Worth thinking about: Seven social sins (not about social media) | via M. Gandhi

No, I’m not talking about social media. This is about real life. And I think that Gandhi summed up a lot of what the #Occupy movement is on about in his note on the Seven social sins.

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice

Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Source: Young India, 22-10-1925, p.135 (opens pdf)

For those interested in protest and the #Occupy movement it is really worth reading the writings of Gandhi. He grappled with many similar problems with regards to protest and resistance to civil authority.

This is worth thinking about given the situation we find ourselves in today in the world. At this festive season for many of us it is an interesting question to consider how can we shift away from these seven social sins?

Occupy Wall Street Activist Slams Fox News Producer In Un-Aired Interview

As the various Occupy protests fan out around the world many of us are trying to make sense of them, and to ascertain into which particular mental box these protests ought to go.

This interview of Jesse LaGreca, a vocal member of the Occupy Wall Street protests and writer for the Daily Kos, by Fox News is fascinating. It gives an insight into the kinds of problems Jesse is interested in addressing. Of particular interest is his desire to not have the movement end with a specific goal in mind:

“As far as seeing this end, I wouldn’t like to see this end. I would like to see the conversation continue. This is what we should have been talking about in 2008 when the economy collapsed.”

This video comes courtesy of Kyle Christopher from OccupyWallSt.org media team.

Also worth a read is another article: Jesse LaGreca: The Smartest Man on Wall Street?

What about CSR and the triple bottom line?

In response to yesterday’s post someone on Twitter, @dmanww, raised the very sensible issue of the triple bottom line, or as some might call it, corporate social responsibility (CSR).

However, having worked in a number of organizations that took the triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility very seriously, I know that it is not pervasive within the organization in the same way as the maximization of shareholder value.

To put it bluntly my bonus often had a small component of CSR involved, but the major KPI was always contribution to revenue (a.k.a. shareholder return).  Very rarely were major issues discussed in terms of CSR impact, but issues were often talked of in terms of impact on shareholder return.

Measurement of the triple bottom line is not the problem. It is only a problem in an environment where the only things that matter are those that are monetized and which are realizable within a short term timeframe.  In that context it is impossible to measure other things that matter – like quality of life, social impact, or common good.

Corporations focus on what provides revenue. That is the nature of the beast. It is not evil to pursue revenue. However, the pure pursuit of revenue is an amoral activity. This is especially true if executed in an environment where things – people, environment, society – are objectified and monetized.

I got interested in the idea of implementing a triple bottom line back in the 1990s.  From my perspective it has not made much progress.  CSR is still largely the responsibility one department within most companies.  It has not become a pervasive filter for everyday business decisions.  And I do not think it ever will become one with the current way corporations are structured, rewarded, and assessed.

Even if a corporation wanted to change their approach on CSR and implement it more fully, the market analysts would most likely punish them.  This is because CSR necessarily impacts upon returns to shareholders.  Since most public companies focus on analyst reports to ensure share prices are maintained this is a problem. And the problem is related to executive rewards, since often these are tied to stock performance.

For modern corporations the complex nexus between  corporate structure, executive reward, and market assessment means that truly implementing the triple bottom line is fraught with risk.

Some thoughts on making change: it starts with us #gathering11

Since I’m in transit to New York to speak at the 140Conference about Twitter, Community & Social Innovation David Hood had planned for me to join in Gathering11 from a distance using the power of technology. However, due to what can only identified as #EPICFAIL on the technology front from both sides of the Pacific, that didn’t happen. In any case here are some of my thoughts on where change really starts.

I’ve been thinking about this topic of envisioning pathways to change and it has really brought home to me the fact that change is personal and particular as well public and general.

The sayings “as above so below” or “as within so without” seem to be good starting point for envisioning pathways to change. As Mahatma Gandhi told us “we must be the change that we seek in the world”.

This is a very confronting message. It faces each of us with admitting the possibility that to make change we need to start with very intimate kind of personal change from within.

It means admitting that we are not perfect. And it means, by corollary that other people are not perfect. It also means that to effect change we might need to start in a small and quite humble way, rather than in a grand and important way.

All great change starts small. And we must not be afraid to look to micro levels to commence a great change journey.

“All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.”

Lao Tzu

Too often we are intimidated by the scale of the end result that we seek to achieve. And we and are sometimes transfixed by the difficulties. Instead, it is important to break down the elements of the change journey. We need to work out what is the one thing that we can do today to move us towards the desired outcome.

Every great human enterprise commenced with intent and commitment from a small number of people. Every great movement for change in the world started with one step. However, those that achieve their goals do so by constant focus and daily effort.

