The higher our level of engagement is individually and collectively, the more well – physically, mentally and socially we will be.

Salutogenesis, Engagement and Self-Efficacy

Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a former professor of medical sociology in the United States. The term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). More specifically, the “salutogenic model” is concerned with the relationship between health, stress, and coping. Antonovsky’s theories reject the “traditional medical-model dichotomy separating health and illness”. He described the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the “health-ease versus dis-ease continuum.”

In 2008 Scotland, specifically Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, adopted salutogenesis as national public health policy. Burns helped Scotland conceptualize health improvement differently, being aware that the small gains that resulted from a range of interventions can add up to produce significant overall improvements. Much of these interventions were and are aimed at empowering the populace through engagement with their own health outcomes.

Self-efficacy cloud

Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The key is to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity and engagement – personally, socially and civically. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

In America, the established healthcare industry puts in little effort into getting people to engage directly with their health and personal well-being. Healthcare providers seem to be reluctant to relinquish control, even though transferring some of this responsibility to the patients will prove beneficial to them in the end. And it’s not just having the patient focus on themselves physically that can produce impact. Nurturing altruism and benevolence by doing good things for other people takes their minds off of their own ailments and gives them purpose beyond just their condition. For example: if they can’t actively participate in hands-on volunteer projects, then they can at least feel they’re part of the solution by experiencing the joy of giving vicariously through attendance.

Well-being, Hope and Role of Community

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement. The more engaged our residents would be … the more empowered they would be and feel they were more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to help others realize the same were part of the fabric our daily lives. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net. And what if the streets of our community became melting pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was the norm.

What if engagement and well-being was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics. What if we fixated on what we “could,” rather than what we “can’t.” And what if getting up in the morning was a chance to nurture our hope … and engage with other to help them do the same.

What we need is a conduit that can help us build towards communities of engagement. We need a vehicle that connects the dots in our communities and makes its resources not only accessible – but actually taken advantage of. We need something or someone who will help us engage.

Purpose-Driven Engagement

Amazon’s digital personal assistant is called Alexa. To say it’s been a runaway success is an understatement. Originally created to help you buy more Amazon products easier – if that was even possible, Alexa has turned into a repository of tens of thousands of possible lifestyle automation uses and applications. It controls the heat in your home, it gives you definition (by voice) and provides recipes for the finicky guests at your next dinner party. And everyday its uses only multiply.

Imagine if you had an Alexa for engagement. Imagine if you had a virtual assistant that gathered communications and ways you could improve yourself and the community you live in. And imagine if these were sorted, prioritized and “nudged” you to do things that best helped your physical, mental and social self. These Engagements could be advice from your doctor, special deals from your neighborhood small businesses or even alerts of volunteer opportunities sponsored by a community non-profit.

Being well is not just something you do … it must be a basic function of your life, like breathing. The bleedingEDGE Platform is Community 3.0‘s communication vehicle that conditions our decision-making process to automatically act healthy and enriching through a ubiquitous immersion of positive engagement prompts, internally and externally. Personalized communication will encourage positive behavior change maximizing all the resources of not only your healthcare provider, but also the community – including the small businesses you frequent. Those participating in the Community 3.0 network will be encouraged not to just “sell stuff” – but be part of the solution by acting responsibly. These businesses, as well as your local non-profits, will organize what we call Solutions, or volunteer projects designed to strengthen the social fabric or of the community – and in turn  your sense of empathy and altruism … all heightening your well-being.

Community 3.0‘s efforts to improve the human condition is detailed at the initiative’s dedicated site, “Engagement For A Purpose” here.

Community 3.0 is a civic ecosystem that connects local businesses to its customers by solving their community’s problems directly in addition to marketing their services, products and events. These participating businesses and organizations, or Front Porches, are hubs of civic involvement and volunteerism. Imagine a social hub where like-minded people can come together just to do good for the neighborhoods we all live in. Community 3.0 represents a new decentralized way of affecting change in our communities. Rather than passively waiting for government to fix what civically ails us – the 3.0 network mobilizes you and your neighbors to act directly using the small locally owned business community as its center.

