I found you in a house
Wrapped tightly in coarse wool blankets
The winds of an open plane
Buffeting these pine-wood shingles
With the breath of an overwhelming God
I looked into your eyes and saw a boy
Stalking the planes
Putting flint to steel
Dragging a sled with the breadth
Of his honey pot torso
Together we walk the banks of this river
Your hand in mine
I feed you scraps of meat and dried fruit
Your regale me with stories of men and women
I’ve never met
And as we make our way through gullies and forests
Meadows and mountain
Beside us the river flows
As it does
Patiently waiting for us to step in
And float away
Just me and you
A couple of weeks ago I drove up to New Hampshire in the thick of its presidential primary. I traveled there to volunteer for the “We The People” convention – focused on throwing a spotlight on the role of money in our political system – and to generally take in the this special moment in our democratic process.
As I reflect on my time on the ground, a few thoughts come to mind:
- Presidential primaries are fun. They’re literally a roving popularity contest. It’s this intoxicating blend of media, celebrity, status (who gets access to what event), and regional culture. It was hard not to get caught up in the hoopla.
- The butterfly effect exists. Thinking to America’s impact on the world, it was surreal to think of how a gaffe by a candidate during an event at a local diner could impact the trajectory of their campaign – and in turn the outcome of the presidential election – and in turn the fate of so many people impacted one way or the other by our actions as a country.
- New Hampshire takes its role seriously. I assumed that folks in New Hampshire would be turned off by the primary circus rolling in to town — the bus-loads of out-of-staters and political tourists such as myself, incessant political advertisements. I’m sure there are those feel that way, and at least one local I spoke to seemed to welcome it: enjoying the access to the candidates, checking out the media set-ups. Between all of the hotel rentals and media buys, I bet it makes for a nice local stimulus package too.
- Systemic bias at play? With all of our talk these days of systemic bias, I couldn’t help but wonder: how different would our presidential election look if the first primaries were in other states such as, say, Mississippi or California? Ted Cruz stumping in LA. Bernie Sanders at a high school football stadium in Dallas. Does the socio-economic makeup of Iowa and New Hampshire have an undue influence over who we elect to represent us? What would a more representative system look like?
On the topic of “money in politics”:
- It’s curious why the role of special interests – and their financial influence – is bigger now than years past. Voters have rated “money in politics” as an important issue for some time. We’ve experienced a disconnect between what we want – and what our politicians legislate – for years. Why now? Maybe our weak economy has voters grasping for something to fix – and this seems like an obvious target. Maybe the Citizens United ruling was the tipping point. I heard one person explain how this is the first presidential election where Citizens United has been on the books for some time, and the population at large knows about it.
- It’s neat to see the various organizations who are playing a role in helping our democracy be more responsive to the will of the people. Including starting at the state-level, holding candidates accountable by winning one fight at at time. It reminds me of other slow-burn efforts to effect change, from LGBT rights to marijuana legalization.
For the first time since (maybe) grade school, while on this trip I skimmed through the US constitution. What a neat and thoughtful set of rules for governing ourselves. As I think about this presidential election, and the focus on the role of moneyed interest groups in particular, I wonder where this (sometimes very angry) debate ultimately will lead.
I’m hopeful in the direction of a thoughtful process that results in every American having a stronger voice, irrespective of social status or party affiliation. That this debate is merely part of a long American tradition — from abolition to women’s suffrage – of taking back the spirit of the constitution and advocating for changes in the pursuit of “a more perfect union.”
And I also remember that systems are hard to change for a reason. I remember what happened in Tunisia, when that system didn’t bend to the will of an increasingly frustrated people, and ultimately collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Here’s to our better angels succeeding. And the playing out of a process that leaves us better for it.
One main difference between these deaths and those I experienced in the past is that these took place in my peer group. Not grandparents or distant memories. People in my circle who I knew and, I imagine, had the same big dreams, aspirations, life plans as I did. And my dog, well. Being there as we put him to sleep, feeling the weight of his body — that was a new reckoning of sorts.
