Hard at Work in 2025

What does 2025 look like?

Lots of grey hairs, that seems likely. Americans are living longer, and working longer, too. If we plan to live to 90, then 30 years is a mighty long time to live without the intellectual stimulation, social interaction, sense of accomplishment and financial security that a good job provides. This is a very demanding population, many well aware of the importance of good food, fitness, mental health, recreation. By 2025 (about ten years from today), the 60-plus population in the US will increase by 70 percent.

That’s only part of the story. Forget about work as a series of repetitive tasks. These will be done by machines, or they will be outsourced. This type of work simply won’t be done by humans. And that raises the question, “what kinds of work are best done by humans, and not by smart machines?”And don’t think in terms of what machines, or computers, or devices can do today. Instead, think in terms of a decade ago (no YouTube, few phones with cameras, no tablets), and assume that the technology will advance at two or three times the current rate. Machines will be much, much smarter than they are today. And they will communicate with one another, often without human involvement. Much as I love reading, it’s clear that video and animation are going to occupy an ever-increasing share of everyone’s media diet. Cultural norms are changing. If you want to learn to fix a toilet, you no longer read about it—you watch a video. We are connecting data with an intensity and velocity never before imagined. This, plus a globally connected world, will make 2014 seem real old, real fast.

Add these trends to the longevity trend and the contours of 2025 begin to take shape.

CirclesSo what are we supposed to do about this? How are we supposed to think about 2025? Some of the answers are in a report prepared by the Institute for the Future for the (yes, I was dubious, too) University of Phoenix Research Institute. It’s good work. And it goes on to look carefully at ten skills for the future workforce that are worth browsing here and worth reading about, in greater detail, here. More or less (with some of my own interpretation added), they are:

  1. Sense-making: the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed. These are higher-level thinking skills related to creative and critical thinking, decision sciences, environmental scanning, extensive knowledge of environmental factors, and much more.
  2. Social Intelligence: the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense reactions and quickly assess emotional impact, and then, rapidly adapt or lead to achieve the optimum result.
  3. Novel and Adaptive Thinking: This set of skills expands upon the two above, “the ability to respond to unique unexpected circumstances of the moment.” Routine solutions are useful, but those who can combine the routine with the new, those who are naturally resourceful, are most likely to succeed.
  4. Cross-cultural Competency: This goes far beyond tolerance and equality. It requires an ease in working across generations, across what was once called an organizational chart, gaining and contributing insights to an extraordinarily wide range of stakeholders, coworkers, clients, competitors, vendors, customers, participants and much more.
  5. Computational Thinking: What’s the point of all of that computing power if you don’t know what the machines can do, should do, and might someday do? This is akin to buying a fabulous car—you’re paying for the most extraordinary performance, but it’s yours only if you demand it. In other words, to succeed, you’ll need to understand how and why it all works (and not from a technical point of view, but from a high-level perspective instead).
  6. New Media Literacy: Critical assessment of videos, understanding of the techniques used to shape and deliver messages, how to write and speak and produce. Forget about PowerPoints—they were the 1990s. We’re entering the era of widespread transmedia, where text, graphics, photos, interactivity, connectivity, video and games are only the beginning.
  7. (I love this made-up word!) Transdisciplinarity: Not sure that this needs any commentary.
  8. Design Mindset: Or, more commonly, a skill in design thinking. What’s that? Planning based upon community, customer or participant needs—these come first, and old ways of thinking, such as profitability, flow from these decisions. There is a lot of information about design thinking on the web, including a good Wikipedia introduction, and a blog by Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo, and the author of “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.”
  9. Cognitive Load Management: Yeah, I like this phrase, too. More or less, it’s thinking about ways to avoid a “overload” light from blinking inside your brain. Learn to say “no” to the junk that attempts to fill the media diet; learn to discriminate, to dig deep, to contextualize, to become a “sufficient expert” (I just made that up;  the phrase makes sense to me).
  10. Virtual Collaboration: To work productively on you own (never give your boss or client a reason to worry about time spent away from the office), and to do so with lots of other people to generate and maintain high levels of productivity. Use Skype, use other forms of technology to do great things (and some routine things) with people who you have never met, and never will meet in person.

