Category Archives: The Greater Good

Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough

The Google Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or search engine optimization.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded (Google) on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities. (see end: Wa-Po source)

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998.  Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle were the result.

“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” (Project Oxygen report)

“Project Aristotle, a study released by Google (spring 2017), further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams.” Findings: “…the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Google people are masters at collecting and analyzing data and translating it into meaningful information. We’re so used to command and control, being shoved in a box, fear of failure…all disengaging and counter-productive…that it’s no surprise the top impact on team effectiveness was  psychological safety: “…a group culture that Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (NYT source)

Project Aristotle has significant intersects with mainstream engagement theory. So all this is nothing new, no big secret. But how do you “do” psychological safety? Another way of saying it: what helps people feel comfortable with fully engaging? These Universal Engagers are a few proven “hows”.

We’ve known it for some time, but are so painfully slow to embrace the obvious. Unless you’re totally on your own or are work-at-home you’d best be good with people and be well adjusted socially and emotionally.  Google stumbled across the keys to organizations, effective teams and people leadership. The keys are standard practice non-secrets. What IS incredible is that a tech giant had this voluntary epiphany that soft stuff is at least as critical as tech skills!

Google is a tech giant, so Project Aristotle’s findings are likely to be relevant to the tech industry overall. Still, Education continues its obsession with filling the STEM hard skills pipeline. There’s still little attention given to social-emotional development, interpersonal skills, stuff for whole-life survival. Education needs to catch up in a hurry, and it wouldn’t hurt to partner with its customers in fully defining needs and meeting them. Our productivity and global competitiveness is at stake, as is quality of life and, even more importantly, our physical and emotional well-being, our love of being happy with our lives.

It’s A Man’s World (NOT!) Silicon Valley has been under fire for a grossly uneven gender playing field and recently, both covert and more subtle gender-based harassment and discrimination (search for “silicon valley good old boy culture” and look around). Remedy: a booster shot of decency in the form of social-emotional development…equal inclusion, understanding, respect, acceptance, dignity for all.

The Google Epiphany alone shouldn’t trigger a mad rush into a significant direction shift in education. But Project Aristotle isn’t the first or the only study to indicate the significance of soft stuff. From the Wa-Po article: Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers …which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization…

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

We cannot dump STEM entirely because we need 21st century technical skills to compete. But we can do better at balancing hard and soft. When should young people as potential employees be trained on specific, necessary hard skills? Each company / situation / position has unique needs and skills, and Education cannot possibly hit so many targets. Why not focus on prepping students to succeed in life in general, to cope with what they will face emotionally and on the job, to be able to adapt and quickly pick up on the specific skills they will need to be a high contributor…but only after the skill gaps are more clearly understood. Hire for the intangibles: potential, the right attitude, soft stuff mastery.

What’s at Stake, Really? From Social Science Fiction

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity.

Envision a company using its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community. Consider the impact on social issues if employees feel a sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, an island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence of their lives.

That community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool. A forward-thinking company that champions the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over. Now, what if shared values were embraced throughout the community? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost isolated company impact. Conclusion: a broad collaboration to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Epiphany: capitalism’s Job One isn’t economic prosperity, competitive advantage or global market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. People-first is a high-return endeavor that assures sustainable social-economic success and personal well-being.


What S-E material should be used, and who will lead the charge? Good questions! There’s already an overabundance of material, but spotty half-hearted efforts. I’m concerned with what I’ve seen of social-emotional learning in education, and I’m also concerned with how a revitalized initiative would be handled. This is not a condemnation of education, just observations of the current state:

  •  Academia is not capable of real-time responsiveness to market needs for S-E or any other subject matter;
  •  No polite way to say it: educators can be a closed and protective group. As a result academia tends to suffer from inbred thinking, country clubbing, not-invented-here;
  •  Lack of funding is a huge constraint: no staff, no resources to give the necessary level of attention to soft stuff. Academic demands are stifling—educators’ hands are tied;
  •  S-E is more than a dinner garnish, it must be recognized as a main course;
  • Real-world practitioners are best suited to design and co-deliver real-world subjects. Even though the help should be warmly welcomed, Education would likely not embrace outsider meddling and would likely push back.

Education isn’t market or needs-driven, is slow to respond demanding validation, research, papered educator / expert design, academic rigor. How to sneak the Trojan Horse past the guards at the gate?

Resolution? We’ve missed the real-world skills target. Kids need much more in the social-emotional development a.k.a soft skills department. Employers have a vested interest, and we’d be improving the chances of kids having a much more fulfilling life. Proposed: don’t call it social-emotional development. Work around the associated baggage and NVA connotations by providing real-world prep skills. As such, it only makes sense for the future employers to step up to the plate and pull their weight.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Our STEM obsession is counter-productive and is potentially detrimental to young people who are herded into STEM education and careers regardless of their talents, passions and interests. We can do so much better for them, for ourselves, for the world.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.” (from the Wa-Po article)


The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students   Washington Post December 2017, by Valerie Strauss

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team  by Charles Duhigg Feb. 25, 2016

In Search of Lost Mojo: The Series   (lots of embedded links)



(this article is a high-level summary of an in-process pdf that is (will be!) linked here: Loops . Please take a look when it’s available and comment. Download the pdf if you’d like but if you share it please leave the  contact information intact so people can connect to discuss)

I’ve always been process-focused, a product of an environment in various private sector roles. Focus morphed over the past several years into education and whole-person human development. It was a natural progression to dive into systems thinking, especially causal chains, process interrelationships, reinforcing loops.

Senge took us on a loops deep dive in The Fifth Discipline, exploring all kinds of different archetypes. I was given a copy shortly after its release, and loved it. Systems purists and academics really glammed on to the whole “systems thinking” thing and the resulting gobble dee gook is, in my opinion, a huge roadblock to furthering systems awareness and everyday application.

Loops are closed causal chains: a sequence of events where one thing leads to another, “closed” because the chain eventually links back into itself. Per chaos theory, if you look out far enough any loop is closed. Closed loops are self-perpetuating, or reinforcing: they tighten and gain strength on their own. There are good loops, sometimes called virtuous circles, and there are bad loops-vicious cycles. Bad loops can be straightened out with awareness and action. Good loops can be leveraged and are usually a whole lot more fun!

My big take-away was, simplified here for mortals like me, loops. Add a few key points to go along with those loops. There’s a lot that needs to be learned and accomplished.

  1. People Needs—social-emotional development, well-being etc—rule the roost, validated by decades of study and data on engagement and impacts on academic and workplace performance data. Can’t optimize “doing things” results without first meeting people needs;
  2. Human development, personal satisfaction and maximizing performance are interrelated in one big, lifelong reinforcing loop;
  3. We’ve thrown a monkey wrench into things starting with the way we raise and educate our children, through our adult working lives. Self-imposed authoritarian systems and potential- limiting practices have drastically suboptimized our ability (our right!) to be all we can be.

