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Cultural Creativity

“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.

Cultural Creatives

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.”

Claiming “change”

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.

Authoring change

“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.

Seeking truth 

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.”

Making Visible

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.

Music. Singing. Rap. Ex-prisoners. Heart-rending and heart-warming stories. At a bank? Yes, last night at OneCalifornia Bank, the kick-off party for Insight Out—an innovative idea from the Insight Prison Project—offered an unusual mix.

I’ve been a branding and marketing consultant for OneCal Bank since before its launch in 2007, so I attend their events as a member of the OneCal family. Last night, as a group of ex-offenders was welcomed into the fold, I stood with wine glass in hand, tears welling, listening to the four men and one woman tell their stories. They have all experienced violence and been the perpetrators of it, and they’ve all “sat in the fire” of the process brought to them by the Insight Prison Project and Jacques Verduin, IPP’s Executive Director. 

Their work with IPP in violence prevention and other programs while incarcerated enables them, once released, to give back to and help break the cycle of violence in their communities. The woman told her story of being raped at 11, raising the son she bore, and, when he was killed at 15, wanting to hurt others as much as she was hurting. She said she’d done things she shouldn’t have and was imprisoned for them. Over the years, she’s also lost a brother and nephews to street violence. Through IPP, she experienced her pain—sat in the fire of it instead of lashing out to others. This kind of deep healing extends to us all—across gender, race, class, and culture. One of the men, who while in prison had lost a son to street violence, thanked the 140 or so gathered for being there. He said that most people don’t want to be in the company of ex-offenders. He has turned his rage and regret for all he’s done into a passion for helping young men veer from the path to prison that their fathers took, that his father and grandfather took. 

The stories, music, singing, and rapping by Oakland artists, and a revised rendition of a 60s-era anthem sung by Kat Taylor, OneCal Bank co-founder and IPP board member, echo now as I write this post. Sing along loudly…”I’m going to pick my heavy burden up, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside…” 

Doesn’t it feel good? The load seems lighter when we pick it up together. Kat and Jacques asked that people get involved with Insight Out and give in any way they can. 

From the event announcement: Insight Out is a bold new initiative that amplifies a select team of ex-offenders to be gainfully employed to work with youth to prevent crime and promote healing. They function as Change Agents in the community, giving back to the places they once took from. All of them have been trained by the Insight Prison Project during their incarceration in San Quentin State Prison. Some are former life sentenced men, some shorter sentenced, many of them worked with youth while inside, all are uniquely talented and motivated human beings. Their expertise is in transforming those negative habit patterns that sabotage a person’s efforts to live a productive and soulful life, no matter the academic achievement or being employed.

In her blog post on Creating Authentic Sustainability in Business and in a sustainability workshop she facilitated, Genevieve Taylor discussed the four “Realms” in an organization, a matrix developed by John Stayton and Christopher Peck based on Ken Wilbur’s work. Genevieve says, “I would posit that for a company to be authentically sustainable, it needs to have sustainability infused into each of these Realms.”

My natural inclination is the visual. I understand and remember concepts better when I see them, so I sketched the four realms, including tangible and metaphoric reference to human activity and planetary concerns within each. Here is my visual interpretation with descriptions following below:

Four Realms of the Organizational Landscape

In the INDIVIDUAL INTERNAL realm, we can go inward to our personal values, vision, beliefs, and thoughts, or we can express and display them publicly. Either way, the realm is ours to enrich and defend, to inhabit with our larger or smaller needs for planetary resources. We can give more or less access to this realm to others, opening or closing doors to self at our discretion. However, for a sustainable world, we still need to be accountable. I couldn’t help but notice this past Christmas season a house nearby so decked out with lights that it lit up the night. In this darkest of season, this good neighbor’s efforts to brighten our spirits can also be judged as a waste of electricty. The personal choices we make are influenced by the other three realms and by the people with whom we work, learn, play, and do business. We may have choices forced upon us—job loss, family crisis, or economic downturn—but how we respond is our own decision.

In the INDIVIDUAL EXTERNAL realm, we’re still close to home and personal values, but we’re in a more open or public domain. Whether going to a job or to school, volunteering or recreating, we are guided by our dreams and purposes and still, for the most part, we control our individual decisions, whether to plant a garden or laze away summer vacation. Again, the choices we make are influenced by the other three realms. From here, we oversee both of the individual realms and look out to the collective realms, but our vantage point is not as all encompassing as in the Collective External.

In the COLLECTIVE INTERNAL we’ve ventured beyond the individual realms. Our individual values and visions become part of the mix and may influence the collective values and organizational structure, but they are not absolute. As individuals, we’re accountable to the collective endeavors we choose to join through our work and associations. Here the corporate or nonprofit entity has a persona—a company may become known for its sustainable or unsustainable practices, may be perceived as an organization that values family and promotes social benefit or not. The “face,” personality, and character of the organization appears in the branding, messaging, bricks and mortar, products, advertising, etc. The organization has control, for the most part, of what it displays for public view. But because it is a corporate body inhabited by many human beings, privacy cannot be guaranteed, even for a private company. If there is “secret” behavior that compromises the expressed mission and values, it will most likely be found out and broadcast. Damage control will be needed. So it’s important that everyone in the organization is accountable for the enterprise’s purposes, practices, and behaviors. Accountability and honesty—”authentic” behavior— enable trust to be established within the corporation and with the world at large. Goodwill equity and all other corporate equity relies on that trust going forward.

In the COLLECTIVE EXTERNAL, individuals have much less control, in most ways, than over individual internal and individual external decisions, yet we do have some control. As consumers and customers, we make choices. As suppliers and providers of services we make choices. As stakeholders sitting on boards or voting in elections, we make choices. In this realm, there is opportunity for broad outlook and overlook of how all the realms work together, where the paths intersect, and how various systems—natural, business, government—influence one another. As individuals, we connect with the collective external every day in all that we do. Its impact on our lives and future is profound; our contribution to it and stake in its well-being is of ultimate concern for us all.

Christine Walker

Last Great Places

For Dennis Hysom‘s “Last Great Places” music & nature instrumental CDs, originally commissioned by the Nature Company/Discovery Communications in tandem with The Nature Conservancy, he traveled to Alaska, North and South Dakota, the Louisiana Bayou, Costa Rica and the Caribbean to witness and record endangered species and natural habitats. Those projects inspired our “Earth in Concert,” initially a brand for music projects, now encompassing all of our endeavors, which are linked by artistic exploration and partnerships in music, art, writing, design, and nature.

With this Earth in Concert blog, Dennis and I join in collective creative efforts to generate prosperity, peace, health and happiness in the New Year and beyond.

Christine Walker