It’s been an interesting week, to say the least.
In a lot of ways, we all just pulled each other up to a new frequency, I think. We’ve been sharing our ideas and perspectives of our personal discoveries for a while now, and all of a sudden all these perspectives assembled into an insight that helped me understand why the human network is so important, and why building a personal ‘trust network’ is critical for moving forward in society. (For anyone new here, check out An Idea Worth Spreading post and comment thread as an orientation to this site and the thinking going on here.)
So the past few days have been spent thinking about what just happened, and how we can keep doing it.
I have realized what’s happening here is that this blog has become a public learning community, where we are all literally learning how to learn. We are learning how to think in this new way. This new way of thinking, this ‘network thinking,’ by default requires a network. We can’t learn how to think in the new way alone. We can only figure it out through experimentation and collaboration. This is the “shift” everyone is talking about, the big thing that individuals and organizations “need” to operate in the 21st Century. We’re revealing it, unfolding it, right now, together.
My takeaway of what this means and how to do it:
1. Create a personal ‘trust network’ for yourself first.
In order to understand the implications of the shift and to internalize it, you need to experience it firsthand. You can’t tell your organization that you’re going to be implementing “social media” and everyone is going to start “collaborating,” and assume that waving a magic wand is going to make this happen. My experience has been that I had to learn what trusting and sharing means on my own.
That really sounds bizarre, and I feel a bit subhuman that it took me so long to relearn how to trust someone and share resources. It’s what we’re taught as children, but apparently society does a good job beating it out of us.
All of us have a trust network already “in real life.” It’s your family and your close friends and colleagues, all those strong ties, and also your extended family, community, and coworkers, your weak ties. These people are crucial, they are your companions day to day. But what about people beyond your real life connections? Is there a way to extend our connections and build trust with strangers who have a diversity of backgrounds, skills, strengths, resources, and knowledge? People who could help us if we needed help? Could we establish a global trust network?
What I discovered through Twitter was that there are people out there who know what community means. Who really, truly know. These people have already internalized what a society could look like based on a cooperative model, and it seems that this is what’s really going on on the web. Beyond all the superficial stuff out there, all the mindless entertainment and porn, at the core (or maybe at the periphery) is a community of….thousands?….millions?….of people who have jobs and careers and passions that they carry out “in the real world,” but have already embraced the vision of a much different way of life that is based in trust.
And they are modeling it online.
What is actually happening on the web is an epic experiment in creating a new society.
When you hear people talk about this online “gift economy,” and “building value and trust,” and “sharing” – this is WAY beyond a new gimmick for your business. Please don’t underestimate what’s going on. This is actually people laying down the foundation and infrastructure for a new global economy. There is a movement that is slowly gaining steam as people are “waking up,” and it has the potential to change the world.
That thing you think about before you go to sleep at night, when you say “sigh, if only the world was a little more like ___” – that thing is actually going on right now. It’s terrifying and magical, because it means that there is hope. It means that we don’t have to stand by and let the economy and education and government all erode and crumble around us as we watch from the sidelines. There’s the opportunity to actually get involved, take charge of our own lives, and join in the experiment and see how to make it a reality. How to make it THE reality.
The beauty of the complexity of it is that in order to really reap the benefits of it, you have to participate in it genuinely, and in order to participate genuinely, you have to do it intentionally, and in order to do it intentionally, you have to understand it, and in order to understand it, you have to understand yourself, and in order to understand yourself, you have to learn how to give, and in order to learn how to give, you have to establish a network to give to.
It’s a complex interrelated web, but it seems that establishing the network is a first step.
2. Share yourself.
This is the part where mindfulness comes in, and where you really have to start exploring the depths of personal Identity.
That’s a lot to ask, and you may not have even asked yourself that question in a while. That’s the point. If you were really going to live in a trust-based society – what would that look like? Who would you be?
There’s a big path of self-discovery and self-reflection that goes on, there’s a lot of confronting your beliefs and your ego, and it’s painful sometimes.
For me, that is kind of the beauty of the web. It can help you to help yourself, if you choose to use it to that end.
And the way that “it” helps you, is that PEOPLE help you. It’s the people. It’s always been about the people.
Why has our society become so jaded, so selfish, so afraid, so arrogant, so egotistical, and so greedy?
I think it’s because our society doesn’t give us many chances to share ourselves with each other. To really let our guards down and just be authentic, good people, who are not out for gain, who are not out to exploit each other in order to get ahead, but who just want to be able to freely exchange gifts and collaborate because it makes us feel good.
Society doesn’t want this. You want to know why?
Because these things are free.
