Reading

I highly recommend Joshua Cooper Ramo’s The Age of the Unthinkable.

“Little in the current discussion of our shared problems suggests the radical rethinking our world requires. There is now hope and even the first hints of substantial changes in policy, but the basic architecture of ideas and theories necessary to back up such difficult work remains profoundly underdeveloped. No debate about terrorism, global warming, destructive weapons, economic chaos, or other threats can make sense without a grand strategy, though this is the thing most obviously missing today. Instead, the most likely course for our future is the most dangerous: minor adjustments to current policies, incremental changes to institutions that are already collapsing, and an inevitable and frustrating expansion of failure. And this will happen fast. Among the things our leaders seem to be missing is a comprehension of the staggering speed at which these change epidemics occur; one bank fails, then fifty; one country develops an atom bomb, a dozen try to follow; one computer or one child comes down with a virus, and the speed of its spread is incomprehensible. … This book is the story of a new way of thinking. It is one that takes complexity and unpredictability as its first consideration and produces, as a result, a different and useful way of seeing our world. It explains why unthinkable disasters are blossoming all around us and — as important — what we can do about them.” (Page 10)

The author is a journalist and strategist. Read it and tell me what you think. I am now beginning to read it again with colleagues as an exercise in thinking.

George Lakoff: Health,Life, and Freedom are Moral Issues.

Lakoff begins this short essay with …

“It is time for Democrats to talk about health in those terms, beyond just policy terms like health insurance reform, bending the cost curve, types of exchanges, etc.”

He is right, but I propose that it is not nearly enough for Democrats to do that. The whole country needs to begin to do that.

It is past time for us to begin to recognize that slanderous opinions, spin, slanting our reports and interpretations, and outright lying about fundamental questions in human life harm all of us.

We are well on the way to becoming a nation of lobbyists – a nation of people with no respect for the truth, life, freedom, or … health.

George Lakoff: Health Means Life; Health Means Freedom.

A horrific mistake in governance parading as partisan politics

Go back almost a century, to the time when the modern corporation was created, and you’ll find laws that prohibit or limit the use of corporate money in elections. And yet this week, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the limits that Congress passed in 2002 in this tradition in the case Citizens United v. FEC.

Read here: The misguided theories behind Citizens United v. FEC. – By David Kairys – Slate Magazine.

A thoughtful attack on brand- and experience-based design

Re-Thinking Interaction Design | design mind.

From Frogdesign.

“If there is a future for designers and marketers in big business, it
lies not in brand, nor in “UX,” nor in any colorful way of framing
total control over a consumer, such as “brand equity,” “brand loyalty,”
the “end to end customer journey,” or “experience ownership”. It lies
instead in encouraging behavioral change and explicitly shaping culture
in a positive and lasting way.”

Misled by Technology: Compumorphics

David Brooks in the NY Times writes about the tenor of public impatience with public institutions. “Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.”

Our modern tendency to understand human beings as analogues of computers, which I have begun to call “compumorphizing, gives this kind of result.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The God That Fails – NYTimes.com.

Stephanie Frost Documents Closing Her Account With Bank Of America, Switching To Community Bank (VIDEO)

As Ms. Frost looks forward to 2010, one of her new Year’s resolutions is to “stop doing business with companies that I feel are taking advantage of me, don’t appreciate my business, treat me poorly as a customer… The first place I’m starting is with my bank.”

Stephanie Frost Documents Closing Her Account With Bank Of America, Switching To Community Bank (VIDEO).

Here is something YOU can do about the financial mess: Move Your Money

Arianna Huffington has proposed something simple and practical and effective that you and I – and everyone – can do about the financial mess in America, right now.
For all those who are asking what can WE do about this financial mess, this is fabulous. Read the whole posting. Watch the video. Follow the instructions. Email to everyone.

From Arianna Huffington: Move Your Money: A New Year’s Resolution.

Selections from the post:

“Last week, over a pre-Christmas dinner, the two of us, along with political strategist Alexis McGill, filmmaker/author Eugene Jarecki, and Nick Penniman of the HuffPost Investigative Fund, began talking about the huge, growing chasm between the fortunes of Wall Street banks and Main Street banks, and started discussing what concrete steps individuals could take to help create a better financial system. Before long, the conversation turned practical, and with some help from friends in the world of bank analysis, a video and website were produced devoted to a simple idea: Move Your Money.

