Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Storytelling Animal [Book Review]

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Humans are storytelling creatures, spending our lives both waking and dreaming in what the author refers to as Neverland. His premise is summed up in one paragraph:

 "Humans are creatures of Neverland? Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat. We are attracted to Neverland because, on the whole, it is good for us. It nourishes our imaginations; it reinforces moral behavior; it gives us safe worlds to practice inside. Story is the glue of social life--defining groups and holding the together. We live in Neverland because we can't not live in Neverland. We are the storytelling animal." P 177.

In this assertion, Gottschall does not rule out other species from having their own Neverland. He defines story as

Story = Characters + Predicament + Attempt at extrication 

and in that, there is room for dog dreams about rabbits and cats about dogs.

In this book, Gottschall explores what evolutionary benefit story gave us, what the purpose is, and how it manifests in both our waking and dreaming life. "The human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story."

As social animals, we can benefit from others' experience and explore potential outcomes of different actions. Interestingly, he cites research showing that people who are avid readers of fiction actually possess better social skills; having explored different characters minds, they have greater empathy. Violent stories lead to more violent behavior while pro-social characters lead to collaborative behaviors.

Our stories are categorically moral. Even those where the protagonist is the bad guy, the endings show the consequences of anti-social behavior. Bonnie and Clyde; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; they all come to a bad end.

Much of the night we dream stories. How could it help a species to paralyze it and show it scary movies most of the night? For dreams are mostly about trouble, showing us on average 5 scary episodes per night. While we tend to remember the most fantastical dreams, the worst nightmares, most dreams are fairly realistic. They give us practice in resolving the big dilemmas of life, acting as flight simulations to above the potential crashes in life.

But our penchant for tying circumstances together in story is not an all-together benefit. In an attempt to find meaning, we sometimes invent conspiracy theories and demonize others not of our tribe or religion. And the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives --our memories--are as fictional as our dreams. We edit our life story to make our own protagonist better fit our hopes and dreams.



Monday, October 28, 2013

The Second World by Parag Khanna

The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, by Parag Khanna.

It amazes me how much one person can know about so many countries. Khanna shoots around the world to give you insights in the developing countries or ‘Second World.’ Pretty soon, you see how dysfunctional our US foreign policy is. The rest of the world is turning to others for inspiration and trade. The EU has a GDP of greater than the US. South America is sick of our meddling, followed by inattention. Asia is not inviting the US to important meetings. China is searching the world over for resources and UN votes, buying them without Puritanical strings attached or our paternalistic tone. The US needs to get used to being one of several world leaders and must accept that there are different paths to well-being and even capitalism. Democracy isn’t worth much if you’re starving or dodging bombs. This should be required reading.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Why did Comcast turn us into whiners and liars?

I recently closed my account with Comcast since we were moving. The cheery customer rep said, "Oh, you would have been eligible for a long-term customer discount." Grrr. I wanted to know why the *&^%##@ they hadn't already given it to me. Now I feel like I've been had.

Courtesy Simon Howden, Freedigitalphotos.net
Why don't they just give it to us? Instead customers, if they're smart, have to put a note in their calendar to call every six months and threaten to cancel service.  We have to lie. We have to whine. It's so degrading.

Would it really be so hard to send us a thank you note for staying with them, giving us another 5% off for the year. We'd feel great about the company. Many industries provide benefits for being a long-term customer, realizing it's much cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one. My insurance company gives me a break for having all my business with them and for being with them a long time. We get frequent flyer miles. I have a punch ticket from the local cafe that gives me a free meal for every 10 we eat there.

So, come on, Telecom. Get with the program. Start treating us like people instead of a bunch of sheep you can fleece.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Value in Writing Your Life's Story...even if you're not at death's door

It's said a picture is worth a thousand words, but only if you know the story behind it.

When my mother was alive, I always wished she would take on the task of writing down our family stories. We had some doozies, but I was often vague about who the story involved or why they did it or when it happened. My parent's dining room was surrounded by pictures of ancestors I didn't know anything about. With my parents both gone, I worried that all this family history would be lost—to me but especially to my niece.

The cover of my family book done using Blurb
So when my mom passed away, I decided to collect our family stories and photos into a genealogy record of sorts. I was able to reference some genealogy work done about parts of my family in the past and used Ancestry.com to get names and dates.

I decided to organize the book around traits I possessed and see how far back I could trace these traits in my lineage. It was astounding!

Some traits like business acumen and a passion for service thundered down both sides of the family. My periodic poetry writing was traced through my mother, her father, and his father, who wrote both songs and poetry, along with a musical. My ancestors expressed a passion for adventure in different ways, with the men in my family first being attracted to fast clipper ships, then fast cars, and later fast planes. A love for horses galloped down the female line.

After my mom's celebration, I gave copies to everyone, incorporating some wonderful stories I picked up there from her life-long friends.

We like to think we are our own person. But this journey showed me how I am a logical extension of these people who went before me. Some mysterious process of DNA and family experience has imprinted on me values and talents that have been passed on through many generations.

I learned so much about my family that I can be proud about. One of my great-great.(not sure how many greats)..grandfathers was in the Peace Congress, a meeting trying to avert the Civil War. Later he was part of the Free Soil Party, a political party trying to keep slavery from spreading to the West. (I was relieved to find which side of that issue my family was on!) My dad was featured in Business Week, my aunt in Sports Illustrated.

Writing this book helped me integrate my memory of my parents, to process now being an orphan. It helped me let go of some resentments I held about each parent and appreciate their gifts and talents.  I got to know some of my aunts and uncles at a deeper level as I interviewed them for details about their lives. And it let me pull together my life story (so far), discovering a narrative that starts to make sense in hindsight.

When I was writing our family story, my uncle who was quite ill asked me to add some details about him into the book. They didn't really fit the structure or intent of the book but I found a way to weave these facts into the text. It seemed to bring him some solace in his last few weeks of life to know that these details about who he was would live on after he died.

Now I am helping an elderly couple in the neighborhood pull together their family story. It started out as a simple request for a short interview so I could highlight them in the neighborhood newsletter. The first interview took two hours and we had only gotten to the point when they got married! I didn't have the heart to toss most of the content so I offered to help them pull together a book of their lives. Through them, I am learning a lot about life behind the Iron Curtain and careers in medicine. I am getting to know my neighbors at a much deeper level.

But this process is also, I think, helping them. They can both see the bright light at the end of their tunnel; they know time is short. This project gives them a chance to relive memories, hear stories they had never heard about their spouse before, and build something meaningful to leave their four adult children and grand kids. In between doctors appointments and naps, it gives them something meaningful to do.

My father's older sister, well into her 90's, is still in great condition. (I hope I got a lot of her genes!) At my mom's celebration, she told me she had a pile of old family photos but didn't know what to do with them. I committed to come visit for a week and help her to put them together into a similar book. I don't know her well since we rarely saw her when I was growing up; she didn't live nearby. This is a gift I can offer that will mean something—to both of us.

