Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

February 29, 2008

Friday Flashback: Nobody But Yourself

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 11:19
wolf cub 2
Just about a year ago I wrote an article called Nobody But Yourself about human nature and the benefits and costs of the social contract we make with others. I still think it’s one of the best articles I’vewritten.

February 28, 2008

Social Fluency

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 12:41
information fluency chris lott
After Nancy White pointed me to Chris Lott’s articles on Northern Voice, and on love, and Chris replied to my Tuesday post on how easily we unintentionally hurt each other through our actions, I did a bit more research on Chris’ work and discovered the remarkable chart above on Information Fluency. Chris put this together a couple of years ago for an IT audience and has since expanded on it, but for me it produced an immediate aha!

Our professional ‘value’ really is a function of the extent of, and our ability to integrate, our knowledge, our thinking competencies, and our communication competencies. Insight depends on our ability to apply critical thinking to what we know. Reportage is the application of our communication skills to what we know. Rhetoric is the articulation of our thinking. And the ability to do all of these things in an integral way is what Chris calls ‘information fluency’.

I think this is brilliant, and it got me thinking about how this model could be broadened to represent our social fluency — our ability to function socially in the modern complex world, to be of use socially to others in our communities. The chart below is what I came up with.
social fluency
What this chart says is that:

  • Our social value to others is a function of (a) the extent of our knowledge, our thinking competency (critical, creative and imaginative), and our communication skills (conversation, presentation and demonstration), and (b) our ability to integrate these three things.
  • This ability to integrate these three things gives rise to insight, ideas and new perspectives (application of thinking competency to knowledge), reportage and stories (application of communication skills to knowledge), rhetoric and provocation (articulation of our thinking competency), and art (the expression of thinking competency applied to knowledge). Chris and I love the addition of art, in its broadest sense (the representation of reality), to the model.
  • This ability to integrate is social fluency. If we represented individuals’ different social fluency graphically, those with high levels of fluency would have larger circles (more knowledge, greater thinking competency and communication skills) with greater overlap (better integration of these three things).

In thinking about this further and reading Nancy White’s blog, I realized that what was missing from the model was learning. I realized that the model was from the perspective of the actor (presenter, demonstrator, creator, artist) and not the perspective of the reactor (audience, listener, student, learner).

It occurred to me that since social activity is like a dance, there should be a ‘mirror’ set of attributes for effective response-ability (responsibility). My first cut at these is in red brackets above:

  • Our ability to derive social value from others (to learn) is a function of (a) our openness to others’ knowledge and ideas, our learning competency (ability to learn) and our attention skills, and (b) our ability to integrate these three things.
  • This ability to integrate these three things gives rise to understanding (openness to new ideas and knowledge, and the learning competency to process it), appreciation (openness to new ideas and knowledge, and the attention skills to be aware of them), and self-change (attention skills to be aware of change opportunities, and the learning competency to be able to apply them).
  • The reactive counterpart to art is improvisation. Social fluency requires not only the ability to integrate knowledge, thinking competency and communication skills as an ‘actor’, but the ability to integrate openness, learning competency and attention skills as a ‘reactor’, a learner. That’s precisely what improvisation is about.

What’s interesting to me about this is that some people are terrific ‘artists’ (they re-present reality well, as teachers, painters, presenters etc.) but not very good ‘improvisers’ (they are closed-minded and not open to new ideas and new learning). This is a terrible shame — such people are underskilled for a peer-to-peer world where social exchange is two-way. Likewise, there are some great ‘improvisers’ (people who have learned a great deal) who are unskilled at expressing that learning, ‘passing it on’.

It would be interesting to see a social network map that depicted individuals not just as dots (nodes) but with their six circles. This could show what people value in others in their networks/communities, and what they offer, and how that effects both their ‘popularity’ and the strength of the community as a whole.

So what can we do, as individuals, to improve our social fluency — to become better artists and improvisers? I think the first step is self-knowledge — to know what our strengths and weaknesses are in each of the six circles. Andthe second step is practice, with others who are both better and worse than we are at each.

What do you think of this model? Have I overloaded it? Is it useful? Is it missing something? Where does presence fit into it? Where does love fit?.

February 26, 2008

Effortlessly and Unintentionally Causing Pain to Others

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 22:31
nv08 chris heuer
photo from Northern Voice last weekend by Chris Heuer

I confess to still being an insensitive guy (though some people would say “insensitive guy” is a redundant expression).

I’ve been trying to get better at this, but I think it’s in my nature to be selfish and self-preoccupied and not spend enough time thinking about other people or their feelings.  I suspect it’s in most people’s nature. I know what to do (spend more time listening to people, pay attention with your whole body, respond promptly to requests and comments, don’t procrastinate, say ‘thank you’ a lot) — but I just don’t do it.

Lately I’ve been spending more time with people who are sensitive, partly in the hopes that they’ll be a positive influence on me. I was really surprised, then, when one of those people, Nancy White, confided that she was really distressed because she’d unintentionally hurt someone — a participant at her presentation at Northern Voice. I would normally not blog about such a personal and painful occurrence, but since it’s all been put in the public record by the participants, I figure it’s OK to talk further about it. It’s actually causing me as much distress as it’s causing Nancy.

