5/10 – Coach and Be Coached

I swear by coaching. It’s one of the greatest tools for reflecting on your work and proactively progressing towards mastery, and through that process, alleviating stress. It came in handy during intense leadership roles, in lowly staff roles, and even in my relationships with my family and friends. I try to keep up my coaching practice to this day, and even use it in the development of the business side of Working Together. I’ve gotten a lot out of every coaching conversation I’ve had over the past 4 years of being coached, and nearly 2 years of trying to be a coach to others. The recipe can be very simple: active, global listening; powerful, open-ended questions; practicing giving and receiving feedback and acknowledgement.

Coaching goes against the grain of the old “command and control” management style within organizations and its implicit assumption that you can’t trust people to figure things out on their own. The old style says that there needs to be some sort of strong authority that commands staff and controls the journey towards the right outcome. The notion of the captain at the helm comes to mind. Coaching, on the other hand, starts with principles that fundamentally shift the approach:

  • People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.
  • It’s not your problem to solve. Trust that they know what’s needed.
  • Hold the focus on the employee taking ownership.
  • It’s about potential and possibility.
  • Be fully present and available to the conversation.

During a recent course on coaching that I took, we went through these principles, and I realized that coaching is for organizations and the development of people and teams as the Montessori method is for schools and the development of children and classes—simply replace “people” and “employee” in the principles above, with “children”. Of course the two are not perfectly congruent (and my wife Heather who is training to become a Montessori teacher might cringe) I think that the parallels are interesting.

Like a Montessori teacher observing his classroom, during a coaching conversation, the coach is to be fully attentive, observing where someone is at through active, global listening, asking open-ended questions and not giving advice. By trusting that the individual will find their own answers to the problem that lies before them and their own path in trying out solutions, the coach, like the Montessori teacher, believes that people are naturally creative and resourceful enough to “know what’s needed”.

Through the coaching feedback model—what went well, what was tricky, what would you do differently next time—one reflects on actions taken, and what could be done next time. By practicing awareness and really listening to the feedback that you are getting from the world, control for error becomes self-directed. Coaching yourself through the feedback model and honestly reflecting on the answers you give yourself, gets you in the habit of being your own boss, in a sense. This sort of self-coaching can be said to be the ultimate goal of coaching. Just as in a Montessori classroom, the teacher will never correct the child, or tell them that they were wrong—the materials have control for error built into them—so too with coaching. Coaching builds control for error into the process, and builds your competency to coach yourself towards your goals.

At the end of every coaching session, when the coach holds the individual accountable to the solutions that they came up with, they are stamping out the final (and perhaps worst) vestige of deference to authority: “do it for me.” Instead, the attitude is thus, “you own the problem, you own the solution, there is no one to seek approval from for you to proceed with what you know you need to do… it is up to you…” and “…the next time we talk I want to hear that you’ve done the things you said you know you need to do.” As much as we might pride ourselves on the so-called independent spirit, especially in the west, the lazy attitude of “do it for me” can pervade our approach to personal growth if we don’t practice the very existential reminder that we are fundamentally alone to deal with our challenges. You might feel bad letting the coach down if you return with no progress towards your goals, but any good coach will remind you that you’re only letting yourself down… they’re just there to help you recognize what it means to hold yourself to your own word.

4/10 – Actively Notice New things

In September 2015, I stumbled across an On Being interview with Ellen J. Langer where she implored the listener to become more mindful by simply making an effort to “actively notice new things.” Having earnestly practiced Vipassana meditation in my mid-twenties, I was already familiar with the notion of becoming more mindful. However, because so many of my meditation experiences were grounded within Vipassana practice, I thought that the only way to cultivate an authentically mindful experience was through extended meditation retreats and hour-long daily practice. I found her approach to mindfulness uniquely western among the preponderance of eastern religious and spiritual teachings in the field.

What interested me about Langer’s approach was her different entry point: instead of studying eastern approaches to mindfulness, she studied the effects of mindlessness in the psychology lab. Her book, Mindfulness, is a culmination of over fifty psychological studies on the effects of mindlessness that she and her colleagues had conducted in the 60’s and 70’s—it’s definitely worth a read (non-affiliate link here). So, what is mindlessness, then?

