Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”

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

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

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

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

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

urban decay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good morning full.jpg

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

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

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

Because hopefully you’ll see …

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

________________

Clay Forsberg

Building Community Through “Green” Student Engagement

“Creating communities for the future created by those of the future”

That seems like common sense. Shouldn’t those who will live in the future have a say in what is looks like? Pathetically so, seldom do they. On the contrary, the future normally is designed by those near or at retirement age often mirroring what the past was like seen through their rose-colored glasses. Young people, especially those not yet of voting age, seldom get a say in the matter. Minors are looked at more as pieces of property with few rights rather as than active civic participants with voices to be heard.

Everywhere communities systematically lose their “best and brightest” as they graduate and go off to college. This is especially problematic in rural areas. Communities can only hope they will return or they can recruit other communities’ “best and brightest” to fill their pipeline. Communities attempt to attract outsiders by mortgaging their towns with subsidies and promises to attract businesses from elsewhere – only to create unsustainable “houses of cards” supported by the fleeting benevolence of these corporate carpetbaggers concerned only for their own pocketbooks. This competition amongst neighboring towns for false hope of prosperity leads to nothing but broken relationships and broken dreams where there should be cooperation and collaboration.

From early ages our young people go to school, school they’re required to attend by law. Isolated in irrelevant silos seven hours a day, often behind locked doors – they are cut off from their community and its prospects of a future there. The connection between school and community is nonexistent. After over a decade behind these locked doors, the top students graduate (hopefully) leaving to go to college – probably never to return. They leave behind a community they never knew, not really knowing what it had to offer. They leave behind potential opportunities, opportunities often right outside the locked doors they couldn’t wait to escape from.

What if this didn’t have to happen? What if the brain drain was replaced with nurture and development? What if irrelevance was replaced engagement? What if the future of your community was built on those who were raised there? And while still young and accessible (mentally and physically), what if these future leaders had a say in what their community was going to look like? What if they had a vested interest, ownership, in their community from the start? Would they still leave? Would you have to try to attract others from elsewhere? Probably not.

Lake Mills cafeteria

The Center For Green Schools

Recently I was introduced to The Center for Green Schools via Mark Swiger. Participating “green schools” reduce the environmental impact of school facilities, both buildings and grounds, while having a positive effect on student and teacher health, and increasing environmental literacy among students and graduates. Working directly with teachers, students, administrators, and their communities, green schools create programs, resources and partnerships that transform schools into healthy environmentally conscious learning environments.

Green school learning environments show students how the connection to their environment both in school and in their community, is not only important … but imperative. And hopefully they take this awareness from their years in school and turn into to a lifetime of environmental stewardship. And through the Green Apple Day of Service program The Center for Green Schools is taking this instruction to the streets through inclusive community service projects, often those organized by students. 

Using School Sustainability as a Tool for Community

Up to this point in my discussion of Community 3.0 and my concept of community empowerment, I’ve focused on the core of civic engagement being small business. These Front Porch gathering spots are the focal point of Community 3.0‘s model for direct participation societal evolution. While I still stand by this – maybe my thinking has been too limited … stuck in one of those silos I so dread. While I’ve included schools and students, they’ve normally been limited to being recipients of the Solutions I’ve presented through the model. However one youth concept I’ve modeled is “Millennials Rising”.

“Millennials Rising” is an opportunity for a community to listen to and utilize the younger generational perspective. Under the model young people, often students, are given an organized to debate, formulate and present issues relevant to not only them as an age group but also the community as a whole. Through the Anti-Congress, younger generations are given a physical forum to strategize how they can be a positive part of their community, beyond the walls of their schools. These students will have the opportunity to beautify their community and make it more sustainable. As “foot soldiers of change,” the young participants of “Millennial Rising” will be empowered to create a community that fits their needs and desires, not just those of their parents and their parents’ friends. 

Our idea of civic infrastructure needs to be broadened. Think more of it as a Cerebral Infrastructure.” By this I mean accommodation for the physical and mental spaces self-employed and small business owners (young and old) need to congregate, collaborate and create – molding the future for themselves and those around them. They want coworking sites and makerspaces. The Millennial generation wants bike paths and sidewalks and trees. They want places. They want their towns, cities and neighborhoods designed for them and their fellow residents … not for cars. They don’t want to be an afterthought, a nuisance to the automobile culture of their parents and grandparents. We need to look beyond tradition and what worked in the past to “now and ahead.” What might have worked a decade ago, may be obsolete today, let alone tomorrow. Hell, maybe their parents and grandparents would even like these new places too given the opportunity.

It’s easy to envision the benefits a project like “Millennials Rising” would have for the young people and students involved. These benefits would also extend to their peers since their futures and needs coincide.

But we can’t understate the benefits that would be had by the community as a whole.

Not only would the community be best positioned to prosper in the future, increased community retention rates in the younger generations would fill employment pipelines. This is especially important in smaller towns and rural communities where much of the work force is reaching retirement. This fact is amplified by the demographic realities of the extraordinary large Baby Boomer generation and their average age being seventy years old. Combine the thinning of the labor pool and increasing health needs of this age group – the health industry in particular is in the middle of an employment shortage crisis. Darren Walker, St. Vincent Healthcare vice president for human resources, hears from job candidates that Billings (where I live) lacks the infrastructure they expect. St. Vincent is the second largest healthcare organization in the Montana and Billings has a population of 100,000. Imagine the problems smaller communities have retaining or attracting young talent.

