Today, I want to express gratitude for Michelle Holliday. She is a facilitator, organizational consultant, researcher and writer. She brings people together and helps them discover ways they can feel more alive, connect more meaningfully with each other, and serve life more powerfully through their work.
I first encountered Michelle when my network was excitedly sharing this slideshare:
Michelle clearly gets how aliveness, integration, and living systems are the key to thrivability. A year later, she gave this ted talk.
More recently, she co-created this amazing and playful community inquiry that went around the world, Thrivable World Quest. I am such a big fan of her work that I gave her the thrivability twitter handle I had been holding onto.
If you are interested in how organizations can be resilient, adaptive — indeed, how they can thrive using living system principles, talk with Michelle! And keep an eye out for her forthcoming book, The Age of Thrivability.]]>
Recently I saw Lonny Grafman. Do you know him? I met him in his role as the founder of Appropedia – the encyclopedia for appropriate technology solutions.
He is a Practivista. He is head of product for Nexi, a startup being incubated at HighwayOne. Lonny is so multi-dimensional. Sometimes he is in the Dominican Republic building homes out of local materials with his students. Sometimes he is in NYC working on an art project that gets us thinking about living systems design (http://www.thewaterpod.org/).
While Lonny is the epitome of hacker engineer, he is also deeply rooted in what it means to be human, how to honor and respect each other, and how to be with each other in practice. I admire what he does. More than that though, I admire how he is – his beingness. Human. Funny. Compassionate. Solution-focused. Present. Perceptive.
Lonny holds several of the keys to thrivability for me. Thank you Lonny.]]>
When we met in 2012 at an alternative currency event in NYC, I could not have imagined today. Here it is! So exciting!
Back then, he was interested in my word, “Thrivability” and led Future Salons in SF. A couple years later, while in SF, we agreed to meet again. He wanted me to talk at his Future Salon.
We never really had that conversation. Instead, we discovered each other. The overlaps in interests and approach were significant, from small things like the soft boiled eggs, to big things like wanting to co-create a world that works (and have fun doing it!). This summer, we married on the beach where we often enjoy sunset picnic hikes.
Thrivability can be like that, full of surprising and delightful twists.
Rather than just having me speak at his Future Salon, Mark Finnern has merged his work with mine (and me with his!).
Here is the invitation! After a warm welcome, we will host an Open Mike for you to share your ideas and interests in co-creating a more thrivable work that works. We are particularly looking for ideas that tie back to something one can take action on right now.
The future is created by the present.
Both of us believe we are all in this together. While we will sometimes have speakers, our focus is on high participation among peers (read: you). Come play with us!
Of course, not everyone can be available that evening or be in San Francisco. We will try to webcast it using Spreecast. But look for more webcasts including our friends from across the globe in the near future.
Future Salon, please meet Thrivability… and Thrivability, allow me to introduce the Bay Area Future Salon! [Read history below if this doesn’t make sense.]
Hello all. Welcome to the Thrivable Future Salon where we meet to discuss and challenge each other in co-creating a more thrivable future that works for all. We have some audacious goals for the future, sure, and we are having a fun time together moving in that direction.
If you are curious or even passionate about creating the future, imagining new possibilities, or wanting to thrive in your life, work, and community, then come join us!
Can’t make this one and want to learn about future events, online and in person?
Join our mailing list.
From the angle of “what will make me, us, and all of us more thrivable” we want to have discussions at this and future events about:
For this relaunch event, we would like to solicit topics from you! Open Mike style. If you want to present a 5 minute talk on your own thrivable future topic, let us know by filling out this form.
Tweet: Create the future, imagine new possibilities, or want to thrive in your life, work, and community, then join us at Thrivable Future Salon! [LINK]
Webcast: For those not in the room, we will try to webcast via http://spreecast.com. Try this link. However our focus is on the in person event. Let us know if you want to help with organizing the webcast.
Can’t make this one and want to learn about future events, online and in person?
Join our mailing list.
We hope you join us afterwards for casual conversations and drinks nearby.
We thank Pivotal Labs for sponsoring this event by providing our event space.
We are seeking a food sponsor. Drinks are provided by Pivotal Labs.
Contact us if you like what we are creating and would like to be a general sponsor for Thrivable Future Salons. Send an email to mark at finnern dot com.