Big deal, right? Yes it is. We’re causing our own mental and emotional challenges up to and including increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, suicides even among middle school children. Declining social health and spikes in significant social problems: opioid addiction, violent crime including mass murders, and intense rudeness and insensitivity…terminal redneck behavior. It’s fair to say our social fabric is tattered and torn, locally and globally. Emotional well-being, physical health and economic effects of these problems are profound.

Fall 2017 Impacts Profundity Update

We’ve been on a roll. Nationalism, race supremacy…random and planned lone wolf attacks. Most aren’t terrorists on jihad. ISIS is not the only group radicalizing, recruiting, hating. Newtown still wipes me out. And the Vegas slaughter was a whopper. Where do these people come from? Are there no warning signs? Neighbors and relatives said the shooter and his girlfriend were quiet, normal, stuck to themselves. So…why? My opinion: it comes down to chronic disconnection, self-imposed solitude. We’re social creatures and we must reunite with our tribe, badly. But that’s just part of it…..

Late addition, fall 2017: the huge spike in allegations of sexual harassment (see “Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass”)

Is the species simply dumbing down? From Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

It’s not just poor education or inadequate preparation for the workplace or not becoming an acceptable member of society. Go back to #2 and #3. We’ve become skilled saboteurs of the loop of development > satisfaction > performance that would potentially ensure we realize our potential.

One major monkey wrench: compulsory education and command and control work environment–authoritarian practices, precision amputation of children’s and adults’ ability to think creatively, to freely explore the world around them, to develop and fully utilize their human capabilities. (see School and Work–One Big Prison System.) We’re posing a substantial threat to our selves and doing irreparable harm, making these issues high priority to address. It’s tough to see the subtle relationships behind these issues without a systems thinking view.

A Loopy Vision: make a positive impact on the greater good, improving social well-being through values-based and environmental interventions in all sectors of the general population: home, school, work, community. (1) Build a broad base of grassroots awareness, support and involvement to ensure  across-the-board, all stakeholder engagement. (2) Study, understand and leverage shared motivators, perceptions, attitudes and values that originate with basic human nature. And, (3) realize and leverage the existence of loops to formulate a systemic action plan.

This is nothing but incoherent babbling without first envisioning a systems and loops perspective.

The Greater Good Loop: closed loops connect me and others and connect employers, communities and society. If we are aware of the loops, we can consciously leverage them.

Do you buy into the notion that the Private Self and the Work Self are distinctly separate people? Sorry, it doesn’t even make sense. We’re not two people, we can’t somehow magically switch between them. We’re at work for the lion’s share of our adult lives, so it stands to reason that personal norms and belief systems are impacted by the work environment. And workplace influence does not exist just at work; it carries over to personal, home, social environments. To isolate them is to push any conflict under the surface, but only temporarily. What would really help things is if employers understood the systems relationships and took an interest in making sure there was no opportunity for conflict within its people.

Our work life helps shape our personal lives. A community’s social well-being certainly impacts the workplace, the sustainability of organizations that exist within a community. And a company’s success and results are driven by its internal culture, which is the collective influence of the individuals who work there. These are all two-way streets. Work, society and me: one big reinforcing loop. It may be a virtuous circle, may be a vicious cycle. One leads to prosperity, the other to failure.

Organizational Loops: People Generate Profit (gasp!)

It’s human nature to search for a connection, to belong to something bigger than “me”. An employer is very probably the most influential force in peoples’ lives, just because of the amount of time we spend at work. Organizations and their leaders are capable of exerting significant influence not just on employees, but on the surrounding community through their employees.

Consider the potential of an organization with a strong values base and principles-centered, ethical leadership that helps people feel a sense of purpose, belonging and stability, people with something to care about. Think about the impact on social issues when employees have a strong sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, a values-anchored island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence around them.

Oh, the bottom line…a company with a winning sustainability strategy has values and principles-based organizational expectations for leaders and followers alike, and sets its sights on being a normalizing force in the community. Doing so beefs up the local talent pool, and the existing workforce is highly engaged. There is an encyclopedia full of studies that validate the direct relationship between level of engagement and performance.

Teaser: it should go without saying: community activism builds a strong democratic society. Later.

What About “Me” Loops?

My work environment and society both continuously shape me, that’s easy to buy. But the thought that it’s a two-way street is a bit tougher to embrace. You’re telling me my company and even society is impacted by me? Only when I mess up really bad! Truth: balanced, personally aligned individuals impact both the workplace and society. A culture and its norms are depend on people with strong values who, by intent or accidentally, impact others. So collectively, we enable culture to survive and thrive. DANGER: this could instead be a toxic culture. Both are self-sustaining, reinforcing loops.

Individual community members are the foundation of society, therefore culture. As the workplace influences people, employers have a direct and significant influence on community social well-being. Employer impact potential is much broader than an individual’s, impacting an entire region’s or even country’s ethical foundation, economic stability, way of life, quality of life. The collective influence of people undeniably shapes company culture. So no matter how insignificant an individual’s impact may seem, the reality is more than a bit humbling:

My values and integrity have direct influence on society’s norms!

There are three levels of proven payback from social-emotional well-being:

  1. Individuals: less stress and longer, healthier lives with greater personal satisfaction;
  2. Social problems: well-being in general is an amazing antidote and it’s preventive vs reactive;
  3. Companies and the economy overall: a highly engaged workforce is more productive. Oh, and that physical health thing…have you seen the cost impacts of health issues lately?

At least one of these are wildly important things for most of us. They should all be, because of the  Me > Community > Employer loop, but it goes deeper. A closer look…

Social Impact: the Greater Good

The main traditional socializing institutions where norms are established and reinforced—church, education, family—have all lost impact on influencing people. Social development and norming are not good to leave to natural evolution, but there is a huge void in the socializing process.

People need a sense of community, of belonging to something larger than they are. The workplace has a chance to reach people on a regular basis and people will gladly embrace what the workplace offers. But it’s the reciprocating nature of influence within our personal and our employer’s virtuous circle that is the scary proposition:  how can we as individuals and even a large, powerful company, expect to influence society? The real question:

How much are individuals and companies willing to commit to impacting society?

The potential is limitless but there are both risks and rewards. No company can survive long-term without a vibrant community. No community can exist without solid norms. Communities with staying power eventually become the building blocks of culture. Communities, even entire cultures, without a solid base are destined to crumble and fall. I take that back…what risks? A sure bet?