It used to be that families lived in multiple-generation households and retold family stories by candlelight. Now families are scattered around the globe and even those living under the same roof may only rarely dine together.

So if you don't pull together your history, stories and photos into a coherent package, all that knowledge could be lost. Don't leave your kids a box of unlabeled photos. Take the time to interview family members and create a document that will last. Perhaps many generations from now, your descendants will be grateful you took the time to capture your memories.

Resources and Tips

There are a number of online tools that help you format your book and produce lovely full-color books in small quantities at reasonable prices.

If you want to publish a book with a lot of text and some photographs, I liked using Blurb. My 100+ page book cost about $45 per copy to publish in full color, softbound.

If you want to publish mostly photographs with captions, My Publisher will likely work better. It offers more options for displaying photos but does not handle large amounts of text well.

Genealogy experts advise not to make public genealogical information about people who are still alive as this can aid crooks trying to steal identities. So print copies for immediately family but don't post copies on the Internet.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Planning and Community Development [Book Review]


Tyler, Norman and Robert Ward (2011) Planning and Community Development: A Guide for the 21st Century. New York, NY: WW Norton and Company.

This would make a good text for a course on sustainable development or urban planning. It provides a historical and current perspective on planning including comprehensive plans, urban planning, housing, historic preservation, economic development, transportation planning, environmental planning and rural/transitional planning. The appendix is a simulation you can use for training purposes.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Local Money [Book Review]


North, Peter (2010) Local Money: How to Make It Happen in Your Community. Transition Books: Devon, UK.

While this book frequently references the Transitions movement (which may not be your framing) and the UK (which can be problematic when he'€™s talking about tax policy), it's a good primer on alternative currencies. It starts with a history and concepts. Then it provides case examples from around the world, including what worked and didn't. The following summary will give you a sense of the topics covered by the book and their appropriate use:

"We can see a LETS scheme or time bank being used for local production and exchange of things we can produce at home or in a local community—helping each other out; sharing food grown on allotments; renovating each other's houses. More complex goods would be produced by local businesses, perhaps using a local or regional scrip or at a national level, a WIR-like scheme or a business-to business exchange. More local production could be developed using local currency loans, or through a local bank or financial vehicle. Special-purpose currencies could finance local food production and Community Supported Agriculture, and local power generation. Local bonds could finance a major renovation of our housing stock and a new green infrastructure to replace our out-of-date Victorian inheritance." P 219

Friday, September 20, 2013

Emerald Cities


Fitzgerald, Joan (2010) Emerald Cities: Urban sustainability and economic development. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.

This book seems well-researched but it was dense with data. I had trouble absorbing the flood of statistics in the narrative and found my mind wandering. I was most interested in the first chapter that talks about Freiburg, Germany, because I traveled there. Fitzgerald approaches the challenges realistically, with no rose colored glasses about how quickly we can get off fossil fuels. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Eat Here [Book Review]


Haiweil, Brian (2004) Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. WW Norton: New York, NY.

This book explains what is wrong with our existing food system and provides examples of what different communities are doing about it. Most interesting to me is the development of Farm Shops, basically grocery stores run by a collection of local farmers. I was also intrigued by a study that showed that communities with local farms have better economic development and quality of life than those with large industrial farms. There is a good appendix of organizations that are working to rebuild local foodsheds. While the book does include policy-level recommendations, for the average person, the most useful part is probably the appendix showing what you can do:
  • Learn what is in season and build your diet around it
  • Shop at farmers markets
  • Ask the manager or chef of restaurants how much of the food is locally grown
  • Take a trip to a local farm to see what they are producing
  • Host a harvest party
  • Produce a local food directory
  • Buy extra quantities of your favorite produce and preserve it
  • Plant a garden and grow as much of your own food as possible
  • Speak to local politicians about forming a local food policy council
See book on Amazon

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Climate Capitalism by Hunter Lovins [Book Review]


Lovins, L. Hunter and Boyd Cohen (2011) Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.

If you know Hunter Lovins, this book sounds just like her. The first chapter is a powerful manifesto for why reducing greenhouse gases is good for business. The rest of the book is packed with examples and statistics. Every executive should read this. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Creating Wealth [Book Review]


Hallsmith, Gwendolyn and Bernard Lietaer (2011) Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
 
This book reveals the power of complementary currencies, which the authors define as ways to connect unmet needs with underutilized resources. This is not just about printing scrip. Frequent flyer programs are one common example. The authors provide wonderful examples including using complementary currencies for education, elder care, better health, and building community cohesion.

Friday, September 13, 2013

That Used to be Us by Thomas Friedman [Book Review]


Friedman, Thomas L and Michael Mandelbaum (2011) That Used to Be Us: How America fell behind in the world it invented and how we can comeback. Farrar, Straus and Girous: New York, NY.
 
This is Friedman's lament about how the United States lost its leadership and what we should do to gain it back. He explains how we unraveled public/private partnerships on the 5 pillars of society:
  • Public education
  • Infrastructure
  • Immigration
  • Government supported research and development
  • Regulations on private economic activity.
 
He lays out four challenges:
  • Adapt to globalization
  • Adapt to the IT revolution
  • Budget deficit
  • Climate/energy
 
He sees our political process being the root of our inability to take effective action. In the end, his major recommendation is for a serious independent candidate. He does not expect this person to win, but this person could reveal the problems with both party platforms and change the debate.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rambunctious Garden [Book Review]


Marris, Emma (2011) Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. Bloomsbury: New York, NY.
This book exposes a paradigm shift going on in the environmental community. Pristine nature is no more. But can we do more than try to conserve little slivers of sensitive habitat in parks? Is there a role for non-native species if the tree provides critical habitat for threatened species and grows faster than natives? Should we assist migration to adapt to climate change, planting trees or moving other species toward the poles? Can our cities provide needed ecosystem services? Does the concept of ecosystem services lead us down a path where money continues to rule? These are the questions this book explores. 

The main point seems to be: give up ever getting back to pre-industrial ecosystems. Instead, we should figure out how to have productive ecosystems that preserve as many of the species as possible. But the tone of the message is hopeful. Yes, humans have changed the landscape inexorably. But humans in pre-history did this too and it doesn̢۪t have to be the end of the world. Even invasive species often get beaten back by nature; for example, ducks have learned to eat the troublesome zebra mussels in Lake Erie. Nature never stands still and doesn'۪t go backward. The question is how do we participate in creating productive ecosystems for species everywhere: in conservation zones, cropland and even your backyard?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People [Book Review]


Weinschenk, Susan, M (2011) 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People. New Riders: Berkeley, CA.

