Contact

Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?

Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.

Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?

Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*

*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.

Debt to society

If you want to talk about our debt to society – the question of what we owe the other people who share our culture, and share the planet with us – it’s helpful to start with this: without other people, you’d be dead. Even if you’d somehow managed to be born on your own, without other people you’d never have made it.

But ‘debt to society’ is the wrong way to frame it. It helps to think less about giving-up-what-is-rightfully-ours because of what we owe (though we do), or because we feel guilty or obliged (though perhaps we should), or because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t (though there might be good reason for this).

What do we want?

Let’s talk instead about contributing towards what we want, and the benefits we might expect to enjoy if we lived in a kinder, more generous society. A society – just for example – in which as many people as possible get a leg-up when they’re just starting out (by being born, or starting school, or starting their careers), and the hand-up that makes all the difference when they’re down. We know that these things don’t just make it better for other people’s kids, but for our kids.* A better society is better for all of us: no-one wants unhealthy, poorly educated, tormented neighbours. (And no-one wants selfish neighbours either).

We all do want human flourishing, and most of us want it for everyone. We don’t even disagree that much about what it looks like, just about how to achieve it** and sustain it. And most people want to contribute towards achieving it.

Better

If we focus on “better”, if we say the words and describe it, it becomes much easier for people who usually disagree with us to say, “Actually, I want that too – but I think we’ll get it by doing this...” And it becomes easier for us to agree to try one way, then the other – or to find a different, better way.

And focusing on contribution towards building something better is a great story. We can feel good about what we’re giving, a part of what we’re building, and hopeful about what we’re moving towards.

*And at the end of the day, they’re all our kids.
**Perhaps particularly about whether a
flourishing life is something that can be given.

Their thing

It’s great that you have a thing – that you’re clear about it what it is and how important it is, and that you’re talking about it and taking action and enjoying it to boot. It’s great that it’s yours.

The temptation to avoid is to try to make it everybody else’s thing as well.

Trying to get people who aren’t really into your thing to play a significant role in it – as employees, implementers, sales people or evangelists – will only lead to disappointment all round.

Trying to give or sell your thing to someone who has different priorities will end in frustration and exhaustion.

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Find the people for whom this is their thing too: people who already share your vision, or one that significantly overlaps with it. Lead: say the words, ravel the network, build a tribe.
  2. Find people who have their own thing but will willingly put it in service of yours. There are passionate accountants, dedicated administrators, superb policy people, committed teachers, and fantastic IT technicians who will be delighted to do what they love in service of a good cause.
  3. Find partners for whom your thing is an integral part of theirs. At the charity I work at, our thing is teaching children to read and love reading. We do it by serving schools, charities or parents with a bigger vision – education as a whole, or community development, or raising flourishing kids – of which we provide a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The first group are rare gems. Finding them often takes consistent generative work, but it’s worth it. The right partners will bring far more energy than you spend on finding them, starting a chain reaction of possibilities and results.

You can’t live without the second group – they hold key pieces of the puzzle to making your thing a reality. Your job is to help them thrive and flourish doing their thing, as a subset of yours. They’re also the people who will get the most exposure to your vision, values and culture – by playing to their strengths, putting them to work with their thing, you make it much more likely that they’ll start to own yours.

The third group are your clients or donors or customers. They – or the people they serve – are why you’re here in the first place. Always as a leader, you’re a person serving people who serve people.*

*This is vintage Tom Peters

The haves and the have-laters

Kevin Kelly’s take on how technological development plays into the future of poverty and inequality – and why he’s not worried about unequal access to tech:

Inequality won’t be eradicated in fifty years. So I tend to think of the structure of these things as the haves and the have-laters. The haves basically pay for technology when it’s really crummy and early and expensive, so they overpay for it. And that overpayment and use of it brings down the cost until it’s affordable by the have-laters. And then the have-laters get great technology for very cheap. That’s sort of what happened with cell phones. So you have all the early cell phone business guys who were paying [multiple] thousands of dollars for this brick that didn’t work very well, and because they were all overpaying for it, it enabled the cycles of innovation and commerce to generate cell phones that cost, say, $30. And everybody had one and they were really great. So the haves in some senses, like, say, of the early VR, will overpay for technology that doesn’t work very well, enabling the have-laters to get really great stuff that works fantastic. So in a certain sense the have-laters have the best deal, because they get cheap technology that works fantastic. But of course they get it later. And they may get it a decade later.

