Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years After 9/11: What Have We Learned? What Could We Still Learn?

Six years ago I watched the World Trade Center's collapse from my Brooklyn apartment. I went out to vote that day (an election that was ultimately re-scheduled) and the smell of burning plastic filled the air even though I lived miles from the site. From this picture taken from Earth orbit, I can see why...

The wind carried the smoke right over my part of Brooklyn.

I had lived with the WTC ever since 1976 - when I got out of college - because I worked in lower Manhattan at 26 Federal Plaza and my office windows faced South. In fact, each fall my office mates and I would wait for just the right days when the path of the setting Sun would take it right between the twin towers... an amazing thing to see.

A beautiful image that combined the best of the natural and man-made worlds.

After living in Brooklyn for 15 years, believe it or not I was scheduled to move back to Manhattan on September 15, 2001. I give my moving company (Shleppers Moving & Storage) a lot of credit for making the move happen on the originally agreed upon date despite all that had happened (and with needing to find a route from Brooklyn to mid-town Manhattan that was passable). Here's a picture of lower Manhattan that I took as I crossed over the East River on my moving day. You can see the smoke from the still-burning World Trade Center site.

In the weeks after the attack, as all Americans struggled with "What do we do now?" questions, I was fortunate to have my thoughts on the subject published twice as letters to the editor of The New York Times (something I've been able to do about 10 times over the years).

On September 27th, I wrote that our capitalistic society - starting with the philosophy for redeveloping lower Manhattan - should aim to put compassion at the center of a re-imagined core.

And on November 19th, I wrote that plans for redeveloping lower Manhattan should help people think clearly about the nature of the world both before and after 9/11.

So, what have we learned since 9/11? And what could we still learn?

Well, I'll invite you form your own opinion about the plans to redevelop lower Manhattan by helping you visit the site for the planning organization, "RenewNYC.com". You can visit RenewNYC.com here. The memorial itself has as its theme Reflecting Absence and is described this way:

"Reflecting Absence is the memorial to honor the 2,979 heroes lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993. The memorial will ensure that future generations will know where the towers once stood and will never forget each individual life taken during those tragic days. The memorial will be a place for families and friends to remember, a final resting place for those who have not been identified, and a place where thousands will come to reflect upon and share our personal and collective loss.... The memorial will not only remember those killed, but it will celebrate the heroism that prevailed following the attacks, and the resolve of our nation to overcome."

The phrase "the resolve of our nation to overcome" is appropriately therapeutic but misses the critical element that to truly move on from tragedy one needs to commit to a purpose that is future focused. Perhaps one that respects the lives of those who died by reflecting what they wanted to accomplish in their lives, but still one that is future focused. Without that, one remains psychologically "stuck" in the past forever.

This is something that Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently recognizes himself. You can read about how Mayor Bloomberg is - in the words of The New York Times - "(playing) an essential if more subtle role in nudging the city to gradually let go of its grief. It is a challenge the mayor has handled sometimes clumsily and sometimes with great sensitivity and eloquence, as he charted the path away from the concrete events of 2001. Now, as he works to imbue the city with optimism for the future, he even hints at a day when remembering may not mean reading the names of all the dead." here.

This article also quotes Mayor Bloomberg as saying (after the first 9/11 anniversary) "I think the Jews do it right. They have a headstone unveiling a year after the funeral, and that’s sort of the time that you sort of stop the mourning process and start going forward. And the 9/11 ceremonies, what I’m trying to do is that in the morning we will look back, remember who they were and why they died. And in the evening come out of it looking forward and say, ‘O.K., we’re going to go forward.’"

"Go forward." If only those redeveloping lower Manhattan knew this concept well enough to make "Ground Zero" and its vicinity an area that called to all Americans... and the people of the world... to make capitalism more compassionate. Well, I'm an optimist. Perhaps that will happen some day. (Read on for how I believe that can happen.)

There is one thing in RenewNYC.com's plans that does focus on the future - and in a very significant way, too. It is the development organization's commitment to "green" building design and construction principles. That is a great commitment, but it has no direct connection to the question of whether the future we create will be one in which terrorists either stop or continue to attack us. It will, however, save energy and provide a healthier work environment for the people in these buildings. And that's a good thing.

So, one thing we've learned since 9/11 is that those entrusted with formulating redevelopment plans in the face of a national catastrophe tend to do so by looking backward rather than forward. And the result is an increased potential that we will remain emotionally stuck in the past... not a good thing. In my opinion, there is nothing about the redevelopment of lower Manhattan or the World Trade Center memorial itself that will help the public think critically about what type of society we should be building in the future.

Although if Mayor Bloomberg had been in charge, there's at least a chance the memorial would have been forward and future focused.

Now, regarding my call for Compassionate Capitalism, we only have to look as far as Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" to show us how far capitalism is from being what one could even begin to call "compassionate". (If you haven't watched the short documentary made in conjunction with her new book, I highly recommend you do so here.)

