I have been heads down this week writing my chapter for Todd's More Space Book
Well it is done and I can get my life back
Thank you Todd for allowing me the space to finally get my thoughts about what is happening to us out in the open.
This how it opens. You can read the rest if want in the follow on.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."
I was in a meeting this week with a group of “educators”. We were talking about Communities of Practice. I mentioned blogging several times in the meeting. At the meeting’s end, one of the participants approached me and said, “Every time you mention blogging I get annoyed. It is only a fad and will never affect education.”
I believe that it is not a fad. I believe that Blogging, and its wider family of Social Software tools, will not only affect education but will shake our entire society to the core. I believe that our descendants will look back at its arrival the same way that we now look back at the advent of the printing press.
I believe that Social Software is a vector a return to an old culture.
When I say old culture, I mean the culture that fits the essential nature of humans and that fits nature itself. I imagine a return to the custom of being personally authentic, to a definition of work that serves the needs of our community, and to a society where our institutions serve to enhance all life.
I see signs that that we are going home. See if you can see what I can see.
Is this your life?
Imagine, you are lying on the floor in a corridor in the main building of your large university in Toronto. Because there are so many students and so little space, this is what you do when you are tired. You have just left a class of 200 other students. You have never met the professor. Your only contact with the teaching staff has been with a series of harassed TA’s. You graduate soon and your nights of study are often punctuated with fears about what you are going to do. Your student loans are over $30,000. You will graduate this year with thousands of others who also have no job. Everyone told you that you had to go to university to get a good job and to have a good life. What is wrong with that advice? You feel helpless. You feel betrayed.
Imagine, you are driving back to work from the clinic. You don’t have a family doctor. No one you know has one anymore. You have used a night clinic. No one there knows you or seems to care. Your mind is racing. You have been told that you have developed Type 2 Diabetes. The exhausted doctor has given you a list of to do’s that you find impossible. You will have to change the way that you eat. You will have to take regular exercise. You will have to be careful with your foot care. If you are not, you could lose a leg. You will have to give yourself injections. The doctor told you that there is nurse who can help you learn how to do all of this but that she is booked for the next 4 months. How are you going to do all of this? You feel helpless. You are on your own. You feel betrayed.
Imagine, you are in the cow barn. You are sitting in your office by the door with a letter in your hand. It is from the health inspectors. It was bad enough when the buyer from the supermarket chain told you that they could only consider you as a supplier if you could supply 100 times your volume. But now this: the health folks will shut you down unless you install over $100,000 worth of new equipment. You had hoped that you could scale up your small operation. Wasn’t value-added the way to break out of the commodity trap in farming? You feel lost. There is nothing that you can do but fold. You feel betrayed.
Imagine, it is lunchtime on Friday. You are 52 and have just left the deputy’s office. You joined the health and social services department all those years ago because you wanted to make difference. But for many years you have only been able to put the time in. You can barely remember when you did anything that really helped. Now all you can do is to try and keep the wheels on. You have just taken early retirement. You wonder what happened to kill your dream. You feel betrayed and you wonder if you also betrayed those that you once sought to serve.
Imagine, it is 3 in the morning and the bar is empty except for you and the other members of the band. They are celebrating. You have been noticed. After years of grind in bars like this building a sound and a repertoire, you are on the verge of signing a deal. But as your friends celebrate, you are thinking about what the deal really means. You will become an indentured slave. All the power is with the company. Is this deal going to be worth it? After all your years of effort, the pay-off is to become a prisoner. You feel helpless. You feel betrayed.
Imagine, it is midnight and you have won your seat in Parliament. Everyone around you is jubilant. But you are depressed. You went into politics to make a difference. You thought that it would be all about the issues. But to win, you had to become a spin expert like all the others. Worse, you know now that you are good at it. The PMO has noticed you and is making warm noises about cabinet. You know that what they noticed was not your expertise or your passion for children and families but your big name as a sports legend. You feel helpless. You can’t back out now and you will play the game. You feel that you have betrayed yourself. You wonder if you will now betray the country.
Imagine, you are on vacation in Florida. It is spring. The weather is great but you are inside watching TV. The second Iraq war has begun. You hate war but you feel that this is the right thing to do. After all you know that we have to do this to prevent a catastrophe. You do not know then how stupid you will feel a year later and how betrayed. There is no voice of truth in the media, only spin. You will feel helpless in the face of this power and control of how the world thinks.
