Solve Problems by Crossing the Streams

Solving Problems by Fostering Community and Surfacing Innovation

We work in silos. The boundaries might be fuzzy like a Turner landscape, but community, collaboration, and innovation can suffer as a result. We can improve our ability to work together to surface and solve problems by learning from how we socialize with the help of technology.

Let’s take a step back and examine the way we connect and communicate socially has transformed how we work.

We start by identifying the commonalities across our work and social lives.

Streams and the Multitude of Answers

I’m willing to bet that most of you agree that your job environment is pretty complex. Really, if you work with other humans, and you have an inkling, desire or flat-out goal to advance over the course of your life, you are operating in a complex system. Things are changing all the time. As colleagues move up or down, come in and out of collaboration, as priorities and budgets shift, you will find yourself constantly adapting to new ways of doing business in order to survive and thrive.

Complexity gurus David Snowden and Mary Boone have called this “The Domain of Emergence.” Their seminal article, A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, ( Harvard Business Review*)  gives a great introduction to the Key characteristics of an increasingly complex workplace, including:

  • Flux and unpredictability
  • No right answers;
  • Unknown unknowns
  • Many competing ideas
  • A need for creative and innovative approaches
  • Pattern-based leadership

Think about your work and colleagues and nearly all of those should feel immediately familiar.

Now think about your social circles and how you interact through the tools of social networking.

When planning something as simple as a dinner out with friends the boundaries of decisions have become extremely soft. Plans can – and often do – change right up until the last minute as DM’s, texts, tweets, and pin-drops influence our ability to stick to a hard plan.

This can feel frustrating for those of us accustomed to locking-in our decisions early, but it opens the door for experiences and last minute discoveries that can only be found by embracing emerging opportunities.

Those experiences are the unknowns that only come to light when one of your group texts or tweets that en route to the restaurant they heard a great band playing a few blocks away, or when the first person to the theatre sees a line a mile long and can reach the rest of the group to organize a last-minute backup plan.

Social networking has improved our ability to adjust to the unpredictable and quickly explore competing ideas (where to eat, what to wear, who brings what for the potluck). We can probe (suggest something), sense (see how others react), and then respond, and our ability to identify patters is heightened because enough information is shared openly that they emerge.

So how can we take those abilities and apply them to our workplace?

Start by tackling a project through any one of your socially enabled platforms. Google docs with google + and circles, or a Linkedin group limited to your partners in collaboration, or just by agreeing as a team to have the conversations around the project through any one of your social-streams, tracked by a hash-tag or equivalent so you can move through probe, sense, and respond much more quickly.

Use your streams as a group to probe, sense, and respond. It’s a lot like being able to challenge the ideas of an “outsider” because of the veil of security afforded by the stream. Laying out some ground-rules in advance can strengthen this advantage, allowing you to challenge assumptions as a team very rapidly and use ideas from across the group to form solutions.

Social media is moving away from being every leader’s biggest fear to being one of our best opportunities to foster community and innovation at work. Get cracking.

*Just google the titles if you don’t have access to a library. Lots of organizations have pdf’s on their website.


The Early Entrepreneurs Experiment

This is all kinds of community-awesome.

Earlier today, Friend of The ‘Boot, Zac Whyte, shared the video below, which is a very awesome Taylor Conroy’s Destroy Normal campaign. Check it out here:

Simply put, there needs to be more of this. Later this week I’m going to be writing a post about my volunteer experience with Vancouver’s Kidsafe Writers’ Room, and part of my article will discuss the creative horsepower of kids. The Early Entrepreneurs Experiment wonderfully gets to the heart of this fact, as it showcases how kids as young as six can have a positive impact on their classmates, their neighbourhoods and people from communities that are thousands of kilometers away.

Further to this, entrepreneurial projects provide exceptional educational testing grounds – or case studies – where learners can apply concepts (math, writing, performing, building, repairing, etc.) in an integrated capacity. Through such experiential learning, students have the opportunity to use multiple academic (and life) skills all at once in the same place as part of a team. In addition to a basic understanding of our interconnected global village as well as learning how to positively and successfully engage in the business of life provides youngsters with a head-start on building the skills that will help them to not just be – but to lead – the change that they want to see in this world.