"The Shock Doctrine" describes how entire societies have been taken advantage of (one might even call it "cultural rape") by those entrusted with leading them out of danger. Whether the danger is economic or security related, when it strikes there exists a conscious effort on the part of members of the business and political classes to push through changes in "the rules of the game" that make it much more possible for certain wealthy people to get wealthier and more powerful while the rest of us get poorer and less powerful.

When matched against the rules of society, this is serious, immoral and illegal stuff. And to the degree that it is happening in America (and it is, but Naomi Klein's work talks about other countries as well), then those responsible should be tried for their "high crimes and..." Well, you get my drift.

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that the George W. "we create our own reality" Bush administration cares very little about the Rule of Law. It cares about the Golden Rule ("He who has the gold rules.") And those businesses - and business leaders - who finance and otherwise support the Bush administration's activities and the activities of those politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) who keep this systems in place also live according to this most twisted of "golden rules". As I say, they should be put on trial for their crimes against the system created by The Founding Fathers.

(Can you imagine what it would be like if our nation's business and political leaders - who so frequently refer to their religious beliefs - lived in accordance with the real Golden Rule? Why, we've live in a totally transformed world! But I digress. Sorry.)

John Dean has just written a fascinating new book, "Broken Government", in which - along with many other things - he discusses the role the Democrats play in keeping this illegal, immoral, and dysfunction system going. In an article Dean wrote called "Defeating Dysfunction" to promote his book, he says "Democrats criticize Republican policies, but they ignore the persistent abuses of process that have become normal Republican political behavior. Democratic distaste for addressing process issues first came to my attention following the 2004 presidential campaign, when I spoke to one of Senator John Kerry's top advisers. I was curious why Kerry had not pressed President Bush about the excessive secrecy he and Vice President Cheney had imposed on their administration... Kerry's adviser told me the campaign had not addressed this concern because "secrecy is a process issue." Process, apparently, was an area where the Democratic candidate did not go."

Dean goes on to say that "the current inside-the-Beltway wisdom holds that the public is not interested in process. In fact, empirical data show this is wrong." And he concludes by saying "The vitality of American democracy demands that (the Democrats) once again take up process in 2008."

In saying clearly that "It's the process, stupid", John Dean points to the critical lesson of our time... and the lesson we must learn. For it opens the door to the only way we will ever have the Compassionate Capitalism we are capable of having. This is The Lesson We Can Still Learn. It's not too late.

It is a lesson that will take America down a road which many Democrats may be uncomfortable traveling, but it is the only road that leads to the objective we must reach as a nation: the restoration of our American values. "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" wasn't just something Superman used to say he stood for. It was who we were on our best days and who we sought to be on our worst. It was never what the people we have entrusted to lead us into the future consciously sought to violate.

So, we must deal with the process we are using to get where we say we want to go. The Democrats must deal with the process. Progressive thinking Republicans must deal with the process. Third party candidates must deal with the process. (Ralph, this means you don't get to say that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans anymore. Read John Dean's book, okay?) And "we, the people" must deal with the process.

Because to not do so is like saying "The automobile I'm driving has gotten me everywhere I've wanted to get to so far. I'll just keep driving it as I try to get to this new destination", as you leave dry land and set off across the water to get to a distant land called Compassionate Capitalism.

See how crazy it is to think this way? We're still in our cars and are trying to drive across the water. We are sinking fast, my friends. We need to get out of our cars!

If you agree with me and are now asking "Okay, where do I go to learn about process? And has anyone figured out what process could get us to this better future?", then I say "Welcome aboard! It's going to be an exciting journey from here forward!"

There are places you can go to learn process. And there are people who are already using the New Thinking society needs to adopt in order to get to this better world.

If you are an organizational leader (either for-profit or non-profit), I highly recommend you get involved with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program, which is run by the federal government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This program - which was signed into law 20 years ago during the Reagan Administration - is based on the continuous learning and improvement principles originally developed by such quality management leaders as Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Joseph Juran, the men who went to Japan after World War II and taught the Japanese how to make high quality products.

The Baldrige Program is intense, educational, and the best national program I know of for learning how to view what you're doing in ways that support you in making fundamental change. (Perhaps the US Congress should get involved with the Baldrige Program.) For those who want to "play in the minor leagues before joining the majors", I recommend the state-wide, Baldrige-based programs that function under the umbrella Network for Excellence. (Point of transparency: I am a board member of the Keystone Alliance for Performance Excellence, which is the Baldrige-based organization that covers Pennsylvania.)

Finally, while you may think that Compassionate Capitalism is an idea beyond what anyone dealing with process is talking about, I call your attention to the Corporate Social Responsibility movement. It is an increasingly mainstream corporate strategic focal point - as recognized by Harvard Business School's Michael Porter, in his article "Strategy and Society" which was published last December - AND it includes a focus on process, especially under the umbrella of the work of The UN Global Compact. The Global Compact's Performance Model is a Baldrige-like, continuous learning and improvement based program any organization can use to examine how it is going about attempting to be a good corporate citizen and to improve the processes it is using to do so. The Global Compact is a world-wide initiative that includes a network of USA-based corporations. At the same time, here in the USA we have Business for Social Responsibility, which works in partnership with The Global Compact.