Imagine, you are in your car and you are driving to work. You have just decided not to return home that night. You have not packed a bag. You do not have a plan. You have just snapped and you can’t take it anymore. Your family has become a prison. You gave, gave and gave. But it was not enough. You could never have imagined that this would have happened to you as a newly wed. You wonder what your adult children will think of you. Have you betrayed them? You feel helpless. Who can you turn to?
Imagine you are in your new room at the seniors’ home. Your daughter has just left. You are on your own. How did your life come to this? How could you have found yourself so alone and useless that your family has shunted you off to this place of no return? You feel helpless. Who can you talk to? You feel betrayed.
Imagine you are in hospice in Charlottetown. You are scared. You look back at your life. You did all that was expected of you. You have been a pretty good husband and dad. You had the career that your father so wanted you to have. You did him proud, ending up a senior executive of a bank. But you are so sad. You are so sad. You always loved working with wood. After you retired, you discovered that you were a cabinetmaker. And what about Jean? She was your great love but you chose duty instead and backed away. Who have you betrayed the most? You lived all those other people’s plans for your life and you have missed your own.
Imagine the countless other stories: the bored schoolboy on Ritalin; the Pakistani doctor driving a taxi in Toronto; the laid-off coal miner. Imagine the life of a teacher or a nurse today.
Imagine your own story.
We surely live in desperate times.
Living in the “Matrix”
I think that we in the West have been asleep for a long time. An idea put us to sleep.
It was 100 years ago that Henry Ford took the Newtonian idea of a machine-like construction of the universe and made it manifest on Earth.
Now we take it for granted that education is a linear process that leads to a credential. Now we expect that healthcare is an intervention by special people who deliver drugs and procedures. We take it for granted in business that we can have an economy or a healthy biosphere but not both. We take it for granted that work, family and education are separate processes that compete for our time. We think that it is normal to have a job and a manager. We believe that having more things will make us happy. We accept that we have no real say in the governance of our work place. Bombarded by millions of messages telling us what to buy, to eat to wear and to do, we have no confidence in our own innate judgment about what is good for us.
This mechanical model of separation has us gripped so totally that we don’t even know that we live in a kind of Matrix. For most of the last century the success of the Ford Model of mechanical relationships worked. The model delivered a massive increase in overall well being in a material way. We no longer experience this model as anything other than “Normal”.
But the price has been the loss of our humanity and a growing threat to the biosphere that supports all life. Now we are restless. The system does not deliver what we want anymore. It just consumes more of our energy. We don’t know what is wrong but we know that something has broken.
At this moment of despair, a new culture is awakening. This new culture is the child of Einstein and the revolution in physics of the early 20th century.
While Einstein’s related view of a universe is the norm in the world of physics, we still live in the mechanical worldview of Newton. Why the lag? Just as Newton needed his organizational champion, Henry Ford, to bring his worldview into life, so Einstein has waited nearly a century for his business champions, Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll.
Just as all of physics was thrown into turbulence with these new ideas, so our mundane world of work and living is being conflicted as the old guard fights the new.
Why Herb laughs
Why do Dell, Southwest, Starbucks and Wal*Mart, who all share parts of the new organic model, stand alone in their sectors? Why has there not been a rush to adopt?
Dick Fosbury won the Olympic Gold medal for the High Jump by a foot. But you may be surprised to learn that other leading athletes did not rush to copy him either. It took more than 10 years for the Flop to become standard. Why was there this delay when it was obvious to all that the Flop was decisively better?
Imagine you have jumped using the Straddle for 15 years. Your mind may want to use the Flop but your body will fail you as you approach the bar. It will try and Straddle as your mind tries to Flop. You will fail because your muscle memory is more powerful than your intellect. You cannot shake the habits of a lifetime. And it was not only the athletes who could not adjust. It was also the coaches. How can you coach using the Flop when your reputation has been built on the Straddle?
This is why Herb Kelleher laughs at his competition. Those who see the choice in terms of techniques fail. They think it is all about fleet management when Kelleher knows that it is all about culture. Herb created a space where employees could trust each other and management. This space was the priority. It came before the customer. It came before profits. With this space, Southwest had the flexibility to have the cooperation between its 8 unions that is not possible in other airlines. With this trust came a feeling in the staff that was communicated to the customer.