I think that’s a great list. And with it, two (REALLY IMPORTANT) suggestions:

First, score yourself. On each of the ten items above, score yourself 1 (the worst) through 10 (the best). If your score is 85, 90 or better, you will be welcome in 2025. If your score is a lot lower, you’ve got some honest work to do.

Second, reconsider school. If school isn’t nourishing you on these ten points, you should begin to ask some very serious questions about your investment of time and money, and you should immediately focus your school’s administration, faculty and curriculum advisors that the world will change sooner than they believe possible. Work with them. Or, learn without them. But get moving!

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Masterful Visualizing

In my last post, I recommended a book entitled The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. As a companion, I recommend another book from the same publisher, Michael Weise Productions. This one is entitled Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know. It’s written by Jennifer van Sijll. Like The Writer’s Journey, Cinematic Storytelling is useful to the one telling the story, and to the reader or audience member on the receiving end. Why does this book matter? Because we’re rapidly developing into a world of visual storytellers–smartphones and digital cameras in hand–and it would be wonderful if everyone could do their job just that much better.

CInematicStory_website_largeBasically, this book is an encyclopedia of visual storytelling techniques, but it’s fun to browse because every idea is illustrated by frames from a well-known or significant film–and each sequence is presented with the relevant bit of the screenplay along with perceptive commentary from the author.

Some are easily understood by the audience, and as a result, they must be used judiciously by the filmmaker or storyteller: the slow-motion sequence in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull; the freeze frame that ends Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; the fast-motion sequence in the French film, Amelie; the famous flashback in the Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard; the visual match cut that transforms a bone into a spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey; the long dissolve between young Rose and Old Rose in Titanic.

A specialty lens was used by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane–perhaps the movie most often used as an example to illustrate a variety of techniques. Sometimes, a telephoto is the appropriate storytelling choice, and sometimes, it’s the wide angle. These are not random, on-the-fly choices; instead, they are carefully considered during the storyboard phases of film development.

In this entry featuring The Graduate, the author explains the use of a "rack-focus"--here, shifting the focal point from one character to another. The author explains, "Unseen by Elaine, who is still facing Ben, Mrs. Robinson stands in the doorway. Mrs. Robinson is out-of-focus and ghost-like. When Elaine spins around, Mrs. Robinson is pulled into focus, and Elaine is thrown out of focus (Image 4). Every line in Mrs. Robinson's defeated face now shows. After a beat, Mrs. Robinson disappears from the door. When Elaine turns back to Ben, her face remains momentarily blurred, externalizing her confusion. At the moment of recognition, her face is pulled back into focus.

In this entry featuring The Graduate, the author explains the use of a “rack-focus”–here, shifting the focal point from one character to another. The author explains, “Unseen by Elaine, who is still facing Ben, Mrs. Robinson stands in the doorway. Mrs. Robinson is out-of-focus and ghost-like. When Elaine spins around, Mrs. Robinson is pulled into focus, and Elaine is thrown out of focus (Image 4). Every line in Mrs. Robinson’s defeated face now shows. After a beat, Mrs. Robinson disappears from the door. When Elaine turns back to Ben, her face remains momentarily blurred, externalizing her confusion. At the moment of recognition, her face is pulled back into focus.

Selecting a particular point-of-view (POV) can be a critically important aspect of storytelling, as with the below-the-swimmer underwater sequence just before the first swimmer is killed by a shark in JAWS. For which scenes is a low-angle shot most appropriate (character POV for E.T. would be one example), or for which would a high-angle shot be the better creative choice? When does it make sense to use a tracking shot (the camera is mounted on a tripod that glides along tracks; some low-budget achieve similar results by employing a wheelchair)?

