Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 30, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for self awareness and the opportunity for reflection. This last week has been emotionally exhausting and I'm planning to spend some time today reflecting on the source of these feelings.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 29, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for productive days. I got a lot accomplished yesterday and that pile of work that was looming yesterday feels much more manageable today.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 28, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for self-determination - at least to some extent. I have a pile of work I'm facing and I'm glad that I have the opportunity to determine how to approach it rather than having it dictated to me how I should do things.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 27, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for generosity from others. Generosity helps to soften my perception of the sharp edges that can, at times, seem to dominate the world.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 26, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for having an opportunity to be gracious. I'm not going to explain the details about this but it feels good and I know is the right thing to do.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 25, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for being alive. This sounds a little simple to my ear but it's how I'm feeling this morning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 24, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for wonderful friends. I've been around a number of people that a really care for over the last week and I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful group of people around me. For me this is the holiday spirit.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 23, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for rhymes. I like word play, though I'm not very good at it. I just heard the song "Bullet" by Rhymefest and realized I was grateful for the wordplay in songs and poetry.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 22, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for my physical therapist and the gift she has given me this holiday season of being able to ride, run and hopefully race - really race - again next season. This is such a big thing - it's hard for me to contain my excitement!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 21, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the inspiration and motivation that comes from having something new emerge in my life.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Altar Boyz

A couple of weeks ago I alluded to receiving an offer for free tickets to a show. The show was last night and it was Altar Boyz. It's a spoof on boy bands (think NSYNC, or the Backstreet Boys) as well as the trend in evangelical churches toward the inclusion of pop music and youth culture in their salvation campaigns.

I'm not a theater reviewer, a huge fan of boy bands or a deep well of knowledge about saving souls but here are a couple of thoughts:
  • The singing was great. I guess I was a bit surprised by the quality of the performances. At times they really drew me in and I could feel the power of their performance.
  • Of the five guys on stage Mark stole the show. His "attention to detail" came through in everything he did and provided never ending entertainment. Abraham's character kept growing throughout the performance and came in a close second to Mark who started off strong and finished just as strong.
  • The dancing and choreography was excellent. As an amateur dancer I was fascinated by some of their hip-hop moves.
  • Best song of the show - "Something About You" If you see the show you'll understand what I'm talking about!
  • The show left a lot of room for interpretation. Was this a spoof or was it a subtle way to save more souls? I'd be really interested to know how other people respond to it. Did it offend you? Make you laugh? Make you think about going to check out a mega church some day soon?
  • There were some really funny moments. This is a show to talk about after you leave the theater and laugh at some of the jokes again a second or third time. If you decide to go make sure to go with great company, I know that put a shine on the experience for me.

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 20, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for sleep. I'm getting off to a groggy start to the day but I'm sure I'll perk up soon. The grogginess makes me really appreciate my soft warm bed and I'm already looking forward to crawling back into it this evening.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 19, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for darkness. I was awake for a bit last night around 2:30 AM and it was very dark. Not quite complete darkness but by keeping my eyes closed it seemed that way. I really enjoyed this time as it forced me to tune into my other senses and experience them without the visual filter. This isn't the only time I've had this sort of experience - just the most recent.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 18, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for kind people. I had a really nice experience last night and it was the result of the kindness of a number of people.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 17, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for my neighborhood. I love all the different energy that exists just within a few blocks of home. I went to a couple of different areas of the city recently and it allowed me to realize how great my neighborhood is.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 15, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for self-determination. Sure, in many ways the concept of self-determination is a fallacy as we're all dependent on our communities, but every day I'm discovering new ways to determine my own life course that I hadn't know were possible.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 14, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for gift giving. I tend to be a bit of a humbug when it comes to giving holiday gifts. This year I'm exploring a different approach to this holiday tradition and I'm grateful for the opportunity to play in this way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 13, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for great storytelling. This time it's inspired by the film The Fountain. This film reached deep inside of me. Here is another article in Wired Magazine about the movie.
I tend to agree with the some of the comments about this movie that you will either love it or hate it - no middle ground. Problem is that I don't know if I love it but I know that I loved experiencing it. Not sure that makes sense but it's what the film did to me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 12, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the spell of warm weather we're having in mid-December. I've gotten out for a couple of nice bike rides in the last couple of days which is pretty amazing for Minnesota at this time of year.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 10, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the combination of patience and learning. These go together in a special way. It's very difficult for me to rush real learning. Some people seem to be specialized at cramming (for a test, project at work, learning a new skill) but that just doesn't work for me. A little bit every day really adds up to something special for me.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 9, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for being able to sleep in. I was up late last night and slept in longer than I think I have for years.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 8, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for sunny winter days. The crisp sunshine puts a smile on my face.

I need to admit that this morning when I was trying to figure out what to write for the Gratitude-A-Day post I drew a complete blank. Over the two months I've been doing this activity today is the first time that has happened. It was an empty and discouraging feeling to not feel grateful for anything. A couple of hours later that changed but it was still a powerful experience.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Must Read For Anyone Interested in Innovation

I picked this one up from Joel Splosky's Reddit page. If you're interested in innovation, particularly within large companies, this is a must read.

Engineering Management Hacks: "Extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty"

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 7, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for my new physical therapist. My knee has been bothering me for about 1.5 years and I believe that this new person I'm working with might be getting me on the right track to a solution. This is a huge emotional lift to feel like I might be able to get back on the bike, x-country skis, and maybe even running again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Or maybe...

I just realized that the blogger swag might not be for this blog. I contribute to a couple of other community blogs and maybe it's for one of those. I'll probably never know for sure so I'm just going to pretend that it's for this one.

An Important Milestone In The Life of a Blogger

I guess I've reached some sort of level of exposure through this blog as I received my first offer for blogger swag yesterday. Here is a short excerpt of the email that I received:
I am the marketing director for ______, producer of the hit off-broadway show ________. _____ is a fan of your blog and would love for you to come see ____________ in Minneapolis at the __________ Theatre.
I'm not going to tell who this was from yet but watch for an honest review of the event on these pages in the near future.

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 6, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for music. Specifically, music that has the power to evoke emotions. Last night while I was ending my day I listened to one of my favorite classical pieces - Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. This music seems to always take me through a range of emotions and I'm always amazed by the dynamics of the piano. I've seen this concerto performed live one time and it was amazing to watch the pianist's fingers fly across the keyboard. Each time I hear it now I imagine sitting stage right so I can see these fingers at work.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 5, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the healing touch effect of close embrace dance position in Argentine Tango.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 4, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the environmental leadership that seems to keep coming out of Wal-Mart. Yes, you read that correctly, Wal-Mart. Read this to find out more about what I'm talking about. Each time a new bit of news comes out of Bentonville on this subject it gets a little more impressive.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 3, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for courage. Courage is expressed by people in so many ways most of which are never acknowledged by anyone else. So here is one big blanket Thank You to anyone who has silently shown courage to do what they believe is right.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Dec 2, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for my dad. We had a great conversation over breakfast this morning and I'm thankful that he is my father.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 30, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the nights I get enough sleep. Last night wasn't one of them and I'm dragging a bit and it's only 11 AM.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Million Dollar Baby

I just watched the movie Million Dollar Baby this last weekend. I remember when it won an Academy Award I was pretty surprised because it's a boxing movie. Isn't it? Well, I won't give it away but in my opinion this movie is about so much more than boxing. Boxing provides the foundation for a story that reaches deep inside some of the most difficult decisions that we have to make in life. If you haven't seen it I would recommend it but be ready to stretch your emotions.

