What do you do when the world is “evacuated of meaning”? This is the wicked problem Walker Percy concerned himself with.
The search is never over.
What do you do when the world is “evacuated of meaning”? This is the wicked problem Walker Percy concerned himself with.
The search is never over.
The “Common Good” refers to the collective well-being, interests, and benefits of a community. It emphasizes the importance of community values, resources, and goals that contribute to the overall well-being of the community. Decisions and actions that promote the common good are those that consider the needs and rights of all members of the community and seek to create a fair and just society. A city council, for example, allocates funding to improve public infrastructure such as roads, schools, and parks. This benefits all residents of the city and contributes to the common good by enhancing the quality of life for everyone.
In our latest book, we define the 9 domains of the Common Good, tied to the essential freedoms they provide:
The “Greater Good” refers to a perspective that makes decisions and choices that might require sacrifice or compromise on an individual or smaller group level in order to achieve a greater benefit for a larger number of people. The concept of the greater good often involves ethical considerations and the idea that certain actions are justifiable if they lead to significant positive outcomes for a larger portion of society, even if they might negatively impact some individuals or smaller groups.
The problem with the greater good is that the decision-making for the sake of achieving significant positive outcomes – is left to an elite. And this elite may not be serving the interests of the common good.
Authoritarian regimes – both on the extreme left and the extreme right – have used the idea of the “Greater Good” to justify imposing strict controls on society, limiting personal freedoms, and suppressing opposition. This is done in the name of maintaining social order (harmony?!) and achieving national unity.
Fascism and Communism both focus on nationalism, a strong centralized government and strongman leader, and often promote the supremacy of a particular race or nation. These regimes historically have justified their actions by claiming to pursue the greater good of the nation or the state, often at the expense of individual rights and freedoms.
Thus, authoritarian ideologies can lead to exclusionary policies that discriminate against certain groups deemed as threats to the nation or its interests. The “Greater Good” might be invoked to justify these policies, claiming that they are necessary for the security and prosperity of the dominant group. Such regimes use propaganda to manipulate public perception and present their actions as necessary for the greater good. This can involve distorting information and suppressing dissent to create a unified narrative that supports the regime’s goals.
At its worst, interpretations of the “Greater Good” have been used to advance ideas of racial or ethnic superiority, where one group is deemed as inherently superior and entitled to privileges at the expense of others. It is the rational behind hate-based politics – leading to separation – apartheid, institutional injustice, and genocide.
Don’t get fooled by the Greater Good – or long-termism, another form of greater-goodism.
So our book is finally here. At one point – when we were at 500 pages – I almost gave up. But then I remembered Gail Mazur‘s advice: “anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” and decided to carry on. Now, at 320 pages, this book tries to cover the various angles and sights and buzzwords we see creeping into the regeneration ecosystem (pun intended).
The book’s original title was Regeneration: The Future of Community, but as we went on, it ended up becoming Regeneration: The Future of Community in a Permacrisis World.
What’s the big idea? Actually we think there are several.
Climate change is the greatest market failure in history. Its costs are not priced into market transactions because third parties overwhelmingly bear them – they are euphemistically called “externalities.” There is a fatal misalignment between what is in the interests of the economy and the incentives of the companies that comprise it. Nature, and the communities we live in, are nowhere part of the equation!
Regeneration means regenerating the Common Good. Our position is this: The Climate Crisis and the Collapse of Society are both symptoms of the same fatal sickness: the destruction of the Common Good. We cannot compartmentalize the climate and separate it from the rest of society or our activities.
Here are the questions we – Philip Kotler, Enrico Foglia, and myself, asked ourselves:
The choice is clear. It is regeneration, or extinction.
Learn more at the Regeneration Marketing Institute >>
This week I interviewed Cettina Martorana, a candidate in Sicily’s regional elections on the subject of regenerative politics.
Can politics be regenerative at all?
Martorana is a professional business woman who finds herself in an election because she was drafted by Caterina Chinnici – the candidate on the left for president of the Sicilian Assembly.
Here are five points I got out of our discussion:
If our politics don’t engage the youth, what’s the point in politics at all? Martorana’s idea is simple: ask the students what they want and find ways to create opportunities for them. She does this through an old media format – comics!
But her message is serious.
Here is Martorana’s tree of regeneration – a symbol to capture the interconnected nature of all things in the community:
Martorana’s unique campaign is based on a deep understanding and empathy for the plight facing Sicily’s youth. Jobs and employment are scarce, and now with COVID and climate change, things may get much worse. As a problem-solver, she aims to explain why regenerative politics is not just a word, but the way forward.