While this book is intended for web designers, it's a fascinating window onto recent brain research and what it says about humans, interesting tidbits that have much wider implications. For example:

Consider the implications of communicating climate change in the light of €œcognitive dissonance denial— The more uncertain you are of your position, the more likely you will defend your point of view. You can be forced to change beliefs (eg, forced to debate the opposite side) but otherwise, the more people try to push a different point of view, the more you will dig in. 

But the €˜third person effect shows that while we think others are more easily influenced, we are not.

Consider the effect of electronic gadgets. Unpredictable messaging like Twitter is addictive because of dopamine. We are wired for surprise. Flow state requires focused attention so does this mean that people who multitask are prevented from enjoying flow?

Consider the effect of attention and working memory on presentations and training. The old guideline of people being able to hold 7 things in working memory is an urban myth. It's more like 3-4. And people can only pay attention for about 7-10 minutes, and only if they are interested. 

The Butler raises questions about strategies for social change

Have you seen The Butler, the movie about the man who served President Eisenhower through Reagan? He chose to work from within the system, using the minute power of his position to influence public policy. His son, on the other hand, was more militant, getting arrested repeatedly.

This movie raises the question, What advocacy approach works? Work within the system, fight it or both?

I won't spoil the story but the movie seems to come down on the side of fighting the establishment. This caught my attention, not only because it has always been my preference to work within, but also because of Naomi Klein's recent interview stating that Green Groups May be More Damaging than Climate Change Deniers. Ouch!

Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, states,

"I think if we look at the track record of Kyoto, of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, the European Union’s emissions trading scheme – we now have close to a decade that we can measure these schemes against, and it’s disastrous. Not only are emissions up, but you have no end of scams to point to, which gives fodder to the right."

Klein believes that by collaborating with business instead of suing them, many environmental organizations have undermined the capacity for progress.

In my view, there is a role for all approaches, those working from within and those fighting those inside. My preference is for a win-win, but that approach is taking a very long time to show any measurable reduction in greenhouse gases.

I encourage you to read her interview and let me know what you think? Do we need to be tougher about the outcomes and the moral imperative (think Martin Luther King Jr)?



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Plenitude [Book Review]


Schor, Juliet B (2010) Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Penguin Press: New York, NY.
 
This book is a good summary of what's wrong with our economy and what we need to do instead. If you've already read a lot about this, as I have, a lot may be redundant. But I did come across a number of different innovations I hadn't heard about including slow travel, Adobe Alliance, slipform construction, Bergman's New Work concepts, Aerogarden, fablab, Factor-e Farm, Green for All, Green Worker Coop.
 
Schor proposes four principles:
  • A new allocation of time through reduced hours of market work
  • A shift to high-productivity self-provisioning
  • The development of a low-cost, low-impact but high-satisfaction consumer life
  • Revitalization of community and social connection
See book in Amazon

Fostering neighborliness: You can do it!


Do you know your neighbors? Do you know why it matters?

If you don't, you have less security, less fun, and less trust. In short, you have less 'social capital.'
Courtesy stockimages, Freedigitalphotos.net
When we moved into a house in Portland back in 1999 we were dismayed to find that most people didn't even know each other's names! No one seemed much bothered by this. "Oh, people are busy," or "They have their social network elsewhere."
But it matters. Do your kids know the neighbors by name, in case they were ever being followed and needed a safe house? Do your neighbors know who should and should not be at your house? Do you have a way to contact someone if their house is on fire or their dog just got run over and they are at work? Do you know who has pets or an elderly parent at home? 
In Portland, I started by hosting a discussion course. The topic didn't matter; I just wanted to lock people in a room long enough to get to know one another. We met one night a week for 6 weeks, talking about the reading. And we discovered we really liked one another. At the end of the class, people said, This was FUN! How do we keep it going. So we had potlucks, at first monthly and then once a quarter. We also built a neighborhood list with contact information and the names of everyone (human and critters) in the house. An email list was set up to help people communicate.
We had some great cooks in the neighborhood and it was such fun to catch up on people's vacations and the like. But the biggest benefit was how we felt about the neighbors. By and large we like one another. It was fun to talk; people were so interesting! I discovered one of our neighbors—a petite but fit gal— used to be in the Secret Service protecting Madeline Albright and Chelsea Clinton. And we were resources to one another. I learned how to speak a few phrases of Arabic from one person and Russian from another before going on business trips to Qatar and Russia respectively. The attorney down the block gave us quick advice. When I needed to know how to kill off one of my characters in my novella, I asked the nurse. 
And when there was a disaster, neighbors came out in force. We took care of one senior when she got a compression fracture. Someone took her to the doctor, someone else did grocery shopping, I cleaned out the cat box. Without us, she would have been in a nursing home.
Another family had an act of vandalism. I was afraid it might have been a hate crime. Quickly the word spread. My husband and I were leaving on vacation in about an hour so we told them to move into our house. They already had a key. We gave them safe haven.
I knew we had done something special when a woman driving down the street one day stopped to ask a question of a few of us chatting on the sidewalk. "I understand everyone knows everyone on this street and I'm looking for Emma who babysits. Do you know which house is hers?" Wow. People outside our street knew that things were different here.
It doesn't take a miracle to get this going. It just takes one person to get it started and to nudge the neighbors into having a party. Here are some things I've learned about community building on a neighborhood scale.

Tips for building a strong neighborhood

Define the natural neighborhood

The governmental boundaries have little to do with what makes a neighborhood. You want to find an area small enough that people can likely learn the names of everyone there (20-40 households), and an area where people are likely to interact. In our case, we had five blocks that weren't crossed by any streets, with a very busy street on one end and a cemetary on the other. If you walked to the bus or school, you would need to walk by a bunch of these homes. 


Build relationships with a core group

 The catalyst needs to be more than a one-off (or annual) event and it can’t be an open-ended commitment. A core group needs to get to know one another in more than just name. That’s why the discussion group format is so effective. Include some team building exercise to take the conversation and relationships to a deeper level. If you are interested in sustainability, try using my novella, Dragonfly's Question, which has chapter by chapter discussion questions and facilitator guide.


Pitch a big tent 

With your initial events, you want the framing issue to be broad enough for many people to feel a connection. Sustainability with its triple bottom line is great for that; practically everyone has a ‘beef’ about some social, economic or environmental issue. 

Find the core

In any neighborhood, there are people who are going to be actively involved, some who never come to anything and many in-between. Don’t expect everyone to be gung ho. Find people who care about building community and ask them to do something, however small, to make them feel like this is their effort as much as yours. 

Develop strategies to rope in the rest

You need to make it feel safe for people to show up to the events. We’ve found if we hold the parties in the front yard, more people come than if they are in the backyard. Some of our hosts hand out fliers that act as personal invitations. Ask people to invite their next-door neighbor to come with them the first time.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Craigslist as community-building

What it means to meet the people who get your stuff

In the process of moving, my husband and I posted a number of items on Craigslist. You've probably been doing this for years, but it was new to us. I was fascinated to see what a window this gave me to our community. We met people we would likely never have come across. And each had a story. You know Steve Hartman on TV who drops into a little town, opens a phone book and randomly picks someone to interview....and proves once again that Everybody Has a Story? Well, Craigslist was like that for us.