Here’s what happened:

  • Nancy encouraged everyone at her session to “be fearless” and draw on craft paper and post on the walls of the meeting room something about a subject (the subject happened to be Ice Cream) that meant something to them, and to post on their blog their drawing, instead of just writing about it. The purpose of the exercise was to understand how visualizations add meaning and value to information, and to open ourselves to the additional personal understanding that comes from expressing oneself in pictures instead of just words.
  • One of the participants, the actress Meg Tilly, found the exercise personally devastating, and wrote about it on her blog. Here is a photo of her drawing, just to give you a bit of context.
  • Nancy was really distraught to have caused Meg such pain, and she wrote an apology on her blog.

Just to add a bit more to the story (since I was in the room at the time), when Nancy left Meg’s drawing to move on to one of the many others up on the wall, Meg (I didn’t know who she was at the time) cried out in protest (something like “but wait…”) in a voice that sent shivers up my spine. After that I forgot about it — there just wasn’t enough time to dwell on a single drawing, and the time for Nancy’s presentation was quickly running out.

No one was to blame. No one was really blaming anyone. But there was pain anyway, and it’s clear (from the blog posts and communications since, and from the comments to the blog posts) that the pain was deep, and isn’t going away easily.

There is a line in the movie Peaceful Warrior in which a young athlete, trying to impress his mentor with what he’s learned from quiet contemplation, from “gathering information from the inside”, says “The ones who are hardest to love are usually those who need it the most.” Nancy pointed me to a post by Chris Lott, another participant at Northern Voice, in which he says something similar:

I’Äôve been reflecting for the past few days on something Nancy White was talking about at lunch a few days ago. without going into too much detail, her point was that I would better understand someone who she knows that I admire and am constantly vexed with if I understood that person had a hard time accepting love.

For the past 18 months or so it has felt like everything I examined with any intensity came down to issues relating to scale. I suspect my next 18 months (at least) will be consumed with the problematic (sorry, I was brought up a postmodernist, where ’Äúproblematic’Äù is an acceptable noun) of love and all the things that cluster around it.

In a conversation earlier today about all this, I said to Nancy: “I suspect this kind of unintentional hurt occurs all the time without us ever being aware of it — it’s hideous to think about, but even those of us full of love and sensitivity probably inflict pain and hurt on others by what we do (and what we fail to do) every day. And the more social we are, the more we probably do it…I’m just thinking about how much I’ve hurt people I know and care about by what I’ve done and not done in the past few weeks…ouch…Responsibility is scary…no wonder so many refuse to take any.”

Nancy replied, and I agree, that (a) we can’t help unintentionally hurting other people, though we can probably learn to spot, and help others show us, cues that we’ve done so, and (b) the more people we know and spend time with, and the more open we are with them, the more pain we are likely to cause. I also think the actor in Peaceful Warrior and Chris are right that (c) as much as most of us want attention and appreciation, most of us don’t really want to be loved.

All of these truths are about Responsibility and its burden. When we stand up in front of a group as an ‘authority’, or talk to an individual one-to-one, or just communicate wordlessly with someone, we are being asked to take some responsibility for their feelings, their understanding, and even their love. When a member of the audience asks us a question and we answer in a way that is unsatisfactory to them (for whatever reason) they are hurt. When we say something to someone that makes them flinch or frown or leads to a ‘pregnant pause’, they are hurt. When someone looks at us, perhaps in invitation to some further communication and we turn away, they are hurt. It is not intentional. No one is to blame. But there has been a Failure of Responsibility. The word ‘responsibility’ comes from the Latin words meaning to promise back. All of this pain is the result of unintended broken promises.

Perhaps this is why so many people wall themselves away physically and emotionally, physically so they never have to accept this dreadful and unintentional responsibility, and emotionally so they won’t be hurt by others’ unintended failures of responsibility. In this sense, to be a social being, a teacher, a lover, a conversant, a member of community, is an act of great courage. It is the acceptance of enormous responsibility not to hurt or let down those with whom we dance in love, conversation and community. To do our best, not to “do no harm” (for that is impossible if we are social creatures at all), but rather to be responsible, to live up to the promise back to all with whom we engage. To respond.

There is another, safer form of social discourse — performance (from the Latin meaning supply what is needed). It is substantially one way, from performer to audience, and although there is a social contract in performance, and the performer has a ‘responsibility’ to inform or entertain, s/he is not required to ‘respond’. That is the role of the audience. If the audience fails to respond, it is the performer who suffers the pain. The performer need only ‘supply what is needed'; s/he is not ‘responsible’ for the audience’s reaction, response. That is up to them.

At one time, most education was performance. The instructor spoke and left the podium. The learning, the response, was the student’s job. At one time, most business was performance. The supplier produced and delivered, and the contract was done. The buyer (caveat emptor) was responsible for the actual use of the product. For some people, sex, and perhaps even ‘giving’ love, is and can only be a performance, an act, a supplying of what is needed. No responsibility. Take it or leave it. It is the recipient who must ‘respond’, take the responsibility. She the respondent (for it is mostly men who are the performers) is expected to appreciate, pay attention, and respond appropriately (with devotion, obedience, and perhaps multiple orgasms). No wonder we all want to love (and be adored by those we love) but we don’t really want to be loved (with the responsibility that places on us).