Herb laughs because you cannot buy your way into the new culture. You cannot will your way into the new culture. He is in a world that his competitors cannot reach. They are all trapped in the Straddle. Not only are his competitors trapped but also so are most of those that advise them such as the big consulting firms and the business schools.
You cannot argue your way into the new. People can see it or they cannot.
This is the struggle of perception that Howard Shultz had with his early owners. They saw the business as being all about the transactional activity of selling beans. Howard saw it as being all about an emotional experience. They could not see what he saw. He had to leave to help them change their minds.
IBM sells their PC division. HP buys Compaq but none of them copy Michael Dell’s customer driven process. Why? The idea of allowing the customer to drive the process is heresy for them. They would rather die than accept this idea. They will martyr themselves for their culture of control.
Think about Sears and Kmart. Sam Walton’s huge idea was not about efficiency as an end in itself. He set out to listen to his customers and to give them what they wanted and not what he thought that they should have. So the polarity at Wal*Mart is from the store to Bentonville not the other way around. The guys at Kmart laughed. Who is laughing now?
I am not saying that all future success will be slavishly to copy Sam, Michael, Howard, Herb and Pierre. These are early days. The revolution has hardly begun.
I believe that the next wave will driven by blogging and will mainly be about large networks of the small. But I get ahead of myself. I will expand on this at the end.
So what side of the bifurcation are you on? Are you a Flopper or do you Straddle? One thing is for sure, I can never persuade you to change your belief by an argument. Like Galileo, I will do my best to show you instead.
I have no telescope but I do have a time machine. Like a telescope, it will give you the perspective to see the new planets and the new sun. I will take you back to another era when the system also did not work. We will see how similar our time is to theirs. We will see how a few revolutionaries took on the prevailing system of their time and won.
I will finish our trip by returning to the ideas. We will look more closely at Google and Blogging. For by then you will either have skipped my chapter or you will see what I see.
Back to the Future
We are going back to the end of the Middle Ages. We journey back to the beginning of the time that gave birth to our own culture. We go back to Europe of the early 16th century. We go back to the beginning of our own pattern. A great cultural system is in terminal decay and a new cultural system is being born.
Like now, this is a turbulent time. War has been constant. Plague has killed 25% of the people. A new world had just been discovered that is going to pump money into Europe and will pull adventurers away. Islam has just been driven out of Europe. There has been a tidal wave of social and religious unrest that has been crushed utterly by an invincible combination of a universal church and by Kings that are gaining in power.
More powerful than the sword of the King is the power of the media.
The pulpit is the mass media. It is the only source of information for the mass of people. Literacy is confined to the Church. Books are rare and very expensive. They are written in Latin or Greek. Knowledge is locked up. Not only does the church control the processes of communication but it has a tight control on message as well. Its two main messages are that salvation is only possible if you give the church your total obedience and much of your worldly wealth. The other message is that God himself has appointed the temporal rulers over you.
Then on October 31st 1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. At the heart of these theses was a big idea. That people did not need an institution between them and God.
A hundred years later, in 1633, the Inquisition convicts Galileo of heresy. His crime was to use evidence to refute the dogma that the earth was the centre of the universe.
These are powerful ideas. But when faced with all this power against them, to spread they needed a viral vector. With all this power lined up behind the establishment, open war would have been suicide. Only a virus could get though the immune system of the time.
The viral vector began humbly in Frankfurt, in 1455 at the Frankfurt Book Fair,
In that year, Johann Gutenberg sells the first copies of his mass-produced German Language Bible. He sells them for 300 florins each. This was the equivalent of approximately three years' wages for an average clerk. However it was significantly cheaper compared to a handwritten Bible, which could take a single monk 20 years to transcribe. The viral vector was out and the ideas that it carried could not be stopped! The lock on communications was broken.
Who would have known then that a priest with a big idea, a man with a telescope and a man with a new communication tool would come together to shake the world?
Who would have known then that the vast power of the universal church and of the divinely empowered monarchs would be soon challenged and be overthrown? Who would have known then that science would be born? Who would have known then that the individual would soon have greater power to communicate than the church or the King?
Can we see our own predicament in this light today? Is this not our pattern too?
Is not our great problem that the great institutions of our time, government, healthcare, education, arts and entertainment, even business, no longer serve us but only themselves?
