Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cultural Stories: Perspectives and Context

The last several months I've been looking into cultural narratives. What is our cultural narrative? And from which lens are we viewing it? Is it the American dream? Is it the Western cultural narrative? And how is this different from the cultural narrative of other cultures and civilizations such as the African, Indian, Latin American, Japanese, or Chinese?

If we take it to the very local level, we can think of the cultural story of our home town, and then go up the scale. So, for example, we can start with the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, then the City of San Francisco, then the Bay Area, then Northern California, then Western region of the US, then the USA, then North America, then Western Hemisphere and finally Western Culture. Each of these levels has a particular character and a specific quality to its cultural story. So, it's very difficult to assign a cultural story at a global scale.

In the case of San Francisco and the Bay Area it is a hot spot for new innovations and hi-tech and one of the cultural narratives revolves around this theme. It is also a place of constant change, a melting pot of different ideas and cultures. There's also a transient quality about this region. There's also the cultural heritage of San Francisco, the impact of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, the port of San Francisco, the emergence of Silicon Valley, the impact of Jack London, David Brower, John Muir, the 1960s music and counterculture, Stanford University and UC Berkeley and many other individuals institutions and movements that comprise the story of this region.

In addition to the physical and economic characteristics affecting the cultural narratives, there are the qualities associated with urban centers. In the case of the San Francisco Bay Area, the fast pace of life, the congestion, traffic, population density, valuable real estate all impact the story of this region.

A completely different cultural narrative may apply to someone living in say Cairo, Paris, Osaka, or Johannesburg. What each cultural narrative has in common is the impact of the city's physical biogeography, national and cultural heritage, population ethnicity, economic activity among many other factors.

For additional information about the world's civilizations, see: The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington. Also, Duane Elgin has done interesting work on social evolutionary stages. And to learn about cultural stories, see Great Transitions Stories and New Stories.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leadership: Power and Love

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote from MLK points to an interesting approach to leadership. In Adam Kahane's book, Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, he describes the various roles of power and love in leadership styles and the importance of needing both power and love for effective leadership and social change. Within power there is "power to," which presents a viable force and "power over" which can be very destructive. Either power or love on it's own will not suffice for effective leadership. Kahane uses the example of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009. At this world gathering he points out how the power from the government and business leaders did not mix well with the love and visioning approach of the civil society groups. The result was a disconnect between the two groups which resulted in neither side working effectively together towards a comprehensive agreement. 

In an age in which hundreds of leadership books and articles describe various leadership styles, it is refreshing to see the role of these simple attributes--power and love--and examine how they impact  leadership. This is particularly important as a way of understanding the drivers behind the negotiations on climate change and a myriad of other environmental issues that call upon us to cooperate and find common ground.

For a video segment describing the correlation between power and love, see Kahane's talk at:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Creating Our Own Sustainability Education Lens

“It's never enough just to tell people about some new insight. Rather, you have to get them to experience it in a way that evokes its power and possibility. Instead of pouring knowledge into people's heads, you need to help them grind a new set of eyeglasses so they can see the world in a new way.”
--John Seeley Brown

In this age of executive summaries, bullet points and sound bites, we are overflowing with data and information. In the field of sustainability education, we quickly become numb to the facts and figures, many of which are quite depressing. So, how do we develop, as John Seeley Brown suggests, "a new set of eyeglasses... to see the world in a new way?" And in a way that is inspiring and uplifting to motivate us to find viable solutions?

Perhaps the first step lies in using the wisdom expressed by our environmental leaders and adapting it to our own lives. The Aldo Leopold Foundation’s Leopold Education Project (LEP) is a good example. Utilizing Leopold's essays from his book, A Sand County Almanac, teachers from throughout the US are helping students develop and clarify their own environmental values. The Leopold Education Project's high school curriculum encourages students to explore their environmental ethics while studying Leopold's essays in a natural setting. Students come away with a greater understanding of the meaning of stewardship and are able to adapt these concepts to their own daily life experience.

Using this type of approach students and teachers benefits by creating a space for students to take ownership of the material and adapt it into their lives. Perhaps this approach will spread as educators create a more flexible approach to the knowledge base in the complex issues related to sustainability. We keep the information aspect of the course material manageable and then build in flexibility and space for students to make it their own.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Being Human 2013

Last Saturday I attended the second annual Being Human 2013 conference in San Francisco's Nourse Theater. There were 1,400 people attending and we were all immersed with a dozen or so speakers and a couple terrific of performance artists. Described as "a daylong exploration of human nature in the light of cutting edge science, philosophy, and evolution," there were four main themes covered: The Biology and Psychology of Ethical Behavior, Human Emotions, Love and Sex, and The Future of Being Human.