“A person is a person through other people” strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”. (on Ubuntu Philosophy Michael Onyebuchi Eze)

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In the United States we’ve elected a president who ran on a platform that he would make things different, that he was the only one who fix all our problems. He would wield his magic wand and shake his fist and all us minions scraping for crumbs on the street below would be lifted up set on the way to prosperity. It doesn’t work that way no matter who says whatever they say. The government isn’t a replacement for personal responsibility and legislation isn’t a replacement for engaging with each other and experiencing each others worlds.

Our opportunities and solutions lie in us and with those next to us. Only when we wake up to that fact … will we realize what it means to really be human and maximize our potential in this world.

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Thoughts on a ‘Perfect World’ for 2016

Imagine …

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

Imagine if the default was to include … not exclude.

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

Good morning full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Pop-Up Community” and the Evolution of the Commercial Space

More than any other human artifacts, buildings improve with time … but only if they’re allowed to. ~ Stuart Brand

Several years ago I read book called “How Buildings Learn” by Stuart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue. The premise of the book was that a building whether it’s a house, a factory, or an office building, should be designed to adapt with its inhabitants. As a family goes through the different stages of its life, so should its home. If it can’t then the family will have to pack up, move and find a new home more suitable to its current needs. Such is the same for businesses.

Unfortunately this is not always the case. In fact, normally it’s not the case. Brand vilified vaunted architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright because his buildings, especially his houses, were built for one specific family at one specific time of their life. If anything in this family’s life changes … their residence wasn’t appropriate for their needs since it couldn’t adapt.

We can take this same principle and apply it to communities. Inevitably communities and cities change over time. Detroit is a dramatic example of this. The auto industry moved out from the city’s core leaving vacant blight in it’s wake with no evolutionary strategy. And unfortunately, unlike a family, a community can’t pack up and move down the street or to the next town. Its stuck where it’s at, abandon buildings and all.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. There are three main impediments to a community’s adaptability; individual design of its buildings, zoning laws and mindset. I believe the first two can be overcome with a little effort. A building, with imagination – can be converted into something more appropriate for the community’s needs at the current time. Zoning laws can be changed, maybe not without a lot of kicking and screaming … but they can be changed.

The third impediment, mindset – is not so easy though. Adaptation and evolution can either be embraced and helped along, or it will come on its own terms. And in the latter, it’s often not pretty. Again we look at the example of Detroit. Once the decline of the Big Thee American auto industry started in the eighties, the city (and especially the auto unions) turned a blind eye to it. “This can’t be real. Nobody’s going buy those foreign cars. We’ll be back bigger and better than ever.” Detroit did not embrace the enviable. Now we see what happens when evolution comes on its own terms. It’s pretty much like a real life version of the four headless horsemen in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (On a positive note, Detroit is finally making some headway on revitalizing itself by recognizing the the past isn’t coming back).

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s easy to do the same old thing the same old way, day and day out – and just expect the world to take a break from change. But it doesn’t work that way anymore than expecting the world to stop spinning. This reluctance to change and except new ideas is the core reason for any generational gaps we’ve had in past, have now or will have in the future. The older generations want things like they were, and the younger generations want things like they’ll be. Well, let me tell you – there ain’t time machines, so we’re not going backwards, at least in time (attitude maybe). For a community to prosper, or even survive – it needs to embrace adaptability. It can hold on to its heritage and history, and it definitely should. But it has to take that heritage and bring into the future and make it relevant to not just generations of the past.

This embrace has to take place with the local presence, the locally owned businesses and commercial property owners. It has to happen with the city policy makers and planners. Adaptability requires being on the pulse of the community, recognizing where its resources are and maximizing them. That’s the advantage local businesses have over the box stores and the national chains. Locally owned businesses can adapt immediately, while the latter change course like the Titanic. In fact that’s the prime advantage a local business has over an “out-of-town conglomerate.” They can’t compete on price. But they can compete on relevance.