Lighting is another variable. In American Beauty, there’s a scene illuminated by candlelight. In E.T., the search is conducted by flashlights and car headlights that illuminate an otherwise dark nighttime landscape.

In Barton Fink, individual shots of props (hotel stationery, an old typewriter) add visual context. Wardrobe is another defining option. So, too, is the use of location as a theme, a concept so masterfully used by director David Lynch in the vaguely creepy Blue Velvet.

It’s not always about what is seen. Sometimes, the scene contains less information, and the story or theme is carried by music or sound effects. Back to Barton Fink for the eerie sense of surreal sound and its ability to paint a picture of each character’s inner world.

Masterful Storytelling

WritersJourney3rddropWe live in remarkable times. Stories are told in every part of the world, and shared with millions of people. Once, this was the domain of the rich and powerful. Today, anybody can tell a story, and share the majesty of their ideas.

Of course, some stories are better than others. There is an art and a craft to all of this, a discipline studied in college programs and in private instruction taught by masters.

One such master is a Hollywood story consultant named Christopher Vogler. Since 1998, Vogler has been the industry expert on a particular, popular type of storytelling and character development. He explains it all in a wonderful book entitled The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,  now published in its third edition by Michael Weise Productions.

No doubt, you are familiar with the structure of the mythical hero’s journey. You’ve seen it in so many movies. The hero of the story does not begin as a hero. Instead, he or she (more often, he) is an ordinary guy doing ordinary things every day. Then, something happens, and suddenly, he is thrust into an uncomfortable role, reluctant to proceed in anything resembling a heroic journey. Inevitably, the wizened old mentor or the playful talking dog shows up, and the ordinary guy begins to understand that he has no choice, that he must pursue the journey whether or not he wants to do so.

It’s Star WarsThe Wizard of Oz, Sister Act, Big, Raiders of the Lost Ark… you know the routine, but it’s still a story we love to experience, a story we love to tell. It’s the human experience, each time presented anew.

We’re on a mission from God” — Dan Ackroyd and John Landis, screenplay, Blues Brothers

So what’s so special about this book? Well, Vogler has a tidy way of breaking down each of the steps along the journey. For example, after leaving the ordinary world; hearing the call to adventure; refusing the call; meeting with the mentor; encountering tests, enemies and allies; and approaching an innermost cave, the hero is inevitably faced with an ordeal that must be overcome in order to move ahead with the journey. Joseph Campbell, whose book, Hero with A Thousand Faces, covers much of the same territory from a mythological analysis perspective, also arrives, at this point in the journey, at the greatest challenge and the fiercest opponent. So here’s the secret of the ordeal:

Heroes must die so they can be reborn.

To be clear, “the dramatic movement that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth. In some way, in every story, heroes face death or something like it: their greatest fears, the failure of an enterprise, the end of a relationship, the death of an old personality. Most of the time, they magically survive this death and are literally or symbolically reborn to reap the consequences of having cheated death. They have passed the main test of being a hero.”

Vogler goes on to explain that heroes “don’t just visit death and come home. They return changed, transformed.” So, the ordeal serves as a central core to the story, the place where the variety of story threads begin to tie together in a meaningful way. BUT–the crisis is not the climax of the story. That’s a completely different concept, a part of the story that arrives much later on (near the end, in fact.)

One reason why we love to watch the hero’s journey time and again is because every story is unique. Vogler explains how and why this may be true. Most often, the crisis occurs at the story’s mid-point, which Vogler describes as a tent pole–if it’s too far to one side, the tent sags / the audience’s interest wanes. (He reminds us that our word “crisis” comes from a Greek word meaning “to separate.” Vogler looks at the question of ordeal from many different perspectives, each one a driver that we’ve all experienced in the movies or in good fiction: a crisis of the heart, standing up to a parent, witnessing the death of a loved one, going crazy with emotion, and the list goes on.