Each of the presenters shared aspects of their research into the qualities that makes us human. Stories included: projects that quantify the brain activity during meditation, studies related to individual and global compassion, human behavior related to romantic love and sex, and efforts looking into longevity and data analysis of global communications. The presentations were also broken up by welcomes performances by hip hop dancer Marquese Scott and musician ELEW.

It seems like the explosion of recent research centers around new technologies that now allow us to peek inside the human brain. Using fMRI and other tools we are learning a tremendous amount about what areas of the brain are activated under a variety of circumstances such as meditation, feelings of love, happiness, depression, etc.

Kudos to Peter Baumann, The Baumann Foundation and Jeff Klein and their team for showcasing new advancements in understanding human behavior and giving us a glimpse of what's around the corner in innovations (some of it inspiring, some of it a bit scary...).

The entire daylong event was captured on video and can be viewed at: http://fora.tv/conference/being_human_2013/

Thursday, August 29, 2013

3-D Printers

Today, I came across Heather Clancy's article, "How Jim Kor is revolutionizing car design with 3D printing," in Greebiz.com. Aside from Kor's aspiration to create the world's greenest car, which he named Urbee (urban electric vehicle), is his breakthrough in using 3D technology to design the car. 3D printers are in the cusp of mainstreaming. To have the ability to do small scale manufacturing and make spare parts for household devices from a personal computer will change the landscape of how we purchase and repair equipment.

Questions have also been raised about how environmentally friendly 3-D printers are. And it appears to be a mixed bag. (for more info. see: "Is 3D printing an environmental win?" by Jeremy Faludi. Greenbiz). One company the is making headlines in 3-D printing is Germany-based, Twinkind which will take a photo of you (and your family including your dog if you'd like) and turn it into a small statue ranging from 6"-13 costing $300-$1,700) What's remarkable is the amazing accuracy of these life-like mini statues. (for more info. see: "For $300, You Can Buy a Stunning 3-D Printed Version of Yourself" by by Kyle VanHemmert, Wired).

Perhaps 3-D printing is the next "plastics" of this century. And though it's still in the very early stages, there's much design work involved in creating a cradle to cradle system, that (unlike plastics) does no harm to the planet. This will require bright minds to work on the types of materials for 3-D printers that can be up-cycled when they are no longer needed.    

Monday, July 29, 2013

Starlings in Flight

For this month, I ran across some stunning videos of flying starlings. Thousands of starlings somehow not colliding and flying in unison. These movements are called murmations. Remarkable art in the sky!

I've seen a small version of murmations in Northern California, but check out this stunning video:

To see a collection of starling murmations videos, visit treehugger's article: "Nature Blows My Mind! 10 videos of the stunning, otherwordly flights of starlings."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Two Films: Elemental and Rebels with a Cause

In the last several weeks two documentary films have come out that highlight the determination and passion inherent in the leaders from the environmental conservation and activists movements: Elemental and Rebels with a Cause.

Elemental tracks the lives of three activists passionate about making change in the world: Eriel Deranger an activist leader from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation fighting the Tar Sands development in Alberta, Canada; Rajendra Singh, who commits to rejuvenate rivers in Rajasthan, India and to cleaning up the Ganges River; and Jay Harman, an entrepreneur and inventor of high efficiency fans and pumps and founder of Pax Scientific in San Rafael, California. Elemental provides a fascinating insight into the daily challenges that each of these leaders face on a daily basis including family responsibilities, financial challenges and political fights.

Rebels with a Cause, tells the story of the activists that fought to protect the undeveloped land in Marin and Sonoma counties in California. This film takes us back in time and brings forth the enormous pressures to develop the land north of San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s. The rebels, including: Huey Johnson, Doug Ferguson, Marty Griffin, Phyllis Faber and David Brower among others, recount their strategies and battles to protect the undeveloped land in Marin and Sonoma Counties. Learning about their struggles provides a valuable historical context to the current parks and preserves surrounding San Francisco including the Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods, Bolinas Lagoon, etc.

Both of these films beautifully describe the connection between the leaders' passion and commitment, and their accomplishments. A great tribute to past and current environmental leaders dedicating their lives for a better world.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Online Education: Live!

On of the powerful aspects of online education that really adds value is the live component. It is technically and logistically challenging to incorporate a live component into courses. However, the online classes that I've taken which have a live presentation and/or discussion make a world of difference.

To that end, CreativeLive offers many free live courses in the creative arts, including: software (photoshop, Dreamweaver...), photography, film and video, design, as well as business, etc. These are very practical skills that are well-suited to an online presentation. Even the business live presentation has the presenter with a small audience that asks clarification questions to keep the presentation alive and engaging.