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 29, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for central heating. Winter is arriving today in Minneapolis. Up to this point it has seemed like a warm November to me but today is the first cold day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 26, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for dance. Another great night of Tango last night and tonight will be a mix of Tango, Salsa and Cha Cha.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 25, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for people that are willing to just go for it. I went to an improve show last night and the main thing I came away with is that what made the best actors the "best" was their willingness to just go for it and not be self-critics or get embarrassed.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 24, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for drums. Part of our family Thanksgiving yesterday turned out to be an impromptu drumming circle. It was the highlight of the day for me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 23, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for an opportunity to listen to my friends and family share stories about the things for which they are thankful. This is Thanksgiving day and I plan to listen carefully.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 22, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for choice. I'm talking about the opportunity to choose what is right for me and other's opportunity to choose what is right for them. I'm not sure why this stands out for me today. Some days when I sit down to write this daily post I really struggle to identify something that I'm grateful for in that moment. Today, it was easy, but kind of mysterious why this idea is so top-of-mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 21, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The Gratitude-A-Day practice I've been doing provides a different perspective for me on the meaning of the holiday.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 20, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for live music. I was fortunate to have two live music experiences yesterday. The first was a chamber orchestra at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and the second was a live Tango music at the Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis. Very different but both great in their own way.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 19, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the opportunity to pursue a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Sounds kind of lofty but it's a quote that I saw that stuck in my mind and I'm grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to do this.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 18, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for having a full day ahead of me. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed this morning with too many things to do and having a full day to get things done is inspiring.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 17, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for teachers. I had a wonderful experience last night as a student at an Argentine Tango class and it reminded me of the value of passionate, thoughtful teachers.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 16, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the morning sunshine. I know I've written this before but a sunny morning always seems to get my attention.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I want to be there!

Thirty minutes of lights out.

The times in my life when I've see a big sky are part of the few moments where the natural world helped me to understand who I am. I can imagine that a city wide star-gazing would only help to heighten the impact.

Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy!

I love this quote by William McDonough which I found on the Z+Blog.

"Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!"

-Leading ecological thinker, architect and Cradle-to-Cradle author William McDonough

I wrote about William McDonough in this post on his book Cradle to Cradle,

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 15, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the courage of people to speak the truth even when it is difficult or dangerous.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 14, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for creativity and ingenuity. I had a technical problem this morning and I thought I was going to have to buy my way out of it. But with a pair of tweezers and a safety pin I was able to fix the problem and save a few $.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 13, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for dancing. Last night was a great evening that started out with a bit of argentine tango and ended with salsa and cha-cha. Nice mix and balance.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 11, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the sunshine. It's a nice pick-me-up this morning when I'm otherwise tempted to crawl back in bed and sleep a few more hours. Seeing the sun shining outside inspires me to get up and get my day started.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 10, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for fresh fruit in the winter. On this day when we're supposed to get our first little bit of snow here in Minneapolis I was having breakfast and had the option of fresh fruit or toast with my omelet. I was struck by the ability to choose fresh fruit this time of year that isn't in the form of an apple.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 9, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the internet. The power of this tool for sharing information and ideas is pretty incredible and for some reason it's on my mind this morning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 8, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for one more summer like day before winter sets in. Today (Wednesday) is supposed to be a high of 69 degrees with sunshine and by Friday the high is supposed to be 37 with a chance of snow!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

WorldChanging Twin Cities

I've recently taken on a new project as a contributor to the web site WorldChanging Twin Cities. This is a local spin-off of WorldChanging and it's grand opening will be November 8.

There will be a party to celebrate the kick-off of this new site as well as the recently launched book Worldchaning: A User's Guide for the 21st Century. Here is more info about the event:

On Wednesday, November 8, the Worldchanging team will be in Minneapolis for the Twin Cities stop on the book tour, with an event at Brant Kingman's studio in Northeast Minneapolis. Doors open at 7 pm. Program starts at 8 and runs for about 45 minutes and then a DJ will carry us into the night.

November 8th: MINNEAPOLIS
Kingman Studios
1901 Grand St. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418 USA

It'll be a great way to shake off any remaining election night hangover and meet inspiring people and explore visionary ideas for the future.

Come join the party! And feel free to bring friends and family or forward this invitation to anyone that might be interested.

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 7, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the right to vote. I know I mentioned this a couple of days ago but today is election day and it's at the top of mind again.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 6, 2006

Today, I'm grateful that my car wasn't towed. The city is cleaning the streets near my apartment and my car was parked in a location that was marked No Parking starting at 7 AM this morning. I realized at about 7:30 that I had forgotten to move my car and ran out to see that it was still there and I didn't even have a ticket. Usually, the tow trucks and police cars are there by 6:50 waiting to start ticketing and towing but not today!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 5, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for hypertension medications. About 6 years ago my doctor first noted that I had elevated blood pressure. Over the last 6 years I've tried a wide variety of methods to lower my blood pressure without medication and none has been effective. I recently started taking an anti-hypertensive medication and I feel much better (calmer) about my health future as a result. I realize that this medication isn't the perfect answer but it's the right thing to do at this time and I'm grateful for it's existence.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 4, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for coffee shops and coffee shop culture. I love going to coffee shops and working, reading or just people watching.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 3, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the work that Planned Parenthood has been doing for so many years providing sexual health education and services to so many women and men. I was fortunate to attend the Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota Annual Gala event last night. It was an incredible event with more than 1500 people in attendance and an line-up of great speakers including Al Gore. He spoke eloquently on the need for science and reason in our policy decisions and how that relates to the discussion about freedom of choice. It's a very complicated issue and requires open discussion and introspection. I'm grateful that there are so many people living in my community that feel the same way.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Nov 1, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the fabulous friends that have responded so enthusiastically to events in my life. Your support is priceless and fuels my fire. Thank You!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Author Noticed!

I wanted to share that Dan Pink, introduced in this post from a couple of days ago, found out about my new project and mentioned it on his blog. See the post from October 30 if it's no longer near the top.

This really surprised me and I'm still a little bit stunned. My surprise is due to having never had any interaction with the author of a book I've read other than the book itself. This little mention by him really helps the book and the author to come alive in a distinct way.

I think it's great that Dan is staying engaged in the community that is interested in this topic and it's fun to get noticed!

Thanks Dan!

Gratitude-A-Day Oct 31, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for insulation and indoor heat.

Note: The high temp dropped about 35 degrees from yesterday.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Oct 30, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for advanced medical technology.

Note: I'm on my way to get a CAT scan of my head this morning.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gratitude-A-Day Oct 29, 2006

Today, I'm grateful for the opportunity to explore the role of gratitude in my life in a free and open way.

Notes: It's tought to pick just one thing!


I'm starting a new daily (hopefully) ritual that I call Gratitude-A-Day. I got this idea from Dan Pink's book "A Whole New Mind" and this is one aspect of a series of activities I'm calling "Right Brain Play". I hope to post a daily note here about something for which I feel gratitude. This is going to be a bit of a challenge for me as I've never felt very comfortable with this type of ritual. Over our family Thanksgiving dinner someone will usually bring up the idea of going around the table and sharing what we're grateful for. I clam up in the face of this opportunity and usually just listen. I'm interested to see how this goes!

Here are a couple of links that I used to get me started:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy

I watched the movies The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy last weekend. I was expecting that these were going to just be typical spy action flicks. Was I ever surprised!

These are two of the best character driven, action, suspense movies I've ever seen. I was so in to them that I took the time to watch all of the special features and watched both movies again with the director commentary on. I've never done this before, ever. And with these I couldn't get enough.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Is Energy a Wicked Problem

Wicked problems are the types of problems that get my creativity going and my whole mind engaged. Here is a brief description of what a wicked problem is (for more discussion see the links below):

"A new class of problems arising from extreme degrees of uncertainty, risk, and social complexity...Not only was there no clear answer, there was not even a clear understanding of the problem they were trying to solve."

