Saturday, March 18, 2006

2006 APR | COOPERATIVES: A Sustainable Model for a New Culture

OCTOBER 2007 (originally APR 2006) | PDF
COOPERATIVES: A Sustainable Model for a New Culture

You can actually do better for yourself by being cooperative and altruistic than by selfishly refusing to cooperate with others. It's not that you do as well. You actually do better.
- Helena Cronin,
London School of Economics

Cooperation vs. Competition

Should our culture be based on competition or cooperation? All other ideological systems aside, isn't this what it all comes down to? Do we choose "survival of the fittest" or "survival of the kindest"? But what if they are ultimately one in the same? What if it all comes down to who has the most sustainable organization? Who can both survive in their local community-based economy and survive effects of the larger economic system - hostile takeover, big-box "category killers", malls, sprawl, etc..

Ultimately, whoever is kindest to their employees, workers, volunteers, customers, community, and environment will survive. Therefore, if the cooperative model is the model more conducive to being the kindest, does this not mean that the kindest is the fittest and that cooperation out "competes" brutal, vicious competition?

Coopetition vs. Cooptation

"Coopetition" is a term referenced in a February 2005, "CorporatePR" blog-post entitled, cooperation vs. Competition". When corporate PR professionals are restructuring their entire practices based on the shift toward cooperation that's real change. But nice words and good intentions are one thing. Organizational structure, process, and culture are the real guage. Cooperatives are designed for cooperation. Corporations are designed for competition. As corporations and cooperatives compete to see who can be the most cooperative, we may be witnessing a paradigm shift before our very eyes.

Cooperatives: THEORY vs. PRACTICE

In practical terms, cooperation means helping people get what they want or need as conveniently, efficiently, inexpensively, and pleasantly as possible. In short, cooperation with people's wants, needs, and experience is what counts the most. A well-intentioned cooperative might be inconvenient, inefficient, expensive, and unpleasant. At the same time, a greedy competitive corporation might be able to deliver an experience which is much better. Some people will make allowances to tolerate a certain level of lower quality experience to benefit a locally-based, well-intentioned co-op, but, only to a point. Ultimately, people vote with their feet, but, the cooperative model starts off with a huge advantage in being able to offer people an experience which is local, organic, fair trade, convenient, cruelty-free, and pleasant. However, corporations may have an advantage when it comes to efficiency and expense. Corporations have, historically, been focused on systemic efficiency at the expense of humanity. Finding the optimal balance is the key to sustainability.

An Ironic Series of Unfortunate Events

For example, here, in Portland, Maine, the health food market over the last 30 years has seen the following ironic series of unfortunate events:
  • the Good Day Market & Cooperative, a local cooperatively-owned enterprise, failed;
  • the Whole Grocer, a local for-profit privately-owned retail business, succeeded for over 20
    years only to see Wild Oats, a national retail chain, move in right next door;
  • now, Whole Grocer is selling out to Whole Foods Market (WFM), according to their website, "Whole Foods Market is the world's largest retailer of natural and
    organic foods, with over 155 stores throughout North America and the United Kingdom" and is opening a 45,350 sq. ft. store in Portland, Maine. 
Ironically, when the Good Day Market & Cooperative closed, the Whole Grocer, then a relatively new store, spoke proudly of their "business regimen". Their balance of efficiency and humanity allowed them to survive longer than the Good Day Market & Cooperative, but, only until larger economic forces came to bear.

But wait! There's even more irony!

Sophia Collier once managed the Good Day Market & Cooperative! According to CNN Money, "years before she founded a $1.2 billion mutual fund company, Sophia Collier ... between the ages of 16 and 20, Collier lived on a Hopi Indian reservation and fixed boats in Arizona; and then ran a construction company and a food co-op in Portland, Maine. She published an autobiography of those years, called "Soul Rush," at 20, and moved to Brooklyn in 1976. She and a childhood friend founded SoHo Natural Soda in her Brooklyn kitchen when she was 21. [She later sold SoHo and acquired a majority interest in Working Assets before founding Citizen's Funds, one of the nation's largest families of socially responsible mutual funds.] ... The state of New York recently chose Citizens to manage $250 million in pension assets, which Collier said is the largest amount ever awarded to a socially responsible management company." Had she stayed with the Good Day, she probably would not have made so much money and become one of the world's top leaders in socially responsible business and investing. Certainly, this column would not have been able to bring you these, navigational aids to sustainable organizing from George Soros via Sophia Collier and CNN Money: "Collier likes to quote billionaire investor George Soros, who once said it's not so much that he is right more than the average person -- he just can recognize that he is wrong more quickly. 'He recognized more quickly that he was wrong and he could change courses,' Collier said. 'You need to identify if you're on the wrong course and correct it - and not give up.'"