Today art, education, commerce, and love are, for the most part, no longer one-way performance activities. They are participatory, two-way, conversational, collaborative. We all have equal responsibility for their success, and the roles are blurring and disappearing. We all have to respond to each other, live up to the promise back to others we engage with. We all have the responsibility to be sensitive to others, and to know how our response (and even our lack of response) can cause anguish to them.

No one is to blame. We just have to learn the newest and most important social skill — improvisation. In my recent post on improvisation I defined its essential elements as follows:

The competencies include: active listening, paying full attention, inventing, self-expression, reacting quickly, remembering, teaching/helping quickly, learning quickly, letting go and letting come. There is a zen-like state that you can get into if you have, and practice using, these competencies: It’s a combination of extreme alertness and extreme relaxation. That’s only a paradox to the incompetent. Arguably, it is our natural state.

The tactics include building and drawing on others’ actions (“yes, and…” rather than “yes, but…”), exploring, reflecting, complementing, mimicking,and what someone has called “moving with and moving against”.

The attributes include intimacy, engagement, true ‘whole is more than the sum of the parts’ collaboration, and reciprocation.

If we were all good at improvisation, the way wild animals play with each other, energetically but somehow harmlessly, perhaps no one would be hurt. What do you think?

No one was intentionally hurt in the making of this article.

February 25, 2008

Lessons from Northern Voice 2008

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 16:37
Atrium at NV08
This past weekend I attended Northern Voice, the annual Canadian social networking forum in Vancouver. As with most conferences, the most valuable conversations and learnings emerged in the corridors, or more specifically in the Atrium of the UBC campus, a wonderful open space (picture above) in the middle of the (still theatre style, alas) presentation rooms. Or they emerged in the pubs, on the hiking paths, in the airline terminals, in the virtual spaces, or on the stopovers and places of reflection where you digest, consciously and unconsciously, what you’ve heard and seen.

In no particular order, here are the 10 most important things I learned this weekend:

  1. Moving from collection to connection: Many young content providers and content architects are still trying to fight an uphill battle against security-obsessed IT departments and possessive content owners, and trying to make content sharing more effective in organizations. The real opportunity is to improve connectivity in these organizations: providing simple, ubiquitous, real-time tools (like IM, virtual presence/desktop video, and virtual learning tools) that help people find the people (not the stuff) they need to learn from and work with, and connect and collaborate with those people more effectively.
  2. The end of e-mail: Generation Millennium is catching on to what our grandparents understood: most asynchronous messaging systems (notably voice-mail and e-mail) create more work and reduce productivity, and allow and encourage people to message instead of doing real work. If it’s important, the caller (if properly ‘trained’ not to expect replies to v/e-mail messages) will keep trying until they can arrange a real-time conversation. If we could develop an effective system for scheduling such conversations, one that callers could use to book recipients’ time in time periods alloted for that purpose by the recipients in advance, we could (a) engender more such conversations, (b) convey knowledge more effectively, and (c) possibly eliminate v-mail and e-mail messages (and rid ourselves of dreaded ‘in-boxes’) entirely.
  3. Don’t try any of this alone: Too many people are still trying to develop too many social networking solutions independently. The best ideas and solutions come from collaborations of teams of diverse, passionate people with a shared purpose, experimenting together to hone in on qualified, innovative approaches to coping with real problems, and drawing on the Wisdom of Crowds.
  4. We need more laboratories, exploratoriums. Places with the people, resources and collaboration tools to do experiments and share what works and what doesn’t. With no requirement for a tightly-focused short-term ROI. Play spaces where people who care about something can sketch, make stuff up, try it out.
  5. Know yourself: We need to know our Gift, our Passion, our Purpose, and what we know and don’t know and need, in order to be effective collaborators, innovators and problem solvers. World Cafes & Open Space only work well if the groups know what they need, what they can offer, and bring some diversity of perspective but focus of passion — on a few shared problems.
  6. Imagine that: We need more imagination of what’s possible. Too much of what passes for innovation in social networking (and everywhere else) is incremental change (usually adding more features and complexity) to existing tools which are themselves copies of poor designs. Before you have great design you need to have great inspiration, which stems from great imagination, something no one ever thought about, in a way no one ever thought about it before, applied to a real need.
  7. Gravitational communities: My brother Alan coined this term as something less than an intentional community but more than an accidental one. It’s the perfect explanation of how people find and make community in complex environments. You can’t plan it — there are no reliable ways to systematically search for and find just the right people to build community with. But it’s not accidental either — finding the right people is not a random activity. It’s evolutionary. You send out signals, explicitly and tacitly, and so do others, and you pick up on them, sometimes consciously but often sub-consciously or unconsciously. You end up in community, not with random strangers or the ‘people you were meant to be with’, but something in between, a collective self-selection, in constant flux.
  8. Support groups as intentional communities: Three times this weekend I got into discussions about support groups — people who are helping each other out, not with a shared passion or shared purpose, exactly, but more a shared personal problem. Something with a sense of urgency. The problem with most intentional communities is it’s too easy to walk away from them when something more urgent comes up, or minor obstacles arise. When you’re all suffering or dying from something in common, you’ll stick with a possible source of resolution, even it’s not easy or fun. Pollard’s Law again.
  9. Hope for disaster: I’m not a neo-survivalist hoping for the end of the world, or the Rhapsody, but I am learning that personal crisis seems to be very helpful in getting individuals to realize their need to Let-Themselves-Change, to discover what they were meant to do with their lives, and with whom, and to shake them out of their complacency in useful ways that can change their worldview, their understanding of the world and of themselves, and what they need to do. If you’re restless and unhappy but not sure what to do, maybe the problem is that you’re not unhappy enough. Thanks to my friend Wendy Farmer-O’Neill for this insight.
  10. Can somebody please translate this into language I can understand?: Last Thursday I was on a panel at a Social Networking workshop in Toronto for business executives. Once again I learned that most executives do not understand what social networking is or how it could be useful in business. On the weekend in Vancouver, I was surrounded by a much younger crowd who knew exactly what social networking is, and is becoming. But they had almost no experience or understanding of business (that was true even of the consultants there, who claimed to know something about business), so they had no idea how social networking could be useful in business either. Until (or perhaps unless) someone (other than Nancy White and I) can explain what’s possible (and useful) to those who can write cheques for it, social networking will remain a marginal discipline, a geek crusade.

