There are many reasons we are what we’ve become. But, our mission as leaders at i4j is to change us now and bring forward ‘an innovation economy where people work with the people they like for the benefit of the people they do not know, providing for the people they love.’ In essence, we are tasked with making The New American Dream, a reality.
George Minardos is one of my spectacular colleagues at i4j. George is deeply committed to developing ways that people can engage in meaningful work. George and I are both also deeply involved in blockchain businesses and care passionately about how blockchain can help people earn a better living in more satisfying ways.
Blockchain is one of those rare technologies that has the potential to have the greatest impact on a people-centred economy. In fact, I feel that we are at one of those times in technological, economic and social history where the sky isn’t the limit, nor the moon. We have the chance to reach for the stars.
In light of the importance of blockchain to the summit agenda, George and I ran a workshop about how blockchain can help people earn a better living in more satisfying ways. It is always a treat to attend the i4j workshops but the depth and breadth of leaders and participants makes choosing from among the workshop options difficult. This year, I got lucky; recruiting for our workshop became a whole lot easier when, suddenly appearing at our table, like Gandalf the Wizard, was Vint Cerf.
“The internet is a reflection of our society and that mirror is going to be reflecting what we see. If we do not like what we see in that mirror the problem is not to fix the mirror, we have to fix society.” ―Vint Cerf―
For those who don’t know, Vint Cerf is widely recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet, sharing this title with TCP/IP co-inventor Bob Kahn. He is the mastermind of interplanetary communications and much, much more. A wizard? Yes, absolutely. But even more importantly, Vint represents the best of humanity. He embodies the informal friendliness and lack of hierarchy that the i4j leadership forum strives for. He’s the richness in i4j that represents each and every one of my i4j colleagues sitting around the table trying to figure out how to make this world a better place.
Vint started questioning our table by using an example of a book that was right in front of him. ‘I have this book that I bought’. ‘I want to say that it’s mine (assuming all prior validity of chain of ownership and within the context of a private permissioned blockchain). How do I do that? How do I get the purchase transaction ‘into’ the blockchain. This simple question set the ball rolling and there we were sitting side by side, George, me and a rich variety of 10 others with a hero of the entire tech world figuring out how something like a chain of blocks can make the ‘human economy’ flourish.
The book was a good place to start. Although we assumed a general level of knowledge around the table, I do use the book example to help people understand what a blockchain is. A blockchain is like a book. Blocks in the chain are like pages in a book. The book is really just a chain of pages. Each page of the book contains a story (text in the book) and information about itself. For example, on each page there is usually the title of the book and sometimes the chapter number or title. At the bottom is usually the page number which tells you where you are in the book. Similarly in a blockchain block, each block has two things: a) the contents of the block and b) a ‘header’ which contains the data about the block. This is usually technical information about the block like a reference to the previous block and a fingerprint (hash) of the data contained in this block, among other things. The hash is important for ordering, just like page numbers in a book.
Vint’s next questions focused on what happens when you change a blockchain mid-flight. What happens when a private chain is at risk because someone rented a load of CPU and took over the chain? Does Google’s new Quantum chip pose a threat to the integrity of a private-permissioned chain? What about data distribution? What about the perceived problem of timestamps and internal consistency?
All these questions highlighted both the very solution that blockchain solves as well as the unfulfilled standards that require a multi stakeholder governance model to set. Moreover, these questions represented Vint’s hopes and worries; his hopes for the internet to remain open and for it to continue facilitating ongoing ‘permissionless innovation’. His questions also betrayed his worry, namely that the complexity of blockchains can present weird foozles with unpredictable effects.
Vint brought us to a point where we collectively acknowledged the necessity for a multi stakeholder model to establish governance of a private permissioned chain. Presently, there are no standards specifying who is, or should be writing to these private permissioned blockchains. We need a group to inform, establish and create standards. This is something that the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium is doing and this is precisely the problem we’re solving in the legal industry.
Our conversations will certainly continue at i4j, and the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium. It will be of prime importance next week on Oct. 30 and 31 at the MIT Legal Forum on AI & Blockchain, which is co-organized by Integra Ledger and the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium.
Vint is the most generous of spirits in the tech world that I’ve never met. I didn’t need to reinforce his conclusion about the importance of protocols and policy. He is co-creator of the most popular network protocol in the world – the TCP/IP protocol suite. He’s also the one who served as chairman of the board of ICANN from 2000 to 2007. In 1999, he was a member of the ICANN Board of Directors. Vint knows better than anyone on this celestial ball how important it is to establish protocols and administer policy around those protocols.