The popular concept of “being on autopilot” captures the lazy attitude of mindlessness well. Not wanting to really think about a decision too hard, because “I’ve always done it this way.” Not wanting to ask “how could it be otherwise?” because that would require pause and consideration, both of which require time and effort. Not wanting to really think about what you want, because this would require honest reflection, thoughtfulness, choice. In many ways, being on autopilot is well-supported by a speedy, busy life. Being on autopilot is coasting, cruise control, ease-of-use, seamlessness… because being in a different state requires energy and effort.

So, I think that a core aspect of being on autopilot is a mild aversion (an attitude of “I don’t want to be bothered to…”, or “I’d rather not…”) in relation to the mild exertion of effort that any given moment invites us to offer. This mild exertion is simply the effort we have to make to be present in the moment and consciously consider how to respond, outside of the well-worn track of easy answers and habitual responses that constitute the fabric of our everyday conventions.

What is easiest, is to fall back into well-worn patterns of thinking and doing and respond to the moment with the easy answer. What is hardest to do is to recognize that every moment is radically novel. Every moment is something that has never happened before… the tip of time’s arrow. Mindlessness, then, is an attitude cultivated by our need to conserve physical and mental energy and effort in the face of a relentless emergence, in the face of a raw existential awareness that you can never be secured from “what happens next”. Mindfulness is about striving to notice the relationships you are embedded in, and honestly questioning and opening up concepts and practices that are well worn and asking how they could be seen and enacted otherwise. This goes for relationships with others, but also relationships with oneself, with one’s conventions.

So, what can we do about this? How can we cultivate mindfulness without the vow of silence and the years of asceticism in a mountain ashram? How can we be mindful during a fast-paced day at the office? How can we stop ourselves short of a caffeinated induced heart-attack while jamming through our endless to-do lists?

We can start with three small practices. Two of these can be adopted “in the field”, and one requires a little bit more time “in the lab”.

Practice one: we can take two or three very deep breaths. Try this: breath in through your mouth to your natural limit. When you’ve reached that limit, inhale a little bit more until you feel your diaphragm stretching out front, back and sides… to your very limit, and then exhale. (It’s possible to do this in most settings throughout the day, however, perhaps not during a moment when all eyes are on you—i.e. when you’re leading a briefing or giving a presentation.)

The goal of this practice is to become more aware of your bodily sensations. Yep, along with our smartphones, we also have bodies that beg to be checked in with constantly. Our bodies are sturdily anchored to the moment—your aches and pains, your breath, your stiff muscles, itches, warm feet, etc. These sensations wash over you, always. Three very deep breaths bring you back to your physicality in the moment quite nicely. Wherever your train of thought is taking you, it is usually taking you away from your body, from the moment—or at least just skimming the surface of bodily sensation.

Practice two: just sit quietly for one minute and notice the sounds around you. Notice when you’ve stopped noticing the sounds and are thinking about something… like what so-and-so said to you earlier that day, or how you totally bombed that thing and had so-and-so not done X then you could have easily done Y, etc. or that bill you had to pay… fuck! you forgot about that, etc. If all you do is manage to notice that you’ve stopped noticing the sounds around you, that’s fine. Don’t aggressively try to only notice the sounds around you. Just notice the distraction from the small goal you had, and next time try for a full minute.

This practice is all about cultivating your noticing muscles, practicing the act of stopping and raising your awareness above the level of autopilot. This practice develops the skill of pausing everything you might be caught up in to just notice your environment for a moment.

Practice three: cultivate mindfulness outside of work through a “10-minute sit” (i.e. a 10-minute silent meditation routine at the end or beginning of the day). It’s easy to agree that yes, in theory, the notion of being more present during the day makes sense. Why let life pass you by? Etc. But without a more effortful silent meditation practice, I have found that it is much harder to cultivate the ability to actively notice new things. I know this because as I write this, I am pretty lousy at regularly managing the 10-minute sit and I think that it undercuts my ability to remember to stop the blur for a moment during my busy day.

The 10-minute sit is really a synthesizing and integrating practice: not only does it help you with practice one and two, but it helps you to holistically address the day, your week, your life. When I’ve had long bouts of consistent 10-minute sits, I’ve found that my ability to simply understand and be at peace with things improves. Finally, I’ve found that it becomes easier to stop the autopilot for a moment and perceive the newness all-around me (in whatever context I might be in).

