The Edge of the Real: The Call of Desire

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DESIRE

The physical, emotional, or intellectual longing that is directed towards something or someone that is wanted.

Sarah Coakley, PhD.

Cambridge University

Desire is a longing which bridges our inner life with the outer world. It is a longing for connection, completion, and relationship.

Desire is a longing for fulfillment or achievement. It is a longing that is born in emptiness, frustration, or loss. It is the feeling that comes from a missed opportunity or the sense of unrealized potential when a project ends suddenly, or when love shared goes unrequited. 

This longing is born in our experience of change. It is something we feel inside. It is our inner voice telling us that more could be done or needs to be done.

Desire does not fade. It seeks out that which is beyond our grasp today, but maybe not tomorrow. Our desires define who we are.

Desire precedes and is greater than our goals, strategies, plans and intentions. Desire is that deep core within us that we identify as what we love, for those people and causes to whom we give ourselves with passion and sacrifice. It is that place within us where human flourishing finds its source and motivation.

I've seen desire in people for a long time. Early on, it was that "thing" which emerged when a group began to have a vision for their organization or community. They are passionate about their cause. They see it, feel it, taste it, smell it as this movie-like visualization of a idea that comes to life and compels them to invest their shared life to bring it to fulfillment.

Passionate desire is a longing for something better that engages the whole person, mind, body and spirit. It is who we are at our most central, deep and intimate level.

The desire for wholeness is born within us. Philosophers, theologians, motivational experts, story-tellers, and artists have spoken about desire, passion, and completeness in many and various ways. They know, as we know, that this is the nature of our world. Broken, incomplete, unjust, raw, untouched potential, filled with passionate visions of the good which touch us down deep inside, drawing us out into a life which is better, more complete and whole. This isn't a new story. It is rather the oldest story of human endeavor taking on urgency for each of us, everyday.

To follow our desire, we must think for ourselves, act as responsible persons, and live as the embodiment of that desire. Out of this commitment we discover a new life, and the potential for completeness.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith, writes,

“… we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things ... what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it.”

The challenge is to not get lost in the rush of emotion that comes from passion.  We need to treat our passions with maturity, respect, and understanding.  Our passions have the power to create goodness as well as to destroy the very desires at the heart of our passion. 

We, therefore, need to understand the source of desire. We need to find a way to create patterns of thought and practices of behavior that allow us to see how to bridge the deep reservoir of meaning within in us with the world of change that envelops us like the sea does its fish.

The Three Desires

Over the years, as I've listened to what people say and have observed what they do, both in private and organizational settings, I've seen that this inscruble thing called desire is always present. It is evident in the passions and visions that people have for their future. It is also evident in their response to situations where they are frustrated, disappointed, anxious or angry.

I eventually came to see that this desire from down deep within us is a mix of three desires. I've concluded that this is the spiritual core of our humanity, or, what we mean by our human spirit. It is the center of our individual humanity that is the platform for the life and relationships we nurture in the outer world. It is what is celebrated, what elicits tears, cheers and commitment to making sacrificial gifts of art, wealth and time. From my own experience, I see this as the mark of divine intention upon our humanity. Nourish these desires, and we see why we exist, and what our lives are to mean in practice and difference. Our desires carry that kind of singular importance.

The Three Desires guide how we function in our work, our communities, and our families. Our desires are revealed when we plan, in how we address problems, in our celebration and mourning of life's transitions , when we succeed or fail, and, in how we go through the changes and transitions of our lives and work.

What are these desires and how are we to understand their function in our lives?

Our Three Desires are

for Personal Meaning, for Happy, Healthy Relationships,

and, to Make a Difference That Matters.

 Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
We desire for our lives to have personal meaning.

Our minds sort through our experiences; sift through the sensory data we are receiving; categorize the information that we absorb; identify patterns of behavior and recurrence of ideas; then, our minds establish order, perspective, understanding, and finally meaning.

Most of the time, all of this takes place just below the level of our conscious awareness. Learning from childhood onward to think this this way, it becomes second nature. Physicist and philosopher Michael Polanyi describes it as tacit knowledge. It is that knowledge that we know, but we don't know how we know it. We just know it. It is learned in the experience of life.

We think this way, finding meaning in our lives and in the world, until there are too many discontinuities. Increasingly, in the modern world, these discontinuities are markers of societal and intellectual change on a grand scale. All the meaningful continuities of the past, of belief in God, in the goodness of humankind, in the power of government to do good, in freedom, opportunity and progress. Each of these points of personal and societal meaning are in transition. It doesn't mean that the foundational truths are changing, but rather how they function in the world is changing.

Personal meaning is not just a set of intellectual or spiritual beliefs that are important to us. This sense of meaning rises from down deep in us. It is not just individual, but a shared feeling. I've seen it in working with businesses. There is something that draws these people together. Some vision or desire that compels them to join their lives together to venture forth in some great endeavor.