Our 11 year old Prius went to the daughter of a perky Vietnamese couple. She told her parents that she wanted a Prius for the good gas mileage. And while they were out on test drives, I introduced their little toddler to the delights of picking raspberries.

A woman wanted to buy our old slide projector and related equipment. Her elderly grandmother was coming with old family slides, probably her last trip, and this woman's husband had broken their projector the night before. She asked if we could deliver it. Deliver it? You must be kidding! But she told us the police, with their new license plate cameras, had taken her license, thinking she was someone else. She was going to court the next day to prove them wrong. But grandma was only going to be in town for the day.

So I talked my husband to take the projector, screen and trays to her, half an hour away. He was not exactly delighted with this mission. But when he arrived, she threw her arms around him. Her husband was dancing on his toes, so excited for all the stuff they were getting for $50. Then they pointed to the picture on the wall of the woman's daughter, made from a slide, after she had been murdered by her boyfriend. There were no witnesses so he could not be prosecuted. My husband came home beaming that he could provide a little joy to a family like that.

I also had to sell my childhood four-poster canopy bed; I can remember laying in a crib at the base of it wondering if I would ever be grown up enough to sleep in it. It was also my mother's childhood bed. So it was not easy to let go of. A woman drove two hours to get it and told me that she was in Stage 4 breast cancer. She was hoping for the best, but worst case, she wanted a nice bed to rest in. OMG. I told her I hoped my mother would watch over her.

These short interactions didn't lead to long-term relationships. We were, after all, moving out of town. But they gave us an appreciation for the humanity around us, the lives of other people we would otherwise not have known.  Little vignettes of life from people in different walks of life, different ethnic groups, can help build empathy and understanding. It helps knit our society together. There is something about inviting someone into your home that invites these intimate conversations. And it's satisfying (in most cases) to know who ended up with our stuff. Even though money changed hands, it felt like a bit like a gift...for people on both sides of the transaction.


American Nations [Book Review]



Watching the political discourse/discord in the US, you would think we came from completely different nations. Well, we did, in effect, according to Colin Woodard, who has done a brilliant job of laying out eleven different regions of the US. These regions cross over and transect existing state and national borders. Woodard traces the prevailing worldview of each region back to its origins. We know from chaos theory that beginnings matter. And so it is with these regions where, for example, a Quaker settlement in the 1700s can continue to influence the worldview now, even though they may be a tiny minority. And with the mobile nature of our society, people gravitate to regions where people €˜think like them so these differences are getting stronger. 

You can get the essence of these distinctions just from his first chapter, which is available for free off the Web.

Yankeedom—€‘Settled by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, the religious utopia in New England put a great emphasis on education (note the many universities located there), local political control, and pursuit of the greater good. There is a faith in government'€™s ability to improve people'€™s lives, seeing it as an extension of citizenry and a bulwark against pernicious aristocrats, corporations or outside powers.

New Netherland (greater NYC)—The Dutch colony was modeled after Amsterdam, a global commercial trading society, multi-ethnic, speculative, materialistic, free-trading. Valuing diversity and freedom of inquiry. These ideas were passed on in the Bill of Rights.

Midlands—Formed by the Quakers, welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies. Pluralistic, organized around the middle class, they spawned the Heartland where government was seen as an unwelcome intrusion.  They believe that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people but are skeptical of top-down government intervention.

Tidewater—Conservative region (from the lowlands of Virginia, Maryland, southern Delaware and NE North Carolina) with a high respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was founded by the sons of southern English gentry that wanted to reproduce a semi-feudal manorial society similar to the English countryside. These Tidewater elites played an important role in the foundation of the US and are responsible for many of the aristocratic tendencies (like the electoral college). (Think of Jefferson and Monticello).

Greater Appalachia—€”Founded by a wave of rough settlers from war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England and Scottish lowlands. They spread across southern Ohio, and into the Ozarks, much of Oklahoma and the hill country of Texas.

The Deep South—€”Founded by Barbados slave lords, it was known for slavery, racial segregation, and labor/environmental deregulation. It'€™s locked in an epic battle with Yankeedom and its cousin the Left Coast and the New Netherlands.

New France—€”The most overtly nationalistic, this culture blends the culture of French peasantry with the traditions of the Native people they encountered. Down to earth, egalitarian, and consensus-driven, the most liberal on the continent according to pollsters. This region includes Quebec, of course, but bleeds into New Brunswick and even the Cajun areas of the Deep South (ie New Orleans and environs.)

El Norte—The oldest of the Euro-American nations dating back to the late 16th century, the Spanish empire founded Monterrey and other northern outposts. Now it spreads from northern Mexico into California, southern Arizona, and other parts of the Southwest. Viewed by other Mexicans as Americanized, these Nortenos have a reputation for being independent, self-sufficient, adaptable and work-centered. Woodard likens the US/Mexico border to the wall separating East and West Germany, two peoples with a common culture separated by a political wall.

The Left Coast—From Monterrey to Juneau, this area was colonized by merchants, woodsmen and missionaries from New England, hence the region's similarity to Yankeedom with a faith in good government and social reform and a commitment to individual self-exploration. Many revolutions sprung from this region (with support from Yankeedom): gay rights, peace movement, environmental movement, and the information revolution. 

The Far West—€”To me, the most interesting. This region splits Oregon and Washington, representing the dry side, and then toward the east. The conditions were too harsh for the European farming methods so this region has always been dependent upon and thus resentful of government (the railroads, grazing rights, etc.). They were for years treated like an internal colony, extracting resources and prevented from building its own industry. 

First Nation—€”A vast region too hostile for the Europeans to invade (my cynical words, not Woodard's), this includes parts of Alaska, much of Northern Territories and also Greenland.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

There Are No More Wild Animals

There Are No More Wild Animals and Other Insights from South Africa


I just returned from a two-week volunteer vacation in South Africa. My husband and I joined up with Siyafunda (it means “we are learning” in Shangaan), a new volunteer program associated with Makalali, a private reserve near Kruger National Park. Our main job was to help monitor elephant populations that are being controlled using an experimental form of birth control. No, it didn’t involve sending volunteers after bull elephants with five-foot condoms, fortunately. We also helped with other research, darted and moved some elands (an antelope the size of an elk) and visited a near-by village. Since wildlife conservation and poverty eradication are keys to sustainability. I thought you might be interested to hear what I learned.

There are no more wild animals, just large zoos.