Although we may conceptually “get” the importance of mindfulness, when actually situated within the moment, we are largely in a mild state of drift between the task that came to be, the task at hand, and the task to come. We need intentional practices like those above to help us break out of routine and convention, especially in a world that is becoming evermore seamlessly integrated with automaticity (on this theme, and for a more realistic sci-fi rendition of how AI could change the world, watch Spike Jonze’s Her). But for those of us who may find ourselves too busy to imagine integrating new practices into our busy everyday (as I did during my most intense weeks working in upper-level management), then there is always Langer’s simple call to actively notice new things. Try to remember her phrase as you move through your day, and see what happens next.

3/10 – Leadership & Accountability

In January 2015, back at the start of my leadership role, I sat down with my boss for one of our first meetings. Being a bookish type, I asked him if he had any good books on leadership that he thought I should read. He looked at me askance and said that he didn’t read that sort of thing. Instead, what he learned, he learned through his experiences, and it was a pretty straightforward lesson: leadership and accountability go hand-in-hand.

Basically, we aren’t leading until we’ve accepted that we are accountable for the outcome (good or bad) that follows from the work that we’ve led. Leadership without accountability is egocentric and protective: always seeking opportunities to better oneself, shielding oneself from negative feedback, and so on. We can certainly do a lot of good work this way, but only up to a point. Until we start to let negative feedback in, we really can’t start striving towards excellence (see an upcoming post for more on feedback). Striving for excellence can only follow from a path of accountability.

There are many different ways that excellence can be achieved. In my leadership roles I’ve learned that the practice of challenging outcomes is necessary to achieve excellence—from myself, from fellow staff and from team members. In my roles “in the trenches”, I’ve learned that autonomy and creativity are also essential for developing excellent outcomes from a team. So, wherever we lead from within an organization will determine the approach and the practices that we apply to achieve excellence.

A caveat: excellence isn’t perfectionism. There are always deadlines in the real world that will push us to be strategic and economical in the use of our time and energy. There comes a point where you have to stop one thing and move onto the next. This is inevitable. But throughout that window of time where the work must be done, the materials, the end product, the notions and analysis, the MVPs, etc.—these must be challenged. Again this isn’t perfectionism, this is work that has been stress-tested, this is work that is excellent in the sense that it aligns with the needs of its intended audience (customer, boss, decision-maker, etc.). In this sense, it is work that can be trusted.

I found that the leadership and accountability dyad produces an outlook that extends beyond blame and credit—both of which are egocentric. To take responsibility for the outcome of our work, to be accountable for the result, means that we cannot blame or make excuses when things go awry. To lead is to go first. To lead is to set the pace. To lead is to establish the direction. When the results of the work come in, you cannot turn to the world outside of you, point and say “things would have gone better, had so-and-so not more thoroughly analyzed the risk, etc.” or “we would not have ended up here, had the road not led to this perilous path,” etc. To lead is to find the direction, and continually re-calibrate the right direction as you move through the territory. Seek feedback, listen closely, exercise judgement. It’s not about you, it’s about the outcome that everyone is striving for.

On the other hand, when things go well, it is the team that is responsible for the positive outcome. This is the time to stand behind something, to put someone else in the front. The leader certainly has a role in the outcome, as the one who set the pace by challenging the team towards excellence, as the one who set the direction and steered and positioned all the elements towards a positive outcome. But it is the interacting effects of all the team members and their combined effort to creatively challenge the work that built a collective acumen for feedback and trust, which enabled a good outcome. Be humble when there is deserved recognition, be responsible when there is deserved feedback.

2/10 – Take the Leap into New Challenges

When I see an opportunity arise that makes me feel a little scared—whether its an entirely new job, or a new project, or a stretch-assignment, or a risky business opportunity, or planning and preparing all of the food for one’s own 3-day long and 100+ guest wedding—I seriously consider saying YES. Not only have I grown as an individual and built character through the learnings that I’ve mined from tough experiences, but the story of my life comes into sharper resolution. Challenges create a stronger impression, I remember what I’ve done more clearly and my past experience becomes a better story to tell—and this is especially good if you have a bad memory (like me). So, I join a well established chorus with the call to take the leap into new challenges.