These experiences got me thinking about life, and expectations. The expectations of having a career, having a family, seeing my kids grow up. What they’ve helped me remember is that all of my expectations are just that — what I expect. Me. Not what is given, or written.
Through the wisdom of others, and my own experience – life, I’ve come to learn, has very few actual rules. The communities of which I’ve been a part have done an amazing job of creating structures. Weekdays, zip codes, parking laws, dress codes, titles at work. Structures on structures on structures. And yet in their very essence — they’re just that. A set of human-created ways to tackle this hugely blank thing called existence. A large paper castle floating precariously on an ocean that’s happy to swallow it up at any minute. Or not. Having lived in these structures my entire life, I guess I forgot who put them in place.
For me this knowing is both terrifying, and liberating.
Terrifying in that if life has no rules, it can slip away at any minute, without so much as an inkling. One moment it’s here, another it’s not. No meaning to either mode. No court of law, no presiding judge to sort out the facts and provide an explanation.
Liberating in that wow — what limit is there to what’s possible? I’ve sprouted on this rock floating through a space infinitely bigger than I can imagine. Of what consequence is anything I do? What use is there in worrying about what others think, what boundaries exist, to not carve whatever path through life that I like? The options.
Of course, no matter what path I do carve, at the end of the day I do live within a social system with well-defined rules. Some of which, if broken, can lead to a pretty uncomfortable day-to-day. But within that frame, and even outside it (what if we changed the rules?) there’s that endless sea of possibility. That blank canvas to be explored. And what better tribute to those who passed too soon, than to explore it with abandon.
One of the best parts of the experience was serving as a coach, checking in with teams as they went through the process of framing, ideating, prototyping and presenting.
As I reflect on the experience, several moments emerge for when a little coaching seemed to be useful. From what I shared with teams, to what I’ve heard from other coaches, a few coach notes:
On developing a service solution
When developing a service idea our instinct is to start with one specific point in the user journey. One really exciting opportunity to address something that people dislike, or provide an experience that delights. That’s a great starting point, and there’s a lot of richness in what happens before and after this point in the user journey. Prior to the highlighted interaction, is there scope for priming the user for the experience? Post, are there touch-points where the user can reflect/re-engage/or build upon the experience in some way? Exploring and addressing these can help us develop a more complete, integrated solution.
On receiving feedback
One of the scariest moments in the service design process can be putting our initial/draft prototype in an end user’s hands. Are they going to get it? Misuse it? Drop it? Our instinct is to want to step in. To give the user a gentle guiding hand throughout the process. Or to provide context up front to ensure they don’t make mistakes in the first place. Beware the sneaky helper! Each of these actions comes with a risk. A risk that by stepping in we miss observing the user being confused, fumbling, or using our prototype in a novel and unexpected way. Exactly the kind of things we’d like to be aware of before launching our service into the world. So what to do? As much as possible, stay silent. Save the discussion for clarifying questions, e.g. “How would you describe this service? What did you find challenging? Interesting? What was going through your mind at so-and-so point?” Recording the session can be an added way to take some of the pressure off the user-feedback session, and create a richer team debrief.
On presenting out
Finally, when presenting out, showing (rather than telling) is a compelling way to showcase a service design, and a powerful way to quickly capture the audience’s attention. For example assign (or recruit) one team member to play the part of an end-user, another to narrate the scene, and a pair to help simulate the service in action. This is especially powerful when followed by a brief explanation that shows a clear thread between the research findings and the prototype presented. Key points: What was the initial point of inquiry? What did the primary research reveal? How did that translate into the design? What has yet to be resolved? What are some potential ways to build upon this service? Including direct quotes and media from the research + design process also helps bring this section to life.
