On Mere Belonging, Tricksters and Jon Cropper’s Ghost: Reflections on the First #DisruptU Chat

“I’m blown away by the numbers who are in similar boat. And it’s all over headlines, disrupting Wall St, uprisings in Middle East, I feel like a fractal… ” ~Jen Silbert

“…we ‘receive…inclinations and sentiments’ from others. What inspires us to act-the tasks, activities, and fields of study that we choose to pursue in the face of difficulty and frustration forms a fundamental part of our self identity…a mere sense of social connectedness, even with unfamiliar others, can cause significant changes in the self, personal interests and motivation.” ~  Walton et al,  Mere Belonging: The Power of Social Connections (PDF)

My apologies for the tardiness of the post. While grappling with a particularly tenacious strain of the flu, I’ve been reviewing last week’s  #DisruptU chat. Under normal circumstances a quick review would yield key insights offered in a succinct blog post. Alas, febrile delirium, a perpetually stuffy head and G-force fatigue have provided intermittent connections between chat themes and the bizarre amalgamation of information I read and review.  Illness combined with some weird Writer’s aphasia (which I fear is my new normal) and my “Hamster Wheel of Life” existence have stymied my progress, despite my intentions. However, I have been thinking about Disrupt Yourself.

On Mere Belonging

First, I’m incredibly grateful for the first#DisruptU chat. I had never moderated a chat before that day and felt rather clumsy in my general inexperience and ineptitude.  I felt a certain level of faith in those involved directly; Trust is a great way to start something new. I was positively overwhelmed by the diversity of people who participated,  the level of authenticity and vulnerability exhibited by participants, and the dynamism of dialogue. The Mere Belonging research describes perfectly the impact of the #DisruptU chat: being connected in an authentic discussion with others has energized me. I re-read the chat eager to learn from the wisdom so generously offered.

@skap5: Disrupting yourself means reconfiguring your personal capabilities to stay relevant before being forced to. #DisruptU

Saul Kaplan‘s initial tweet filled me with a sort of eeyoric dread. Still smarting from my friend’s assessment that I was behind the curve on my own personal transformation, I found myself getting a bit prickly when I read Saul’s post- ranks up there with the “Beware the Ides of March” warning.
Whitney Johnson mentioned that she was surprised at how hard disrupting herself was. “It’s like saying ‘I’m at the end of all my troubles’ Which end?” John Hagel’s #BIF7 presentation reverberated through my brain. Disrupting yourself is not supposed to be a story, complete with a beginning and a definitive end. In an age where change is the only constant, disrupting yourself must be a thread in the long-line narrative. Living a life that is both wide and deep- a life on the edge-requires  that you willingly embrace purposeful disruption. I started to see Saul’s admonishment as a touchstone guiding principle rather than a rebuke for my previous recalcitrance.
Through the course of reading other people’s comments about their own experience disrupting themselves, their fears and lessons learned, I recognized the power of aligning myself with other people who value personal disruption. As Jen Silbert mentioned, disruption is happening all around us. We are all fractals now. Merely belonging to the #DisruptU chat is a powerful tool for navigating the ubiquitous process.
On Tricksters

The trickster is anybody who’s a bit of an outsider. They’re the ones who make change. They’re not thinking about making changes, they’re almost doing it in a selfish way. But because they’re working outside the rules, they change the rules. Everything around them is always new, everything is an opportunity …

[T]hey got to the place where they are because they worked outside the system. They do mischievous things, but they’re extremely disciplined. Because that’s the other thing about tricksters: They’re never lazy. They’re very industrious.

It’s important to honour mischief-making, in a constructive and creative way, because that’s how we effect change. And it’s so important that we figure out our inner mischief maker. That’s the creative part of us. And everybody’s capable of it.