The live component and the social interaction of participants is already changing how we learn and how we present information. The technology is still in its infancy, but as more tools get developed and the bandwidth expands so that hundreds of thousands can join in, the outcomes will improve over time.

Another online education firm that does not have a live component, but has honed the course material very well is Lynda. Lynda has numerous tutorials and training videos in topics including: accounting, software programming, social media marketing, digital publishing, finance, etc. These courses are more traditional tutorial in style, yet the diversity and simplicity make them a valuable resource. They've also developed a monthly membership business model that lets students take numerous courses for the flat monthly fee.

As the online education revolution unfolds, more and more firms will be experimenting with the combination of live and pre-recorded material. The potential for hundreds of thousands of students worldwide (as demonstrated through MOOCs, massive open online courses) has sparked the interest of Silicon Valley as investment opportunities. Now, with access to the internet, location is no longer a barrier to learning skills from some of the most talented teachers and practitioners worldwide.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

UNI Sustainability Symposium

Last weekend I really enjoyed participating in the inaugural “Sustainability Dialogue & Action 2013” symposium hosted by University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The symposium was geared to presenting solutions to the various sustainability challenges we face. My fellow keynote presenters included Majora Carter and Winona LaDuke, two accomplished leaders who shared their stories and how they’ve overcome challenges to improve the livelihood in their respective communities. The three day event was a refreshing look at how individual actions can make a profound difference. There were numerous speakers and panelists sharing their work including college initiatives such a biodiesel programs, garden projects, recycling and clean energy programs, as well as research on ways to mitigate water pollution in agricultural lands and initiating local food programs.

One of the overarching themes that emerged in the symposium was the importance of placed-based programs. The significance of local actions and being rooted in one’s community was emphasized by both Majora Carter and Winona LaDuke. When one of the participants mentioned their desire to move elsewhere because of their frustration and exhaustion from fighting for the protection of a local watershed, LaDuke and Carter highlighted how that desire typifies our collected anxiousness about confronting local challenges and instead wanting to move away to a more desirable place. An alternative approach: to stay in our neighborhood and improve it so that we change it into a place that we want to live in.

Majora Carter’s work in urban renewal in the South Bronx area of New York City also highlighted the importance of spending the time up-front to do detailed research in order to determine what initiatives will likely succeed. She described how her team spends many hours figuring out what the needs are in her community and who has already invested in local projects. They also identify the abandoned and neglected real-estate sites that would lend themselves for renovation and provide potential commercial opportunities. This research lays the groundwork for who might be interested in investing in the local community and create new job opportunities. Seeing her slides of the amazing transformation from degraded empty lots to beautiful parks and new commercial spaces was incredibly uplifting.

Kudos to UNI Provost Gloria Gibson, Professor William Stigliani, Sustainability Coordinator Eric O’Brien and the entire UNI team for pulling off a fantastic symposium. Their collective efforts brought awareness about sustainability issues to the students and local community members and how they can get involved to make a difference. More of these efforts at the local level will keep spreading the work and encourage all of us about taking actions for positive change.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Technology and Connection

A recent article by Barbara Fredrickson in The New York Times, "Your Phone vs. Your Heart" (NYT, March 23, 2013) really captures the importance of social interaction and the impact of technology.
As Fredrickson (author of Possitivity and Love 2.0) points out:

"Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.". . . .

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression."

Something we've all probably suspected given how absorbed so many of us have become to phones, computers and other screens on mobile devices.

With the enormous push for technological efficiency as seen through online education, communications, photography, emails, I wonder about its impact on old fashioned face-to-face conversations. I recall a discussion years ago when I was working on an exhibit for a museum in Alaska. We were considering developing an expensive multimedia presentation that would tell the natural and cultural history of the region. Then the thought came: Why not just hire a local elder from to tell stories about the region to the museum visitors? It provides employment, is much more engaging and more affordable!

Similar decisions face us as we aim to solve problems using strictly a technological lens. There is a place for technological solutions, but comprehensive, enduring solutions call for a greater context which includes the social interaction and human well-being aspects.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mentors. Patrons and Sponsors

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very interesting panel and live music event put on by Tom Sebastian and John Berg, co-presidents of Swirl, an advertising agency in San Francisco and Bob Weir and Chris McCutcheon from TRI (Tamalpais Research Institute) studios in San Rafael, California. The event, named The Patron Project, took place at TRI's state-of-the-art studio in San Rafael. There were about 150 attendees, mostly from the music industry.