And I think fifty years from now, the have-laters, they’ll be living like the super-rich today in a certain sense. You’ll have not the whole lifestyle, but you’ll have all the kind of stuff that everybody on Earth will have access to—smartphones, and they’ll have access to the bandwidth that we have now, and they’ll have access to VR greatly exceeding what the rich have today. But of course there won’t be anything like what’s available to the rich.

So there’s a slow rise of all boats, but there definitely is going to be a gap, and the question people really want to know is, is that gap widening or not? I think technologically the gap is narrowing over time. In other words the difference in the technology that a billionaire can buy versus somebody in India in another fifty years will be even less; there won’t be as much of a difference in fifty years as there is today. So technologically I think the gap is going to decrease slowly. But there are social, cultural differences. The historical evidence is that on a global average—not America, not the West, but all the countries of the world on a global average—that differential is actually closing and has been for the last two-hundred years. Whether it will continue, that’s a question we don’t know. At least I don’t know whether the global average between the super rich and the super poor—or even the average rich and the average poor—whether that’s going to close. We’ll see. There is certainly a power imbalance in what the rich can do.

But I also have to make one other final observation, which is if you look at the lifestyles of billionaires, they’re not a thousand times richer in their lifestyle than millionaires—because a billionaire is a thousand times richer in dollars, right? So in that sense, there is some threshold beyond which more money doesn’t make any difference. They have more power and other kinds of stuff, but in terms of their lifestyle and the cars that they drive and the clothes that they wear, the standard of living—the standard of living of a billionaire is not a thousand times more than a millionaire. So there are limits to how different your living standards can be, just practical limits, and I think some of those limits continue to shrink over time.

Kevin Kelly talking about The Inevitableinterview at signature-reads.com

Technology marches towards the poorest

I recently listened to a talk given by Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameenphone, at the Long Now Foundation in 2008:

In the early nineties I had a budding investment career, that’s where I discovered a decentralising force – namely Moore’s law. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, observed in the mid sixties that every eighteen months microchips, the brain of the computers, go down in price by fifty percent. That means every thee years, namely twice the time of eighteen months, every three years prices fall by 75% to one quarter. Which means every six years it becomes one-sixteenth. And every twelve years, it becomes 1/256th. And you add another three years, let’s say every fifteen years, it becomes about 1/1000 to one.

So microchips are actually marching towards poor people.

And it’s also potentially a decentralising force, but I didn’t know how to make use of computers in a country where there’s a lot of illiteracy and so therefore people couldn’t quite use computers even if they’re becoming cheaper … perhaps they could be utilised, but I didn’t know how to use them because computers are mostly made for literate people

Iqbal Quadir at the Long Now Foundation

The march towards the poorest

In the decade since Quadir gave this talk, we’ve seen this happen – and in the development of new interfaces (and particularly smartphones) we’ve seen computers marching towards the less-educated too. This is good news.

Overall, we’ve seen this happen with basics like clean water and sanitation and clothing, with education and information, and with healthcare and entertainment. More on this tomorrow.

The question that occurred to me as I listened to this talk, though, was “what’s marching away from the poorest?”

My guesses are… land and space? An unspoilt natural environment? Community?

Or are these moving away from all of us? Would love your thoughts – I’ll update this post with links and references below.