Marius, one of the facilitators who is working on a technical degree, was explaining his research on the relationship between elephants and vegetation when he said, “I don’t believe there are wild animals any more; just big zoos.” The phrase stuck with me. Whenever you have fences (or other barriers such as city limits and highways), he explained, you must manage populations to maintain an appropriate balance. Through the growth of human population and our technologies, we have impacted ecosystems all over the earth, in most cases, restricting or degrading the habitat of wild animals.

Two sibling Cheetahs; almost ran over them in the road!
Whether we want to or not, it is now our responsibility to manage the remaining ecosystems and animal populations. The private reserves in South Africa have been key to protecting endangered species. Even in the face of population pressure, during the past 7 years, the game ranching industry in South Africa has grown by an average of 6.5% or 500 000 hectares per year. Currently, 6% or 6.1 million hectares in S.A. are private game ranches, while only 4.2% or 4 million hectares is state-owned protected areas.

In these reserves, the animals go about a relatively normal existence. They are not fed, as in zoos, but forage or hunt in large tracks of land. Makalali has developed cooperative agreements with other landowners in the area such that the fences have been removed and the animals can move freely across these boundaries. They now have a large area of diverse habitat, 24,000 hectares (approximately 60,000 acres), but even that needs management.

Humans, however, have different goals than nature. A reserve managed for tourism will emphasize different species than one managed for hunting, and some species like the sable antelope fall through the cracks while others like the impala thrive. Managing for biodiversity seems impractical.

"John", one of the young males


“Management” is no simple feat. You have to know how many of each species you have on your land (and they don't come when you call). You must also monitor how much food is available for them. Frank, a visiting Masters student from the Netherlands, has been at Makalali for three months doing research on grasses. Grasses feed many of the herbivores which feed the predators, so it is the basis of the savannah food chain. There are, of course, innumerable variables. Some grasses offer more nutrition than others. Soil conditions, rain fall, tree cover and climate change can all affect this resource. So they use "adaptive management" techniques: take an action, monitor the results, see what you learned from that. From a practical standpoint, the landowners must manage from year to year, even though the elephants may live 60 years. Imagine managing your family that way: “Sorry, Joey, we don’t have enough resources for everyone this year so you’ll have to go.” It's not ideal but it is what is possible.


Family planning for elephants: How can we have too many of an endangered species?

Most people think of elephants as an endangered species, and the Indian elephants are in serious trouble in Asia. However, thanks to conservation efforts, the African elephant is doing quite well, with growth rates exceeding the 7.5% maximum formerly presumed.

 In Southern Africa, for example, elephants have multiplied far past the carrying capacity of the land available for them. They eat a tremendous amount, digesting little with 60% of it still intact as it comes out the other end. They rip bark off trees with their tusks, and even uproot large trees. They play an important part in the ecosystem but too many can cause problems.

Up to now options when populations exceed carrying capacity have been limited to “culling” or “translocation,” both extremely stressful to the animals. Elephants live in tightly bonded matriarchal societies so when culling is done, the entire herd is slaughtered. This is considered more humane than leaving some members alive after witnessing the killing fields. Moving elephants is a huge undertaking, very hard on the animals, and in Southern Africa, everyplace else is already over-populated too. Furthermore, the elephants that aren’t targeted for culling seem to know what happened and many have a dim view of humans, making some of them aggressive toward people.





That’s where Makalali’s research comes in, largely funded by the Humane Society. In the late 1990’s Kruger conducted field trials on a new vaccine form of contraception, delivered annually by dart, that prevents the sperm from attaching to the egg. They proved that the vaccine was effective at preventing pregnancy, safe to both cow and fetus if the cow was pregnant, and reversible. Makalali has now proven that this form of immunocontraception is practical for small reserves, can be administered both on foot or by helicopter, and does not result in long-term changes to behavior. (The earlier form of hormonal contraception caused the bulls to harass the cows to such a degree that the cows would leave the herd, a completely unnatural response.) Audrey, the director of research at Makalali and Siyafunda, has been able to show that this form of contraception is practical and cost-effective, a tiny fraction of the cost of culling. Unfortunately, Kruger is resisting adopting this approach as part of their management plan but public pressure is brewing. Realistically, Kruger may need to do both culling and contraception for a while to get their populations back under control. The hope is this new form of vaccine may become the basis of contraception for many other species including humans.

Villages are disconnected from their natural heritage

Siyafunda is reaching out to the nearby villages, recognizing that conservation will only continue if the majority population appreciates their natural heritage. Sadly, most of the people in the villages have never seen a giraffe or lion or elephant. Instead, they still live hand-to-mouth lives in impoverished communities. The men may have more than one wife. One well-spoken worker at Makalali had a wife in the village, a live-in girlfriend on the reserve and “six children that I know of.” Not surprisingly, the schools are choked with children, some AIDS orphans. (AIDS has had such an effect on Africa that in Tzaneen, a nearby town, we saw four tombstone stores in a one-block area, including one in the mall. Do you know a single tombstone retailer in your entire city?)

We went into the village as part of Siyafunda’s plan to become more involved in the needs of the surrounding community. The village was laid out like suburbia, each family with a small plot of land, perhaps half an acre. Most homes appeared to be single room brick structures. We visited two pre-schools, one that reeked inexplicably of gasoline fumes. Neither had desks or much in the way of school supplies. They were thrilled to get the toothbrushes and pencils I brought as gifts. The teachers told us the children did not have enough to eat and were fed the same gruel each day. One woman in the village funds the preschools, paying the teachers when the families cannot. Mike, the operations director for Siyafunda who runs the volunteer program, plans to provide supplies and volunteers to help improve their situation and he also wants to bring the children to the reserve so that they can see the wildlife that is their heritage.

Remarkable progress has been made banishing Apartheid

The Blacks in the cities seem to be doing much better. I met with a young woman in Johannesburg who has survived Apartheid. She had been prevented from attending the better private schools but she is ambitious and excited about her future prospects and hopes to start her own business. She feels skin color is no longer a factor in employment, although she acknowledges there are still cultural problems such as high rates of teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. Similarly, in Tzaneen, a small city two hours drive from Makalali, we saw a prosperous Black middleclass shopping at the mall side by side with the Whites. I didn’t pick up resentment of Whites either, as I have in places like the Bahamas when they regained control of their country. At least the overt forms of discrimination have receded at a remarkable pace. Now what is left to do is work on the vestiges of poverty, lack of education, and disempowerment. But South Africa has accomplished in ten years what has taken us much longer in the US. They should be applauded.

Lingering questions

While Makalali and others are doing a laudable and responsible job of managing their land, I am left with troubling questions. What happens when most reserves manage for tourism and that selects certain species over others? Where will the money come from to continue pain-staking analysis of habitat and animal populations? What will happen if we have an extended global economic downturn (perhaps from depletion of oil supplies) so that tourism and grants dry up? With the continuing growth in human population, will the reserves be forced at some point to become human settlements, similar to the policies in Zimbabwe? And how can you manage populations on a year to year basis when animals live for decades? What happens when climate change affects the weather patterns? I’m not sure humans are up to this job we have made for ourselves. But I guess we have no choice. All the wild animals now live in our zoos, both large and small. Through “adaptive management” we are bound to make mistakes, but we must try.