Just as a seed doesn’t grow into a healthy plant without careful husbandry, so to our dreams for change will not manifest unless we do the work.

“History consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions.”

Another thing to consider about change is that one individual alone can rarely achieve it on any scale. To make change we need other people. And it is through the ability to bring other people to our cause that force is given to our intent.

But as we bring other people to our cause they will bring their own perspectives. And these perspectives can change our intent and purpose.

However if we block ourselves off from receiving those different perspectives then it can also stop the flow of people gathering with us to create the change we seek.

This comes back to that notion of personal humility as an important component of envisioning and creating change.

Accumulating the best inputs from all who have joined up and committed to making change is important. And it is important from two perspectives: respect for our fellow travellers, and to improve the content of our ideas and plans for change. Adding other people’s wisdom to our own can help ideas to evolve much faster than we alone.

“A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without the aim, there is no system.”

Now let’s turn to the nature of the macro changes we might envision. Each of us is a part of the many systems that we participate in. When envisioning change we need to contemplate the systems that we are participating in and upholding.

We need to go back to first principles and to discern the aims of the change we envision. And it is also importent to understand the means we intend to use to create the change envisioned.

One thing that I have learned over the years is that Aldous Huxley was right: “The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced.”

Thus it is important to be very clear on both the what and the how of the change process.

Making change in a human being or in a society is not a trivial thing. It should not be undertaken lightly. Change is unpredictable and its results are not always certain. That is why it is so important to begin with us, the individual changemakers, and to form clear intent and be very clear on the means to be used to effect that change.

Also making change happen is a social activity and depends upon other human beings. The ability to create and nurture relationships is critical.

It really does start with us.

Changing the world, ideas, action, rethinking reality & the rabble-rousing ways of @umairh

One of the people who is vocal in his calls for change in how we do things in our westernised societies is Umair Haque. His work is worth reading whether or not you agree with his perspective.

Some of his recent provocative tweets include:

Yes, really. You have the power to change the world. Consumerism, mass-made junk, greed? The fantasies you’re sold–so you never use it.
Source: @umairh

History may have been ruled by crooks and sociopaths. But, thanks to those who came before us, today doesn’t have to be.
Source: @umairh

We can debate endlessly whether every leader in history has been a crook or a sociopath, or not. The bigger point might be…
Source: @umairh

Our forebears fought for generations to give us a gift: to create a future better, wealthier, stronger than theirs.
Source: @umairh

They fought to create things like democracy, markets, justice, opportunity, reason, equality, liberty.
Source: @umairh

I’d say these are among the greatest achievements in human history. The fundamental institutions–the building blocks–of prosperity.
Source: @umairh

Today, we use them to “consume” mocha-venti-lattes, Jersey Shore, and fast fashion. Instead of bettering them–we’re squandering them.
Source: @umairh

I think that Umair is right. If we want to change the world it will be necessary to stop doing some things that we do now, to stop thinking the way we think now, and shift our attention and activity towards different things.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been focusing on Social Innovation Sydney and our combination of BarCamps and StartupCamps. The plan is turning new ideas into action and creating real life social networks to enable it.

What are you doing to change the world?

Some preliminary thoughts about revolutions

There is a lot of talk about revolution happening now in online communities given the unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. This has got me thinking about the nature of revolutions. There’s a rather nice list of revolutions and rebellions on Wikipedia for those who are not up to date with the history of revolutions.

Revolutions come in different forms. Revolutions in ideas and thinking have changed our society and belief patterns. Political revolutions have reshaped our polity. Revolutions can be peaceful, dangerous, bloody. But rarely are they run according to a plan and rarely do they achieve a set outcome. And many times the unintended consequences shape the future as much as did the intentions of the revolutionaries.

This issue makes me think back to one of the seminal thinkers about the nature of scientific revolutions – Thomas Kuhn. He wrote before many of us were born; and one of his most controversial and revolutionary works was a monograph called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this work Kuhn argued that scientific progress was discontinuous and driven by human subjective behaviour that was not always entirely rational.

Kuhn proposed the notion of “paradigm shifts” (which were later adopted by various business gurus with gusto) that were driven by what kind of things were thinkable at a particular time. And it is this part of his thinking that seems important about revolutions. A revolution moves through a cycle where the unthought becomes thought and then is manifested in action.

Some might also base their thinking about the start and spread of revolutions on Dawkins’ notion of memes and the associated idea of memetics.