Whether you’re preparing to participate in a service workshop, or are taking on a design project at work, I hope you’ll find these notes helpful. Alternatives/other pointers welcome! For a peek at the silliness, creativity and ambition of this year’s global service jam, check out these tweets. And requisite Taylor Swift tribute video:
// As published on LinkedIn.
Over the last few months I’ve been working on an experiment: at a time when the national discourse in America seems polarized, how can we bring together people from across the political spectrum and spark deeper dialogue?
My main tool for sparking deeper dialogue has been storytelling, i.e. using the process of story coaching to surface values, and story telling to help others, with different perspectives, to see and hold them.
In August I held my first event, featuring five activists from Boston-Area Tea Party groups who volunteered to step up and share stories focused not on their politics, but rather their values and the life experiences that helped shape them. This Thursday we’re holding our second event and will be bringing together, on one stage, supporters of Occupy Boston, the Tea Party, and the GOP.
At this stage our events are less of a fixed process and more of an experimental laboratory of dialogue and story. I’m still in the process of understanding what it is that we’re creating, and what value it creates and for whom. And I’m hopeful that this will be a good learning opportunity for me and those involved, and if we’re lucky contribute to the intention of bringing together communities at a time when they seem to be divided.
For info on Thursday’s event, check out our Facebook event page. For updates / future announcements / blog posts specifically related to this initiative (The Mantle Project), please sign up for the mailing list at http://eepurl.com/p3VAj. Thanks.
Like many Tunisians I’ve watched with amazement as the poignant act of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor who set himself on fire in protest against unemployment and corruption, lit a flame that devoured the Tunisian dictatorship and spread through Egypt, Libya, Spain, Chile and beyond. And like many Americans I’ve watched with intrigue as this energy appears to have arrived on America’s shores, springing up in cities across the country as the 99% or “Occupy” movement. So what, if anything, do all of these movements have in common? And what, if anything, can America learn from the movements that preceded ours?
This summer I spent a few months in Tunisia to better understand its revolution. A few weeks ago I had a chance to sit with Occupy protestors in Boston’s Dewey Square. And as I hold these two movements in my mind the similarities are striking. They are both driven by a shared feeling of injustice rather than one specific ideology or goal. They both lack a figurehead and actively reject them. They both speak out against a small group they believe are hoarding economic gains. They both despair at the lack of career prospects, especially for educated college graduates. And they both demonstrate impressive ad-hoc organization, facilitated by social networking tools.
While the movement in America is just taking off, Tunisia’s is eleven months old. And so as America grapples with this new phenomenon, how did things go in Tunisia? On the one hand there were surprising benefits. In Tunisia the revolution restored a sense of national pride: today Tunisians feel a sense of ownership over their country, proudly displaying the national flag, singing the country’s anthem, and launching civil society organizations to address social issues. In Tunisia the revolution helped to recalibrate social values: a security vacuum and a garbage collectors strike gave Tunisians a renewed sense of appreciation for policemen and sanitation workers, despised and ignored, respectively, by society.
But Tunisia’s revolution also came with unexpected challenges. The judgment that fueled the revolution also worked to undermine it: in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of its movement, the very people who rose up against an authoritarian dictatorship months later prevented certain political parties from campaigning in their city. Removing the country’s leadership did not remove its imprint on society: through years of conspicuous consumption and thuggery the deposed regime modeled behaviors which have influenced norms around achievement and leadership.
While there are many commonalities between America’s movement and Tunisia’s, it’s also true that the factors that motivate each one are ingrained in the unique histories and circumstances of each country. From the suburban Boston baby boomer I met who keeps pushing back her retirement because her savings can’t sustain her, to the South Carolina-raised student whose single-parent mother sacrificed for him to get his Master’s degree only for him to be unemployed, America’s movement is very much its own. The path it takes will certainly be different. And, as America’s movement matures and takes shape, it will be interesting to see how Tunisia’s experience, and those of the countries that followed, can serve as a source of insight and learning.
// As published on the Presencing Institute.