A vision of this sort, as I point out in my Circle of Impact Leadership system, is formed by ideas. They provide a core belief or meaning for us to make the commitment to work together towards goals that we define as our organizational purpose. A vision, then, is a picture of shared meaning that is acted upon by the people who work within an institutional system to create impact.

Circle of Impact- simple

We articulate this order by telling stories. We share our opinions, make decisions and practice ethical discernment because of the clarification of the values that form our desires, or are the product of our desire for personal meaning.

We act on what is personally meaningful, by defining our purpose, by elevating values that underlie our purpose to a central place in our relationships with others, and, then, together, implement a vision that leads to the impact that is a fulfillment of that which is meaningful to us.

Unless there is constant attention to sustaining a culture of founding values, future generations only see those values as relatively meaningless, and possibly, irrelevant cultural practices.* In other words, Personal Meaning is not private meaning, but meaning that is shared within the social context of our lives.

We desire to have happy, healthy relationships.

In a previous post in this series, Fragmented Boundaries, I write,

I am who I am, always have been, always will be. Though I live in the external world, I am who I am, in an always changing interaction between this person who I am and the world in which I live. Therefore, I am always becoming the person who I am right now.

Crossing the boundary from our inner life to the outer world requires an engagement with that world. It is in our relationships with one another that we find our most tangible connection to the outer world. Let me describe what I see.

Recently, I took a salsa making class. In this class was a retired couple who had been married for six years. As we prepared our salsas, they talked about all the cooking classes that they had attended, from Santa Fe to Boston to Paris, and soon, in Tuscany.
I asked them, "Which one of you was the foodie who got the other involved? They said, "Neither. When we got married, we decided to do something that neither of us had ever done. We took a cooking class, and found out that we both loved it."
What was it that they loved? Sharing the experience of learning, of being creative, and establishing a whole new circle of friends in their hometown.

In the context of their relationship, individual desires, long dormant, came to life. Joy and meaning, and a life that matters resulted. For not only has their experience provided them a context for a happy, healthy marriage, it has also brought them into relationship with people that they may never have had  the opportunity to know.   

We are social beings, even the most shy, introverted and individualistic ones of us. It isn't that we want to hang out with people all the time. It is that our engagement with people, more than in any other facet of our lives, is where our inner selves meets the outer world. To speak, to know, to share, or to love, requires something from within us to form into words or actions that communicate to the other person, who translates what they see and hear into something that touches their inner self.

We are not random objects bumping into one another, like billiard balls on a pool table. We are purposeful, desiring beings who seek connection with other purposeful, desiring beings.

Our shared connections make us tribal beings as well. We gather around the things we love which release our passion in life. My tribes are the church, social entrepreneurs, organizational and community leaders, people who desire change, the Red Sox Nation, jazz and classical music aficionados, lovers of history, philosophy and culture, and travelers through landscapes of mountains, oceans and open spaces.   

We learn in the context of relationships; a living context where our inner lives touch the outer world in a less mechanistic, more organic way. To know someone, to interact with them, requires us to live in a shared story of meaning and expectation. This is true for our oldest friends and family, as well as the person that we have just met.

Our human relationships are the embodiment of particular values that are intimate, social and practical.

A happy relationship is one free of doubt, open to vulnerability, peaceful, affirming, with genuine compatibility, and love.

A healthy relationship is built upon the mutual practices of openness, respect, trust, honesty, and responsibility.

There are two distinct contexts for our relationships. One is personal, the other professional.

Happiness and health in our relationships with friends, lovers, spouses, children, parents and in-laws function in a long historical arch. Live with someone for ten, thirty or fifty years, and our lives are bound together in ways that are invisible and continually present. We nurture the health and happiness of long term relationships by giving our attention to the core desires that we each have individually and those we share. It is by this daily practice that we produce happiness and health. The ancients believed that happiness and health came as the virtues of life were mastered. This is the intention that is needed in our closest, most intimate relationships.

A relationship between two people is between individual persons. Each is defined by their own distinct values. Each is defined by what they desire in a relationship to the other, and, together they grow into an understanding of the difference their lives are to make. When there is compatibility and a sharedness in each of these three parts of our lives, then happiness and health can grow.

In the professional sphere, our relationships are less personal, more detached, more difficult to be qualified by the terms happy and healthy. Modern organizations have become increasing dehumanizing, unreceptive to human interaction (communication), and lacking the supervisory space to allow for the expression of individual initiative to create a collaborative environment for relationship.

As the old, dying models of 20th. century hierarchy fail to adapt to the rapid introduction of technologies for individual autonomy and collaboration, resistance to change grows. Defense of institutional positions of power and influence create weakness in the operating structures of organizations, making them less agile and more prone to corruption and violation of founding values.

Outside of many of these corporate structures are networks of relationships that are spontaneous, open and collaborative. Leadership is not directed and delegated, but shared and facilitated. The network of the relationship is marked by the phenomenon of shared values, responsibility and outcomes. The structure of organization that is needed rises from the purpose and desired impact of their work together, and by design is agile and adaptive to contexts of rapid, discontinuous change.