The objective of The Patron Project is to begin an important conversation about the role of patrons in the arts and the role of brands and how brands can better support artists. The panel was composed of legendary musicians including: Bob Weir, Sammy Hagar, Lukas Nelson (Willie's son) and Jerry Harrison. There were also several professionals from the entertainment industry including, Kevin Eagan from Microsoft's e-commerce, Simon Fleming-Wood from Pandora, Jason Fisher from Redbull Media House, Gunnar Larsen from Dolby Laboratories and Dax Kimbrough formerly from EMI Music/Capitol Records.

Bob Weir set a context for the dialog reminding everyone about the critical importance that patrons have played through the ages including, for example, the vital role that the Medici's played in supporting artists during the Renaissance Age. Then, the question was raised exploring the difference between sponsors and patron's--- sponsorship, was pointed out, usually involves a time-limited commitment and the financial backing for one of more specific events. Patronage, on the other hand, focuses on the long-term development and financial backing of artists.

The benefit of Patrons underscores the vital role that seasoned veterans in the music industry can play in the success of younger musicians as they come up in the industry. However, the role of patrons goes well beyond musicians and extends to many of the others arts including: writers, painters, dancers, sculptors, actors, etc. In the new economy with an explosion of online media distribution channels, social media as well as blogs, wikis and other new media tools, calls for creative ways to get visibility and create a following. In a sense, the transformation that is occurring in the music industry is similar to the changes affecting the print industry; the old media tools such as print media and television are being superseded by the Internet and digital distribution methods.

In addition to the critical role of Patrons, it's helpful to think of the role of mentors in helping young artists perfect their craft and navigate the seas within their industry. Mentorship (originally from Greek mythology, Mentor as Odysseus trusted counselor) brings together the notion of a patron with the benefits of a trusted counselor and teacher. In a way, a mentor is a step closer to the artist and provides a nurturing and wise counsel that so many youth yearn for as they enter the arts profession. I've noticed in several conferences, the young participants are hungry for mentors who can help guide them as they contemplate getting experience and building their skills ranging from technical know-how to leadership and personal growth.

A huge thank you to the creators and developers of The Patron Project for courageously planting seeds for a conversation that is needed and will undoubtedly spread far and wide. This is a welcomed dialog that applies to people in all areas of the arts. I look forward to seeing additional events that generate new ideas for young artists to succeed.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Leadership and MOOCs

A couple of weeks ago I attended the "Emerge Leadership Workshop" at NatureBridge in Sausalito, California. This workshop was led by Kathleen O'Brien, John Cunningham, Ann Edminster and David Eiseberg. I found great value in looking at the different dimensions of leadership. Even though the examples and material was drawn form the building industry, the concepts applied to all sectors. In addition to the presentations, there was an amazing group of participants from the for-profit, non-profit, government and education areas. We had time for walks along the beach, reflection, working on case studies in small groups, and the presenting to all the participants. I'm a firm believer that improving the way the we work together in teams and developing our leadership skills is essential to solving the challenges that we face at a local, regional and global level. For more information, check out: http://www.emergeleadership.net/

I've also been researching MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). MOOCs are web courses aimed at large numbers of students with open access. There's a huge wave of interest in MOOCs since some of the larger universities have entered the space. Stanford, Harvard, MIT and many universities are  offering classes through various platforms. Some of the platforms include Stanford's Class2go (open source), Coursera (with nearly 2.5 million members), edX (non-profit started by Stanford and MIT; edX's first class in circuits had 155,000 students), and Udacity. Futurelearn, a British firm, is developing an alliance with 12 UK universities to provide MOOCs. Additional players in the online education space include Khan Academy, which has an incredibly extensive learning modules, and Blackboard which provides online education tools. There are also other firms providing the social networks that facilitate the interaction between online learning communities including GoingOn.

What is interesting about this new online education revolution is that technology now makes it possible to reach millions and potentially a billion or more people with educational content. Many of the MOOCs are free and students from across the globe are enrolling in courses ranging from computer science, database management, history, etc. The potential is there for students to eventually design their own degrees or certificates by taking courses from these well known, prestigious universities.

One of the greatest advantages of MOOCs is that the learning increases dramatically due to the volume and diversity of interaction among the students from countries around the globe. Students enjoy interacting with their peers and learning from their different experiences and points of views. Some of the current challenges with MOOCs involve assessment and creating the necessary infrastructure to manage the sheer volume of questions when courses have tens of thousands of participants. To date, many of the students who enroll in MOOCs do not complete the courses.

Thomas Friedman wrote an insightful piece about MOOCs and online education in his New York Times column (Jan. 26, 2013), "Revolution Hits the Universities." As Friedman points out, "Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC..."

As with many new technologies, its still unclear how the online education market will evolve with these new tools. What's remarkable is how quickly a new education paradigm is unfolding.