There is hope, my friends. You just need to know where to look for it.

And in the case of our political and business leaders, we who want them to "do the right thing" need to demand that they examine and fix the process! (And learn how to do so first!)

We can get to the better world we say we want. But we can't get there by using the same thinking... the same process... we've used until now. We need to learn how to Think Differently!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gonzales Is Gone. But The Disease Remains.

At the conclusion of The House Lawyer Departs, its lead editorial on the subject, The New York Times says "Mr. Gonzales, for all of his undeniable deficiencies, merely reflected the principles of this administration. His resignation is a necessary but hardly sufficient step in restoring the nation’s commitment to the rule of law."

Contrast this with the words of President Bush, who - when he went before the cameras to report Attorney General Gonzales's resignation - said "Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle. And I have reluctantly accepted his resignation, with great appreciation for the service that he has provided for our country....After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

The Rule of Law vs. The Rule of Bush. It doesn't get any clearer than that, folks. President Bush's world remains untouched, unfazed, and undisturbed by the very bipartisan "mud" through which his friend's name was dragged. All that counts are Bush's feelings. Facts? Bush doesn't care about facts.

Having said this, I hope it's clear to you all that we should not really celebrate Gonzales' departure. Why? Because we are dealing with a problem far more pervasive than the work of any one man... far worse than the work, even, of a team led by Bush, Cheney, and Rice... worse, even, than the cancer on the presidency that America cured itself of over 30 years ago.

We are dealing with a systemic condition within our country. For lack of a better term (and with apologies to Walt Disney), I will call it "Living In Fantasyland".

It is a condition that exists in ways big and small throughout our society. From the ENRON Fantasyland of Ken Lay... to the "dog-fighting as sport" Fantasyland of the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick... from the "I spent as much time as the rescue workers" Fantasyland of Rudy Giuliani... to the "I was lied to by President Bush" Fantasyland of Hillary Clinton (who chose not to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before her vote).

People we want to trust - with our money, our cheers, the future of our country - are just making stuff up as they go along. Facts? They don't care about facts!

As I said, the cancer on the presidency of Richard Nixon was of limited scope. We were able to contain and eliminate it. And the 93rd Congress - contrary to popular opinion - actually got a lot done while it conducted Nixon's impeachment hearings.

But a lot has happened to the American psyche since the 1970's. The "Greed is good" me generation of the 1980's (and the updated version brought to us by the current Bush administration and today's Wall Street) and the pervasive "you create your own reality" transformational technology personal development trainings (such as est and Landmark Education created by Werner Erhard) launched in the early 1970's are just two of the major cultural trends steering America towards a "You can have it your way no matter what the existing reality tells you is possible" mental belief system.

We know this is how George Bush and his team think, from Ron Suskind's amazing 17 Octboer 2004 article in The New York Times. But what not enough of us seem to realize is that this is a society-wide disease. Al Gore knows the magnitude of this problem. It's the subject of his book "The Assault on Reason".

So, what to do? How can Truth and Facts defend themselves in the face of this very virulent disease? Well, here's my suggestion:

Truth and Facts can become known for being about more than what the real bad stuff is. Truth and Facts can become know for showing us - all of us - the real... honest to God... exciting and adventurous road forward. If I told you that the true nature of what's possible is quite literally "Heaven on Earth", that would get your attention... wouldn't it?

Yes, there are truths and facts about Ken Lay's business dealings, Michael Vicks' leisure activities, and Rudy and Hillary's post-9/11 political calculations. But there are also truths and facts about how much better our world could be, if the majority of Americans were to learn what a number of research scientists and international development theorists know. And what is there that the American people could learn? That it is now scientifically possible to build - with the support of enlightened business and political leadership, of course - a world beyond war in our lifetimes.

Now that's something that no pack of lies can give us, no matter how well packaged they are. A world beyond war in our lifetimes can only be the product of the truth.

This brave new world - if we choose to build it - will be built on the facts, research, and hard won wisdom of those on the front lines of the sustainable international development movement. For proof that these facts exist, I invite you to explore the work of Amory Lovins, Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart, Business for Social Responsibility, The UN Global Compact, and The Next Great Transformation conference taking place at The Eden Project in October.

There's more to truth and facts than most people know. It can be a great world in which to spend your time... and it's no Fantasyland, either!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

America's Infrastructure Crisis: Are We Really A Developed Country?

In the three and a half years in which I worked in the office of Dr. Russell Ackoff, my mentor in the field of Systems Thinking, he probably talked about one thing more than anything else: the true nature of development. "Development," Russ would say, "increases the capacity of people to manage their own lives. Growth - which is what people usually talk about when they say a community or a nation is getting better - is about the accumulation of greater amounts of things, some of which are beneficial and some of which are not. Growth is not the same as development."