Most interesting observations at the event? The full parity of women among the young cohort of attendees — this was the most gender-equal event of any kind I have ever attended. And I also noticed there were more cameras at the event than laptops — and some of the cameras were bigger than some of the laptops.

Thanks to the event organizers and all those who said such kind things about my ‘reading’ at the opening party.

February 23, 2008

Saturday Links for the Week — February 23, 2008

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 03:53
tony bridge on sitka sound
Image: Tony Bridge, On Sitka Sound

Bit of a mishmash this week, but stuff worth reading.

Imagining a Better Way to Live: My Swedish friend Steve presents a Future State vision of a sustainable community-based society based on a gift economy. Inspiring stuff. Idealistic perhaps, but remember Einstein said “If an idea at first does not appear absurd, there is no hope for it.”

Is the US ‘Beyond Hope’?: Hope is the Obama theme, but Sara Robinson suggests the 7 preconditions for revolution are all in place. As I’ve argued, Americans have three choices: vote for the Democrats and be disappointed, vote for the Republicans and be abused, or realize that they are both hopeless and start working on creating a new community-based political system that actually responds to people’s needs. There are no economies of scale. The nation-state is long past dysfunctional and is now useless. Thanks to Dale Asberry for the link.

Humans as Invasive Species: A research study suggests the ecological impact of humans moving beyond our African natural birthplace have been much the same as that of other invasive species, like purple loosestrife and zebra mussels (invasive species which we have introduced, deliberately or accidentally, in our globetrotting) — extremely destructive. Thanks to Anant for the link.

What’s Sex Got to Do With It?: Daisy at Our Descent describes why ‘real’ sex matters to us, and why analyzing what ‘real’ sex is is so futile.

When Photography Conveys Meaning: Cassandra has opened up a fascinating conversation with NZ photographer Tony Bridge (example of his work above) on photography and art and why it’s important.

…and When Painting Conveys Meaning: The Painting Activist, Ashley Cecil, paints stunning representations of good work, and then donates part of the proceeds to relevant charities.

Is Second Life a Wasteland for Business?: Wired magazine shows it doesn’t understand Second Life, or social networking — or that social software will never be successfully exploited by commercial interests for profit. Thanks to Mark Matchen for the link.

A Great Depression of a Different Type: Barbara Ehrenreich says that the industrial revolution unleashed an epidemic of psychological depression that we have yet to recover from. Thanks to Jeremy Heigh for the link.

A Polyamorism Story: A dear reader sent me a link to a recent WaPo story about a polyamorism conference, focused on one couple’s effort to come to grips with only one of them being polyamorous. Favourite bit: Popular joke among polys: What’s the difference between swingers and polys? Answer: Swingers have sex, polys have conversations.

Have the Young Given Up on Making the World Better?: Dog Rushkoff laments that as older people refuse to accept responsibility for fucking up the planet, an increasing number of young people “refuse to engage in the notion that their actions might actually matter”. Thanks to Richard Oliver for the link.

Wacky Political Story of the Week: A judge who clearly does not understand how the Internet (or the US constitution) works ordered a site that published an illegally-leaked document shut down entirely.

Courses on Presencing: My friend Andrew Campbell is offering courses this summer on Presencing, based on the work of Scharmer and Jaworski that I’ve raved about on this blog. Beautiful site too.

To Do List Add-On to GMail: Both Jon Husband and Jerry Michalski are enthusing over an Outlook-type reminder and GTD applet for GMail/Gtalk and Skype called Remember the Milk.

Photos from Northern Voice 2008: My photos are up here. There are over 2000 other photos taken at the event on flickr here (the best ones of me are on pgs 26 and 47, though I’m still wading through them). Blogging about the event next week.