At present in Billings, Montana, the lead city planner is composing a twenty year long-term plan for the community. While on face value this process may seem prudent, a closer look shows it to be very problematic. To begin with, the planner is retiring later this year. What accountability does she have in it if she’s not going to be around to see its execution? Shouldn’t the one doing the creating also be the one implementing it?

During the course of the plan’s creation, she’s held public input meetings. In a recent meeting she was surprised at the public’s insistence on the inclusion of sections on education and conservation, neither of which she included originally. This is alarming, especially in regards to young generations, where these two areas hold very high priority. In addition, there’s been no indication any efforts to include these younger people in the drafting of it. These are the people who will have to live with this plan (if they chose to stay).

The Billings’ head planner, and indirectly the rest of the city’s leadership, is taking an approach that is the antithesis of what I’m proposing here. And it’s not a stretch to imagine the adverse effects it will have on the retention of young talent in the future.

While “Millennials Rising” attempts to include young people in civic decision-making and placemaking by giving them an organized voice, there is still the process of reaching out to them – extending that welcoming hand from the community. This is easier said than done. But what if they came in unison – as leaders in their own right coming from a place that was an example of progressive sustainability and forward thinking. What if they came from the green schools they attend or have attended bringing with them their knowledge of “how to do it” in an environmentally positive manner. And what if they came as active participants willing to help the community for everyone. Two excellent examples of how this can work would be a collaborative between a Green Apple Day of Service program and the worldwide clean-up effort put together by Let’s Do It! World, of which I’m coordinating for the United States.

Building Community through Student Engagement

What if we took “progressive sustainability and forward thinking” to include all aspects of a community’s well-being. What if we created a systemic approach of integrating the future needs of the community with those of the students as well as the current adults. And what if we made it a priority to identify points of engagement that would connect each individual student with an aspect of their community where they feel they can involve themselves with and make a positive contribution. These “points of engagement” would represent ownership in their community, present and future. They would then want to see it through to the end while becoming a long-term fixture in the community … a community they helped design and build from the time they were young.

Suppose you were designing a school to help students find their own clear end — as clear as that one. Say you were designing a school to elevate and intensify longings. Wouldn’t you want to provide examples of people who have intense longings? Wouldn’t you want to encourage students to be obsessive about worthy things? Wouldn’t you discuss which loves are higher than others and practices that habituate them toward those desires? Wouldn’t you be all about providing students with new opportunities to love? (“Putting Grit In Its Place” David Brooks, New York Times)

Now imagine if these “opportunities to love” where connected if not embedded in the community where the students live. The concept of triadic closures stresses the importance of a three-way bond. Relationships that extended to three connections are much stronger and more resilient. The triadic relationship between students, small businesses and the adult residents in a community provides the foundation for a community – today and tomorrow. Building off the knowledge they learned in their sustainable green schools, students can cement their bond with the real pillars of the community, locally owned business through collaborate civic projects or Solutions. These relationships will also serve in a mentoring and apprenticeship capacity, to be taken advantage in the future as employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. This triad closure will create an integrated partnership that will form the basis of a community’s well-being efforts.

“Just as important as the actual accomplishment of creating a new asset for the community is the message sent to people living there: Good things can happen in this place. One of the biggest problems for poor communities, is that “we teach young people to measure success by how far they can get away from these neighborhoods.”

It’s absolutely crucial to let people know, “you don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to have a better one.” (Majora Carter — a strategy consultant, entrepreneur and grassroots real estate developer who played a pivotal role in bringing back New York’s South Bronx)

Solo flower

The Roadmap to Your Community’s Future

Imagine your community not populated by silos and generational division. Imagine your community being designed and built for all its citizens, regardless of age or status. “Building Community Through Student Engagement” is a plan to do just that.

  • Increased school performance: Create an environment for students that seamlessly connects schools to the outside community resulting higher engagement and performance (i.e. graduation rates).
  • Higher talent retention levels: Create an integrated community building platform that breaks down silos and connects students with adults for collaborative activities that transform communities into future looking places students will build on after they graduate.
  • Enhanced elderly care resources: Create an integrated community perspective that transcends generations ultimately helping older residents as much as younger as more elderly health care is needed due to demographic changes.
  • Increased environmental resourcefulness: Play off Green Schools to create a community mindset of conservation and resource maximization regardless of generation.
  • Expanded worldwide contribution: Create a foundation for students to build a better world as a whole for themselves and others by introducing them to sustainable practices and connection to the community and beyond.

Not all communities look to the future. They want to remember the past, even though that past may not have been quite as rosy as they would like to think. Change is hard. Handing over the reigns to the next generation is not a science, but an art. But whether we know it or not there is an artist in each one of us. Sometimes we just have to let those coming after us with their naive optimism, show us.

Let’s take those rose-colored glasses we’ve used to look to past … and give them to our children and grandchildren so they can point them to the future. We may even enjoy the ride.

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You reach me on Twitter at @clayforberg and the Center for Green Schools at @mygreenschools.

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As a part of the Community 3.0 platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can come from Front Porch collaborations. These examples represent Solutions to many common needs and opportunities a community may encounter, Solutions that can bind the relationships between the generations – young and old alike.

 

Build … Don’t Tear Down

With the rise of Bernie Sanders, the socialist anti-capitalist rhetoric has surfaced again in the political arena. Only now it appears like it’s gaining traction. Sanders’ campaign, which in the past would be nothing more than an idealistic third-party run, has been a legitimate threat to the coronation of America’s first female president. Excuse my sarcasm but considering the Clinton legacy, it seems appropriate.

Screams of inequality and Sanders’ promises of universal healthcare and free college education for all has mobilized legions of young, male and female alike. I agree we have inequality. My #Occupy shirt has been worn so much it’s as much a part of me as my glasses and my morning yogurt. Still I don’t blindly follow campaign promises.

