Blog: Reporting Live

Forgive me for raining on that parade

20 January 2017

20 January 2017   Eating breakfast this morning, looking for diversion, I turned on CNN, only to be reminded of the event I had forgotten about, one that apparently “the whole world is watching.” I could take only so much of this before I banged out this rant.

It was the repeated claim about the resilience of American democracy that really got to me—this wonder of handing over power from one elected president to another. After decades of McCarthy, Vietnam, Iraq, income disparities, and now someone who lost the election but won the presidency with a vile campaign, you will have to forgive me for asking: When will the United States take its head out of the sand and face its condition?

20 January 2017   Eating breakfast this morning, looking for diversion, I turned on CNN, only to be reminded of the event I had forgotten about, one that apparently “the whole world is watching.” I could take only so much of this before I banged out this rant.

It was the repeated claim about the resilience of American democracy that really got to me—this wonder of handing over power from one elected president to another. After decades of McCarthy, Vietnam, Iraq, income disparities, and now someone who lost the election but won the presidency with a vile campaign, you will have to forgive me for asking: When will the United States take its head out of the sand and face its condition?

Sure it’s nice to celebrate, and to be proud of one’s heritage, even understandable to put a good face on a difficult situation. But not when this masks—and it has repeatedly masked—the reality facing the country. Serious problems have been festering in the United States for decades, and they have not been seriously addressed.

And when will the rest of us face the fact that a world of America the great, even if sometimes true, is a world of perpetual conflict, as other countries that think of themselves as no less great, weigh in.

I will stop here, except to refer you to my previous blog, where I suggested what concerned people might be able to do about this, and to my book, Rebalancing Society, that describes this deterioration, in the U.S. and worldwide.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017 

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Dis-organizing our way to balance

12 August 2016

We are masters at running successful experiments in failed events. On Wednesday, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal, our event in the McGill University football stadium was entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” We had no way to know how many people would attend.1 I predicted between 50 and 5000, which made our organizing rather difficult. Suffice it to say that we did not hit the high side.

We are masters at running successful experiments in failed events. On Wednesday, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal, our event in the McGill University football stadium was entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” We had no way to know how many people would attend.1 I predicted between 50 and 5000, which made our organizing rather difficult. Suffice it to say that we did not hit the high side.

Undeterred, we improvised. We adapted much of our design to the numbers present. It worked, rather well in fact. The intention was to self-organize in small groups, to come up with cool ideas that could be taken home for dealing with climate change. That we did, albeit with few groups, including our super-enthusiastic volunteers. Each focussed on one of four questions:

  • Getting it about climate change doesn’t mean we live it. How can you and I live it?
  • What can we do with food: producing, processing, distributing, consuming, and wasting?
  • How can the plural sector [civil society] get its collective act together?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?

What we lacked in quantity (more and more), we made up in quality (better and better). The discussions were great, and animated: we had to stop them after 90 minutes. I joined the group on getting the plural sector act together, a conversation I have had with many other groups, but never this good. All the groups shared what they found, and everyone seemed to leave on a high.

Was this event a failure? Not for the people who attended, and not if, as an experiment, it leads to something more successful. (One attendee hopes to use the design in an event he is organizing later. And we shall be doing so as well, and capturing the learning, in a forthcoming GROOC—a MOOC for groups—in the Spring, probably under the same title. (Check it out on edX in the new year.) But yes, it was a failure by the standards of more and more.2

So, the next time I consider doing something else unusual, should I be asking myself “Why?” instead “Why not?” Never! We have too many events that succeed in numbers—look at the turnouts Trump in the U.S. and Erdoğan in Turkey have been getting lately. We need many more successful experiments, and thoughtful ideas, to make the world a better place.

Later in the day we held a more conventional event—a panel on how the plural sector can get its collective act together. That succeeded both ways: about 200 people turned out, for 90 minutes in a McGill amphitheater, and the discussion was stimulating and animated. Ian Hamilton, who heads up Equitas, the International Centre for Human Rights Education, explained why the sector often does have its collective act together, while Alex Megelas, of the Office of Community Engagement at Concordia University, claimed that one of the great strengths of the sector is its messiness. The five of us were one about the need for pluralism in the plural sector! Yet we live in a world in which the dominant private sector is highly organized. How can dis-organization correct that? This is our dilemma, all too evident in both these events.

And all too evident as well in the coverage of the Forum by the Gazette, Montreal’s English-language daily. It is part of a chain of most of the country’s dailies that were ordered to run the same editorial in the last federal election, endorsing the Conservative Party. This we call a free press. Aside from an initial article on August 4 (straight reporting, that mentioned our event), the Gazette has run only two pieces on the Forum, both about the same issue.

Yesterday the headline read “Protesters hurl insults outside the World Social Forum in Montreal.” Ten members of the Jewish Defence league were yelled at by a number of pro-Palestinians. So many other events during the day, and this received the only headline. A few days earlier, an opinion piece was headlined “World Social Forum shouldn’t grant a platform to anti-Israeli agitators.” True enough. But hardly true enough was what the piece went on to proclaim: “The tone of the conference is fundamentally at odds with” the WSF’s belief in living together. How did this become the tone of the conference? Thousands of concerned and well-meaning people doing wonderful work to make the world a better and more balanced place all dismissed by the excesses of a few. So much is happening in this Forum: discussing youth inequality in Peru, promoting people’s rights to affordable housing all over the world, facing the problem of climate change and of the demise of democracies, even questioning the Canadian government’s refusal of visas for many people trying to attend the Forum itself.