If you are interested in learning more about this program, 
contact siyafunda-info@webmail.co.za or www.makalaliresearch.co.za
By Darcy Hitchcock. 
This was originally published by AXIS Performance Advisors, © Copyright 2005 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein [Book Review]

Eisenstein, Charles (2011) Sacred Economics. Evolver Editions: Berkeley, CA.


I saw Eisenstein speak in Portland (standing room only...only in Portland!) so I was curious to read his book. Because his background is more in philosophy than economics, I would love to see an enlightened economist’s critique of his ideas. But it’s interesting to see his view of the world unfold.

Central to his premise is that our economy has been largely about converting what is sacred and available to us all (nature’s bounty and the kindness of others) into monetary exchanges. We now pay for childcare, for food preparation, for entertainment. When we run out of things to convert to dollars and run out of natural resources, our economy and our society will falter. He believes we are in that transition now.

He claims that money violates natural laws in that it doesn’t degrade but I never got a clear sense why inflation didn’t qualify. His solution to the money-based economy is a gift economy. When he speaks, he charges only the cost to get there and then asks people to donate whatever they feel the value was on the way out. He explains similar options for business transactions, including a law firm that lets clients adjust their bill up or down based on the value they felt they received.

Since I had heard him speak, I did skim some of the chapters. If you are well versed in what is wrong with our monetary system and economy, you might just want to read the latter half of the book which lays out a transition strategy.

I appreciated that he speaks with a gentle tone. He’s not judgmental and envisions ways to transform our existing systems (eg, negative interest).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Community by Peter Block [Book Review]


Community by Peter Block lays out concepts associated with how to build community. It’s not a practical how-to approach but rather lays out some important distinctions:
  • Leadership is about convening, about inviting in, about framing a question that lets people take responsibility (or not).
  • Call a gathering, not a meeting.
  • It’s not about problem solving; it’s about uncovering possibilities.
  • The small group is the unit of transformation. This is especially powerful when part of a larger group process.
  • All transformation is linguistic; the power of language. Transformations are essentially linguistic and part of the task is to change our relationship (our story) of the past.
  • For transformation to happen, there are six separate conversations (that can occur in almost any order): Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment and Gifts.
Having been the convener in my neighborhood, I really resonated with Block’s description of the psychological barriers to doing so:

“The anxiety of invitation is that if we give them a choice, they might not show up. I do not want to face the reality of their absence, caution, reservations, passivity, or indifference. I do not want to have to face the prospect that I or a few of us may be alone in the future we want to pursue.

“And I do not want to face the same truth about myself, for my fear that they will not come is the caution I feel myself about showing up, even for the possibility that I am committed to. My fear is that what I long for is not possible, that what I invite them to is not realistic, that the world I seek cannot exist. And so I imagine myself as a misplaced person, an exile. It is today’s version of an old story that I am wrong and I will soon be found out. The fear that no one will show up is a projection of my own doubt, my own loss of faith.”

But it was well worth the risk.

Confused about what social sustainability means you should do?

Confused about Social Sustainability?
What it means for organizations in developed countries

By Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard
Courtesy Photostock
Courtesy Photostock
Many people in developed countries struggle to understand what social sustainability has to do with them. They assume we’ve legislated out of existence many of the problems associated with social injustice: slavery, child labor, racial discrimination, unsafe workplaces, etc. This article presents a way of making sense of the social 'leg of the triple-bottom-line stool' for those of us operating in the developed world.
 
Download the article from the International Society of Sustainability Professionals website.

 © Copyright Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard. Permission granted by Manfred Max-Neef to use his framework for Human Needs.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist [Book Review]

This is a book about the excessive impact money has on our lives and also how we can realign how we use money to our values. She tells some interesting stories. I was especially moved by the stories from the Women’s Conference, including that of an Indian woman who came to tell her story of being burned by her family (an all too common practice associated with the dowry) before she died so that her life could have meaning.

One story captures the essence of the book. Lynne helped start the Hunger Project and acted as fund-raiser. She was speaking in the late 1970’s in Harlem to an audience who barely had two cents to rub together. The basement of old church was filled with the plink-plink of drips from leaking ceilings hitting buckets below. After talking about the Project’s commitment in Africa, it came time to request donations, an ‘ask’ filled with misgivings in that setting, hers the only White face in the room.

After dead silence, Gertrude, a gray-haired woman stood up. “Now, I ain’t got no checkbook and I ain’t go no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It is also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”

Twist talks about the need to foster a culture of enough, of sufficiency. While our culture is steeped in insufficiency (never enough time or money), which leads to mean-spiritedness and competition, we can foster a culture of sufficiency and focus on appreciation, which fosters pride, self-sufficiency and collaboration. She tells the story of the Magnificent Seven, a handful of people in an area Bangladesh, Sylhet, where the citizens had all but given up on their homeland. It had been degraded and flooded and overrun with poisonous invasive plants. They bought into being needy, waiting for the UN to bring aid. But through a series of asset-based meetings, the people began to envision what they wanted for their community, and seven men formed a concept called the Chowtee Project: A Bold Step for Self-Reliance. They took back the land, involved the young people who had turned to crime. They uncovered an unknown lake and stream loaded with fish. They now had all they needed: produce, fish, the vision, the muscle and the creativity to succeed.

The last concept that stuck with me was the importance of making a stand. Their Project was in Tamil Nadu in India where it was still a secret practice to kill baby girls. A small group of women gathered to talk about their shame and guilt. Each had killed at least one daughter herself and had helped other women do the same. In this safe enclave they talked about the experience and broke the taboo. After purging their pain, they committed to stop this practice of infanticide and to help other women stop it as well. They committed never to participate in the practice again and if they heard of a planned infanticide, they would do what they could to stop it. . They would be the generation to stop this terrible practice. Later they told Lynne that they could not have been able to take this strong stand without the eyes and ears of outsiders. They had wanted to speak out before but could not within their own culture. They were ready to change the dowry system at the root of this evil. A famous set of movie stars joined the campaign and made a short film promoting reverence for baby girls. A popular singer followed suit. Journalists began to report the story. And today, the practice of paying a dowry is no longer assumed and girls are becoming significant wage earners. That is the power of 16 women getting together and publicly refusing to go along with an insane and inhumane cultural practice.

While many of these stories stem from the developing world, the messages are all the more poignant set in our society of plenty, some might say excess. We certainly have enough and our society would be happier and healthier if we tapped into gratitude and the power of self-sufficiency.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why goal setting feels abusive and what to do instead

Meaning, Intention and Commitment at Work

A different path to getting what you want


by Darcy Hitchcock, Originially published in 2001 by AXIS Performance Advisors

In the US, one of the most common questions we ask when we meet someone is, "What do you do?" In other words, what do you do for WORK? We spend so much time at work and derive so much personal identity from what we do that it is important to infuse our work with meaning.