If you’re sensing that The Writer’s Journey might be a useful tool for both constructing and de-construcing stories, you’re beginning to understand the value of Volger’s accomplishment. For the writer attempting to tell a story in a way that will ring true for the reader or the audience, this would seem to be an essential tool. For the reader, or the movie fan who wants to better understand the art and craft of storytelling, the deep secrets of the creative team, this book exposes the magic for the trickery that it is, then waves its cape to reveal far deeper magic within. For the English teacher, or professor, in search of a far better way to connect with students who ought to read or write with greater proficiency, here’s the elixir.

Of course, that’s only part of the story: the writing. Next up, from the same publisher: how to tell the visual story to ignite the audience’s imagination.

You Know, A Lot Can Happen In A Century

In his time, Al Jolson was a superstar. We've managed to get past the need for blackface, and although it keeps changing, showbiz marches on.

In his time, Al Jolson was a superstar. Thankfully, we’ve managed to get past the need for blackface. Show business keeps changing, adapting to times and tastes. And until recently, there was one place to read about these changes, day after day, year after year. Now, that’s changing, too. How? Read on. (You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!)

Today, we’re digital. We live in modern times. These times, we believe, are so new, so unique, that they have no historical precedent. The mythology is tempting, but that’s because the history is just beyond the edge of our ken. We focus on the new. We forget what happened before. Until, of course, we’re reminded of our history as the result of a really good documentary, or a really good book.

vaudeville theatre

A hundred years ago, minstrel shows were just beginning to lose their luster, but it was unclear whether theater audiences would eventually prefer skating rinks, a vaudeville industry based upon national tours (new, in 1906), or bawdy burlesque as a the most popular ways to spend leisure time. Movies were just starting out with an industry of tiny, dubious start-ups and few places where they could be seen by anyone. Live theater was the popular entertainment; actors traveled from one city to another to perform in popular plays, just as they had since the time of John Wilkes Booth. It was a confusing time… The Great War was just beginning and the large theater lobbies were as useful as recruiting stations as they were for pre-performance gatherings. After the war, everything seemed to coalesce. Charlie Chaplin, who had debuted in a US theater in 1910, was sufficiently powerful by 1918 to join forces with movie stars Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and director D.W. Griffith to form United Artists. Then as now, everything happened quickly.

Prior to the 1920s, just about all entertainment was live. The movies were beginning to change that, and as the decade began, a new idea called radio was began as a kind of experiment, it’s post-military use future not yet clear. The year 1920 was one of vaudeville’s best ever. By 1925, radio was becoming popular, but its business model was entirely unclear. From a July 1925 article:

the broadcasters and radio manufacturers continue to tell Department of Commerce officials that no broadcasting station in the country is making money.

Paramount theaterParamount studioBy 1930, 40 percent of US households owned a radio, and by 1940, radio’s penetration was more than 80 percent. By 1930, there was a bona fide motion picture industry with large studios (Fox, Paramount, Loew’s/MGM, RKO and Warner), each with an elaborate distribution network of theaters throughout the country and a distribution infrastructure to service the nation and parts of the world. At the same time, the new NBC and its lesser rival CBS had built a similar structure for radio broadcasting. This structure supported the next level of development: a star system. Lon Chaney, Al Jolson, Fatty Arbuckle, Theda Bara, Duke Ellington, James Cagney, Fred and Adele Astaire, so many others became household names.

The industry grew. There were cartoons from Warner Bros, and Disney, comedy shorts from Hal Roach (Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy), child stars including Shirley Temple, and within a decade, major long-term successes including Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. There was Mussolini, Hitler, FDR, the Roaring Twenties followed by the Great Depression.

Variety bookVariety covered it all. This small, speciality newspaper, a trade rag, was always at the center of it all. When anything happened in or near show biz, Variety told the world. Everybody in “the business” read it, and to be mentioned in it was a clear indication of career success (I was in it, at lease once, and I still have the clipping).

This week, Variety announced that it would cease publishing its daily edition (the weekly remains in print, at least for the foreseeable future). This is not simply a cost cutting measure. Variety, once the trendiest of publications, has been badly beaten in the online entertainment journalism game, and some industry insiders question its survival as a 21st century brand.