But there’s more to adaptability that just changing product mix or revising hours or even sponsoring local events and sports teams. It’s about changing one’s mindset from the old fixed location “brick and mortar” two-year lease – to none of the above. Imagine if you had never known a world where a business was committed to a fixed location for a fixed time period.

What if a business could adapt: come and go, and move around according the to needs of its clientele. This stretch of the imagination is the foundation of the “Pop-Up Community.”

You ever walk around an old downtown area and see all the buildings with nothing in them. It’s not like the downtown is dead or doesn’t have potential, a new potential – it’s just not be utilized or maximized. What if a business could go into one of those buildings for two months and then pack up and leave. And then another business, of a different type would come in a couple of months later for stay three months and leave. It may not be a two-year lease for the building owner. But then again the building owner isn’t getting the two-year lease anyway. Plus having the building occupied, generates traffic and revenue for neighboring businesses.

This is “Resource Maximization.” And this is what communities will need to do to prosper in our “warp speed evolving future.” And the people navigating this “warp speed.” are the younger generations. These “kids” want flexibility to grow with “trial and error.” And a two-year lease in a fixed location just doesn’t cut it. This is the main reason for the boom in “office hubs” or shared office space in recent years. I belong to one in Los Angeles. It works perfect for me since I’m only in L.A. a couple of times a year, but for a month at a time. When I’m there, I pop into The Hub LA, and do my thing, network, attend events or just socialize.

That means, above all, that they are able to live in a community that is a collective expression of their social being and their social ideals, rather than being an obstacle to them.

If a community truly wants to move ahead then it will have to position itself to attract these young entrepreneurs and their crazy ideas, whatever they are. On that note, I’d like present my idea of the next evolution of community, or I call Community 3.0, and the “Pop-Up Community” is a big part of it.

Pop-up store

How to Create Your Own “Pop-Up Community”

  • Customer focused: Be where are the customers are and when are they going to be there.
  • Permissive zoning laws: Flexibility will create more business for everyone including neighboring businesses, thereby raising property values.
  • Special permitting processes for pop-up and temporary businesses: Make it easy for small low capital businesses to operate legally by cutting the red tape.
  • Walkability: Pop-up businesses encourage geographic consolidation therefore access via foot rather than automobile. The less time in a car … the more time in a store.
  • Specific pop-up business network loyalty programs: Having a common loyalty marketing program operating under consistent rules will bind this nomad community together and make it more stable and more likely to be less transient. These programs can also take the form of cooperative promotions.
  • Co-op ventures between property owners and tenants: Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, property owners should participate in the success of their tenants’ businesses.
  • Street activity: Create a fun, festive environment including visual art, performance art, food carts, etc. which will draw people to an area. This increased traffic (by foot) can only help all neighboring businesses.
  • Pop-up educational opportunities: Make everything, everywhere a learning experience. “Label your community.” Every building, bridge and park has a story just waiting to be told and passed on to the next generation.
  • Encourage community entrepreneurialism: Rather than just focus on attracting big business – a community should grow its own through their own start-ups. The nurturing process should happen on all levels including the chamber, colleges, tech schools as well as co-op ventures with existing community businesses.
  • Office hubs: Pop-up and temporary ventures need not be limited to retail. A community should have multiple micro co-op office space hubs with shared facilities, such as meeting rooms, kitchen facilities and technology areas to make it easier for fledging entrepreneurs to succeed.

I’m all for nostalgia, and I’m definitely for keep the flavor of community’s Main Street. But ’70s suburbia and all it’s physical constraints … not so much. I believe a community’s value lies in its past, its present and its future. The art is to balance and synthesize the requirements of the three. That takes flexibility. And a “Pop-Up Community” provides the flexibility to do that.

Steve [Jobs] felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that. He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world. ~ Tim Cook

Maybe it’s time to let our cities and neighborhoods climb out of that small box.’ It may not change the world … but it may very well change our communities.

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

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