This is especially important in today's high-employment workplace if you want to attract good people. And our shift from an industrial economy to one based on knowledge work only underlines this need even more, for we must rely on employees' mental energy, their commitment to the mission and task, to be successful.

All this said, we do not have particularly effective organizational practices to get at this more spiritual dimension of work. Sure, we do visioning, write mission statements, and set goals but these don't come close to embracing the experience of discovering meaning, setting intentions or developing commitment.

In this post we will explore how practices from other venues might be applied at work.

"Leadership is a personal quest you undertake, one based on a mission that troubles your heart."
-- Harriet Rubin, senior writer for FastCompany Magazine

Courtesy Stuart Miles, Freedigitalphotos.net
I started thinking about this when I was working with an organization that offered self-help, self-study courses. One of the psychologists who was writing the training said, "The only way I know to get people to make improvements is to set a goal, make a plan and build in rewards along the way." I responded that her approach would work well for many but would not work for parts of the population. I told her setting goals was a predominately Western concept. She looked at me like I was from Mars. It got me thinking about how much we take goal setting for granted in organizations as The Way to get what we want.

So Marsha and I hosted a think tank on the subject of setting intentions, inviting an ordained minister, a practicing Buddhist, a cancer survivor, and other interesting characters. This newsletter doesn't summarize the results of the think tank as much as it expresses my current musings on the topic as a result of what I learned there. I'm grateful to all those who participated in the think tank for expanding my point of view. 


 Goal Setting
Intention setting
Deals with goals, measures, plans, rewards Deals with personal passions, wishes, reflection, and discovery
Works best when: you know what the end state looks like and you have control over key variables; situations of low uncertainty, stable environments; when top-down directives can get you what you need Works best when you may not know what the end-state should look like and/or you don't have a lot of control; dynamic/chaotic situations; when you need to tap into personal passions/ commitment to get what you need.
Assumes you can make things happen Assumes you can let things happen

Goal setting: One path to getting what you want

For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to clump a bunch of practices under the heading of goal setting: strategic planning, visioning, writing mission statements, setting goals, writing action plans. If you get down to the root, all these practices attempt to influence the future; they help you get what you want. The basic idea is figure out what you want, make a plan, work the plan, and if you're really advanced, plan ways to reward yourself along the way.

It's a behaviorist's approach to management.So what's wrong with goal setting?Don't get me wrong; I'm not against goal setting as an organizational or personal practice. It is often useful to set a measurable goal, develop a set of actions that will lead you there, and reward your progress. This practice works especially well when two conditions are true:
  • You know what the end-state should look like and 
  • You have control over most of the critical factors for success. 

Losing weight, running a marathon, planning a merger or releasing a new product all are examples when goal setting can be helpful: set the goal, make a plan, work the plan.

However, there are many situations when the above two criteria are not met. In today's turbulent business climate, how can you know where you should be in five or ten years? And even if you set a plan, there are numerous factors outside your control that can throw you off: new technologies, an economic downturn, a vigorous competitor, new regulations, etc.

Who was it that said, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"? When all we have is goal setting, then we tend to use this same process whenever we want to influence the future. But this can be counterproductive.

I've often noticed that some people shut down when you ask them to set measurable goals. Suddenly, they're afraid. "Am I going to be evaluated on this? Is this part of my performance appraisal? What happens if I can't meet my goal?" Creativity, innovative thinking, and risk taking quickly devolve into safe, I-already-accomplished-it-anyway goals. And if you persist, it can feel abusive.

Can you really expect your sales reps to set sales targets for the next two years when many of the success factors (the economy, the advertising budget, new product releases) are out of their control?

The common alternative, setting process goals (e.g., number of sales calls per week) can result in people doing what you're measuring them on, even if that's no longer what's best for the company. Used in the wrong situation, goal setting has a constipated feel to it: straining, forcing, teeth-gritting. It's about making things happen instead of letting things happen. It can grind out the joy, the discovery, the openness to new opportunities. It may seem obvious, but goal setting doesn't always work. We put so much faith into it, that this fact is often denied. The next set of practices I will share with you also are not fail-safe. But I believe there are situations where they are more likely to get you what you want than goal setting will.

Intention setting: Another way to get what you want

Instead of making things happen, you can sometimes let things happen. This may seem "over the top" for many of you, but there are many who believe and research to support that setting an intention does, in fact, seem to work. Manifesting what you want as a thought can run the gamut from expressing a whim, making a wish or saying a sacred prayer. Unlike goal setting, you don't create a lengthy action plan; instead, you let it go and wait to see what comes back."The most powerful tool in the arsenal of a person who truly wants to make a significant difference in the world is intent. The power of intention and commitment cannot be overestimated. The intention we speak of here is not what many learned early on in their careers -- the commitment to 'make it happen' -- in effect seizing fate by the throat and doing whatever it takes to succeed.

This commitment is another, deeper aspect of intention -- it begins with the way we think about the world, about life itself, and the role we play in life's unfolding. In this way of being, first we see the world as fundamentally open, dynamic, interconnected and full of possibilities -- possibilities that stand in need of us."-- Claus Otto Scharmer, Society for Organizational Learning, MIT Sloan School of Management

Perhaps a personal story will make the point. About 20 years ago, I was moving into a new house, one I was purchasing with my husband-to-be. As I was unpacking boxes, putting books into the bookcase, a piece of paper fell from one of the books onto the floor. It was an intention setting exercise I had completed several years before which I had long since forgotten. It described our new house in eerie detail: 2500 square feet, chalet style, in the trees, on five acres. The only part of the description that wasn't accurate was the town I had listed (and for those of you who know my mud slide story, I now wish I had purchased a house someplace else!)Many of you probably have similar stories. That's why we have phrases like, "Watch out what you wish for," because wishes often seem to come true. And according to Paul Pearsall of Wishing Well, there are numerous scientific studies showing that wishing, intention and prayer can, in fact, affect outcomes. One of the more famous studies involved people praying for patients in another state. The prayed-for patients as a group recovered faster than the control group, even though they didn't know they were the focus of prayers. Spooky, huh?

There are many possible explanations how this works. Having a clear mental picture of what you want undoubtedly makes you more observant of opportunities. Scientists involved with quantum physics and chaos theory have discovered that, at least on the quantum level, intention and observation can affect experimental results, so perhaps our thoughts do manifest themselves. One person I know brags about her ability to conjure up parking spaces, calling it "popping a quiff" ("Quiff" is how they pronounce qwf for quantum wave function.) And of course, there are spiritual explanations as well.

