Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The community cake. Talking about it? or making it?

"Don't talk about making the community cake, just make it!!!" - David Engwicht from Creative Communities.
I am excited about the project, I want to start, I want to be unleashed, or find how I can unleash myself. But I am finding that I am allowing the situation to put a collar on myself.

Ever since I started this blog, and mainly since the Social Financial Enterprise idea came up, I have been putting so much effort into getting a team together. Initially, I was aiming at a big team to get the financial institution of the future up, then things went a bit deeper into what may be needed for communities to establish their own monetary systems according to their real local needs. So I ended up with the Business Model Generation for Community Organizations project (name likely to change), which didn't required too big a team. Now that we are a few in it, I am finding very hard to get ourselves on the same page. So the question is, have I been looking for a team only because I am afraid of doing it by myself?? Am I looking for permission to start?? for someone to tell me "Oh yes Tatiana, you can do that"??  What sort of team do we need to become and what game are we playing??

I believe a diverse and well connected team is key. But I don't feel we have that connection yet and instead, I find myself trying to convince others rather than merging our insights. For example, in the previous post, I have a drawing of a business tree to explain some of the potential dynamics of the project. I used a tree to symbolize a few concepts, like for example, the idea that external factors (Sun, water, soil conditions, wind) will imply changes in the tree so it adapts to the environment. That would imply that some leaves and fruits would fall, therefore changing the shape of the tree. In business terms, I was referring to the possibility of some business disappearing or completely changing their model to give rise to new ones. I was referring to the resilience capacity of the tree, which is a concept I feel needs to be there from the start: We need to get used to the fact that our ideas will be obsolete at some point and we have to re-create all the time.

Also, I was symbolizing how different business might play different roles within the same community (some becoming part of the tree trunk, others being in the inside of a crack, others being leaves, others becoming fruits which would contain seeds with the genetic information of what worked and what didn't so it could be passed onto future trees). But I was asked about what the Sun, the water..etc would represent  in this context and business terms. How would they affect the business tree? or even, how would the tree affect them. It is an interesting and excellent question, but in the effort to answer it, I realized that I would have to spend an awful amount of time creating a theory. Again, it feels like a question of "Yes, it sounds great but how??". To which I am starting to develop a negative reaction. Can we discover the how, rather than try to theorize it? 

Not all parts of the earth have access to equal amounts or quality of light and water, and the soil properties change according to types of vegetation and location for example...I feel like I have been asked to describe the business tree ecosystem, when the very tree can be an ecosystem itself. And what I argue is that we may be able to track or map the formation and structures of the ecosystem, we will be able to say "wow, look at what is happening, look at what has emerged!!!!". Rather than us establishing well beforehand whether a tree would represent a transition town, or a particular project...For instance, a business that focuses on improving the public transport experience to reduce the amount of private cars on the street, will not look like a tree, but perhaps like a root, or like little streets made from worms in the soil so that nutrients (information from one place to another) can get through...but that is just what occurs to me will most likely be very different.

We mentioned that we may want to use a different tool to explore the relationships of the project and resulting businesses in the local environment, rather than using the tree/nature metaphor. Which may be true but, do we still want to theorize about 'what would happen a long way further down the road' and put it in a map?? Why do we want to do that?? Plus, using nature as a tool to explain ideas, to me is crucial. It is how I relate to all this. I am trying to embed my activities into nature so that I am part of the cycle, rather than keeping the separation of "the environment and me". Yes, it may be more complex but we don't do it very often. My viewpoint is: We are part of nature, we need to find the role we play in it and play it well. How else can we do that if not trying to merge what we do with what nature does??

We are talking about making the cake, I don't want to talk about it anymore, I want to start making it and mixing the ingredients. We have a recipe. In the process we may decide we will add or eliminate ingredients, we can reduce or increase some quantities, and in the end someone may change the recipe all together. I understand we have a need for certainty, but times ahead are increasingly uncertain and I feel we shouldn't attempt to know it all. I am not saying 'go blind', I am saying don't "overthink" about it. I am happy with taking the low hanging fruit, and use agility to constantly develop a product. We don't (or I don't at least) even know what our local environments really look like now. 

Simultaneously, there has been another conversation happening in the group. It is one where we are defining the roles of community engagement, community education and a particular transition initiative in Brisbane. It started when we identified that it is not enough for people to acquire knowledge and skills to create business out of their passions. Communities and citizens should be engaged citizens. Thus, the latest news say that there seems to be a need to 'educate people about climate change and peak oil'. I guess this need appears in order to ensure that the businesses that come out of the project, will not add to the climate change and peak oil issues, fair enough. However, I believe the approach can be completely different. I have the feeling that reaching people to educate them about climate change and peak oil to motivate them to change their businesses or to create new ones, is like trying to convert people from one religion to another, promising heaven to those who join us and condemning to hell those who don't. We seem to be implying that everyone should believe in climate change and peak oil if they want to be able to create socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling businesses. 