Network-Hierarchy ImageThe weakness of these networks of relationships is that it is difficult to scale and sustain the work of these kinds of relationships. As a result, they need a structure within which to work that can accommodate the energy and ambiguity that exists in these relationships. The challenge of hierarchy is nimbleness for change. Networks of relationships emerge out of the discovery that we - WE - share similar desires that call us together for achieving impact.  These structures need one another to counter their inherent weaknesses.

We desire to make a difference that matters.

The desire to make a difference that matters is the most fundamental expression of human desire. It is what we do, and the effect of what we do that we see as validating the value of our lives.

For some people, the obsessive need to prove their worth in achievement is the extreme expression of this most human of desires. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lack of desire towards achievement or fulfillment is the product of the weaknesses or absence of the other two desires.

To make a difference is to create impact. To create impact is to take some idea or value and create a living expression of it.

If there is a forward movement through the three desires, it is towards making a difference that matters.  It is the most logical place where achievement and completion are realized.

There is some satisfaction in finding what is personally meaningful, as well as in having happy, healthy relationships. But it is this third desire which brings wholeness to our lives. If values strengthen the mind, and friendship enriches our physical life, it is making a difference through the expression of values in our relationships that brings the three parts of ourselves to fulfillment.

As a result, it is what we do, create and the impact we have which is the greatest expression of human spirit, and where wholeness is realized.

The Leadership of Making a Difference That Matters

Early on in my exploration of leadership, I came to see that all leadership begins with personal initiative. This initiative is specifically an act of decision in response to an inner desire for change. In effect, leadership is a form of our inner selves' engagement with the outer world.

This perspective is vastly different from views that are hierarchial or inspirational. Neither view places the source of leadership in human desire. Instead these views see leadership as either a position of responsibility within a management system, or, a kind of sloganistic pumping up of one's emotions to do various kinds of work.

My early inspiration for seeing leadership as a function of human desire towards creating change came from Peter Drucker, one of the preeminent management thinkers of the 21st. century. In his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, that was spark that led to the creation of my own leadership consultancy a decade later. Drucker writes about entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy. Usually, they do not bring about the change themselves. But – and this defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.

Drucker's view from three decades ago remains true today. Change is the norm. Effective leaders, as well as managers, learn to work within the context of change. This requirement is now no longer limited to people in positions of leadership, but the necessity for each individual, regardless of their place, standing or position in life or work. To respond to one's desires, is to accept, not a leadership role, but a call to take initiative to make a difference that matters.

The Call of Desire

Desire rises from within us as a longing for connection, completion and fulfillment. It is expressed in the desire for personal meaning, happy, healthy relationships, and, to make a difference that matters with one's life. This movement of desire bridges our inner selves with the outer world. When we act upon our desires to make a difference that matters, we are exhibiting the character of leadership.

Our desires, therefore, are a call upon our lives. A call to step out to make a difference in a way that fulfills one's desires.

The Call of Desire is a call to meaning, friendship, wholeness and impact in life. When we respond to this call from within us, we are deciding to change not only our outer world, but also ourselves. When we do, we turn away from the world of the Spectacle with its artificial hyper reality. We claim a reality that can be touched and experienced, created and replicated. This is how we reclaim the real for our lives and for the people and places where our lives make a difference that matters.

The call begins within, must be answered, and lived out in the world of change. As a result our lives take on the character of an unfolding story. It is this story that I'll explore in my next post.

*See Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' Built to Last for a description of this reality.

The Platform of Desire, Part 5

IMG_2304The Desire to Connect

Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person.

This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.

You walk into a room at a business after hours event. You register, get you name tag, and turn around and look at the crowd. Who are you looking to meet? Who is looking to meet you?

We are drawn towards particular kinds of people. What is it that us draws to them?

You sign up for an online dating service, and out of the dozens of possibilities, one person jumps off the page. Why this person?

What draws us towards this one individual rather than another?

Why can we talk about the synergy between two people who only met two minutes ago? What is it that draws us into relationships where we are prepared to trust, to be vulnerable and change our business plan immediately?

It is the intangible nature of human desire. It is beyond rational. It really isn't subrational, but rather supra-rational. It is beyond explanation. It falls into the realm of faith.

What is it about the connection of human desire that causes us to flee the safety of the fortress to venture out into the unknown to discover what lay in our heart's desire all along.

Many refer to this as a call, a voice that constantly beckons them onward, to risk all for the sake of that source of passion deep within us that refuses to be quiet.

This is the magic that happens between two people or within a team when they stop playing the game of control and risk management, and pursue a call they share to make a difference that matters.

In other words, it is love that draws us together. The love of ideas, of people and of the change that we can create together. This is the desire that lies deep within us that calls us to accept and honor its all or nothing demand upon our lives.

The People We are Drawn Toward

At a most basic level, we are drawn toward two kinds of people.