As I reflect on the workshop, I felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins asking Gandalf – ‘Can I help you?’ and Gandalf responding in kind, ‘That remains to be seen’ but Vint’s words were ‘show your work’. In true generosity of spirit, he helped everyone around the table to understand that showing your work involves starting with a super-simple example of a book and following it all the way to the end.
What happened at that workshop will forever remain with me. The co-father of the internet reminded us to live up to the standards that he set. The standards of excellence, integrity and the utmost commitment to simply being able to explain what on earth you’re doing and why it matters.
I’m inspired, awed, humbled and hoping that Vint and all my i4j friends might be a bit less sceptical toward blockchain after all.
Last week I attended the ‘Innovation for Jobs’ (i4j) Leadership Forum in Washington DC where I had the privilege of hacking unemployment with sixty other thought leaders. It was Tuesday morning that I arrived at Google’s office where our task of disrupting unemployment spread out against the dawning day like a patient anaesthetized upon a table.
Admittedly, we live in a worried world. Financial instability, overconsumption, pollution, energy demands, growing inequality and unemployment… all created by humans and all solvable. But we are locked into a culture of short-term thinking, a quick fix, a fast buck. And most grand ideological projects disappear into a thousand points of contention because experts are firmly tied to existing power structures.
Congressman Bill Foster likened jobs on Wall Street to rural communities that found themselves in crumbling economies two generations ago. He reinforced that artificial intelligence is taking over routine analytics on Wall Street as well as document review in the legal profession because document research is now completely automated.
Employment is changing. Definitions are changing. So are business models. It is unclear what means exist for genuine reform. But can we find smarter ways and make discoveries for a brighter future? That was the objective for the day.
How can we make the ‘human economy’ flourish? There is no magic solution. It is a big deal and coming at us faster than anything. And in the center of it all we need to think about what it means to be human and what our goals are.
In the shadow of Capitol Hill, the White House and all that it currently represents, I started to understand that what we have become is the price that we paid to get what we used to want, as Mignon McLaughlin so succinctly prophesied.
David Nordfors co-founder and co-chair (together with Vint Cerf) of i4j talked about the possibility of a solution by re-framing the problem. He notes that currently, we ask “what is the most efficient way I can spend money”. But perhaps we can also earn money by asking a different question – “how much value can this person create for others”? “What would happen if we started a business where I serve other people by maximizing their value for others”?
“Why not create a matching engine to determine how much value someone in the world is willing to pay for the combination of efficient spending and maximizing value for others?” Here Nordfors suggests that such companies would actually grow the economy and they would earn by helping people to earn. And the service they would offer would satisfy the need for earning a living – and a job becomes a service and the labour market becomes a service market, which has an enormous growth potential because it is a value-serve. And he suggests that we call this a human to human economy.
What is the metric? A human to human win.
Pete Hartigan calls the current digital transformation opportunity “Impact 500”. An Impact500 company is a company whose business is more profitable than the incumbent Fortune500 design (i.e. better unit cost economics, risk management together with embedded network effects). This is achieved by helping communities in a transparent and accountable way and being accountable with the product design itself.
Hartigan has been working on his thesis since 2010 (his first validation with SOFI, a “digital Wells Fargo” grew from $0 market value to more than $3 billion in market value in 5 years). Pete worked with SOFI pre-incorporation, then joined its initial operating team for several years, becoming SOFI’s Chief Community Officer. He is now a board observer and continues to work with a handful of companies to further validate the Impact500 company thesis and its design in the areas of #fintech, #healthtech and #govtech.
For i4j, Hartigan suggests that the possibility for labour innovation is to consider designing a ‘social currency that systemically tracks and rewards community value, along with economic value’. He believes that helping the community and making money are both important but states that once businesses become abstracted from their community responsibility, their role shifts to merely maximizing shareholder profit. Over time, this model strains common sense and leads to over exploitation.
As humanity hits the reset button on business and business reform emerges, the magic formula is to build companies that are more profitable because they help the community, the “Impact500”.
We need more of Nordfors’ and Hartigan’s consistent far-sighted action and extended thinking or else we are in danger of losing our sense of optimism.