"Wicked problems go beyond these in terms of difficulty, largely because they are inherently social in nature. Rittel identified several key aspects which, once listed, you will likely recognize as features of your toughest business decisions (this is not an exhaustive list, I'm paraphrasing a bit):
  1. There is no definitive statement of the problem; in fact, there is broad disagreement on what ‘the problem’ is
  2. Without a definitive statement of the problem, there can be no definitive solution and therefore no “stopping rule” signaling when an optimum solution has been reached. In actuality, there are competing solutions that activate a great deal of discord among stakeholders
  3. The only way to really understand the problem is by devising solutions and seeing how they further knowledge about the problem (thus reversing the normal flow of thinking: with wicked problems, a solution must come before the problem!)
  4. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong, merely better, worse, good enough or not good enough. There is a high degree of subjectivity and each stakeholder brings their own perception to the table, causing discord.

Because they are so difficult to identify and define, wicked problems tend to go unaddressed, even if there is an underlying sense that something needs to be done (though about what exactly no-one can say)."

Also check out
for more discussion about wicked problems.

Now to the question posed in the title to this post; is Energy a Wicked Problem? Let's test it against the four criteria from above:
  1. There is no definitive statement of the problem; in fact, there is broad disagreement on what ‘the problem’ is. I believe that this applies in regard to energy as we seem to still have substantial disagreement on things such as peak oil, global warming, oil drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, energy cost, fairness of energy accessibility, etc even if the camp dismissing these concerns is growing smaller every day.
  2. Without a definitive statement of the problem, there can be no definitive solution and therefore no “stopping rule” signaling when an optimum solution has been reached. In actuality, there are competing solutions that activate a great deal of discord among stakeholders. Again I believe this applies to energy. Do we focus our attention on bio-based solutions (ethanol, algae), technology based solutions (solar, wind, geo-thermal) or conservation based programs (energy star, insulation, fuel efficiency in cars, etc)? How do we know when we've achieved reductions in emissions that will halt things such as global climate change and how do we know when we've reached fairness in access to the new technologies and capabilities that this effort produces?
  3. The only way to really understand the problem is by devising solutions and seeing how they further knowledge about the problem (thus reversing the normal flow of thinking: with wicked problems, a solution must come before the problem!). We are seeing solutions to a whole host of differently defined energy problems popping up around the world. Only after the solution exists do we really get a sense for its ability to change the landscape and therefore the nature of the problems we dealing with. There is no silver-bullet solution to these problems even though each new innovation looks like it may hold that promise.
  4. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong, merely better, worse, good enough or not good enough. There is a high degree of subjectivity and each stakeholder brings their own perception to the table, causing discord. Should we power our cars with corn and soy based ethanol or with electricity generated by wind and solar? Both will work, at least to some degree. Do we need to only pick one?

My feeling is that Energy qualifies as a wicked problem and that the more we try to simplify the problem (and therefore the solutions) the more difficult it is for us to design solutions that have any impact. I believe that acknowledging up front that this is a wicked problem will allow us to recognize that a diversity of solutions and approaches is the only way to approach this task.

The Flight of the Creative Class

The Flight of the Creative Class – The New Global Competition for Talent by Richard Florida

I’ve heard Richard Florida’s name pop up in a number of different places. That got me interested in his writing and so I picked up a copy of The Flight of the Creative Class not really knowing what to expect. Turns out to be a great read with many interesting points. Here are a few of them that stood out.

Again I've highlighted my comments in blue throughout the text below. The italics in the text are transcribed from the book. The bold is my editorial emphasis.

This first quote is a wake up call that we as a community (business, neighborhood, city, region, state, country, federation) can’t expect to compete using the same strategies that guided us through the last century. I think it’s a good reminder that the game has changed.

Page 16
“The United States today faces its greatest competitive challenge of the past century, perhaps of its young life. The reason is basic: The key factor of the global economy is no longer goods, services, or flows of capital, but the competition for people. The ability to attract people is a dynamic and sensitive process. New centers of the global creative economy can emerge quickly; established players can lose position. It’s a wide-open game, and the playing field is levelng every day.”

This next quote speaks to my personal decision to leave the corporate job and seek a new path. Less money, at least for the short term is well worth the exhiliration of waking up each day knowing that I can use the hours ahead of me to create the next chapter of my life. Sounds kind of “out there” but that’s what it feels like. It’s amazing how the days of the week have changed their meaning. M-F used to mean “go to work”. Now I think of those days as the days when everyone else is at work which makes it easier for me to do certain things. Sat-Sun are days when other people want to play. Mon-Sun are a combination of this for me. (If you read my brief notes about Free Agent Nation you may recognize that this paragraph could just as easily been written about that book.)

Page 27
“Perhaps the most incredible thing about the creative age is that it holds the possibility not only for economic growth and prosperity, but also for a much fuller development of human potential in general. Over the past decade, I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of people, from executives and engineers to secretaries and recent college graduates, who left secure jobs for something new. Very few of them were doing it for a stock-option bonanza, which they knew was a long shot, or for higher pay – usually the pay was lower. Time and again they told me they cherished the chance to do “exciting work” and to play a part in “building something new.” In short, people love to do creative work; it’s what we’re about.

“The point is not that we should all join start-ups or become hairstylists. It’s simply that what growing numbers of Americans want today is the very same thing needed to strengthen our economy: not just financial gain but the opportunity to engage their creative faculties. The best part of this equation is that the kind of work that people love is also the work that leads to prosperity.”

Changing perspectives a little I agree with Florida that we have to do a much better job of tapping into the creativity of everyone. There are so many ways to do this and we do a pretty poor job of reaching deeper into the talent pool.

Page 34
“The single most overlooked – and single most important – element of my theory is the idea that every human being is creative.” “Creative capital is thus a virtually limitless resource.” “Each of us has creative potential that we strive to exercise, and that can be turned to valuable ends.” “If we are to truly prosper, we can no longer tap and reward the creative talents of a minority; everyone’s creative capabilities must be fully engaged. In my opinion, the great challenge of our time will be to spark and stoke the creative furnace inside every human being.”

I’m trying to do something about this in the context of Renewable Energy and Energy efficiency. As many of you know I left my last job with the intention of getting involved in this field and using my software and technical skills to make a difference. I’ve discovered that it’s incredibly hard to find my way into this industry and there is essentially no matchmaker out there to help with this process. Big job boards like Monster don’t have the focus and most of the companies in this industry are not very good at telling their story and finding the skilled people that they need to grow. I’m starting a project to do something about this at If you’re interested in helping out with this project let me know and I’ll share the password with you.

Page 77
“To simply assume that creative people are motivated mainly by the chance to get rich is, to put it bluntly, inaccurate. The majority of research on the subject finds that intrinsic rewards are far more effective in motivating creative people than money alone.”

“Often we see that greed – the desire to maximize gain, to focus on getting ahead- only gets in the way. It fuels our often-unsustainable, 24/7, always-on pace of life.” “The society that can build the most productive and efficient mechanisms for harnessing human creative energy will move ahead of those continuing to make a fetish of the greed motive.”

Again, this next quote could come straight from Free Agent Nation and my own mouth. Part of my own transformation around insisting that work be fulfilling is that it continued to creep in and take over more of my time and energy leaving less “work-free” time for all of the rest of life. If I’m going to wake up in the morning with my first thoughts of the day about work it better be something I really care about!

Page 86
“What do most people think about when they hear the phrase the American Dream? My parents and grandparents knew what this meant: You got a decent job, worked hard, learned and taught your kids, made sure they got a good education. You saved your money, bought a nice home in a nice community with good schools. That, in a nutshell, was the old dream. It was a curious and for its time powerful blending of the economic view that greed powers economic growth and centralist notions of the Protestant ethic and the melting pot. As great as it was, its days are over.”