Finally, never underestimate the power of kids’ creativity. Sir Ken Robinson has taught us that schools aren’t properly designed to engage and expand it with our communities’ kids. Which is why we should invest more in our kids’ ideas before they’re crushed by a system that encourages certain kinds of thinking that will prepare people to solve the same old problems in the same old way. And this isn’t a great way to be or to lead change.

Well done, kids!

Masthead photo courtesy of Sustainable Sanitation

99 Ways to Leverage Our Humanity – Part 3

[Editor's note: I must start by saying that what unfolds below is a team effort - thanks to everyone who has contributed to this list! So, for better or worse, many parts of the world have been recently occupied - and in some places, like Vancouver, this may or may not be coming to an end. Many elements of the Occupy Movement have issued demands. Personally, I see many problems with demands, as they imply binary-negotiating and/or unchangeable beliefs. Personally, I see more value and possibility in ideas and collaborative brainstorming - though this is a much harder process for certain. Some other folks share a love for collaboration and they have kindly offered their ideas in world-changing list-form. So, without further ado, here is part three of a four-part series that is meant to get our community thinking about how our brilliant, passionate, inspiring, adaptive, funny, delicious, healthy, and innovative humanity can make the world a better place. Thanks for the memories, everyone!].

How can we leverage our humanity to solve the world’s problems?

Here are ideas 1-25. And here are ideas 26-50. And here are ideas 51-75:

  1. Hike.  Get out in nature’s bosom.  Commune with the forest spirits.  Skinny dip.  Roll in dirt.  It’s clean.  Sit.  Listen.  Yell!  Pee your name in the snow (men only, I think).  Play capture the flag.  Know Nature.  Know Its value to you personally.  Because you can’t want to protect something if you don’t even know what it is.
  2. Cycle.  You’ll see more and feel good.  Buy rain pants and suit up.  You’ll be dry under you clothes (and naked!).  Be visible.  Cyclists are the future:  fuckin non-motorized, non-electronic cyborgs on wheels.
  3. Draw.  Not for art’s sake.  For communicating.  Long before we wrote, we drew.  On cave walls and on bark and hide.  Appreciate the symbolic nature of signs and symbols, and the miracle that allows all humans to interpret them.  Ed Emberley is a prophet.
  4. Drink.  Water.  H2O.  Its ubiquity only adds to its many mysteries.
  5. Learn.  A language.  Or several.  Or even just a smattering of words.  Knowing another’s tongue is the quickest way to break the ice and will allow you to more easily understand ‘the other’.
  6. Objectify.  Be partial.  Know that your opinions are opinions and based on what you believe you know.  Do not mistake passion for rightfulness.  Choose to be emotional; do not make emotional choices.
  7. Listen.  You talk too much.  Listening allows for ideas to reveal themselves to speakers who may not even know they have such ideas.  If you can’t listen, pretend to listen, as this often has the same effect.
  8. Keep.  Imbue physical objects with meaning.  A ring, a rock, or even a house.  We are physical creatures living in a physical world, not virtual avatars.  Don’t tear down old buildings.  Believe in ghosts and spirits.
  9. Teach.  To teach is to learn well.  Whether it be abstract or practical knowledge, by teaching it you will learn it deeper, and it will become you.
  10. Smile.  In monkeys it lowers tension and creates group harmony.  We are all monkeys.  Faking is acceptable as it often leads to the real thing.  Emotions and your facial muscles are inextriclaby linked. You can fool your own brain.
  11. Don’t.  Don’t do anything.  Eke.  Survive.  Be simple.  Learn the art of inertia.  Laziness is godliness.  The planet will thank you for it.
  12. Think critically. Do not accept things for what they are and ask lots and lots of questions.
  13. Perform. Sock puppets, Shakespeare, Improv, and Musicals are great ways to tell stories as well as tackle the pesky problem of fearing public speaking.
  14. Dance with people. And, to quote a wise man named Jim, “never let the rhythm control your dancing.”
  15. It might’ve been said before but it bears repeating: learn another language. This will help when you visit other places. And it will really help you visit communities not just tourist attractions.
  16. Have heroes and role models who exist in the real world, not the hyper-sexed and overly violent fictional worlds of so much media.
  17. Send handwritten thank you cards. First, because it’s the right thing to do. Second, people love getting mail and, let’s face it, the cards are outstanding advertising for your personal brand!
  18. Be skeptical and question authority. This doesn’t mean rebelling against anything and everything; it just means that you shouldn’t take everyone at their word all the time.
  19. Strive to be a bit more of an armchair economist so that you can understand – and share knowledge about – the complex workings of the global financial system.
  20. Commit to keeping the complex complex. Sometimes simple solutions come at the erosion and sacrifice of necessarily complex and important things.
  21. Remember that the things you own end up owning you. The only logical solution here is for you to give your things away so that they can own other people.
  22. Take off/out your headphones and/or earbuds and listen to the world around you. This will expose you to funny things, interesting things, and things that will inspire you to engage members of your community in conversation.
  23. Collaborate. Like a symphony. Working together is the only way that we’re going to pull ourselves out of this mess.
  24. Find common ground with someone who has a totally different worldview than you. It’s possible. I mean, Kurt and John do it every day on this blog!
  25. Recognize that humanity’s adaptability will see us through tsunamis, earthquakes, peak oil, and the zombie apocalypse; however, there will be catastrophic collateral damage and many of us will not survive the next 100 years. Try your best to be okay with this fact and also try really, really hard to not be a weird survivalist who makes people super uncomfortable while riding the bus…

