Listen, learn and think outside the box to find opportunities

Just found this short presentation via @RTGit:

Paul Pollack‘s advice to find solutions for social problems:

  1. Go, where the action is.
  2. Talk to the people who have the problem and really listen to what they have to say
  3. Learn everything about the specific context of the problem.

Giving the Commons a Voice!

Silke Helfrich and a few other German commoners have drafted a Commons Manifesto that explains the importance of the commons for the well-being of us and our societies. The manifesto also calls all of us to assume our responsibility and protect and nurture the commons:

Commons inspire and connect. To take them into account requires a fundamentally different approach in perception and action. Commons are based on communities that set their own rules and cultivate their skills and values. Based on these always-evolving, conflict-ridden processes, communities integrate themselves into the bigger picture. In a culture of commons, inclusion is more important than exclusion, cooperation more important than competition, autonomy more important than control. Rejecting the monopolization of information, wealth, and power gives rise to diversity again and again. Nature appears as a common wealth that must be carefully stewarded, and not an ever-available property to be exploited.

Read the full Manifesto in English (Strengthen the Commons: Now!)German (Streiten für Gemeingüter: Jetzt!), and Spanish (Fortalecer los Bienes Comunes: Ahora!).

Change the paradigm

A couple of days ago I went to a seminar by Leonardo Boff, a leading figure in the liberation theology movement and recipient of the Alternative Nobel “Right Livelihood Award” in 2001. He now thinks and writes about ecology and spirituality and calls for a paradigm shift for humanity to find back to living with nature instead of just using it.

His talk was very inspiring and underlined the need for an approach that is not just rebuilding our economic system, but that changes some fundamental characteristics of it. Given the extractive logic of the “maximize profit” model, an interesting comparison he made stuck in my head:

[Economic] growth behaves like cancer cells. They grow and grow until they have destroyed the whole body.

Sustainability is the better business model

Amazing case for sustainability in business on TED.

Ray Anderson tells the story of how he set out to change the economic model that governed his company Interface (and still governs most businesses).

The dominant industrial model is extractive, linear (take – make – waste), abusive, focused on labor productivity, dependent on fossil fuels. In this model environmental impact (I) is generated by people (P), what they consume (their affluence – A) and how it is produce (the technology – T). Paul and Anne Ehrlich summarized this as:

I = P x A x T

Realizing that he had the power over the way his products are made, Ray started working since 1995 to change that formula for Interface to

I = (P x A)/T, so that technology decreases the impact instead of multiplying it.

Towards the end of his talk he then goes a step further to advocate that affluence expressed by a capital A denotes an end in itself, and should instead be a small ‘a’ that is a means for happiness, thus changing the formula to

I = (P x a)/(T2 x H)

Great vision! Watch the video to hear the numbers of how this model made his company not only reduce a lot of its impact (they aim for 0 impact by 2020) but also much more competitive.

Why don’t we ask more questions?

Very much in line with the quote by Martin von Hildebrand I posted a couple of days ago:

Too often in most businesses asking questions seems intrusive, as if you are trying to catch someone off guard or perhaps suspect they haven’t done their homework. That’s too bad, because far too many questions go unasked, and because of that far too many assumptions go unchallenged and far too many half-baked ideas are implemented.

via Thinking Faster: Asking the right questions.

Thanks to Martin (aka frogpond) for pointing me to this post.

Blogging for a cause: Don’t forget the small less visible non-profits

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s Blogging For a Cause campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

I know, I am too late for the campaign (it ended on June 6), but I still want to talk about a small NGO here in Belo Horizonte. It exemplifies a lot of small projects and programs that have an enormously positive impact on people’s lives but that are not visible global campaigns or may not even have a web presence.

Programa Pólos Reprodutores de Citadania is a small non-profit managed by the legal faculty of the Federal University of Minas Gerais and allows students to help favela (shanty town) inhabitants in Belo Horizonte and poor communities in the North of the state of Minas Gerais through action research. The work includes conflict mediation, psychological support for victims of violence, land tenure regularization and more building bridges between the different social strata that are very divided in Brazil.

If you know Portuguese you can find out more reading the initial project document.

Leading and being lead

Holger posted a summary of a presentation on Unfolding Individual & Collective Potential in Corporations by Jascha Rohr (@jaschrohr) at the Berlin Hub: We are in the middle of a process of accelerating change that will redefine much of our lives and Jascha’s presentation looked at the implications of this change for organizations. The new type of organization he sees emerging is one in which, “everybody can and will lead and everybody can and will follow in different phases.

In a post reviewing a new book called Herd, Sean Howard asks why we focus on the so-called influencers or celebrities as role models and leaders instead of realizing that “the reality is we follow the majority and we follow our friends.”  Holger cites an article on Swarm Theory to show that there may be no leaders, but each bee simply copies the behavior of the neighbor. And as Sean writes: “[F]rom this simple copying emerge complex systems or ecologies of behavior.”

Along the same logic, Lewis Wolpert, Emeritus Professor in Cell and Developmental Biology at UCL, insists in the BBC’s The Forum,  that cells do just fine without a command structure, suggesting this seemingly chaotic principle of organizing does not just apply to bee or ant colonies, or human herds, but that it is the fundamental principle of building any complex system, including human beings.

Does this mean that anyone can be the leader at different times, or that there are simply no leaders?

Is decentralized collaboration possible for all types of work?

This post captures a couple of quotes from an interview with Tim O’Reilly about leadership and effective collaboration that I found intriguing. My take-aways in summary: recognize that you have to set a context, which entices people to contribute to; know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members; and create a (decentralized) system that allows every member to realize their own vision, while still contributing to the whole.

On defining leadership:

Harold Geneen (…) said, “The skill of management is achieving your objectives through the efforts of others.”  (…) While I completely subscribe to the concept, because the skill of management is indeed achieving your objectives through the effort of others, I have always worked with the framing of another quote, which is actually about writing (…) from Edwin Schlossberg, who (…) said, “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

On being a team leader:

It’s a kind of pattern recognition, which is going back to how I think about the process of editing. It’s a little bit like what Michelangelo used to say about making a statue; that it’s about finding the image that’s hidden in the stone. I think editing a book is like that. Leading a project is like that. (…) I think that leading your team is like that also. How do you get a group of people to achieve their potential? By seeing who they are, and what they can accomplish.

On the architecture of participation:

I think one of the reasons why certain projects fail is because they’re mixing and matching from the wrong systems. We have to have a system that has a fundamental characteristic that there are small pieces that people can work on independently. I think this is why, for example, people have said that they’ll do books as Wikis, and it hasn’t really taken off. Why not? Because a book is a fairly large, complex thing with a single narrative thread. Wikipedia is a set of pages, and the atomic unit of content is something that a single individual can make a plausible promise at, and other people can update and tweak. And the whole is the sum of many, many such small parts. I think, for example, that there are certain types of works that lend themselves to that kind of collaborative activity–being more free-form precisely because they’re designed in such a way that the pieces fit together.

Especially the last quote, the reasoning why wiki books have not taken off, makes me wonder if real collaboration with complex team processes can be designed to work beyond organizational contexts where someone can set the right incentives (e.g. through compensation) to have everyone pull in the same direction.