February 22, 2008

Friday Flashback: The Only Life We Know

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 15:40
border collie
A slightly modified version (with my recent point on experimenters not leaders grafted on) of my story from four years ago about why we find it so difficult to imagine a better way to live. This was my reading in Vancouver at Northern Voice ysterday evening.

Recently, our local TV news told the story of Lucky, a dog whose life started out badly, but turned out just fine. Lucky (so named by the Humane Society when they rescued him) was left behind when the family of an alcoholic and abusive man fled to a social services shelter, a “half-way house” that didn’t allow dogs.

Neighbors say Lucky was beaten several times by this man, and left outside in all weather, but steadfastly refused to run away, and even came back to more abuse after the man told neighbors that he’d driven the dog a mile away and abandoned him.

What earned Lucky his name was his discovery, a month later, flailing weakly in a country ditch 50 miles away, by a caring couple who found him, bruised, emaciated, feet tied together and nearly dead. Nursed back to health by the Humane Society with the help of an outpouring of local donations from citizens, Lucky had over a hundred adoption offers.

The reporter covering the story raised the issue of why Lucky didn’t run away, and kept coming back for more abuse from this man. They used the words “brave” and “loyal” to describe this behavior. It obviously didn’t occur to the reporter that Lucky came back for more abuse because that’s the only life he knew. He couldn’t have survived in the wild, and couldn’t have known that another, better life was waiting for him in just about any other house, with any other family.

We are all, in a real sense, like Lucky. Most of us, all over the world, struggle every day, and put up with a huge amount of stress and unhappiness in our lives.

Compared to the hunter-gatherers who lived a natural life for millions of years before modern civilization, we work much harder and longer to make a living. We face much more physical and psychological violence (in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our war-torn world, and sometimes even in our homes).

We suffer from many more physical and psychological diseases and illnesses, we live in crowded, polluted, mostly run-down communities, in constant fear (of an infinite number of things, most notably not having enough), and we are oppressed with hierarchies, laws, rules and restrictions that would have driven our ancient ancestors quite mad.

Why do we put up with it? Because it’s the only life we know.

It has always struck me odd that wild creatures on this planet look after the needs of their community before their individual needs. This is natural to them.  The ‘dog-eat-dog’ world is ours, not theirs! And gatherer-hunter cultures even today live leisurely lives compared to ours, and seem much happier with their natural way of living and making a living.

I believe it’s because of the brainwashing we get in the education system, in the workplace, in the media, and in society at large, that we think the life-long, often joyless and meaningless struggle in the workplace is the only way to make a living. And that the disconnected, alienated way we live in anonymous communities is the only way to live.

We should know better. Just because it’Äôs the only way we know to live and make a living, doesn’Äôt mean it is the only way. There is a better way. The only thing holding most of us back is lacking the knowledge of that way.

We don’t need ‘leadership’ or ‘leaders’ to rediscover that knowledge. What we need are experimenters. The way to create working models that work better than the dysfunctional ones we have now, in a complex system where no one is in control and no one has the answers, is to try things. A lot of small-scale experiments, bold, different, even wacky. And then compare notes with each other about what works (and why) and what doesn’t (and why not).

That will allow the successful experiments to spread, virally, and be adapted and improved. Eventually, bottom-up, it will allow us to create decentralized community-based self-managed political, economic, educational, and social systems that actually work well, for each community.

Unlike most ‘leaders’, experimenters are:

  • collaborators: they don’t do anything alone
  • facilitators and coaches: they help others to learn and discover how to do things better
  • demonstrators: more than just communicators, they show how it works and what it means
  • ideators: they imagine what’s possible, tell stories to bring those ideas to life
  • innovators: they take those good ideas and realize them, make them real
  • researchers: they study what’s been done, in nature, by other cultures and communities, and what’s needed, and spread that knowledge
  • connectors: they bring people together who were meant to work together
  • model-builders: they design and build something that can be understood, replicated and adapted by others
  • founders: they start new things — enterprises, communities, different ways to do important things; they build something new rather than criticizing

That’s what we need. We won’t find it in one or a few people. We have to find it, through love and conversation and community, within all of us. To do that we have to give up on ‘leaders’ and take charge of our own lives, collaboratively, as peers. Who’s ‘leading’ in government, in business, in religious and educational and social organizations doesn’t matter.

The power is in all of us.

February 20, 2008

Making the Most of our Time

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 21:00
dali persistence of memory
Dali, The Persistence of Memory

I‘ve written before that two of the resources that are scarcest in our society are time and attention. We parse our time so narrowly, and spend so much time in urgent and administrative work that is, in the larger scheme of things, unimportant, that there is not enough time left for what is important, the things that require blocks of uninterrupted time and focus.

Personal time management tools like Getting Things Done (GTD) can help, but they require us to filter and intermediate all the demands on our time, so that we end up spending almost as much time deciding what to do (and what not to do) as we spend actually doing things.

