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Information Age

Freedom in Decline and the Missing Metaphor

July 6th, 2011 // 9:40 am @

One reason freedom is threatened with serious decline in our time is that metaphor is often missing among those who love liberty.

Our modern educational system has taught most of us to focus on the literal, to separate the fields of knowledge, to learn topics as if they are fundamentally detached from each other, and to build areas of expertise and career around disconnected specialties.

We are even encouraged to separate the various parts of our life—not only math class from English class or gym from history, but also school from family, work from private lives, spouse from child relationships, family from friend relationships, religion from politics, career from entertainment.

Most children and parents leave home in the morning to spend time at school, work and other separate activities—ultimately spending less time with each other than with people outside the family. Anything less than such separation of the various parts of our lives is considered unhealthy by many experts.

Thus it is not surprising that the use of metaphor is often missed in our modern world. We seem to be a nation of literalists now. We understand allegory, comparison, contrast, simile and even imagery, as long as the comparisons are patently apparent or clearly spelled out. Metaphor?—not so much.

There are many exceptions to this, of course, but such literalism is increasingly the norm. Symbol is and will always be important, but the artistic, understated, abstract and poetic is out of vogue in many circles that promote freedom.

Stay Out of Politics

Consider, for example, the way some conservative radio talk-show hosts rant against Hollywood actors or best-selling singers speaking out on political themes. The argument in such cases usually centers on the idea that actors/performers have no business opining on political topics—that, in fact, they know little about such things and should stick to their areas of expertise.

At one level, this assumes that the actors’ roles as citizens are trumped by their careers. Ironically, such talk-show hosts usually give great credence to the voices of regular citizens as part of their daily fare—as long as the citizens tend to agree with the host. Likewise, such hosts frequently seek credibility by bringing like-minded celebrities to their show. Note that this is a favorite tact of media in general—television as well as radio, liberal as well as conservative.

At another level, the idea that actors or other artists are simply entertainers rather than vitally important social commentators misses the deep reality of the historical role of art. Artists are as important to social-political-economic commentary as journalists, scientists, the professorate, clergymen, economists, the political parties or other public policy professionals.

Napoleon is sometimes credited with saying that if he could control the music or story-telling of the nation he would happily let the rest of the media print what it wanted: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” (Or more literally, “a good sketch is better than a long speech.”)

Those who think artists are, or should be, irrelevant to the Great Conversation might consider such artists as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nietzsche, Goya, Picasso, Goethe, Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis or George Orwell.  Can one really argue that Ronald Reagan, Charleston Heston, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Aaron Sorkin or the writers of Law and Order have had only a minor impact on society and government?

Artists should have a say on governance–first because all citizens should have a say, and second because the fundamental role of the artist is not to entertain (this is a secondary goal) but to use art to comment on society and seek to improve it where possible. The problem with celebrity, some would argue, is that many times the public gives more credence to artists than to others who really do understand an issue better. This is a legitimate argument, but it tends to support media types rather than the citizenry.

Early American Art

On an even deeper level, art is not just the arena of artists. Tocqueville found it interesting that in early America there were few celebrity artists– but that most of the citizens personally took part in artistic endeavors and tended to think artistically.

Another way to say this is that they thought metaphorically in the broad sense:

  1. They clearly saw the connections between fields of knowledge and the application of ideas in one arena to many others
  2. They understood the interrelations of disparate ideas without having to literally spell things out
  3. They immediately applied the stories and lessons of history, art and literature to current challenges

Another major characteristic Tocqueville noted in early American culture was its entrepreneurial spirit, initiative, ingenuity and widespread leadership—especially in the colonial North and West, but not nearly so much in the brutal, aristocratic, slave-culture South of the 1830s.

Freedom and entrepreneurialism are natural allies, as are creative, metaphorical thinking and effective initiative and wise risk-taking.

I’ve already written about the great on-going modern battle between innovation and conformity (“The Clash of Two Cultures”), which could be called metaphorical thinking versus rote literalism:

In far too many cases, we kill the human spirit with rules of bureaucratic conformity and then lament the lack of creativity, innovation, initiative and growth. We are angry with companies which take jobs abroad, but refuse to become the kind of employees that would guarantee their stay. We beg our political leaders to fix things, but don’t take initiative to build enough entrepreneurial solutions that are profitable and impactful.

The future belongs to those who buck these trends. These are the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the creators, what Chris Brady has called the Rascals. We need more of them. Of course, not every innovation works and not every entrepreneur succeeds, but without more of them our society will surely decline. Listening to some politicians in Washington, from both parties, it would appear we are on the verge of a new era of conformity: “Better regulations will fix everything,” they affirm.

The opposite is true. Unless we create and embrace a new era of innovation, we will watch American power decline along with numbers of people employed and the prosperity of our middle and lower classes. So next time your son, daughter, employee or colleague comes to you with an exciting idea or innovation, bite your tongue before you snap them back to conformity.

