Tag: social innovation

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Complexity, Innovation and Fear

 

“If you can’t get over your fear of the stuff that’s working, then I think you need to give up and do something else” – Seth Godin

Seth, who I’ve been celebrating this week, had it right. Many of us fear the stuff that works, because in a complex world, innovation is what often works to solve problems instead of the same way we’ve always done things. In a period of accelerated change, information abundance and overload, and hyperconnectedness, the fear that one is losing their place is palpable when you speak to those over the age of 40, and many below that age.

Harold Kushner has written much on the concept of fear and the ways it influences our lives. In a recent talk in Toronto, Rabbi Kurshner told the audience a story about how his young nephew taught him how to access a computer file and the implications for an age where the young mentor the old and how the older people in society feel left behind by technology. Being left behind, ignored, or rejected is a primal driver of fear. Another sage (albeit a ficitional one) said it best:

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering — Yoda

Indeed, what Kushner was speaking about was how fear leads to anger and hate and the suffering that it causes. My colleague Izzeldin Abuelaish, his work, charity and campaign is all about removing fear and promoting understanding for peace. In an interview with TVO he spoke to this issue how the fear and hate associated with a complex issue like the Middle East relations cannot be made to interfere with our fundamental knowledge of what it means to be human. And being human is increasingly complex.

The Middle East, new technology, and a rapidly changing society all reflect a more complex world. Complexity, by its very nature, produces unpredictability and instability. Yet it is in complexity, the boundaries between systems and ideas, and channeling diversity that we innovate. Innovation, by definition, is doing something new to produce value. New means challenging the status quo by default. Resistance to ‘new’ is so easy to see everywhere and the lesson of Darwin and paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey taught us is that a failure to adapt results in extinction. So if we do the math, complexity leads to fear and fear prevents innovation and that leads to extinction.

It is why people like Seth Godin write “Linchpin” and speak on standing out as the means of survival. It’s why Peter Diamandis had such trouble raising the funds to support the X-Prize from organizations, yet found dozens of teams interested in competing for it(a great set of stories about the Prize and innovation are included in his talk on TVO’s: Big Ideas). In both cases, the audience is the individual and small teams or tribes as Seth Godin puts it.

From this it seems that there are a few courses of action that won’t ignore complexity (contributing to what management theorist and systems thinker Russell Ackoff described as ‘doing the wrong thing righter’ ), help spur innovation, reduce fear and hate as a result.

I suggest five things:

1. Teach systems thinking and complexity science in schools, the community, in the media. By understanding how things come together, the unintended consequences and opportunities that emerge from systems, the complexity is reduced or at least made less mysterious in a manner that invokes fear.

2. Provide people with opportunities to develop the analytical skills to make sense of complexity. John Mighton’s work at JUMP Math is a great example. He teaches people to enjoy mathematics and how to learn about it and use it everyday. Math and number fear is (in my opinion) one of the most significant barriers to people understanding complexity. If you fear numbers, you’ll hate math and statistics, and you’ll not want to learn about things like stochasticity (randomness) and risk.

3. This includes working together — experts and non-experts alike — to create the tools necessary to anticipate change. Having a sense of what might reasonably happen (using the aforementioned skills) reduces anxiety. As Kushner recalls, people who are about to die don’t fear death, they lament the life they didn’t live because of fear of the unknown.

4. Nurture individuals and teams because those are where real relationships form. Networking large organizations is fine, but it is in building relationships between people and the small tribes they form that will create the trust and goodwill to allow people to be open and transparent. And this transparency and openness reduces fear.

5. Encourage people to use – and learn from — tools that help people form relationships, maintain them. Social media tools that can’t break are ones that allow people to try and fail and learn. Without a culture that supports relationships and encourage wild attempts that might fail, innovation is unlikely to follow or be sustained.

Anything missing from this? Anything off the mark?

Don’t let fear dissuade you from innovating and making this better and different.

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The Genius of Seth Godin

In his new book, Linchpin, businessman, marketer, blogger, auteur Seth Godin asks the question: Are you indispensible?

Seth, if you don’t know, is a genius. On the first page of Lynchpin he describes what a genius is:

“If a genius is someone with exceptional abilities and the insightto find the not so obvious solution to a problem, you don’t need to win a Nobel Prize to be one. A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck”

By that account, Seth is a certifiable genius.