Unless certain external factors have shifted then new ways of thinking (which go on to drive behaviour) are not possible. An interesting example of this is the recent death by self-immolation of a protester in Tunisia. The Guardian outlines the sad story whereby Mohamed Bouazizi was so angry and disenfranchised within his society that he set himself on fire. This action inspired other young men who felt similarly to commit suicide in protest. And within days this had translated into riots in the capital Tunis.

Thus we see that the idea of rioting in the streets of Tunis went from not-thought to thought-and-action within only a few days. And that this process leached into the political process in nearby Egypt very quickly afterward.

None of the political revolutions of history has occurred in a vacuum. In each case there is political and economic disequilibrium. And, at some stage a tipping point is reached that enables the unequal people in the system to think and act against their situation.

In a Kuhnian sense this is often a visceral movement, not rational and not driven by clear aims and objectives. I think that this is the kind of revolution we are seeing spread through the middle east now. The result of this kind of revolution is hard to predict since it is often not driven by clear ideology or consolidated group goals.

The other kind of political revolution is that driven by an opposition party or parties who share in the political process but have been disenfranchised in some way. Perhaps locked out of power by a despotic monarch or leader, but still the opposition is part of the existing power structure.

Revolutions are driven by feedback loops and these revolutions occur within systems. Taking a systems approach to thinking about them can be helpful. I’m re-reading a number of thinkers about systems theory and strategy at the moment in response to the popular uprisings in the middle east.

Strangely enough thinking about revolutions and systems theory led me to re-read Aristotle. In his Politics Book V Aristotle outlines the reasons why people turn to revolution and it seems a strangely contemporary list:

  • …Insolence and avarice on the part of government officials
  • …one or more persons have a power which is too much for the state and the power of the government
  • …Either men have committed wrong, and are afraid of punishment, or they are expecting to suffer wrong and are desirous of anticipating their enemy.
  • …a disproportionate increase in any part of the state
  • …the slightness of the change
  • …difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit
  • …in oligarchies the masses make revolution under the idea that they are unjustly treated, because, as I said before, they are equals, and have not an equal share, and in democracies the notables revolt, because they are not equals, and yet have only an equal share
  • …Revolutions in democracies are generally caused by the intemperance of demagogues
  • …There are two patent causes of revolutions in oligarchies: (1) First, when the oligarchs oppress the people [or] …the personal rivalry of the oligarchs, which leads them to play the demagogue
  • …In aristocracies revolutions are stirred up when a few only share in the honors of the state
  • …Constitutional governments and aristocracies are commonly overthrown owing to some deviation from justice in the constitution itself

Serious stuff: “dream machines that deliver the desires of the material heart”

I was lucky enough to hear my friend Mark Pesce speak at the Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney on 6 Nov and his talk, while entertaining, was also profound.

Mark commenced by referring to mobile phones as “dream machines that deliver the desires of the material heart”. Then he pondered the notion of materiality and how it takes us away from the ‘real’ and towards the things. He concludes that what we own ends up owning us and that the material goods we own do not matter at all in the long run. He draws attention to Australia’s prison of stuff. He noted that sustainability starts with each of us saying no to stuff and that we need friends who’ll say “f*ck off mate, we’re full”.

These are challenging ideas. A call to reject the lure of things, of shiny pretty things, is hard to execute in this society that is so full of shiny pretty things.

Social Innovation Keynote by Mark Pesce from ApostrophePong on Vimeo.

Why things don’t change – or the tyranny of ‘THEM’

Over the years I worked as a senior manager in large organisations and, more recently, as an educator and business coach for senior managers across private and government organisations. A fascinating phenomenon that comes up in all of those places is, what I’ve come to call, “the tyranny of them”.

A recurring theme while talking with senior people about how we can enact change within their organisation is a mysterious barrier to change called “them”. Often it is said that “they” would not like the change that is proposed. Or that “they” don’t like that kind of thing.

It is always fascinating to deconstruct who “they” are – these disapproving and negative people. It is especially fascinating because the people who are speaking of “them” are often reporting directly to C-level or Executive Management team.

Why is it that even at very senior levels within an organisation there is a paralysis in the face of change? And why does that paralysis take the form of a fear of “them”?

Think about how many times you’ve used the amorphous “them” as a reason not to do something at work.

It’s time to deconstruct “them” whenever they are called upon to reject action on change. Ask instead:

  • Who in particular will object to this change?
  • Why will they object?
  • Are their objections or concerns valid?
  • What can we do to address them?

Thus to be a successful changemaker one needs to understand the various objections to change, and more often than not realise that “we” are the barrier to change, not “them”.