There are many calendaring systems available as well, but these don’t interface well with all the other decisions we face on what to do and not do. Your work calendar and scheduling system (MS Outlook etc.) doesn’t integrate with your personal calendar (e.g. Google calendar), or your GTD activities list, and none of these help you cope with all the just-in-time decisions (phone calls, drop-ins, things that break down etc.) that eat up so much of the day. It’s just a constant juggling act, and it’s no surprise we never seem to have enough time, and never seem to get caught up, even on the things we ‘have’ to do.

I’ve recently taken a leap of faith and opened up my work calendar to many of the people who work with me. That means instead of me deciding whether to accept a meeting with them, I just let them put meetings in my calendar. So far it’s worked well.

Could it work with our personal calendars as well? Could we just open them up to people we get value from spending time with, in love, conversation and community, and just let those people book our time, so all we have to do is ‘show up’?

I’m intrigued about how time gets consumed in Second Life, which has no calendaring system. You can send invitations to people for meetings and other events, either well in advance, or just-in-time. The advance invitations work much as they do in ‘real life’ — you put them in your ‘real’ calendar so you don’t forget them. The just-in-time invitations (e.g. for meditation sessions) go out to all the members who have subscribed to a group, usually just a few minutes before the event. The decision whether or not to attend tends to be spontaneous — because it’s so easy to ‘teleport’ to the event (and the teleport ‘landmark’ is sent to you with the invitation) you tend to go if and only if (a) you aren’t already doing something else you think important in Second Life, and (b) you feel like doing it. No RSVP needed one way or the other. You can even get these invitations sent ‘outworld’ to your e-mail address, so you can ‘join’ the event in Second Life as easily as clicking a URL.

If you’re not doing anything else (and even if you are), you’re likely to get IMs (instant chat messages) from people you have accepted as ‘friends’ in Second Life, since by befriending them you give them the ability to see whether you are ‘inworld’ or not, and to see when you come into and leave Second Life. Those instant messages usually start with small talk (“hi, how are you, what’s new, what are you up to?” and often end up in one of the messengers teleporting the other to where they are, so that the conversation can continue “face to face”. Second Life is an intensely social place, and these impromptu get-togethers are the virtual equivalent of phoning up and inviting over a friend or neighbour. 

Today I went to a presentation of an “event management” software. The tool was very thorough and well-thought out, but it only handled physical ‘events’ at external sites, not internal or virtual meetings/events. It worked through e-mail but was not integrated with common work calendaring and scheduling software like Outlook. And it didn’t allow for just-in-time IM invitations, or for RSS subscription to ‘categories’ of event invitations. One more set of invitations and appointments to juggle with all of the others.

So it seems to me that what we need to do is block out our time into periods allocated to different groups of people (co-workers, friends, lovers, family, and time alone) instead of into activities. So the ‘ideal’ allocation of time I wrote about recently (9 hours for sleep/hygiene, 2 for exercise, 3 for play, 3 for meaningful conversation, 2 for reflection, 2 for creation, and 3 for action) needs to be re-mapped, day by day, into time allotted for solo activity (perhaps the 9 hours for sleep/hygiene and some portion of the 2 hours exercise and 2 hours reflection time, say 12 hours a day in total), and time for each group or community of people that one gets value from spending time with (the other 12 hours a day). And then, by ‘publishing’ that available time, like a professor posting ‘office hours’ on her door, we could allow those people to take the responsibility for filling up must or most of those 12 hours, so we would just have to ‘show up’ for these ‘events’.

For example, I might block out 3 specific hours a day on weekdays (perhaps more on weekends) for conversations and activities with my Second Life community, 6 on weekdays (and none on weekends) for specific communities of work colleagues, and 3 on weekdays (and more on weekends) for specific communities in ‘First Life’ (family, friends) and online friends (IM and blogging community). Those blocks would be specifically allotted to these communities and filled, by them, on a first-come, first-served basis. Then I’d need to map those, over time, against the categories (play, meaningful conversation, reflection, creation, action) of activities I intend this time to be spent in, and if necessary ‘tweak’ the allotments to different communities to bring them into balance with my ideal balance of different productive activities.

I know, this sounds very arrogant — allotting my time out to specific groups of people as if it were some precious and priceless resource. But isn’t it precious and priceless? Do we not, in one way or another, do this now — just not very effectively or systematically. And by letting others ‘sign us up’ for specific activities in these allotted time slots, activities they care about, couldn’t we both save a lot of time scheduling our own lives, and make ourselves more available to people who care about us, who need us, whocould benefit from our ideas, knowledge, insights, and loving company?

Maybe this is wildly idealistic, but there must be some way to make the most of our time, without using up all our time trying to figure out what to do with it. What do you think?

February 19, 2008

Not Knowing What We Need

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 19:05
batOne of the challenges with complex systems is that understanding of the problem and solution co-evolve — you can’t determine root causes, you can’t identify all the variables that affect the outcomes, and you can’t predict what will happen. That makes it hard to ‘solve’ problems like global warming, world poverty, violence, corporatism, unaffordable health care and dysfunctional education systems.

What makes it even harder is that we often don’t know what we need — what the ‘future state’ would look like if we ‘solved’ the problem. When it comes to global warming, for example, some see the ideal future as one of strict conservation, while others see it as one of miraculous new technologies that allow energy consumption to increase forever. It’s hard to figure out how to get there when you can’t even agree on the destination.