Ocupy shirt

We Must focus On The “How” … Not Just The “What”

My concern with Sanders stems from I believe in the “how” as much if not more than the “what.” And I’m not seeing the “how” from Bernie Sanders or from any other candidate for that fact. The three currently standing are vying for the top job in an institution that is so mired with polarizing dysfunction and ineptitude that none of them could hope to accomplish much more than basic housekeeping tasks. I wish they could, but recent history proves otherwise.

I cringe at the thought of Sanders’ universal healthcare initiative being attempted by the federal government. Remember this is same government who is in charge of the wellbeing of this country’s most revered citizens, our veterans. This is the same government when tasked to improve our veterans healthcare – made it insurmountably worse highlighted by appointment wait times of over six months and provider payments of at least that. Billings Clinic, where I was treated for my lymphoma and no bastion of operational excellence itself, has even stopped treating veterans on the government’s VA Choice plan because of slow or non-payment. Implementation is the hard work that gets little press and little glory … so therefore little attention.

I interact with many who espouse to the vision and philosophies set forth by Erik Olin Wright. This was brought to light by the response to a recent post by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, “How to be an anti-capitalist in the 21st century? Four proposed strategies …” The basis of the piece was Wright’s ideals of societal reform built around a modern-day version Marxist socialism. 

I agree with his assumption that our current version of capitalism is far from ideal. In fact a case can be made that it’s outright awful with neoliberalism being the driving force of this awfulness. But I don’t agree in Wright’s belief we should “smash capitalism.” Using an overworked cliché, I don’t think we need to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Having spent a lifetime in the traditional strongholds of liberal thought (University of California Berkeley and University of Wisconsin) reworking Marxism, I can see why Wright thinks as he does. However I don’t believe his vision bodes well for a pragmatic solution to the problems and opportunities we currently face.

Is our desired endgame a repeat of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 with its long-term consequences? Regardless of our intent, history indicates the socialistic ideal can turn into a metamorphosed abomination. Or even look at the current happenings in Venezuela where Nicolas Madura’s socialist government is in meltdown and taking the future of the country with it. With socialism we still have a hierarchy, often one even more rigid and institutionalized, leading us in a direction not determined by us, but rather by a privileged few. All we have to rely on is campaign promises … not plans for implementation as we should.

Turn Capitalism Into The solution

I don’t see capitalism in its original intent as the problem. It’s the neoliberal morph spawned by collusion of both political parties and unabated multinational corporate behemoths that is. It’s this morph that we should be attacking and “smashing.” Left to the volition of a community’s locally owned small businesses – capitalism produces jobs, civic involvement and a circular flow of money contained mainly within the community. It’s these local businesses and the support we give them I see as the road we need to take. This is my plan for implementation.

In the piece Orion … a Hybrid Governance Feline Metaphor,” I theorized an alternative two-pronged governance model birthed from the union of the David Hume philosophy of “spontaneous order” and our inherent benevolence, and Elinor Ostrom’s “opportunity of the commons.” Under this amalgamation, government would still exist in its present form, but in a lesser sense. Our over-reliance on it (economically and psychologically) would be replaced by pragmatic community based decision-making and implementation. I believe this alternative can enable change … a change that will help level the playing field through organic civic direct participation – not the blind faith bestowed upon less than sincere or competent self-serving politicians … regardless the party.

I want to focus only on the community empowerment side of the “Orion” hybrid now though. In this version of our Perfect World  (the Asian Leopard side of the hybrid) we would have a peer-to-peer system take influence over local matters through a network of neighborhood Front Porches (housed primarily but not exclusively in our community’s locally owned businesses). But since the Perfect World is not place but rather a journey, we need to have discussion on how we can map this journey – this transition or development of the hybrid.

Living in a society where all production is pooled commonly is hardly motivating for high achievers, the ones that drive innovation. I agree all of a society’s participants are entitled to minimum standard of well-being and the availability of opportunity. I also agree that isn’t happening today. But we can’t tether those who will lead the charge in constructing this Perfect World. I rather doubt that Erik Olin Wright or his protegés will give up their lives with the perks and niceties of their elite standing for the chance just to contribute to the pool. Our high-achievers, current and future, need to be able to bloom. They have to aspire to do great things. And for better or worse, these great things still need to be rewarded – yet not necessarily to the financial extent they are today.

And as a society, we need to create norms and acknowledgement of success that equates with benevolence not just material gain. Capitalism like socialism is a tool. How we use it and celebrate others that use it appropriately is up to us. Idolizing the wealthy, rather than the benevolent and expressive has created the world of inequality we live it. But our morals and societal personality cannot be legislated or dictated from above. They can only come from our collective heart and soul.

Rather than obsess on economic growth as most all governments societies do, we must focus on destroying the norms that retard our evolution while stressing the improvement of the well-being of our populace including its physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health. Making “helping others” our new societal expectation will empower us to supplant the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system with more altruistic ones – unleashing the inherent benevolence inside us.

This transition will not be easy though. It’s not that the resistance will only come from outside factions though. The resistance will be ourselves. It will be our struggle to change. It will be our refusal to give up on false ideals instilled in us when young and likely bequeathed by us to our children. This stifling tether connecting generations focused on material wealth and false sense of worth must be cut. Our relationship to materialism is no different from that we see in generations of abusers. As the Swiss philosopher Carl Jung said, “The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” The abused often become the abusers themselves. This is their coping mechanism. They know no other way of life. We must show them there is.