Kurt Lewin, recognized as the founder of social psychology understood change well. His early model of change described it as a three-stage process. The first stage he called “unfreezing”. It involved overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing “mind-set”. In the second stage the change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition. We are aware that the old ways are being challenged but we do not have a clear picture as to what we are replacing them with yet. The third and final stage he called “freezing”. In the final stage the new mindset crystallizes and one’s comfort level returns to previous levels
It was Lewin who wisely said: “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it”. Although we are a long way from a new mindset, we are on the path. Let’s try to understand unemployment. Let’s try to change it.
Thank you David, Thank you Pete. Thank you i4J. You are beginning to change the world; Vint – you already have!
I entitled my very first Blog post in February 2015. It represents an ongoing quest, namely, Growing More Human. Over the weekend I continued that quest in Italy at H-Farm’s Kinnernet Venice hosted by Yossi Vardi, Maurizio Rossi, and Riccardo Donadon. The very ‘H’ in the name ‘H-Farm’ holds primacy and represents ‘Human’; it emphasizes the human dimension that is fundamental to both H-Farm’s mission and to the Kinnernet ethos.
I underwent a virtual body swap and felt what it would be like to inhabit a man’s body (thanks to Eliram Haklai).
I unleashed my creativity and painted a
virtual picture with tree-dimensional brush strokes, stars, light, snow, fire, and rainbows using the Tilt Brush by Google. I experienced motion sickness after spending too much time using my Avatar to chase Jarret Goetz through Virtual Venice in full 3D mode and flew for the first time in the geo-mapped Metaverse (thanks to Qbit Technologies).
I also explored Venice in real life. I used it as the setting for an adventure to discover original tales and solve enigmas in a game scenario (thanks to the company WhaiWhai). It would be remiss of me not to mention that I also ran on Venice’s pavestones at midnight trying to find a secret spot to sip the world’s best Bellini under starlight and enjoy the exhilarating view on the canal of the Santa Maria dell Salute church with cherished friends.
This is Venice – a great city of historical artistic and intellectual creativity and achievement. The historical Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia is a successful example of a city republic using self-governance regime, a symbol of wise government and freedom. A place that played a crucial innovative role in world financial developments, devising the main instruments and practices of banking and the emergence of new forms of social and economic organization (see “The Ascent of Money”).
In this place and in its historical shadow, Robert Wolcott eloquently reminded us that “for all of human history in all times and in all places, we have lived in contexts of scarcity and opacity” (an excellent and more comprehensive detail of Robert’s perspective is available in his KIN Global 2016 conclusion here). As a species, we have had an inability to consider beyond the near in both time and space. But as external forces and phenomena loom large over us, he stirs us to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on our sensitivities and our vital and expressive energies and our inner will to power.
As we change and as our world changes, we seek to answer persisting and new questions: what will remain unique to being human? Why do we exist? What does it mean to be human? Is anything uniquely human? Do these questions even matter? Might we even change what it means to be human?
In Venice, we explored the boundaries of who we are as a species. We were reminded to be mindful that we’re entering new territory with an inevitable new political ordering.
Kinnernet Venice was a call to action. It was a call to share insights, knowledge and practices of how people and organizations are leveraging conversations at Kinnernet and to take the real and practical steps, examples of which are outlined in the book Maker City, co-authored by Peter Hirshberg, to: build community, create economic opportunity, revitalize manufacturing and supply chains, reshape education and workforce development and redefine civic engagement. In summary, we are called to what John Clippinger refers to as a sense of personal agency and the principle of personal authorship in fostering a desirable future.
During my adventures running around Venice, I kept seeing posters throughout the city advertising this year’s Biennale Architettura. The posters feature the image of a lady on a ladder gazing into the horizon. This image provided much fodder for funny and insightful commentary by Peter Hirshberg and Brian Collins during a session on Maker Cities that I thoroughly enjoyed. I still laugh just thinking about Peter and Brian’s sentiments on the ‘potentialities’ and ‘great disappointments’ represented in this ‘monochromatic scheme’ but it gave us a playful platform to think about the image’s deeper meaning and to, even if ironically, inspire us to climb up onto the highest steps to gaze over a far broader horizon, and by doing so to conquer an expanded eye.