I believe that we all need intensities in our life and that we need to do our best to seek them out rather than hide from them. This disposition has a certain degree of acceptance of the inevitable in it because whether we like it or not, life will always give us memories that are more than impressions. Life will leave scars.

This disposition is more a question of doing our best to choose when and how life will scar us—so, instead of simply taking it on the chin, you point to your chin and say “hit me.” It’s a bit tragicomic in this regard. By accepting and actively seeking out challenges, we become less passive in our experience of hardship and come to see hardship as a painful but essential aspect of our life. Because we are taking a greater measure of responsibility for the hardship that befalls us by actively choosing new challenges, we trade fate for failure. And so we will invariably fail more—sometimes spectacularly. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is through our active efforts to challenge ourselves—through our resilience to failure—that we learn to take ourselves less seriously.

Last week while I was out for drinks with an old friend from my university days, it dawned on me: I have never felt as precarious as I did during the liminal period of time between the last few years of high school and the first few years of university. Questions like “What if I fail? What if I can’t do this? What if I end up on the street?” and so on, plagued me, and my friend echoed that he had similar worries. Why was this?

The looming threat throughout school and later, throughout one’s career, is this: until you’ve clocked your time with years of education and training, and then finally with years of work experience as a good employee, you are at risk of “amounting to nothing”. But to whom? The labour market of course. You can’t have a market for something unless you have some system to register the value of the widgets exchanged therein. And there is no better assurance of value than time logged in class and on the clock. School and career are stamps of approval, an assurance of quality, etc. With each unit of human capital that gets churned out, a signal is given to the labour market: “this person is good at these things, and bad at these things”; “this person is good at everything”; “this person dropped out”; etc. A side effect of this production of human capital is that school invariably teaches us to avoid failure. We are taught to take everything seriously. We are taught to win and succeed. We rank and compare rank. We compete against each other for medals and recognition. We are humiliated in front of our peers when we get an answer wrong. We are evaluated continuously and reminded of our numerical worth—our GPA—and how this number will determine our future. We are taught to pursue what we already believe ourselves to be good at.

So, this question of taking on new challenges is far beyond anything that school was able to support. The question of whether or not to focus on your strengths or weaknesses is a question for the schooled. In direct opposition to the worry of whether or not we will amount to anything, is a largely unexplored ethos of exploration, an active acceptance of hardship, and a playful and humorous wonderment for all there is to learn.

1/10 – Care

I’m learning this lesson everyday. Caring is an attitude I take towards the world when I’m at my best. When I’m at my worst—when I’m deeply disengaged—there’s a pretty strong chance that I also don’t care about what’s happening. Caring engages me with the machinery of the moment. In any moment, especially when working and being with others—whether it’s a meeting, or a critical point in a project, or sitting at the dinner table with my family—the moment is tanking (or on its way to tanking) if I’m unable to care about what’s happening.

But if I’m able to remember in the moment “oh yeah… care about this,” it’s as if the room changes colour from pallid pastels and greys to vibrant colours and contours. Suddenly, I am engaged with the moment. Once I care, everything gets better (even if it was already pretty good). Once I care, even really difficult situations become necessary milestones along the journey towards constructive collaboration, towards familial love, towards being and working together.

Whenever I’m disengaged, I try to ask myself: “Why are you doing what you’re doing if you don’t actually care? If you don’t care, stop and ask yourself: what do you want out of your life?”

Regardless of what you believe will happen after you die, you can be certain that this “life” part of the story (or the whole story) has an end. We all get this. Most of us have had a friend or family member who came to an untimely end. Stick with that certainty and its lessons. Don’t let what you believe excuse carelessness during this window of time called life. Whether you believe that life is all there is, or that life is just a chapter—care.

The risk of not caring because of what you believe does, or doesn’t happen after death is the biggest wager to take. Forget the risky business of the entrepreneur, it pales in comparison to the passive risk that we mindlessly take when we let our beliefs get in the way of our ability to give a damn about this world, its relationships, your part in it, etc. We misrepresent this risk to ourselves as “acceptable” because we may believe life is just one part of a longer story, or we believe we’ve got a lot of time to kill. Stick with the certainty: death chooses when to really kill time. If you’re killing time, you’ve forgotten that it’s not for you to do.