The Eight Stages Of Social Movements

In the Spring of 1987, Bill Moyer unleashed his treatise, “History is a Weapon, The Movement Action Plan: A Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements.” Moyer showed how patience is not only an advantage to a social cause – it’s mandatory to its success. His eight step framework uses the American anti-nuclear movement as its case study as it describes the steps needed for a successful movement to unfold and stick.

  • Stage one: Normal times
  • Stage two: Prove the failure of institutions
  • Stage three: Ripen Conditions
  • Stage four: Social movement takeoff
  • Stage five: Identity crisis of powerlessness
  • Stage six: Majority public opinion
  • Stage seven: Success
  • Stage eight: Continuing the struggle

One could say we are ready to enter Stage four. Normal times are long “past times behind” us, and over and over it’s been proven institutions are failing us. One only needs to look at the America’s current congressional dysfunction. And I believe Stage three is well upon us with #Blacklivesmatter and the rise of Donald Trump as a legitimate presidential option for many disenfranchised Americans.

Now is time for change; or as Moyer said “social movement takeoff.” But we need evolution not revolution. Complete overthrow, if even possible without Armageddon, most often results in unintended consequences like in Russia in 1917 or most recently in the Middle East. Just pick a country: Egypt, Iraq, Libya, etc. Social change takes time as Moyer has demonstrated. And patience and rooted organic support will be our biggest asset.

To do this we need not discard capitalism, but use it. We just have to return capitalism to the tool it can be, not what it’s become as we’ve sat idly by and let those with nefarious motives hijack it (public and private). We need to transform it to being a conduit for direct community involvement and decision-making. Whether it be government or corporate, more and larger static hierarchy is not the answer. No matter the intent, centralization and hierarchy inevitably breeds inequality and self-interest … not eliminate it. Socialism is no exception.

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Build … Don’t Tear Down

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

Gradually over time our new society will replace the old. Orion, Alexandria’s Bengal Cat is what they call an F8. F8 indicates he’s eight generational iterations removed from the original pairing of Asian Leopard Cat cross-bred with a domestic cat in Southern California. These multiple iterations of the breed have created what Orion is, a highly intelligent, engaged pet created for responsible experienced cat owners. This is what I hope to see in our societal future – an intelligent, engaged populace willing to take responsibility for their communities … not blindly accepting the decisions of others dictate their futures.

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

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

As Bill Moyer demonstrated: “Patience is our ally … and history is our weapon.”

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I invite you to join me on my journey in rebuilding community by reading my series,On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World.” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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

A Year After Chemo … And What I Know

Today is the anniversary of my introduction to chemotherapy after I was diagnosed with lymphoma. One year ago today, I walked into Billings Clinic to begin a five month regime of chemo treatments. On that date I also posted the piece, A Pothole on the Road to My Perfect World.” 

I felt writing would be a good way to get my head around “having cancer.” I wanted to avoid a “woe is me” attitude though; rather how could I turn this into a source of motivation. Getting through it wasn’t even a question. I was going to. The issue was how could I make it through the other end even better … a new and improved version of me. I’ve always been a pragmatic optimist. I thought why should this experience, however adverse it was, be any different?

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But all that is just logistics. How my life agenda (personal and professional) is affected is really just resources allocation. This whole cancer thing is just another experience (a big one nonetheless). And our experiences shape who we are. I’m very curious to see what cerebral rabbit hole this one will take me down. I have no idea what synaptic connections will be forged – manifesting from the depths of places I have no idea even existed. I’m sure my perspective on things; past, present and future will be altered. At least I hope it will be. I’d hate to think I’m so emotionally detached that something like this won’t have an effect on me.

A Year Later … And What I Know

That was closing paragraph from that May 12, 2015 piece. I was all about resources and experiences and how I could mix them together to make some magic elixir that would transform me. Into what was the question I asked myself.

Well here we are and it’s a year later and this is what I know:

I know that according the numbers on blood panels, my cancer is in remission. During my initial diagnosis my white blood count was fifty times higher than normal. Critical is what they called it last May. Now it’s normal. So that’s a good thing. My condition is called chronic lymphomic leukemia. By definition, chronic means “persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.” So guess the cancer is always kind of there, just waiting to show itself, rearing its ugly head creating one of those fore-mentioned potholes down the road. I’ll deal with that if and when I need to. But in the meantime, that occupies no synaptic energy.

I know that health care facilities, at least the ones I had experience with are operationally leave a lot to be desired. It seemed too often there was a problem that really didn’t to happen. Without going into detail, let’s just say the experience just wasn’t what it should or could have been. Over the five months, my doctor changed three times and my navigator changed so many times I didn’t even have one at the end (through no doing of myself). But in the end I shouldn’t complain too much. The chemo drugs they gave me worked (even though I was allergic to one and multiple times went into rigors and broke out in hives).

I know that aside from the numbers on my blood panel, I really wasn’t much more to these people. The old cliché “just a number” is no exaggeration. I was my diagnosis. Seldom did anyone, a doctor a nurse or my cancer navigator ask me about what my life was all about and what effect this disease and the treatment program might have on it and those I was responsible for. I tried to get my navigator to read the post I wrote to get an idea of who I was and what I was going through – but she never got around to doing it. However I do like my current doctor. He’s young and energetic and seems to be on top of the new developments in the cancer world.