“Today we are seeing the rise of a new dream in America and across the world that promises much more. “The most remarkable feature of the modern workplace has nothing to do with computers, automation or globalization,” writes Alain de Botton. “Rather it lies in the Westernworld’s widely held belief that work should make us happy” Botton rightly notes that, though work has always been a defining and central element to a nation’s or a culture’s identity, now for the first time in world history job searches are predicated on the idea that one’s work ought to be “fulfilling,” to use the parlance of the time.”

“…the new dream is a job you love, doing work you enjoy, and living in a community where you can be yourself.”

Switching focus again now we start to get into the part of the book where Florida talks about where talent comes from and what we are doing to either scare it away or attract it. Subtle but powerful things are happening around the world to change the balance of where people want to be and he goes on to stress that this is not a small issue.

Page 117-118
“By 2003, antiterrorism measures had begun to catch up not just with visa applications but also with requests for more permanent U.S residence. Thanks to delays in the processing of green-card applications, only 705,827 people became legal permanent residents that year, down from 1.06 million in 2002.”

“Its difficult to understand who benefits from this kind of stagnant waiting game.”

“Well, respond skeptics of calls for efficient immigration processing, that’s the price you pay for hitching your wagon to the most powerful economy in the world.” “But we forget when we make statements like this that one of the primary drivers of this economy are those very wagons we sometimes treat so incredulously. Immigration to the United States is a mutually beneficial arrangement for newcomer and host country alike, and we would do well to start seeing it that way.”

“Such long delays…discourage many from every coming to the United States again.”

I find Florida’s discussion of the entities that are in competition at different scales to be quite fascinating. When I started into my research in the Renewable energy industry many people assumed that I would have to move to some other region (I currently live Minneapolis) because they think of “other places” as being more progressive regarding this industry. While this is probably true it is a powerful example of how we have snap judgments about cities, regions and countries in terms of industry competitiveness and acceptance of new ideas. See Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Page 158
“The competition for talent is not just between nations: The real battle is among cities and regions.”

Page 200
“The sprawl that demands and in turn is demanded by traffic congestion also wreaks havoc on our competitiveness. A stretched-out, sprawled metropolis…where entrepreneurs and newcomers are forced to the economic periphery will lose the advantages that come from proximity, density, spontaneity, and face-to-face interaction.”

The next question is what does this new competition do to us as individuals and to our health?

Page 202
With the elimination of larger institutional and social support structures, the creative economy downloads stress and anxiety directly onto individuals.”

And what conditions are necessary for us to maximize our creativity?

Page 203
“When I asked him what motivated his people to do their best, most productive work, he told me they simply needed to be “centered.” It’s impossible, he added, to be creative when you are stressed and anxious…You need time to get into flow, and once flow is disrupted, in cannot be magically wished back. Stress and anxiety disrupt and damage the creative process…

“Companies across this country and the world are scrambling for ways to reduce stress and anxiety on their workforce…They realize that people work more creatively and productively when they’re not stressed. Quality of work-life is the wave of the future, not just because it is a good thing to do, but because by relieving stress and anxiety, companies can capitalize on their creative capital and gain a productive advantage. The same is true of cities, regions, and nations: Those that have a higher quality of life for individuals and families, and less stress and anxiety, will enjoy not just a better lifestyle but more productive use of their creative assets.”

And then on to how our political institutions and practices influence our ability as a city, state or country to respond to the changing situation.

Page 208
“By viewing American politics through the lens of national elections, the national media, and broad public-opinion polls miss the underlying conditions causing our divisions.

“The real and enduring change in American political life lies in what I call the “molecular structure” of our politic – in the economic and demographic makeup and the political and cultural preferences of America’s regions and cities. The divide I see in this country isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, nor does it turn on your view on gay marriage. The real fault line that threatens our collective future runs along hidden fissures that shape the economic life chances of people in different parts of this country. Our divisions are between a relatively small group of regions whose openness and tolerance reinforces their position atop the heap in innovation, creativity, and economic growth, and a second group that is losing ground domestically and internationally, and whose people are becoming more anxious, less open, and more resistant to change. The real failure of our time is our collective inability to articulate to this majority of Americans how they, too, can participate in and benefit from the creative economy.

I was at a BioFuels conference in Ames Iowa a couple of weeks ago and one of the most powerful things I witnessed was the excitement that people in this corn growing super-power felt for the future of bio-based industry. It was clear that a region of the country that may has felt “left out” is starting to get extremely excited about how the creativity of the bio-based industry has the potentially to change their communities in previously unimaginable ways.

“…how will our country’s political situation affect its ability to attract talent and prosper globally in the creative age?...The United States gained a huge advantage during the last economic transformation – the Industrial Revolution – because of our openness and ability to rapidly harness new people and ideas. Our dilemma today is similar: Can we work out our difference and generate consensus quickly enough to regain our ability to attract global talent and effectively leverage the creative economy transformation to our advantage?”

I have to admit that this next comment about how our current flavor of division is relatively mild completely surprised me. I’ve never heard anyone suggest this before and I love it. I was amazed to be talking happily in Iowa with a farmer from near Ames and an investment banker from NYC. The enthusiasm that existed at the conference brought us together in a way that made any differences we may have had about gay marriage or other similar topics seem small by comparison.

Page 217
“Any large-scale economic transition produces political and cultural cleavages. I think most historians would agree that our own twenty-first-century round of polarization is relatively mild in comparison to, say, the outright class warfare that accompanied the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ rise of the industrial economy…

“To the chagrin of doomsday prophets on all sides of the political game, the fact of the matter is that our current round of polarization is actually less severe, and potentially less damaging domestically and globally, than other, similar periods of economic change. At bottom, I view the cultural cleavages at work today not as some permanent feature of our social and political landscape, but rather as yet another rocky adjustment to our rapid economic transformation. And it will not be solved until more people – many more people – perceive that they, too, can participate fruitfully in the creative economy. It’s impossible politically and economically to build a fully creative society when just 30 percent of the workforce reaps the full rewards of that economy’s productivity. Still, it’s an important adjustment to pay attention to.”

Are there any politicians of other politically inclined people reading this? I’m curious to explore this idea further as it seems to hold immense potential in my eyes.

Page 229
“…it’s essential to recognize an important fact. Economic transformations never complete themselves. A political solution is required to fully realize the potential of a new economic and social order. The responsibility of making a case for this new order rests implicitly with the progressive forces within a society. If these progressive forces fail to spell out exactly how a better and more inclusive future can benefit all people – from the creative to the manufacturing to the service sectors – the de facto choice of the people will be a conservative or reactionary regime. Change is frightening. It is the role of the right – the conservative forces within a society – to hark back to a better time, a golden age long past. For those on the left who would like to blame Karl Rove and the Christian right, it’s important to remember that it’s the failure of progressive forces to articulate the case for a better and more prosperous society that plays a substantial part in our current predicament.”

Ouch, that last bit hits really close to home, but it also provides the first clue for a path to a future that is compelling.

And now the big question - can we actually find our way through this? I guess I’m a little more optimistic than Florida, I believe we can.

Page 235
“…But America has an uncanny ability to remake itself for new times…

“Can we do it again? That’s the question before each and every one of us. I say this humbly and with great nervousness: This is the toughest economic and social challenge we’ve faced in a long, long time. For the first time in my life, I’m honestly not so certain”

“…in my opinion this is the gravest threat to our economic competitiveness of the past century.”

“Competition today is not limited to one, two, or even several great powers. Rather, it comes from many places simultaneously, and is harder to home in on precisely because it’s so diffuse. The most likely scenario, in my view, is not that one nation will overtake the U.S. as the dominant power on the global stage, but just that the world stage will see the rise of many more significant players.”