One of the expressions Russ used most often to make this point is If you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach them to fish, they can feed themselves for a lifetime.

When it comes to our nation's infrastructure, I fear that our political and civic leaders have - for decades - been giving us "fish" in the form of lots of roads, bridges, mass transit systems, utility systems, and other elements of what is sometimes referred to as the built environment. We know who these leaders are. They're the people in the photographs taken at the ground breaking ceremonies when new projects start.. and at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies when projects are complete. After that, we rarely hear from them again.

Well, perhaps with the collapse of the I-35 bridge, we will. In fact, we already are... in the personages of Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-NB). Their National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007 is an important first step in moving we Americans past our long history of "being given fish" and towards a future in which we learn "how to fish for ourselves" and then act of that new knowledge.

Of course, by "learn how to fish" I mean learn how to take care of what we've got... not just admire it when it's new and then let it fall apart under our very noses.

Russ loves using this fishing analogy to help people understand what true development is. And - because he emphasizes that development involves wisdom that focuses on long-term (not short-term) results - I'd like to start a national dialog on the following question:

Is the United States truly a developed country? Or are we just a "built up" country?

It is common to talk about how our world is divided into the developed and under-developed nations. And the US - based on its GDP and other factors - always falls into the "developed nations" category. But based on my knowledge that to be truly developed is to know how to take care of yourself and what you have - not just to have a lot of stuff - I no longer personally put the USA into that category.

I think - and this seems especially appropriate when you consider how young America really is, in "country years" - that America is in a category that may have never existed before. Neither under-developed nor developed, America appears to be a "proto-developed country". We've accumulated a lot but do not yet have the wisdom to manage what we've got.

Now, having just described the problem, I'd like to suggest at least the beginning of a solution:


As H.G. Wells once said "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

I almost hate using such extreme-sounding language, but there really is a catastrophe awaiting us if we don't address our infrastructure crisis very soon. Just as the homes we live in will fall apart if we don't maintain them, so will the larger built environment - literally, our national "home". And for this analogy I have Sam Schwartz to thank. Sam was the First Deputy Commissioner at the NYC Department of Transportation when I worked there in the late 1980's. He ran NYC DOT's Bureau of Bridges. (I directed the office in the Bridge Bureau that contracted with private engineering firms to fix NYC's bridges... in my former life as an engineering program manager.) Sam recently wrote a very blunt New York Times OpEd piece entitled "Catch Me, I'm Falling in which he points out how crazy the bridge maintenance financial system is throughout America. I highly recommend you read it, as a first step in educating yourselves about the true nature of our problem. Because, it's only when a problem is truly understood that it can be permanently solved.

Solving America's infrastructure problem starts with understanding the magnitude of the physical challenge (see the report from the American Society of Civil Engineers) and then understanding the financial system challenge... which includes the long-term financial costs which will be incurred as more and more of our infrastructure falls apart.

To some extent, I suppose, this is a painful thing to come to terms with: that we now have to find the money (and fast) to "learn how to fish"... to maintain that which we have. But I also expect this is exactly the lesson America needs to learn in the run-up to the 2008 elections.

We need to ask ourselves - and those who would be our political representatives - if they "know how to fish". We need to find out if they know how to think long-term. We need to find out if they know how to learn to do the right thing - as defined by experts in the field such as, in this case, Sam Schwartz and the American Society of Civil Engineers - when information about a problem is presented to them.

Making sure we take care of what we have. Making sure what we have works and is the best quality it can be. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a truly developed country. And right now, this is not something that is true about America.

But it's not too late. We can still learn how to fish.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

China's Quality Problem: A Long-Term vs Short-Term Thinking Teachable Moment

With the recall by Mattel of 19 Million toys made in China, the question on my mind is "How will the business world - and the American people in general - respond to this teachable moment in the never ending struggle between short-term and long-term thinking?"

Here's what I mean: We have a product quality crisis on our hands, one that is so big it could upset the entire economic relationship between the United States and China. Both short and long-term thinking based solutions exist to this crisis. And the differences between these two types of solutions is huge... like night and day. In fact, the real difference is that one will actually solve the problem, while the other will just sweep it under the carpet. Guess which is which.

That's right, short-term thinking will not solve the crisis. Only long-term thinking will. And isn't it funny how you knew the answer intuitively, even without knowing what the long-term oriented solution is in detail?

Regrettably, the main stream media voices are not speaking from an intuitive place. They are speaking from a classic regulatory mindset, which says "If there are bad things in the world, we should put more people in place to catch the bad things before they reach us." Here's what I mean, from today's New York Times:

In its editorial - "China, Unregulated" - The New York Times says "What China needs is an effective and transparent regulatory system to enforce product safety standards. The United States and other countries can help with technical advice and warnings about what would happen if Beijing refuses to take it."..."American regulators...must also do a lot more to ensure the safety of Chinese-made goods, sending their own personnel to China to perform inspections of factories and test goods before they are shipped."...and - lamenting the inability of the Consumer Products Safety Commission to protect us - "(The CPSC) must inspect tens of billions of dollars worth of goods sold every year with only about 100 field investigators and compliance personnel."