The workplace influences me, I influence my workplace and environment. The workplace and individual both impact social well-being. We need to better understand the interdependencies, whether we have earned calling them virtuous circles or reinforcing loops. Key components: engagement and well-being; satisfaction and contribution, (maybe explored later in greater depth in TWO: Loops and the Greater Good.)

Living Large With This “Un” Thing

(July 24 REVISION NOTE) Maggie blogs about unschooling from a practitioner’s perspective and more at Process. She and I have batted definitions and concepts around online, in both public and private conversations. I’m a newcomer. She has become my go-to practitioner and sounding board, so I asked Maggie to reflect on an almost-final draft of this article. The result: a synthesis of her reactions, and my re-reflections on her input. Whose is whose? A lesson. Must be “ours”. This is all Maggie’s fault…thanks, Maggie. I mean that, seriously.

Defining “It”…A Snipe Hunt?

Deming said we must operationally define something before we can truly understand it. Same meaning for everyone every time. So, what the heck IS “radical unschooling”? Is it a subset of alternative education? Some form of extreme homeschooling? I’ve learned that saying stuff like that is likely to put a radical unschooling practitioner on the offensive right off the bat, simply by expecting them to clarify and define what “it” is. Doing so is evidently so…. un Un. Maybe you need to really live “it” to really understand “it”?

The philosophical counter is “the question isn’t ‘what IS it? The answer is what it ISN’T”. OK…do we even need a definition? This is a whopper of a dilemma: terms drive perception, perception drives acceptance, acceptance leads to action which triggers change. To which my friend Maggie observed: “Terms are innocent little beings. Conditioning about the terms drives perception.”

One of Maggie’s recent posts was a quote from Beverley Paine, a practitioner in Australia, used with permission: “Radical unschoolers take the principles of unschooling and apply it holistically across all areas of life, not just to the ‘education’ of their children. It’s not simply living without school and the whole school paradigm of education, and it’s way more than living without ‘boundaries’ and ‘rules’ – it’s living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions.”

My first response:  Nice! So it IS a social-cultural evolution (revolution?), and it is truly a radical one. Can you imagine a “traditional” business going Un? Politicians “living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions”?? An un-society?! Maybe the holdup with broad acceptance is how do you “do it?” (dammit, there I am needing a roadmap again…) Waiting for the instruction manual, a cookie cutter recipe. But then, you don’t “do Un” do you?

Maggie’s reply: In the early days, I’d say, “Instead of rules, we have principles.” It starts with raising babies with responsiveness (instead of reacting to the baby) and compassion (instead of “training”). The longer you do it, the more you realize that if everyone in society did this, government would transform or not be needed at all. Enter voluntaryism, (a mindset not an action) that mindful living with respect that softens the harsh stereotype that follows misunderstood anarchy around!

There is no cookie cutter recipe, dear society, you know why?? Because it requires going within, deschooling internally and accepting one’s own self healing from patriarchy, and then spiraling out as the gifts we give to the world. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. But, as individuals not matching cookies.

Seems the RU community struggles with definitions too, although many just say “defining it is so un-Un!” Maggie has been “…trying to evolve towards new terminology.” One descriptive phrase is “whole life evolution without school.” And another: “…unschooling is really unconditioning (breaking away, deprogramming) from the authoritarian paradigm…to apply it to all of life for me and for (son) Sean, I am choosing the term evolution. For now. That’s the thing about RU, the process IS continuously evolving. The mold cannot be static.”

I’m well aware I am in full-tilt-boogie unconditioning (deprogramming?) mode, and that my personal evolution is bound to continue. Evolution…maybe that’s what this is all about?

When a practitioner talks about why unschooling works…the “principles” if you will, it always strikes me. These are a mirror of principles of effective leadership, building strong relationships, creating a society that’s vibrant and alive. There’s a whole lot more than “radical unschooling” here.

What attributes and knowledge might hasten humanity’s collective evolution? These are pertinent areas where I feel we need a whole lot more understanding. Add yours, please!

  • Exploring the human condition, understanding human behavior on both the “me” and “us” level: what makes me who I am, what makes us who we are? Where do I want to go on my journey, how we can take the journey as a tribe? Because humans are naturally social creatures, and it’s a lot more fun when you’re in good company too!
  • “Diversity” on Steroids. Inclusion, individuality, valuing differences….each person is a sovereign individual with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…do we really buy into those words? If so, why is the notion of following our intrinsic motivators, of identifying and exploring our own unique path so objectionable?
  • The social sciences, as opposed to stuff-in-a-beeker science only;
  • Understanding how humans really learn and promoting the right methods and learning conditions that allow each individual to grow and thrive rather than being so intent on restricting our natural state and stuffing ourselves into standard compartments;
  • Civil discourse. Advocacy helps to get your point of view recognized…but how much? Senge, Bohm and others have explored the roles of inquiry and advocacy in meaningful dialog. Without getting too conceptual, fact is we’re lousy conversationalists and even worse at effective group decision-making. And isn’t that what makes democracy and society go around? Passive, aggressive, or assertive: which is ideal? In middle school, it’s taught that door #3 is the grand prize. But the school environment produces passive kids and is teeming with aggressive teachers. Physician heal thyself)
  • Re-awakening, re-connecting, becoming fully aware individually and collectively;
  • Civics, government (used to be “social studies”)…what it means to be an informed, involved citizen in a democratic society. Learning how awake and aware people can and must work within the system to change the world. Know the ropes, make a difference.

Sidebar: it says above that “people can and must work within the system to change the world”. To which Maggie replied “But I’m working outside of the system right now, and making a difference!” I think what I’m thinking is driven by impatience to see something of substance take hold and move mountains. Individual practitioners are fiercely independent, as they should be. It takes personal commitment and action, no cookie cutters allowed! But is there such a thing as influencing others’ evolutionary process, of influencing society? If so, would it be more feasible working from within?

We’re sadly ignoring the above crucial learnings for the most part, swimming upstream against our human nature. And it’s sapping our strength. That cluster of esoterica enables explorers to fully embrace the three R’s with a purpose. Why not go with the flow, let the game come to us? Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic must take a back seat. We’ll more completely master the three R’s only if and when it serves our purpose to do so. Otherwise it’s non value-adding noise, and force-feeding begets stress, burnout, failure. This is really tough for traditionals to come to terms with; it flies against the winds of authoritarian education, relationships, society.

Un doesn’t just apply to kids and unschooling. What are the impacts of un un behavior (read that carefully) on the workplace, government, society? Un-un leads to stress, burnout, failure, dysfunctional relationships, and toxic, me-first competitive and confrontational environments. Sounds familiar?

We need a serious dose of unadulting.

Sidebar Two: the term “the three r’s” is obsolete as all get-out, and I’m dating myself. Traditional education’s methods and curriculum are obsolete too. We may as well still be doing the three r’s.