The Commitments (1):

Some things worth committing to:

  • to service and impact for human-flourishing (vision, clarity and focus, outcomes more than processes, sustainability);
  • to getting better every day (being a pro, showing up, learning, a path to making things better rather than shortcuts and hacks);
  • to generosity and investing in others (kindness, sharing what you know, teaching and training);
  • to a strong and evolving business model (planning, experimentation and iteration);
  • to leadership and good management (executing well and running an effective team or organisation);
  • to doing the money part well (financial management);
  • to marketing and communication (so that the right people know the right things about what you do, and so that change happens and sticks);
  • to building a network (so that the right people are working with you for change, with the right resources);
  • to seeing the future and finding new tools (because effectiveness is a moving target);
  • to having fun along the way (pow!)

Anything I’ve missed?

Why “Driverless Crocodile”?

Fair question. It began as a joke as the title of a shared googledoc, then became a domain name when I “did it now” and registered it on a whim to get things going. Sharky and I had been talking a lot about automation and driverless cars, so the “driverless” reflected our interest in technology and what’s coming next.

And I’m an enormous fan of the enormous crocodile.

The title is also about what we’re not. It’s easy to think that we’re heading for a future where humans will live as robot-driven, self-seeking reptiles – a world where only the crocodiles will survive.

This isn’t true: we are driving**, and we’re warm blooded – so let’s take our responsibility seriously and build organisations and a future where people are welcome and can flourish.

** I concede that we’re rarely as in charge as we think we are

Motto (2): Learn lots

Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.

If you hadn’t learnt, you’d be dead. If other people hadn’t learnt, it’s much less likely you’d still be alive.

Or reading this.

Or eating that.

Learn…

Deliberately, consistently, and eclectically.

New ways to see other people, yourself, the world. Better ways to feed our families, serve our people, to live well with ourselves and others.

Learning brings more connections, more interest, more fun.** It brings new and interesting problems to solve, new mistakes and new solutions. When added to kindness, it brings wisdom too.

Learning makes it easier tomorrow – not easy tomorrow, but easier.

.

** Knowledge, (like being?), is a network, after all.

You snooze you lose

… is a fact of life.

  • It means if you’re not alert, you’ll miss out.
  • It doesn’t mean that it’s okay to snatch something out of someone’s hand just because they’re not looking, or that we shouldn’t set something aside for someone who’s running late.
  • It means that if you’re not in the game, you can’t score.
  • It doesn’t mean that we all have to play the same game, or keep score in the same way (or at all), or that other people’s score should be important to you.

You snooze, you lose…

Except, of course, when a nap’s just what you need.

The Gift

Everything changes if you can see the thing you’re doing as a gift.

Doing it as a gift transforms

  • the thing you don’t want to do, or don’t want to do right now;
  • the thing you don’t want to do in the way you know you should do it;
  • the thing you said yes to that seemed like a good idea at the time;
  • the thing that makes you nervous, that will make you feel stupid if it goes wrong;
  • the work you put in early, building momentum when it isn’t urgent;
  • the work you do late, putting in extra hours to get it done on time;
  • the thing that you might really be doing for yourself, but that could be for them;
  • the chances that what you do might bring about the change that you seek.

Suddenly you’re not

  • doing your duty, but being generous to another person;
  • grinding out an obligation, but choosing to do something well;
  • a fool who should have known better, but someone who offered to show up;
  • at the same risk of embarrassment – if you look foolish, you’ll be a likeable, generous fool;
  • spending time on something because you have to, but preparing an act of kindness;
  • pulling a ridiculous all-nighter, but staying up to wrap a present;
  • thinking about what will make it go well for you, but focusing on what will make it useful/fun/a good gift for the gift’s recipients;
  • trying to change anyone per se, but to make them richer by sharing something you’ve made.

Gifts

  • are free (gratis) to the recipient because they’re paid for by the giver;
  • are free (libre) to be received or left;
  • are best if specific (“it’s for you“) rather than generic (“who wants this?”);
  • aren’t designed to create obligation, but to create new possibilities, generate multiplying gifts.

Happy Christmas 2018.