The School for Designing a Society focuses the attention of activist groups on collectively answering the questions “What are you for?” and “What would you consider a desirable society?”, questions that identify the destination, the future state, before attempting to prescribe a way to get there.

Matt Dineen at Passions and Survival interviewed the School’s ecological design instructor, Rob Scott. He said that the school’s objective is to go beyond available alternatives. In our modern world of horrific imaginative poverty, solutions are presented to us as dichotomies: Party A or Party B, socialism or capitalism, SUV or hybrid, Brand X or Brand Y. All these ‘choices’, which are not really choices at all, have the effect of focusing us on the available alternatives, and precluding consideration of other possibilities that don’t currently exist, but could exist.

As globalization succeeds in McDonaldizing the planet, these limited available alternatives become ubiquitous, and it becomes harder and harder to find, or imagine, additional possibilities: a society without political parties, a gift economy, a world where cars are unneeded, buying NoLogo products from people we know and trust.

By starting with an imagined Future State, one not directly or obviously connected to the Current State, we open ourselves up to additional possibilities, beyond available alternatives.

The problem is, we are now so rooted to the Current State and its limited choices that in imagining the Future State we subconsciously start with the Current State and linearly, incrementally design the Future State from there. In so doing, we short circuit the innovation process.

Because we have forgotten how to imagine, we no longer know what is possible, and therefore, we no longer know what we need. The iPod was the product of imagination — if you asked people in the days of vinyl and cassette tapes how they would like the distribution of recorded music improved, you would have received responses anchored to the Current State of the time: make records unscratchable; make cassettes that you don’t have to turn over to play the other side.

So the School is a great idea. But only if its enrollees either haven’t forgotten how to imagine, or have relearned to do so. My guess is that imaginative people are a tiny minority, and in the fracas of a brainstorming session with the huge majority of unimaginative people, they would be drowned out. They wouldn’t be heard. The vast majority could not imagine what they were talking about. Suppose it was you, in 1970, surrounded by a pile of disks and people invested hugely in them, imagining a future where all music could be downloaded free over the airwaves, in seconds, onto a device that would hold your whole music collection inyour breast pocket. Can you hear the laughter?

How do we re-learn to imagine, so we know what we really need? I’ve already written about that.

Category: Innovation

February 18, 2008


Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 14:03
paris sidewalk cafe
“I want it all”, Hanna told him.

He’d been walking back to his hotel after his conference presentation and decided to stop at one of Paris’ renowned sidewalk bistros. He’d found one that looked attractive. As he walked along the row of seats and tables a striking woman in a trim burgundy suit followed him with her gaze. When he turned his head to look at her, she raised her head and looked directly into his eyes, not averting her stare for a moment. He stared back, with a slight smile at her forwardness. He’d discovered that Parisians are fond of checking each other out, especially in public places like the brasseries and the Mˆ©tro, so he didn’t think this terribly unusual. He stopped walking. There were few empty seats in the bistro, and as he walked back towards her, the woman, still gazing right into his eyes, nodded towards the seat beside her, inviting him to sit.

She offered him her hand and they introduced themselves. They spoke French. She said she was Austrian, from a village in the mountains. Her long wavy hair was jet black. They explained what had brought them to Paris, and then moved the discussion to philosophy, and life goals. Hanna spoke exuberantly about her intentions in life:

“I want it all. Love, friendship, adventure, discovery, fun. I can’t, won’t be tied down. It’s not that I’m extravagant or unwilling to take responsibility. My ecological footprint is very small. I own next to nothing. I owe nothing. I don’t drive. I care about the planet, and about people, especially people who are responsible, who care.”

He asked her about her expensive-looking wardrobe, where she lived, and what she did for a living.

“I have three outfits, casual, that I made myself, that go with me everywhere. If I need something different, like this suit, I buy it in a thrift store and then, when I’m done with it, I donate it back, or give it to someone who needs it. My home, near a small village in Austria, is a one-room cottage in a forest. I sold the property to the government for one euro, on condition it never be developed and that I be able to use the cottage for free during my lifetime. It’s powered by wind and solar power, and it’s more or less empty. When I’m home I sleep there, prepare simple meals from local foods, write, paint, sculpt, weave, play music, and do research. But I’m a nomad, I’m comfortable anywhere and I like to move about and spend time with the many people I love, who are all over the planet. So I speak at conferences for the cost of transportation to the conference site. Most places I go I know people I can stay with, and I give them gifts of my artworks in thanks for their hospitality. If I don’t know anyone, I just make a new friend when I arrive. It’s fun.”

She asked him where he was staying, and when he told her, she asked if she could spend the night, and the one following, with him. He suggested it might be awkward, since the room had only one bed. She smiled at him wryly.

“I was hoping we’d make good use of the bed. I love making love, with people who are intelligent, sensitive, and kind. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s not because you’re putting me up for the night. I’d offer to make love with you even if I couldn’t stay the night. I want to do a sketch of you, and that’s what I offer you for your accommodation. My offer of love is free.” She smiled again.