Mark has been hosting the Bay Area Future Salon since 2002. The Future Salon has provided our audience with riveting speakers on topics that lead toward a world that works for all, including David Brin, Nicole Lazarro, Mickey McManus, Howard Rheingold, Doug Engelbart, and more.
Ten years later, Mark met Jean Russell, a founder of Thrivability. Jean co-created the Thrivability Sketch with 70 amazing collaborators in 2010. And then in 2013, she released, through Triarchy Press, Thrivability: Breaking Through to a World that Works. The tagline for the Future Salon has been: Bolding Creating a World that Works for All.
And so, with a tremendous shared sense of purpose and practice, not only did they marry, they are weaving the Future Salon and Thrivability together in the Thrivable Futures.
Make sure you are signed up to get our updates about upcoming events online and in person.
I am so excited about this conference. I am very English language sensitive, so getting just the right words is important to me. Words matter. They tell a story of possibility. And these words speak deeply to me. So let me explain…no, let me sum up…
In 1998, I curated an exhibition call Text and Territory: Navigating through Immigration and Dislocation. Curating art is all about caring for it, putting pieces together to tell a larger story, and caring for all the people connected to the exhibition.
In 2010, I curated a book- Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch, gathering writing from over 65 people and pairing it with artwork to begin to explore what thrivability is. They didn’t all agree what it meant, and they didn’t need to. Curating the work was about pulling all the different voices together to make sense. To offer a first sketch of what thrivability might mean. Curating isn’t control. It isn’t about the author/creator/writer. With the Thrivability Sketch, the very first piece someone contributed surprised me, and I knew then that the collective work would be better than what I could do alone.
A good friend of mine, Steve, is a scientist and inventor. I would bet you have some tech you use that he was involved in creating. Something of a typical physicist, he wears one of those shirts that say “Over 1000 scientists named Steve agree…” We have spoken at length about creativity over the years. We keep coming back to ask, “what are the conditions that give rise to creativity?” While we can’t control creativity – or generativity – we can, like good gardeners, give all the ingredients to support creativity arising.
Curating the conditions is about creating the nutrient base for what you want to emerge. It is about nurturing the substrate for things to evolve from.
Last year at a brunch I hosted, we got in a debate about sustainability, resilience, and thrivability. So we made this chart to help people understand how we see the difference. Thrivability’s motto is “Game on!” It is about metastable states, live giving rise to more life, and anti-fragility. It is about striving for greatness. Play. Aliveness. Joy.
Thrivability doesn’t replace resilience or sustainability. It transcends them. Life strives to thrive, in whole or in part.
You could say I have had a passionate obsession with efficacy since I was a kid. It is a long story. Including a long tango with social change and philanthropy. And at the end of it what I found tied to efficacy were levers for transformation. What can I do to make a difference in curating the conditions for a more thrivable planet? My answer may differ than yours of course. My answer comes from Donella Meadows work on Places to Intervene in a System. I want to shift people to think about better goals, change the paradigm, and even give people more power to transcend paradigms. 1, 2, 3.
My strategy in curating the conditions for a thrivable world is planting the seeds of thrivability across the world. Planting the idea in people who are ripe for some story of greatness and possibility. People who are working hard to expand the possibility space. And to offer a story to people that includes joy, delight, and awe. Because awe and joy expand the mind and increase the possibility of creativity and connection.
Ouishare started as a small social media group focused on collaborative economy. They started to have local gatherings in Paris. They connected with like-minded groups in other cities.
Ouishare organized around values of open, sharing, and empathy. They scaled in 2 short years from small group to global collective. They produced a list of shared values: Openness, Transparency, Independence, Impact, Meet People in Real Life, Action, Permanent beta, Feedback, Inclusion, Play. All values that help curate the conditions for thriving.
They came together to host an event: Ouisharefest. I heard about it and promoted it to my network. I got feedback that there weren’t enough women and minorities speaking from a friend who believe the collaborative economy is based in the emergence of the divine feminine. When I brought that back to the Ouisharefest team, they invited me to help with programming.
Part of the curation was about clear process. They used RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) for clear accountability and relationships. Ouisharefest came together with a scrappy startup vibe, using the very practices of the sharing economy that they promoted. They created a space for interaction to occur, and invited inspirational speakers to attract attendance. When someone like me offered feedback, they invited that person to take leadership on that activity. Pretty soon it wasn’t just a conference, they had an open space time slot, a hack day, and evening festivities, all organically grown from the invitation and shared values.