Back to Defining The Big “It”

  • “It” is basic stuff—leadership attributes, engagement and motivation theory;
  • “It” is science and research-based: brain research, learning theory, music therapy;
  • “It” is spiritual–mindfulness, flow, yoga, meditation;
  • “It” is personal–social-emotional development / emotional intelligence.

“It” is a virus, we’re all carriers. “It” is leveraging what we know about all that stuff to illuminate the path toward sustainable fulfillment, first for ourselves then for our kids and anyone around us. “It” is sharing firsthand accounts of how Un has truly made a difference in our lives, “it” is drinking up our human nature, because it tastes amazing. “It” is helping others to more fully understand because we need them. Individuals can accomplish things, but only when we reach critical mass will we enable the continuing evolution of human consciousness on a grand scale. Just my opinion!

I’ve been soap-boxing this over and over forever, because I truly believe it’s a species survival issue. We have a desperate need to reconnect with our self-worth and our humanity, with our Self, with others, with the world around us. Once connections start growing, the healing begins and the good spreads. Crossover kicks in once the Self is well-connected. Like a brain’s pathways healing after a stroke, other connections come so much easier. It’s natural, it’s the way we’re wired.

Big Bucks Questions….

So you can’t “do” radical unschooling without first changing your Self and your little corner of the world. Makes sense. But, how can you further the cause with others? How can you help fence-sitters and non-believers see the light and, better yet, engage? Go back to the para after the bullets.

Why stop at “unschooling”? Un is a state of mind and a way of life–a movement. It may sounds a little crazy, but let your latent creative Self connect with that grand notion and envision what it would be like to step up to the all-you-can-un, no time limit buffet. You may not want to leave.

It Starts With Me. I’ll take one big honkin’ plate…just one at a time.

Part One connects rising youth suicides and the workplace skills gap, here.

Talkin’ Loud Sayin’ Nuttin’

What a field day for the heat, thousands of people in the streets.

Singin’ songs and carryin’ signs, mostly sayin’ hooray for our side.

(Buffalo Springfield, 1969)

The traditional activist role is experiencing growing pains. We’re not just on campus shouting slogans and waving signs, we’re deeply involved in actual change…at least trying to get involved. Therein lies the rub for many of us, especially when it comes to social media.

  • I know I can make a difference, but how and where the heck do I start?
  • These kids won’t let me play—they’re so much smarter…and better…than me.
  • I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…so I’ll leave it up to you. (Lee)

I’ve said all those, a lot. And a whole lot of other wannabe’s feel the same. We are needed. It takes numbers to make a difference so any cause must attract a critical mass of do-er activists. More activists buy in more fully when there is a clear opportunity to channel their good intentions and energy. It’s human nature, and classic engagement theory: I know that what I’m doing matters, I’m making a difference. I’m earning my way.

With social media specifically, stuff is in the way of regular people getting engaged at a meaningful level. Here are a few examples of barriers, please add to or refute these observations

(first, before I forget again…thanks to The Godfatha for the post title and really righteous song)

The real barriers to social media-based activism are not in the stuff that activists are trying to accomplish but in the human interactions and organizational issues encountered along the way. We can be our own worst enemy. I’m a student of organizational effectiveness, from a group dynamics / human behavior angle. Not a credentialed expert, just studied and lived it. There’s a lot of research and lots of data that indicates if you don’t tend to people issues—navigate the human complexities and needs—you won’t even come close to maximizing task effectiveness and results. It’s the same obsession with process over people in the work world. Task-first applies to social media groups too.

Git-r-done, git-r-done.

But what are we doing?

Dunno… git-r-done, git-r-done.

Social media is addictive, both an upper and a downer. There’s great food for thought for anything you want to learn more about, but it can be maddening trying to find a clear path toward resolution. All that deep thinking has you hooked and it’s impossible to find a way out. It’s the nature of the medium more than anything. Information–sharing and do-er groups can both be extremely high-traffic, so much so that excellent input is lost in the shuffle. Serious attention deficits are common as the group’s focus moves on to the next hot topic mid-conversation.

Social media has brought together an overabundance of conceptuals, inventers, deep thinkers–a whole lot more than builders and grunt labor. Broadly, there are two types of social media activist groups: (1) information and idea-sharing sites, usually heavily populated with intellectually engaged people who are not overly committed to action-oriented involvement. Highly educated experts can be incredibly possessive of their brain babies. Then there are (2) doing groups which is where serious activists congregate, bringing their strong emotions and passionate commitment. Alpha members may be more common than in information-sharing sites. In a nutshell, that means do-er groups, with exceptions, can get really nutty and prone to power struggles.

It’s rare for thinking and doing to come together on one site. Please share if you’ve found exceptions. While it’s a real rush cruising at 50,000 feet most activists need to touch down now and then and stretch their legs. Information-sharing groups just aren’t geared up to promote action planning and manage the related human issues. Even with a proliferation of contributors’ profound revelations, there’s rarely a clear path to action. But that’s the nature of the media to a large extent.

It’s hard for a non-expert nobody to crack the inner circle. Most of my wannabe activist friends and I grass roots folks—no special initials or formal titles before or after our names. It’s tough to get accepted, especially when it comes to well-established, heavily fortified causes. Castle drawbridges are not lowered for just any commoner, only petty barons at minimum from loyal and subservient fiefdoms are allowed in. Serfs can’t scale the castle walls, the moats are teeming with gators to boot.

To hold together in cyberspace, social media groups require a clear, compelling narrative that is shared among community members. Narrative provides stickiness, purpose, focus, motivation, and group identity both internally and for the rest of the world. Narrative is vital to the sustainability of teams, movements, organizations, nations, societies. A group may have a narrative, at least in words. But when it comes to staying on message, it’s pretty much like herding cats. Most sites have “what-is” statements in their About section but not the compelling, clear call-to-action narrative do-ers need.

Social media activism is a grand new experiment and we’re just not too good at it yet. We’re better suited to sitting cross-legged around a campfire and talking things out before decisions are made. But we outgrew tribal norms and structures long ago, in my opinion not necessarily a good thing. Along comes the internet, the 21st century version of passing the pipe around the campfire—incredible potential power, but largely misdirected so far. We’re still small bands of nomad hunter-gatherers.

The bigger the group the more structure and rules evolve, inviting power struggles, special interests and other slimy political stuff.  Numbers are needed but there can be weakness in numbers (chaos and anarchy?) too, frustrating to anyone driven to make a meaningful contribution toward real action. And alpha activists can become that which they abhor…the establishment.

Following are a few specific examples of think tank goldmines with incredible insights that too often lead to nothing. No slam-these sites are among my favorite hang-outs.