Yup. Regulations and enforcement...threats to stop doing business with them...that's how to get people and organizations to change. Motivation by fear. (By the way, while to the best of my knowledge it hasn't been widely reported, the head of a major Chinese toy manufacturing company at the center of this crisis committed suicide over the weekend. Anger, fear, betrayal and other related emotions got to him. This is a real tragedy. Not only has a human life been lost, but any knowledge he had regarding why his products were of such poor quality was lost with him.)

Speaking of people who are no longer with us, if he were still alive, Dr. W. Edwards Deming - famous for helping the Japanese make "Made In Japan" a symbol of world class quality (even though right after World War II it meant the opposite) - would be saying something like this to government leaders, manufacturers, and consumers in both the US and China:

"You cannot produce high quality products by inspecting them at the end of production. All you can do at that point is prevent poor quality products from reaching consumers, at a tremendous waste of time, energy, and materials. High quality results from a process of redesigning your manufacturing processes - including your relationships with your suppliers - so that your products are built correctly in the first place. This is a long-term process requiring a continuous learning and improvement mindset. I predicted it would take the Japanese five years to turn their manufacturing processes around. Through dedicated effort, they did it in four."

(I studied with Dr. Deming in the early 1990's.)

This is how you really solve a production quality problem. You design the manufacturing system so that it produces a high quality product from the get go... or re-design the system, in the case of one that's already up and running.

At the end of World War II, the American government sent Dr. Deming (and others, such as Dr. Joseph Juran) to Japan so they could help the Japanese successfully rebuild their manufacturing capacity. Our government did this, because our foreign policy was amazingly enlightened at the time. Just like with The Marshall Plan, we knew that helping rebuild the countries of our former enemies would benefit them, us, and the whole world in the long run.

I would like to humbly propose (and if I'm lucky, maybe someone from one or more of the political candidates' organizations will pick up on this) that the US government send a team of experts to China to teach Dr. Deming's methods. Dr. Deming may no longer be alive, but his and related work continues thanks to such organizations as The W. Edwards Deming Institute, the In2:InThinking Network, and - perhaps most appropriately since it's funded by our tax dollars - the Baldrige National Quality Program or people from the State-wide programs that are based on the Baldrige criteria.

This is the long-term thinking solution. Why? Because quality management takes time to implement. It takes time to learn. But so does anything that enables you to do something you've never done before.

In an American society that continues to be fixated on "instant gratification" and "flavor of the month" lifestyle choices (not to mention addicted to quarterly profit statements), long-term thinking and its associated life long learning approach is the true route to solving China's poor product quality problem (and problems in our education and health care systems as well).

Will average Americans realize that short vs. long term thinking is at the crux of our problems? Will America's opinion and policy making leaders? Will the Chinese? Only time will tell.

But there is a parallel to China's quality problem in American history. If you go back to the 1970's, our poor quality products (especially our automobiles) were losing market share to products from Japan. There was a lot of time spent asking "If Japan Can, Why Can't We?" (which is the name of a famous 1980 NBC- TV White Paper report). That report showed what was going on in Japan, including their use of the management theories taught to them by Dr. Deming, who was still consulting with Japanese businesses at 80 years old. America learned then that it needed to get the "quality religion". And it worked for a while. But old, short-term thinking habits die hard...especially when supported by the demand for quarterly profits at any cost.

It's not too late to learn those lessons once again my friends. Short term thinking is killing China's export business. And, if truth be told, it is killing the American way of life too.

So you can learn more about Dr. Deming and the quality revolution he helped launch, here's the first part of a 3-part BBC documentary from 1991. Links to the other three parts can be found when it's done playing. In it, Dr. Deming himself speaks about his work, as does Don Petersen (former CEO of The Ford Motor Company) and others.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hope and "Life Long Learning" go hand in hand

I'm sure you've heard this quote before: "It's not what we don't know that hurts us. It's what we know that just ain't so anymore that does."

This, to me, is the crux of the problem - and the source of the solution - to all the challenges we face. It's also why I currently think that Barack Obama is the candidate with the best chance of helping America (and the world) get out of the mess we're in right now.

I believe that the only way to get from this really unhealthy reality to a better one is to look with a critical eye at what we believe to be true and what is objectively, actually true regarding the capabilities we - as a human race living in an increasingly "we're either all going to make it or none of us are going to" world - have to design and build the better world that's out there waiting for us.

Barack's "politics of hope" suggests to me that he has at least some knowledge regarding how much better our world can be. I think he is familiar enough with recent technological advances that he knows humanity has reached a point where - if we organized ourselves to do so - we could feed, clothe, house, and educate every man, woman, and child on Earth.

Of course, we aren't organized to do this. And if our political system - both within America and throughout the world - continues to function based on the "win - lose", zero sum principles in use today, we will never get to that better world.