Given its illustrious past, I suspect Variety has more fight in it than pundits allow. If you have any doubt, you must spend some time with a book about Variety’s history published by Rizzoli in a tidy coffee table format. The book is entitled Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Modt Important Magazine in Hollywood. The last headline in this volume: “Comcast buys 51% of NBC Universal.” I think it’s interesting to note that neither Comcast nor NBC nor Universal existed when Variety’s story began, and even more interesting to consider just how much has happened over the span of a single century. (Parallels with today’s innovative world are particularly fascinating).

Okay, why not? Here’s one of my favorite Variety headlines. This one was on the front page on July 12, 1950:

VIDEO NOW VAUDE’S VILLAIN
Acts and Agents Fear TV Inroads

Can’t help but wonder about a headline that could be written for July, 2050:

WEB, VID DEAD
TV and internet replaced by…

Big Data, Bigger Ideas

face pic human face

Every animate and inanimate object on earth will soon be generating data, including our homes, our cars, and yes, even our bodies”— Anthony D. Williams on the back of a big book entitled The Human Face of Big Data

From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated give exabytes of data. Now, we produce five exabytes every two days.” — Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

The average person today processes more data in a single day than a person in the 1500s did in an entire lifetime.

Big Data is much more than big data. It’s also the ability to extract meaning: to sort through masses of numbers and find the hidden pattern, the unexpected correlation, th surprising connection. That ability is growing at astonishing speed, it won’t be long before Amazon’s ability to dazzle customers by suggesting just the right book will seem as quaint as our ancestors’s amazement at horseless carriages.– Dan Gardner, from the book’s introduction

human face big dataClearly, big data is a massive idea. Let’s see if we can’t break it down, if not by components, then, at least, by illustrations of classes and contexts.

The connection between data collection and pattern recognition is not new. In fact, we know the earliest example, which still exists, in book form, in a small, private Library of Human Imagination in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The book is called Bills of Mortality, and it records the weekly causes of death for London in 1664. This data was used to study the geographic (block-by-block) growth of the plague, and to take measures to prevent its future growth.

Two hundred gigabytes per day may not seem like much data, not in the days when you can buy a terabyte drive from Staples for a hundred bucks or so, but collect that much data day and day out, for a few years, and the warehouse becomes a busy place. That’s what MIT Media Lab’s Seb Roy did to learn how his newborn son learned language. The work was done at home with eleven cameras and fourteen microphones recording the child’s every move, every sound. The recording part of the project is over–their son is now seven years old–but analysis of “unexpected connections between the routines of everyday life and how one child learned his first words” continues as a research project.

On the other end of the age scale, there’s Magic Carpet, now in prototype. The carpet contains sensors and accelerometers. When installed in the home of, say, a senior, the carpet observes, records, and learns the person’s typical routine, which it uses as a baseline for further analysis. Then, “the system checks constantly for sudden (or gradual) abnormalities. If Mom is moving more slowly than usual, or it’s 11 a.m., And her bedroom door still hasn’t opened, the system sends an alert to a family member or physician.”

Often, big data intersects with some sort of mapping project. Camden, New Jersey’s Doctor Jeffrey Brenner “built a map linking hospital claims to patient addresses. He analyzed patterns of data, and the result took him by complete surprise: just one percent of patients, about 1,000 people, accounted for 30 percent of hospital bills because these patients were showing up in the hospital time after time…a microcosm for what’s going on in the whole country (in) emergency room visits and hospital admissions…” Subsequently, he established the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to help address this “costly dysfunction.” He collected the data, analyzed it, then brought out meaningful change at a local level.

One of the many superb photographs depicting the intersection between human life and technology use. The book was put together by Rick Smolan, an extraordinary photographer, curator and compiler whose past work includes A Day in the The Life of America and other books in that series.

One of the many superb photographs depicting the intersection between human life and technology use. The book was put together by Rick Smolan, an extraordinary photographer, curator and compiler whose past work includes A Day in the The Life of America and other books in that series.