Maybe for Billings Montana I didn’t fit the profile of an average cancer patient spending the day in the infusion center. Most I saw had family members and care givers more my age. One time I asked a nurse about what cancer patients did about the side affects of their treatment on how it affected their daily lives and economic sustainability. Her answer was that no one ever asked that. “I guess they go on disability and collect insurance.” Really? Disability. How’s that work when you’re running a business and lending care to a pair of parents in their eighties on top of it? Maybe my perspective is skewed being a former headhunter where everyone is an interview waiting to happen and an opportunity to hear a life story.

I know what “chemo brain” is now; not that anyone told me about it or what to expect. Chemo brain is like having the proverbial wet blanket thrown on the campfire of your creative mind. For me … this is a big deal. All day long, every day, all I do is think. I’ve spent forty years exercising my mind to shun ideologies and cerebral shortcuts and instead think things through. With chemo brain my concentration was propelled into an abyss of fragmented synaptic entropy. Fortunately I’ve been able to reign in these effects. But still I have an excuse for the occasional memory lapse (even though it probably has nothing to do with it).

I know my body just doesn’t work quite the same. I don’t hear as well – hopefully it’s short-term. My sense of smell still hasn’t fully come back. It’s like I’m always smelling something burning. That’s not surprising since the active component in one of the chemotherapy drugs is acid. My daily routine of yoga and stretching has only now become daily again. My body and its recovery mechanism didn’t get the message that I wasn’t going to let cancer slow me down. They say when you die and they do an autopsy on you, the coroner can tell if you’ve had chemo. That wouldn’t surprise me. Doctors don’t tell you anything about these things either.

These things I learned didn’t really come as a surprise though. I hoped that they would be different and I could have used “mind over matter” Jedi ninja tricks to power through it. Not so much. But one thing I didn’t expect was the toll this last year would take on my patience. I’ve always been amped up – but now it’s different. The tolerance setting on my “bullshit meter” has been turned way down. Maybe its the confluence of my experience last year and our current insane presidential campaign that’s cranking me up. The endless procession of circus freaks masquerading as candidates and fact that they’re being taken seriously has turned into a daily battle for me to ignore. To believe any of these charlatans can have any positive effects on the United States or the world is inconceivable to me.

Looking back at the last paragraph of that piece from 2015, I come back to the question, “I’m very curious to see what cerebral rabbit hole this one will take me down.” What’s come of all this? What can I pull from this “lost year?” I as feared, “I’d hate to think I’m so emotionally detached that something like this won’t have an effect on me” – I’ve had trouble writing this. Months ago I made the decision to write a post on this day, the anniversary of my first treatment. So I had to come up with something … most of all a plan of action to use this experience to my benefit.

Turning Impatience Into Motivation

I can’t change the things I know and have learned. I can’t prevent a re-occurrence of my lymphoma; even though I can focus on my health. I can’t walk back the physical effects the chemotherapy has had (however minor in the whole scheme of things). And I can’t directly change the way America’s health care system works.

But the patience thing is a different story. I don’t need to let it be a negative. On the contrary – I’m going to use it. It’s time to be impatient. It’s time not to just talk and vote … but rather act. It’s time to make stuff happen. Just because the political circus is in town doesn’t mean we have to go to it, especially everyday. My impatience with this pathetic state of institutional competency (government and beyond) has only further stoked my motivational fire. The necessity of building community as our social safety net is even more apparent to me now.

It’s time to be impatient. It’s not time to wait. Sometimes you just have to create what you want to part of. 2015 was a lost year and nothing is going to change that. It’s made me a different person – more driven. I’m not going to just sit back and be a survivor. Having had cancer doesn’t define me or label me. Experiences, good and not so good, give you the tools to make your life what you want. It may not seem that way at the time, but is up you to determine what they’re going to be used for.

I don’t even know if I’m out of the “rabbit hole.” But regardless, I’m kind of getting used to that cat’s grin.

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I invite you to join me on my journey in rebuilding community by reading my series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World.” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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

Creating Successful Chaos Within a Well-Ordered Failure

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

Collaboration, peer-to-peer participation and bottom-up empowerment all sounds good. And in theory … it is. The more democratic the process, the more responsive it should be. But responsiveness doesn’t necessarily translate into results. In the last piece, “Herding Cats,” organization of the masses by the masses can be exactly like that, “herding cats.” The key to any collective effort is having a defined mission that is generally agreed upon and then putting its implementation into play using a set process. In the case of Community 3.0 that mission is the physical, cerebral and spiritual well-being of your community.

Nurturing well-being by creating avenues and conduits for engagement is the road to this mission’s success. And hopefully through these efforts, the inherent benevolence of the members of your community will be unleashed. We must make “helping others” our societal norm … supplanting that of primarily making money and climbing ladder of our economic caste system. We need to create programs that not only help us … but also create opportunities that enable us to help others.

Marissa Lee Bennett
Marissa Lee Bennett

Body Without Organs – Successful Chaos

In the post Growing an Evolved Society,” I outlined the rhizome theory of societal organization developed by Deleuze and Guattari in the 1960’s. One of the components of their philosophy is the Body Without Organs. The Body Without Organs is “what happens,” the result of the Nomadic actions of the components (the populace) operating on the Smooth Space platform (Front Porches and volunteer Contributors in the community). In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the contributions of the community are injected into it. A community’s personality and state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its Contributors and its Front Porches. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one, NIMBYism and gated communities or one more communal. Tolerant and welcoming or closed. Wall Street or Main Street.

Rather than having its personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there. How a community and its Contributors respond to its needs and opportunities … will be what it becomes.

My view of societal evolution, Community 3.0, is not a structure … it’s a result. It’s a Body Without Organs. It’s a result of the set of interactions chosen independently yet in accordance with the societal expectations and norms that create the personality of the community. While the tools used by sister 3.0 communities are the same – the way they’re used and to what ends are determined by you to create what you desire. Think of a generic set of Legos where the only constraint to what you make is your imagination. What shapes and colors you choose to use, in what combinations will be unique to you; with the constant being the collective betterment your community.