You can check Martorana’s ideas out at www.cettinamartorana.it – with the help of Google translate!
This is the TEDxAthens presentation on regeneration – a preview of the book:
The legendary reggae band Steel Pulse (one of Bob Marley’s favorites) raises its voice to challenge the world to come together – a “movements of movements” – to save the Earth:
Special thanks to Jessica Lieng from the W7 Working Group for putting together the video. Maximum respect to Steel Pulse and David Hinds in particular!
It was my great honor to interview the “Father of modern Marketing” on his lifetime of achievements in marketing.
Professor Philip Kotler received the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award for his work over the past 50 years. I am deeply grateful for his friendship and mentorship – and everything he has done to demonstrate how marketing must be a force for good.
Sometimes I wonder why we have forgotten these principles from the late Paul Polak. When I chatted with him about the $300 House, he wanted me to reconsider and make it a $100 House. His point was simple: affordability drives design.
Now, as part of the research agenda of the Regenerative Marketing Institute, I’m thinking about how these BoP principles and Stuart Hart‘s BoP protocol apply to the developed world — to communities trying to find a way back from the COVID-crash.
Here are Polak’s principles:
1) Go to where the action is. You can’t solve poverty from a World Bank office.
2) Talk to the people and listen to what they have to say.
3) Learn everything about the context of the problem and the people.
4) Think and act big. No reason to be modest. Small solutions applied thousands of thousands of times.
5) Think like a child to find the obvious solution people have missed in the past. (Irony of thinking big and like a child)
6) See and do the obvious. Emersing yourself in the problem helps.
7) If someone has invented it–you don’t have to. Find existing solutions
8} Make sure your approach can be scaled up.
9) Design for the poor. Affordability rules the design process with poor customers.
10) Follow practical 3 year plans. Must transform into effective work plan for 3 years.
11) Continue to learn from your customers. (Interviewed more than 3000 farm families, $12 solar lantern)
12) Don’t be distracted by what other people say (Almost every project I’ve done has had sceptics)
Let’s add another principle for impact innovation:
13) Design for justice. (The design schools don’t)
Can marketing be regenerative? And what would that look like?
Our definition >>
Regenerative marketing is defined as marketing practices which nurture communities and build local prosperity over the long term. The outcomes of regenerative marketing include value creation for customers, employees, and local communities. Regenerative marketing practices must – by definition – build community wealth.
Read the article in The Marketing Journal >>
It’s time to put aside our toys – our ideologies and guns – and look at this time in history as our final exam. This is a test, as Buckminster Fuller said, to see if we, the human species, deserve to carry on. COVID has shown us that we cannot find consensus on how to deal with the virus.
Time’s running out. Philip Kotler, Karthiga Ratnam, and I think it’s time for a movement of movements.
Learn more on the Wicked7 Project site >>
What are we going to do now? The #forkintheroad which Buckminster Fuller warned us about is here now >> “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment… Humanity is in a final exam as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in the Universe.”
What will it take to leap across the chasm and undo the destruction we’ve caused? Why can’t the UN fix it?
We’re hurtling into a state of climate emergency whilst we simultaneously face the convergence of the Wicked7.
What are the Wicked7? The world’s most urgent problems.
We’ve distilled over 200 problems into the Wicked7:
You can’t solve wicked problems. That’s what we’ve been led to believe. And for years, we haven’t. Solve them, that is.
Well, if not now, then when?
Wicked problems must have virtuous solutions. If any lesson has emerged from this COVID-19 pandemic, it is this: we must address the urgent problems of the world now, or perish. Why? Because COVID-19 is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg… the ecosystem of wicked problems will not wait.
After working on this idea for over a year, Philip Kotler and I kicked off the Wicked7 Challenge on April Fool’s Day, 2021.
Our first challenge? The Death of Nature.
Join us >>
P.S. – Bucky Fuller was wrong. Thanks to Sonmoy, one of our W7 advisors, we now see that there’s a triple fork in the road, and utopia is simply no longer an option. What we must fight for is survival.
Join Philip Kotler and myself as we kickoff this project to “save humanity from itself.”
WEBINAR >> April 1, 2021 >> 4 pm EASTERN / 10 PM EU
REPLAY available here >>
I still think of Larry Keeley‘s 10 types of innovation – and think about how the model can be applied to social innovation – to meet the “unmet needs” of society.