I stumbled upon this remarkable blog post that presented an archetype for those disrupting themselves- the trickster. (Watch Emily Levine’s hysterical TED talk at the end of the post.) As someone who appreciates the role of archetypes in storytelling, I found this impish character to be delightful and compelling. #DisruptU participant Greg Kaple  embodies this archetype. From his initial introduction (“Kaple like maple only sweeter, #bif7 attendee, resident appalachian trouble maker and #disruptu eaves dropper”) to his descriptions of his wild tales of playing harmonica on a street corner. I admire his passion for disruption and his discipline. He provided a perspective for a puckish, deliberate, enthusiastic passion for disruption. Greg, I owe you a huge debt for reminding me how absolutely fun and subversive disruption can be, with the right attitude and a wicked evil grin.
On Jon Cropper’s Ghost
@gkaple The more comfortable you are with who you are the more risk you can take in disrupting without losing yourself
Following #BIF7, I have had a recurring dream where  Jon Cropper is repeatedly asking me: “Who are you?” I can tell you, Cropper is an  intimidating guy- big, intense, incredibly successful. I awaken from these dreams quaking, just as I did when my Grad School Research Design professor would repeatedly ask “What’s your research question?” Cue the Final Jeopardy music.  A strong sense of self is critical for disrupting yourself, but that self-knowledge may sometimes not be so clear or may be changed.
From recognizing your own idiosyncratic signs that disruption is needed, to heeding the signs and navigating an often nebulous path, a strong sense of self is a touchstone. However, the process itself can disrupt your own perceptions of self. Personally, there have been times when I have not recognized my own reflection when doing something remarkably, exuberantly disruptive.
The #DisruptU chat involved a lengthy discussion about authenticity and self-knowledge. Disrupting yourself requires confidence in both your intuition and your voice. However, this process can sometimes leave you with a sort of personal post-concussive experience. Who you are may well change shape. Certain aptitudes, skill sets and  personal traits may not be as evident or accessible. Taking a cue from Greg, I’ve begun to see these changes as neutral and as opportunities to develop new ways of doing and thinking.  As someone who could write a ten-page policy brief in 30 minutes, I have struggled with my Writer’s aphasia. I can feel what I want to say, but there is some weird disconnect between tactile perception and my ability to render a cogent sentence. I’ve also had a very difficult time reading, but now I’m “experiencing” poetry and listening to music. Since the #DisruptU chat, I’m embracing this new way of perceiving. Clearly I needed to develop my kinesthetic capacities, so I’m working with it, albeit in a charmingly clumsy way. This has become a part of my personal #DisruptU process. I’m actually incredibly curious about what I’m learning. I trust myself and my voice and this new aptitude is fascinating to me.
I’ve been mesmerized by this video and would love to hear how Whyte’s assertion that our “vulnerabilities and slight woundedness are our core competency” relates to disrupting yourself.
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Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted

This post is intended as a starting point for the first Disrupt Yourself Twitter chat scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 @8pm. Follow at #DisruptU.   Many thanks to Jen Silbert for her thought-provoking tweet that started it all.  ** Post may be less than cogent due to a particularly tenacious strain of the flu**


“Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we’re actually on now. ” ~David Whyte

“We give a lot of airtime to building disruptive products and services, to buying and/or investing in disruptive companies, and we should. Both are vital engines of economic growth. But, the most overlooked engine of growth is the individual. If you are really looking to move the world forward, begin by innovating on the inside, and disrupt yourself.” ~ Whitney Johnson

In August,  I received an email from an old friend which included this quote from  Poet David Whyte’s essay “Ten Questions That Have No Right To Go Away.” My friend commented that I had been “behind the curve on (your) own transformation. You were on your heels, not on your toes.” My friend admonished me to “blow things up and re-create” myself. Although he was quite kind and supportive, I found myself bristling at his tone. I wasn’t disagreeing with his assessment, but found little utility in retrospective self-flagellation. Furthermore,  detonation of a fragile subsistence hardly sounded generative or actionable. My resistance was short-lived.

That same day, Whitney Johnson posted “Disrupt Yourself” on her Harvard Business Review blog.  I’ve long admired Johnson. How she has succeeded is as admirable as her level of success. She was courageous in her vulnerability and generous with her insights. As importantly, the “Disrupt Yourself” framework reminded me of my inherent stagnation-aversion. I had willingly disrupted myself in the past, so how could I be so risk-averse about doing so at this juncture? In one of those “Cue the cosmic laughter” ironic moments, I recognized that my personal behavior was more congruent with those very organizations I had railed against.  Opportunities for alignment and congruence are a gift.

The brilliance of Johnson’s post lies in the personal application of widely-accepted business innovation concepts. This framework, complete with business research citations, depersonalizes shadows of fear, doubt and unknowing. These factors are assumed to be a given in business, why not for personal transformation? Johnson’s pragmatic discussion about her lessons learned shed light on the very roots of resistance:

  • Be assured that you have no idea what will come next. Because disruptive innovations are in search of a yet-to-be-defined market, we can’t know the opportunity at the outset.  “Dear You. If you ask for pro forma projections about what disrupting yourself will look like, you are wasting your time. Stop it.”
  • Throw out the performance metrics you’ve always relied on. “A disruptive innovation must measure different attributes of performance than those in your current value networks.” “Nearly everyone hits a point in their life where they examine their trajectory and consider a pivot. We typically label this mid-life crisis, but isn’t it more often a re-thinking as to which performance attributes matter?”
  • Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course.  “…firms seeking growth via new markets are 6x more likely to succeed than firms seeking growth by entering established markets, and the revenue opportunity is 20x greater. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? When we start in a place where no one else wants to play, where the scope of the opportunity appears limited, the odds of success actually improve.”  “As you walk away from a future you easily foresee toward a more obscure trajectory, there will be times when you will feel lonely, scared, and even impoverished. But as you face your personal innovator’s dilemma, both the probability and magnitudes of success will improve greatly.”
Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Those are the choices. Begin with a generative framework that depersonalizes the process. From that context, disrupting myself is as exciting as market disruption. What are your thoughts, ideas or questions about disrupting yourself? Let’s make the disruption a little less lonely: Please join the #DisruptU twitter chat on Wednesday at 8pm
Read more about how to disrupt yourself from the ever-insightful Molly Cantrell-Kraig here.
View Whitney Johnson’s BIF7 presentation here
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A (Non) Response from Travis Jackson, Delta Customer Care Coordinator

October 25, 2011    REF #10982720

Dear Ms. Sandra Maxey

RE: Case Number 4683600

Our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Richard Anderson, requests that I were and thank you for your correspondence regarding your previous travel with us on September 19. On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I sincerely apologize that your travel was impacted by a less than satisfactory experience due to customer service issues and luggage concerns.

Mr. Anderson really appreciates receiving your input regarding your professional analysis of our handling of your situation.  I acknowledge that you would like to provide us with the opportunity 1) develop and leverage deep customer insights and 2) to stand by our constitutional principles. Most important, your three clear points of your experience will be instrumental in assisting us to improve our operation and customer service. Many customers share their feedback with us, and these observations oftentimes form the basis for improvements in our service.

As our customer, you are in the best position to point out areas that need attention. I recognize that our agents provided misinformation and displayed rude service while interacting with you. Further, it is understood that some of our technology tools failed during your situation and has lead you to suspect that they are not meant to provide assistance. Also, I acknowledge your feeling that our airline does not demonstrate internal cohesiveness in operational functions.

Surely, our goal is to provide consistent and accurate information to our passengers at all times. I am truly sorry in this instance you did not receive the service you expected and should have received. The apology we offered was most sincere, and I hope someday we will have an opportunity to restore your confidence.

When our service does not meet our customer’s expectations, we feel it is important to acknowledge this and appeal for a degree of understanding. As such, I was pleased to learn our Baggage Services department has offered a gesture of apology in the form of a check for $1663.00 and $92.00 to demonstrate our commitment to customer service. I realize that incentives may not erase the negative impact of your past experiences, but I hope that an immediate recognition of them will symbolize our commitment to a future partnership.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to honor your request for total cost of $14,865.00. However, as an additional gesture of apology, I have issued an Electronic transportation Credit Voucher (eTCV) in the amount of $100.00. Please note the voucher number and associated Terms and Conditions will be arriving in a separate cover. Please keep the voucher number and the Terms and Conditions since the number is required for redemption. It is also important to remind you that there is no direct Ticketing fee for reservations confirmed online at delta.com. I hope this will not have a lasting impact on our business relationship.

Ms. Maxey, you are an integral part of our customer base and we are always interested in your feedback. Thank you for taking the time to write. We deeply value your business and look forward to the pleasure of serving you in the months and years ahead.


Travis Jackson

Coordinator, Corporate Customer Care

Delta Airlines

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Delta Hell Update

Another lovely day in Delta Hell. Spent five hours getting paperwork together for them. Of course, the time and money spent meeting their paperwork demands are filed under the “Cost of Doing Business” with Delta.

10/11/11: Update: Sent letter and supporting documents to Delta CEO Anderson via certified mail. Also sent hard copies of Faxed info to Delta Baggage Claim. My lawyer now has all of this information. On to more generative work.

10/10/11 Update: Faxed to Delta Airlines, Inc the Property Loss Claim Form plus addendum sheet, Ticket receipt and baggage claim receipt. (The original baggage claim check was taken by CLT baggage office on 9/22.  I received this email in response:

Delta File 10946494 (KMM11277187V84661L0KM)

Dear Ms. Maxey,

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience resulting from Delta’s recent mishandling of your baggage. We look forward to working with you to resolve this matter and you can expect to receive a substantive response regarding your settlement within 2-4 weeks. Please note that once a settlement has been approved, checks are sent under separate cover and may require an additional 7-10 business days to receive.

If your bag has not yet been located, it may take slightly longer to complete a thorough search for your baggage.  When sending additional information, documentation, or questions regarding your claim, we kindly ask that you include the case number provided within this correspondence. Again, we apologize for the service failure you have experienced and will attempt to resolve this in a timely manner.

Thank you very much.