What does society reward? Cheating. Stealing. Exploitation. Fame. Big houses. Fancy cars. Executive titles. Material stuff. All these things are attached to something else. Something has to be sacrificed to get these things. And they often don’t make you happy in the end. They’re not who you really are, or what you really care about, but you do them because that’s how it’s set up, and we’re just operating within the framework that exists.
But, there’s this other way.
In this experimental society in which you can participate, if you want – people are a little more “real.” People will give you advice, pass along a link they think might interest you, offer to collaborate on a real project, or exchange some information with you, for no other reason besides that it’s “how THIS system works.”
The precondition is trust. You can’t buy trust. You can’t force trust.
You earn trust.
You earn it by sharing your gifts. I don’t know how to tell you what yours is. It took me years of exploration to find mine, but I can say from my firsthand experience on the web, that my trust network pulled me forward into the realm where I made the discovery. The search for self-identity that I’ve been on my life was actually aided by real people around the planet who I’ve never actually met.
The process of self-discovery is of course completely personal. I can only tell you that for me, starting this blog was one of my greatest tools. Writing my thoughts was a powerful way for me to practice thinking about what I think, and critically evaluate myself. The even better part is when other people started leaving comments on my posts, challenging the way I think, offering their perspectives, and making me rethink what I thought I knew. These conversations have been evolving for months, but each blog post resulted in people leaving comments that challenged my thinking further and further. Sometimes people disagreed with me, and sometimes I wanted to lash out and defend my thinking.
But instead, I tried to understand that other person’s perspective, see where they’re coming from, and imagine why they might think what they think. I tried to learn empathy. I think empathy is a critical emotion to develop in a trust society, and also a necessary one to help bring about ‘the shift.’
The learning process that takes place during this self-discovery isn’t just a discovery of self, but the discovery of self in relation to others. The thinking process becomes one that can encompass the idea of interdependence. I don’t know how to explain this, but I can only say this “new way of thinking” involves a transcendence of ego. It is a mental model that assumes that problems cannot be solved alone, and that collaboration is not just desirable, but is actually a display of higher intelligence.
When you are able to put your ego aside, and realize that problems can only be solved by many, your mentality shifts from “I know the answer” to one of “How can I contribute to the solution?”
For me, when this started, it felt like a video game. I would send people links, or retweet people’s stuff that seemed useful, and when I got a “thank you,” it caused a little high. People were appreciating my contributions. When people would comment on my blog posts or retweet my posts to their networks, it caused a little high again, because again I was being appreciated.
As you start sharing more of yourself and your ideas, your art, your gifts, your insights, people will start to notice. You don’t have to try to “sell yourself.” You have to try to BE yourself.
There’s a difference. And the difference gets noticed.
And the shift starts to creep into your brain, as this behavior becomes reinforced over and over and over again.
Every time someone shows you some appreciation for being you, even something as small as a retweet, a different kind of synapse starts firing in the brain.
We start getting rewarded for giving and for sharing.
We get rewarded for being our authentic self.
It starts to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a strangely gratifying way, because all you’re doing is kind of having a good time, and just being yourself.
Just keep doing this.
3. Rewire your brain
In order to function in this new society, what it comes down to is that you need to kickstart your brain.
Beyond all the fun and giving and sharing is an actual restructuring of the way the brain works. We have to teach our brains how to process the type of information that now needs to be processed. Digital information. Information that has a place it needs to go in order to be useful. We are problem solvers, but we are also transmitters. We need to build a new brain.
This new brain is intuition based.
I actually think it’s not a new brain at all, but the ‘real’ brain. I think what happens is that we start to unlearn some things, and then rediscover how the optimal brain actually functions.
I have read quite a bit of research on complexity science, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and really so much more, so this isn’t coming from a place of being uninformed, but there’s something different about this brain.
Because it’s intuition based, it defies description. It doesn’t think hierarchically or in a linear way, instead it operates in patterns. It happens seemingly instantaneously. It happens through intention.
Someone gave me the example of reaching out for a glass. Do you think about all the muscles and movements involved in moving your arm, or do you simply have an intention for your hand to grasp the glass?
It’s complex beyond reason, and blows away our current models of description.
It happens because we just “know.”
I think what’s happened to us is we have trained our brains to operate like machines for 100 years. We have been working in jobs that have set descriptions, with specific tasks and roles, and they box in our mind. I think our minds have actually struggled to form the linear paths to think in the linear way that typical organizations want us to operate in; following directions, following rules, doing repetitive tasks, regurgitating information.
But the brain doesn’t want to work like that. It wants to work like a network. It wants to send ideas and information all over the place, jumping from synapse to synapse on multiple pathways. It wants to be contextual, relational, adaptive, and non-linear. It wants to imagine things, map new models, and revise itself constantly. I think it WANTS to be a learning machine. As we pick up on new ways of thinking about things and assembling information, new synapses form, helping information reach it’s destination faster and more effectively.
