Towards Coherence: Interview with Jon Lebkowsky

In this series of Wednesday conversations, we post an interview with someone who is living, exploring, or championing aspects of thrivability – people at the forefront of cultural, organizational, or individual change.

Jon Lebkowsky has been an Internet professional for two decades, during which he’s provided community leadership and developed significant expertise in online community development, social media consulting, project and production management, and future studies. He is an author and blogger, as well as cultural strategist and social commentator.  There’s more about Jon at Wikipedia.

Todd Hoskins:  In what context does thrivability evolve, individually or collectively?  Is it all about the distribution of knowledge?

Jon Lebkowsky: Thrivability is a concept requiring social and political coherence, and we’re in a polarized society right now. We don’t have the kind of clear shared vision for the future that we’d have to have in order to thrive as a society. We need a context that gives us that sort of shared vision, and that requires strong leadership. I think it’s very cool to imagine a world where we’re all configuring our own environments and building our own realities to some extent, but we can also be too polarized or fragmented to build the commons, and I think we need a strong commons or commonality as a foundation for a thrivable future.

Todd: What does strong leadership look like?

Jon: A strong leader can catalyze a coherence of perspective in others who follow her lead or respond to her influence, and this can potentially result in synchronization around a common vision.  While there will still be variations in thinking – everyone has a unique perspective – when we’re led to a shared understanding, there will be less conflict about fundamental realities.

Todd: The polarization is evident across the globe right now, but we also see collaboration happening when there is a commonly held vision.  How do we address the social challenge?  What can we learn from the revolutions, as well as the systemic stalemates?

Jon: When people revolt it’s because their needs aren’t being met . . . you actually have to push a society pretty far before you’ll get the kind of explosion we’re seeing in Egypt. They sense that the regime in power is working against their interests. We have that in the U.S. to a pretty great extent right now, but we’re still committed to our civic processes for mediating power. I think we’d have to feel a real sense those had collapsed before we would erupt, but we do have what you might refer to as systemic stalemates. In both cases there’s a sense that the seat of power is not in touch with the base, and I would say the base is unclear and confused. We need strong leadership, but that’s not enough. I’ve been considering how you would work a transformation from the bottom up. I’ve always been interested in the grassroots. Grassroots movements can be somewhat more effective now because connections can form and messages can be shared with very low barriers to communication. However the distributed communications architecture tends toward fragmentation of groups and messages. It’s harder to build strong coherent movements in this context. I think it requires a lot of groundwork from the bottom up. I think a network of physical meetings that bring people into a real understanding of context and opportunity could be very powerful.

Todd:  The growth in participation . . . you’ve worked within the medical, government, publishing, and tech sectors – possibilities are changing, business models are changing, behavior is changing?   What has to shift for these transformations to truly take shape?

Jon: The thing about being in the moment and being creative about it is that you can see so many possibilities and levels of action.  The ideal shift would be in consciousness, and would be evolutionary, but you don’t make or drive or force evolution, and we can’t necessarily control what possibilities manifest even if we have some sense of what they are.   I think there are some people who are experiencing a change in the way we perceive and live in the world, learning to be more cooperative and collaborative. The Internet facilitates a democratization of knowledge, and sharing has become a predominant metaphor within online social networks. So perhaps we’re learning to work together better, and we have access to more knowledge and more meta-knowledge – knowledge that facilitates knowledge. So what has to shift is shifting.

Todd:  You started Plutopia with the mission of creating events rather than publishing white papers.  What is it about events that gets you excited?  What possibilities do you see in facilitating an experience rather than writing a book or releasing a record?

Jon:  We’ve seen an evolution of media from conversations around campfires to conversations mediating by writing, then publishing, then mass broadcast media. Most of us grew up in a world informed by the latter, the broadcast mode, where our experience of culture was largely mediated by various forms of publishing and broadcasting. This is somewhat alienating – experience through media is limiting. We all want a visceral human connection and an experience that engages all our senses. That’s what we produce at Plutopia Productions.  We have the concept of the sense event – “a produced entertainment or educational affair that engages participants in an amplified multi-sensory experience and results in enhanced associated memory formation.” These are accelerated culture-building, convergent experiences that can be extended through media. I think it’s a more raw and engaging form of culture-through-experience. By engaging us fully, it can be transformative.

Todd: What can we do, at an organizational and personal level, to allow for consciousness to evolve?

Jon: I was reading a lecture by P.D. Ouspensky, who was inspired by the work of George Gurdjieff. Ouspensky discusses how we have the potential to advance our consciousness but most won’t, because they don’t want it. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky consider the normal state most of us are in most of the time as a kind of sleep. Which is to say that, by default, most of us are born into various degrees of consciousness that are beneath our true capability; we’re like automatons. In Buddhism we talk about karma and conditioning, which is also about living without real presence and consciousness, in a state that is not mindful and awake at a level that is possible for human beings. Many accept this state, thinking that we are what we are, and lacking aspiration to explore further and deeper. There’s no effective argument with this. You ask what we can do to allow consciousness to evolve – I don’t have a pat answer. I think the evolution you ask about is very difficult, and the best we can do is be present and be exemplary. I know teachers who are effective by getting people to take small – very small – steps. Small and subtle things can change our energy and our consciousness, and perhaps there’s a gradual change.

Todd: How can we encourage the growth of the commons?  Find coherence?  Amplify the shift?

Jon: The growth of the commons emerges from an attitude of sharing. It’s hopeful that the metaphor of sharing is so common in social media, and I’m also hopeful as I meet so many people who don’t seem to be at all greedy or attached. In sharing we also find coherence – as we share ideas and perspectives, we become aligned. And by sharing we amplify the shift, attitude can be infectious.

Todd: Closing thoughts?

Jon: When I meet someone who seems to be more awake, I’m hopeful. One wakeful person suggests the possibility of objective consciousness for all of us.

Todd: Thanks, Jon!