But with his international perspective (based in part on where he grew up) and his apparently "world class" intellect - which I'm sure includes a healthy desire to keep on learning new things for the rest of his life - I believe Barack has the potential ability to open the eyes of enough people that we will undertake the "redesign effort" of the current sociopolitical economic system that is needed so that this much better world... this much more "hopeful" world... has a chance to be born.

I definitely see "life long learning" as key. Because, as I'm sure most people would admit, "if you want to get some place you've never been before, you're probably going to have to learn new things in order to be able to get there."

My feeling is that - unlike the current occupant in The White House - Barack is a "life long learner". I believe that's how he's able to keep hope alive within himself. He's learned things that the majority of Americans haven't. He knows we can be a much better country - morally and ethically - than we are and achieve the promise of "prosperity for all, not just the rich and powerful" that was part of the vision of the Founding Fathers. After all, the Founding Fathers ended the Declaration of Independence with the words "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

"...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." sure sounds like the words of people who knew we were all in this together. Doesn't it?

I look forward to hearing any comments you all have.. and to the prospect of hearing Barack speak on this issue of "learning what we need to learn... and unlearning what we need to unlearn" some time soon.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Responsible Journalism: The Journalism That Matters Conference, Day Two

Day One of the Journalism That Matters conference was great in that I saw how determined this group is to create a new business model for journalism in the 21st century (the group is calling it "the next news room")... and also how open they were to my pitch to apply the business concept of innovation to their "product"... to their reporting on what happens in our world. You can read my previous blog, about Day One, here.

Of course, getting to discuss what innovation applied to journalism looks like was what I was most excited about going into Day Two. And that discussion is still the highlight of the day for me, but the additional isights that came from some of the other breakout sessions were very impressive. Here are what those other key insights were, at least as I heard them...

1) "Watergate style" journalism is turning off young people big time. What young people want are partnerships and conversations. They are fed up with the "us against them" world in general and are looking for journalism to not be about that all the time either.

2) More women than men are enrolling in journalism schools across America. This may be because the starting salaries for journalists aren't as high as they are for other professions, so fewer men are interested in the field. Whatever the cause, it means that the profession will have an increasingly feminine aspect to it. You can take that in whatever direction you want to take it. For me, it means a greater interest in stories that have to do with the building up of society rather than the tearing down of society. (Both types of activities are going on, after all, even if we don't hear constructive stories as often as we here destructive ones.)

3) Major news organizations are able to bring people together for events, such as political debates. This capability could be used to bring people in a community together for other reasons as well. This insight came out of a number of breakout sessions (including my own).

What follows is how I reported the results of my session: A Blue Ocean Strategy for Journalism. Before you read that "report", I want to ask that you make sure you look at the end of what I've written. Because I end with a link that relates to what we all saw a Blue Ocean Strategy for journalism could be. But I recommend that you first read the report. Thanks!

A Blue Ocean Strategy for Journalism

Convener: Steve Brant

Reporter: Steve Brant


Jeff Young, Chronicle of Higher Education
Holly Stocking, Indiana University School of Journalism
Jennifer Ward, Fresno Bee
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week
Tom Davidson, The Tribune Company
Manny Garcia, The Miami Herald
Angela Nelson, The Boston Globe
Maurreen Skouran, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
Andrew Haeg, American Public Media / Public Insight Journalism, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Bob Greiner, The Washington Post
Rob Park, Graduate Student, Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA
Wally Bowen (came in for the last 30 minutes), Mountain Area Information Network, Asheville, N.C.

Essence of the session: "From reporting on problems to reporting on problems being solved!"

The professional journalists in this session recognized that they are currently selling a "failed product". The evidence for this is that their customers are "voting with their eyes and dollars". They recognized that this existing, failed product model is one in which the story being reported almost always ends with the description of the problem. It doesn't go to the next step... to the "end of the story".

This group was very responsible about the current reality of journalism. Rather than thinking "all we need to do is find better ways to fund what we're already doing" (as if their product cannot not be improved), they looked at what they are selling with a critical eye and saw the potential to develop a "Blue Ocean Strategy" for their profession that goes beyond what their customers normally get.. to go beyond what their customers think they can have.. beyond what their customers are asking for (at least the majority of customers)... to go from reporting on problems to reporting on problems AND how they are being solved.

In addition to seeing the appropriateness of going "beyond problem reporting... to problem and solution reporting", this group envisioned expanding the services their businesses deliver on-line (and possibly also out in the "off line" world) to include facilitating the honest, open, and transparent search for solutions. They discussed examples they were aware of in which their companies had helped convene groups for various reasons in the past, even as those instances were not the main stream nature of the reporting being done by their organizations. They came up with the image of a "block party" in search of solutions, to signify that the process of uncovering root causes (through the use of expert researchers, I think.. but also community dialog ) and developing solutions would be done in a spirit of fun.