Organizing a Portland Co-op

There is a group of people who have not given up on a Portland Co-op. They are meeting to start a Portland Food Co-op, a Co-op Resource Center, and a Co-op Conference. Portland's history offers lessons to be learned about sustainable organizing and finding the right balance between efficiency and humanity. This is an exciting opportunity to write the next chapter in the history of Portland's health food market.


LINKS to Navigational Aids for Sustainable Organizing:
building a democratic economy rooted in community

Cooperative Development Institute
transforming ownership of our economy 
— so that all people can meet their basic needs
A directory of alternative economic initiatives

Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative 
Maine Products for Maine People!

Cooperative Grocer - Online Magazine

Local Harvest [online coop]

2006 MAR | CULTURAL CREATIVES: True North on the New Political Compass

CULTURAL CREATIVES: True North on the New Political Compass

Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society - its world view, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions - rearranges itself. And the people born then cannot even imagine a world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living through such a transformation. 
 -PETER DRUCKER, Post-Capitalist Society

So begins, “The New Political Compass”, by Paul H. Ray, Ph.D., author of, “CULTURAL CREATIVES: How 50 Million People are Changing the World”, ( ). Paul Ray is helping to build a new conceptual framework for understanding the larger dynamics of our world. Framing is catching fire in the political world because of it’s power for gaining knowledge of how to influence people. The marketing world has always known this. Now, Paul Ray, a sociologist by trade, has begun to publish his research on the social and political dynamics of today’s world. The difference is that, instead of a conceptual framework of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites, Ray is offering one of the people, by the people, and for the people.

What or who are Cultural Creatives?

There is a questionnaire online if you would like to see if you might be one: ( ) Ray goes beyond standard demographics by asking people about their values and the kind of world they would like to live in. In summary, Cultural Creatives are:

* growing in numbers from around 5% in the 1960s to over 26% today and growing
* the source of all change and social innovation
* demand peace, freedom and justice - social, economic, environmental, and political
* feel isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world
* desire whole systems, whole truth, whole foods, and whole solutions
* are unaware of how many people already share their views
* are unaware of how many people might yet come to share their views if only they understood where they come from and where they will take us

What is culture?

We all have some idea of what it means to us and, yet, anthropologists find it nearly impossible to define. Margaret Mead credits Ruth Benedict (Patterns of Culture, 1921) with beginning a popular discussion on the concept of culture. Benedict theorized that any group of people exhibit a culture which is an aggregate, “personality writ large”. My favorite culture quote is:

That is true culture which helps us to work for the social betterment of all.

Other common components of culture include: values, attitudes, practices, traditions, arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, and technology. Others say that culture is the social construction of meaning.

The truth is constructed with skill and virtue.

Assuming Aristotle’s premise, then, that which is constructed without both skill and virtue, therefore, is not truth. Or, at least, it has only a degree of truth relative to the degree of skill and virtue used in its construction. But, if a truth is constructed with skill and virtue, but, without a social context, then, who cares and who would even know? Do not both skill and virtue require that truth or meaning be socially constructed? One person with maximum skill and maximum virtue can perceive from only one perspective. Anything one person, or a small group constructs, excludes the perspectives of others. A work of art is meant to be a personal expression and to stimulate thought and feeling and conversation. However, a culture must be of, by, and for the people – all people - who live within it.
No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.

Maximum truth requires maximum perspective in current space and over future time. Contexts change over time, therefore, cultures of families, neighborhoods, organizations, communities, states, and nations must be continuously reviewed and improved and must be socially constructed (or cultivated) to have meaning of the people, meaning by the people, and meaning for the people – all people.
For example, who constructed or cultivated the "meaning of life" that was imposed on us without our knowledge or consent right up until the "Pleasantville" era of the 1950s? In the 1960s a phenomenon known as "counterculture" began to fully manifest. We knew that the values of previous generations were not exactly ours, but, we did not know what values we wanted. No generation had ever given itself so much freedom to choose its own values. From this new freedom - and, of course, "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose" - sprouted several movements: civil rights, equal rights, peace & justice, environmental protection, consumer protection. From the common roots of these many movements a new culture is growing. Cultural Creatives recognizes this phenomenon and gives us a new conceptual framework for understanding it.

The most important element of navigation is fixing current position. By taking “fixes” as often as possible we can carefully keep track of:

* where we have been
* where we are now
* where we are going

For the purposes of cultural navigation, the current consensus seems to be:

* we have been in a culture of, by, and for the corporations
* we are now in transition to a new culture
* we are going to create a culture of the people, by the people, and for the people

Anytime 2 or more gather for any length of time, there is organization and there is culture. Sustainable organizing is the key to navigating our way to a new culture as safely and efficiently as possible.