Page 240-241
“Unfortunately, in recent years the powerful political forces at either end of the spectrum have tended to wide a right-left chasm that grows less and less navigable and a dichotomy between materialistic and moralistic values that grows more and more false. At the same time that truly important issues don’t even get mentioned in the public sphere, the extremes have actually become the status quo. The end result is that people grow disillusioned with the political process and choose not to participate. The leading force for political change, the creative class, has for all intents and purposes opted out of the political process. Instead, it’s members vote with their feet, looking for the city, region, or country that offers the most opportunity and best reflects their values.

“Here we confront a deep and insidious tension of the creative age. Unlike previous dominant classes, such as the working class, members of the creative class have little direct incentive to become involved in conventional politics. When we get involved in broader social issues, we’re likely to do it in a local scale or through some alternative way of our own choosing rather than through either of the major political parties. The whole basis of the creative ethos is individual creative pursuit and the shunning of traditional forms. The paradox is that this is not necessarily conducive to the highly organized political effort needed to bring our new age to the fore…

“The end result is a gaping vacuum, and nothing to fill it. The biggest competitiveness crisis in thirty or forty years and no leading edge group to take it on. Thus the central dilemma of our time: Even though the creative economy generates vast innovative, wealth creating, and productive promise, left to its own devices it will neither realize that promise nor solve the myriad social problems confronting us today.”

So, what can we do about all of this. Florida offers a couple of suggestions:

Page 250
“To make the most of increased education and training investments, countries must redouble their efforts to generate high-end creative jobs in R&D, innovation, higher education, and arts and culture. They must reduce barriers to entrepreneurship and encourage even more new company formation. In short, the world economy requires a wide-reaching effort not just to pump out creative talent but also to increate the market for creative opportunities.

“Investment in creative infrastructure means more than just increased R&D spending. It must involve massive increases in spending – from both he private and public sectors – in the arts, culture, and all forms of innovation and creativity.”

I'm going to repeat that last line - in the arts, culture, and all forms of innovation and creativity. I believe that one creative act leads to another. By being around people that are pushing the edge forward we see how we can participate and add our own contributions to the work that is being done.

Page 252
“Unfortunately, we now seem to want to send our top foreign talent packing. ‘When you graduate from Stanford University with an advanced degree in the sciences or engineering, we them make you go home,’ venture capitalist John Doerr told Silicon Valley’s Technet Innovation Summit. ‘We should be stapling a green card to your diploma.’

The idea of stapling a Green Card to Engineering and science degrees probably makes a lot of isolationists cringe but I’m a supporter. I’ve worked with too many people that had to leave because of visa issues and it really sucks for everyone involved.

I just had to call out these paragraphs as Florida goes to great length to recognize my home town. Why am I staying in Minneapolis to do the work of my future? what he says…

Page 261-262
“Often I add that it makes sense to look for models outside the United States in regions like Toronto, Stockholm, and Helsinki, all of which combine strong technology and creative sectors with relatively low levels of inequality, good schools, low crime, safe streets, and high level of social cohesion and stability.

“But there is at least one region in the United States that may be worth a closer look: Minneapolis-St. Paul. The greater Minneapolis region combines both a strong creative economy with low rates of poverty, affordable housing, and a balanced income distribution…It scores among the top U.S. regions on my Creativity Index, is one of only 34 U.S. metropolitan regions (out of 331) to boast a positive brain-gain index, and is one of just 13 percent of American cities that the Brookings Institution classified as a “balanced” income region.

“With large Somali and Hmong immigrant populations, three openly gay city-council members, and an extremely high level of micro level neighborhood racial integration, the Twin Cities are increasingly known as a bastion of tolerance. Add to this equation affordable housing prices, high wages, low unemployment, and low poverty, and it’s easy to see why college students and foreigners alike are flocking to Minneapolis-St. Paul’s universities, jobs, and communities. As a result, the region has seen high growth in its creative class occupations – especially in the knowledge and education clusters. The key to its success, then, lies in the fact that not only is it attracting the best and the brightest; it’s also taking care of all its citizens and tapping their creative energies. Unfortunately, Minneapolis-St. Paul is the exception to the rule among American regions.

As with many larger-scale problems, it makes little sense for one person to make specific recommendations about what many greatly differing regions need. What we will really require, when it comes time roll up our sleeves and improve our urban centers, is a Manhattan Project on the future of the American city. We owe it to the places that made our country great.”

And to close with a reminder of how we’re all in this together.

Page 269
“The role of the United States in generating creativity and talent is a concern not only for U.S. businesses and policy makers, but for all nations. American universities and corporations have long been the educators and innovators for the world. If this engine stalls – or if political decisions about immigration, visas, and scientific research put sugar in its gas tank – the whole world will have to live with the repercussions.

The creative age requires nothing short of a change in worldview. Creativity is not a tangible asset like mineral deposits, something that can be hoarded or fought over, or even bought and sold. We must begin to think of creativity as a common good, like liberty or security. It’s something essential that belongs to all of us, and that must always be nourished, renewed, and maintained – or else it will slip away.”

Reading List Continued

I've still been reading but just not taking the extensive notes as I did on a couple of books. Here is a quick update on what I've been looking at:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. As in my review of The Tipping Point I was a bit dissapointed with this book. Maybe it's all the hype. Maybe that it only took Gladwell about 10 pages to explain the idea and then 200 to provide examples. These examples were fascinating but they didn't do a great job of exposing subtle nuiances of the concept of "Thinking without Thinking" in my mind. I would recommed this book simply because the core idea is so radical in our modern managed world. From the time we enter school we're taught not to trust our gut reactions and that the only way to make decisions is to analyze and prove through research and argument. I've found that over the last couple of months I've been listening to my gut a lot more and I enjoy my days more that way. Let's see where it leads me 6 months or a year down the road?

Free Agent Nation by Daniel Pink. I love this one. I checked it out of the library and decided that I needed to own a copy of my own and keep it close by. I had intended to write a much more in depth review of this book but I had to return it to the library before I had a chance to write up my notes. I guess I'll have to summarize by saying that if you work as an independent professional or are thinking about doing so you should take a look at this book. It provides a context for independent work that I've found to be both inspirational and informative. It's very likely that I'll be refering to this book in future posts about various topics because I find that I bring this book up conversation at least a couple of times a week.

Thinking for a Living by Thomas Davenport. Written by a manger for managers. I was able to go cover to cover in about 5 minutes. If you manager people that use their brains to do their work and you have no idea how to understand, manage and motivate them then this book might help you out a bit. I found it to be off-topic for me as I was hoping that it was going to be written for the people who Think for a Living rather than their managers.

Backpacking Trip Sept 22-24

I'm starting to plan a backpacking trip to the Superior Hiking Trail for Sept 22-24. Anyone want to go? I usually do these trips by myself but I though I'd extend an invitation on my blog as a way to see who else is interested.

Leave afternoon of Friday Sept 22. Return Sunday mid-day. Two nights on trail. About 15-20 miles of hiking with a pack over the three days.

Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis

IRV has become the issue of greatest interest to me in the 2006 election. This is a very imporatant election year in my Minneapolis district considering that a new US Senator, MN Govenor, US Representative, State Senator and Representation, Secretary of State, Attorney General are all going to be elected. But IRV has caught my attention because of its ability to completely change the process. If IRV is in place no longer will you be in a position of voting for the "least bad" candidate. You can support the candidates that best represent your views on the issues and still not worry about throwing your vote away. I have a feeling that this can radically change the balance of power in our political system away from two dominant parties and introduce real issues back into the debates. Take a look at the Better Ballot Campaign site and attend a gala event on Sept 15th if you're interested to learn more.