They used collaborative software to make it visible who was doing what, what decisions were being made, and even enabled voting up of ideas. They aimed at as much transparency as possible while being reasonable about what information people wanted access to.
Yes and culture – build on others, offer appreciation, look for assets and resources instead of deficits or needs.
Attractor Force – had the technology savvy and marketing gloss to pull in speakers, sponsors, and participants. Plus the connections and operational skills to deliver.
Success: The conference was a success. Another conference came quickly in Spain a month later.
More energy made them more visible which attracted more people who felt they had something to offer aligned with that vibe and felt empowered to act on it grew more visibility and activity all self-managing.
when an outcome from the event is listed as answers to the question “how can the government harness its potential to be a sharing platform?” you know that they were not playing blame games and instead were focused on what assets we have and how to build forward.
Curating conditions: values and process. The values attract the energy and the clear process gives the energy a path to follow.
They grew up from an emerging space – the Sharing Economy. They increased the network connectivity before and during the event. Ouisharefest increased the visibility of the sharing economy and bolstered those within the field. Ouisharefest grew and strengthened the field of sharing economy, which in turns should increase the likelihood of their success in upcoming events.
Most of the projects that I see where people are striving to curate the conditions for thriving need to work on 3 improvements:
Clear process. What are the simple principles that form the paths for emergence to happen? Structurelessness is dangerous. Rules are too bureaucratic.
Playfulness. Thrivability emerges from play. Expand the possibility space. Find ways to reduce the pressure and seriousness in the system. Chunk it down to lighter parts where play can happen.
Layer up and down – create the conditions for those upstream and downstream of you to thrive.
Wishing you the best in curating the conditions for a more thrivable planet.
I was trying to understand a paper by a friend who does evolutionary algorithms. I approached it several times and finally it was clear enough in me to spark a new awareness about the world. It was one of those moments where I saw so much more clearly how the very things in front of me relate to each other. Was this already obvious to all of you?
So a map of information in my head shifted. Are evolutionary algorithms within the domain of science or math? It uses both. Lots of science uses math, of course. But what I didn’t feel clear about was that math has different criteria than science. Math is deductive. Math is axiomatic. It is a field built of arguments on what is self evident, becoming ever more abstract, perhaps, but always building on what can be logically proven from what is self-evident. Math is a field for what is absolutely proven. And thus the old doesn’t get tossed out when a new piece of math becomes accepted. It is accrued and should continue to be logically coherent. Math is evolutionary by accrual.
Science is not. I am not saying science is not logically coherent exactly. Oh wait, yes, I am. We can see that in how the explanations that we currently accept about large scale objects (astronomy) are not consistent with the explanations on the small scale (particle physics). Science is about developing explanations of the world that can be tested. Science is inductive. And current science theories are accepted under the condition that, when another theory gets presented that applies in more cases and especially in more edge cases, then the new explanation should be adopted as a more thorough and useful one. So science will replace old explanations with new – more nuanced – explanations.
These explanations are called theories. And they are built of hypothesis that are then tested using specific criteria determined by the field and traditions of science. Science is itself evolutionary by repair or replacement, not just accrual.
So Math is the realm of what is proven. And Science is the realm of what is tested. I was deliberating on that distinction, which started to seem obvious to me – as if I had known it since I was a child. Somehow as an adult, the information seemed like a revelation.
Great, but I want to know how this is useful.
For example, if we are discussing climate change, and you want to have the conversation from the criteria of math, then I need to make some computations that can be derived from self-evident axioms. And once those are known, then they are true. Period. Not up for debate, really. The proof is there or not there. But if we are discussing climate change, and I want to have the conversation from the criteria of science, then you need to form a hypothesis about some observable phenomenon, and then we can test it. The more times I can test it and get the same result, the more my explanation will be taken seriously. Right now climate deniers are denigrating climate science by saying that it fails to meet the criteria of Math – proven. And the scientists are at a loss, because of course man made climate science is a theory – a story we are testing out that isn’t proven or even provable. It is “just a theory” like gravity is “just a theory” too.
I was contemplating all this when I picked up “Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology“ by Žižek to read on the plane to Paris. As one does, of course. Žižek is perfect plane reading (not). Watch his videos instead. I like his RSA Animate as a gateway to his work. In any case, he is ranting about philosophy and critical theory, and he says philosophy is about the possible. Again, click. Here I am a philosophy major, and I had not thought of philosophy being about how we explore what might be possible. But now it makes sense to me.