How can WE do better at working together?

( WE = U + ME + U-Process )

The People-Centered Development Forum ( ) maintains a web-archive of “Global Citizen” articles by Donella Meadows – the late leader of the sustainability movement. In her article, "The Cultural Creatives Are Coming", ( Meadows comments on, “finding each other, sharing stories, building our communities and our worldwide network.” She quipped, ”...story of my life. But do note Ray's point about ‘no cohesive sense of community.’ In my experience cultural creatives are no better at working together [bold added for emphasis] than any other Western individualists. Maybe, because of our distrust of institutions, we're worse. Contradance bands and coops are about as much organization as we can stand.”
The Change Labs project of the Sustainability Institute ( ) is working on communication tools for sustainable organizing. You can see a diagram of their U-Process at . The following description is excerpted from their website:

The core social technology of Change Labs is the U-Process.

I. SENSING - transforming perception

II. PRESENCING - transforming self and will

III. REALIZING - transforming action

The U-Process is designed to enable practitioners to pay attention to, and learn from, emerging realities or opportunities. The process comprises three major stages: observing the current reality carefully and in depth; retreating and reflecting to allow “inner knowing” to emerge; and acting swiftly in order to bring forth the new reality.

Regrettably, Donella Meadows is no longer with us to help develop the sustainable organizing component of the sustainability movement. Fortunately, the spirit of Meadows’ work continues at the Sustainability Institute in Vermont.


LINKS to more Navigational Aids for Sustainable Organizing:

How 50 Million People are Changing the World

The New Political Compass [PDF]

Society for Organizational Learning

Leader to Leader Institute

Drucker Archives [ONLINE]

2006 FEB | Meg Wheatley = G.O.D.

SEPTEMBER 2007 (originally FEB 2006) | PDF
Meg Wheatley = G.O.D.

Well, maybe I should say GODDESS since she is a woman. She certainly fits the definition of GODDESS in my book. But, the title might have been a little less controversial and the acronym would be more unwieldy:

Good Organizational Dynamics Democracy Ease Simplicity Self-Organizing

Although, to me, Meg Wheatley means Good Organizational Dynamics (GOD), her first book was, "Leadership and the New Science", so it's more about new & old than good & bad.

The "New Science" is quantum physics. The "old" science is Newtonian mechanics. As I understand Meg's experience with the old corporate management culture, the went from frustration, to vacation, and, then, while reading a book on quantum physics, to inspiration - truly a quantum leap. She saw that if the old corporate management culture was a product of the Newtonian machine, then Quantum physics should allow conception of a new collaborative leadership culture.

The differences between the Newtonian vs. Quantum worldviews seem to sort out something like this:

+ static ---------------- + dynamic
+ linear ---------------- + interconnected
+ serial ---------------- + parallel
+ parts ---------------- + wholes (holistic)
+ closed --------------- + open
+ finite ---------------- + infinite
+ unchanging ---------- + changing
+ mechanistic --------- + organic

As my Oceanography 101 textbook described the new scientific worldview, "nature is a self-organizing, stable, dynamic, chaos." As Meg Wheatley puts it, "for many years, I've been interested in seeing the world differently. I've wanted to see beyond the Western, mechanical view of the world and see what else might appear when the lens was changed. I've learned, just as Joel Barker predicted when he introduced us to paradigms years ago, that 'problems that are impossible to solve with one paradigm may be easily solved with a different one.'"

I've been applying the lens of living systems theory to organizations and communities. With wonderful colleagues, I've been exploring the question: "How might we organize differently if we understood how Life organizes?" It's been an exploration that has helped me look into old patterns and problems and develop new and hopeful insights and practices. It has also increased my sense of wonder for life, and for the great capacity of the human spirit."

Meg's new book is, FINDING OUR WAY: Leadership For an Uncertain Time In Finding Our Way, Meg focuses on the experiences she and others have had in putting new theories into practice in the real-life, day-to-day work of people around the world. Here is a beautiful and powerful statement by Meg Wheatley about her new book :

"An Invitation to the Reader
There is a simpler, finer way to organize human endeavor. I have declared this for many years and seen it to be true in many places. This simpler way is demonstrated to us in daily life, not the life we see on the news with its unending stories of human grief and horror, but what we feel when we experience a sense of life's deep harmony, beauty, and power, of how we feel when we see people helping each other, when we feel creative, when we know we're making a difference, when life feels purposeful.

Over many years of work all over the world, I've learned that if we organize in the same way that the rest of life does, we develop the skills we need: we become resilient, adaptive, aware, and creative. We enjoy working together. And life's processes work everywhere, no matter the culture, group, or person, because these are basic dynamics shared by all living beings.