Customer Care – Baggage

I wonder if keeping the same reference number would decrease their internal confusion?

Just an aside: Very grateful to the MAHEC Breast Clinic and Dr. Eubanks. My second and conclusive biopsy was negative. “This is one thing you DO NOT have to worry about.” Enough with the trauma drama.

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Dear Mr. Anderson: My Letter to Delta Airlines CEO

Letter sent to Delta Airlines CEO after a horrible, miserable, frustrating experience.  This is all I’m saying about it. 

October 8, 2011

Richard H. Anderson

Chief Executive Officer

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

1030 Delta Boulevard
Atlanta, GA 30320-6001

Dear Mr. Anderson:

I feel compelled to share with you my experience flying with Delta. My deep frustration with Delta since my flight on September 19 has made me hesitant to continue attempting to communicate with your company. However, I have read “Rules for the Road. Delta Inc” and choose to believe this document expresses your company’s values. I would like to provide you with the opportunity to “Develop and leverage deep customer insights” and to stand by Delta’s constitutional principle to “Do not hurt anyone” and to “Try harder than all of your competitors-never give up.” I am writing to you since Delta’s Leadership Team does not appear to include a Customer Relations Executive and your employees could not recommend to me any single person in Delta’s hierarchy who is responsible for customer relations.

You are a businessman with a deep knowledge of both the bottom line and opportunity costs. My bottom line: a $181.30 dollar flight from Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA to Providence, RI has come with extraordinary opportunity costs and the loss of trust in your company.  From the moment I first spoke with your agent at the Delta gate in Charlotte before Flight 1095 departed to my last phone conversation on October 7, my experience has been marked by: 1) Direct misinformation, often marked by incredible rudeness; 2) Technology tools which have frequently failed and appear to serve as a default means to block customer interaction rather than provide information and means to engage; and 3) A company which does not demonstrate (to this customer) internal cohesiveness in operational functions.

Direct misinformation. Prior to boarding, I asked a Delta agent if I could carry my laptop and purse, since I could connect the two and safely put them under the seat (which I did for each leg of my trip). If not, I could quickly repack into two bags. I was told “Yes, as long as they connect, no problem”.  However, when I was boarding, the gate agent pulled me from the line and told me to check my carry-on bag. I related my previous conversation and was told, “They were wrong. You have to check this bag.” I requested the opportunity to quickly repack into two bags and was told, “No. Get on the plane.” I stated there were items in the bag which should not be checked, like my jewelry and external hard drive, which contained a pending client deliverable. The agent responded, “Do you have medicine in here? No?  Then get on the plane.” I reached for my bag, and the agent stopped me and demanded I “get on the plane.” My bag did not make it to Providence, RI. I filed a claim at that time. (Reference number: PVDDL49559)

I understand that Delta took in $952 million in baggage fee revenues, almost double your take in 2009. I also know that Delta’s revenue accounted for 28% of the nearly $3.4 billion brought in by the 20 other airlines. Your accomplishment in diversifying your revenue streams is to be applauded, for Delta’s year-over-year increased baggage revenue has completely dwarfed the combined efforts of United and Continental. You are beating your competitors, but from my experience as a customer, this focus on luggage or “freight” may well be incentivizing the type of behavior I experienced with your gate agent, poor customer service.  As another passenger on Flight 1095 stated to me: “I’m beginning to question whether Delta’s strategy to charge money for checked bags isn’t based on deliberate misinformation. They tell you one thing, only to demand your bag be checked. You are captured and they make more money.”

Technology tool failure. On September 20, at 2 am, I checked the Delta baggage tracking website, which stated my bag had been delivered to my hotel in Providence. I went to the front desk only to find it had not arrived. I waited until 4am and checked the website again. At that point, the website said I could no longer access this information. I attempted to call the 1-800 number. Your company’s phone tree lead to a dead-end since my reference number had been purged from the system. The only means I had of reaching your company was through Twitter? Thus began a dizzying amount of communication with your company over the course of 19 days that has, each time, ended with your employees stating, “You can call the 1-800 number or check the baggage tracking website.”

Technology is to be used as a tool to enhance customer service. Technology should not be used as a default for customer service. Your company has only recently launched the Baggage Tracking website. I understand your intent was to make it easier for customers to track their bag. However, the fact that Delta developed this on-line tool indicates to me that there was an underlying issue in your baggage handling which would require such a tool. Sir, your company’s use of technology as a band-aid for a systemic issue is flawed customer service. You can’t build on what is broken.