So then I started to imagine that Logic might exist on a plane or dimension between Math and Philosophy. And that Epistemology – the study of what can be known and how we know – might exist on the plane between science and philosophy. A foam of fields started to emerge in my head, all bubbly.
And I wondered what might be missing.
Art is the realm of what we can imagine. It doesn’t have to be proven or tested or even be considered as possible. It orients toward imagination. The Art world is having a large conversation about imagination across cultures and time periods.
Jay Standish has developed an alternate visual at open door.
Chewing on all this and not seeing where to bring it up at the Climate Science event Transformations, where I was speaking in Europe, I continued to mull it over. After several conversations with people in San Francisco (Keki Burjorjee – the Evolutionary Algorithms person, John Hagel, and several others) I am sharing it with you here. What I gathered from those additional conversations is how to apply this understanding.
1. What conversation are you having? If you are struggling to make progress on a conversation, ask which domain each person is coming to the conversation from. See the climate science example above.
2. What narrative do you want to be creating? Is your narrative about tests, provability, possibility, or imagination?
3. What is the dominant narrative or where do you put yourself on the various planes? For example, I primarily come from a mix of philosophy and science. I like to consider what is possible and then I like to test it. I am only interested in the possible that can then be tried out. It is a bit like a personality quiz.
But friction can be your friend. And not just when you are applying the brakes. You want to make a spark or start a fire? Friction. Friction can be your friend when you are trying to be creative. Friction can be your friend when you are trying to start a business. Friction can be your friend when you are trying to spark dialogue with your community.
Let’s take business for example. I have seen startups where two partners may as well have shared one head they were of such like mind. And neither of those minds had much business sense. Both were visionary. They valued the exploration of ideas. They seemed to struggle to come up with a way to generate revenue to keep going and reach some lift. Neither had much talent or interest in operations. On the other hand, you can take a very profit-centric person and team them with someone who values customer and community and away they go. That is not to say they don’t experience conflict or even strong conflict. They do. But they learn how to balance it. They don’t confuse sharing values with being valuable.
Sharing is great. Share something with your collaborators. Values is just one axis. You might share a goal: keeping your neighborhood clean. But you might have different values driving the goal. One neighbor, Samuel might value the number otherwise known as property value which they believe is impacted by how clean the neighborhood is. Another, Joan, believes that “broken windows” talk from Tipping Point and feels that a cleaner neighborhood breeds less crime. Joan values being safe. And a third, Sandeep, simply values tidyness. Fine. They all want it clean. Share the goal. From different values.
A friend of mine, Steve Crandall, worked at Bell Labs. In one of his delicious storytelling sessions Steve mentioned working with someone – for years – who had a polar opposite political perspective. And yet, in the creative innovation space, the two of created well together. They didn’t need to share values to be innovative together and enjoy the pleasure of that work together. They shared a practice of innovating.
There are certainly times when you should connect on your values. It can help reinforce your identity and give you support that you need. But if you want innovation or you want to connect a neighborhood or you want to create dialogue across political boundaries, work with the friction of different values and connect on some other dimension.
As I learned from Valdis Krebs, “connect on sameness and profit from your differences.” Please be intentional about which dimensions of difference and which dimensions of sameness.]]>
Take twitter. At first it was follower count – and that still matters some. But over time, people found ways to gain followers that didn’t coincide to the value that they provided, so it started to lose usefulness as an indicator of value from the tweeter.
Jane McGonigal, @avantgame, just posted a series of tweets about how Amazon rating system is being gamed.
Interesting, my book seems to have been targeted last year by some conservative group, individuals encouraged to post negative reviews
a cluster of extremely negative reviews with a conservative POV posted at the same time with weird (untrue) criticism of my biography…
here’s a recent NYT article on partisan groups attempting to one-star bomb books on Amazonnytimes.com/2013/01/21/bus… …
“Here’s what I do: I go to Amazon.com + search for ‘liberal book’. I give 1 star, 1 star, 1 star”youtube.com/watch?v=tGB8Uu…
“Then I search ‘conservative book’ and give 5-star, 5-star, 5-star.” From a tea-party Internet training meetup youtube.com/watch?v=tGB8Uu…
apparently one trick is to purchase book so your review appears “verified”, then cancel order before books ships
Note: I took out a few tweets in the series which were just about her work, rather than about the gaming the stars method she points to.