One type are those who affirm or validate who we are. They are like us or complement us by helping us see the inherent value of who we are. These relationships appreciate us for who we are right now. These are family and friends with whom we have happy moments each day.

Often these are people we've known a long time and with whom, even if we are very different in personality, we feel comfortable because of our shared life experiences together.  These are people with whom we share similar values. These are our peeps.

The second kind are those people for whom we feel a kind of longing. This longing is to be different, better, fulfilled, complete, or known for some facet of our lives that the first group cannot see. These people set a standard for their life and work that we view as higher or more ambitious, and therefore is desirable. We desire relationships with them, hoping that some of their magic will rub off on us.  We desire what we think they have. More than anything, we want their respect, and a connection to them.

These relationships may not be with people that we know or with whom we spend most of our time. The relationship may be virtual as on Facebook or Twitter. A connection is made when they like a link that we post. A social media connection with this person fulfills a longing for association with someone whom we perceive to be the person we wish to be in the future. These persons symbolize for us the values that matter to us, that may seem beyond our reach, yet live down deep within us as the desires that we have for our life and work.

We need both of these kinds of relationships. However, neither speaks to the character of the relationship, only to a type of relationship.

The character of our relationships matter.  I thought of this when I came across this selection from the Diary of Anais Nin.

"The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision."

She could easily be describing the relationships that many of us have through social media platforms. We desire connection. But too often it is superficial, lacking depth.

What then does it mean to have relationships of depth?  This is the kind of relationship that I wrote about in my post Still Waters Still Flow. There I write,

"Am I setting up an impossible scenario for our relationships? Of course I am! For without a standard, an ideal, or a vision of the highest in human experience, then there is no clear direction to the flow of our lives.

When the love I describe becomes complete within us, and seeks out others who also have found a completeness in the love within them, then a depth of relationship results that changes us. We are transformed by loving, not simply by the idea of love.

All these human characteristics that we celebrate and honor, like Respect, Trust, Confidence, Responsibility, Courage, Empathy and Self-sacrifice find a ground upon which to grow. For ultimately, flow rises from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.

I wish I could say that all this can come without pain or suffering but it can't. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete and flourishing life. Those comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too often they are the curtain that blinds us to harsher realities of the world.

For still waters to run deep requires the dredging of the stream bed of our lives to remove all those barriers to flow. The more courageous, the more willing we are to raise the standards of our life and work, the more willing we are to be committed to do the hard work of changing our lives, the more willing we are to defy fear, and move into unknown territories of discovery, the more we will discover that still waters still flow bringing peace into a world of conflict."

For these kinds of relationship to flourish requires a setting or an environment for our relationships to grow. Increasingly, I'm convinced that this is difficult to achieve when the relationship is only in a virtual context.

Digital or Analog, Virtual or ... ?

What do we call the setting of relationships that are not virtual, that exist outside of an online digital social space? To say they are analog, physical or real does not capture it well. What are our relationships that exist where we live, with whom we encounter in physical proximity to one another.

Lacking an adequate terminology, I've decided to use a sacramental term that Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians use to describe the relationship of God to the eucharist, the sacramental meal that Christians observe in worship. That term is Real Presence.

I'm using real presence in a non-religious way. It is the relationship that develops between people who find their life and work connected at a deeper level of meaning and impact than with other people. The result is that they are drawn together in such a way that the traditional social media platforms are an insufficient for the purpose of the relationship. In other words, they find they need to be in physical proximity to one another often enough to advance their relationship's purpose.

To be really present, requires us to be open and vulnerable, attentive and willing to adapt to each opportunity as it appears. Real presence is living each day with intention and commitment. I realize that these are familiar words to people today. The challenge is not knowing the meaning of these words, but deriving our meaning of life from living them each day.

There are many people that I've met online with whom we now have a relationship of real presence. We are constantly in touch with the living our of our lives. We are not simply observing and commenting in a detached manner. Our relationships to one another matter. As a result, we are drawn to be with one another in a physical sense. And so we make the effort to travel to be with one another.

Let me return to my question from above. Why is it that we connect with some people and not others?  Is it because the place where we meet and develop our relationships is conducive for the kind of relationship we seek? Is it because there are certain values that we share that can flourish in either a virtual or a physical context?

This is a complex question. To understand it we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves demands that we understand the kinds of environments that are most conducive to making the kind of connections that we truly desire.

This is an important question because so many of our connections are virtual, operating only within a digital context. Yet, we are not virtual people, digitized, pixelated images or text narratives on a screen. We are embodied persons whose whole selves experience the movement of desire flowing through us.

Developing Platforms for Desire

We are at the beginning point in the evolution of the digital world. What it will be in a decade or in fifty years is pure speculation.

I am convinced that because we are desiring beings (James K A Smith's term), that the structure of society and organizations ultimately adapt to who we are. It is never smooth, however.

Today, we are at the end of the industrial era, without real clarity about what is to follow. Current global social and political forces are aligned to avoid change as much as possible. Resistance to human evolution is futile. And at the heart of our evolution as a species is the drive our desires for meaning, healthy relationships and lives of impact.