Furthermore, your employees’ default to “use the technology” as the only response to my issue indicates an innate organizational impotence to actually assist customers, or “to follow through with clear, consistent consequences” as stated in “Rules for the Road”. No one was able to help me locate my bag. Worse yet, when I (repeatedly) stated that neither the 1-800 number nor the website was meeting my needs and/or functioning, I was instructed to contact two different numbers to report the issues. Your employees should be empowered to do so themselves and not expect a frustrated customer to address internal systemic failures.  To add to my frustration, I submitted the on-line reimbursement form three different times only to receive a “The System is down” message. I have spent innumerable hours attempting to use your technology. When I demanded the name and number of a customer relations executive, I received an email from “Nicholas de Mimsy, Baggage Claim Agent, Customer Care-Baggage” (email is attached). When I called Baggage Claim and asked to speak with this person, I was told there was no one by that name working there. From my perspective, the technology tools have been used to deliberately distance this customer from the company, basically tools for obstruction.

Lack of internal cohesiveness. I have absolutely no idea how your company is structured, but I can say that my experience with your employees, within and between departments, suggests a lack of internal cohesiveness. From my first interaction with @DeltaAssist, the Delta Twitter account, to my last phone call with a Baggage Claim Agent, I never felt confident that a single person in your company could competently assist me. No one has ever told me where my bag is.

Speaking to a new agent within a single department during a different shift would result in my having to relate the details that had transpired to that point. Apparently communication between departments is as fragmented. After a particularly long day of trying to get everyone on the same page, I remarked to one agent that dealing with Delta was like being involved in a slapstick comedy, a “Who is on first” inanity that was completely at my expense. Communication and coordination between departments, based on a single/shared customer file, would have decreased my frustration, and would have made the entire process more efficient and effective. As a customer, I should not have to facilitate your interdepartmental communications. Typically, I get paid to facilitate.

Mr. Anderson, I know your company focuses on corporate customers. I am a nano-corp, a small business owner who aspires to great success. At this juncture, I am building my company, in the midst of great economic pressures. I’m sure you understand. I know Delta is faced with its own economic concerns at this time. The contents of my bag are just things. But they were my things. I worked hard to acquire them. I would have preferred to spend 66 hours building my client base and revenue streams, rather than dealing with your company. I would have preferred to deliver my client report on time, rather than losing a client over a trite excuse. I’ve sustained a major economic blow from flying with Delta. My total costs for flying Delta was $14,865. This includes: the contents of my bag ($2465), the estimated cost of my time spent dealing with your company($9900, based on a total of 66 hours x my $150/hr baseline billing charge) and the loss of revenue from lost client content ($2500).

Your company has “hurt someone.” I’m asking that you adhere to Delta’s Constitutional Principles and “Try harder than your competitors.” Please make this situation right.


Sandra M. Maxey

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Remarks (or some variation thereof-I veered way off the script here) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7″ Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC 

I may sound strident. Actually, it’s impatience. Asheville has high unemployment. Add in both underemployment and those who have given up- the U6 Index-we are in dire need of attention. There is a direct correlation between the U6 Index and food hunger. Asheville is the number 7 metro area for food hunger in the country. We have people in our community who are hungry.

I do not want to sound earnest. I absolutely despise earnestness. I happen to believe that, given Asheville’s assets and our location, we can do better than we are. We are in the middle of the fastest-growing megaregion in the country. We can’t do something with that? We need a different framework for development. We need to connect to each other and to those within our megaregion, and then connect the megaregions in this country. Asheville is part of Appalachian culture, which comes with it’s own historical development baggage. Ron Eller wrote a great book looking at Appalachian development efforts since the 40’s. At the fateful meeting Chris and I attended so long ago, Becky Anderson remarked that Western North Carolina communities were as isolated from each other as they were from the outside world. This region has incredible assets. We need to put the pieces of our region together differently in a way that creates a more generative sense of possibility for our citizens.

I am going to BIF7 because I am dangerously close to becoming a cynic. I subscribe to Ben Zander’s definition of a cynic:

“A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”

My passion for community (and my work to develop communities) has become little more than a dying ember. My complete trust in Deb Mills-Scofield and Eric Marr has made me heed their sound wisdom and guidance. If either one told me to jump from a precipice, I would do so without questioning them.  I was told: “BIF7 will completely change your life and your perspective.  You have to go. This is the most important thing you could do for yourself and your community. You will find people just like you.” Zander advises to not speak to a person’s cynicism, but to “speak to her passion.” BIF7 spoke to my passion, that little dying sense of possibility which has all but been extinguished in the past two years. The thought of going to Providence seems inconceivable, on many levels. But I know I have to go.

