Long-term misunderstandings

“If you’re going to take a long-term orientation, you have to be willing to stay heads down and ignore a wide array of critics, even well-meaning critics. If you don’t have a willingness to be misunderstood for a long period of time, then you can’t have a long-term orientation.”

That’s Jeff Bezos in US News. Jeff also gets a mention in this TED talk by Stewart Brand about a field trip they took to the site of the Clock of the Long Now.

And the finalists are…

It’s been so much fun watching Social Innovation Camp take on a life of its own. 115 ideas submitted and last Friday our judges chose six to go through to the final weekend. And they are…

A tool to help people take control of junk mail: Going Postal aims both to stop junk reaching your letter box, as well as offering companies alternative ways to get their advertising out — which is good news for the trees that are used to produce the 550,000 tonnes of paper wasted on unsolicited mail in the UK each year.

What if travelers brought more than cash to the countries they visited? You could harness the skills, talent and knowledge of those visiting other countries — whether they’re on business, visiting relatives or simply tourists. Via the web, universities could find visiting professors, hospitals could find visiting nurses, feeding centres could meet five star chefs and Joe the plumber can fix the drains in an orphanage. It’s a new approach both to international volunteering, as well as tackling the brain drain many countries are suffering as they loose talent and skills to migration.

The rush hour’s bad enough for those who have only a bag and umbrella to carry around. But how do you negotiate a city’s transport system when you’re not able to keep up with the commuter scrum? AccessCity aims to develop a site to enable a user-generated view of London (in the first instance, but with the ability to be rolled out nationally and beyond) from an accessibility perspective: helping those who are less able to get around — due to physical disabilities or impairments, or if they need to take children with them — and highlighting what needs to be improved to make simple journeys less of a hassle.

There’s been increasing emphasis on how you give users themselves greater control over the social care they receive in recent years — it’s a huge social and political issue. Visualising Community Need is a project to help people map their own care requirements and use this information to get care providers to better understand the needs of those they are supposed to be serving — turning the system of social care on its head.

People all over Britain run, jog and lift weights. The Good Gym aims to make it easy for people to channel this energy toward social good. The idea is to get fitness fanatics to incorporate visits to isolated older people or the delivery of useful items to dependent individuals into their exercise routines.

Etsy, but for vegetables. This idea uses an online market place to bring together people who grow food in their home, allotment, small holding or farm with people who want to buy locally produced, natural, wholesome foods — just like Etsy has done with handmade craft goods. So there’s less air miles in our food and we know exactly what we’re eating and where it’s coming from.

Last night we got the people who proposed them to come along and explain all at our meetup at the Hub in Kings Cross. Perhaps my favourite moment was when James described one of his feature ideas for Vegsy as ‘Betfair for potatoes’. Anna asked him what had inspired the idea and he replied in an instant ‘ I really like potatoes’.

There’s a twist to all this though. The judges couldn’t decide between four other projects which they so we’ve had to put it to a public vote to see which will be the seventh project at Social Innovation Camp for the weekend of 5–7th December. You can help decide here.

Practical Optimism

A few weeks ago I had an argument about the future of the human race that baffled me. I won’t say who with, but he’s an environmentalist of note (who is in his 50s I guess). It went something like this:

Him: We have a problem.
Me: Agreed.
Him: It’s really bad.
Me: Yep.
Him: You should be really scared because you’re under 40.
Me: Not really.
Him: But unless we convince people that it’s really, really bad nothing will change.
Me: I’m not so sure — I don’t think scaring people makes them change.
Him: How do you expect governments to regulate the problem unless people are really scared?
Me: I don’t assume that governments will do anything. I think fantastic ordinary people will create sustainable ways of organising themselves and the planet’s resources. I’m sure governments will catch up in the end but there’s no point waiting around.

At that stage we had to agree to disagree. He believes pessimism will save the world and I don’t. I’m an optimist — probably with a little bit of anarchist libertarianism thrown in. The two don’t really mix.

The last couple of months have been the most economically turbulent of my lifetime, the future is the least certain of any I can remember and I’m very aware that it could get worse. I also know the scale of the even bigger problems. I’ve seen poverty, suffering and injustice first hand and I’m fully aware of the numbers when it comes to climate change.

But I’m still an optimist.

A few days after the optimism argument I was with my friend Rob at the spot by the Brooklyn Bridge in New York where you look out over the East River to the downtown Manhattan skyline. The market was collapsing around us but we had a beer and the air was still warm. We’ve both now done some time in start-ups and we were talking about the highs and lows of start-up life. If you want a quiet time, we agreed, don’t try to change the world.

But the other thing we realised was that we were confident about our futures because no matter what happened we knew we could make things happen with almost no resources. Learning how to start something up means that you know you can turn your hand to most things and it gives you a confidence that anything is possible.

Yesterday I met Ali Clabburn who has gradually built up Liftshare over the last ten years. Each day 40,000 car journeys are not made because Ali was an optimist when people told him it would never work. Since the 1960s average car occupany had dropped and dropped. But for the last three years, it has risen. Liftshare, with it’s 300,000 self-organising members has started to turn the tanker.

Then I look at all the young campaigners in Battlefront including the amazing Zuhal who I’m mentoring (really she’s mentoring me). These are kids who are supposed to be thick, apathetic and pure individualists (if you believe the Daily Mail) who are setting out to change the world. None of them lacks ambition. And yes, they are optimists.

And then tomorrow we will choose the finalists for Social Innovation Camp 2. I have no doubt that we’ll find some more optimists there.

So while sometimes I do get a bit uncomfortable being called an entrepreneur (I don’t think I have enough chest hair to fit that particular mould), I’m happy to call myself an optimist. In fact, I’ve come to realise I’m a practical optimist and proud.

Umair Haque on Obama

What does “yes we can” really mean? Obama’s goal wasn’t simply to win an election, garner votes, or run a great campaign. It was larger and more urgent: to change the world.

Bigness of purpose is what separates 20th century and 21st century organizations: yesterday, we built huge corporations to do tiny, incremental things — tomorrow, we must build small organizations that can do tremendously massive things.

And to do that, you must strive to change the world radically for the better — and always believe that yes, you can. You must maximize, stretch, and utterly explode your sense of purpose.

Read the rest here.