Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Basic ingredients, beta version

I believe in prototypes: quick bailing-wire-and-chewing-gum models to play with in order to clarify thinking. If the prototyping process isn't too expensive, go ahead and throw something together, then iterate as needed to zero in on a viable result. It's just not a good idea to try to build an Apollo rocket without some stepping stones along the way. After all, premature optimization is considered to be, well, the root of evil.

What's the cost of prototyping ideas? Your patience, I suspect. But please bear with me for a moment (or a post or two... or twelve), and with luck this we'll learn something. Here goes:

What are the basic ingredients needed to get a large community of willing people aligned and moving forward on making a difference in the world? With the briefest consideration, I suggest (the alpha version):
  • Willing people
  • A well defined inspiring direction along which people can align

Pour ingredients into a world. Stir. Let sit at 59F (give or take) for a few years. Serve.

Hmm. It's pretty straightforward; that's cool. In addition, there are some "existence proofs" around that support it (like this and this). Perfect. Except that we now have a protoype for something that was already available. Mm. Less than exciting.

Okay, so, let's strive for something new; let's take it to the next level. What are the ingredients required to get millions of people working together over extended periods of time to change the world for the better? Yeah, now that's ambitious. Is the alpha version of the basic ingredients sufficient? Doesn't seem like it... And the existence proofs are missing. No problem, here is our chance to iterate. Before we revise, let's consider what gaps there might be in the alpha version.

Interestingly, the gap is not in the first ingredient. There are millions of willing people out there in the US alone. Alright, so the missing bits have gotta be related to the direction ingredient. For one, it's challenging to articulate a really big inspiring direction. Still, that's not the real problem either, because a bit of looking will turn up some winners (here's one of my favorites) that others have been able to capture. So if inspiring directions aren't the gap, then what is? Here's what bubbles up for me:

  1. No single specific direction will work for all or even most willing people
  2. Many inspiring directions are either hard to translate into personal action (e.g. the example above), or demand more commitment than many willing people are ready for
  3. Willing people will need to be aware of a direction before they can align

That list pulls together several threads that have been winding through my mind lately. And after some consideration, I propose a new prototype of a set of basic ingredients (the beta version):

  • willing people
  • an extensible collection of broadly inspiring directions
  • captured lists of the personal actions that is supportive of the directions
  • a set of tools to help people identify inspiring directions that they can align with (e.g., a self-assessment tool to help match action plans to an individual's values and situation)
  • thorough, open and credible essays and discussions articulating how the actions support the directions and personal values (to support alignment)
  • web-based versions of all applicable pieces (for broadest, easiest access)

Now, this list is more interesting. I expect most of the elements are necessary; it's harder to tell if they're sufficient. In any case, although some of the items are present and accounted for (the willing people, as noted, plus good ideas), I believe that there's room for improvement with respect to many items in the list.

I'll take a stab at those in future postings.

For now, what is your list of basic ingredients? And where might one go to shop for some of the ingredients on the beta version above?

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