Yes, there’s a very scary dark side. Bad people could turn off 60,000 pacemakers via their Internet connections. A real time, technology enabled 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai killed 172 people and injured 300 more thanks to Blackberries, night vision goggles, satellite phones and other devices.

If you control the code, you control the world. There has not been an operating system or a technology that has not been hacked.

Fortunately, the good guys have tools on their side, too. The $40 million Domain Awareness System in Manhattan includes “an array of 3,000 cameras known as ‘The Ring of Steel” that monitor lower and midtown Manhattan as well as license plate readers, radiation detectors, relevant 911 calls, arrest records, related crimes, and vast files on characteristics such as tattoos, body marks, teeth, and even limps. They can also track a suspicious vehicle through time to the many locations where it has been over previous days and weeks.”

Google’s self-driving car is safer than a human-controlled vehicle because the digital car can access and process far more information more quickly than today’s humans.

By 2020, China will complete Compass/Beidou-2. This advanced navigation system will outperform the current (and decades old) GPS system. Greater precision will be used for public safety (emergency response, for example), commercial use (fishing, automotive), and, inevitably, for far more productive war.

Data can mean the difference between life death when the weather turns ugly. Thousands of lives are saved each year by weather earnings in wealthier countries. Yet thousands of lives are lost in poor ones when monsoons, tornadoes and other storms strike with little public warning, an intensifying threat as the planet warms,,,

If you’ve ever wondered what Amazon’s true business is, or why it uses the name of a gigantic river, the answer is big data. Ultimately, Amazon intends to become a public utility for computing services. Take a careful look at Amazon Prime and you will see a prototype. The streaming side of PBS and Netflix are among the enterprises enabled by Amazon’s big data operations.

For FedEx, “the information about the package is as important as the package itself.”

human face big data movementsWhether its eliminating malaria or making art, text messaging for blood donors or tracking asteroids, the future will be defined by the collection, analysis and use of big data. It will shape our individual knowledge about our own bodies, our children’s growth and our parents’ health, our collective tendencies for public good, safety, and bad behavior. It will be embedded in robots and intelligent systems that may, soon, control aspects of life that we once considered wholly human endeavors. It is a change of epic proportions and yet, most of us are unaware of its importance.

The book, The Human Face of Big Data, along with its related website and app, provide a useful gateway into this brave new world.

Imagine the Possibilities

From the innovation consulting firm Idea Champions, Fifty Awesome Quotes on Possibility:

1. “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of AssisiWoman reaching for star

2. “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Lewis Carroll

3. “The Wright brother flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.” – Charles Kettering

4. “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes

5. “The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.” – Henry Moore

6. “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!” – Walt Disney

7. “I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities.” – Whoopi Goldberg

8. “What is now proved, was once only imagined.” – William Blake

9. “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain

10. “The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke

11. “Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” – John Andrew Holmes

12. “God created a number of possibilities in case some of his prototypes failed. That is the meaning of evolution.” – Graham Greene

13. “Whether you believe you can or not, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

14. “Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.” – V.S. Naipaul

15. “I don’t regret a single excess of my responsive youth. I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn’t embrace.” – Henry James

16. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

17. “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” – John Sculley

18. “One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.” – Abraham Maslow

19. “The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.” – George Bernard Shaw

20. “We all have possibilities we don’t know about. We can do things we don’t even dream we can do.” – Dale Carnegie

21. “An optimist expects his dreams to come true; a pessimist expects his nightmares to.” – Laurence J. Peter

22. “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble

23. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein

24. “I am neither an optimist nor pessimist, but a possibilist.” – Max Lerner

25. “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!” – Soren Kierkegaard

26. “All things are possible until they are proved impossible. Even the impossible may only be so, as of now.” – Pearl S. Buck

27. “Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.” – Cher

28. “This has always been a motto of mine: Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work.” – Bette Davis

29. “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices.” – Deepak Chopra

30. “Some people see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say ‘Why not?'” – George Bernard Shaw

