16 November 2008

Sustainability Camp '08

I spent the day today at Sustainability Camp '08, an unconference held in Toronto, Ontario that enables deep and meaningful discussions and the collaborative sharing of practical ideas about sustainable community building in a creative economy. It certainly was a well-spent day, providing me the opportunity to engage with many interesting people and ideas. Even more important, it was an inspiring day, hearing about some of the fantastic initiatives that challenge conventional thinking about organizing, creating businesses, and approaching environmental issues.

I had the good fortune to lead a session early in the day, enabling me to share up-to-the-minute thinking about my Valence Theory research. Many of the ideas I presented are still in in the very formative stage of having just emerged from the empirical data, and I appreciate the opportunity to try them out on such a diverse and thoughtful group of people. The notes for my talk are here, and include some brand new thinking about the -ba and fungible- forms of the five valence relationships. I would love to hear your responses and reflections on what I presented.

Tom Williams of GiveMeaning.com provided the keynote for SusCamp. He provided a great framing for one of the elusive valence forms, namely Economic-ba, referring to his concept of "Return on Generosity": how people feel the effects of their contribution, no matter how small that contribution might be in absolute terms. A person could, for example, be the "$5 philanthropist" (an expression of Identity-ba), and through what Tom calls "the power of plenty," the pooling of small contributions can have enormous effect (as we saw in the Obama campaign). Tom profiles some of the current public discourse that pits the Economy against Environmental concerns, and astutely asks why an artificial construct, the collectively constructed fiction called The Economy should trump the reality of the place in which we live and that sustains us, that is, The Environment. I would explain this as Economic valence connections tying to fungible-Identity and fungible-Socio-Psychological valences in a status oriented culture such as ours. (If this is entirely Greek to you, download my talk notes.) I think that being able to understand the human dynamics that inform this sort of question may provide some clues to discovering how to resolve the challenges of this sort of framing.

Tom rhetorically asks, why choose the environmental movement as opposed to any other issue to rally around? His answer is that the environment affects so many people in so many ways that it has the power to bring people together for collective action. But we have seen the same sort of galvanizing effect with the Barack Obama presidential campaign. (When I mentioned this during the conversation, Tom pointed out that the presidential campaign was still relatively close, with only 52% of the electorate choosing Obama. What I didn't have the opportunity to say in the public session is that the 52% only reflects US politics; from the perspective of galvanization to common cause, Obama support worldwide was four times that of McCain, according to a BBC Poll). In the emergent Support-Obama valence organization, I would suggest strong Economic-ba, Identity-ba, and Socio-Psychological-ba which is similar to environmentalism, and potentially similar to any other arbitrary issue. But the laws of complexity mean that this dynamic cannot necessarily occur without having the "right" strange attractor (i.e., the issue), coupled with the "right" critical mass of people - enough people asking the same questions at the same time (without necessarily requiring the same answers for all).

More on the SusCamp '08 in subsequent posts.

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