From a "what constitutes a well-written story" perspective, the group recognized that news stories must contain an element of tension... and that this tension usually comes from the element of conflict that is in the story. The group realized that stories about solutions, not just problems, could also contain tension when they told how various obstacles were overcome in the process of developing the solutions.

The commitments on the part of this session's participants to use this new business model were not recorded. I don't think they all got to that point in their thinking. However, they agreed that they wanted this conversation to continue and agreed that they should all receive each other's email addresses to help facilitate that process. By "CC'ing" the entire participant list, I am giving each of them the contact information for the whole group... in addition to giving them easy access to these notes for future use and / or comment. (I may have missed something or miss-stated something and am open to correction.)

Here is the summary of the session, as recorded on the newsprint which was posted on the conference wall...


VISION: Hopeful but skeptical analysis of problems and their solutions

MISSION: Journalism reports on and helps facilitate solutions-seeking "Block Parties"


- Hype Free Zone (Show what's working and what's not)
- Story tension comes from overcoming obstacles (not "Gotcha Journalism")
- Study root causes so that solutions target disease, not symptoms
- Involve readers in search for solutions

What is the Blue Ocean? It's going from reporting on problems to reporting on problems being solved! ... thereby giving our customers HOPE that society's "fires" can someday be put out.

What can we then have in a world that's no longer "on fire"? Hmmm....

End of report.

The link I want you to see is about this: While this group developed a business plan for moving from reporting on problems to reporting on how problems are being solved, Phil Bronstein, Editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, was launching a very similar sounding news-about-solutions" initiative which is being called "Journalism of Action". Here's where you can read about what's happening at The Chronicle. (Have you ever heard of synchronicity?)

Lastly, I call this post "Responsible Journalism" because I believe it's irresponsible for journalists to stop telling the story after they finish describing the problem. "Responsible Journalism" is journalism that admits that reality consists of both problems and solutions... and takes responsibility for telling us about the solutions too, even if it's harder to write about solutions than it is to write about problems.

I don't know where or why the practice of "ending the story with the problem" started. But I know one thing: It drives me and a lot of other people crazy! When we read about something bad and are then left hanging, it's like hearing almost all of a song but not getting to hear the end. The mind wants completion - not open-endedness - at least most of the time. "Things are bad. End of story." That's incredibly frustrating!

Years ago I wrote a letter to 60 Minutes in which I said "Why don't you folks tell people how to do something about the problems you're reporting on?" I never got a reply, but the problem has only gotten worse. After all, only 25 percent of the American people think our country is going in the right direction. If the public knew that solutions to our problems actually exist - And. They. Do. - they'd be more hopeful about the future.

Fortunately, people like Phil Bronstein are beginning to see the light. And all the people in my breakout session did. Oh, and Katie Couric appeared to have seen it too, based on what she said at a July 2006 event at the Aspen Institute. This was as she was preparing to take over as anchor of The CBS Evening News. You can watch the video of her answering a question from the audience about solutions, not just problems, below. (It's less than 2 minutes long.)

There's still time for Katie and her team to make this happen. Maybe she'll see this post and decide to do it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Journalism That Matters - The DC Conference, Day One

Without taking you through "The Business Side of Journalism 101", I'll tell you what you probably already know: From a business standpoint, the profession of journalism is in trouble. I'm in Washington DC right now, attending this year's Media Giraffe Conference which has as its theme "Journalism That Matters". This conference is designed to get the assembled journalists, professors of journalism, bloggers, editors, and other journalism-focused people (roughly 175 or us) to develop a business model for the newsroom of the 21st century.

It probably won't surprise you that a lot of people are talking about alternative funding structures, including the co-operative business model.

What I've contributed to this dialog is the idea of changing this industry's "product line" rather than its funding structure. I am convinced that the journalism profession is suffering from a severe lack of innovation. For example, when was the last time The New York Times added a new section to its paper? I think it was the "Home" section, and that was a long time ago.

Looking at your product line to see what else you might give your customers is basic business strategy. But when was the last time someone did something really innovative in the world of journalism?? (Other than Arianna, of course, when she started The Huffington Post.)

Well, I've been thinking about American journalism's product line for some time. And here's what I told the assembled group last night: I said they should following the advice of "Blue Ocean Strategy", one of the leading business book of today, and use the power of innovation to give their customers something those customers aren't asking for because they don't know they can have it. The "headline" I suggested might be written to describe the launch of this innovative product line is "Journalists Decide To Tell The Entire Story of Humanity. While still reporting on the bad things we need to eliminate, the good things we need to learn how to do will be covered too."

This is a kind of Zen concept for me. If you only report on the Yin part of life but leave out the Yang, you are reporting on only half of what constitutes reality. "All the news that's fit to print"? Not really. Try "All the news about the part of reality we choose to cover that's fit to print." That's what we're really getting. But we don't have to. And based on how the end of Day One of this conference went, we won't for too much longer.

I was approached at the end of today's session by someone who said one of tomorrow's break out sessions should be all about planning to launch a new journalistic venture based on the Blue Ocean principles. So, that's what we'll be doing!