Knowing that people are giving a count of stars based on their ideology rather than the quality of the work, I am now less likely to put stock in the star count on a given project, especially when it is politically polemic material. Thus the usefulness of the stars decrease for me (and for others) and then for the whole system.
With twitter, we first looked at “follower” count, and then that was gamed. Then the metrics had to start considering other factors like RT count to demonstrate influence. Now we rely on twittergrader, kred, klout, etc to take a great number of factors into weighted consideration to produce an “influence” or reputation score. This amalgam of factors evolves over time.
You might think this is just the way of social media, since it is a fast feedback loop. But actually, I think that a lot of measures of complex adaptive systems work this way.
What comes to mind is Scott Nelson’s story from Blockage in the Thrivability Sketch.
…It was during the crisis of 1857 that the previously ignored insights of a long-haired mathematician, abolitionist, and utopian socialist named Elizur Wright were finally recognized as critically valuable for economic stability.
In the 1840s and 1850s, Wright had tried to convince the state of Massachusetts that life insurance needed reform. As a mathematician, he had been asked calculate the present value of any given policy based on the premiums paid in, a calculation that British mathematicians had called impossible. He created a rule-of-thumb called “net present value” (NPV) to determine the value of a flow of resources in a single instant (present value) and then to subtract operating costs (net).
But the more Elizur calculated, the more troubled he became. Many companies by his calculations spent so much on advertising that they could never pay off their policies. Others profited by canceling policies for those who missed a single payment. The effect was often to end a policy a year before death, leaving families with nothing. Wright fumed, but in vain. In the go-go 1840s and early 1850s, no one would listen to his criticisms and only a few would accept his principle of valuation. But through the 1850s he returned to the Massachusetts legislature with a blueprint for reform. When the Panic of 1857 hit with the failure of a bank called Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, Elizur was prepared. This blockage of trade and transport, Wright declared, was a result of distrust. Insurance companies needed reliable accounting practices that would allow Massachusetts to calculate net present value, and internal rate of return. When trust returns, Wright assured them, the blockage will be over.
Unconvinced but without options, Massachusetts adopted Wright’s blueprint, preventing any company from selling insurance in Massachusetts that did not provide complete financial information. NPV offers transparency of obligations. The panic was short-lived, and Elizur Wright’s accounting principles became the basis of what we now call Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, adopted by millions of companies, states, and non-governmental organizations throughout the world. MBAs take credit for it, but a long-haired radical gave us cost accrual accounting.
Wright took advantage of blockage to identify its root cause – a distrust of opacity. Increased financial transparency was the solution; trust collapses without it. Blockage can let us make institutions open up and make them thrivable.
If the metrics we use in our economy are also being created (even at a very slow pace) they may also be declining in usefulness. Elizur’s methods didn’t anticipate the complex financial instruments to come over 100 years later that obscured the “trustworthiness” of the things our measures aim to reveal.
Consider how the measures you use can be gamed, where they may be in their lifespan of adoption and decay, and what other indicators might be emerging to reveal what matters – the territory and not the map.]]>
My sense is that the larger the organization, the slower the heartbeat of the organization – AND the less it is capable of transformational change. This is all about efficiencies of scale. And you know from previous posts that I have an allergic reaction to scale as a lauded idea in and of itself. It always, to me, requires clarification. Mostly because people act as if scale operates as a power law – when I think it is a sigmoidal function. Probably because of that West TED talk, of course, since I am not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination.
West makes clear is that companies grow on a sigmoidal curve – an S curve. You grow on an s curve too. And then you stop growing. These economies of scale are not infinite. At a certain point the energy required to transmit information throughout the organization and engage all the people in it exceeds the effectiveness gained by adding more people to it. [See also what West says about cities not being sigmoidal.]
Let’s be a little more clear about this scaling thing. The Long Now has a lovely essay on West’s work, which I pulled this quote from:
Working with macroecologist James Brown and others, West explored the fact that living systems such as individual organisms show a shocking consistency of scalability. (The theory they elucidated has long been known in biology as Kleiber’s Law.) Animals, for example, range in size over ten orders of magnitude from a shrew to a blue whale. If you plot their metabolic rate against their mass on a log-log graph, you get an absolutely straight line. From mouse to human to elephant, each increase in size requires a proportional increase in energy to maintain it.