As we endeavour to grow more human may there be a dawning of the ultimate that emerges from what is already present within the penultimate. May the human person be preserved, protected, and directed toward future foresight by focusing on the abilities present within the current order. And may technology enable us to grow more human.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
*Featured Image by Guido van Nispen
I spent last weekend at this year’s Kinnernet Europe un-conference together with 150 invited guests from around the world in the lovely town of Avallon, France. Co-hosted by Yossi Vardi and Marc Goldberg, Kinnernet Europe self-identifies as a wild, out of the box, irreverent, bottom-up innovative, creative and cultural ‘un-conference’ that enables people to meet, share their vision and invent desirable futures.
Kinnernet Europe is a weekend where we play, think, question, make new friends, cherish old ones and actively practice kindness. It is a time where we reinforce each other’s successes and embrace and accept each other’s failures.
To call it a research agenda for fostering desirable futures doesn’t capture its playful spirit but it does help to contextualize what is actually happening. We explore and discuss what is desirable today and how to preserve and promote it in the future.
The Kinnernet vision reflects widely held values — freedom from want and from fear, a desire for higher quality lifestyles, a more equitable world, and a concern for innovation. These goals are closely coupled.
The future is as of yet unwritten. Rather than simply “happening”, the human future depends on individual and collective choices and actions.
Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who spent her life studying what makes societies change, summed up her findings in a quote that became famous:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
She had learned that the most important changes are not handed down because powerful politicians or business executives had a bright idea. It is the little groups, clear in purpose and supporting each member, that really make things happen.
Kinnernet recognizes the importance of enhancing and supporting the human capacity for change. Since human development is co-created, the complete answer to “who we are” does not lay solely in our genes or brains or in the labels that we are given. Rather we continue to develop our identities through our relationships with others. It is the forming and development of ongoing, vital relationships that support and shape us and that make Kinnernet what it is.
Kinnernet understands that through relationships we explore our worlds and become aware of the possibilities of our lives. We learn to attach shared meanings to our emotions and experiences, figure out what is and is not considered important, and test our emerging ideas by seeing how others respond.
Bit by bit, we develop motivation and direction as our daily experiments receive positive and gratifying responses. Relationships shape us – not in a coercive way, but as mutually engaged participants exploring the world together. We learn to trust, to give and take, and ultimately to empathize and “feel with” others. These things cannot be taught in a lecture or a lesson; they can only be experienced over time, in the company of caring guides.
The exhilaration of pioneering a socially and technologically enhanced way of life becomes a powerful attracting force in its own right, a self-fulfilling prophecy able to draw the present to itself.
Because we care, then Kinnernet.
This blog is about Growing More Human. It started in Africa and will remain centred on Africa, where rests the cradle of humankind. However, the call to grow more human reaches beyond. For it is in this place and it is in every place that we must always affirm and bestow dignity upon others, and hence my blog will start to grow more inclusive and reach beyond Africa.
However, I am happy to report that I will return to Malawi in September. I will join the London-based development photographer, Adam Dickens, to write and blog while he takes pictures. Adam is the talent and the heart behind “Taking Pictures, Changing Lives”. Together we will visit The Book Bus projects in Mangochi (their patron is Quentin Blake, the illustrator). Then we will travel to Mzuzu and Usisya to visit the work of Temwa.
Malawi is the poorest Country in the world. It is one of the world’s worst hit by HIV-Aids and home to more than one million children orphaned by the disease. Malawi is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment, corruption and the impact of HIV-Aids, which claims the lives of tens of thousands every year. When I use my heart to see this reality rightly; it grieves.
In light of this, I am reminded of something my mother taught me – that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms this, but it was my mother who first taught it to me, long before I’d ever heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Mom” – the very word evokes a respect beyond words. My Mom is an example that living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us. And that contempt for the false self gives vent to hostility, which manifests itself as a general irritability – an irritation at the same faults in others that we hate in ourselves. Accepting the reality of ourselves, means accepting our authentic self. As a young girl, I would deeply plead to my Mom that I just wanted “to be really good at something”. She never ever permitted me to wallow in that spot of self-pity. Rather, she strictly encouraged me not to worry so much about it and just focus on “being you”. Only in retrospect do I recognize her wisdom.
My mom is an ordinary woman by most people’s standards. She never wrote a book, appeared on television, or gathered a reputation for innovation. She eats, sleeps, cuts the grass, makes dinner, manages her businesses and she is my mother. Hers is the story of an ordinary woman whose soul is devoted and enraptured with being a mother (and now grandmother to my niece and nephew).