Front Porches and “Solutions”

The conduit of participation in the Community 3.0 model is the Front Porch. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used as the focal points for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring flourishes and what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed in the 1800’s as the source of America’s “exceptionalism.” They allows us to organize and take action directly, not wait on the sidelines while traditional institutions may or may not.

Your neighborhood’s Front Porch can be anywhere or anything. It can be the local pub down the street or the coffee-house where you get your morning sustenance from. It can be Bill’s garage where everyone gathers to watch Sunday football games. It can even be your kitchen table. What happens on the Front Porch is what matters … not what is looks like or where it is.

The Front Porch’s purpose is to identify Solutions, whether they be in response of needs or opportunities. These Solutions are designed to help your community pick up the slack and mend its societal safety net as well as lead it into the future. They can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program. And by being a Contributor, you and your community members can be involved with whatever Solution fits your strengths, desires and availabilities.

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

“On-boarding” Your Local Business Community

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

As Simon articulated in the above segment, it’s difficult to keep people motivated to stay with a collaboration. After all, the competition for their attention is cat gifs (I so want to post a gif of Orion here … but I’ll refrain). But with effective on-boarding and the use of your community’s Front Porches, I believe emotional momentum can be sustained long enough to the get the project into execution phase. After that a new momentum injection should occur once the project turns from “thinking” to “doing.” 

That being said. We still have to get people to “play” in the first place.

Although there are many causes to donate to – not nearly enough of them are hands-on volunteer projects. Being hands-on greatly increases the likelihood of the project “sticking.” Beyond helping out on Thanksgiving at your local homeless shelter, organized options are few and far in between. There’s more than enough reasons to step in and get involved; but these projects still have to be organized. Above I outlined several projects or Solutions any community can use to fill this “hands-on” gap. But again, they have to start somewhere. This somewhere is the Front Porch; specifically using the Community 3.0 model.

The connection of the Front Porch to the locally owned business community is what makes the Community 3.0 model unique. I don’t believe there will be any shortage of businesses that will want to jump on board. To be a local business and not be a part of an obvious way to pitch in and help out the community they do business in … might as well be a slap in the face of the people who patronize them. They will be conspicuous by their absence of effort.

The L.A. Finder and the Fear of Being Invisible

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One the many business ventures I’ve undertaken over the years was publishing commercial arts and printing directories, first in Minneapolis in the 1980s and then later in Los Angeles with the “L.A. Finder.” All of them had one thing in common; initially we were selling blue sky. Nothing like them existed in the their respective markets. We were asking the top players in the graphic arts and printing communities to commit thousands of dollars to something they had no assurance would even happen. All they got from us was an idea and a good pitch. But that was enough. It wasn’t that they expected fantastic returns on their investment (which could be substantial including production costs). They couldn’t NOT be in the book. If their competition was represented and they weren’t – it was like they didn’t exist in the community. They were conspicuous by their absence.

I believe the same thing will happen when the stakes are even higher – the very “well-being” and future of their community. Plus, this investment in community goodwill will provide them with the competitive advantage that no big box store or Wall Street chain can duplicate. As a resident, how could you not want to do business with a company that is selflessly helping out the city you live in. You’d feel obligated. 

The goal of Community 3.0 is to create an ecosystem where your community’s Front Porches and their volunteer Contributors (customers of the participating local businesses) are in constant state of benevolent activity – building relationships, finding opportunities and creating Solutions that will benefit the community (and indirectly themselves). 

Community 3.0 is not just a program or platform … it’s a lifestyle.

The Community 3.0 network is empowered by the bleedingEDGE Experience Platform. This platform is the fuel that powers engagement and activity. The Community 3.0 automated loyalty system directly rewards customers (Contributors) for their patronization, while being kept abreast of special deals, events, Solution activities and whatever else might connect them to local business and the community through an event-driven communication system.

The bleedingEDGE Experience Platform is the conduit connecting the Front Porch (Merchant), the Contributor (customer) and their community. This “experience platform” is the communications vehicle for Deleuze and Guattari’s Smooth Space described in the piece Growing an Evolved Society.” Tailored for specific situations and events –  each communication is customized to a local business or Front Porch, personalized to each customer or Contributor and delivered via direct mail, email or text – depending on applicability. Everything is specifically timed to maximize its response and effectiveness. The platform features an automated array of over twenty templated 1 to 1 communication and loyalty programs. Each is designed to build the relationships that will strengthen your community and repair the safety net very often left unattended to fray. Think of it like your community’s own Artificial Intelligence program designed to build the civic core.

There is an awareness that to the extent that there is a network “center,” it is about being in service of and helping to connect the whole, as well as bring in the “periphery.” There is an emphasis on contribution and creating value over deferring to credentials and the usual suspects. People lead with a spirit of openness; and there is an overall effort towards growing the pie, not just carving it up into smaller pieces. (Network Impact: Different Approaches and Common Ground)

But there still needs to be a center. There needs to be a driving force to usher in this change in civic thinking. It needs a birthing process and an incubator to bring it to fruition. This is the role of Community 3.0 – a collective Front Porch whose job it is to nurture and direct its offspring.

The Community 3.0 Front Porch World Community

Up to this point we looked at the Smooth Space being limited to the local businesses and the Contributors within a community. However, the Front Porch concept scales well beyond neighborhood businesses in single communities. As long as the tenets of rhizomatic growth and nomadic movement are adhered to – why can’t our Smooth Space of community empowerment scale worldwide? 