I started to think about the brain this way by watching the way information travels on Twitter. This was a huge help in shifting my thinking. I imagined each person as a node in a network, even imagining the people out there who I wasn’t following. I tried to imagine EVERYONE who’s on Twitter. All the humans around the world. I imagined we each operated as a switch and a filter.
As a switch, we each can decide where to allow information to spread into our network. (Keep toggling this example between how Twitter works and how the brain’s neural nets work)
When we retweet, we expose our entire network of relationships to this particular piece of information. That’s like flipping the switch “on.” It fires the synapse. Or we can take no action, and the tweet just passes through the stream. The switch stayed “off.”
In addition, we can also be a filter. We can add extra data to a tweet, leaving a short comment about it, or cc’ing specific people on it, or just sending it directly to people.
As we become more familiar with who we’re following and who’s within our human network, we individually get better at being a switch and a filter.
We become more discriminatory about what to tweet, what to retweet, and where to send information.
Like the brain that forms new pathways for effectiveness, we also learn to more effectively move information.
I think that the act of doing this in itself trains the brain. It teaches the brain to recognize itself. It’s like you giving your brain permission to operate the way you’re modeling the movement of information in Twitter. Your tweets don’t get seen by the same people after every tweet, and you never know who is going to pick up your tweet and send it to their network. If the person is influential, they can cause a huge number of people to see your tweet, sending along all kinds of new and unexpected pathways. But the travel of a tweet is kind of random – you can’t predict exactly where it will go or who will combine it with some other novel piece of information, it’s just this organic process.
Now the interesting thing is when you stop thinking about tweets, and stop thinking about the screennames that are retweeting tweets.
Instead, think that you are sending an important piece of information. And think that your network isn’t “Twitter”, it’s human beings who need certain information in order for them to be able to solve problems. And then assume that you’ve got a pretty good read on the human beings within your personal network, and you have a pretty good intuition about who you should send that information to in order for it to get to where you think it needs to go and be seen and processed in order for it to have the most impact.
Now you’re operating intelligently.
My little snowcrash was understanding this process of information travel. It’s non-hierarchical, fluid, organic, and unpredictable. But it’s a lot closer to how the brain wants to function than the way we usually use it.
I think that by observing how information moves in Twitter, by literally SEEING it, watching it, observing, we can teach the brain to recognize itself, and jumpstart this shift process.
It’s said that “two neurons that fire together, wire together.”
This is the snowcrash. It’s the moment that a new connection, a new pathway, is forged in the brain. Or maybe many pathways. Maybe a whole new network of pathways. Maybe that ‘lightening bolt’ feeling is really what it looks like, just a ton of new pathways blazing across your brain.
At any rate, once your brain locks in this new set of pathways, you’re in.
Now you’re ready to start doing some reeaaalllllly interesting things.
I think this might be the way innovation works. It might be the way idea generation works. It might be the way creativity works. It’s allowing the hierarchical thinking to loosen it’s grip on your brain, and let it do what it wants to do. I think it will start jumping in these non-lateral patterns and joining up ideas that you would have never thought to join before, because you have a whole new set of pathways to connect them.
And if your individual brain starts acting like that, and then you tune up your whole organization to that frequency and have a network of minds operating in this non-lateral way…….. well……… the combined intelligence of a network like that seems pretty radical.
I wanted this to be an abridged version of the last post, but it seems like it’s gotten pretty lengthy as well. I’m looking forward to your perspectives on the way I’m interpreting what happened, and for those that have had a similar experience, please share your version of how it happened and how you think the process can be accelerated.
I think our capacity to learn and grow is going to skyrocket once we start experimenting with building these new paths in the brain.
So, what I’ve covered here is 3 concepts for boosting our intelligence:
- build a web of relationships, of alliances, with people who will help us to grow and learn
- initiate the process of self-discovery and self-awareness / mindfulness, and learn to share, trust and empathize
- intentionally rewire the brain through watching its behavior modeled in the way information travels on Twitter
The other component that I’m going to cover in the next post is Dialogue.
I’ve thought a lot on this, and the thing that’s missing from this formula is the spoken word.
I’ll get into the concept of orality and generative dialogue, but I think this is the other critical component for us to learn and challenge our minds. We have to engage in spoken “debate,” in a mutually respectful way, to share the way we understand things with others, and then get their perspectives and insights. Some of my greatest growth has happened during conversations that go late into the night, where my mind is stretched to new levels.
I generated what seems like a potentially powerful way to do this publicly online so many can learn at once, which evolved out of my thoughts for starting a Junto.
Sneak preview: Intelligent dialogue –> Chat Roulette format + livestream + Twitter backchannel
I’ll explain more about it soon!