Is not their organizational doctrine based on a dogma of control? Have they not divorced their world-view from observable reality? Is not this split from the laws of nature their dogma? Are they not prepared to fight to the death to preserve this dogma? Do we not see the entertainment industry as an Inquisition? Do we not see the IP industry as the agent of the controllers and not of the creative?
Is not the new “big idea” of our time to disintermediate the institutional middleman and to enable direct relationships? Are supermarkets eternal? Do we need factory universities to learn? Is our health dependent on a doctor? Is the news what we see on TV?
Is this idea of going direct, the same for us as Luther’s big idea that man could talk directly to God? Is not the new doctrine for organizations based on the observable working laws and designs of nature the same as Galileo’s observations?
Is not the enabling vector, a new type of communication device that is so simple and so inexpensive that it will give voice and hence power back to individuals and to their communities? Did not the printing press give men back their voice in the 16th century? Was not pamphletting the blogging of their time? Was not a consequence of printing, mass literacy? Did the use of this new media topple the power of the old media system? Did it not change politics? Did it not push Alchemy aside and give birth to science? Why would we expect less of Social Software?
Are we not standing at the beginning of a new reformation? Has the wheel of history turned full circle?
Let’s find out. Let’s jump forward in time to the near future. Let’s pick 2009 and drop in on how some of the pioneers in 2005 have done. Let’s go to where I live, Prince Edward Island, my adopted home.
The Right Space
You are a leader in the Drupal Movement. You have just arrived in Charlottetown from Vancouver to visit your friends here. You have been developing the community education alternative to WebCT. Your toolset has become the new norm for online University education and, as Firefox broke though in the browser wars, so you too have broken through in education.
Will has picked you up at the airport and has delivered you to where you will stay, the Queen Street Commons.
You of course have your own version of the Commons, the Robson Commons, in Vancouver. In the last year “The Commons Network” (TCN) has erupted all over North America and in the UK. Like Visa International, the TCN is a non-profit association that provides the connective tissue for thousands of local operations. With over a million members now and growing exponentially, TCN is now able to provide its members not only with a network of space but with the buying power to offer individuals the price of insurance and many other services that could never have been accessed by individuals. TCN is a vast network of Free Agents who now have the power of the network effect behind them.
Your Robson Vancouver membership has given you the right to stay at Queen Street Commons for $25.00 a night. It’s like a home and not a hotel. It is clean and comfortable and, more important; it is full of your friends who spend a lot of their day working there. Your network is here. It is like going home but in another place.
Every evening feels like a party as members drop by for a drink, a chat, a movie and maybe to take on the world in a number of games.
Local membership costs only $45 a month. Members get wireless, copying, space, coffee and the meeting room in the basic membership price. This unique pricing was designed to drive a forgotten type of group behaviour. The social norms of the Commons are the same as those that are used in many Kindergartens. Treat others and the place as if it were you and yours. Like eBay, your reputation, your character and your behaviour are central to your success in the Commons. Like eBay your reputation precedes you. Your reputation is everything. Members share a space that probably feels a lot like Lloyds Coffee House felt to the pioneers of business 250 years ago. Then too, your word was your most important asset.
There are booths in a big kitchen where bread is baking and the coffee pot is bottomless. In the quiet room at the back sit 4 people with their laptops, earphones in, working privately. In the meeting room, there is a meeting of the PEI Food Network. In the front room another group is laughing and planning this week’s series of streamed TV broadcasts
The Queen Street Commons is a safe space that is designed to build trust and community. It is a physical eBay. It had some founders who set up the initial conditions but, as in eBay, the expanding community of members is taking it off into all sorts of directions that could never have been thought of when the doors opened in 2005. It is the very essence of the new worldview. It is a “Generative Space” that brings forth life from within and also replicates itself. It evolves into new forms as well that feed back on each other changing all the time as new needs appear.
Very quickly other Commons’ opened up in all the small towns on PEI. The second was in Montague where the founding group were not young blogging men but young mothers who were fed up with being marginalized.
The irony is while integrating children and work was the founding problem for the mums in Montague, that now the “Young Turks” in Charlottetown have their own small children, the child-care issues are paramount here as well. Both Montague and Charlottetown now have adjacent buildings where they run a Child Care Coop. Some of the older kids drop by and help out with small jobs at the main office just as farm kids had chores when most of us lived on farms.