31. “The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” – John Lennon

32. “I love those who yearn for the impossible.” – Goethe

33. “Every man is an impossibility until he is born.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

34. “If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can.” – Tony Robbins

35. “A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.” – Aristotle

36. “If someone says can’t, that shows you what to do.” – John Cage

37. “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

38. “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.” – Mark Twain

39. “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” – Louis D. Brandeis

40. “The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.” – Emily Dickinson

41. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

42. “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison

43. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – Les Brown

44. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau

45. “Everything you can imagine in real.” – Picasso

46. “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” – Martin Luther

47. “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” – James Dean

48. “I don’t dream at night, I dream all day. I dream for a living.”
– Steven Spielberg

49. “The shell must break before the bird can fly.” – Alfred Tennyson

50. “If not you, who? If not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel

Dream of a Nation: Inspiring Ideas for a Better America

DONCover

Happy new year.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

That sentence, and the ideas below, are parts of a book entitled Dream of a Nation: Inspiring Ideas for a Better America. Here are some of those ideas:

Shift the rules for campaign financing so that most of the money comes from most of the people. Currently, one-third of one percent of the people provide 90% of campaign funds. This drives special interests, and encourages a system based upon lobbyists that was never a good idea. And, while we on this track, let’s reduce the ratio of lobbyists to legislators: the current ratio of 23:1 (lobbyist to legislator) is probably too high by half (or more).

Let’s take control of our Federal budget (and, in time, our state budgets, too). In Porto Allegro, Brazil, a “citizen participation” approach to budgeting resulted in a 400% percent increase in school funding, and a dramatic increase in funds for clean water and sewers. Budgeting by citizen participation is a new movement that we want to encourage.

If Americans cut bottled water consumption by 80%, then the number of bottles, laid end-to-end, would circle the equator just once a day. Right now, we can circle the equator with bottles every 5 hours.

If each of us thinks more clearly about what we spend, and where we spend it, then the people living in an average American city (say, 750,ooo population) can add over 3,000 new local jobs and shift about $300,000 more into the local economy. How? By spending just 20% more on local, not national, businesses. Go to the local hardware store, the farmer’s market; don’t go to Wal-Mart or Walgreens. In the end, you’ll be richer for it. We all will.

Recognize that the high school drop out crisis is costing the U.S. at least half a trillion dollars each year. Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of school in the U.S. Encourage your legislators to take the time to fully understand the problem and to work with states and school districts to end this problem. The problem is not just the schools: it’s the support systems that do not provide sufficient support for lower-income families. An astonishing one in four American children live in poverty. We know how to change this: we need to focus on what worked during the LBJ years and the Clinton years, and do more of it. And, along the way, we need to invest about $360 million to fix crumbling school buildings. This priority pays off in so many ways: GDP, elimination of crime, family stability, reduction in prison population, so much more. We should no longer accept the idea that 25% of earth’s prison population resides in a U.S. prison–an outsized number for a nation with just 8 percent of the world’s people. Similarly, we should no longer accept the high price of education and the middling results that we achieve with those dollars. Other countries do better because their systems are more reasonable. We need to change the way we think about all of this, and we need to make it clear to legislators that this will be their last term if they do not accomplish what we need done.

Let’s get started on two substantial changes in the ways we work with our money. First, let’s start thinking in terms of a V.A.T., as most Western nations do. If the book’s calculations are correct, this should increase our available funds by about 13%. And second, let’s eliminate the 17% (average) payroll tax, reducing hiring costs for employers, as this model is proving to be more effective than our current approach. For more about this, Get America Working! (not the easiest website for clear presentation of ideas; the book is better).

In Canada, they spend $22 per person on noncommercial educational media (we call it public TV, public radio). In England, they spend $80 per person per year. In the U.S., we spend $1.37 per person per year (less than a bottle of water). If we increase funding to a more reasonable level, of, say, $75 per person per year (one bottle of water per week), we get something as good as the BBC for ourselves and our children. Noncommercial matters.