This blog is about making sense of a complex world and Seth is one of those people that does that, paradoxically, by making things simple. Paradox is a hallmark feature of complexity and one of the reasons why the world is so often puzzling to us. Efforts to quell terrorism lead to more terrorism, exercises in control lead to greater instability (for more examples see another great book by Joshua Cooper Ramo) — that sort of stuff.

Seth is a straight-talker without being arrogant or simplistic. He his assertive without being aggressive. He challenges, while supports and understands. He is a rare being and one that I think deserves a blog post and some promotion.

Some examples? In his book “The Dip” he makes the case for quitting. We often hear that quitters never win and winners never quit, yet Seth shows how that’s not the case. It’s thoughtful and strategic quitting that counts.

In his recent interview on CBC’s Spark, Seth courageous says: “If you can’t get over your fear of the stuff that’s working, then I think you need to give up and do something else” . Few people are willing to say this stuff, but its true. We often fear success, because we’re not supported in doing something that doesn’t fit the system of production created for us in work, school and society from the 20th century onward.

Another great interview from Seth (also on Spark) is available here .

Lastly, I want to say that Seth is one who not only speaks but he acts. He invited a couple thousand of his blog readers to get a free copy of Linchpin in exchange for a donation to the Accumen Fund, which aims to transform the lives of people in poverty worldwide, particularly in Africa. I took up this offer. Seth believes that the world works best when we’re able to tap into our natural motive for generosity and to further back that up, he sent me a SECOND book for free to give to someone else. I’ve done one, well five, better in return. I chose to purchase a five copies of the book for each of the members of my research team; a talented group who form a wonderful linchpin for the future of health promotion and social innovation.

I’ve endorsed a product like this because I think it has a message that is necessary in a complex world of rapid change, where making sense is hard and often confusing. But in an age of uncertainty, stress and the collapse of many of our institutions due to rapid change, Seth provides inspiration, guidance and clear-headed thinking in a way that few others have. If I can offer one thing to Seth in small payback for his inspiration in me, the least I can do is write about him and encourage you to follow his lead and, in doing so, follow you own.

The book can be bought online below or from your local independent bookseller:

Amazon (Canada)

Amazon (United States)

Chapters/Indigo (Canada)

Barnes&Noble (United States)

Borders (United States)

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Amazing Stuff: November 14th Edition

It’s been another busy week filled with lots of ideas, but little time to post them. Expect a lot more on the blog in the coming weeks however as there is too much going on not to discuss.

Thankfully, the rest of the world was still Tweeting, blogging, You-tubing and sharing all kinds of amazing things with us and here are the top ones that captured my attention this week:

1. I love food from all kinds of sources and certainly those that come from animals are the ones I spend the most time thinking about. A new book by Jonathan Safran Foer looks at the ethics and industry of eating animals. I haven’t read the book, but a detailed and insightful review in the New Yorker suggests that I might be thinking a lot more about this in the days and weeks to come based on the arguments that Foer puts forth. Natalie Portman is one who also has thought differently because of this book — this time about vegetarianism and veganism — and she writes her review in the Huffington Post. Read any of the reviews and you’ll know that this is a book making buzz and adding to our already considerable array of options when considering the merits of what we choose to eat. Tofu anyone?

2. Keeping with the contrarian perspectives: have you thought about how healthcare might actually be unhealthy for the planet? This week Ariel Schwartz posted an interesting article in Mother Jones (and replicated in Fast Company ) questioning the carbon footprint of the healthcare industry and whether we ought to be working harder to consider how green our care facilities are. Could a sick planet be coming from healthy humans?

3. While we’re on health care, The New York Times published a story about text messaging for teens as a possible way to engage young people more in health care using mobile phones. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but will it fly in the face of most healthcare organizations, which are a little slow to adopt technologies like this into practice?

4. The international social innovation leadership group, Ashoka, announced the winners of this year’s sustainable food (GMO: risk or rescue?) contest. The blog biofortified was the grand winner. There are some novel ideas and certainly opportunities to expand the dialogue on food safety and security in some new ways through this initiative. GMO good or bad? The answer seems to be: yes.

5. Lastly, Mobifest is coming to Toronto and I was captivated by some of the novel and creative films on display as the finalists in this year’s competition. Mobile filmmaking is getting bigger, better and more creative all the time and I’d encourage anyone interested in looking at one of the futures of film to check this mini and mobile film fest out.