Masthead photo courtesy of Kurt Heinrich, who is awesome.

An Appropriated Diet for a Full Life

My Dad’s favourite book of the year is Tim Ferriss’, The 4-Hour Body. At his insistence I had to check out the website where I found a bonus chapter, written by Dr. Seth Roberts, that really sent my mind on a tangent. I’ll explain it from the beginning…

“Louise and Brody build the Eiffel tower” by Gedidiah McCaughey

Dr. Roberts is a professor of psychology and a member of the editorial board of the journal, Nutrition. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Scientist. He’s legit. The theory that captured my imagination is the basis for what he calls The Shangri-La Diet and springs from Pavlov’s psychological framework of associative learning. The idea is that our brains are hard wired from the days of hunting and gathering to stock up on calories when they detect that there is an abundance of good food.  The brain detects that abundance when it registers familiar flavours or smells. The first time we taste something, our brain has not yet made the connection between the associated flavours and the calories that are derived from their consumption. Because no association exists yet, the impulse to stock up on calories is not triggered and we feel satisfied with less. The next time we have that same thing, we subconsciously remember we like it and want more! Essentially, flavours are addictive and make us crave progressively more and more in order to feel that same initial feeling of satisfaction that a new taste experience elicits. The stronger the smell or flavour, the stronger this effect is. This is the same theory that industrial food brands capitalize on by striving to make their products taste identical each time and therefore making us crave their products at the first familiar whiff of grease or sugar.

This theory about appetite seems to me to be a very apt analogy for many human conditions. Particularly, it seems to me that our experience of time is affected very similarly. It is well recognized that as we grow older time seems to speed up. In the beginning of our lives when everything is unfamiliar and new, a few days can seem like an eternity. As we grow older and more familiar with what it is to experience the passage of time and as our daily experiences become well-worn routine, the months seem to fly by before we have the chance to even flip the calendar page and satisfaction doesn’t come as easily. The weekends seem to get shorter and shorter, and vacations are never long enough. We crave more and more time for the things that really nourish our lives but we are restricted to our standard time tables and schedules.

In this context it is logical that humans strive to perpetuate the feeling of satisfaction that a first experience produces.  Drugs have been used throughout history as a tool to do this. The desired effect being to alter human perceptions, arguably in order to experience the familiar in a new way and ultimately recreate the initial satisfaction of what was once new and novel.

Another tool we can use to break us out of the monotony of our daily experiences and alter our perceptions of the world is art. Consider how a new song can make a routine commute seem fresh again, or an unexpected piece of public art can transform a familiar city or landscape. Art has the power to make us reassess our surroundings and experience them like new again. It can also be the stimulus that makes us reassess our assumptions and see the familiar in a new light. This is why art is such an essential part of a full life experience. It alters and enriches daily experiences and offers an alternative to monotony. In a Big Mac world Art provides the nourishment that makes your life feel fuller longer.