As a result, there will always be a tug-of-war between those forces that seek to control the evolutionary course, and those who choose the freedom to adapt to change as it presents itself each day.

As social media platforms develop, change and die, new platforms will emerge to meet the opportunities that come from human social interaction. The challenge for the developers of these platforms as I've said previously in this series, is not really how to monetize the platform, but rather how maximize the ability of people of shared desires to collaborate to make a difference that matters. The mousetrap has been invented. Now is the time to make a better mousetrap.

There is much more that can be said about the relation of human desire to the virtual online world. For now, this is sufficient.


The Platform of Desire, Part 4

The Platform of Hyper-reality

The world of social media is very far removed from our premodern ancestors' experience. Our experience is not one of a constant awareness of the physical danger of the natural world or of life on a farm. We live in a world mediated through sophisticated technology that, for many people, has removed them from any direct exposure to the world of nature.

We live in an immersive world of an always-on information feed directed at our sub-rational desires. And the worst of these onslaughts focus on our fears, not our ambitions.

As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”

Philosophers and social theorists call this hyper-reality. Italian author Umberto Eco writes that "the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake." French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation, writes,

"Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referrential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of the a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal."

Albert Borgmann, in his insightful book, Holding Onto Reality, describes the transition to this hyperreal world through a description of how the place of information in human experience has changed. There are three different ways that information connects us to reality. There is ...

Information about reality - Our direct experience of the natural world.

Information for reality - Our experience of information as an interpreter or chronicler of reality.

Information as reality - Our experience where the medium is the message.

Here's one example of these three types of information.

Each of these forms of information can be seen in this video of the finale of Gustav Mahler's 2nd Symphony played by the Seoul (SK) Philharmonic Orchestra. (Don't skip this experience.)

 

The first type of information, about reality is seen in the singers and musicians actually playing the music. They are engaged in actually playing the music, not simply listening or observing it being played.Think of the experience of the choir and musicians, as the symphony reaches its peak of intensity during the last three minutes. This is a direct experience of the music as it was created to be experienced by the composer.

The second type of information is seen in the sheet music that the musicians are reading to follow the score. The lyrics of the score printed in the audience's program and projected on the overhead screen. This information enables the musicians to play together, and the audience to have a higher level of understanding of the meaning of thought behind the writing of the symphony.

The third type of information is our experience of watching and listening to this concert at another time, in another place, in a totally different and private context.  This third engagement is the platform of the hyper-real. The experience transcends the experience that Gustav Mahler envisioned when he wrote the work. Imagine listening to a recording on your IPod while standing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or in the middle of Cathedral du Notre Dame in Paris. The recording creates a transcendent experience, providing another layer of experience that provides a way of personally interpreting the meaning of the physical place where you are standing. 

It is a wholly different reality. This YouTube portion is only 9 minutes of a symphony that is almost an hour and a half long. This fragment of the symphony, while dynamic and moving, is not the whole experience the symphony was designed to provide. Mash this video with other video content, and the information of the original becomes farther and farther removed from the original.

This virtual reality transcends the original. It is now no longer a representation of an event that took place in a specific place, at particular time, with people who were the participants at that moment. It is now a video that serves a different purpose. It has become its own reality.

The Hyperreality of Social Media

Social media is a platform for hyper-experiences of this nature. It is a medium where we can create relationships and experiences that are reflective of experiences that would not have been possible a generation ago.

Platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, intentionally guide the interaction that people have through it. I am convinced that people are changed by them.

The question that this raises for me is whether the purpose of the platform and the purpose of their organizations are the same.

Does Facebook's need to monetize the platform (organizational purpose) become the driving force that over time changes the purpose of the platform? 

Is it a social platform or a sales platform? Can both co-exist?

Here are other questions.

How would the platform of Facebook develop if the question of monetization never needed to be asked?

What if Facebook was only about the personal and social development of people in relationships in a global society?

What if the now shareholders at Facebook never asked about share price and dividends?

I ask these questions to highlight the importance of understanding the effect that social media platforms have. As a platform for human interaction, they different than anything in the past. The speed, immediacy and hyper-reality of these platforms changes us. It elevates old virtues like patience and listening.

The Difference between the Platforms

There are host of online tools that serve the interests of business people world-wide. For example, there are meeting platforms, conference call platforms, shared writing platforms, and all that can be done visually on a global scale.

In my work, I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, along with many of the Google doc features. I use Skype as my office phone.  I use Pay Pal, SurveyMonkey, Slideshare and Scribd. I blog on Typepad and Wordpress platforms. And I have a Ning site. Each one is different. None are complete in themselves. All require skills that must be developed in order to take advantage of their benefits. All take time to master.

I am immersed like so many in the multitude of platforms that exist in the social media universe. And I, like I suspect many others, are dissatisfied with what they offer. For this reason, many of these platforms will not last. I say this because I am convinced that they are designed based on a certain perception, even philosophy, of human nature.

