“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein.
These words of wisdom float on the brochure cover for the 2010 Nonprofit Conference: Leadership, Imagination and Action. Presented by The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, California, this March 26th event for nonprofit leaders and managers features keynote speaker Paul Ray, social researcher and author of Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.
Ray identifies three types of people: Traditionals, Moderns, and Cultural Creatives. I relate to his definition: “The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they’re activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans. However, because they’ve been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life. Once they realize their numbers, their impact on American life promises to be enormous, shaping a new agenda for the twenty-first century.”
The above passage was written in 2000. Since then, we’ve seen evidence of the Cultural Creatives phenomenon in grassroots organizations such as MoveOn.org, in Obama’s 2008 campaign and election, in splinter environmental efforts and larger movements. The Internet helps Cultural Creatives communicate about global warming and social justice, but it’s an equal tool for any group of like-minds to spread their messages. President Obama fairly won the election based on the majority of Americans desiring a change in Washington, but since then the factions that didn’t win have claimed “change” as their agenda, and they regularly oppose anything that our President is trying to put in place, be it health-care reform or environmental.
“Change” by definition is “away from” or “different than,” but it also needs to be “toward” something—forward thinking, considered, moral, helpful, productive, necessary, imaginative. The individual and collective imagination can lead us to a different kind of thinking.
As a society, we can author cultural change the way a writer, artist, or composer creates his or her work. Take all we know, use our best skills and talents, and start with a blank sheet. The “white space” is not “nothing” or “empty.” It’s like white light, containing all the colors, and it’s a fresh start, unencumbered by shadows.
A key sentence of Ray’s is: “However, because they’ve been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life.”
The people I know who fit the Cultural Creatives definition (and that’s a lot of people, especially where I live in Northern California!) are not invisible, but are really busy. They are working, volunteering, contributing, expressing themselves, and caring deeply. Social media allows all of us a visibility not available a decade ago. Still, it’s easy to slip into complacency by default, not intent. It’s easy to rail at Fox News and the misinformation taken as gospel, and not do anything constructive to inform others with the truth. And what is the truth? How do we know it when we see it or hear it? And when the truth is irrefutable or can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, why do many people refuse to hear or believe it?
Leading the Great Transition
Ray’s talk at the conference is titled “Leading the Great Transition.” The brochure states that he will “provide context for understanding not only the economic and environmental challenges facing us, but also the major cultural shift that is happening in our country and communities. This time of transition offers all of us the opportunity to think in new ways about how to translate our thoughts into effective and sustainable actions to serve our community.”
I will be making a visual capture (with paper murals and markers) of Ray’s talk and the World Cafe which follows it. Strategic visualization is a tool that serves cultural creativity well: we are increasingly a visual culture, more adept with visual media and used to responding to and interpreting images and symbols. We can move collectively toward a future of hope and prosperity only if our individual visions are compatible. In making those visions tangible, we find language for discussion and action moving forward.
Whenever we gather for positive change, we can narrate and draw the vision. See what we can agree upon. Be sure that we’re all on the same page and looking for intersections of agreement, not only for disagreement. We can discover threads of thought and follow them to surprising, beautiful, and beneficial conclusions. Those conclusions will serve us until new conditions prevail, once again requiring new imaginations to solve problems created by former ways of thinking.