Stay tuned for my report about Day Two. Tomorrow should be a very interesting day!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Al Gore: "Think Differently" To Create A Better World

I saw Al Gore interviewed by Charlie Rose last night at the 92nd Street Y in NYC. Here's what I took away from the evening (in addition to my autographed copy of his new book): Al Gore knows that We The People are going to have to think differently if we are going to get out of the mess we are in. And he knows that this is a systemic challenge, not just the result of a few bad people who are "doing it to us" from their positions of power in Washington.

Al Gore has - I believe - transcended the victim mentality that so many people (to the delight of the legal profession, which encourages this kind of thinking) have bought into here in America. He knows that we have a socio-political system which is designed to work, but that there are a great many factors - not just some "bad people" - that are preventing it from working the way our Founding Fathers intended it to.

This is not to say that Al doesn't think that bad people sometimes do bad things which affect the rest of us. Charlie asked him about the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Florida recount. I loved Al's response. He said that in America the only alternative to going along with a final decision by the Supreme Court is armed rebellion. Al knows it was a bad decision. But he also knows that the only option - other than going along with that decision - available to him was not a viable option.

Here are two things I took away from what Al said last night:

(1) The vast majority of the American people are being hugely misdirected away from the subject matter that counts by the demands of our modern communications system to make money and the knowledge by that system that emotion-driven stories lock people into a mindset that allows them to be "sold to" better than stories that force people to think (my way of summing up this point), and

(2) the America people have it within their power to redirect this system so that it gives them the information they need, once enough of them wake up to the danger posed by the continuation of the current system's emphasis on "emotion" rather than "reason" (again, my way of summing up Al's point).

In writing "The Assault on Reason", Al hopes to wake us all up to the danger of continuing the anti-fact and anti-truth, emotion-driven thinking habits we have slipped into since television became a dominant part of our culture. (Last night he mentioned the Nixon - Kennedy debate of 1960 as one of the early markers of this journey, when image began to be as important to the public as substance.) He realizes that unless we regain the ability to focus on facts and truth (I would call it science instead of pseudo-science), we will fail to address the challenge of global climate change, something we are rapidly running out of time to deal with. Al said that he wrote this book because he knows we won't change how we deal with the environment until we - as a culture - start to think differently.

My little contribution to the case Al is making is this: If we start to think differently... if a critical mass of Americans starts asking questions like "What do we really, scientifically know how to do?", "How much better could things be if our political and business leaders did what's possible rather than what's easy?", and "Is it true that one of the root causes of war is scarcity of food, water, shelter, and education... and that mankind now has the ability to provide all of those basic needs to everyone on Earth?"... we can get to the better world that - great "wonk" that he is - Al Gore knows is possible. There are scientifically-proven methods - many of which have enormous money-making potential as detailed here, by Amory Lovins, and here, by Bill McDonough - for getting us not just out of this mess but to a much, much better future.

"Thinking differently" is a critical part of the solution. Using reason and logic - rather than emotional manipulation and "vote for me and I'll protect you" daddy-ism - is the route to the future we all say we want.

In honor of the work Al Gore is doing to get us to think differently, here's the wonderful commercial Apple ran many years ago in celebration of all the "crazy people" who have changed the world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

About Trimtab Management Systems

Vision, Mission, Values, and Methods.
The Vision of Trimtab Management Systems is of a world of global prosperity for all; a world in which those problems that can be solved ARE solved and in which a "designer's mentality" is applied to the quest to solve those problems that appear to be unsolvable; a world in which our leaders know that - while stopping bad things from happening is critically important - it is also critically important that we start making good new things happen as well.
The Mission of Trimtab Management Systems is to consult with business, non-profit, and governmental leaders to transform the business - "civil society" - political system into an innovation-driven force for change that is backed by an informed and educated public which constantly demands that its leaders give it the better world that it knows is technologically possible.
The Values at the foundation of Trimtab Management Systems are those championed by the UN Global Compact, the Buckminster Fuller Institute, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The Methods used by Trimtab Management Systems come from the management sciences developed by legendary management theorists
W. Edwards Deming and Russell L. Ackoff. Drs. Deming and Ackoff both approach the "What do we do?" question as designers. They know that all designs - including those that are essentially "human social systems" are capable of being improved. They also know that human beings - because of the creativity they bring to any challenge - are an asset, not a cost to be minimized. Trimtab Management Systems champions the creative human capacity to solve problems that appear unsolvable. Innovation - as featured in such business best sellers as Blue Ocean Strategy - is the key to achieving the sustainable future we all say we want. Where innovation and creativity are blocked, Trimtab Management Systems will highlight the nature of what is in the way and work to eliminate those barriers. Historian and educator, James Burke, described this "new vs. old beliefs-based challenge" brilliantly in his landmark television series The Day the Universe Changed. Here is a brief excerpt from the first episode of that landmark series. This video runs less than 2 minutes.