“The big banks on Wall Street, propped up by taxpayer money and government guarantees, have had a record year, making record profits while returning to the highly leveraged activities that brought our economy to the brink of disaster. In a slap in the face to taxpayers, they have also cut back on the money they are lending, even though the need to get credit flowing again was one of the main points used in selling the public the bank bailout. But since April, the Big Four banks — JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo — all of which took billions in taxpayer money, have cut lending to businesses by $100 billion.

“The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it’s meant to be. It’s neither Left nor Right — it’s populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It’s time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don’t have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks — and unlike the big banks they don’t provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion.

“Think of the message it will send to Wall Street — and to the White House. That we have had enough of the high-flying, no-limits-casino banking culture that continues to dominate Wall Street and Capitol Hill. That we won’t wait on Washington to act, because we know that Washington has, in fact, been a part of the problem from the start. We simply can’t count on Congress to fix things.

“….”

How health lobbyists influenced reform bill – chicagotribune.com

The Huffington Post headlined this story: Gift-Wrapped for Lobbyists: How the Health Care Lobby Swarmed Congress and Got What It Wanted. At Least 278 Former Congressional Aides Lobbied On Health Care, Over $600 Million Spent… Health Industry Stocks Hit 52-Week Highs Last Week… Arianna: Lobbyists Should Be Time’s Persons Of The Year.

Hope for a Healthcare Agreement

Deal on health bill is reached.

This link has the President speaking historically about a battle with the healthcare industry over a patient’s bill of rights stretching over decades.

I pray that the extension of care to uncovered citizens that he believes will be now provided, and that this fight is now over. For decades the insurance industry (and other parts of the healthcare industry) have spent astonishing amounts of their customers’ money to aim an army of marketers in the guise of lobbyists at the telling of tall tales, lies, and murderous interpretations about that industry’s behavior to those who we elected to govern the nation. About the nature of the army that has been fighting against healthcare for all of our citizens, the President is right, but I think that the fight is by no means over, and that his words will end up more fuel for partisan fires.

The biggest part of the problem lies with us. I guess that holding the healthcare industry accountable, while a paramount issue, is by no means the crux of the issue of our ‘best of times/worst of times’ healthcare system.

The core of the fight, I think, is over what kinds of human beings we think we are, and what we are going to be concerned with, and right now far too many of us are afraid of the wrong things, ambitious for the wrong things, willing to commit ourselves to care for the wrong things.

When our people was a baby, and in the hands of people named Jefferson and Adams, here is what they said about what we were up to:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. ….”

“We are incompetent for communication,” my friend Fernando Flores said in a speech in the early 1980s. The we is you and I, and the citizens of this country, and one of the areas in which we are presently harvesting the benefits of that incompetence is in our healthcare.

The disappearance of Flight 188. – By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

The pilots “forgot” that they were flying the airplane!

I saw that this had happened a short while ago. William Saletan has asked good questions about what happened here.

This inevitability was anticipated by an early joke of the computer era, about the world’s first fully automated flight, in which a the computer-generated recording announced, more or less, “Welcome to the world’s first computer-managed flight. You will enjoy a new world of comfort, conveniences, speed and safety on this flight. … Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong…can go wrong…can go wrong.”

The joke got the danger wrong. The problem is not malfunctioning computers. Nor is the problem malfunctioning people. People “malfunction” as an essential feature of our existential design, and our machines malfunction because we, imperfect and blind to our functioning, are their designers. On the other hand, our “malfunctioning” is the ground in which our freedoms are born, including what we call free will. Without malfunctioning, we have no invention, no new possibilities.

The danger is that the kind of beings we are is being redesigned by the tools and the world we have invented, and we are not observing what is happening.

This is an example of why I spoke so strongly against the metaphoric background that Jill Bolte Taylor spoke from in her poetic and inspiring TED Talk. When we are in the business of inventing what it is to be human and human futures, we should take care about what we are inventing.

Following the line of another joke, we should be careful that we do not end up where we are headed.

Tell me what you think.

Best,

Chauncey

Changes and New Directions. I’m back!