Innovation vs. Conformity

Metaphor gets to the root of this war between innovation and conformity. The habit of thinking in creative, new and imaginative ways is central to being inventive, resourceful and innovative.

Note that all of these words are synonyms of “productive” and ultimately of “progressive.” If we want progress, we must have innovation, and innovation requires imagination. Few things spark creativity, imagination or inspiration like metaphor.

If we want to see a significant increase in freedom in the long term, we’ll first need to witness a resurrection of metaphorical thinking. This is one reason the great classics are vital to the education of free people. The classics were mostly written by authors who read widely and thought deeply about many topics, and even more importantly most readers of classics study beyond narrow academic divisions of knowledge and apply ideas across the board.

In contrast, modern movie and television watchers, fantasy novel or technical manual readers, and internet surfers don’t tend to routinely correlate the messages of entertainment into their daily careers. There are certainly deep, profound, classic-worthy ideas in our contemporary movies, novels, and online. But only a few of the customers watch, read or surf in the classic way—consistently seeking lessons and wisdom to be applied to serious personal and world challenges.

Only a few moderns end each day’s activities with correspondence and debate about the movies, books and websites they’ve experienced with other deep-thinking readers who have “studied” the same sources. Facebook can be used in this way, but it seldom is.

Alvin Toffler called this the “Information Age” rather than the Wisdom Age for this reason—we have so much information at our fingertips, but too little wise discussion of applicable ideas. As Allan Bloom put it in The Closing of the American Mind, people don’t think together as much they used to. Even formal students in most classes engage less in open dialogue and debate than in passive note-taking and solitary memorizing.

Leadership Thinking

All of this is connected with the decline of metaphorical thinking. The point of education in the old Oxford model of learning (read great classics, discuss the great works with tutors who have read them many times and also with other students who are new to the books, show your proficiency in creative thinking in front of oral boards of questioners) was to teach deep, broad, effective metaphorical thinking.

Such skills could accurately be called leadership thinking, and generations of Americans followed the same model (until the late 1930s) of reading and deeply discussing the greatest works of mankind in all fields of knowledge. Note that thinking in metaphor naturally includes literal thinking– but not vice versa.

This style of learning centered on the student’s ability to see through the literal and understand all the potential hidden, deeper, abstract, correlated and metaphorical meanings in things. Such education trained people to think through—and see through—the promises, policies and proposals of their elected officials, expert economists, and other specialists, and to make the final decisions as a wise electorate not prone to fads, media spin or partisan propaganda.

A New Monument

As a society understands metaphor, it understands politics. This is a truism worth chiseling into marble. When the upper class understands metaphor while the masses require literality, freedom declines.

The surest way to understand metaphor is to read literature and history and think about it deeply, especially about how it applies to modern realities (which is why classrooms were once dedicated to discussion about important books, as mentioned above).

This is why the university phrase “I majored in literature, science, or history” is a middle-class expression while the upper class prefers to say, “I read literature, science, or history at X University.”

The differences here are striking: the upper class never believes it has actually “majored” a topic, while the middle class can seldom claim to have seriously “read” all the great works in any important academic field.

This fundamental difference in education remains a cause of the widening gap between upper and middle class. Indeed, education is a major determining factor of the contemporary (and historical) class divide. It is the ability to think metaphorically (to in fact consider everything both literally and metaphorically) and to automatically seek out and consider the various potential meanings of all things, that most separates the culture of the “haves” from the global “have-nots.”

The Ideology Barrier

In politics, the far left and far right—including, most notably right now, the environmental movement and the tea parties—significantly limit their own growth by staying too literal.

This comes across to most Americans as ineffectively rigid, intolerant, naïve, and even ideological.

The fact that most environmentalists and tea partiers are genuinely passionate and sincere is not a plus in the eyes of many people as long as such activists are seen to be humorless and even angry.

Such activists may not in fact be humorless and angry, but when they seem to be these things, they diminish their ability to build rapport with anyone that does not already understand their point of view.

Feminism once carried these same negatives, but recently gained more mainstream understanding once feminist thinkers moved past literality and used art and entertainment to gain positive support. The gay-lesbian community made the same transition in the past two decades, and environmentalism is starting to make this shift as well (witness the recent hubbub over Cars III).

Whether you agree or disagree with these political movements is not the point; they gain mainstream support by portraying themselves as relaxed, happy, caring and likeable people, and by sharing their principles by telling a story.

False Starts, or, Failed Expectations

President Bush attempted to effect such a change in the Republican Party with his emphasis on Compassionate Conservatism, but this theme disappeared after 9/11.

President Obama exuded this relaxed optimism through the 2008 campaign and several months into his presidency, becoming a symbol of change and leadership to America’s youth (who hadn’t had a real political hero since Ronald Reagan). The president’s cult-hero status disappeared when the Obama Administration’s literality (not liberality) was eventually interpreted as robotic, smug and even defensive.