The Media Revolution
The Commons has its own local radio station and TV, the PEI Broadcast Network. City Filter, the parent company of a large network of small town community newspapers is also located at the Commons and is a partner of the PEI Broadcast Network.
This approach to local media is exploding around the world and advertising revenues are shifting rapidly to the new media as it gathers local support. This revenue shift started in classified but has now spread to the mainstream as context sensitive advertising has replaced “punting for consumers” and as authentic word of mouth has replaced “spin”. The established global media system is in shock as it is eroded from the small local markets up into the national and global markets.
The most recent provincial election has just taken place and the PEI Blog/Media was central to the emergence of the PEI Party that has 9 seats
What was different was the end of the sound bite. With the new media, the issues were finally put on the table and candidates had to get engaged in a dialogue. Claiming that you were going to get more money for healthcare raised the question of “For what”. Then the answer of “To hire more nurses” raised the questions of “how and why”. Then the debate really started.
Voters and their MLA’s were starting to debate why the schools were not working rather than all assuming that simply more money would be the answer. Now more people could see that the real energy issue was not the price of gas but of how best to become independent of the use of oil. Now many could see that more doctors and nurses on their own could not make us well. What many could see was that we all had to get re-engaged in our lives and in the lives of our community.
Consequently, there has been an earthquake in political policy development. Education, healthcare and energy policy are all on a self-help and community track now. There is a growing recognition that more of the same is not the answer. As new community projects come on line and work, the remaining pool of doubters shrinks further.
The country watched. There is no going back to the sound bite and to being bribed with our own money.
The New Agricultural and Energy Revolution
The outbreak of avian flu that wiped out the Ontario and Quebec poultry business in 2005 has dealt a deathblow to factory farming for animals. Occurring after the Mad Cow scare, it was becoming clear that the health problem in our food system was not about refrigeration but about how animals were raised and how they were sold. The penny finally dropped. Animals could not be raised in concentration camps without becoming agents for human disease. We began to see that the driver of this unhealthy food system was the hyper concentration of power in the distribution system.
In 2005, the PEI Food Local Network was born. It had a simple idea. It, like eBay, would create a safe space where small local producers, using distributed network, could offer their eggs, their hens, their pork, their grass fed beef, their organic veggies to their fellow citizens. Now if you wanted good food, buying it was easy.
The key was Social Software. Every farm has its own blog that is aggregated into the main site. Like on eBay, a host of new food and then craft communities arose. The big surprise was the Farm Vacation Network. One of the hottest vacations for city families is to spend time in a farm again. The kids not only go to the beach but help on the farm. The connection between farming and the food we eat has been made again and it is the children that are leading the way.
The prices were good for all as the middleman was cut out. It was convenient as the scale of the network assured that everything in season was available. Most importantly, it was trusted. When you bought a chicken, you knew that this animal had had a good life and was healthy. You knew who raised the bird. You knew that in buying it, you kept the money in circulation on PEI.
A great initial stimulus for the new food system was the PEI school system. As part of the new health awareness, the Eastern School Board contracted the PEI Local Food network to supply breakfast and then lunch for the kids. Within 2 years the results in the schools and on the land were enormous. We had a breakthrough in BMI with the kids who also took their new diet back into the homes and we had enough of a market to drive the growth of the supply side too.
The new farm is once again the old farm. The ideal is to have 40 acres and to be mixed. Farming is becoming a way of life again. Good food is becoming commonplace. Our rivers and our soil are showing signs of renewal.
Many of the larger industrial farmers have also found a new way. The survivors, lead by a group in Kinkora, shifted their focus from growing commodity potatoes to growing energy. Now every community on PEI has a few turbines. It was a deal between the School Board and the local farmers that set this in motion. The Board needed a hedge against $100 barrel oil. It had a two-pronged strategy. It created a market for bio diesel for its school buses and it created a local electricity customer for wind power. The communities built out from these centres. In less than 6 years PEI is well on its way to be independent of oil.
The supermarkets still do well but all can see that the new way will eventually, like Open Source in Software overwhelm them. With this powerful concentration of power being eroded, they are acting much more like Microsoft did as the advent of Firefox revealed their vulnerability.
The Health Revolution
The new health model is clear now. It started as an experiment for seniors on PEI. With help from the Federal government, a tiny project was launched in 2005 where a social networking tool was set up with a few seniors. The objective was to see what would happen if seniors were connected on the web with each other.