Peter Gray’s regular columns in Psychology Today explore my #1 avocation–alternative education and social / education reform. Gray has an impressive following of well-educated, responsive and vocal readers. He will sometimes write an article in response when a hot topic / recurring theme surfaces with readers. But while Gray’s articles and the comments are plentiful and jammed with insights, to what end?

But wait! Maybe an exception to the Talkin’ Loud, Sayin’ Nuttin syndrome? The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a favorite meeting place for self-directed education thinkers including Gray followers. And there are apparently outlets for do-ers too:

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a grassroots, nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the SDE movement…We’re creating a world where Self-Directed Education is a normal, effective, and accessible educational path that any young person can choose.

As a member of the Alliance, you’ll have access to a vibrant online community and real-life local connections, too.  You’ll also have opportunities to interact with well-known SDE visionaries through a variety of live events.  Best of all, you’ll be able to make a difference by participating in our SDE advocacy projects — or starting your own projects with support from the member community.

My vision is to play even a small role in an action-triggering initiative that leverages the rich outpouring of expertise and passion out there. The Alliance may be headed down that road, must learn more.

The Great Transition Initiative is a thought incubator that explores saving the world from humanity—pretty big stuff. Officially:

The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.

GTI publishes a pretty elite group of writers, it’s a bountiful hunting ground for thinkers. While “fostering a broad network of thinkers and do-ers is in the “About” statement I haven’t found a visible linkage that promotes organized action. And while I’d love to get involved in the think tank it’s a select group and a grass roots everyman guy like me can’t expect my club application to be accepted. At least that’s the way it appears…am I wrong?

The Greater Good Science Center and Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning are other expert academic sites I like to frequent. Both sites espouse the importance of systemic inclusiveness in implementing social-emotional and other cutting edge learning. Yet the research, models and highly informative articles have decidedly education-only content. Academic silos crafted and guarded by highly credentialed educators, targeted at expert peers. What’s missing: any kind of benchmarking or involvement from key stakeholder puzzle pieces—grassroots citizens, public and private sectors. And do-ers. No linkage to do-ing…..

There is all kinds of how-to advice in the GGSC and CASEL articles and material. But contributing to the dialogue, adding to the body of knowledge or sharing practices at any meaningful level appears to be experts-only. Can’t find the doorway.

In Defense Of…

Social media sites attract mega traffic. Site owners must manage huge amounts of input, especially in an open contribution format. Site managers must right-sized purpose, scope and objectives / deliverables and stay focused on what they can realistically deliver. Understandable.

So the dilemma remains: HOW can the grass roots make a contribution? And especially…HOW can the great concepts and ideas be put into meaningful action? Maybe the doors are out there and I’m looking in the wrong places. But I’m here to tell you, they’re way too dadgum hard to find.

Priority What-if #1: what if there was a collaborative central meeting place for do-er’s to develop and champion initiatives for any number of worthy topics? Activists’ playgrounds partnered with the appropriate think tanks that provide insights and focus with access to top-rate relevant input. Thinker sites send do-er activists to the action planning site, do-ers refer thinkers to their conceptual counterpart. The burden of supporting action planning and dealing with do-er activists stays off think tanks’ plates, and vice-versa. Better focus and powerful synergy if the collaboration is truly two-way and well-managed.

So much for the “what-if” for now. What are your observations? Am I missing something? What do you think would help grow do-er activists’ opportunities be actually become active in a meaningful way?

I smell a Part Two with a whole lot more “what” and “how”. Sneak Peek: there’s a tricycle involved. Needs some thought. Yathink? A little help?

US Health Care–Missing the Obvious

No comment on the piracy that’s rampant in the US health care system, and the grave dangers in the path our representatives are headed down….except this: INFORM, INVOLVE, RESIST! If you care, do something. Add to and change this as you see fit, copy / paste what’s below. Or share the link if that’s easier. DON’T just “like”. I don’t need credit—it’s the info that is important, but please tag me if you copy / paste, as I want to keep track of this one. And encourage others to spread the word too.



Why not? Seems to work well for the rest of the world so there are abundant models to benchmark. Yet, except for that wild-haired radical from out east no one dares bring up the obvious. WHY?

A wild guess…power brokers and profiteers have something to do with it. Where we are now and the direction the railroad is taking us is blatant financial robbery and class warfare. But worse than being fleeced, we’re being cheated out of a chance at a longer, healthier, more productive and fulfilling life. That is obscene, it’s immoral.


Among the most powerful and well-funded lobby sectors: finance / investments, fossil fuel, and …health care. Google it. The number of politicians who are heavily invested in health care, and who stand to gain (or lose) big bucks from health care, is embarrassing. Google it.

Big pharma, big insurance carriers, even big providers are ruled by the bottom line. Our health and general well-being…our lives…are being held hostage while the profiteers decide whether there’s enough margin for them to treat what ails us, or whether we should just crawl out of sight and die somewhere.

WHAT WE NEED: Shift Priority From Treatment to Preventive

A lesson to be learned from manufacturing. One big difference in philosophy is what led to the Japanese kicking US manufacturing’s ass for a decade. Run the equipment like crazy and wait until something beaks down, then fix it? Or, keep it from breaking down in the first place? Build it right the first time, or inspect substandard stuff out and rework what can be fixed?

There’s far more to the story, but the bottom line: assuring quality and preventive action is much more cost effective and delivers a far superior product than reworked stuff that is caught by the quality cops.

Guess what? The same thing applies to the ultimate machine–the human body. The machine runs better, last longer with fewer breakdowns, and costs less to operate with preventive maintenance and quality assurance. Decades of manufacturing data verifies a huge net gain when more preventive dollars are spent. Better bottom line because there are fewer costly breakdowns and down time, less substandard output to either scrap or rework, fewer post-sales failures in the field, fewer lost or pissed off customers, fewer demoralized, disgruntled, disengaged employees. Read that last line with our health as your focus.

WHAT WE NEED: Weird Works Wonders

It’s in process, need more. Boost awareness of the more spiritual side of humanity, weird voodoo stuff that is proven to be powerful health and longevity boosters, incredible elixirs for the human spirit. It’s more than eating bean sprouts and regular exercise. Basic mindfulness, yoga, social-emotional strength, purpose and values, and meditation are not airy fairy pixie dust. The WIIFM is backed with buckets of studies and data, and “me” intensive: longer and higher quality of life.

Closing thought… this link, really study it. This is from 2010, but still relevant and raises two key points:

(ONE) The US is abundantly prosperous. And we spend far more on health care than any other country, yet our life expectancy doesn’t reflect it. Why? Lousy return on investment? Or profiteering?

(TWO) The US and Mexico are the only two countries with red lines on the graph, indicating no universal health care. Why?

Are the two points related?

School and Work—One Big Prison System?