The White House’s big-spending agenda in 2009-2010, coming on the heels of over seven years of Republican-led overspending, sparked a tea party revolt. It also drove most independents to the right, not because they supported right-wing policies but rather because independents tend to understand metaphor: they saw that the Obama agenda was primarily about bigger government and only secondarily about real change.

To put this as literally as possible, President Obama desired lasting change in Washington, but he cared even more about certain policies which required massive government spending.

There are true supporters of real freedom on all sides of the political table: Democratic, Republican, independent, blue, red, green, tea party, etc. They would all do well to spread deep, quality, creative, artistic and metaphorical thinking in our society.

As Lord Brougham taught:

“Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”

He was speaking not of modern specialized job training but of reading the greatest books of mankind. Leaders are readers, and so are free nations.

Symbolism, Nuance and the Deficits of Literalism

As long as metaphor is missing in our dialogue—not to mention much in our prevailing educational offerings—the people will be continually frustrated by their political leaders.

Campaigns succeed through symbolism, especially metaphor, while daily governance naturally requires a major dose of literalism. Sometimes a significant crisis swings the nation into a period of metaphor, but this mood seldom lasts much longer than the crisis itself.

The most effective leaders­­ (e.g. Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Reagan) are able to communicate a metaphor of American grand purpose even while they govern literally. For example, the Jeffersonian “era” lasted for decades beyond his term of office, building on the American mind captured by the metaphor of freedom; John Adams’ literalism hardly carried him through his one term.

While some of this is the responsibility of the leader, it is ultimately the duty of the people to think in metaphor and understand the big themes and hidden nuances behind government proposals and policies.

In this regard, groups such as environmentalists and tea parties seem to really understand the major trends and are courageously making their voice heard. Unfortunately for their goals, they have yet to effectively present their messages using metaphor. People tend to see them, as mentioned above, as humorless, angry and ideologically rigid.

The irony is rich, because most Americans actually support both a higher level of environmental consciousness and a major increase of government fiscal responsibility. In literal terms, many Americans agree with a large number of green and tea party proposals even as they say they dislike the “environmentalists” and the “tea parties.”

Again, the problem is that these groups tend to emphasize only the literal.

Such examples may be interesting, but the real problem for the future of American freedom is a populace that doesn’t naturally think through everything in a metaphorical way.

A free society only stays as free—and as prosperous—as its electorate allows.

When a nation has been educated to separate its thinking, it tends to be easily swayed by an upper class that understands and uses metaphor—in politics, economics, marketing, media, and numerous walks of life. It becomes subtly enslaved to experts, because, quite simply, it believes what the experts say.

Alternate Timeline of Literalism

If the American founding generation had so believed the experts, it would have stuck with Britain, would never have bothered reading the Federalist Papers, and would have left governance to the upper class.

The capitol would probably be New York City, and the middle class would have remained small. We would be a more aristocratic society, with an entirely different set of laws for the wealthy than the rest.

Such forays into theoretical history are hardly provable, but one thing is clear: American greatness is soundly based on a citizenry that thought independently, creatively, innovatively and metaphorically. The educational system encouraged such thinking, and adult discourse continued it throughout the citizen’s life.

Great education teaches one to listen to the experts, and to then take one’s own counsel on the important decisions.

Indeed, such education prepares the adult to weigh the words of experts and all other sources of knowledge and then to choose wisely.

Sit in chair; open book. Read.

Metaphor matters. Metaphorical thinking is vital to freedom. The classics are the richest vein of metaphorical and literal thinking.

Every nation that has maintained real freedom has been a nation of readers—readers of the great books. Freedom is in decline precisely because reading the great classics is in decline. Fortunately, every regular citizen can easily do something to fix this problem.

The books are on our shelves.

For more on this topic, listen to “The Freedom Crisis.”
Click here for details >>
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odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Aristocracy &Arts &Blog &Culture &Current Events &Education &Featured &Generations &Information Age &Leadership &Liberty &Politics

Ten Important Trends

March 16th, 2011 // 10:42 am @

The obvious big trend right now is that oil prices threaten to reverse economic recovery across the globe.[i] The recent problems with nuclear power in Japan only promise to exacerbate the oil crisis. And the concern about a second mortgage bubble lingers.[ii] Food and other retail prices are increasing at alarming levels while unemployment rates remain high. In addition, some trends and current affairs promise to significantly influence the years ahead despite receiving little coverage in the nightly news. Here are ten such trends that every American should know about:

  1. “In the wake of the financial crisis, the United States is no longer the leader of the global economy, and no other nation has the political and economic leverage to replace it.”[iii] Increased international conflicts are ahead.
  2. The new e-media is revolutionizing communication and fueling actual revolutions from the Middle East to North Korea.[iv]
  3. The new media is also differentiated by both political views and class divisions,[v] meaning that people of different views hardly ever listen to each other. This is creating more divisiveness in society.
  4. In response to the rise of the Tea Parties, some top leaders of American foreign policy feel that Washington must find ways to promote a “liberal and cosmopolitan world order” and simultaneously “find some way to satisfy their angry domestic constituencies…”[vi] The disconnect between the American citizenry and elites continues to increase. So does the wage disparity between American elites and everyone else.[vii]
  5. The evidence suggests that “teams, not individuals, are the leading force behind entrepreneurial startups.”[viii] This has been a topic of debate for some time, and a new book (The Invention of Enterprise by Landes, Mokyr and Baumol[ix]) outlines the history of entrepreneurship from ancient to modern times.
  6. As Leah Farrall put it, “Al Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Accounts that contend that it is on the decline treat the central al Qaeda organization separately from its subsidiaries and overlooks its success in expanding its power and influence through them.”[x]
  7. One trend is outlined clearly by a new book title: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.[xi]
  8. In contrast to popular wisdom, democracy and modernization are significantly increasing the influence of religion in many developing regions around the world.[xii]
  9. More people are using Facebook to connect more with their children—in one survey this included 64% of those surveyed.[xiii]
  10. While governments—at national, provincial/state and local levels—are increasingly strapped for cash and struggling to balance budgets and service looming debts, many multinational corporations “sit on enormous stockpiles of cash…”[xiv] This reality is giving strength to the argument in some circles that the future of governance should be put in the hands of corporations rather than outdated dependence on inefficient government.[xv]

[i] “The 2011 oil shock,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[ii] Consider the ideas in “Bricks and slaughter,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[iii] Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini, “A G-Zero World,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[iv] See James Fallows, “Learning to Love the New Media” and Robert S. Boynton, “North Korea’s Digital Underground,” The Atlantic, April 201.

[v] Op. cit., Fallows.

[vi] See Walter Russell Mead, “The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[vii] See “Gaponomics,” The Economist, March 12th, 2011.

[viii] See Martin Ruef, The Entrepreneurial Group, 2011, Kauffman.

[ix] 2011, Kauffman.

[x] Leah Farrall, “How al Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xi] By Sherry Turkle, 2011, Basic Books.

[xii] See book reviews, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xiii] Redbook, April 2011.

[xiv] See op. cit., Bremmer and Roubini.

[xv] See the following: Shell Scenarios; “Tata sauce,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011; Adam Segal, Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations; and “Home truths,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

Category : Blog &Current Events &Economics &Entrepreneurship &Family &Foreign Affairs &Government &Independents &Information Age &Politics &Science

Why We Need a Renaissance

October 22nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

The problem with revolutions is that they throw out the good with the bad.

Promoters of revolution gather support by peddling hate of the current system and those who lead and benefit from it, so when they get around to making changes they have actually discredited much of what is good in society.

Indeed, this is why some scholars have argued that the American Founding was not truly a revolution like those in France and later Russia.

Reforms, many thinkers rightly suggest, are gentler than revolution and can still result in positive improvements.

Unfortunately, reform thrives by re-empowering entrenched institutions, systems and even groups that are often more than just a little invested in doing things without change.

Reform tinkers with the edges while leaving the majority of the failing system intact.

Making reforms can certainly bring needed improvements to an organization or society, and sometimes little changes are enough.

The rule of thumb is to avoid revolution unless those things you hold most dear are under attack and clearly threatened, and to rely on reform when the issues and consequences aren’t quite so drastic.

Revolution throws out the good and bad of the past and replaces it with an all new system, while reform leaves the system mostly unchanged but alters certain procedures, institutions or personnel.

There is another option which approaches things very differently, and which can bring major change without the pain of revolution.

This option is Renaissance.

Renaissance is unlike revolution and reform in many ways, but can often deliver the positive results of both.

Renaissance operates from a very different premise than the other two, because it focuses on drastically changing people instead of things.

It changes people from the inside, and then leaves it to them to alter their lives, choices and actions in ways that reform the past and revolutionize and redirect the future.

When societies emphasize progress through revolution or reform, they focus on institutions, laws, policies, funding, credentials, resources, and other manifestations of the physical world.

In contrast, renaissance emphasizes the soul.

When people change their ideas, feelings, goals, dreams, loves, beliefs, passions, ideals, objectives, wishes, relationships and other intangibles, the future is forever impacted.

While these may seem ethereal to some, their impact on history is certainly concrete and momentous.

Two Models

In times of consistent economic growth, plentiful jobs and easy capital, the characteristics of success are often consistency, schooling, training, expertise, steadiness, reliability, obedience, compliance and longevity.

Schools in such environments teach memorization, fitting in, impressing superiors, and excelling within the guidelines, and jobs tend to reward these things.

But when the economy is struggling, jobs are difficult to get and keep, employers are laying off and reducing costs, and/or capital is scarce and minimizing risk, a different set of values dominate.

Traits like capability, skill, ability, initiative, resiliency, optimism, inventiveness, ingenuity, ability to inspire others, frugality, resourcefulness, tenacity and especially enterprise are most valued by the economy.