I like Facebook because it keeps me in touch with lots of people. I like it better than Twitter.

Google seems to me to be the only one of these platforms that really understands what I want, but its approach is less than appealing.

Ultimately, the difference between the platforms is not their companies' problem, but mine. I have know what I want to do with them, and use them for that purpose. But like much in hyper-reality, the old reference points fade, and new ones emerge.

For example, where most people use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues, and others use it as platform for promoting their business, I use it more like a blog, as a place to engage people with ideas. And I find Facebook better for this than Twitter, Linked-In or Google+.

So, the difference then, is not just between the platforms, but between the people who use them. This means that the platforms of social media are a dynamic environment for human interaction, where peoples' lives can be transformed.

The Frontier of Social Media

Where does the hyper-reality of social media take us?

Is it a suitable and sustainable platform for our human desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters?

Is its virtual, almost disembodied state bode well for the ability of organizations to create collaborative structures that are prepared to replace the failing organizations of the industrial era?

These are the kind of questions I'll be asking as we continue to move through this series.


The Platform of Desire, Part 3

Lemhi Pass 26 7-14-04

The Platform of Nature

Prior to the industrial revolution, and especially prior to discovery of electricity, a person's life was lived within the confined space of their village. Social experience happened within the community of family and neighbors. People would gather in their homes, around the backyard fence, in church and community pot-luck dinners. Their world was small and confined to the close proximity of their town.

My grandfather once told me that the most significant invention he saw in his 94 years of life was the radio, because it opened up the world beyond the small town where he grew up. Listening to what was happening in Europe gave him the idea decades later to take my father to Paris on an American Legion trip. The medium of radio opened up the world to my grandfather, and the impact was felt by my father and later by me and my sisters.

This experience of openness to the world beyond that which we can walk or ride on the back of a horse in day is new in human history. While the radio began this trend, its technology matured into what today we know as computers and the interwebs. This has changed us socially, and it has changed how we relate to the natural world.

In an interview with Krista Tippett of the radio program, On Being, novelist and essayist, Marilynne Robinson speaks about her childhood growing up in Idaho.

Ms. Tippett: ... Marilynne, you grew up in Idaho, which you describe ... as a place of more austere but intense beauty. ... how do you trace the roots of your sense of mystery ... as something that came to be an animating force for you as a novelist and a writer.

Ms. Robinson: Well, my grandparents had a house in the mountains not terribly far from where I lived. It was in the western side of the Rocky Mountains, near Canada, and the proportion, or the disproportion, of nature on the one hand and human settlement on the other was really striking. I mean, even — as a child I grew up with the idea that human beings were a fairly trivial presence in the environment and that the mountains, you could hear them all the time. You could smell them. There was pine in the air or snow or whatever.

My grandparents had a house built actually by my great-grandparents, which was modern by the standards of the late 19th century and so it had a sleeping porch. You were supposed to sleep out there so that you wouldn't get tuberculosis. There was no ambient light. And it was amazing because at night you would hear the mountains. You would hear coyotes, you know, and there was no other light. There was no sense of human presence aside from my grandparents' house. (Emphasis mine.)

Robinson's description of her childhood experience with the "platform" of the Idahoan mountains points to how a place or a setting or an environment affects our sense of who we are and our sense of meaning and purpose.

As seen in Robinson's story, in the past there was a clear distinction between people and the natural world. It gave proportion to the place that a human being fits into the natural world.

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For me, riding on the back of a horse in the wilderness south of the Yellowstone border gives me a sense of my smallness in the midst of the vast grandeur of nature. It does not diminish me as a person, but provides perspective to see that I am not the center of the universe. Proportion is an important perspective to have. It can open us up to a much larger, wider world, if we choose to see it that way.

This sense of proportion is not limited to those of us who love the mountains. It is also a product of immersion in the life of the sea. My friend and colleague David Pu'u is a man of the water. I've learned much about life from his life-long love of the ocean. I've come down from my vantage point in the mountains to join him and the circle of surfers, artists and scientists involved in the Ocean Lovers Collective. When I asked David to describe the impact of the ocean as a platform, in the way that Robinson speaks of the mountains, he directed me to this video that he produced several years ago. It captures what I was seeking.

When Nature is a platform, like any social or organizational structure is a platform, it influences what we value and desire. Or in the words of James K A Smith, what we love. To live in nature is to love it, but not in the abstract sense of love, but in the deeper sense of understanding, of respect, and of a relationship that requires listening and giving.

To live outside in the natural world is to experience something different than what one feels driving through a natural setting in an automobile.

Chitral-Gilgit district border

Traveling through the NorthWest Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1981, our experience walking was quite different than riding in a Jeep. Walking, we encountered people. We saw little things along the road that we would have missed. And without the noise of the engine, we could here the wind and the sound of the water rushing down from the glaciers that we passed.