Salsa - how social dance has chaged me

A couple of months ago I was asked to contribute a little blurb for an article being written about the Social Dance Studio and how social dancing has impacted the lives of students at the studio. Obviously I didn't get my blurb prepared and submitted in time to be included in the story but the idea has stuck with me and I wanted to explore it a little.

I took my first official dance lesson in October of 2005. Prior to that I've never thought of myself as a dancer in any way. Sure, I've had moments over the years where I had a fun time dancing but it usually was in a very casual setting and involved a drink or two to loosen up the inhibitions. Since the first less about a year ago I've been to a salsa congress in Chicago, participated in a salsa performance team and learned to dance a number of different styles. All kind of amazing to me when I think back on it.

Its amazing because prior to this last year I held a deep belief that I'm not someone that knows how to do things like dance. It's just never been part of my self image before and I had zero confidence in that area. Now that I'm dancing it's kind of addictive to keep building my confidence. That confidence then carries over to other parts of my life. Similar to the way Richard Florida says that to support creativity in our professional lives we must invest “in creative the arts, culture, and all forms of innovation and creativity.” Exploring dance as a form of creativity in my life allows me to tap into creative energy in other parts of my life which feels like a priceless gift and helps to explain the addiction.

Friday, September 01, 2006


In the September issue of Fast Company (page 74) there is an article that describes quite nicely the amazing properties of CFLs - Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs. It's tough for me to start to think of Wal-Mart as a company that is going to be watching out for the environment and our pocketbook but I'm a cheerleader of any initiative such as what we are about to see in the lightbulb aisle at Wal-Mart. I hope it's a huge success!

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I watched Syriana for the first time last week. While I was watching it I could tell that I was following the basic plot but I knew I was missing LOTS of details and subtle connections. I didn't really understand why things were unfolding they way the did so I decided to watch it much slower and more carefully today. The tag line for the movie "Everything is connected" is very accurate. I would recommend this movie to anyone if you're up for a bit of a brain twister and you're OK with a movie that doesn't have a happy Hollywood ending.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lake Windigo Portage Swim

Last Tuesday I did a really fun open water swim that ended up being a little over 3 miles long. We (one other person did this with me and two people paddled kayaks as safety boats) swam a route that took us through two lakes and across two portages. You can see the route at this link -

I wish we had brought a camera along as I'd love to post pictures but unfortunately we forgot about that. The swim was interesting for a number of reasons but the things that I remember most vividly are the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking people hanging out on their pontoon boats at the first portage, the eriness of Lake Windigo with its extreme shallowness and aquatic plants that hug the surface, and the wind that had started to pick up out of the east when we got back into Cass Lake for the final stretch north.

I'm looking forward to doing this swim again next year and I'm thinking about what else I can add to it to make it even more of an adventure.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Long Tail

The Long Tail – Why the future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson.

I read Chris Anderson’s Wired column (that in many ways initiated the current discussion of The Long Tail) over Thanksgiving weekend 2004. I remember distinctly being at my uncle’s house in rural British Columbia sitting on an old couch in his eclectic second floor (see the photos- BTW I love this house, so much visual stimulation that it provides a great place for new ideas to flower)

and reading the article. At the time it seemed interesting but didn’t really hit home. I wasn’t quite able to see how this concept of the long tail applied to my life but I was intrigued. In retrospect, I realize that I was hanging out with a person (my uncle) that has lived most of his life pretty far out on the tail of traditional culture.

Again I've highlighted my comments in blue throughout the text below. The italics in the text are transcribed from the book. The bold is my editorial emphasis.

There are three primary concepts from this book that I wanted to mention. The first one has to do with time and the effect that our filters are having on the traditional time effect.

Page 142
“But there is another factor that influences popularity: age. Just as things of broad appeal tend to sell better than things of narrow appeal, new things tend to sell better than old things.”

“If you think about it, today’s hit is tomorrow’s niche. Almost all products, even hits, see their sales decay over time. Twister was the number two movie of 1996, but it’s DVD version is now outsold two-to-one on Amazon by a 2005 History Channel documentary on the French Revolution.

“Einstein described time as the fourth dimension of space; you can think of it equally as the fourth dimension of the Long Tail. Both hits and niches see their sales slow over time; hits may start higher, but they all end up down the Tail eventually. The research to quantify this conclusion is continuing, but conceptually the picture looks like the graph on the next page [see image titled "Time tails"].

“What’s particularly interesting about time and the Long Tail is that Google appears to be changing the rules of the game. For online media, like media anywhere, there is a tyranny of the new. Yesterday’s news is fish wrap, and once content falls off the front page of a Web site, its popularity plummets. But as sites find more and more of their traffic coming from Google, they’re seeing this rule break.

“Google is not quite time-agnostic, but it does measure relevance mostly in terms of incoming links, not newness. So when you search for a term, you’re more likely to get the best page than the newest one. And because older pages have more time to attract incoming links, they sometimes have an advantage over the newer ones. The result is that the usual decay of popularity for blog posts and online news pages is now much more gradual than it was thanks to the amount of traffic that comes via search. Google is in a sense serving as a time machine, and we’re just now being able to measure the effect that has on publishing, advertising, and attention.”

I think the impact filters such as Google are having in regard to finding things that are “older” and therefore in the tail is incredible. Anderson provides several other examples of media that was overlooked when it was produced that resurfaced later due to the technologies available in the filters. He begins chapter 1 with the story of Touching the Void and how this story resurfaced years after it was first written thanks to Amazon’s “people who bought also bought…” feature.

The second idea I wanted to mention has to do with microculultures. Thanks to the filter technologies we are finally able to indulge many of our long tail preferences and interests. I think this is great but it can sure make it difficult to talk to my neighbors. We just don’t share the same reference points the way we used to.

Page 182
"I decided to test other cultural touchstones to see if they were as widely held as I had thought. I started by running a few other clich├ęs from my little online world past real-world friends: “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”; “More Cowbell!” “I for one welcome our new [fill in the blank] overlords,” and so on. Turns out that these snippets of culture that I thought were ubiquitous are actually pretty obscure, even in my own office. When I took an informal poll at a public relations conference at which I was speaking, I found that only about 10 percent of the audience had heard of any of them – and for each phrase it was a different 10 percent.

"What does this show? It shows that my tribe is not always your tribe, even if we work together, play together, and otherwise live in the same world. Same bed, different dreams.

"The same Long Tail forces and technologies that are leading to an explosion of variety and abundant choice in the content we consume are also tending to lead us into tribal eddies. When mass culture breaks apart, it doesn’t re-form into a different mass. Instead, it turns into millions of microcultures, which coexist and interact in a baffling array of ways.

"As a result, we cannot treat culture not a one big blanket, but as the superposition of many interwoven threads, each of which is individually addressable and connects different groups of people simultaneously.

In short, we’re seeing a shift from mass culture to massively parallel culture. Whether we thing "of it this way or not, each of us belongs to many different tribes simultaneously, often overlapping (geek culture and LEGO), often not (tennis and punk-funk). We share some interests with our colleagues and some with our families, but not all of our interests. Increasingly, we have other people to share them with, people we have never met or even think of as individuals (e.g., blog authors or playlist creators).

"Virginia Postrel observed that the variety boom is nothing more than a reflection of the diversity inherent in any population distribution:
  1. Every aspect of human identity, from size, shape, and color to sexual proclivities and intellectual gifts, comes in a wide range. Most of us cluster somewhere in the middle of most statistical distributions. But there are lots of bell curves, and pretty much everyone is on a tail of t least one of them. We may collect strange memorabilia or read esoteric books, hold unusual religious beliefs or wear odd-sized shoes, suffer rare diseases or enjoy obscure movies.
"This has always been true, but it’s only now something we can act on. The resulting rise of niche culture will reshape the social landscape. People are re-forming into thousands of cultural tribes of interest, connected less by geographic proximity and workplace chatter than by shared interests. In other words, we’re leaving the water-cooler era, when most of us listened, watched, and read from the same, relatively small pool of mostly hit content. And we’re entering the microculture era, when we’re all into different things."