Schools and parents in such times need to help students increase creativity, imagination, originality, individuality, mental agility, emotional resolve, innovation, risk and entrepreneurialism.

We have been in a general growth period for nearly fifty years, and we are now in a struggling economic era, so the values are in transition from the first list to the second.

Parents and grandparents are still likely to dispense advice from the old economy, emphasizing things like test-taking, credentials and impressing superiors over the new economic realities such as initiative, individuality, originality and entrepreneurialism.

The government is stuck in the same rut, trying and failing to fix major societal challenges with trivial, albeit expensive, reforms.

Where they do attempt to make huge changes, such as in health care and financial reform, their symbolic and revolutionary-style agendas are creating more anger, frustration and deficits than actual solutions.

Tea Party responses further fuel the revolutionary rhetoric in the media and on Capitol Hill–but things remain mostly unchanged.

This lingering “business as usual” in Washington is alarming in a society with significant problems and major challenges in many fields of life.

From the obvious economic problems to unending international quagmires in Afghanistan (now the longest war in American history), Iraq and a number of other places, to a decaying infrastructure of roads and bridges, rising health care costs (unsolved and further complicated by the new health care law), decreasingly effective schools, high unemployment, unsolved levels of crime, and so on, we need real leadership and solutions that actually remedy our national problems.

Revolution is not the answer.

There is much that is good in America, and we want to surgically solve our problems without undoing the many positive things we have built into our society.

But the reform mentality isn’t working either, and the problems have been piling up for over a decade.

We need to drastically improve society, deliver solutions to overcome our most pressing problems, and simultaneously maintain the things which are already working.

Despite the attachment of both political parties and nearly all of our major public and private institutions to reform thinking, we need something much more effective.

We need change from within, a drastic alteration of attitudes and goals and thinking across our nation.

We need people to imagine a better future, to really believe in the reality of what we can do, and to take action.

We don’t need more stirring speeches from the President or any other leader so much as we need millions of individual Americans to get work–alone and in small groups–on solving our problems.

In short, we need a renaissance. And we need it soon.

The Power to Change

Fortunately, the greatest power in all of this may simply be individuals taking action and parents discussing the new values (initiative, ingenuity, tenacity, entrepreneurialism, and so forth) with their children and youth.

In fact, the American spirit of resourcefulness, optimism and enterprise is alive and well. More of us just need to take the leap.

The difficulty, of course, is that the old values were against risk.

In the old economy, the one that dominated from 1945 to 2008, risk was scary and often unrewarding.

A lot of people made small to large fortunes in entrepreneurial ventures, small businesses, network and multilevel marketing, and other non-traditional enterprises, but a lot more lost money in such attempts and ended up dependent on jobs like nearly everyone else.

The lesson for many people was just to get a decent education, a regular job, and a secure benefits package.

Like in Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe, many parents shared the advice not to aim too high or too low, but just to be content with “the middle station” in life.

A decent house, two cars, cable television, a good grill and a family membership at the local rec center — these were the dreams of two generations of Americans.

Robert Kiyosaki develops this theme in various interesting dialogues in the best-selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad (affiliate link).

But in the new economy, such a course is likely to create permanent economic struggles in your life. In this economic environment, without risk few people get ahead.

Entrepreneurial thinking, originality and initiative are the new credentials.

Tenacity, ingenuity and enterprise are the new job security.

This is true even among much of the traditionally employed population. The stakes are higher now and success is more difficult across the board, and thinkers, leaders and innovators are needed.

Early Adapters

But how to get the population on board with the new values? Most of us were raised, educated and lived our careers in the old economy, and shifting to the new realities is proving troublesome.

If the Great Recession is just a blip in history and the days of easy credit and consistent growth return for a decade or more, people will justify this refusal to transition their thinking.

But if, as all indications and evidence seem to suggest, the times of high unemployment, a difficult growth environment and a sputtering economy are here to stay for a while, we are kidding ourselves and hurting our futures by refusing to adapt.

No policy, institutional plan or governmental debate is likely to shift the national mentality from employee thinking to entrepreneurial values.

A renaissance is needed. Our vision must change, and our dreams must imagine the great opportunities available in the new realities of the future economy.

We must, as a people, engage a massive migration toward the new economy.

We can lead the economies of the world, but we have to embrace the new reality and get to work. Until a mental renaissance occurs, we are stuck in a rut of old thinking.

Of course, even if the majority refuses to move forward in this new world, each of us can make these changes and get started on our own journey.

In fact, those who get started first are more likely to benefit and profit than the latecomers. This is true in any nearly any industry and endeavor. The early bird gets the worm.

And, as the early adapters get to work, it is empowering to those who are waiting for validation or credibility to justify the risk so they can get on board as well.

There are already a few who are pioneering and building in the new economy. For example, the “downshifter” trend took successful people from the coasts to small towns to build an entrepreneurial new economy starting in the late nineties.