Humans in Nature

Some of my perspective has been formed by German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg who wrote that human beings were the most physically vulnerable and the most intellectually creative of all animals. To survive the physical harshness of nature, human beings had to use the creativity of their minds to develop clothing, shelter, tools and sustainable food sources. This human vulnerability was true throughout the pre-modern era, before electricity, in-door plumbing and central air-conditioning. And away from the technology that we've developed to support human existence, we are still the most physically vulnerable.

In earlier times, people understood that life was fragile, and depended upon others for support and safety. Creativity was not just in creating tools for survival, but also social structures to support human existence.

Victor Davis Hanson writes about how the cities of ancient Greece grew up as a place for agrarian farmers to gather to sell their crops and support one another.

The material prosperity that created the network of Greek city states resulted from small-scale, intensive working of the soil, a complete rethinking of the way Greeks produced food and owned land, and the emergence of a new sort of person for whom work was not merely a means of subsistence or profit but an ennobling way of life.... The wider institutions of ancient Greece --military, social, political--embodied the subsequent efforts of these small farmers to protect their hard won gain....The original Greek polis is best understood as an exclusive and yet egalitarian community of farmers...."

In the pre-modern world, the land was the platform for civilization. Today, the virtual world of electrons, bits and bytes and social media is that platform.

In the next post in this series, I'll look at how technology has changed the experience that we have. And look at the mediating role that the various platforms of technology and human institutions, like social media, have upon us. And how these platforms affect the formation of our human desires for meaning, for companionship and our ambition to create impact as human beings.


The Platform of Desire, Part 2

Desire or Rationality?

We live in an era created by science and rational thought. But the culture that we live in is not rational. It is sub-rational, almost primal, in its elevation of the expression of desire over everything else.

This elevation of desire is a two-edged promise. It on the one hand, a promise of engagement in all that life has to offer.

On the other a promise of total exhaustion, of even annihilation, if embraced without thought, direction and boundaries.  It is the power behind the passion of ambition and human connection.

Images of desire capture our attention, draw us into experiences that touch us, change us and can ultimately transform us into new persons. Our rational selves rarely do that. It is the passion of desire that makes it possibly for us to make the sacrifices to be people who create the goodness that lies dormant in the potential that we all have.

If that desire is let loose, never guided by our rational selves, then like Icarus' flight to the sun, we can crash and burn.

Desire = Love

I'm calling desire those inner drives that draw us toward what we love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith sees this love lived out in a sort of secular liturgy of worship. There are rituals that we observe because they reinforce the importance of our desires.

“…  we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities – what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it. ”

Our loves and desires are shaped by how we live in the world around us.  The social and organizational systems and structures that are the context of our life and work is a place of engagement where we either find our desires fulfilled or frustrated.  Our happiness is not so much about what we think, but how we intersect with the social and organizational places where we live and work. Smith writes,

So when I say that love defines us, I don’t mean our love for the Chicago Cubs or chocolate chip scones, but rather our desire for a way of life. This element of ultimacy … is fundamentally religious. But religion here refers primarily not to a set of beliefs or doctrines but rather to a way of life. What’s at stake is not primarily ideas but love, which functions on a different register. Our ultimate love/desire is shaped by practices, not ideas that are merely communicated to us.

Or to put it another way, our real world context is both outside of us and within us. The  connection between our desires and the physical places where we spend our days is intimate and integral to every aspect of our lives.

If you are like me, there are places you go to find restoration and perspective. For me it is the spiritual geography of wild places. Remove the technological noise and perspective returns. At these places, we reconnect with the desires that drive us toward what we love.

When I go to a place like Max Patch (below) I find myself standing on a high mountain bald with a 360 degree vista of mountain ridges.

Max Patch Edge

The vastness of this mountain scape, like that of this panorama of the Grand Tetons of Jackson Hole (below), touches me deep inside, reminding me of vastness of the opportunities that we each have each day to make a difference.

Jackson Hole Valley

The desires of my life and work resonate with the bigness of these mountains. It is why I constantly return to them, where I find balance and proportion between me as an individual and the bigness of the world in which I live and work.

Smith presents a compelling view that contemporary consumerism is set of liturgical practices that both inform and form us as people. He writes,

"Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices of the mall - the liturgies of mall and market - that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world. Embedded in them is a common set of assumptions about the shape of human flourishing, which becomes an implicit telos, or goal, of our desires and actions. That is, the visions of the good life embedded in these practices become surreptitiously embedded in us through our participation in the rituals and rhythms of these institutions. These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. ..."

What is true of the mall's impact upon us is also true of the social and organizational structures where we live and work. They are not inert, neutral, artificial places. They are living contexts which engage our desires, and where our lives take root in a real world.  These "places" affect how we develop as human beings. 

It is this deeper truth that lies behind the design development of office space between those of an open plan and the closed kind advocated by Susan Cain in her book, The Quiet.  The architecture of space in social and organizational structures affects who we are and how we perform. This is the tangible representation of the role that human desire has.

A Structure for Desire?