Within 2 years, there were over three thousand members and over 50 groups on PEI alone and the network is spreading all over North America.
Initially, the most popular groups were in health. The health groups grew up at first as support groups. The first was for a group that had severe arthritis. Within months this group had become very expert. They were on top of the leading research and had lots of practical advice for each other. They provided not only moral support but also expert help. For a group for whom mobility was a challenge, the online aspect was a perfect fit. Many broke though their fears of the web by taking lessons from other seniors in the Blogging 101 group.
Many who were disconnected from life now have a reason to get up in the morning again. The tracking research is showing us that the more connected the seniors were to each other and to the world, they better their overall health.
The community thickened up and many who thought their lives were over became like teenagers again. When two members got married as a result of meeting in the group, their wedding was attended by hundreds of online friends.
“The Hipsters”, as they call themselves, were a pathfinder group in an approach to health that is now becoming the norm. We are beginning to understand that our health is directly linked to our identity and to our community. Our great fear had been that, as the boomers all got old together, they would overwhelm the healthcare system. We think that we have turned the corner and we see signs that the load on the formal health system is leveling off as more people find that they can find the best treatment advice and support in community with peers.
The PEI Seniors College is part of this reconnection. Now it is seniors who teach seniors. Teach is perhaps the wrong word. Peers lead groups who talk about things that interest them. Poetry is one of the most popular areas of study. “Students” are no longer linked to a test of a credential but to learning and the impact of the work that seniors are doing is pushing back at the regular University approach.
The University & Consulting Revolution
UPEI began an experiment in the summer of 2006. Come to PEI for the summer and meet the other students and then go onto take an online Master’s degree in the Natural Economy. The Master in the Natural Economy (MINE) is a master’s degree course that engages the learner as many of the ideas and practices of the new ways of organizing and acting as possible. It embodies the ideas of our new time. It draws on hundreds of “Gurus” that live all over the world that bring their own story and experience to bear. Students, who nearly all are employed, develop their own path of study within the context of the course intention.
The school initially emerged out of one course, Marketing as a Conversation inspired by Cluetrain and by the ongoing thinking and blogging of by people like Seth Godin, Hugh McLeod, Johnnie Moore and Jennifer Rice. Their marketing revolution was the first breach of the old system that took hold.
There are a number of paths that students can take but all the work is founded in the ideas of how real relationships and real networks work. Paul Hawken is Dean Emeritus and the current Dean of the School in Natural Economy is George Dafermos who’s early writing on the use of Open Source, as an organizational model, has been so influential. Robert Scoble is the Visiting Guru this year and will be on PEI this summer offering workshops in Voice and Culture. He replaces Dave Pollard who will be sorely missed.
Students spend a month in the summer here on PEI where their task is to get to know each other and to decide on their focus for study. They then return home and form groups that are facilitated by the gurus. The full Masters degree costs only $7,000 and has of course no other costs. There are now 17,000 students in the system that is 4 times the size of UPEI, conventional undergraduate school.
MINE Graduates are in extreme demand as organizations struggle to understand the shift that they have to undergo. The traditional business schools have had great difficulty in moving this fast because they have such an investment in the old. Similarly, the major consulting firms have all but collapsed, as they too could not reframe their costs and their competence.
In their place have emerged networks of “Gurus” like the Hughtrain Alliance that are recognized as the key talent that shook the marketing world. These networks have a very different model and become partners of the host organization. They are not report writing organizations with expensive offices and extreme hierarchies but are much more like coaches of a team. Most of the students of the Natural Economy work and most of their study is in the context of solving their real challenges.
In effect, consulting has become an extension of the education process.
The School Revolution
As with seniors, the revolution in PEI schools did not happen as a result of any deliberate project to transform schools. What is happening is that a series of projects designed to engage children have taken hold. This work did not even take place in the regular school day but in the afternoon.
The afternoon has become a place where children can do the one thing that they really love. They choose and then the community tries its best to find people who can take them to a place of great expertise.
This idea had its start in two areas, Theatre and Sport. Theatre PEI began a community program in the afternoon to awaken kids to the thrill of theatre. At the same time, Sports PEI began a similar program to offer the average kids more opportunity in sport. All this work was organized and expanded by the use of local blog sites that were designed to engage the local community. The resources came from adults who lived close by.