Likewise, homeschooling and the organic foods movements addressed problems in education and health care using new economy thinking long before the 2008 economic meltdown.

Both continue to grow as the rest of the economy unsuccessfully grasps for solutions. Indeed, few whole foodists were (or are) too concerned about health care reforms–because they are, simply, healthy.

Participatory religion continues to grow, as the old-line religions dependent on Priests and Professionals watch their numbers dwindle.

Public schools and teacher unions are increasingly concerned with the growth of charter and other non-traditional educational offerings, and the rise of for-profit career colleges has the old educational bureaucracy hiring lobbyists and badmouthing these “upstart” competitors.

With just one of these schools, The University of Phoenix, quickly becoming the largest university in the world, the old system sees its monopoly fading.

There is a shortage of new economy thinking because the whole nation needs to make the shift, but there are numerous examples of leaders and groups making the transition.

Indeed, literally thousands of online “tribes” are slowly moving (and many are going more quickly) in the right direction.

A few guidelines for transition to the new economy and values include:

  • Start young, or if you are older, help the young get started
  • Don’t seek to impress the old elite, but rather go after real results
  • Get past the old value of not taking risks
  • Be experimental, not limited by old systems, methods or models
  • Don’t be limited by old obstacles like office space or business cards
  • Don’t get stuck on hierarchies, titles and power struggles
  • Think virtual, tribal and international
  • Be inclusive, open and interconnected
  • Be mindful of the way information grows

Conclusion

In the Information Age, revolution would cause as many problems as it might possibly fix, and reform has proven too feeble to really bring necessary change.

We need a massive internal renaissance of the great explorer, frontier, pioneering, and entrepreneuring values which took Pilgrims to the Mayflower, 49’rs to the plains, and led generations of Americans to build the businesses, families, schools, churches, and communities that made our nation great.

We need to accept that we live in a new economy and embrace the new values which bring success in our new environment.

Chief among these are initiative, cheerfulness, persistence, and an enterprising mentality. We need to engage the powerful flow of information in this age, and help it spread and lift the plight of peoples worldwide.

Each of us has a vital role helping the future emerge, and it is time to take the leap and get to work on those things we have always felt we should do.

Or, if we are already hard at work doing our part, it would be well to smile, laugh more often, and give our full attention to watching a sunset or contemplating a tide as it comes in.

It is time for a renaissance, and if the whole nation doesn’t lead out, each of us can embrace it anyway.

Above all, it’s time to take a deep breath, exhale any doubts, and sit down with our youth and share our vision of the new world and the renaissance ahead.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Economics &Entrepreneurship &Featured &Government &History &Information Age &Leadership

How Information Grows

October 12th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Information grows differently than industry or agriculture.

Thus hundreds of years of understanding about how to grow Industrial-Age businesses doesn’t really apply to many Information Age endeavors.

Indeed, some of the lessons of how to grow a farm in the Agricultural Age didn’t necessarily translate to Industrial Age corporate growth, although some did.

The key is to think in a new context and apply lessons within the contemporary environment.

Information, and by extension Information-Age organizations and ideas, grow in a certain way.

Instead of the Industrial model of building a foundation, then adding walls, buttresses and finally a roof, informational models grow like waves.

Imagine the ripples caused when a pebble falls into a lake. The waves repeat many times, spreading out and impacting the world around them. Eventually they dissipate and disappear, leaving the world altered, if only a little. Additional pebbles are needed to repeat the process.

And unlike the Industrial Age penchant for building institutions that last forever, information impacts the world and then moves on to something else when enough ripples have accomplished the goal.

The Industrial modus operandi was to build an institution to achieve a goal, and then to focus on the survival and growth of the institution — even if this required abandoning the original purpose for which the institution was established.

In contrast, information sets out to inform, keeps going until this is accomplished, and then moves on to other agendas.

Likewise, where Industrial institutions attempt to control how their work is perceived and utilized, information shares, informs, and leaves (and trusts) those who receive the information to use it as needed and to pass it on.

Good information is naturally improved by various applications, and it is perpetuated by those who receive and utilize it.

There are eight levels of informational waves:

1: At first, information simply is. It exists.

It is in the state and process of being. This is the most important level of informational ideas, institutions and thinkers.

The quality, breadth, depth and wisdom of information matters. Getting it right (right from the beginning) is vital.

Even more important is sharing information for the right reason. If information is shared for the wrong reasons, for example, the information itself is tainted and changed by this fact.

In the Industrial Age, things were considered good information if they were true, but information has a higher standard. Unless informational ideas are shared for the right reasons, the information isn’t reliable.

In short, the first level of information is purity.

Any item of information is a thing, and it has a purpose. In sharing information or building informational institutions or relationships, pure reasons are essential. Without them, the information itself is unreliable.

Note that pure information is one of the most powerful things in the world. It has been called “the power of the word,” “the power of an idea whose time has come,” “resonance,” and a number of other things.