They talked for awhile about how to make the world a better place. He told her he had given up on trying to bring about systematic change, and instead intended to create models of a better way to live: intentional communities, natural enterprises, self-organized collaborative events. She liked the approach. She was a model herself, he discovered, of living light upon the land, of the gift economy.

They ate vegan food, watched the people, laughed, poked gentle fun at each other. Then, at sunset, she took his hand and said simply “time to make love”.

She was an expert lover. She teased him for hours, not letting him climax, while she taught him exactly how to please her, over and over. They took a bath together, and later a shower, in between rounds, and by the time they were sated it was the middle of the night. He was ready to sleep but she dragged him outside to show him Paris at night, when almost everyone was in bed. They walked for about an hour, holding hands, singing quietly, sharing confidences, laughing, crying. They went back to his hotel room and made love one more time, gently, slowly, by candlelight, and then slept in each other’s arms until noon.

They made love again when they awoke, and then Hanna gave him a speech she had clearly recited often. She lay on his shoulder, caressing his chest, and said:

“Tomorrow I leave for Stuttgart, for a conference on collaboration and innovation. You are really on to something, you know, with your talk about Love and Conversation being the keys to making the world a better place. But I’m not so sure about intentional communities, or about physical communities at all. The world has changed, and you can’t re-isolate people in communities, even if it may be for their own good. I have four lovers in Stuttgart and I am looking forward to being with them all. I will tell them about what I have learned from you, and from talking with you. I will probably pick up some new ideas and understanding from them, which I’ll relay to you, the next time we meet. And we will meet again, in Rio, in January, when we’re both at the same conference, and, if you’re up for it, at my place in April, as we discussed. I just want you to understand that I love you, but I also love many others, and I have to be free to spend time with them too. You understand? We can have a lot more fun until I go tomorrow, but no sad goodbyes, no tears, right?”

He was quiet for a moment, and then nodded, smiling. She went on:

“You should try doing what I do. Sell everything you have and become a Love Nomad like me. Make your ‘intentional community’ the whole world, all the people who ‘get’ what you’re saying or who, at least, because they’re intelligent and sensitive and caring and imaginative, could get what you’re saying. And just have fun loving them, in the way they want and deserve to be loved. And conversing with them, spreading the ideas and information and insights you have around, like a virus.”

All that day they explored Paris, and each other. They returned to the bistro where they’d met for dinner, and Hanna, using the same ‘eye trick’ she’d used on him, invited a wildly-dressed Parisian woman named Mireille to join them for dinner. That night was a threesome, of passion, and of conversation about art. Mireille was a performance artist, and she had adorned her body with tattoos, piercings and temporary drawings about Gaia, making a virtual canvas of her body. Hanna drew a sketch of him on Mireille’s shoulder as her two new lovers were sleeping in each other’s arms, and when she rose in the morning she left them a note, with her cell phone number, that read:

“I give you to each other, in love.”

Image is from parlerparis.com. The character of Hanna is based on a polyamorous woman I knew many years ago, who at that time was living with five lovers. I’d like to believe this is what she might have grownup to become.

Category: Short Stories

February 16, 2008

Saturday Links of the Week — February 16, 2008

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 16:54
allony sunset by aboslutely nothing
photo: Allonby Sunset by UK photographer Tristan Campbell at Absolutely Nothing

Love Conversation Community:

Cassanda relates a lovely conversation with a woman who works with the dying.

Communicatrix relates advice to young women reaching the age of majority.

Dustin Rivers explains how the industrial education model helped damage indigenous culture, and why the unschooling, natural in-community education model of aboriginal peoples was so much more effective. Thanks to Chris for the link.


Building with Garbage: Check out the new film Garbage Warrior, about eco-architect Mike Reynolds’ fully sustainable buildings made entirely from the refuse of modern civilization. Thanks to Michael Serres for the link.

Dubai’s Eco-Catastrophe: Emulating the extravagant waste of Las Vegas, Dubai’s obscenely rich oil magnates are creating an energy-squandering playground and retreat for the obscenely rich around the world. These pictures of growth run amok are unforgettable. Page takes a long time to load because of allthe pictures. Thanks to Charles Hall for the link.

Letting-Oneself-Change, Becoming a Model:

Evelyn suggests we each need to become the person we desperately seek (consistent with my message earlier this week that we need experimenters and not leaders), and also proposes that it’s time to start adopting and funding (through microgrants) good artists again.

Jason at Anthropik is struggling with his personal rewilding project, but has some nifty new natural walking shoes and is using a virtuous cycle approach to turning things around.

Urban designer Kate McMahon is trying to make her own neighbourhood of Melbourne ecologically sustainable.

Personal Stuff:

Discussion on Polyamorism: Mia’s latest post on our joint blog is on some of the conversation we’ve had with others on Intentional Community and polyamorism in particular.

Recognition for HtStW: My blog has been nominated by Niall Cook for an Enterprise 2.0 award.

My Whereabouts: I’ll be at the Northern Voice social networking conference in Vancouver on Friday & Saturday (Feb. 22-23). If you’ll be there and want to meet up, e-mail me.

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