So, there you have it. That is one insightful diet book. Thanks Dad!


TEDx: The Future of Food

I attended my first TEDx event yesterday on the Future of Food.  The “x” means that it was independently organized TED event and in this case it was organized by the Hart House at University of Toronto.  TED is a nonprofit organization that got its start in 1984 with a conference that brought people together from three different worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED).   It has since expanded to focus more generally on “Ideas Worth Spreading” and it is quite likely that you’ve come across their TEDTalks videos.  TED created the TEDx program in the spirit of ideas with spreading to promote local, self-organized events that bring people together.  While the content is unique, there are common features including: the TED format of short, carefully prepared talks, demonstrations and performances that provoke conversations that matter, a minimum of two videos that are pre-recorded from the TEDTalks video series, and bias-free programming that lacks commercial, religious or political agendas.

The Future of Food event consisted of four talks and two recorded talks.  Five local experts shared their views on the food system in a series of four talks, 18 minutes each.  They weighed in on factors that need to be considered as we choose what foods to put into our shopping carts, like how we sow, grow, raise, reap, slaughter, transport, distribute, buy, share, cook, eat and dispose of food.  In summary, these are the “Ideas Worth Spreading” that I heard from last night.

Dan Donovan, Product Developer for Ontario’s Own: SMALL CHANGES EVERTHING

Dan opened summarizing some of the crazy changes that have happened in our food system over the past three-quarters century or so that has put pressure on small scale operations (none of them really a surprise from the rise of agro-business, to outsourcing food production to rock bottom pricing to standardization and mechanization).  Scale is linked to sustainability.  Dan discussed how small producers and processors are part of the community, you can get to know them and trust them and they have the interests of their community at heart.  And they can be supported by voting with your dollar: “every day is election day”.  It is easier to ask questions and get information about where our food comes from and if you don’t like it, then don’t buy it.  And while we may need to pay a bit more for food in the short term, it means in the long term we will have to pay less in other places (health care, job losses, etc.)

Jason Qu, Coordinator for the University of Toronto Campus Agriculture Program: EDUCATING FOOD

How schools are missing the tactile experiences of everyday life including food, is how Jason opened his talk.  He believes that food offers a hidden classroom that can connect students to their bodies, environment and community.  Jason drew on the examples of the community gardens and volunteer run kitchen at UofT to show how young people are participating in the local food movement.  Young people want to renegotiate their relationship with food, where consumers can turn into producers and participation can turn into engagement.

Lauren Baker, Director of Sustain Ontario: The Alliance for Healthy Food and Farming: GOOD FOOD GAP

The Good Food Gap is the policy space between the farms that are currently in crises because farmers can’t make a living and the consumers that are having a hard time making good food choices.  Through research done by Sustain Ontario, Lauren presented 10 Good Food Ideas to bridge this gap including: supporting growers of fresh fruits and vegetables, making more room for farmers in the system, especially smaller to mid-scale farmers that are discouraged with the current supply management system, farms as providers of ecological services, habitat and clean water, plant urban Ontario to grow up to 10% of our food in cities, foster school food and food literacy, community food centres that provide a range of food services rather than food banks, regional food clusters that focus on unique products, regions, people and environments, local food procurement starting with institutions, better link good food to good health, and plan for the future of food and farming.  The full report can be found here.

Jeffrey Crump & Bettina Schormann, Chefs and Slow Food Proponents:  ONE CHANGE

Best known as the authors of From Earth to Table (covered by my cookbook reading group), these two chefs offered a simple suggestion: to pick one change to make.  They then revealed their personal journey to local food leaders, starting with a chicken and the decision to buy whole fresh chickens for their restaurant.  While it meant they had to learn new skills such as how to butcher the birds and use them entirely, it led to lambs, then pigs, then cattle.  They found that buying whole animals means that their food dollars went directly to the farmer rather than spread through the supply chain.  They suggested something simple to start with.  And even that one choice will help support local farmers and businesses and help improve the humane treatment of animals, while you get to learn a new recipe or two, discover flavours, and feel good about the change.