Two hypotheses: (1) Forced education and the world of work is one big system of involuntary servitude with compulsory, menial, downgrading labor. Children are sentenced to school until they reach the right age, complete their probationary period and move on to the next sentence. They’re finally granted work release but if they can’t conform to the conditions of probation they are busted down and forced to start over elsewhere. (2) For society to survive we have to re-learn how to behave more like children.

I’m in search of the right way to make a meaningful contribution toward saving the world. My long-time belief is that you must tend to “people” needs or tasks won’t get done nearly as well as they could, so while ecology and environment are in the mix my priority has been the social-emotional state of the species. We’re a mess. The natural focal point is kids’ social-emotional (s-e) well-being, through the education system. But it’s got to be more than kids and education. The roots of our social issues are much deeper. A casual swim turned into a cliff dive into human development—murky! My personal passion has morphed into a big honkin’ project that targets whole-community well-being. Stay tuned.

Peter Gray is no stranger to those who are into education improvement. They’re all good, but two of his articles really grabbed me. In The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It Gray makes the case that children learn the most valuable lessons with other children, away from adults. He explains that children are biologically designed to grow up in a culture of childhood. But we’re bound and determined to go against that natural design.

In Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education, Gray likens the current education system to a compulsory prison sentence.  Harsh, right? Accurate? Pretty much.

It’s much bigger than the education system, and the larger issues are daunting. Many of the social problems adults face are not just rooted in but are shared with childhood. Parenting and the education system, private sector management and organization, social norms, even government…all are impacted by the same forces that are working against our human nature.

One section of Gray’s “Culture” article is subtitled “The adult battle against cultures of childhood has been going on for centuries.” So has a brutal war against adult individuality, creativity, fulfillment and the ability to develop to our full potential. Pink Floyd had it right in Brick in the Wall, the movie excerpt is prophetically dark.

The Floyd Boys didn’t consult with me, so I don’t know for sure if it was by intent. But the song pertains to a whole lot more than kids and the education system. We’re all bricks. Docile, content, mediocre people are much easier to control. Good enough students, good enough employees, good enough soldiers, good enough citizens. But good enough isn’t good enough. We’re collectively being held back from greatness and some feel (I’m one) it’s actually become a survival of the species issue.

The war against children’s culture started in earnest with Francke’s system of compulsory schooling in Prussia, in the late 17th century, which was subsequently copied and elaborated upon throughout Europe and America. Francke wrote, in his instructions to schoolmasters: “Above all it is necessary to break the natural willfulness of the child. While the schoolmaster who seeks to make the child more learned is to be commended for cultivating the child’s intellect, he has not done enough. He has forgotten his most important task, namely that of making the will obedient.” (Gray)

In the early 20th century Frederick Taylor opened another huge skirmish line to break the human will in the exploding industry sector, with his theory of scientific management. “Taylor’s philosophy focused on the belief that making people work as hard as they could was not as efficient as optimizing the way the work was done.” (a simple exploration)

Taylor advocated breaking physical tasks down into the most basic elements possible, throwing an army of mindless man-machine laborers at the work. No thinking needed, just do the same exact task over and over and over. “The Principles of Scientific Management” was published in 1909, and Franck’s factory model of education was the perfectly efficient machine to produce ample bricks in the wall.

The attributes of a children’s culture are vital elements of human nature, not just for young people. Those attributes also have a great impact on adults in their parenting role as well as at work and in society. But they have been stifled. Who needs all that stuff since we’re destined for prison anyway?

School and Work—Life Sentence, No Chance for Parole

Here is a very brief summary of Gray’s reasoning that forced education is prison. I’m buying the whole package with one slight twist…the same issues are prevalent in the workplace and in society. It’s a scary thought: we’re born into incarceration and we die that way.

(one) Denial of liberty on the basis of age, and compulsory movement of an entire group of inmates (sorry, students) as they get older, provided they comply with the conditions of each sentencing period. Passing out of a grade, early probation for good behavior, valuing capability over tenure is rare. The system won’t allow it, isn’t geared up to process one-off exceptions.

(two) Fostering of shame on the one hand, and hubris on the other. Non-stop testing, formal and informal evaluations, observations, grading…all promote peer pressure and competition, coercion and admonishments from parents, teachers, management. Students and employees are either proud or ashamed of their performance, either self-assured or full of angst over their status.

(three) Interference with the development of cooperation and nurturance. Humans are social creatures; we are naturally wired to cooperate with and nurture others. But our competition -based system of ranking and grading works against the cooperative drive…helping others may even hurt the helper. (Gray, Forced Education). Further, age segregation eliminates opportunity for older to younger nurturing and increases bullying. The human tendency to care for and help each other is inhibited at an early age and these inhibitors’ damages continue through adulthood, into the workplace and society.

(four) Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. Command and control management is rooted in contemporary teaching and parenting practices. Childhood, education and employment are all incredibly disempowering when teacher, parent and boss all resort to “because I said so, that’s why!” It’s easy to fall into a comfort zone: waiting for orders and blindly complying to them. Initiative is effectively squelched, leaving behind compliance, complacency, mediocrity, lost potential. A powerful lesson: ”if you do what you are told to do in school everything will work out well for you.” (Gray) By the same token if you shut up, do your job at work and obey the law you’ll keep drawing a paycheck. You may even stay out of jail.

(five) Linking of learning (and work!) with fear, loathing, and drudgery. Along with our adventurous spirit, we’ve lost our joy. Tests generate anxiety in most….threats of failure and the shame associated with failure generate enormous anxiety…a fundamental psychological principle is that anxiety inhibits learning (Gray) Anxiety also dead-ends creativity and productivity and can lead to dangerous levels of emotional and physical stress. Lesson learned: “you must do your work before you can play” (Gray) …”how can ya have any pudding if ya don’t eat yer meat?” (Floyd)… “this report is due, don’t go home until it is.” (insert-kahuna-name-here)

(six) Inhibition of critical thinking. Even though building critical thinking skills is a stated priority in education, “most students—including most ‘honors students’—learn to avoid thinking critically.” The grading system is a huge barrier as students understand the real goal at school is to get good grades. Period. They quickly learn that the way to do that is to figure out what answers the teacher wants to hear, no matter what the student thinks. Sounds a little like the workplace doesn’t it?

(seven) Reduction in diversity of skills, knowledge and ways of thinking. Only the tiniest sliver of what is really needed out there in the real world can be even touched on in school. So our logical conclusion: everyone needs to study the same thing because we don’t have the resources to do anything else. Enter “standard curriculum”. Private sector entities, especially larger ones, are driven by the same standard practice principles, making it easier to expand managers’ spans of control. The overflowing cornucopia of individuals’ unique capabilities is homogenized, distilled, compressed into uniform bricks all who have an acceptable level of competency.