But the proportion is not linear. Quadrupling in size does not require a quadrupling in energy use. Only a tripling in energy use is needed. It’s sublinear; the ratio is 3/4 instead of 4/4. Humans enjoy an economy of scale over mice, as elephants do over us.
With each increase in animal size there is a slowing of the pace of life. A shrew’s heart beats 1,000 times a minute, a human’s 70 times, and an elephant heart beats only 28 times a minute. The lifespans are proportional; shrew life is intense but brief, elephant life long and contemplative. Each animal, independent of size, gets about a billion heartbeats per life.
Picture a mouse trying to do a startup pivot. Now try to imagine your favorite large scale organizational gorilla trying to pivot. The larger the company, the more difficult it is to turn the entire company on a single point and do something related but quite different.
Startups often go through multiple transformations of what they do, how they do it, and who they do it for. Their organizational heartbeat is fast and their scale is small. (And some of them get successfully gobbled up by the larger organizational bodies, but we can talk about that another day.)
You can have nonprofits, whose social mission talks about transformational change, hiring consultants to help them do that as much as you want, but they won’t be very good at it. The kind of organizational heartbeat needed for transformational change – that leading edge early adopter game changing innovation in the social sector – well, it isn’t going to happen in the large organization. (We could talk about how big donors impede that, how organizational mission moves from “change” to “keeping the org alive” or how larger orgs attract stable-present-focused people who aren’t keen on transformational disruption, etc… but understanding the why doesn’t change that it happens. And we ought to just be honest about it and stop speaking transformational change in organizations that don’t do it.)
Do you think organizational scale relates to ability to be transformational? Or not? If not, why not?
ps. the antidote or innovation that can disrupt this exists – organizational slime molds… crowdfunding transformational change experiments, etc. I don’t have clear answers on how that all works, but I am deeply curious about how it is connecting.]]>
As I am wont to do, I had a gathering while in SF. This time it was a brunch filled with amazing people I wouldn’t have a chance to see one on one during my time there. I always enjoy seeing friends meet friends and discovering connection. A couple guests brought someone with them. And one guest took up my twitter invite and joined even though she didn’t know me yet. Everyone brought something to share. Yum. It felt warm and delightful.
Then we got in a debate about resilience and thrivability. Of course I appreciate the friends who not only stand by me but also stand behind thrivability. And, it was really exciting to have someone who wasn’t converted to the thrivability team challenge what it is we mean and to say she didn’t like the term. Juicy.
Where there is a bit of friction, you can get traction.
As a facilitator, you can always be sure I have paper and pens around, so I started sketching it out. Since then, I put together a chart, showed it to a few collaborators, and here it is narrowed down to key points for you. It isn’t enough to strive for resilience, and it won’t motivate enough of us. When we strive to thrive, we create a story of greatness that invites everyone to contribute their very best to making a world that not only works, it also produces joy, delight, and awe.
Thrivability transcends survival modes, sustainability, and resilience. Thrivability embraces flow as the sources of life and joy and meaning, adds to the flow and rides the waves, instead of trying to nullify the effects. Each layer includes and also transcends the previous layer, expanding both interconnections as well as expanding system awareness as each layer hits limits and discovers that more forces are at work than can be explained within their purview. Also, this is not a progression, where you need to move through one before beginning another. You can have aspects of yourself or your organization in multiple places in the chart and movement within the chart can be from any one area to any other. It is not a spectrum of progression. It is a spectrum of viewpoint. And most of us are like electrons, leaping about from point to point and sometimes seemingly nowhere at all… until you look and ask.
Please allow me to amend with gratitudes:
Thank you to attendees of the brunch that triggered action on the chart, especially: Sarah Brooks, Evonne Heyning, Scott Albritton (photos of chart from brunch), Thomas Kriese, David Evan Harris, Jeanie Kirk, Kimberly Olson, Mair Dundon, and Nicole Lazzaro.
Thank you to thrivability champions for assistance in development and refining: Michele Holliday, Irma Wilson, Joshua Foss, Herman Wagter, and Kathryn Bottrell.
It makes me want to scream. Or inside I am already screaming.
There are organizations that are best at scale. And laudable well scaled social enterprises exist too. I am not denying that. I am saying the glorification of any of those without pointing to small business or local enterprises diminishes the power and results of an organization that is not scaling ever upward in our collective awareness. Where are the HBR or SSIR articles on local social business and impact?