It’s as if the newspaper was sitting in a tree like a panther, waiting to pounce on some cause célèbre to reinforce its own agenda. The first reader comment on the opinion piece tells it all: “This [Forum] is just a platform for socialist ‘anti-everything’ agitators.” Mission accomplished.

Here we have a perfect reflection of the imbalance we live with every day. In Canada we may get to elect our government, but our corporate press continues to use its power to sway public sentiments in favor of private interests—by what it reports, and especially by what it does not report.

The World Social Forum is eclectic. All kinds of tones and voices are being heard inside of it, a few that I personally don’t care for. Yet all but one of these get ignored by a newspaper acting as a platform for its own agitation—essentially to intensify the existing imbalance. Concerned people will have to learn how to use dis-organization to rebalance a world headed for disaster, environmentally and politically.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. My thanks to Debbie Hinton, Karla Flores, Laura Cardenas Berdugo, Jessica Xiao, Calolina Cruz-Vinaccia, et al. for so wonderfully organizing our experiment, to Joe Ross and Clelia Cothier for so enthusiastically animating it, and to the Office of McGill’s Vice-Principal External Relations and its Desautels Faculty of Management for their support. 

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1 The Forum keeps track of registrants—there were about 15,000 before the start—but no-one signs up for particular events.

2 Several things can explain the low turnout. The McGill stadium is on the edge of downtown, up a hill, a significant walk to reach. The schedule of 9:15 to 3 in a conference of 90 minute events was probably too ambitious. Our marketing was hardly stellar. And then there is getting that act together: a mistake in the printed program also showed our event taking place in a classroom several kilometers away.

 

Resourcefulness for Climate Change: Cool Facts for Cool Ideas

5 August 2016

1¢ and 10¢ 

It is interesting how simple resourcefulness can defeat sheer massiveness. David brought down Goliath with a slingshot. In the 1960s, people in San Antonio, Texas were fed up with the utility company so they overpaid their bills by 1¢. This tied the bureaucracy in knots; it responded to their demands.1

1¢ and 10¢ 

It is interesting how simple resourcefulness can defeat sheer massiveness. David brought down Goliath with a slingshot. In the 1960s, people in San Antonio, Texas were fed up with the utility company so they overpaid their bills by 1¢. This tied the bureaucracy in knots; it responded to their demands.1

Climate change is a massive problem; it needs more resourcefulness, constructive as well as confrontational. 10¢ to The March of Dimes addressed the crisis of polio years ago. People all over America, many of them children, mailed dimes to the White House—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived with the consequences of the disease, was president when this began. Seven billion dimes were collected. Some of that went to the laboratory of Dr Jonas Salk; it came up with the vaccine that eradicated the disease. Simple 10¢ resourcefulness!

We need to eradicate global warming, and that will take a great deal of human resourcefulness. To do our bit, on Wednesday August 10, we are hosting an event called “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” It will take place in the McGill University Football Stadium, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal. Think of this event as a do-it-yourself climatic picnic, to address one of the big problems of the world. To set the tone, here are some “cool facts” about climate change that I will present in my opening remarks.

Some cool facts about climate change

1.    Norway now generates almost all of its electricity using renewable energy. Of course, Norway is a rich country with considerable hydroelectric power, and it does produce a great deal of oil and gas for other countries. But …

2.    Tiny Bhutan, a poor country in the Himalayas, wedged between Tibet, India, and Nepal, some years ago committed to reducing its carbon emissions and increasing its forest cover to 60%. That it did; the country now absorbs more carbon than it produces.

3.    Clean energy now employs 8 million people worldwide.

4.    The average Canadian household wastes 47% of its food. [S LINK AT END]

5.    Better recycling of textiles, now with the lowest rate of any reusable material, could be the equivalent of taking a million cars off the roads.

6.    By unplugging when unnecessary your computer, phone charger, microwave oven, and video wave consoles, you could reduce your energy consumption by up to 10%. 

7.    Hundreds of you are attending the World Social Forum for the admission price of one of you to the World Economic Forum. Climate change is a social problem more than an economic one. Yet the WEF gets hundreds of times the press coverage of the WSF. 

Here is what we will be doing for the Earth, on the earth of the stadium on Wednesday:

Some cool ideas for climate change

We expect several hundred participants from around the world to join us for this 9:15-15:00h outdoor living lab. We want to generate truly novel ideas for dealing with climate change. Everyone will form into small groups to share insights and build on each other’s ideas, the best of which will be presented at the end. Each group will choose to work on one of these seven basic challenges:

 

1.   Getting it about climate change doesn’t mean we live it: how can you and I live it?

2.   What can we do with food: producing, refining, distributing, consuming, and wasting?

3.   How can we make our own city more energy friendly?

4.   How can we wake up our governments to 0 degrees, not +2 degrees?

5.   How creative can we be about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?

6.   How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?

7.   How can the plural sector (civil society) get its collective act together to balance the power of the private sector?

 

The various groups discussing each challenge will sit together in one area of the field. Those that believe they have come up with a truly cool idea will present it to the others in their area, and the best of these will be be presented to everyone, in the hope of inspiring collective action back home. (I hope to present the best of these ideas in next week’s TWOG.) If we get 3 great ideas, and 100 people leave determined to act, the event will be a great success.

If you are tired of being a human resource, and wish to put some of your human resourcefulness to work for the sake of our future, please join us if you can. If you cannot, while saving the carbon energy to get here, please join us in live streaming starting at 9:45 Eastern Daylight (NY) Time.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Thank you to Carolina Cruz-Vinaccia and Myko for the research on the cool facts. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 Gutierrez, J.A. (1998). The Making of a Chicano Militant: Lessons from Cristal. Univ. of Wisconsin Press