Now many other groups are filling the afternoon. The PEI Local Food Network has joined forces with 4H and has a very successful offer in growing and cooking food well. Kids are learning the whole process from raising grass fed cattle to slaughter and butchering to cooking. It is now being seen as normal for people in the community to offer their help to kids at school. There is even a popular astronomy movement in the evening. We have all been surprised at the transformation of bored children who now are applying the kind of energy that used to be confined to say skateboarding to studying the night sky.
Overloaded teachers now have an army of allies and the schools have a new relevance as more and more is taught that makes sense to kids. The day curriculum, once so abstract, is rapidly moving to support the afternoon study. The astronomers drive a need for more complex math. The Theatre group drove a study of literature. Everyone has to be able to read. School is becoming fun.
Recalled to Life
I have only scratched the surface of what I can imagine. Can you see how each improvement in one place then acts to help another? In a network, every new node helps the whole. Imagine for yourself what can happen.
So let’s return to today. The two most important life giving structures are in place. They are Google and the Blog. They are both spaces in which life unfolds and then grows. They are interrelated and they support each other. They are both Generative Spaces. It is their interaction that I believe will transform our world.
Let’s start by looking at Google from this perspective of it being a Generative Space.
What do I mean by this? How would you define Google?
Many would label it a Search Engine. Is it an engine really? Does it act like a machine or does it act like an ecosystem? How does Google make its choices about how to answer your search? It finds the answers ranked on authority. Google defines authority by a combination of page views and links. This is an evolutionary process where the world votes on value and the pages with the most votes rank first. This is how nature works. Nature is blind to our prayers. Species and systems that do well pull ahead of those that do less well. Species and systems that cannot adapt to changes fall behind. There is no wizard behind a curtain moving any lever. There is only a competition for value.
Open Google News. You see a page full of news stories. There has been a choice as to what you see and this choice changes every minute of the day. What editor chose the stories displayed? There is no editor. There is no wizard. The Google ecosystem selected the items.
Your Gmail from a friend mentions a vacation. On the right are a few ads for cottages. Unlike regular advertising that comes at you for no reason other than your availability and the will of some wizard, these ads only show up when they are relevant. They are context sensitive. If you talk about food, food ads appear. If you talk about cars, car ads appear. Who selected these ads? You did. How did they get to your inbox? The Google ecosystem allowed them to find you.
Why Gmail and why Picasa. They are free. How can Google make money you ask? Google is using these services to create a larger ecosystem. The larger the ecosystem, the more valuable it becomes. All traders know that the key to success is having as much Flow as possible. Google’s leaders are after the network effect. They subscribe to Reed’s law where the greatest value possible exists in a facilitated community that scales in value at the rate of 2n. 2n is the most exponential curve in math.
They will overturn the vast world of marketing and advertising.
You are fed up with most ads anyway. Who would trust them? What you trust is the word of mouth of your peers. How do you find this WOM? You used to have a brother in law or a girl friend that was the car or clothes maven. But now you have Google. You are going to buy a new car. You Google the model and you get not only the maker’s site but also blog sites that have people like you commenting on their real experience. How did you find them? The Google ecosystem generated them. You want to see a movie. Google ranks the reviews. Who made that call? The world did. You want to buy anything? You will find a source of information that you can trust on Google. You want to choose a university or at university a professor. Google will take you to a place that you can trust.
Think of the billions spent on marketing today. In 2003 the US carmakers spent $15 billion on conventional marketing. Only 15% of buyers made their choice because of this investment. More than 70% relied on word of mouth. Google will disrupt spin and place more value on word of mouth and on conversation.
Context sensitive ads not only appear on your search but in your mail. Your mail is more you than your search. More and more of us are switching to Gmail because it brings context and hence meaning to our mails as well. Now you see your mail through the lens of conversations. Instead of an endless and meaningless list of entries, mail is being rearranged into contextual conversations.
Conversation will move into the centre of the marketplace. Conversation will also redefine our understanding of information, of education of health and of community.
In the pre-blogging world of 4 years ago, all you would find in your search was a static document. Now, increasingly, you find a conversation.
We are just starting to understand that the explicit information located in a document is only a small part of the value. It is tacit information that emerges from conversation that is where the gold is found. It is in conversation, in the context of a legitimate relationship, that learning and the best value occurs.
Knowledge is not an object.
The idea that knowledge is an object is an industrial artifact. Knowledge is more than facts; it is about understanding and participation. Google enables you to find the best person and the best conversation. This is what is behind the marketing revolution. This is what is behind the impending revolution in education and health. Conversation is also the force behind the generation of a new community.