"When you broadcast such an intention, there is very little else you have to do. The broadcast of intention goes out and makes it happen."--Srikumar Rao, professor of business creativity at Columbia and Long Island University

Deepak Chopra is probably the most recognizable proponent of this intention setting approach. In his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, he explains that we don't have to work so hard to get what we want. He encourages people to be reflective (why do I want this?), to consider the consequences (will this bring fulfillment to myself and others?), make a list of desires and review them every day, and accept uncertainty as an essential ingredient, remaining open to the "infinity of choices."

According to research documented in Wishing Well, "well-wishers" experience the following benefits:improved immune response reduced stress being more forgiving better able to deal with challenges more connected and loving towards others Even if this is hogwash or just the equivalent of the placebo effect, might it be worth it to practice wishing or intention setting anyway?

Marsha and I have been experimenting with corporate intention setting, what we refer to (a little tongue-in-cheek) as "strategic planning by wishing." And our track record for getting our big wishes for each year is much better than for all the goals we've set (specific revenue targets, for example). We've come to trust in the process.Intention setting seems to fit well when goal setting doesn't. Earlier I said that goal setting works well when you know what the end-state should look like. Intention setting can help you discover an end-state. (For example, last year, Marsha and I wished to become clear about what role we could play in the sustainability movement....a wish that came true.) I also said that goal setting works well when you have a lot of control over key variables.

Again, intention setting brings with it a philosophy to let events unfold. It embraces the mystery of serendipity and invites you to explore the potential meaning of situations as they present themselves. Whether you believe in a spiritual force or not, this practice of reflection helps you see relationships that you might ignore if you were narrowly focused on your goal.

According to Wishing Well, collective wishes have stronger power than individual wishes. What would it be like to make a collective wish with everyone in your organization? Imagine the process of discovering your shared wish, of voicing it together, and then periodically reflecting on the bounty that wish evoked. What an interesting ceremony that would be!

In Wishing Well, Pearsall presents a five step cycle which I have laid out in linear form so you can compare it to our typical approach in business on the right:


 Wishing involves...
Goal setting involves...
Purpose Mission statement
Meaning Goals
Compassion Tasks
Serenity Accountability
Delight Rewards



The two lists have a completely different feel to them. Both start with what you want and end with the natural consequences of achieving that. But the experience of living through these two lists is entirely different. How would you like to live in an organization that did more of the list on the left? How do you set an intention? So what do I DO? What would a replicable business process for intention setting look like? In the following process, I am blending practices from intention setting (which we have discussed at length) and visualization (which is used a lot by Olympic athletes and cancer patients).1.

How to Set Intentions

1. Uncover your passion(s) 

This involves both knowledge about yourself (who am I? what am I passionate about?) and the world (what needs are there that I can fulfill?) In The Cathedral Within, Bill Shore, the founder of Sharing our Strength, says the main event that propels people to act on their passions is discovering that they have something unique in themselves that can contribute to a solution. So you cannot discover this in isolation, on a mountain top.

Discovering your purpose(s) in life comes from the interaction between who you are and what is going on in the world. Most people are aware of themes or threads that connect most of their life, making them who they are: a love of nature, a passion for figuring out how things work, a love of teaching, a passion for music. Quiet your mind and discover who is behind the chatter.

In Callings, Gregg Levoy counsels us to not look for one calling but many. Ask, "In how many ways can I..."

"Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware."
-- Martin Buber

2. Discover your intention 

Next you have to figure out what you want to have happen. This may seem like an easy step but it is often not. Examine your motivation. Why do you want this? Be aware of the deeper need behind your intention. Sometimes this process takes minutes, sometimes a lifetime."You become extremely clear about what it is you want to do. Why is it you want to do what you do? How is it a reflection of your values? How does it relate to your unique purpose in life? What is it that you want to accomplish in society? Think about all the inherent contradictions that are there and then, if possible, reconcile them."--Srikumar Rao, professor of business creativity at Columbia and Long Island University3. Visualize it manifest -- If your intention has a clear end-state, it can help to visualize it in some detail. What will it look like, smell like, feel like? What will you be wearing when you do this work? What will your customers or clients do? Where will your intention show up in tangible form in letters or policies or purchasing decisions?

"I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It's like a color movie."
Jack Nicklaus, professional golfer

4. Create an icon 

Create some visible, tangible artifact that symbolizes your vision. It might be a collage, an object, a phrase. Place this where you can contemplate it daily. (One governmental agency in New Mexico summarized their strategic plan into a picture and printed it on mousepads for every employee.)

5. Put your intention "out there" 

It seems to help if you take tangible actions, do something to stir the universe. Many consultants talk about "serendipitous marketing." If you just sit in your office, no new business comes your way. But if you get out and talk to people, work will come your way (but usually from somewhere else, unrelated to your conversations.) So talk to people about your intention, take some action toward it. You don't need a detailed action plan but invest some energy into your intention. Make a verbal commitment. Say, "I am ready and am willing to take whatever is next."

6. Reflect on what happens 

Finally, be observant of what comes next and how you feel about what happens. View obstacles as part of your journey. Stay firm in your intention but flexible in your means.

"Yet, in this state of intention we must have the integrity, as Francisco Varela puts it, to stand in a 'state of surrender,' knowing that whatever we need at the moment to meet our destiny, will be available to us. It is at this point that we alter our relationship to the future. When we operate with this kind of intention and in this state of open commitment, we see ourselves as an essential part of the unfolding of the universe, of life itself and we seek to bring an unborn possibility into reality as 'it desires,' to serve humankind, not to serve our own narrow selfish desires."
-- Claus Otto Scharmer, MIT Sloan School of Management

Resources

Leadership in the New Economy: Sensing and actualizing emerging futures by Claus Otto Scharmer. Excellent intellectual thinking, dovetailing intention setting with a business context. <http://www.ottoscharmer.com>

Callings: Finding and following an authentic life by Gregg Levoy. Great book on how to discover your callings (plural) along with the upside and downside.

Wishing Well: Making your every wish come true by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. Parts of the book are annoyingly redundant but it provides an interesting review of the research and helpful rules to guide your wishing.

The Mental Edge: Maximize your sports potential with the mind-body connection, by Kenneth Baum. While the book is written with athletes in mind, the lessons about how to use relaxation and mental rehearsals to improve performance are easily adapted to other areas of our life.

Tibetan Wisdom for Western Life, by Joseph Arpaia, MD and Lobsang Rapgay, Ph.D. Since attention is an important part of intention, this book provides clear instructions for how to improve your ability to concentrate and meditate.

The Passion Plan: A step by step guide to discovering, developing and living your passion by Richard Chang. Easy to follow instructions and activities for individuals that would work as well with groups.

Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., ATR. If you want some ideas about how to get out of your head to discover what's in your heart, this book has some nice exercises, including making a collage, writing with your non-dominant hand, etc. Many can be done as groups.