I think we’re just at the beginning of discovering how this trend is going to impact our communities. Part of the reason I write this blog is to give other people a window into the microcultures that I’m spending my time in.

The third idea I wanted to touch on has to do with “who is in control of all of this”. The following passage discusses this in the world of newspapers and bloggers but I think that this passage could easily apply to music, film/video and other types of content just as easily.

Page 188
"In Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens writes that he wakes up every morning and checks his vital signs by grapping the front page of the New York Times: “’All the News That’s Fit to Print,’ it says. It’s been saying that for decades, day in and day out. I imagine that most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice the bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s an obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know that I still have a pulse.”

"As Jerry Sienfeld quips, “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”

"The reality, slogan aside, is that the New York Times now competes not only with other New York City newspapers and newspapers elsewhere, but also with the collective wisdom and information of everyone online. Authority is in the eye of the beholder; it is not innate to the institution itself. It is a credit to the Times journalists and editors that they do so well, continuing to break news and set the agenda, despite this. But news and information is clearly no longer the exclusive domain of professionals.

"With an estimated 15 million bloggers out there, the odds that a few will have something important and insightful to say are good and getting better. And as our filters improve, the odds that we’ll see them are getting better, too. From a mainstream media perspective, this is simply more competition, whatever the source. And some audiences will prefer it. Like it or not, fragmentation is inevitable."

Now that I think about this a bit more I realize that I’ve been using bloggers as a tool to point me to specific media items. I often like the filters that bloggers provide better than skimming the list of headlines on a newspaper home page.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Tipping Point

Over the last couple of years I’ve been part of a number of different conversations about both The Tipping Point and Blink, both by Malcolm Gladwell. Up to this point I haven’t read either one but feel like I have based on all of these conversations. I decided it was time to sit down and flip through them to see what else I’ve been missing. Here are a few thoughts about The Tipping Point.

In general I was a bit disappointed in the book. Maybe there’s been too much discussion of the book over the last couple of years and it was bound to fall short of my expectations. I was expecting more academic rigor rather that his colloquial approach of presenting a concept and the selecting stories that support the concept. Seemed to be a bit sloppy to me. However, that doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t powerful, I would just like to see more research on the specific assertions that Gladwell makes.

Page 259 The last paragraph of the whole book
“But if there is difficulty and volatility in the world of the Tipping Point, there is a large measure of hopefulness as well. Merely by manipulating the size of a group, we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas. By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics. In the end, Tipping points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power if intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.”

I think that this paragraph summarizes the entire book quite well. The key is to remember that small things can make a big difference. The art and magic of creating Tipping Points is not easy to learn. I sure don’t feel like I would know where to begin based on the examples he provided. I have some sense for what he is talking about and may be able to recognize a Tipping Point in the rearveiw mirror, but making it happen is either an art I don’t understand or a formula that he decided not to share with the rest of us. I suspect it’s the former.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We make Things

I've had a copy of Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We make Things
By William McDonough and Michael Braungart
sitting on my bookshelf for about a year. I started reading it last winter but didn't finish. I was looking forward to having a chance to dig back in and have recently done so.

I'm starting into this theme of writing up little book reports and this post will be the second entry in that pattern. Once again I'm going to have to quote pretty big chunks of the text in order to capture the ideas I'm interested in. If you find any of this fascinating I would suggest taking the time to read the whole book as I'm just skimming the surface of a couple of ideas.

I've highlighted my comments in blue throughout the text below. The italics in the text are transcribed from the book. The bold is my editorial emphasis.

There are a couple of ideas that I picked up on in this book. The first one is the difference between eco-efficiency (loosely defined as optimizing our current systems to pollute less, produce less waste and burn more fuel) and eco-effectiveness (loosely defined as designing systems up front to be healthful for profits, the environment and the people involved) and the implications that each approach has for our societies.

Page 66
Environmental destruction is a complex system in its own right - widespread, with deeper causes that are difficult to see and understand. Like our ancestors, we may react automatically, with terror and guilt, and we may look for ways to purge ourselves - which the “eco-efficiency” movement provides in abundance, with its exhortations to consume and produce less by minimizing, avoiding, reducing and sacrificing. Humans are condemned as the one species on the planet guilty of burdening it beyond what it can withstand; as such, we must shrink our presence, our systems, our activities, and even our populations so as to become almost invisible. (Those who believe population is the root of our ills think people should mostly stop having children.) The goal is zero: zero waste, zero emissions, zero “ecological footprint.”

As long as human beings are regarded as “bad,” zero is a good goal. But to be less bad is to accept things are they are, to believe that poorly designed, dishonorable, destructive systems are the best humans can do. This is the ultimate failure of the “be less bad” approach: a failure of the imagination. From our perspective, this is a depressing vision of our species’ role in the world.

What about an entirely different model? What would it mean to be 100 percent good?

These two simple questions may be the most powerful idea in this whole book and I believe are worth looking into more deeply. Reframing our industrial and social systems to be 100 percent good for people, the planet and our economy is a wild idea that taps into deep energy. Continuing...

Page 90
Is our goal to starve ourselves? To deprive ourselves of our own culture, our own industries, our own presence on the planet, to aim for zero? How inspiring a goal is that? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, rather than bemoaning human industry, we had reason to champion it? If environmentalists as well as automobile makers could applaud every time someone exchanged an old car for a new one, because new cars purified the air and produced drinking water? If new buildings imitated trees, providing shade, songbird habitat, food, energy, and clean water? If each new addition to a human community deepened ecological and cultural as well as economic wealth? If modern societies were perceived as increasing assets and delights on a very large scale, instead of bringing the planet to the brink of disaster?

We would like to suggest a new design assignment. Instead of fine-tuning the existing destructive framework, why don’t people and industries set out to create the following:
  • Buildings that, like trees, produce more energy than they consume and purify their own waste water
  • Factories that produce effluents that are drinking water
  • Products that, when their useful life is over, do not become useless waste but can be tossed onto the ground to decompose and become food for plants and animals and nutrients for soil; or, alternately, that can return to industrial cycles to supply high quality raw materials for new products
  • Billions, even trillions, of dollars’ worth of materials accrued for human and natural purposes each year
  • Transportation that improves the quality of life while delivering goods and services
  • A world of abundance, not one of limits, pollution and waste.

And the second main theme has to do with how we can change our approach to design with the idea of eco-effectiveness squarely in the center of the process.

Page 103
The overarching design framework we exist within has two essential elements: mass (the Earth) and energy (the sun). Nothing goes in or out of the planetary system except for heat and the occasional meteorite. Otherwise, for our practical purposes, the system is closed, and its basic elements are valuable and finite. What ever is naturally here is all we have. Whatever humans make des not go “away.”

If our systems contaminate Earth’s biological mass and continue to throw away technical materials (such as metals) or render them useless, we will indeed live in a world of limits, where production and consumption are restrained, and the Earth will literally become a grave.

If humans are truly going to prosper, we will have to learn to imitate nature’s highly effective cradle-to-cradle system of nutrient flow and metabolism, in which the very concept of waste does not exist. To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things - products, packaging, and systems-from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist. It means that the valuable nutrients contained in the materials shape and determine the design: form follows evolution, not just function. We think this is a more robust prospect than the current way of making things.