It is my mom who teaches me that the ordinary self is the extraordinary self – the inconspicuous someone who shivers in the cold of the winter, who rises to make a pot of coffee each new day, who sits before a slice of honeyed toast, drives to town, rummages around in the basement, shops in the grocery store, pulls weeds, picks up sticks, rakes up the leaves and watches the dreary rain out the window.
Where the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, my Mom’s true self claims identity in her belovedness. She has a deep faith and encounters God in the ordinariness of her life; not in the search for spiritual heights and extraordinary mystical experiences but in her simple presence in life.
My mom teaches me that the energy expended in the imposter’s exhausting pursuit of illusory happiness is better available to be focused on the things that really matter – love and friendship. She taught and continues to teach me that the ‘still, small voice’ is what I need to hear. I know what my Mom really believes because I don’t just listen to what she says, I watch what she does.
In recent decades both psychology and religion have laid strong emphasis on being over doing. Mom balances the two with beauty. My Mom’s life leaves no room for romanticized idealism or sloppy sentimentality. In many ways, she lives a life that has nothing to do with how she feels and has everything to do with what she does. She is not seduced by a false standard of human greatness. When I need advice, I just look at her. When I want to learn how to serve rather than rule, I look to her.
The lives of those fully engaged in the human struggle are riddled with bullet holes. Mom’s own demonstrates that those who wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from failure, shipwreck, and heartbreak will never know what love is. Above any other woman, it is my mother who commands my greatest respect. Beyond all my stories is always my mother’s story, for hers is where mine begins. No gift to my mother can ever equal her gift to me, my very life. She doesn’t teach me how to grow more human, she shows me.
Because of my mother, I recognize that inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. And in every ordinary way, I strive to follow her extra-ordinary example.
Happy Mother’s Day to my extraordinary Mom.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine De Saint-Exupery
*Featured Illustration by Éric Puybaret
He is tall, thin and thinly dressed with a bushy beard. I first saw him through the glare of my windshield. His face was gaunt. He looked dirty. He stood tall but alone in the frigid dark night of a cold Canadian winter. He was homeless.
I first saw this distant stranger walking in traffic passing me and other drivers sitting in their cars waiting for the red light to turn green before making a left turn.
I figured that my maximum exposure to this man would be the average length of a red light. So, for approximately the next 120 seconds I figured that I could wait patiently and ignore him. Although the time would move slowly, I would soon drive away – comfy and cozy in my car.
Unlike in Africa, Canadian homeless people don’t even try to sell you something. They just beg. Honestly – how unambitious! Why can’t they just TRY to give you something in return? At least I’d buy a travel pack of Kleenex or a pack of gum… something, anything.
In most of the rest of the world, the ‘ambitious’ homeless strangers actually try to sell you something. But in Toronto? They just stand there… staring at you, waiting for a free handout.
I didn’t want to make eye contact. My strategy was to look straight-ahead at the brake lights in front of me. But there was something different about this stranger. He wasn’t lying on the sidewalk looking up from a distressed sleeping bag. He was standing in the freezing cold, bearing the brunt of a very dark and windy night. That captivated me because I could hardly believe it. And then before I knew it, our eyes met.
There was something in those eyes that pulled me closer. Maybe his shining loneliness resonated with my own. I rolled the window down and the chill of the night grabbed me as I placed a five-dollar bill in his hand and planted a smile in his heart. Then, I rolled the window back up.
I had about 60 seconds left before I expected the light to turn. My friend returned. He motioned for me to roll my window down again. Reluctantly, I acquiesced. He didn’t want to ask for anything else. He wanted to give me something. It wasn’t a travel pack of Kleenex and it wasn’t a pack of gum, it was a joke about a blonde girl and the thrill of sharing a warm-hearted laugh and a moment of love after a long day.
So, why was the blonde girl sitting on the roof?
Someone told her drinks were on the house.
Thank you to my friend. Thank you for sharing your humor with me. Thank you for reminding me that our human mission is to relieve the loneliness of others.
If you see a homeless stranger, stop. Give them a dollar. Ask if they have a joke for you. Ask them about their story, about how they brave the cold, or how they get through the day. Move from distant stranger to friend. Wait for them to show you what they can give to you… maybe it’s a joke and maybe you’ll laugh.
It didn’t take long before the light turned green. I turned left and drove along my journey lifted up, but wishing that the red light lasted a little longer.