So, care. Care about the work you are doing. Care about the relationships you are in. Care about where this is all headed. Care about your story and where you are at in it. Care that you are here. Care about the loved ones in your life. Care about that project you are working on in your spare time. Care about the assignment you have. Care.

(If you’re starting in the middle on this series, start here for a bit of context)

The Crucible

Last month I wrapped up a 15-month temporary assignment in a management/leadership role in a fast-paced environment. Before coming into that role I had worked “in the trenches” of various organizations. Before then, I had worked for a number of different food sovereignty non-profits “on the frontline” of the local and sustainable food movement.

Before this gig, I had no experience in a high-intensity, executive-level work environment. “Baptism by fire” one of my colleagues joked. And it was true. When interested friends asked about the role during the first month, I would say that it was a crucible. A crucible is a container that is meant to withstand intense heat and pressure so that the materials within are reduced down to some core elements. This was the kind of role that transforms you through its very intensity. The metaphor of the crucible was perfect to describe what I felt was happening to me: I had gone into the role like a chunk of ore and came out as metal…. though perhaps more vulnerable than before.

Over the next while, I will post an occasional series: 10 short lessons I took away from my time in that intense position. These lessons aren’t really things you can put a checkmark beside. They are continuous. They involve mindset, attitude, disposition. I’m still figuring them out in all facets of my life. I got to practice some of these lessons while I was in this particular leadership role, whereas some of them I’ve learned after reflecting on the role. With all of them there is always room for improvement, room for mastery. The list is also incomplete. There’s a lot more that could go in here, but…  10 just sounds nice. Right? (it’s how many fingers we have, after all).

Before embarking, it is important to point out the obvious (that we so often forget). To be your best in any setting requires some basic ingredients: getting a good nights’ sleep, eating healthy food, and getting regular exercise. When you are hobbled on any of these three, your day or your week is going to be that much harder. Finally, when you are hobbled on any of these three, a fourth basic ingredient—emotional well-being—becomes more difficult to achieve. These 4 ingredients are like a 4-legged table: drop any one and the table becomes unstable, drop any two and… well, you don’t really have a table anymore! These 4 basic ingredients are foundational for success in the other 10.

Stay tuned for the first of 10.

Cosmodernism: Why Our Love of Star Wars Can Solve Climate Change

SPACE

Watching Star Wars in My Pajamas: A Preschooler Learns About the Universe and What Might Be

One of my earliest memories is watching Star Wars when I was about five years old. It was a cold winter in Edmonton, Alberta, the Canadian city and oil refinery where I was born. I remember standing at the threshold between the kitchen and the living room in my grandmothers’ house on Capilano Crescent, watching the intro to A New Hope. I would pop in and out of the room throughout the movie to catch glimpses of light-saber battles and noisy TIE fighters.

What remains distinct in my memory is the notion that the film’s narrative happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Even when I was young, the very inversion of this narrative—that something futuristic could have taken place long ago—impacted me, and reverberated a realization throughout my elementary school days: there could be another place in the cosmos, in the universe, in the galaxy, where long ago, folks flew around in spaceships and engaged in harrowing adventures and such! What Star Wars taught me was that the realm of possibility in the universe could be so vast that in the depths of time (past and future) and space (here and far away) we could imagine seemingly endless variations of possible futures. In this respect, Star Wars was a gateway to my love of science fiction, outer space, and interstellar travel.

Unfortunately, nothing in my schooling or family life reinforced this passion (and my dream of becoming an astronaut) beyond the toys I was given, or the odd National Geographic magazine I tried to decipher. In middle school I realized that the science I was so interested in was based on the math I found so painfully difficult. I eventually gave up the notion that I would ever become an astronaut and explore outer space, and decided to follow my interests elsewhere. However, my fascination with these themes never diminished, and like many others I eagerly look forward to watching the next installment in the Star Wars narrative this holiday season.

I believe that we love science fiction because of the possibilities it expresses about our ingenuity, our encounter with the Other, and the power and potential of technology to take us places we’ve never been. The science fiction genre often presents a moment (whether in the future, the past, or secretly at work within the present) where we are less constrained and limited, where the vastness of the universe can be managed, and only the touch of a button stands between sentient Earthling life and a cosmos of possibility.