The 11th type of innovation is purpose – to what ends are your capabilities and talents being deployed? Are you inclusive or is your company supporting new forms of apartheid? That is what Brand Activism, and by extension – the Wicked7 Project – are about.
So how do we determine society’s Jobs to be Done?
Find out on March 31st (2:00 PM -2:45 PM ET) when I chat with Strategyn’s Tony Ulwick about this and more . Register here for the free webinar.
One of the points of the Wicked7 Project is to demonstrate how we have a shared responsibility — business, government, and social institutions — to work together for the future of the planet.
By definition, solving society’s most urgent problems is a balancing act between the various requirements and needs of the different stakeholders across all sectors. Our policy-making must be driven by this idea of balance if it is to create a sustainable and resilient society.
Read >> The Unmet Needs of Society: Introducing Multi-stakeholder Jobs to be Done by Christian Sarkar, Anthony Ulwick, and Philip Kotler.
In 2015, the late architect and teacher Abhijit De and I wrote an article for Thinkers called The Ecosystem of Poverty: Lessons Learned from the $300 House.
In it we popped in a chart that was constructed after days and months of debate with students, surveys and discussions with villagers in rural India, and the “experts”:
Soon after, we were working on the concept of a “smart village” – with the sobering realization that the problems of the poor are not going to be solved without solving other wicked problems. A few days before his untimely passing, we discussed expanding this chart.
This “ecosystem of wicked problems“ is not going to magically vanish. It needs our attention, now more than ever.
And that’s the point of The Wicked 7 Project.
Join us >>
In his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, sociologist Ray Oldenburg suggests citizens should live in a balance of three kingdoms: home, work, and social. The social space would be the third place – a great, good place.
This is what the local “community center” was supposed to be. Some community centers succeed because of their inclusivity and community roots. Senior citizens go to the community center not to play bingo, but to meet each other and talk. The same applies to the kids who hang out at malls. Libraries, bookstores, and bars serve the same purpose.
This is what Starbucks‘ Howard Schultz had in mind when he imported the idea of the Italian coffee house to the US. The only problem with the model is the cost of the coffee. In some ways, we could argue that Starbucks is exploiting our psychological need for community to make excessive profits.
In order for the city and its neighborhoods to offer the rich and varied association that is their promise and their potential, there must be neutral ground upon which people may gather. There must be places where individuals may come and go as they please, in which none are required to play host, and in which all feel at home and comfortable. If there is no neutral ground in the neighborhoods where people live, association outside the home will be impoverished.
Is there a “neutral ground” in your neighborhood? Why or why not?
Urban developers and designers must be held accountable for the lack of public space.
So how do we begin placemaking?
The attributes of a “great place” are also the attributes of community building.
So why do developers ignore these when they design neighborhoods?
Development policy must not be driven by developer profits, and yet this is the case almost everywhere. Our leaders are not interested in building healthy communities. Their interests lie with their sponsors.
How does innovation happen? Most company’s struggle to understand how innovation works, often confusing creativity with innovation. In today’s tacit, knowledge-based creative economy, innovation and differentiation rarely come from one distinct source. Rather, innovation evolves from:
I know what some of you are thinking – “Well, did America have a soul to begin with?” I happen to think it did. For me the soul of America is “We, the people…”
Furthermore, I’m quite sure that people, as defined by our founders, did not mean corporations. (See what Charles Handy has to say >>)
But to get back to the topic of inclusivity, I’d like to make a shameless plug for our new book, co-authored with University of Michigan’s Professor Michael Gordon, called Inclusivity: Will America Find Its Soul Again?
BUY now >>
Inclusivity: Will America Find Its Soul Again is a book of questions, hints, and suggestions about creating more opportunity for more people–starting with the USA, but looking at and learning from the rest of the world.
The very idea of the “United” States is based on the principles of inclusivity–all men and women are created equal under the law. But we seem to have lost our conviction that inclusivity is possible or even to be desired. The current divisive political climate, along with economic uncertainty, has fostered an atmosphere of fear and narrow-mindedness across the country.
What can we do in the face of this reality? The choice is not easy, but it is clear. Either we will decide to be more inclusive, or we will turn against each other – finding reasons to divide ourselves, not just from each other as citizens, but also from a shared future.
The USA, unless we decide otherwise, will become simply the SA.
This book is dedicated to an inclusive future for all our children, including my daughters M and K, and the idea that the United States is still the last best hope for democracy and inclusivity. We won’t have one without the other.
The book includes the following sections:
Let us know what you think!
P.S. – We don’t want this, do we?