Business Innovation Factory is lead by Saul Kaplan, someone who I have watched closely since his days working in Rhode Island economic development.  I have found the organization’s intention and strategies to be compelling. “Our network of innovators, transformation artists and troublemakers are designing the future.” Innovators? Transformation artists? Troublemakers? Designing the future? I’m not certain where I fit in that description, but they sounded like they’d be a helluva a lot of fun to hang out with. The BIF genome is brilliant: Connect. Inspire. Transform. Those three words make my pulse race with possibility. Who couldn’t use a dose of that right now? I know I crave these things.

The BIF7 Storytellers fascinate me. Several have taught me new ways to think and see the world. I wanted the opportunity to thank them and to ask some pointed questions related to my audacious intentions. I have long admired the perspicacity of John Hagel and am certain that his ideas about “Pull” as a cultural force directly relate to regional economic development. Valdis Krebs and Duncan Watts are responsible for my fascination with social network analysis and network development. Whitney Johnson has been a hero. She has recently become a sort of virtual mentor, bestowing on me a level of trust that takes my breath away.  Babson College’s Len Schlesinger was presenting the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab research.

Asset-based community development has been a guiding principle in my own practice.  Community development is not a sexy field. Most people have absolutely no idea what it is. I have come to understand this simple truth: “everything is interrelated and everything is related to community development.” The inflection point where the intersection of ideas and actions really matter is at the community level. Angela Blanchard is an artist in the community development field. Her work at Neighborhood Centers Inc is the most exquisite rendering of community development’s highest vision:  focus on the human, social and cultural strengths of vulnerable populations-“You can’t build on what is broken.”  Personally and professionally, I yearn for her story. I know the little broken places inside me needs to hear her speak. I know my professional passions need to be flamed. I needed to hear what I know will be  an inspirational and transformational story about community.

As an artist in a past life, I read the biographies of the other BIF7 storytellers with interest. I have complete faith in the storyteller artists. I know they will share through images, sounds and words a unique vision of the world and transformation. Those pioneers who are changing the institutions which thwart our progress will show me new ways of thinking about the “how”of systems transformation. I hope to learn a great deal about their thinking processes, and am very curious to see if there are patterns emerging.

In closing, I would like to say that despite my specific plans for BIF7, I am open to what may be the greatest opportunity of the summit. Saul Kaplan speaks of RCUS- the Random Collision of Unusual Suspects. Given the diversity of those attending the Summit, I leave for Providence in four days completely open to the possibility that something wonderful and unanticipated may happen or result from randomly colliding with the ideas and knowledge of other unusual suspects.

Thanks to MojoCoworking for hosting this presentation. Thank you to Jim Smith and Thomas Beckett for their support and organizational skills. Thank you to all who attended and contributed to my attending BIF7

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Remarks (or some variation thereof) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7″ Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC

Let me state for the record: I am intending to purposefully eschew the traditional economic development system.  As an inherently flawed relic of the industrial age, the current system will not save our region. I am speaking of the system and institutions involved. There are many fine and dedicated people who work within these institutions. That does not mean there is not an insidious dynamic that purposefully thwarts new ideas. This Cadre of Malfeasance  is  more interested in jockeying for political position, maintaining their relevance and revenue streams. I have no interest in contributing to their efforts any longer. I’ve been involved with three separate efforts which point to far richer opportunities to harness our region’s greatest underutilized “asset”- our people. The ideas, knowledge, networks, experience of our citizens are being ignored by traditional economic development efforts.

My first regional project in Western North Carolina showed me that this region, as a cultural norm, possesses a remarkable level of community commitment. As I toured the region, giving numerous presentations, I was astounded by the response. Over the course of only four months, I received over 475 emails and phone calls from people wanting to volunteer for the project. These were all unsolicited offers. I knew something remarkable was happening. I doubted the presentation itself caused this response- I daresay, I am hardly the evangelical type.  The reason for this unprecedented response is irrelevant. The economy crashed, my contract was not extended. The project was revamped, renamed. *Cough. Bastardized. Cough* The project scope was narrowed. The time frame extended. Of course, the budget remained intact. I anticipate an estimated economic impact of this effort to be approximately $1.50. This happens frequently, so I wasn’t shocked. However, I was absolutely sickened to hear the current approach would have virtually no active engagement with citizens. Those 475 volunteers were ignored. Social Capital is not a disposable commodity. This is a fundamental guiding principle of my practice. I have too much respect for the people within a community to have such a blatant disregard for their value. To this day, I feel responsible for this situation. Losing a project that I had designed was rough. Hearing how citizens were ignored absolutely pissed me off.

The Asheville Google Fiber Initiative provided me with another glimpse into the depth of community commitment. I was asked to help with the Town Hall meeting. Given my fundamental audacity, I suggested a public process to gather community ideas, which could be submitted with the application. Of course, this notion was insane. No budget. No stakeholder analysis, let alone preparation. Any opportunity to engage citizens, to teach a little about 21st Century economic development and innovation should be seized!