When information is shared by the right person at the right time for the right reasons, it has great and lasting power.

2: Good information that is promoted and shared for the right reasons becomes an interactive wave.

This greatly increases the impact and influence of the information, spreading it to those who need it.

Of course, bad information passed on for the wrong reasons is also interactive and therefore very destructive. Anybody who has ever started a rumor, for example, has probably witnessed how quickly it spreads and how much pain and hurt it can cause.

In the long term, however, tainted information has no lasting power. Information promoters do best when they send out ideas far and wide, openly sharing and personally applying the “new” information they have learned.

3: Next comes the communicative wave.

This occurs where people purposely set out to communicate information to set groups or to everyone.

This wave can be marketed, spun, or twisted for the benefit of various groups and people, but the pure information will shine through and those seeking wisdom will see through the shades of spin and opinion and resonate with what they need to learn.

They will then naturally pass on their contributions and lessons learned and the value of the information will increase.

Synergy kicks in at this point and the value of the information spirals out to many who are seeking it.

4: A linear wave captures much of the information at this level and translates it to specific uses, fields, disciplines, written or spoken or digitized venues and delivers its essence in numerous formats.

Information institutions or thinkers frequently introduce their views to the world in this format. Of course, it existed before they composed, organized or created their specific work, but their creation adds value, quality and even wisdom to the information.

By its nature, information spreads, and those who add to its value without trying to enslave its essence help it spread and increase its ability to serve.

Those who try to control it, in contrast, find that their creation is devalued, their creativity stifled, and their flow of additional information violated.

Unlike land or capital in the Agrarian and Industrial eras, respectively, information is not meant to be owned. The wave of open source programs and wiki media applications harnesses this abundant and cooperative mentality.

Note that I am not arguing here for uncompensated use of copyrighted software, technology, artistic or other proprietary creations.

I believe that original inventions, innovations and creations should benefit those who risked, invested, worked and created. And organizations and governments have every right to keep certain things secret or proprietary.

But pure information in ideas, principles and the flow of wisdom is not the same as one’s proprietary creation–nobody can (or should) lock up or control the flow of pure information.

As long as individuals and institutions own their creation, but without trying to control thought and inspiration, it can benefit them and many others.

5: Eventually information is captured in numerous linear waves which together form a multimedia wave.

In other words, at a certain point pure information is simultaneously delivered in many forms and from numerous sources which reinforce the messages, lessons and value of the original information.

Leaders can help spread this wave by delivering the information multiple times and in manifold ways.

6: The next step occurs when information comes alive.

This happens were the essence of the information is felt.

When I hear a story and it spurs an emotional response, for example, all the earlier waves combine and impact how I receive the information.

In a similar way, waves far from where the pebble dropped are bigger and carry a lot more water than those right where the pebble fell.

A similar level in Industrial institutions was branding–where a given brand, name or logo carried a repeating emotional charge. In the informational world, however, each additional interaction communicates new information value.

7: Psychological waves come next, and are produced by the transfer of information from one mind to another.

Since all such transfers partake of all the earlier levels of waves (e.g. the person shares his feelings, pure or tainted reasons, multimedia use of voice along with facial expressions and nonverbal cues, etc.), learning from others is an advanced way to receive information.

Because of this, the level of advancement of the person delivering the message has some impact on how the information is delivered.

Still, the condition of the receiver is the most important factor in determining the quality of the reception when the information or signal is pure.

In Industrial marketing this was often dominated by testimonials or infomonials, but informational leaders simply open up and share.

The most powerful of this information often comes from word of mouth, personal stories, and genuine interest in helping others.

Any who truly care about others and share ideas, thoughts or anything else as attempts to help others are partners with information in this process.

The true language of this wave is love, which is why true change most often comes when we feel love or loved.

8: At the highest level, the symbolic wave conveys a packet of information that is amazingly multi-layered and teeming with depth, breadth, context, connections and possibilities.

Shakespeare spoke of being bounded in a nutshell of infinite space and science teaches that the DNA code of an entire organism is found in each cell.

The symbolic wave could be called a mustard seed, a small token carrying the potential and key to so much more.

Also, at this highest level, the receiver can often break the information into smaller pieces, analyze each of the waves alone or together, and consider each facet of the idea–from its essence to all its potential consequences.

The possibilities are exponential. The information at this level is only limited by the abilities of the user to consider, discover or imagine.

Those seeking such information are on a quest for inspiration–be it limited to one question, or as broad as a life of searching.

Because the symbolic wave of information is so powerful, those who ask shall receive; the universe is friendly, and when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

(That last paragraph makes me want to be sure everyone knows how important it is to read Free the Beagle by Roy Williams. It’s a fun read, not homework.)

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Current Events &Economics &Education &Information Age &Leadership

Great Education in the Internet Age

October 8th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

As the old saying goes, “Leaders are Readers.” This has proven true generation after generation, and is still the reality today.