Think about your favorite local family owned restaurant. Should it scale? Doesn’t a little part of you die if you hear they are scaling? As if the personality of the place has been turned into a factory like process with measured perfection and efficiencies that stop being unique and by hand. What about your local farmer? The local farmer’s market? Should those scale?
Aren’t businesses that have scaled part of the problem in our current economy? Much like people have a dunbar number – the number of people you can know (and know who they know) which tends to be about 150, organiz
ations have a scale limit. When they exceed that limit, the costs of the necessary organizational bureaucracy to operate outstrip the efficiencies of being bigger. Think of an organization as a organism. You need food (income) to survive. And what is surviving without a purpose? Social organisms make sense. And we as a society want to see them fed, at least. But lots of organizations grow and grow until they bloat and become obese. And unhealthy. Additionally, at such massive scale, society becomes invested in the ongoing success of the obese organization, ruining the market mechanisms capitalism professes to use to make an organization healthy in the market. Too much concentrated power. Why are we glorifying movement in that direction without adequate critique and qualification? From the articles I read, it seems we do so without any question. And that makes me scream,”Wait, stop, think about this!”
Is it more important for the social business to scale or for there to be impact that goes to scale? Which is more important to you: 1 business (with 5 staff and a group of investors) that gives 1 million people access to water or 1 business model is replicated a thousand times locally, producing a living income for 1000 local entrepreneurs? If they both produce the same impact: 1 million people with access to water, but the first benefits a handful of people in a single organization and lines the pockets of investors OR the second gives living income to 1000 local people. In our current market and media, the first model is celebrated.
When social entrepreneurship looks at scale, we want it to mean scale of impact. What it really means is that investors think that enough transactions at a low margin of profit to the bottom of the pyramid, a profit can still be made. Or they mean, enough wealthy people in search of meaning will pay premiums for the latest moral crisis to be off their conscious. I am not saying that either of these are bad in and of themselves. I think it is good that we explore how to give people at the bottom of the pyramid a greater experience of agency – if that means buying products and services or creating their own small businesses. (You don’t see Kiva donors asking to see if their entrepreneur is taking a business to scale.) And I think it is good that socially conscious people can make more informed decisions and advocate those decisions through social cause purchases. What those two paths miss are the other axis by which social change can happen. What if 10,000 of us all start a MakerSpace in our town? None of our businesses will probably scale (some may merge over time). But if Make Media puts out a blueprint, and thousands of us run with it, enabling lots of innovation and tinkering in our towns, is that a social entrepreneurial effort worth celebration? Should you look at the impact of a single town or could you say the overall movement has touched how many lives, led to how many inventions or customizations, or created how many small businesses…. Sometimes scale comes through tight models that can be replicated. Barcamps. Jellys.
What about the revolving loan or cascading good efforts? Let’s say I start a project where 10 of my friends get together and help 10 people improve their lives, and each person donates $10 to that effort. Each “receiver” is then required to give 10 hours to helping someone else’s life. $2 are used as an administration fee for tracking the cascade forward. The receiver then gives forward their ten hours and $10 to 10 more people and on down the line. Does that count as a social entrepreneurship? Even if the main organization never has to grow beyond 1 or 2 staff? What if loans are passed forward instead of back – so as you prepare to pay your loan, instead of giving the money back to the bank, you have to find someone to give it to who will follow the same condition and mentor them so they can pay it forward to. That might have a lot of social impact over time, but it won’t look sexy at SOCAP. Not glorious or big enough for investor interest, which is what drives media interest and behavior at SOCAP.
What “they” also mean when “they” unquestionably glorify scale is that the timeline for scale needs to be rather short term – say 3-7 years. We are talking about cashing out investor money here, and they need to know they can get it. And yet, deep transformative social change happens over decades. So we end up with lots of hot, sexy, quick fixes that scale fast instead of deep and thorough long term social transformation efforts. And with all the glamorization of for profit investment into the social change space, the growing trend for philanthropic dollars to be tied to business like outcomes increases. Why fund long term social transformation when you can get quick neat little measures of incremental improvements as a social impact investor? Slow Money is a small counter effort to this, of course.
Can we please be sure to qualify statements about scale – as a subset of all ideal business development options. Please. Can we stop glamorizing investment capital and start to celebrate slow evolution, iterative crowd-funded efforts that make a difference locally or have long term deep and transformative impact?]]>