Why can’t a farmer from Oregon, via their Front Porch, share a success story with farmer from Nigeria via theirs. Their resource requirements and availabilities may be different, but the serendipitous sharing of insight could “turn on the light,” solving a problem that changes someone’s life. Or why do we limit communication to only those of common vocations when anyone, anywhere of any profession could share Solutions to civic fixes long abandoned by their respective governments.

If the world is to transition from a “consume all you can society” to a sustainable one – why should we look only to those who are members of the institutions that created the problems in the first place? Should we not be looking for direction in places other than the established ‘lords’ in their ivory towers? However well-meaning they may be … isn’t their perspective a bit myopic? And isn’t this the case when we live under the thumb of traditional civic hierarchies … as most of us do?

We needn’t limit our options though. There is much wisdom in the streets. But unfortunately, many with the most wonderful voices are not heard because they’re not a member of the power elite of the status quo. Conferences such as Davos and Aspen only perpetuate this “echo chamber thinking.” We must make extra efforts to seek out the voices that can open our ears to the Solutions we all need to hear. Our collaborative focus needs to expand to those often looked at as unreachable … or irrelevant. First hand these people may still be metaphorically in the dark; but through a network of Front Porches they can see … and be seen. The Community 3.0 Front Porch World Community will be their light. The world’s problems and opportunities will no longer only be prioritized by those “up high,” but also by those “in the streets.”

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

What we have now has been constructed by those “up high” in their ivory towers; and the result is unprecedented inequality. This world of neo-liberalism, global corporate expansion and government collusion has done very little for us “in the streets.” One may say it’s “well-ordered.” I say it’s more a failure.

It’s time we create a little “successful chaos.”

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

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

“Herding Cats” and the Art of Collaboration

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

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

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

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

Herding cats

“Herding Cats” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathy and Inclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

“Herding cats” … revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, by definition … we will not be alone.

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

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

“Front Porches”

Graham Nash (the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) has described Cass Elliot (the Mamas and Papas) as “the Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon”—that she had a “salon” similar to the one at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris in the 1920s. Cass brought her friends from the music and movie worlds together. She was a conversationalist and a storyteller who could hold forth on anything and everything, and according to Stephen Stills “you could always go over there. But call first.” (An Oral History of Laurel Canyon)

Growing up in North Dakota, I did what many other kids in North Dakota do during the summer – worked on a farm. It seemed everyone had connections to farming somehow. If I wasn’t golfing with my best friend Jerry, I was at the farm cultivating, picking rock or harvesting.

Late August was the time to bring in the crops, which was always wheat. Wheat was about all that grew on our land. While my dad operated the combine and harvested, I hauled the wheat to the grain elevator in the little town of Alamo (where the farm was at and my grandparents lived). Going to the elevator meant waiting in the lobby for the results of the load. The lobby was decorated with what seemed to be old bus seats repurposed as chairs, and a coffee pot a quarter full of day old coffee (at least). Only the most unsuspecting fool would touch that coffee pot. There was normally five or six farmers, all in OshKosh overalls – talking and waiting. Being the only teenager, I most often just sat quietly. Nobody much cared what teenagers had to say. However our wheat always had the highest protein levels in the area (giving me credibility); so if I did say something they at least they listened.

But what I do remember was the conversation wasn’t just small talk. These farmers, who were the civic leaders in the small town of Alamo, talked about problems they all faced; and most of all they talked about solutions. And by the time group dispersed, scattering to their respective fields to get the next load … they all seem to have some sort of a task to resolve to whatever problem Alamo was facing. Maybe it was helping out someone or just checking in on them. Regardless, it was normally something.

I imagine Alamo had a formal town council of some sort, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the real work happened there in the grain elevator while we sat on those repurposed bus seats waiting for our protein counts.

Minot, where I actually lived and went to school had Charlie’s restaurant and the Elks Lodge. These were Minot’s version of Alamo’s grain elevator. These were the places where the “business of the community” was done. These were the places where ideas were hatched and where the future of Minot was mapped out … often under the influence of a libation or two.

Latino front porch
Latino front porch, Los Angeles

The Front Porch

These informal meeting places described above, most often locally owned businesses, are what I call Front Porches, named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring flourishes and what the French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, observed as the source of America’s “exceptionalism” of the 1800’s.

Unfortunately Front Porches, like the grain elevator in Alamo, the Elks Lodge in Minot and the Latino front yards – are fast becoming a relic of the past. And with this decay, our Middle Rings and the neighborhood continuity they bring are following suit.

“Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. Pulling data from the General Social Survey, economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent City Observatory report that only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. A third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.” (Community Ties in an Era Isolation)

Just because this is a trend, it doesn’t mean we have to sit idly by and be part of this self-fulfilling prophecy. If we look hard enough, we can see that the Front Porch phenomenon is still alive and well.

“Unlike many Western cities, Chengdu does not strictly enforce regulations concerning late-night food and drink. At around 9 p.m., stalls selling barbecue, fried and boiled noodles, fried rice, and in some cases a full Chinese menu pop up on street corners, in front of alleys and underneath overpasses across the city. The stalls serve customers all night, until the sun rises and all that is left are streets and sidewalks strewn with chicken bones and crumpled greasy napkins. Short plastic tables are covered in beer bottles, and the clean-up crews share space with children heading to school. It’s not pretty, but for Chengdu’s 20 million residents, the after-after-party is an absolute necessity.” (Outdoor Midnight Snacking Breaks Down Barriers in a Chinese City)

But we don’t have to go to China or even oversees to find examples of Front Porches popping up out of otherwise darkness (literally and figuratively). In 2013 The Asian Art Initiative launched its The Pearl Street Project combining beautification, performance art and community-building. Artists have been invited to transform Pearl Street’s dingy, low-lit alleyways through projects and events, and collaborations with community stakeholders.