The factory model is so deeply rooted in our society and economy that we’ll play hell replacing it.

What Can Adults Learn From Kids? Can We Still Learn?

Peter Gray is a highly vocal and credible critic of forced education. He advocates alternative education methods of home schooling and unschooling, at the very least a drastic modification of current educational structures and methods. This really should be a Part Two, but a second Gray blog is just too interrelated to look at separately. Apologies for the length.

One Big AHA from Gray’s Children’s Culture  (also linked in the intro) is that the more adults learn from children and adapt their interactions with children to meet the children’s needs, the easier it will become to change our views and practices on “raising” kids in a manner that is a vastly better fit with kids’ natural wiring. Kids are better off raising themselves by interacting with their peers. So what is it about that peer interaction that works? Does it apply to adults too? I think so.

My first focus in processing Gray’s children’s culture piece was to make the connection between the elements of a children’s culture as they relate to the adult world: what can adults learn from children’s cultures? How can adopting more of a child’s perspective impact individual learning and group dynamics at home, at work, in society?

I figured it might be a bit of a stretch. But it makes perfect sense. Some children’s culture attributes we already know as elements of effective group behavior but we simply choose to ignore them because “we’re all grown up now and things are different”. Subverting natural human attributes is doing a great deal of harm not just to kids, but all ages.

Gray’s thoughts are noted by bold italics. I’ve added some ideas on adult relevance for parenting and family relationships, and work and in society.

For starters: Children are biologically designed to pay attention to the other children in their lives, to try to fit in with them, to be able to do what they do, to know what they know. That, in a nutshell, is the most powerful key to effective group behavior, any group.

Children’s cultures can be understood, at least to some degree, as practice cultures, where children try out various ways of being and practice, modify, and build upon the skills and values of the adult culture.

Adult groups are in continuous growth and change mode, at least they had better be! The worst thing that can happen to any group is to stagnate or fail to adapt to the changing environment. The social-emotional health of the group is paramount. ACTION: groups must continuously monitor their interpersonal dynamics and values. Consider initiating a conscious, formal and frequent process of checking for values alignment, interpersonal barriers, any opportunity to learn and improve the group.

My family moved frequently, and in each village or city neighborhood to which we moved I found a somewhat different childhood culture, with different games, different traditions, somewhat different values, different ways of making friends. Whenever we moved, my first big task was to figure out the culture of my new set of peers, so I could become part of it. (Gray)

Individuals change, group membership changes. It sucks to be the new kid on the block, it still sucks as grownups. The new kid asks “who are these people, what do they expect of me? Will they like me? What am I supposed to do on this job?” One of my private sector roles was to help groups transition through changes in leaders, members, roles, assignments. But why wait to react to changes? Already noted: groups should proactively assess not just progress on their goals and meeting deadlines, but most importantly their dynamics. In doing so, any group’s odds of succeeding skyrockets.

Children learn the most important lessons in life from other children. Gray lists several key lessons. All are important and relevant, all are too rich to dissect into highlights here. Read the original!

  • Authentic Communication
  • Independence and Courage
  • Creating and understanding the purpose and modifiability of rules.
  • Practicing and building on the skills and values of the adult culture.
  • Getting along with others as equals.

A Common Thread

Several of Gray’s attributes of a children’s culture pertain to group dynamics and the individual’s efforts to fit in. The same thing is true in the adult world so this macro AHA applies equally to kids and adults whether in education, a work group or any social unit: the interpersonal dynamics of a group and its collective and individual s-e well-being must be elevated in importance for any group to flourish.

It can’t be individual effort from a newcomer or the group’s leader. The whole group must be mindful that without the right interpersonal dynamics and without a high level of individual and whole-group social-emotional well-being, any group will struggle to stay cohesive and meet its goals. When the team wins every player wins. Exceptional teams even strengthen the entire league. That is vastly different from the “me” focus where the best students get scholarships and awards, and in the private sector where promotions are won or lost based on which individual looks most impressive.

This isn’t just about small groups. The same is true for the collective well-being of communities. We’re talking about global society – a network of interconnected individual communities separated only by distance and bound by shared human values and awareness of our global brotherhood.

Crazy Issues Call For Radical Response

It’s ironic. To reach our full human potential it seems we need to unlearn lots of preconceived notions we’ve formed while “growing up”. We pretty much need to relearn how to behave more like children.

There’s a lot of work to do to unseat the deeply held beliefs we have about parenting, to turn away from the factory model of forced education, to counter the traditional principles of workplace boss / follower management, to get rid of the worn-out rugged individualism of the cowboy culture and to replace it with a cooperative, collaborative children’s culture. It truly takes a village, one village at a time. That’s been the evolving focus of the Caring Communities project.

The thought is painful –our humanity is being drained from us, leaving behind empty shells of compassion-challenged, bigoted and hateful creatures. But it’s a self-inflicted illness and it is in our power to kill or at least slow down the mojo-sucking parasite. Education and work systems combined with a fast-food lifestyle beyond diet are partially responsible for the physical, mental and emotional social issues plaguing us. I’ve long thought that resolution starts with children, that we need to carefully guide them along a path of shared human values. Maybe that would help bring us out of this values-challenged skid. But how can we send an army of young, hopeful converts to the new religion out into a hostile land of godless heathens? We can’t realistically expect seeds of genuine compassion and caring to grow in our children when we are sowing those seeds onto barren, toxic soil.

Pipe Dream?

The Caring Communities project promotes social-emotional development for all ages. The intent is to have an impact on making humanity human again through providing readily available support and materials to build a stronger society one community at a time. Standard Quixote save-the-world stuff. More to come, promise.

Coming Soon: More Hugely Radical Future-Perfect Musings

This dovetails into an all-work-no-play  (huh?). Check it out if you’d like


All Work and No Play, Per Gray

MUST read this piece first to play along: Instead of “Job Creation,” How About Less Work? Increased automation has not reduced our workload. Why not? What if it did? Posted Nov 26, 2016 Peter Gray

This is such a utopian view of a “what if” future perfect that most sane and logical people immediately pooh-pooh it. That’s why I like it. Most of the “we can’t because” boo-birds bring up are excuses, not reasons. But it does take some incredibly visionary thinking to see the possibilities. And it will take some serious work toward big changes to seize the big opportunities.
Gray traces our devolution from hunter-gatherers to beasts of burden serving the 20th century economic model, through the ever-evolving current reality and re-birth where a hunter-gatherer society of child-like play may make sense again.

So, what’s wrong with work?

Start with the disappearing concept of “adding value”. Value to what? Value used to be defined as a product or service that someone would be willing to pay for. But “stuff of value” is more and more produced with high-efficiency automation and very little human labor. What good are we if we aren’t kept busy making or doing value-adding “stuff”?