Using a proprietary process I designed to model the dynamics of an innovation economy, the 250 meeting attendees demonstrated what I refer to as “The Art of Community Development.” The interaction between citizens was extraordinary. The ideas generated were remarkable. There was a deep concern for social equity, the environment, education, healthcare. The really important stuff. I knew something about this process had struck a chord with those involved. I had several people approach me, one in tears, to thank me for providing them the opportunity to contribute. One woman stated, “Imagine what we could do if this was the way we always did things in our community. We know this Google Fiber Initiative is ephemeral. But look at these ideas. We don’t need Google Fiber to do these.”

I transcribed all of the ideas, wrote the report, hit send. In some economic developer’s files is a treasure trove of brilliant ideas for our community. I still have a copy. I’m not leveling accusations at the organization involved. Doing the work to develop those ideas is well beyond the mission, scope of practice and capacities of the organization. Frankly, I don’t see any organization within the region that has those capacities.

The third ‘learning opportunity’ was, personally, rather painful. A retired social scientist from a FAMOUS SOCIAL NETWORK wished to bestow his wisdom onto our community in the form of a “social enterprise.” I was asked to lead the community interaction component. Several weeks into the project, I realized his magnamity had little to do with wanting to contribute to the community. Increasing citizen use of the FAMOUS SOCIAL NETWORK’s  advanced search function was not going to transform our regional economy. The entire effort ended badly (actually it ended with my vomiting in an alley-a long and ugly story). However, I learned so much about the community and citizen perception of the possibilities for the region.

When facilitating public meetings, I usually employ a feedback loop called a White Sheet. Yes, a simple sheet of white paper. I ask people to take notes, ask questions, provide responses. In this case, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Every person involved admitted to being uncertain about the social scientist’s intent. One went so far as to call him “cagey”. Trust is a fundamental necessity in any successful community development endeavor. People did not trust this man, despite his star power. I  contacted each attendee. I was stunned by the precisely articulated demand for actionable efforts. “We have to find a new way forward. No more meetings that go nowhere. No more initiatives or projects. No more people coming into our community telling us what we need.” Wow!

Let me be clear. We already have what we need in this community- committed, engaged citizens eager to contribute their gifts: their ideas, their networks, their experience. The missing link is the white space opportunity. We need a system to harness that inherently entrepreneurial energy.

How do we build this? Please note, the question was not if we should do this. I have many ideas. Actually, I have the beginnings of a plan- a sketch, a study, a first rendering. A priority must be to focus on increasing the metabolic rate of ideas throughout our region. We also need a rapid means to prototype, experiment, fail, learn and adapt all of these components. We need to demand of ourselves a level of civic innovation commensurate with what is expected in the private sector.

What is required? I will just sketch this out for you, briefly.

  • A shared understanding of 21st Century economies and economic development
  • Skill sets for 21st Century civic engagement
  • Regional entrepreneurial networks
  • A new system for entrepreneurial development
  • The 21st Century civic infrastructure at the intersection of living and virtual networks

Please understand one thing: I intend to making this a reality. I don’t claim to know precisely how this will unfold. I don’t have all of the answers. I know for certain I am missing certain components. I am driven by this ignorance.  I am intensely curious and am possessed of an irrational level of perseverance. Attending the Business Innovation Factory Summit is an important first step. I have no idea how I know this to be true.  But I’m trusting myself on this decision. I’m seeing an odd confluence of disparate ideas and opportunities slowly coming together, just beyond my fingertips. However, a narrow, yet deep, chasm is in my way. I’m expecting, in some way, for BIF7 to help me to bridge that chasm.

Next: Part III: What is BIF7

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Why I am going to the Business Innovation Factory Summit. Part I: An Introduction of Sorts

Remarks (or some variation thereof) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7” Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC

I work in community economic development. Several years ago I was working in Prince Edward Island, Canada, facilitating innumerable community public processes and keynoting a conference on the rural creative economy. In the midst of a hurricane. Over a meal with community members, I commented that the past, present and future were colliding in remarkable ways. A young leader from a native tribe responded to my comment, “In our tribal lore, those moments where the past, present and future happen at the same time are certain to portend the future.” Today, September 15, is one of those days where my past, present and future are colliding.