But there is a significant difference in the leadership value in different types of reading.

For example, few would doubt that there is a difference in benefits between reading the following items:

  • a technical manual
  • your friends’ Facebook entries
  • a work by Plato or Shakespeare
  • a historical, western, science fiction or fantasy novel
  • the prospectus for a financial investment
  • a romance novel
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • a tabloid magazine
  • a business self-help book

The list could go on. One could argue that all of these have some benefits, but the value would depend on what the reader was trying to gain from the reading.

In short, all reading is not the same.

As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times:

“Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year….They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students….In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school. This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books….

“Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.”

He concludes his analysis with this:

“Already, more ‘old-fashioned’ outposts are opening up across the web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.”

Perhaps the key is to resurrect the word “great.” This word is often used (perhaps overused), in our society, but it is seldom used to mean what it originally meant.

“Great” has several meanings:

  1. huge, immense, grand
  2. distinguished, remarkable, impressive
  3. noble, heroic, majestic
  4. wonderful, fantastic, excellent
  5. complete, profound, utter
  6. unlimited, boundless, abundant
  7. major, momentous, weighty

“Great” can mean any one of these things, or a combination of a few or all of them.

Antonyms of the word “great” include: unimportant, small, minor, lowly, slight, awful, tiny, and ordinary. In academia, business and athletics, the word “mediocre” is also used as an antonym of “great.”

Now, consider some of the ramifications of applying more greatness to education, reading and learning.

What if children and youth were strongly encouraged to read a few of the greats in everything they read. For example:

  • 2 of the greatest technical manuals ever written, things like The Wizard of Ads by Roy H. Williams
  • 2 of the greatest works each by Plato and Shakespeare
  • 2 years of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report
  • 2 each of the greatest historical, western, science fiction and fantasy novels, titles like The Bridge at Andau, The Virginian, Lord of the Rings, etc.
  • 2 of the greatest romance novels ever, such as Gone With the Wind, Sense and Sensibility, etc.
  • 2 of the best tabloid magazine articles ever written, which have weathered the test of time and proven to be excellent and accurate (just the process of researching this would be a great educational project that would teach many lessons about good versus bad journalism)
  • 2 of the top business self-help books, such as works by Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, Paulo Coelho or Jim Collins
  • Some of the top Wall Street Journal articles ever published, things like “A Separate Peace” by Peggy Noonan
  • 3 of the greatest Facebook entries ever (examples anyone?)

Such readings, be they from books or newspapers or the Internet, are by their nature grand, remarkable, impressive, excellent, profound, momentous and weighty. Some are even abundant, noble, majestic and/or heroic.

In a word, they are great.

None of these would be unimportant, small, minor, lowly, slight, awful, tiny, ordinary or mediocre. Readers may agree or disagree with what they read, but they would at least be reading some of the greats.

This would help them judge the quality of other things they read by simple comparison.

Great readings greatly impact learning. What is an education without Tocqueville, Austen, Newton, Einstein, Aristotle, Virgil, Twain or Mother Teresa?

Unless we read the greats, our education simply cannot be accurately called great.

Beyond this, however, there are a number of great works being produced each year and in many mediums—from books to music, art to theater, cinema to mathematics, accounting to marketing, family relations to philosophy and religion, and from the Internet to all the latest social networking sites.

Great works are more easily found in some of these mediums than others, but all of them offer at least a few greats!

We just need to look for and share them—especially with the youth. Cultivating our taste for greatness, and our ability to detect it, is an important aspect of becoming “educated.”

On a related topic, the only free peoples in history were societies of readers! If we want to be free, we must read. Books matter, and great books matter greatly.

Other kinds of readings also produce some great work, and all of us can do better by simply adding more “great” readings into our lives. As we do this, our children and students will be more likely to follow our example.

Finally, in what ways can each of us help establish and support Internet content that is deeper, more excellent and truly greater reading material? This is a vital mission for many of us.

In one way, the Internet may be more effective at promoting great education than even books: Nearly all Internet content is interactive, meaning that youth naturally want to write about it as well as read it.

Where reading of books and writing of essays are usually separate processes in traditional education, the Internet can bridge the gap by naturally combining great reading with important writing.

If they are reading great works and ideas, learners will be more likely to write about great thoughts.

The problem is that without reading great things, great writing seldom occurs.

When children learn texting (entertainment) before they actively fall in love with and engage great books (learning), their writing won’t usually emphasize great thinking.

The greatly educated naturally use e-media to share and improve their education, while those with shallow education naturally take their shallowness to the keyboard.

In short, we can all benefit from bringing more great readings into our lives—wherever they are found.

But among children and youth, it is much more effective to learn from books first and later take up social networking only when they have something important to say.

When this order is reversed, many youth struggle to do the work of great education when life is dominated by e-entertainment.

In the Internet Age, great education is more available than ever—but only if children fall in love with books. And this is a lot more likely if their parents and teachers set the example.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Education &Information Age

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