There’s much longer discussion about carbon footprints, waste, overconsumption, and the need for cars that average 100mpg. And another about rethinking just about everything related to the outsized defense budget and its underlying strategies. We haven’t got the health care concept down yet, but moving it into the public goods shopping cart seems to be a step in an appropriate direction.

We should all become familiar with, and promote, the 8 Global Millennium Development Goals that aim to:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability and better access to water and sanitation
  • Create a global partnership for development

So that’s a start. It’s going to be a busy year. And, I hope, one of our best.

The Art of Inge

Below, a picture of Inge Druckery with her reducing glass. Why a reducing glass, and not, say, a traditional magnifying glass? Because a reducing glass allows the user to step away from the visual work. By stepping away, the artist/designer can see the whole, and the relationship between the many pieces of a visual presentation.

Inge 1Inge Druckery is one of the world’s truly great teachers of type design, and, more generally, she has provided designers of all kinds with tremendous inspiration, especially in the combinations of typography and graphic design that so dominate our world, our screens, our print materials.

And now, Edward Tufte (one of her students) has executive produced a 37-minute film, available free, about Druckery’s life and work. The images are striking in their simple elegance, and there are plenty of them. You can watch the film by visiting Mr. Tufte’s site, or simply clicking on the video at the top of this article. This is a film to watch full-screen, in a quiet room free from distracting glare, without interruption, with a patience and a keen eye. Do so, and you will be rewarded with an experience very much akin to attending an extremely well-crafted art museum exhibition on an extremely interesting topic. Do not hurry. Do this when your time permits. The images and ideas will stay with your afterwards.

What sorts of things are presented? The extremely precise Roman alphabet, the letterforms that are so solidly architectural in their L, E, T, and V forms, and so much in motion in the S, so beautifully balanced as curves meet straight edges in the B and, especially, the tricky R form. Simple explanation, elegant presentation.

Fascinating.

Here’s a progression of the letter R, rendered by hand with a proper broad lettering brush, with each letterform progressing toward an ideal. Here, the most basic of old analog form presages a perfection now commonplace in digital typography. Commonplace, but not common. And in the common hand, perhaps there is greater perfection, more of the Lord’s hand and the human progress toward excellence, than digital allows.

R Progression

Unreasonable

As the year winds down, a call-out to some unreasonable people.

One is called The Unreasonable Institute.

Why We Exist: To create a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances.
Our Mission: To unlock entrepreneurial potential to overcome our world’s greatest challenges.

Three recent college graduates decided to take on the world’s biggest problems–no shortage of idealism here–by causing interactions between promising entrepreneurs with big ideas, mentors, and funders. They do all of this–quite reasonably, I might add–by having everybody work and live together in a big house for several weeks. I’m not sure that “institute” (their term) is the ideal description, but this combination networking fest and dorm experience makes a lot of sense. There are lots of informal interactions between smart, interested, connected people who want to make things happen. I love this idea, and I suspect you will, too.

The second is called Charity: Water.

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

Two simple ideas here. One is clean water for everyone, everywhere in the world. That’s a tremendous challenge, one that can be solved only on a local level, well-by-well, source-by-source. It’s also a transformative idea: clean water means healthier people, far less time each day caring for the ill; empowerment of women (who, in many places in the world, expend an enormous amount of time at the well or other source, and carrying water home).

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To play the video, please click on the image.

Both are mentioned here are examples of a new way of thinking about the world’s problems: a small entrepreneurial group with big ideas, unique approaches to management, operations and funding, plenty of attention to details, and, far less reliance upon large organizations to provide solutions. And one more thing: the internet is central to the success of these new conceptions. Be sure to explore Charity: Water’s use of internet mapping for every project, a solid example of things to come.

BTW: while searching for a link, I ran into a Huffington Post story that explains the trend in more detail. It’s definitely worth reading, especially at a time of year when we’re all trying to figure out how to do it even better next week.

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