People must still work for a paycheck to support their families, right? A new generation of work has come along—IT, bottom feeder leisure industry (computer-based games, home entertainment… most folks can’t afford high-end diversions), service jobs (root word: “serve” as in subservient). Financial and insurance sectors have huge numbers of people doing administrivial work—collecting and analyzing mountains of data, creating and issuing all kinds of reports for unknown “users” who immediately delete the work, pushing all kinds of non value-adding info that is intended to help manage something somewhere that actually has “value”. But what value does money and information by itself have? It’s the use of those things that adds value. Armies of other administrators’ existence is somewhat justified because it takes an army to make sense of inefficiencies, disorganization and an overkill of rules and regulations, and it takes a badgillion customer service reps working 24 / 7 trying to keep customers from becoming mass murderers because of those inefficiencies. (why am I thinking “Idiocracy”?)

Huge corporate law firms with huge staffs help huge corporations get away with working huge loopholes in the system to make huge profits so they can pay huge legal fees. The whole loop exists to enable generating non-product with no value. Another army—hired hitmen, lobbyists whose purpose is to grease gears and palms so all that artificial non-value is easier to generate and hoard. A famous longhaired progressive activist once chased money-changers out of the temple. We need another. Oh, just one more army: market researchers, the advertising industry and feet-on-the-street (and cyberspace) sales folks hell-bent on manipulating markets (people!) and packaging and selling non-value stuff.

One of the fads of the process improvement world was “customer focus”–identify customers and what was important to them—their expectations, needs and wants. Then do what’s needed to meet those criteria. The idea was that it would make workers more conscious of what they were doing if there was a real person at the end of their process chain. But what if there was no real person at the end of the chain? Or what if the customer really didn’t care about what you produced, but they had simply been conditioned to buy, buy, buy anyway?

Too many working adults are stuck in a job they can clearly see has no real value in furthering the greater social good, or impacting the grand scheme of things in any way. Work with no purpose. But humans need purpose, need meaning, need to feel they’re making a difference. When there is no purpose, it’s natural for people to get jaded, cynical, uncaring, worn down, worn out, quit, die. We’re dying. What if those stuck in no-value, no-purpose work were redirected toward providing something the world wants and needs? Their individual mojo would be rejuvenated, as would the world’s.

If the Goal is Less Work and More Play, Then What Needs To Change?
Not Much–Just a Few Silly Attitudes and Minor System Tweaks

A few thoughts for starters….

  • Redefine “work” as something with real purpose that adds real value for others and / or improves the condition of the world and / or society. As technological advances and automation takes care of the menial stuff, working on further technological advances adds value because it frees up humanity’s time!
  • No more “I am my job, I am nothing without my job” thinking. Work is a means to a greater end unless a person’s work is something they enjoy that happens to make the world, society, others better. (remember the old Venn diagram on “job happiness”?) My life’s work is to eliminate violence and bullying by championing social-emotional development.
  • Rethink and expand the meaning of “value” from being only a thing / material $$$ transaction-driven concept. Social value and artistic / aesthetic value, environmental and ecological value!
  • Redesign the monetary distribution model of “work 40 hours (or more) to earn your paycheck”. Why does 40+ hours of “work” constitute “full-time employment” anyway?
    There’s not enough meaningful work to go around, because our priority and our passion is profit-generating work. But there’s tons of meaningful “work” opportunities– community, social, environmental, infrastructure things needing attention. Engage people in doing good things, and pay them accordingly. While we’re at it, reinvent “pay”. Money has no value on its own but we literally kill ourselves and others over it. Broader: “currency” is something that is used as a medium of exchange. Exchange of what, for what?
  • Redefine “affluence” from having a lot of stuff for its own sake, to having what you need to be happy…how about “sufficience?” Move past the mindless pursuit of a high standard of living and focus on quality of life instead, starting with defining the individual’s values-based vision of “fulfilled” then right-sizing needs accordingly. Prerequisite: redefine what level of “success” is socially acceptable. So it comes down to an individual values and social perception shift;
  • Rethink brick-in-the wall forced education and the standard curriculum that makes school labor –tedious, compulsory work. Learning should be fun, should come naturally. Same with work;
  • Ditch crass capitalism and profit for its own sake. Demote the 1% and elevate the 99%.
    Scrap our material and transaction-based economy and the norms that go with it, norms like “work hard, get paid, get lots of stuff, support family, be a prolific provider”. Break the trance-the marketing / advertising-driven thirst for conspicuous consumption, material affluence, accumulating stuff that has no real value (see Jagger Consulting’s “Satisfaction” piece);
  • Re-invent corporate entities with the sole purpose of generating profit for investors, corporations with no value-adding meaning justifying their existence! OOPS, need to re-think investors and the investments industry, and making money playing “the market”. There’s those money-changers again! Thinking out loud: how about a reinvestment tax credit, investing in and diverting corporate profits to an approved fund to be used for the greater good?
  • Reinvent government by the people, for the people with people and planet as top priorities;
    Bring back the institutions of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy…

This sound like capitalism must go. I agree, partially—capitalism in its current form is destructive. Money is OK, money does no evil. What people do or don’t do with it is the issue. Let’s get our really smart business people and economists busy reinventing capitalism!)

Gray closes with a challenge: So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem (getting paid for a 40hr week as the only way to do things), cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?
Good question.


“Solving the distribution problem” isn’t a cakewalk and there’s lots of other stuff that needs to happen too. I’ve shared my quick take of what needs to change just for starters. What’s missing? And how in the world are we going to do all that? Think about these bullets as goal statements then brainstorm: “what’s it gonna take?” And remember, one of the ground rules of brainstorming is “never say it can’t be done.”

(BONUS) Sneak Peek at Klitgaard: a look at basically the same thinking, slightly different angle.

Many people, affluent and poor, lead hectic and harried lives, struggling at jobs devoid of meaning and often socially and environmentally counterproductive (such as weapons manufacture, hydraulic fracturing, or financial speculation) in order to command a paycheck. In a sustainable society, work should be meaningful as well as steady and productive. Meaningful work allows people to unite their heads, their hands, and their hearts. People should have a say in the design of what they make or do, a variety of challenging tasks, and the opportunity for self-direction.
Unfortunately, the logic of capital accumulation has created work that is much the opposite—routine, without mental exercise, let alone purpose or joy—all in the name of producing more goods and services at ever-lower cost.
The Struggle for Meaningful Work

UPDATE: Johan sent a graphic with his reply (below). Since pics cannot be included in replies here it is! I’d like to suggest that on the “Child” side “work” and “play” are more overlapping and very possibly concurrent!

Johan Work and Play