March, 2010

Project Runway

I meet a lot of social entrepreneurs who are just starting out and have the following dilemma.  They are full of energy and creativity, but they don’t have a single tangible project or venture yet that they feel they can commit to.  What they need is the time and freedom to explore the possibilities, brainstorm with a community that believes in them, talk to everyone they can, and get practical experience working on cool projects that their friends are doing, without needing to draw a salary.  What they is need some runway… the modern day equivalent of backpacking around Europe or joining the Peace Corps.

Here’s a quote from Kickstarter, one of my favorite platforms for accelerating possibilities:

Kickstarter is focused on creative ideas and ambitious endeavors. We’re a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, athletes, adventurers, illustrators, explorers, curators, promoters, performers, and others to bring their projects, events, and dreams to life.

Wouldn’t it be great if the creative …

The Most Important TV Show in America

Remember Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize Wish?  Well tonight is the prime time season premiere of his Food Revolution show on ABC.  The Huffington Post called Undercover Boss the most subversive show in America, and I can’t disagree.  But in terms of importance to the future of America (and by extension every country which imports American TV and culture), Food Revolution I can’t imagine a more important show.

It’s not just the lives of individuals who eat crap (which is most of the country, frankly, even though they have no idea how toxic what they are eating is).  It’s the happiness and achievement potential of today’s youth.  It’s the emperor with no clothes at the center of the healthcare debate.  And it’s a lynchpin for economic recovery and sustainability.

Watch the premiere, and spread the word……

Help Wanted: Social Capital Uncontractors

Are you struggling to pay for your food/home/whatever, or do you know someone who is?

If you can convince someone you are a superstar, there’s a way out.  But if you are having trouble making that case, then maybe you’d consider becoming a Social Capital Uncontractor.  What’s that, you ask?  I’m not sure, I’m making this up as I write, you can help…

Here’s my life.  I have a large and growing number of projects that I am working on, and an even larger (and more accelerating) number of projects I’d like to begin.  The critical bottlneck for me is not money but time.  It’s getting so bad that I don’t have time to even think about the management of these projects, let alone manage them.  Plus I hate managing projects and it’s definitely not my biggest strength.  I’m much better advising and asking questions that make you think differently.

On the other hand I have many friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. who are underemployed, by …

The Innovation Summit

My new favorite worldchanger is the Spirit of Innovation Awards.  In short, high school students from around the country solve real-world problems and compete for awards and opportunities (like access to venture capital and mentorship).  Here’s an example:

I am working with founder Nancy Conrad on creating a self-sustaining, growing funding mechanism to expand the mission.  Might be an endowment, might be for-profit investment fund, might be an incubator, might be some combination.  We need to talk to people who are veterans of funding innovation (VC, hedge fund and angel investor types), who are as passionate about the mission as we are, to figure it all out.

What the mission doesn’t say, but what I believe, is that this will change the educational landscape permanently and profoundly.  There a a million “ideas” for how to fix the broken system.  The only way change actually will happen is through setting up subversive alternatives that the discontent (that’s you and me) can switch over to …

Troubling Statistics

In his eloquent article, Breaking the Galilean Spell (worth reading in its entirety), Stuart Kauffman has given me the words to finally be able to articulate the uneasiness I feel about statistical reasoning in an increasingly interconnected world:

…[Can] we make probability statements about the evolution of the biosphere? No. Consider flipping a coin 10,000 times. It will come up heads about 5,000 times with a binomial distribution. But, critically, note that we knew beforehand all the possible outcomes, all heads, all tails, all 2 to the 10,000 possibilities. Thus we knew what statisticians call “the sample space” of the process, so could construct a probability measure.

Can we construct a probability measure for the evolution of the biosphere into its Adjacent Possible? No. We do not know the sample space!

I won’t belabor the point except to say that I view the increasing irrelevance and danger of statistical reasoning as the essential argument of The Black Swan, the fundamental reason why the …

The Adjacent Possible

Stuart Kauffman has a concept called the Adjacent Possible which I find incredibly useful in understanding the world.  Simply put, if you think of the space of possibilities from the present moment forward and just concentrate on those that are achievable today — adjacent to the present moment — that’s the Adjacent Possible.

What’s interesting about possibility-space is that tomorrow’s Adjacent Possible depends on the actions and choices we make today; it’s not symmetric and it’s nonlinear.  Certain actions generate more future possibilities than others.  In my experience, those actions tend to be the cooperative ones, ones that produce network effects: financial, social and otherwise.

Due to our evolutionary heritage, having come from a resource-constrained world, we may be predisposed to see the more competitive actions which tend to shrink the Adjacent Possible.  Whether or not this is a bias or an actual state of affairs, much of our thinking is based on scarcity, so we are drawn to actions that become self-limiting.

Here’s …

Overcoming Bias

The title of this post is ironic.  What is science/truth/knowledge if not picking one story over another, in other words, the creation of bias?  Hopefully the bias we create is useful and allows us to predict and create a future that is better (in some agreed upon sense) than the past.

To get to “better” we have to be able to change our minds when we get stuck on locally maximal peaks.  That’s why I love this post on the Rationally Speaking blog called How to Want to Change Your Mind.  The techniques are simple, but profound, and harder to put into practice than they seem.  Here they are in summary:

  • Divorce your belief from your self
  • Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial
  • Visualize being wrong
  • Take the long view
  • Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right
  • If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it

To these, I will add some of my own:

  • Truly Listen – I am

Science 2.0

I liken cognition to a hill-climbing search on the landscape of theories/models/maps that explain/predict reality.  It’s easy to get stuck on peaks of local maximality.  Injecting randomness creates a sort of Boltzmann machine of the mind and increases my chances of finding higher peaks.

But I have to be prepared to be more confused — and question more assumptions than I intended to — because chances are my new random placement on the landscape is initially lower than the local maximum I was on prior.  This part is scary.  People around me don’t understand what I’m saying initially because I necessarily need new words, new language, to describe the new landscape.

And rather than start totally afresh with a new lexicon, I notice it’s more productive (personally and in communication) to overload old terms and let them slowly blend into their new meanings.  We all resist the strain, especially those who did not sign up for the jump through hyperspace.  They use the …

$100,000 Reward: Y Prize

Inspired by the X Prize, Y Combinator’s “Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund” and Kickstarter, I am offering a $100K prize in three parts:

$10K for Crowdsourced X Prizes Platform

  • Allows anyone to offer a cash prize for achieving a goal they want achieved
  • Allows anyone to pledge additional dollars to someone else’s already-offered prize
  • Uses crowdsourcing to vet which goals are worthy of public prize offer and which get top billing
  • Uses crowdsourcing to determine if/when a prize gets awarded
  • Has been used to award at least five prizes of one thousand dollars or more
  • Does not have any pending lawsuits alleging that the platform violates U.S. federal or state laws
  • Has an opinion letter from a U.S. law firm that the system does not violate U.S. federal or state laws

Note that this is different from Kickstarter in that (a) it’s the donors who set the goal not the recipient; (b) Kickstarter does not use crowdsourcing in its vetting …