If you have followed me in this blog you will have noticed that over the last year I have been somewhere else! I and my colleagues dove deeply into our commitment to grow CareCyte.

In June/July of this year, after two years of continuous effort, Shirah and I, and my partners in the company, decided to stop investing in CareCyte. The company was not moving. We have not closed the company; we are continuing in conversations with possible customers. Our website is still active; we continue to think that the company represents a historic opportunity, and we look forward to bringing it forward at some moment in the future, but the timing is off and we don’t have the millions that would be required to alter the readiness of the country and the industry for this innovation.

To all who supported us in this effort, I extend my heartfelt thanks. The challenge of reforming healthcare is unmet and will become more and more difficult as time goes on and it is not addressed. For now, however, it will no longer be at the center of my attention.

I am returning to consulting and constructing another business that fits with the consulting. Stanley Stein, Chris Majer, and I are forging a new offer to customers who need capital to grow their businesses but are having trouble finding it through traditional sources. The new company, PNW Financial Services, will be the subject of forthcoming postings. I will tell you here when we complete an initial website for the company. For those who talk to me directly, my new email address there is cbell@pnwfs.com.

A brief diagnosis of what happened with CareCyte is that we were stopped by paralysis in the healthcare industry combined with structural weaknesses in our own plans. It was obvious in 2008 that there would be a significant challenge in raising money for the company. However, we received almost universal approval for the ideas involved. We thought that the desperate trouble in the healthcare industry, combined with the big commitment of Barack Obama to address the healthcare disaster in the US, would combine to give the company a place to stand given its vast potential impact on healthcare costs and care quality. Obama declared that the ‘…only real danger to the economy is the rising cost of healthcare,’ and he is right. Spending on healthcare in the US is approaching 20% of GDP, at the same time that we will soon will have the largest aging population ever encountered in the country. It seemed a good bet that our offerings, with their systemic effect on the industry, would attract customers and broad support. No such luck, even with good support from the Washington State Congressional Delegation.

I plan to say more about the situation with healthcare in the country as well, in later postings.

I’m glad to be back.

Fernando Flores Offering Workshop in San Francisco

Gloria Flores tells me that Fernando will be leading a three day session in San Francisco on January 27 – 29th, 2010, where participants will explore new ways of learning critical new skills for the 21st century — in particular, learning to work more effectively with others in “pluralistic networks.” During this session, besides engaging in group discussions led by Fernando, participants will participate in various exercises using virtual role-playing game technology to become more aware about how they learn and how they can become more effective in engaging with others. For more information, see www.pluralisticnetworks.com. Fernando and his colleagues are also doing a 4 month virtual leadership and teams program that begins in February. Their website has information on that program as well.

Darwin on Poetry and Music

From my friend Margaret McIntyre comes this cautionary song:

Letter by Charles Darwin, late in his life, to a friend:

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure…But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry;…My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts…and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter & in a Selected Series of his Published Letters, Edited by Francis Darwin. London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd.1892, p. 51.

Toyota Taking the Lead

For a decade or so I have been saying terrible things about our automobile companies, and for a couple of years I have been saying them here. (Bullshitting in the Economist is a suitably provocative example. You can search the blog for automobile, Toyota, or Detroit and you’ll get a bunch more.)

Now Toyota is about to pass GM as the #1 auto company in the world. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are not catching up. They are headed in the other direction. Yes, I know the same old excuses are still on the table, to which now we see added “this unexpected economic turnaround.” “Who could possibly have predicted….?” Anyone who was paying attention. Many are culpable. The auto executives, who stopped thinking and learning a long time ago. The media, who have been buying the excuses. The rest of us, who have not spoken out early enough or strongly enough. Our American style of bravado, in which, Rocky style, we praise what is “ours” no matter how obviously troubled it may be.

Business Week, in a December article about the world’s most influential companies, doesn’t spend much space on their automobiles. They tout the way that the quality of thinking in the company is being applied to other fields. Healthcare in this case. (Anne Miller gave me the article.)

Toyota deserves the praise it is getting. What a pity that with 50 years to listen to them – and they have been talking to us for that long, and they have not been hiding their secrets under baskets – we still don’t know how to listen to them.

Argh.