And every week at Detroit Soup, a group of dedicated volunteers help local artists fulfill their creative ambitions. People turn up, pay $5 at the door, and listen to three or four people pitch an idea to improve the local community. When the presentations are over, the soup is served and people mull over the ideas and vote on their favorite. The winner gets to take home all the money taken at the door and use it to fund their plan, with the promise they will come back three months later to report on their progress. Detroit Soup is a Front Porch that is a conduit for other Front Porches.

On a larger scale is 1 Million Cups. The Kaufman Foundation’s civic off ramp is a free weekly national program designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs. As of January 2016, they have caffeinated, connected and inspired budding entrepreneurs in 77 communities.

Entrepreneurialism doesn’t operate in a vacuum. A city is a function of its Front Porch small business community just like Minot was a function of Charlie’s and the Elks Lodge. And these weren’t the only Front Porches in Minot. They were all over town. They met and acted independently. Some weren’t even physically in Minot. During the summer every weekend, Lake Metigoshe, seventy miles north straddling the Canadian border, was a collective Front Porches made up of cabins scattered around the lake. Nobody thought of these vacation getaways as having any civic importance, but they did. They hatched school board candidacies and small business ventures. Most of all, they provided good food and drink, and a place where those were brought together who wouldn’t otherwise have been. 

Los Koritas Dillon
Los Koritas, Dillon

Yeni, Los Koritas and the Cure for Hate

Active Front Porches also breed familiarity … and familiarity is the prescription that cures bigotry, racism, homophobia and hate.

“As Yeni Mora, a 36-year-old from the central coast Mexican state of Nayarit poured coffee, her customers opined about an issue that’s buzzed through talk shows, diners, social media and Montana’s legislative halls, where lawmakers passed several laws targeting illegal immigration. Some of the diners at Los Koritas said “lazy Americans” bear some blame for illegal immigration; others said ranchers and farmers had to hire immigrants without papers because of burdensome work visa programs.

Mora saved enough to take over the one Mexican restaurant in Dillon about three years ago and renamed it Los Koritas, her variation on a name for indigenous people from Nayarit. When the Longhorn Saloon closed two years ago, some customers approached Mora with a request. They no longer had a place to meet in the mornings, they told her. Could she open for breakfast? Mora said of course.

Then one day this fall, as Mora was preparing their orders, George Warner and other diners were holding forth on rule-breakers and the dangers of illegal immigration. They did not know Mora was one of those rule-breakers. Four cups of coffee in, they found out when a reporter, with Mora’s blessing, mentioned that she had entered the country illegally when she crossed into Nogales, Ariz., a decade ago.

At first the reaction was disbelief. Yeni? Really?” (Talk about illegal immigration spills a revelation )

The story of Yeni Mora and Dillon, Montana is all too common. It’s easy to stereotype and label from a distance. But when that label becomes a real person, stereotypes often dissolve and all but the most hardened haters soften. Here was Yeni, the illegal … who was also the one who provided their community the Front Porch it depended on. But most of all Yeni was their friend. Familiarity breeds acceptance and often friendship. And Front Porches are what make it all happen.

Knowing Who Your Community Isn’t

A community’s Front Porches give it its personality; and a big part of this personality are its businesses. How a community wishes to be seen, felt and portrayed is dependent a large part on how it supports its business ecosystem.

To recognize the role of the Front Porch in a community’s development isn’t enough though. It’s equally important to recognize what Front Porches are influencing this development. While I’m not saying a community should regulate where people meet, a lack of attention to this might result in consequences that you may not want. Small businesses and neighborhood gathering spots mirror the “organics” of your community. This is what you want to encourage. On the contrary, if your Front Porches become nothing other than extensions of big box stores and Wall Street homogenization, your community will be stripped of its individuality, and of its personality. It will become nothing other than a clone … just another exit ramp on the highway of sameness.

“All of this, of course, is part of the Wal-Mart plan: They move in, push other stores out of business while simultaneously expanding their services—at some supercenters you can get new tires, new glasses, and a teeth cleaning—until suddenly you find yourself buying everything at Wal-Mart because there’s nowhere else to buy it.

So as Wal-Mart encroaches on more parts of life, more of people’s lives happen at Wal-Mart. The chain is the third biggest vision care provider in the country, the fourth biggest pharmacy, and the biggest grocery store. People sell drugs in Wal-Mart and make drugs in Wal-Mart. In one Florida town, nearly half of all crime takes place at Wal-Mart. Some people live in Wal-Mart parking lots; others try to live in the stores themselves. Teens don’t hang out at malls anymore; they hang out at Wal-Mart.” (How Wal-Mart Became the Town Square in Rural America)

This ominous scenario is becoming the default in many communities (especially in rural areas). In order to not let this happen to your community – you have to be proactive. Humans are social creatures and they will gather somewhere. Where they do and what happens there can be positive for your community … or it might not.

Front Porches and Societal Evolution

The goal of Community 3.0 is to take the principles of resource maximization and incorporate them with the naturalism of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari I described in my last piece Growing an Evolved Society.” This result is a platform for community self-governance and sustainability built around Front Porches.

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

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

Where are the Front Porches in your community? Are there any? If so … what happens there?

Imagine what could.

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

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