Michael Gordon‘s book, Design Your Life, Change the World: Your Path as a Social Entrepreneur [A GUIDE for CHANGEMAKERS] is for changemakers – the people and organizations that want to make a difference in the world.
The book tries to answer two questions, says Professor Gordon:
1) How can organizations best address important societal problems such as poverty, inadequate health care, sub-par education, and an unhealthy planet?
2) What’s the best advice for students who want to address these issues and still live lives of relative comfort?
The reason I’m helping the professor is because now, more than ever, we need the brightest students to tackle the world’s biggest problems. And the oil-coal-nuclear lobby isn’t making things any easier…
Are you a changemaker? Go find out >>
P.S. – you can download the PDF version here >>
I don’t watch TV much but I just caught a clip of Richard Branson promoting his book Screw Business As Usual. Looks like he’s on the same page as Stuart Hart – who has been essentially saying the same thing for twenty years. They ought to compare notes!
What was funny was watching Branson sit there as the producers had him wait and wait for his three minute interview. He was clearly in distress – the anguish of the entrepreneur who can’t bear to waste time – as he smiled and waved every time they turned the camera on him.
The book is available later this month… have a Happy Green Christmas!
I first met Bob Freling at a board meeting of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) in San Francisco several years ago. At the time, I felt that here was an NGO doing innovative things but not getting enough visibility for their work. They were solar way before solar was cool.
What struck me is how informal and close the board members were. One of the board members – Larry Hagman (good ol’ J.R. Ewing) – did a brilliant set of solar commercials which I think says a lot about his character and wanting to make the world a better place (quite the opposite of his TV character!). But I digress.
The story here is that SELF pioneered the use of solar power to fight “energy poverty” across a spectrum of applications with their “solar integrated development model” – from clean water, to drip irrigation to improve food security, to electricity for health clinics, schools, and micro-enterprise.
In his blog post about the $300 House Energy Challenge, Bob explains:
“It’s simple really. First, solar energy powers pumps and filters for clean water. This also enables drip irrigation for critical crops. Once people have those necessities, the solar energy is used to power health care facilities which can power equipment and refrigerate vaccines, for example. This increasingly healthy population can then open schools which are powered by solar to provide computer and Internet-based learning. Finally, these well-fed, well-cared for, well-educated villagers can begin community and entrepreneurial activities to grow their economy.”
Bob’s optimism is tempered with reality. The Millennium Development Goals won’t be achieved without energy access, he explains in another blog post. In case you forgot what the MDGs are (as I often do) they’re listed as:
1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger;
2) achieving universal primary education;
3) promoting gender equality and empowering women;
4) reducing child mortality;
5) improving maternal health;
6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and
8) building a global partnership for development.
Note that they are interrelated, ecosystemic problems – and that from Bob’s perspective, energy is the key factor which makes all of them feasible.
With the $300 House project, my eyes have been opened to the fact that the approaches for dealing with the poor are often not very constructive, and sometimes end up doing more damage than good. That’s what $300 House adviser Stuart L. Hart is talking about when he says we need to create smaller problems. It is also a concern of our critics on the $300 House. When I spoke to Matias Echanove recently, he was concerned that mass produced housing could in fact disrupt the local economy – the small businesses that are based in informal slums around the country. I hear him.
Our $300 House project is exploring ways to integrate services and jobs into the ecosystem as well, and we’re reaching out to talk to the leaders in the communities that are interested in this approach. In India, we’ve just completed a survey – with the help of THL – that covers 15 villages in three of the poorest states in India – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. I’ll go into more detail in a later post.
For me the question is quite simple – we see an explosion of interest in developing integrated townships for the middle class in India, but why is there nothing comparable for the poor? To borrow a phrase from the US, why can’t we build “master-planned communities” for the poor?
Is it too much to ask that governments, NGOs and development institutions, and businesses work together with the communities involved to build integrated solutions?
Unfortunately, there are far too few examples of collaborative development. This is something we all need to look at urgently. There is also a problem of ownership. The development community, NGOs, and most governments think they “own” the problem. Unfortunately, without a business mindset to make solutions scale, their is so little real progress.
The poor remain poor.
And that’s why the work Paul Polak is doing is so important. He’s looking at making small changes at the bottom of the pyramid; small changes that make a big difference in the earnings of the poor. This is also the approach advocated by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Bannerjee in Poor Economics.