As we indicated, there are two discrete metabolisms on the planet. The first is the biological metabolism, or the biosphere - the cycles of nature. The second is the technical metabolism, of the technosphere - the cycles of industry, including the harvesting of technical materials from natural places. With the right design, all of the products and materials manufactured by industry will safely feed these two metabolisms, providing nourishment for something new.

Products can be composed either of materials that biodegrade and become food for biological cycles, or of technical materials that stay in closed –loop technical cycles, in which they continually circulate as valuable nutrients for industry. In order for these two metabolisms to remain healthy, valuable and successful, great care must be taken to avoid contaminating one with the other. Things that go into the organic metabolism must not contain mutagens, carcinogens, persistent toxins, or other substances that accumulate in natural systems to damaging effect. (Some materials that would damage the biological metabolism, however, could be safely handled by the technical metabolism.) By the same token, biological nutrients are not designed to be fed into the technical metabolism, where they would not only be lost to the biosphere but would weaken the quality of technical materials or make their retrieval and reuse more complicated.

Page 131
In the long run, connecting to natural energy flows is a matter of reestablishing our fundamental connection to the source of all good growth on the planet: the sun, that tremendous nuclear power plant 93 million miles away (exactly where we want it). Even at such distances, the sun’s heat can be devastating, and it commands a healthy respect for the delicate orchestration of circumstances that makes natural energy flows possible. Humans thrive on the earth under such intense emanations of heat and light only because billions of years of evolutionary processes have created the atmosphere and surface that support our existence - the soil, plant life, and cloud cover that cool the planet down and distribute water around it, keeping the atmosphere within a temperate range that we can live in. So reestablishing our connection to the sun by definition includes maintaining interdependence with all the other ecological circumstances that make natural energy flows possible in the first place.

The third major theme has to do with how our concepts of how things should work can be taken to extremes to the point of not functioning.

Page 147
A Diversity of “Isms”

Ultimately, it is the agenda with which we approach the making of things that must be truly diverse. To concentrate on any single criterion creates instability in the larger context, and represents what we call an “ism,” an extreme position disconnected from the overall structure. And we know from human history the havoc an ism can create-think of the consequences of fascism, racism, sexism, Nazism, or terrorism.

Consider two manifestos that have shaped industrial systems: Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), and The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848). In the first manifesto - written when England was still trying to monopolize her colonies and published the same year as the Declaration of Independence - Smith discounts empire and argues for the value of free trade. He links a country’s wealth and productivity with general improvement, claiming that “every man working for his own selfish interest will be led by an invisible hand to promote the public good.” Smith was a man whose beliefs and work centered on moral as well as economic forces. Thus, the invisible hand he imagined would regulate commercial standards and ward of injustice would have been working in a market full of “moral” people making individual choices - an ideal of the eighteenth century, not necessarily a reality of the twenty-first.

Unfair distribution of wealth and worker exploitation inspired Marx and Engels to write The Communist Manifesto, in which they sounded an alarm for the need to address human rights and share economic wealth. “Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers…they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the foreman, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.” While capitalism had often ignored the interest of the worker in pursuit of its economic goals, socialism, when singly-mindedly pursued as an ism, also failed. If nothing belongs to anyone but the state, the individual can be diminished by the system. This happened in the former USSR, where government denied fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech. The environment also suffered: scientists have deemed 16 percent of the former Soviet state unsafe to inhabit, due to industrial pollution and contamination so sever it has been termed “ecocide.”

In the United States, England and other countries, capitalism flourished, in some places informed by an interest in social welfare combined with economic growth (for example, with Henry Ford’s recognition that “cars cannot buy cars”) and regulated to reduce pollution. But environmental problems grew. In 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring promoted a new agenda – ecologism - that steadily gained adherents. Since then, in response to growing environmental concerns, individuals, communities, government agencies, and environmental groups have offered various strategies for protecting nature, conserving resources, and cleaning up pollution.

All three of these manifestos were inspired by a genuine desire to improve the human condition, and all three had their triumphs as well as their perceived failures. But taken to extremes - reduced to isms - the stances they inspired can neglect factors crucial to long-term success, such as social fairness, the diversity of human culture, and the health of the environment. Carson sent an important warning to the world, but even ecological concern, stretched to an ism, can neglect social, cultural and economic concerns to the detriment of the whole system.

“How can you work with them?” we are often asked, regarding our willingness to work with every sector of the economy, including big corporations. To which we sometimes reply, “how can you not work with them?” (We think of Emerson visiting Thoreau when he was jailed for not paying his taxes - part of his civil disobedience. “What are you doing in there?” Emerson is said to have asked, prompting Thoreau’s famous retort: “What are you doing out there?”

Our questioners often believe that the interests of commerce and the environment are inherently in conflict, and that environmentalists who work with big business have sold out. And businesspeople have their own biases about environmentalists and social activists, whom they often see as extremists promoting ugly, troublesome, low-tech, and impossibly expensive designs and policies. The conventional wisdom seems to be that you sit on one side of the fence or the other.

Some philosophies marry two of the ostensibly competing sectors, propounding the notion of a “social market economy,” or “business for social responsibility,” or “natural capitalism” - capitalism that takes into account the values of natural systems and resources, an idea famously associated with Herman Daly. Clearly these dyads can have a broadening effect. But too often they represent uneasy alliances, not true unions of purpose. Eco-effectiveness sees commerce as the engine of change, and honors its need to function quickly and productively. But it also recognizes that if commerce shuns environmental social, and cultural concerns, it will produce a large-scale tragedy of the commons, destroying valuable natural and human resources for generation to come. Eco-effectiveness celebrates commerce and the commonwealth in which it is rooted.

When people hear about the work that I want to do in renewable energy they often seem to assume that I will be working for a non-profit. This assumption seems to reflect the sentiment expressed above by the questioners that ask "how can you work with them". I believe that for "alternative energy" to be able to drop the alternative label these energy sources will have to be developed in a way that allows prices to be competitive with or better than fossil fuel sources for both the consumer and producer, therefore making them very lucrative. This pretty much means that I'm going to be working with or for "them" and I'm looking forward to it.

And the fourth theme has to do with turning the Triple Bottom Line into the Triple Top Line. Again a much more positive way of shaping things that seems to provide for much more interesting outcomes.

Page 153
“The Triple Top Line”

The conventional design criteria are a tripod: cost, aesthetics, and performance. Can we profit from it? The company asks. Will the customer find it attractive? And will it work? Champions of “sustainable development” like to use a “triple bottom line” approach based on the tripod of Ecology, Equity and Economy. This approach has had a major positive effect on efforts to incorporate sustainability concerns into corporate accountability. But in practice we find that it often appears to center only on economic considerations, with social or ecological benefits considered as an afterthought rather than given equal weight at the outset. Businesses calculate their conventional economic profitability and add to that what they perceive to be the social benefits, with, perhaps, some reduction in environmental damage - lower emissions, fewer materials sent to a landfill, reduced materials in the product itself. In other words, they assess their health as they always have – economically - and then tack on bonus points for eco-efficiency, reduced accidents or product liabilities, jobs created, and philanthropy.

If businesses are not using triple bottom line analysis as a strategic design tool, they are missing a rich opportunity. The real magic results when industry begins with all these questions, addressing them up front as “triple top line” questions rather than turning to them after the fact. Used as a design tool, the fractal allows the designer to create value in all three sectors. In fact, often a project that begins with pronounced concerns of Ecology or Equity (how do I create habitat? How can I create jobs?) can turn out to be tremendously productive financially in ways that would never have been imagined if you’d started from a purely economic perspective.

In the book William and Michael provide numerous examples of their ideas in action. I won't even begin to try to summarize those examples. These ideas I've sketched out here are going to tumble around in my head for a while and I hope to write about them again in the future.