But (putting my “theory hat” on), our fascination with a limitless universe filled with a diverse array of other interstellar worlds and sentient beings and cultures is also an extension of an expansionist drive to colonize under the pretext of exploration and discovery. A narrative universe with so many different worlds to visit and inhabit, where there seems to be an overabundance of worlds and places to explore and “orientalise,” is so widely enjoyed because of the limitlessness depicted. This flipside of the science fiction genre is to be expected… especially today. For ours is a time acutely aware of ecological limits (to name a few: environmental toxicity, ocean acidification, and Climate Change), a time when our societies seem to be wobbling against the edge of some never-before-seen chaos, and therefore, a time when we enjoy, with great ardour, the imagined cosmos of limitless potential exemplified in science fiction (and, sadly, the imagined cosmos of limitless consumption). So it is not surprising that we create and celebrate in such imaginaries while we face extreme limits and intractable problems in reality. We are trying to mentally escape a dawning terror of realization that will eventually—and necessarily—overtake us. We are in denial of the fact that the party must end.

We are secretly disappointed that the dreams of the space-aged 1950s and 60s never materialized in 2001 (2001: A Space Odyssey never took place, even though the story seemed inevitable). We also are surprised that our ingenuity could so successfully catapult our societies into technological modernity while also creating so many unintended consequences. So, on top of looming terror, denial, disappointment, and surprise, we are faced with a challenge to our faith in scientific rationalism—at the same time we have to reinvigorate our faith in science, and develop a more sophisticated scientific rationalism in order to define the limits, challenges, complexities, and potential solutions that we must now address. We’ve learned that our ingenuity does not exist in a vacuum and that it was never confined to the laboratory tabletop. The results of our experiments spill out of labs and into factories, from factories into markets, from markets into homes, and from homes into landfills, and all throughout the lifecycles of our invented products, additional unintended consequences spill into social, cultural, ecological, etc. systems. The well-oiled whirr of the machine has taken a century to reverberate through the ecological cosmos, and we now hear it as a snarl.

This terror, this denial, this sense of surprise at the failure of technology’s promise, this loss of faith, this enjoyment of imaginary adventure and unlimited exploration—all of these cultural affects are important clues to our current predicament. Indeed, these clues are part of the mechanisms of a psychological and cultural trap that we must envision ourselves out of… but how?

Climate Change. What does it mean? Climate Change means cataclysm.

The choice we now face is between two models of how the cataclysm of Climate Change will play out: death, on the one hand, or transformation, on the other. The current discourse, however, is dominated by the former, and so the proposed solutions to Climate Change carry the scent of death: technocratic rationalism and pragmatism, evidence presented and dissected, policy mechanisms, international agreements, targets, measures, etc. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, we need the policy wonk conversation to generate traction and friction… but we also desperately need a big “unrealistic” dream to generate momentum (the simpler to define, the better). We need this dream because the realism and importance of Climate Change has created the unintended consequence of polarized and confused public opinion. Through amplified competing scientific views, divisive advocacy groups, and a diverse and seemingly endless source of information on the internet (to which this blog post simply adds), the complexity of Climate Change has led interested parties to simply confirm their beliefs and treat the matter in purely pragmatic terms. The future becomes less of a crystal ball that can surprise us with new insight, and more of a dead certainty. So, instead of calmly discussing how best to go about avoiding the worst (or simply denying that anything is wrong), we must passionately strive to achieve a big dream, perhaps the big dream: sentient Earthling life exploring the cosmos.

Technocracy has had its words, measures, and numbers at COP21—and with great success. Beyond this and any council of parties, however, democracy will continue to demand a shared vision. So, as a salve to the discourse that reeks of death, I want the change in tone that comes with the model of transformation: Climate Change is the penultimate wicked problem that must be solved or mitigated, not so that we can continue to survive on the Earth, but so that we can live on the Earth and beyond. The first model, and currently the most paradigmatic, emphasizes global political cooperation in the face of peril. The second emphasizes global political cooperation in the face of a future that has only been imagined, but is thereby more potent and real than the threat of death and finality. However, if we do not rise to the wicked problem of Climate Change with renewed vigor, the possibility of our imagined future (of our big dream coming true) is at best likely to be postponed for centuries or millennia; at worst, it is on the verge of being erased.