We don't look at the way we organize our businesses and organizations from this point of view though. We tend to see space or organizational systems as just a place where work takes place. We think of organizational structural design as primarily about creating efficiency and production. We don't think of them as a determining factor in how people connect to their inner desire for meaning and impact.Three Goals of Life-Work-CircleofImpact It is the same reason we don't see people, but rather human resources. It is the utilitarian mindset of the industrial age that cannot see what is evident when one stands outside of that context.

The effect of this mindset is to diminish our understanding of human potential, reducing it to whatever is needed for the task assigned. Consequently, any connection to human desire is lost all together.

It was James K. A. Smith who provided me the insight to see something in my work with clients that had been evident all along: three human desires that everyone has. Desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters.

What we love drives us towards these desires. And we need to structure the social and organizational systems of our lives and work to enable these desires to find fulfillment. 

In part 3 of this essay, I will look at how we can create organizational structures that enable people who work within them to find personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships, and to make a difference that matters.


The Platform of Desire, Part 1

“It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” - Marshall McLuhan

Recently, my friend David Pu’u asked me about my vision. In a moment of rare, uninhibited candor I said,

“I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now.  I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”

The structures that I am referring to are not just organizational structures, but also social, moral and ideological structures. It is important to understand that these structures are systems of processes that affect us through our experience of them. Circle of Impact

From the vantage point of my Circle of Impact model, my conclusion is that ideas change, relationships change, but the social and organizational structures that comprise the context in which we think and relate do not change without great forces of disruption.

This is especially so as social and organizational structures disconnect Ideas (Values, Vision, Purpose and Impact) and Relationships from the processes and order of the institution. These structures are highly resistant to change, and only change when people join together around a set of common values, a shared purpose and a clear understanding of what difference their organization should make.

The Structure Lives

I have had a long standing interest in the structure of organizations. Not the structure of the organizational chart; but the living structure, the one that actually functions.

If an organization's structure was a spy, it would be a double agent, both working for and against the people of the organization.

The structure of an organization, whether it is a bricks & mortal business or a social media business, is designed for a purpose. Henry Ford's assembly line that made the Model T was designed for the purpose of mass production. Facebook's platform structure is also designed for a purpose.

A business' purpose and the purpose of its organizational structure are not the same.  The former is born out of the values that inform its mission; the latter out of the need for order and efficiency.

Marshall McLuhan said a half century ago that "the medium is the message".  At that time, he was speaking about how the form in which a message is delivered is a message in-and-of-itself. The form of communication is as important as the content of the message.

The classic example from McLuhan's era, the 1960s, is the effect of the nightly pictures of the Vietnam War. During the dinner hour each night, we saw pictures of US aircraft dropping napalm incendiary bombs, of piles of dead bodies, of unclothed children running from the fires of bombings, and executions in the streets. 

The visual medium of television created an experience, whether accurately or not, which words in a newspaper or magazines, and governmental spokespersons could not. The medium was greater than the message in itself.

Today, the digital revolution is an extension of this same reality. Even in a day when any photo can be Photoshopped, pictures carry a stronger influence than words.

The medium, the structure, the platform is the message, and always has been.

It is important to understand how organizational structures and social media platforms affect us. They are not neutral, but a living context which change in response to our actions.

Consider for a moment the morale in your office today. Is everyone happy and productive?  Or are there people who are disgruntled and angry about being there.

Several years ago, in collaboration with a global group of colleagues, an ebook of a conversation about morale in the workplace was published called Managing Morale in a Time of Change. It is worth reading. Without stating it, the conversation points to the impact that organizational structure has on the people who work with it.  The structure attempts to dictate identity and behavior.  To paraphrase McLuhan's words at the beginning of this post,

"It is the experience of working within a highly integrated corporate structure, not the understanding of its structure, that produces issues of low morale."

The medium of structure is a message to which we must pay attention.This is true regardless of size or organizational form, whether industrial or digital. We are influenced by the structures of the organizations where we engage in life and work. This is also true for all things digital and virtual,especially the form of social media platforms.

Social Media Platforms as Organizational Structures

I began to think about this after listening to Mitch Joel's Twist Image and Joseph Jaffe's Across the Sound shared podcast as they discussed Facebook's future. I left a comment at Mitch's blog. Here's apart of it.

... Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.

Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.

Here’s where I see the shift.

It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.

It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. They / we will gravitate toward those platforms / tools we need right now. I find Facebook is the lowest common denominator social media platform that provides a basic level of interaction, but not much more. I know they are trying to add features, but the mold / brand is set. FB is a slave to their own brand, not we to them.

The medium of social media is changing us. It is a platform for change. And, we, just may be changing faster than the platforms can keep up. Why is this?

What is it about social media that makes it so appealing?

How does it touch us, touch those aspects of our lives that other structures can not?

How can we better utilize these platforms to align the Four Connecting Ideas with our relationships in the organziational structures where we live and work?

These are the questions that I find most compelling.

We'll look at these questions in Part 2 of The Platform of Desire.