I'd rather think of a game and few rules, for example: 

1) Your business has to come from a visceral passion of yours: Something that is not a burden (So driver can't be just to make money), something that you feel will give you wings to freedom if you do it. Does a passion ever attempt to harm?? I say no. So asking people to build business out of passion ensures that it is a well intentioned idea. 
2) Your business must attempt to connect people with people, and people with area: Local from any angle you look at it.
3) Your business must attempt to be socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling. To me that says it all. Using too much energy? Then it isn't environmentally sustainable. Improve it. 

Imagine we design an online platform, for instance, where everyone's projects are visible to all members and comments and ratings are allowed (or some sort of reputation system) that means that every business, will be exposed to members feedback on their efforts to comply with the game rules. In other words, it is your responsibility to comply, not ours to be policemen, the entire community will be watching you. This is a possibility in the case of a Business to Business platform. Then, imagine we build in a feature where 'consumers', the people of the community where you actually serve, can also rate your compliance of these rules, leave other comments or even create new rules?? To me, this approach directly tackles climate change and peak oil issues, but avoids turning people off who may not seem environmentally driven. Every human being is capable of doing good. I only want to create a game where we can show our goodness. Is that possible?? I have an apparently unrelated, but real example:

I play ultimate disc (or ultimate frisbee), a seven-a-side, non-contact, hard running, team sport with a frisbee. The big thing (to me) about this game is, we do not have a referee. Whereas in most team based competitive games you have rules and a referee that you need to convince you didn't do the wrong thing, we have rules and every team member is responsible to comply and discuss with the opposition every time a fault is called. Look at soccer for instance, not only you try to convince the referee that you didn't do the wrong thing, it is part of the game that you try to fault the opposition to get the ball back or keep it with you. In most games where a referee exists, you see absolutely no intention from the players to keep the rules, or at least not the ones that refer to the physical integrity of the opposition. Players have been stolen the ability to be responsible players and in so doing, they play the game without any empathy for the players of the opposition. They know they shouldn't grab your shirt, yet they do it and do their best to avoid being seen or to deceive the public. In ultimate disc, if someone grabs your shirt, you call a fault and the game stops until the solution to the fault is brought forward. Therefore, the most entertaining, competitive and exciting game to play and watch is that where only very few and unintentional faults are made, keeping the flow going.

I haven't met one player that was brought to the game with an argument on how to behave within the ultimate community, or with a 'You need to learn how to be one of us before being one of us'. All what we've been told, and what we tell others is "I play this sport and it's awesome, do you want know what it is about and try??". The rules are set, and they encourage good behaviour. Whether that is your intention or not, if you don't behave properly, that is, according to the rules,  it will show up and people won't like it. The best thing of all is, most people become disc-addicts. We can't stop playing or being involved with the sport in one way or another. If we hurt someone from the opposition, we can express it without being regarded as 'softies', so we do apologize, and we do care for the opposition (many of us do), we clap when someone, anyone, has to leave the field due to a game injury as a form of acknowledgement for their efforts. And we still compete very hard...can we see something like this happening in the business area?? I sure can. I don't have to try to convince anyone, all I have to do is belong to it wholeheartedly.  

"One could argue that it doesn't matter whether the system leads to a change in mind-set as long as it converts our consumption into positive outcomes - fewer products, more efficient usage, less material consumed, reduced waste, and more social capital.
Throughout the book, we've seen certain consistent and specific motivations for participating in Collaborative Consumption: cost savings, coming together, convenience, and being more socially conscious and sustainable. The fact that it attracts new consumers based on traditional self-interested motivation, including money, value, and time, and that it converts this into positive social and environmental outcomes, should not detract from its overall impact on consumer behaviour. 
When people enter Collaborative Consumption through one particular door - a clothing exchange, a car sharing scheme, or a launderette- they become more receptive to other kinds of collective or community-based solutions"  - From What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. (Itallics added).
Am I trying to convince you that it is possible?? It seems I am...damn!! Anyway, I don't think we should tell people to behave according to our standards of humanness. Instead, we can offer people a place where they can experience one of many ways to be a human. From my perspective, very seldom are we given the chance to be peaceful and let our goodness shine. All I am saying is we can give ourselves that chance, we can be humans. 
What I'm feeling is a need to find and describe a little more of the shared vision for the types of effects we want to have by carrying on this work. From an outsider standpoint, in any community where we have an impact, what may shift? - BB (A team member)
I am not sure if I can describe what I have in mind with any more details. I think that if you are a member of the team, is because you feel something in common here. My vision is already connected to yours. I believe you have a vision that is connected with me and this project. Let's create vision statements individually about this project and see if they actually connect. What is your vision and what effects would you have in your community. My vision statement so far:

A [socially just, environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and] passionate business for every human passion in your neighborhood. 

More ideas: Passionate people connecting passionate businesses. Connect earth, heart and business. 

There will be space to think about what if scenarios later on, we'll get to validate our hypothesis and other things. Also, until we don't define the role of the particular transition initiative, I don't see why we need to earn their attention unless we feel we can't do it without them. It is not that I don't want to include them, we can definitely let them know that this is what we're doing, and if anyone wants to join, welcome. So far, all this effort is completely accessible to anyone anyway, I am talking about the role of the transition initiative as an organization. 

What is our game and our rules?? Let's agree on that and create personal visions statements, see if we are connecting. 

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