In a way, I am glad we have such terrifyingly complex challenge in Climate Change; it will teach us new things about ourselves, and about how we can work together in new and different ways. Indeed, without Climate Change, it would be impossible to pursue cosmic exploration as a big dream without it quickly turning into a big nightmare. The cataclysm of transformation is a threshold that we must first cross before we can pursue the type of development required to explore the cosmos. Why? Because although continuing on the same path of development may entail interstellar travel, it wouldn’t be done so in a manner that calls on the best of the world—perhaps such advancements would be pursued unilaterally, perhaps they would be pursued as a form of escape from a planet that no longer supports human life. Either way, pursuing a vision of space travel without solving Climate Change would be the penultimate expression of modernism’s decadence: the desire for grandeur at the expense of all else.

So, I call the alternate path of development that stems from the cataclysm of transformation that we face through Climate Change cosmodernism (cosmos + modernism), because what I am arguing for is a continuation of scientific progress, not as an isolated endeavor to the detriment of the Earth, but rather as an endeavor unfolding within a complex interrelated system of living and non-living forces. The pursuit of grandeur and glory to the benefit of all else is the affirmation of cosmodernism, and an affirmation only made possible through a concerted effort to work together in the transformation made necessary by cataclysm. The realization that Earth is a seed and a germ of life within the cosmos is the credo of cosmodernism, and the dispersal of this seed is its ultimate goal.

Climate Change is a very special problem for us to work together on, and to wrap our head, hands, and hearts around. Much of the discourse around the problem has been rooted in the head and the hands, with little emphasis on the heart—on the passion and vision that can take our interests beyond the literal and figurative “poverties of imagination” of the cataclysm of death. So, I believe that there needs to be something more that motivates our efforts to work together and tackle the problem, and I believe that this “something more” is a vision of the future that we already dream of. The technologically and infra-structurally enmeshed tangle of living and non-living life that is our current civilization—“the system” in all its “broken” and “working” glory—is simply a process of co-creation in the midst of a rapid transformation whose logical endpoint lies in interstellar travel. Until the momentum and the trajectory of this system shifts we should share no other vision than the following: to rein in the worst of our excesses; to work together as a planet of Earthlings; to innovate solutions to Climate Change and its cataclysm of transformation; and most importantly, to dream big about the future, so that we may share in the glory of centuries and millennia of limitless scientific and interstellar exploration.

Imagining the Mitigation Future at COP 21

Isaac Cordal - Politicians Debating Climate Change from his "Election Campaign" installation.
Isaac Cordal – “Electoral Campaign” installation at Gendarmarkt square, Berlin. April 2011.

One look at the current COP 21 “non-paper” and you can see where the rubber hits the road: mitigation.  Why?

Climate change mitigation is where the hard politics of COP 21 will play out, because mitigation is a harder future to collectively imagine.  Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, involves a future which is somehow more intuitive to us: come what may, we will survive.  Imagining how we might adapt is more tangible than imagining how we might stop or slow climate change, and so there is simply less to negotiate about adaptation: no matter the uncertainty that climate tipping points may present, we believe we will adapt to what may come.

To wit: compared to the adaptation section of the “non-paper”, the mitigation section has so many brackets, each with their own world of possibility: “[shall][should][other]” and so on.  Demonstrating, perhaps, just how diverse the imagined future of mitigation is in our contemporary pre-COP 21 moment.  For example:

“Parties aim to reach by [X date] [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions][zero net greenhouse gas emissions][a[n] X per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions][global low-carbon transformation][global low-emission transformation][carbon neutrality][climate neutrality].”

There are so many possible worlds here!  But which will the parties come to agree is the best?  The answer will depend on how well we are able to imagine the mitigation future, share this vision, and work towards achieving it, together.

What Working Together is and what it is not.

It seems entirely fitting to compose this first post while my 1-year-old baby boy is crying and vying for my attention. Here goes:

What Working Together is:

As useful a guide as possible for helping people work together. People can work together on all sorts of things. Though we will inevitably be exploring “all sorts of things” here, I am mostly interested in how people work together on problems. Problems that could be simple or “wicked” or anywhere in-between.

What Working Together is not:

Lazy panaceas. Murky and unclear theorizations. Closed to your feedback and input on how to make it the very best content.