First, I would like to introduce my dear friend, kindred spirit and sister subversive, Chris Krauss, visiting from my home state of Maine. I first spoke with Chris in the middle of September 1998 when we shared our ideas for regional entrepreneur development. Our first face-to-face meeting had an ironic Asheville connection. We both attended a presentation by Western North Carolina’s Becky Anderson whose powerful storytelling captivated our imaginations and introduced us to the renowned HandMade in America and the power of place-based community economic development.  That meeting began a friendship that has taken us from innumerable regional convenings, the Maine Governor’s Cabinet, graduate school, Washington, DC to where we are today in Asheville.

Today also marks the first anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Saul Collins was a humble and hardworking man. He lived his entire life in a  mountain town in rural Maine. He was, first and foremost, committed to family and community. The line between the two was often nebulous. He and my grandmother had their lives deeply woven into the fabric of the community, the dynamics of which absolutely fascinated me from a young age, and probably explains my passion for community today. When I would laud their efforts, my grandfather, ever humble, would say (with his thick Maine accent) , “Deah, I’m just trying to do good work.”

I smiled when I saw how I was described in the announcement for this presentation. “Economic development expert and public intellectual”. First, in this day and age of dynamic change, anyone who would describe themself as an expert in anything is bullshitting you.  While being called a public intellectual” is an honor,  I’m not really certain what that means or if it matters. As the granddaughter of a humble Maine man (who was never impressed by titles or labels), I’m  just trying to do good work.

Also, two years ago today, my entire life exploded. The kind of spectacular detonation that left me alone, disoriented and shaking in a corner. Mute and wide-eyed with terror.  In the aftermath of such cataclysmic devastation, first thing is first- assess the piles of debris for anything salvageable. For me, that meant looking at the assumptions that were the foundation of my former life.  To keep things relevant to our discussion, I will  focus on my work.

One of the guiding principles of my practice in community economic development had been “You control the trajectory of the rocket by being in the control room.” I had spent years influencing the trajectory of the rocket- writing white papers for federal and state policy makers and agencies, writing and presenting policy briefs for anyone and everyone. Designing regional development projects. Participating in political campaigns. Consulting for national and regional non-profit organizations. All in the role of a community-level advocate- what does this effort really mean to people within the community?  A voice from the ground who could converse with anyone at any level, and influence the trajectory of the rocket. My little period of “creative destruction” (I’m an optimistic pragmatist) has taught me one thing.  At this particular time in history, my approach was  misguided and about as helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In fact, I was complicit in the processes which have created this mess.

What do I mean by this? About that rocket- ah, it’s a dud.  I mean that the systems and institutions which are the foundation for our lives are the very ones which have created the detritus of our current existence. These relics also thwart the very dynamics required for our revitalization- innovation. The institutions functioning within these  systems are void of the leadership, vision, fiscal and human capital capacity to transform themselves.  Our leaders can’t decide what the real issues are, let alone figure out actionable initiatives to address them in any semblance of a timely manner. This abject misguided and anachronistic approach to development is being applied globally, nationally, regionally and locally, in perhaps the only example of “Trickle Down” theories actually working, albeit in a stunningly negative way. From this point forward, I refuse to contribute to this mindless incrementalism. In the words of my grandfather, “You can’t push a string”.

What does any of this have to do with why I am attending BIF7? Bif7 is all about the future. I am looking to transform my approach to my life’s work. I am also seeking others who value my perspective, who honor what I am trying to do. Kindred spirits, partners in crime, fellow subversives and those curious enough to explore alternatives with the same driving urgency I feel. I am seeking new ideas for building communities and regional economies. I need to connect with other intelligent, passionate, curious people who are committed to making the world better.

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Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects is a basic premise of innovation.  Ideas. Fields of knowledge. Images. Words. Narratives. People. Places. SM2 explores these points of impact- my renderings of empirical insights and generative dialogues of potentialities. SM2 is my compendium of compelling ideas and fascinating people.

Everything is interrelated. Building a better future requires many things: vulnerability, authenticity, generativity, actionability, audacity, imagination, creativity and connectivity. Connectivity is critical. All of these things occur at the intersection of living and virtual networks, communities.  Community is a fascinating word. So many meanings, encompassing geographical location and interests. SM2 is Action Curation, the 21st Century version of Action Research. Action Curation means, within communities,  participating, observing and curating, all at once. Often defying the time-space continuum, this is a rather audacious assertion. I actually made up the term. I like phrases that speak of “impossible” tasks, yet captivate my imagination and give me something big to aim for.

SM2 is a dynamic unfolding. I begin with no preconceived notion of where these posts will go.  I begin with the basic element- pure, unadulterated Me. The foundation of SM2 is really a bizarre amalgamation of interests, immense curiosity, a voracious appetite for knowledge, odd creativity, profound unreasonableness, pragmatic optimism, petulant impatience and divine urgency.  I am excited to begin something new and look forward to learning as I go. Welcome.