Western cultural views of how best to organize and lead (now the methods most used in the world) are contrary to what life teaches. Leaders use control and imposition rather than participative, self-organizing processes. They react to uncertainty and chaos by tightening already feeble controls, rather than engaging people's best capacities to learn and adapt. In doing so, they only create more chaos. Leaders incite primitive emotions of fear, scarcity, and self-interest to get people to do their work, rather than the more noble human traits of cooperation, caring, and generosity. This has led to this difficult time, when nothing seems to work as we want it to, when too many of us feel frustrated, disengaged, and anxious.

I invite you to join me in this work of creating more capable, harmonious, creative, and generous organizations and communities. There is a simpler way, and we each need to play our part in bringing it into robust practice."


Meg is President of the Berkana Institute . Berkana's philosophy is that, "the leaders we need are already here". They, "define a leader as anyone who wants to help, who is willing to step forward to make a difference in the world. ... Berkana's work in the world is based on a whole and coherent theory about how life organizes."


LINKS to more Navigational Aids for Sustainable Organizing:


Tools To Help People Understand Each Other
Creativity -- Six Thinking Hats
Consensus Building Institute
DIALOGUE - Co-Intelligence Institute

2006 JAN | A Brief History of Navigation and of Sustainable Organizing

A Brief History of Navigation and of Sustainable Organizing

Obviously, there is not space in this column for a history of even one subject no matter how brief. So how am I going to do not one but two brief histories in one column? Of course, I am not going to attempt the impossible any more than I would attempt the unsustainable. However, I will reference elements of the history of navigation as I apply them to the concept of sustainable organizing. While the history of community organizing is long, sustainable organizing is so new it can hardly be said to have a history at all. So, as this column is launched, I invite you to join in discussion about sustainable organizing on a theoretical level and on a practical level as we apply these concepts and tools to grassroots neighborhood organizing, here, on Munjoy Hill.

Oak and triple bronze
must have girded the breast
of him who first committed
his frail bark to the angry sea

-Horace, Odes

Grassroots community organizing may not be as perilous and daunting as committing, "frail bark to the angry sea", but it may sometimes feel not too far off. It is usually not for the feint of heart. All too often too much organizing is too difficult because it is done with too few people and takes too much time and energy that we increasingly have too little to spare.

It does not have to be this way. This is the idea behind sustainable organizing. Organizations of the people, by the people, and for the people should fit the lifestyles, skills, and interests of the people who are in them. These days most people are very busy. The more jobs, the more kids, the more people have in their lives, the less time they have to give to community organizations. So we have a few people with a few hours a week who want to make a difference.

So to get 1 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE), we need 4 people with 10 hours each or 10 people with 4 hours each. More likely, people only have a couple of hours per week to give so we're headed toward 20 people at 2 hours each per week for 1 FTE. So, unless Superman, Superwoman, Superboy, and Supergirl happen to live in our neighborhood, we need more and more people. When we find them, we want to keep them. If we waste their time and/or they have a less than positive experience, they are less likely to keep showing up.

The 2 most basic navigational aids that I advocate are:

1) Good organizational dynamics are vital for sustainable organizing.

2) Cities, neighborhoods, and organizations should be of the people, by the people, and for the people - neighborhood improvement is NOT just for the experts!

Navigation is about:

A) "Where are we?" and "Where are we going"?

B) getting where we are going safely and efficiently

Navigation began as a very general intuitive art with tools provided by nature - sun, stars, landmasses, ocean currents, etc. - and has develop into a very specific technical science with tools of increasing technological sophistication.

Navigation was once an arcane art bordering on the occult. So jealously guarded and carefully kept secret were the tools and knowledge of navigation that sailors commonly believed that compasses worked by black magic. In fact, binnacles were developed to shroud the compass so as not to frighten the seamen.  Today, we live in a new age and yet many of our institutions and cultural practices and attitudes are still very primitive and far behind the people they purport to "lead".

This column will be about practical nuts & bolts which make the work of sustainable organizing safer and more efficient in the work people are doing right now. It will also be about theoretical systems design and engineering. It will attempt to gain and share many perspectives on sustainable organizing. It will always be written from the grassroots, street-level, next-door, around the corner or maybe even a few blocks away, but, still in the same neighborhood and never ever from atop the ivory tower.

LINKS to Navigational Aids to Sustainable Organizing

ABCD - Asset-Based Community Development
Neighborhood-Based Planning
ARNSTEIN LADDER - A Gauge of Citizen Participation
A Ladder of Citizen Participation - Sherry R Arnstein
The History of Navigation - BOATSAFE - KIDS
The History of Navigation - PBS