All four live talks were recorded and will be posted to the TEDx YouTube Channel.  The two recorded talks also on the theme of Future of Food rounded out the evening and provided international perspectives.  Carolyn Steel discussed SITOPIA (Food Place), getting into history, urban planning and food systems in her discussion.  And Dan Barber talked about his love affairs with two fish, mixing his humour with a tale of navigating the industry of sustainable farmed fish.  These talks are already available to view as part of the TEDTalks video series and you can watch them for yourself.

Have you been to a TED event?  Do you have a favourite TEDTalk video?

Great Ideas Build Community

Courtesy of Treehugger - it's the Minimum Wage Machine! A very cool idea that may soon be applied to stationary bikes in Vancouver!

Courtesy of Treehugger - it's the Minimum Wage Machine! A very cool idea that may soon be applied to stationary bikes in Vancouver!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Daily Gumboot is an innovator in community building. And I’m not the only one who knows this, either. Recently, Architectural Correspondent, Stewart Burgess, forwarded me an article from Treehugger: a discovery company. I’ll tell you what they discovered…Blake Fall-Conroy stole my Amazing Idea about bicycle-powered-urban-energy! Kind of, but not really. Fall-Conroy’s Minimum Wage Machine is, however, quite similar to an idea posted here on The DG several months ago. Here is an excerpt from the article entitled “Minimum Wage Machine Pays You Pennies for Your Power”:

One way to make a little side money is to be a power generator. The Minimum Wage Machine will pay you in real time for the power you generate. The more you crank, the more pennies it spits out.

Creator Blake Fall-Conroy shared details with MAKE, saying, “The minimum wage machine pays the user minimum wage in real-time in pennies– the smallest unit of currency in the US. Being in NY, with minimum wage at $7.15 an hour, this equates to 1 penny every 5.035 seconds. The machine has a crank attached to an antique change sorting machine (circa 1913, ebay) and by belt to a small DC motor (salvaged from a printer). The crank turns the motor’s shaft which, in turn, acts as a small generator. The voltage produced goes through a 5V regulator and powers a Basic Stamp. It also powers a stepper motor (same printer) moving a small wheel at the mouth of the change sorter and a small motor inside the change reservoir of the machine.”

And here’s my idea from February 19, 2009 as described on the then titled Weekly Gumboot:

We’ve all seen and, perhaps, used exercise bikes. Usually in gyms. Sometimes at home. And some of us have witnessed the BC Clettes perform to music powered by one of their members pedaling away on a stationary bike. And that’s the idea. Power-generating stationary bicycles.

And it gets better. Bigger, even. The idea is to place hundreds – maybe even thousands – of these stationary bikes all around the Lower Mainland and connect them to the power grid. By riding the bikes, people would be able to produce clean energy for their communities. And they will also get exercise as well as promote healthy living by being “on the street” role models for physical fitness. Here’s the kicker: after pedaling for a certain amount of time, the bike shoots out a loonie or toonie! Whether you’re a homeless person, investment banker high on caffeine who doesn’t want to break a hundred dollar bill, or a kid needing some cash for a bus-ride home, could make money by producing power for the city of Vancouver. Finally, think about the tourist buy-in! Many globetrotters will get their photos taking pedaling away on a bike that provides energy for one of the world’s most unique – and greenest – cities.

I will say, Treehugger’s idea is a bit different. Their model employs a hand-crank and their payment process, based on the minimum wage of a state and using the lowest denomination of coin, is far more sophisticated than my idea of “the bike shoots out a loonie or a toonie!” And, hey, I twitblogged the concept of Bicycle Powered Energy into the interscape because I believe in the open source community. Fall-Conroy’s concept is a fantastic one and it certainly builds community in a myriad of ways. So, let’s spread the word about this fantastic social enterprize!

Attention Mayor Robertson, Vancouver City Councillors and the Green Business and Health and Social Advocacy communities in Vancouver: if The ‘Couve is really about being green, inclusive, healthy, and entrepreneurial, well, this is a fantastically meaningful idea to embrace. I’m of course speaking of the Minimum Wage Machine, as the bicycle thing hasn’t really gotten off the ground…yet…


Courtesy of Treehugger - a young lady cranking the Minimum Wage Machine, collecting coins and making clean energy!

Courtesy of Treehugger - a young lady cranking the Minimum Wage Machine, collecting coins and making clean energy!