Google is the connective tissue that will make important conversations and communities the paramount places of informed power in the world and will put dogma back into the waste bin of history.
At the centre of conversation is the Blog.
At the heart of the Blog is the authentic voice. The product of the authentic voice is community. The end game of community is identity. Identity is the answer of the greatest question that any human can ask which is “Who am I?”
The machine world has progressively killed off our authentic voice. We instead struggle to fit into a machine structure that tells us who we should be rather then allows us to become the person of destiny that we can be. We worked to get marks at school rather than to learn about our world and our place in it. We end up in jobs where we give up ourselves. We are bombarded with messages that tell us what we should look like, what we should wear, who we should mate with, how to be happy and who we should be. No wonder we find relationships difficult. How can we have a relationship with another when we have lost the core relationship with our own selves?
What is a Blog then?
It is also a generative space in which we can give birth to our lost voice. As we find our voice, we begin to wake up. We start to become human again.
How does the Blog awaken us? This open space invites us to speak in public. Hesitantly at first we speak the old way. But now and then the occasional real voice pops out. As it does, others notice and drop by and encourage us. Encouraged we use our real voice more often. More people drop by and encourage us. Thank you Peter and Critt my first Angels.
Our voice is so strong that can be heard around the entire globe. We are amazed to find others far away that can hear us and who have the same tone. Thank you dear Dina.
Community begins to form. This is not about the communities of A list bloggers with thousands of readers. This is about having a small group of 15 or 30 strong connections with an inner circle of 5-8. As much as we expand our RSS reader lists, we find that we can only manage these limited numbers. Why? These are Magic Numbers. They are the core numbers of our ancient tribal hunter-gatherer past. It should be no surprise that we become most human again in the context that we are designed to be most comfortable in, the tribe.
Once again we begin to experience the ecstasy of communion with our spiritual brothers and sisters. I use the word communion because community is now too pallid a feeling. I use the word ecstasy because that is the power of the feeling. No wonder Blogging is addictive. What could be more addictive that finding out who you are in communion with people that your trust completely? Your new identity as a human being emerges in the context of this community.
Power and the Web of Life
Is this just a self-referencing talking shop? No I am seeing powerful forces underway that demand action.
For tribes are not simply social like a bridge club. Neither are they only about work alone. Tribes are not separate from place either. Most importantly, tribes know that wisdom comes from the group and that the future comes from their children. In the tribal world the wholeness is restored. The separations of the machine world are healed.
It is the tribes that will start to rebuild our culture and that will replace the machine institutions with new ones that support life. It is the network effect that will give these tribes power beyond their small cell size.
Imagine, the web made flesh.
Like the web itself, these interconnected tribes will have a resiliency and a power unimaginable to us today. If you doubt me, imagine the trajectory of the Open Source Movement. Imagine what Wikipedia will be like in 20 years.
The power of this web will be enhanced by the release of the power of the full potential of each of us as humans. In the machine world we lived a drab life. But as free men and women who have found their true path and their community, what will our power be like?
Our Great Return
We are going home again to the place where humans fit.
Just as people at the end of the Middle Ages rediscovered the wisdom of the Classic world, so we are re-discovering the experience of tribal life. I don’t mean by this that we will have to take up hunting and live in caves. For we have made a Great Return before and we know how it will play out. Renaissance men did not put on togas. What they did was to remember the wisdom of the classic world that had been forgotten in a millennium dark age and applied this wisdom to the world of their time. So, we too will begin to experience a new way of living and of being and apply this experience to our own time and to our own challenges.
There will come a time when humanity will choose to go against nature, to exploit her bounteous gifts, causing a sickness across the planet. People will forget the ecstasies of communion, and life will become drab and colorless.
In these coming dark ages, though, a deep sense of loss will cause the beginnings of a Great Return. They will look at the landscape and the old temples, built to withstand the cataclysms of millennia and understand once again the sacred laws of Existence.
When this day comes, humanity will have come of age. It will consciously acknowledge its role in the creative impulse that comes from the Sun, fertilizes the Earth, and calls forth the flame in the hearts of men and women to worship Life and the miraculous forces behind Creation.
Miller, Hamish & Broadhurst, Paul. The Sun and the Serpent: An Investigation into Earth Energies