Themes

I find myself returning over the years to a set of themes:

  1. There are no quick fixes. Neither technology, evidence-based practices in education or human services, nor quick revolutions in countries like Russia or in the Middle East are sufficient by themselves for major positive social change. To do that requires creating a stronger civic culture, and that requires time, leadership and wisdom.
  2. We grossly underestimate the potential for destabilizing change in the world. Continuing to focus solely on our personal goals, especially if we have a comfortable middle class life, feels like the safe thing to do, but it’s probably not. The combination of technology and globalization are likely to lead to increased inequality; climate change is likely to be increasingly disruptive either directly or indirectly through its impact on the U.S. directly or through destabilizing other parts of the world, which in the long run is likely to have major ramifications for us as well.
  3. There is a moral dimension — not just to behave ethically in our personal dealings, but a deeper responsibility to others and to our world — that we seem to lose sight of too often. This is the theme that one sees again and again in the works of Lincoln, King, Gandhi, and Havel — and many others.
  4. We grossly underestimate the potential for people to be influenced by leaders and by those around them, for good and ill. Americans have largely abandoned our confidence in public-spirited leadership driven by a sense of a larger moral universe. There is ample evidence from social psychology that points to the power of leadership. Just because we live in a world of failed leadership in many institutions doesn’t mean its not both possible and necessary. We need to take the same attitude toward civic leadership that we take toward scientific or technology innovation — think about the history of flight or modern medicine and the willingness of their pioneers to fail often in order to learn before they could succeed.
  5. We too often miss the forests for the trees when it comes to our understanding of the social world and the environment:

Articles

This section lists a handful of the best articles that we’ve seen over the past five years:

  • Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz – http://theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/ – “If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”
  • Slow Ideas: Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t? by Atul Gawande. “As with most difficulties in global health care, lack of adequate technology is not the biggest problem [when tackling childbirth deaths to children and their mothers]… [N]either penalties nor incentives achieve what we’re really after: a system and a culture where X is what people do, day in and day out, even when no one is watching. “You must” rewards mere compliance. Getting to “X is what we do” means establishing X as the norm. – http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/29/130729fa_fact_gawande?printable=true&currentPage=all
  • A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready – http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/a-team-approach-to-get-students-college-ready/?ref=opinion – David Bornstein on Blue Engine