At a much larger scale, we see an example in the Gates Foundation‘s approach – which is all about examining the ecosystems of poverty. A common criticism of the Gates Foundation goes along these lines: “How can people like Gates, living in a different universe, help people at the bottom of the pyramid?” This is a false and damaging argument, but answered quite well by Sam Dryden:
“Some people may ask how my team and I–working at the world’s largest foundation located in a prosperous corner of a rich nation–can relate to a subsistence farming family in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. This is a very reasonable question to ask. The farmer has a direct connection to the land and we are considerably removed, both by distance and culture. We begin by realizing these differences and humbly listening to farmers and their families, learning and respecting their cultures, ways of living, and knowledge of place and home. The solutions we seek are those appropriate and welcomed in this context, not those imposed by distant values or interests.”
And finally, perhaps there is an alternative to the giant top-down programs, and incremental bottom-up “Let the Poor Do It Themselves” approaches we’ve encountered.
With the $300 House, we’re thinking micro-development – is it possible to build integrated micro-solutions at the village level? And in cities, at the neighborhood level?
When I first started working on classifying online ecosystems, I had no idea that my thinking there would influence my thoughts on the $300 House. But now it seems like the systems approach to understanding wicked problems is pretty much the only way to go. None of this is new, of course, but I’m still impressed at the power of ecosystem thinking.
Here’s how Nobel prize laureate Gunnar Myrdal was thinking about the problems of race and poverty:
The “vicious circle” has not yet made its way into our political thinking though, if we judge the policy makers of today’s Congress. Heck, they can’t even bring themselves to accept the effects of global warming – in no small part thanks to our lobbyist friends.
The idea of poverty as the outcome of a dysfunctional ecosystem is explained here as well:
Note that this applies to poverty in the US as well, not just the emerging world.
So, part of tackling the issue of affordable housing for the poor is to try to understand the interconnected nature of these problems. I tried to draw causal arrows between the various problems, but gave up. In essence, we have a problem of insecurity, in which all of these factors must be addressed simultaneously if we are to change the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, and suffering. Here’s what I ended up with:
The poor live in an insecure, unbalanced universe.
I’m calling it the “ecosystems of poverty.”
Next we’ll look at the idea of integrated development (another old idea) which fell out of favor, but must be re-evaluated in today’s light if we are serious about poverty alleviation.
Sometimes not knowing what you’re doing can help you do it.
Here I make a fool of myself at the Guardian’s Activate2011 conference in London:
The final Harvard Business Review post in the series, and hopefully the start of some real change at the bottom of the pyramid.
Our goal is to go social for social business. Can social co-creation help the poor?
Thanks also to Scott Berinato at HBR and of course – VG, my partner in crime.
This chart by the folks at the Eurasia Group, got me thinking. Something just doesn’t make sense:
Then it hit me. This is a rather conventional way to screen for global opportunities. If we looked at other screens like “innovation potential,” “middle class expansion rate,” “Gini coefficient shrinkage,” or “corruption index,”you’d see a very different picture.
Michael Hudson, U of Missouri, on how we in the US lost our way. If this is true, we really have destroyed ourselves:
Seth Godin posts a very insightful blog entry on the HBR site. He’s talking about the challenges of marketing at the bottom of the pyramid:
When someone in poverty buys a device that improves productivity, the
device pays for itself (if it didn’t, they wouldn’t buy it.) So a drip
irrigation system, for example, may pay off by creating two or three
harvests a year instead of one.
Read all about it >>
The Solar Electric Light Fund‘s Bob Freling has posted an entry in Harvard Business Review about his Solar Integrated Development (SID) Maturity Model and how it fits into our concept of the $300 House.
Here’s Bob waxing eloquent:
Together with potable water, nutritious food, accessible health care,
educational opportunity, and economic empowerment, the $300 House
completes this virtuous ecosystem in which individual households and
their communities can march hand in hand towards a bright and
Read the whole post The $300 House: The Energy Challenge >>
The Gap screws up with their logo redesign. A giant failure of imagination in the boardroom.
But Umair Haque asks the right questions:
We all need to wake up. The Chamber of Commerce approach to design isn’t going to work anymore.
Cracking the challenge of slums is the world’s biggest problem of the next quarter-century, because the ecology of slums and the ecology of cities are linked. We cannot have a healthy global economy without healthy cities, and we cannot have healthy cities without tackling slums.
Join us >>
We’re building a “creationspace” (JSB’s word) for the $300 House-for-the-Poor at 300house.com >>
Please sign up, and tell your friends!
Here it is. The new song from Steel Pulse – for the people of Haiti.
At: www.holdon4haiti.org >>
Watch Paul Farmer explain:
Disclosure: SELF is my client, and I helped facilitate the project.