Posted by: Ken Homer | December 16, 2008

The Season of Peace – Song and Loving the World to Change It

In the next two weeks the Peoples of the World will celebrate the Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas,  Kwanzza and the turning of the New Year as it is observed by the Gregorian Calendar. This time of year is often referred to as The Season of Peace, though these days peace seems to be elusive indeed for an increasing number of the world’s people. 

Here are two short poems that seem to be very apt for this time of year:


There are those who are
Setting fire to the World.
We are in danger.
There is time
Only to work slowly.
There is no time
Not to love.

~Deena Metzger


Try To Love The World

Do not try
To change the world.
You will fail.
Try to love the world.
Lo, the world is changed,
Changed forever.

~ Sri Chinmoy

May whatever Holy-Days you are observing and celebrating be filled with the light of wisdom and the warmth of compassion and may we all love each other and the world just a little bit more in the coming year.

In Peace,


Posted by: Ken Homer | December 12, 2008

Doing Big Things For Love

Love is among my favorite themes for exploration.

I have been intrigued with the claim by Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana that “love is the only emotion which increases intelligence.” In the following short video (<10 minutes) Clay Shirky makes some wonderful observations that support Maturana’s claim, among them: 

• We now have a set of tools for aggregating things that people care about in ways that increase both their scope and longevity, that were unpredictable even a decade ago. 

• The coordinating tools we now have, and I’m not talking about anything fancy here, I’m talking about mailing lists usenet and weblogs and wikis, turn love into a renewal building material.

• If you ask yourself not what is the business model, but rather, do the people who like it take care of each other, it turns out to be the better predictor of longevity.

There are many other juicy nuggets in here – as there always are when Clay speaks.

The Beatles were only partially right. You do need love, but more you need coordinating tools. As Shirky says: “With love you can get a birthday party together. Add coordinating tools and you can write an operating system.”

How are you and the people in your life using coordinating and aggregating tools to support what you love? 

How intentional have you been about this up until now?

After watching this video, what new ideas do you have for doing big things for love?

Posted by: Ken Homer | November 22, 2008

Playing for Change – Peace Through Music

About a week ago someone sent me a youtube video of a very moving and uplifting version of the Leiber and Stoller classic Stand By Me. As the video unfolds a succession of musicians from around the world blend their voices and instruments into a seamless audio/visual experience that left me wanting to hear it again and again.

Mark Johnson, the man behind this video, has a larger vision that’s perhaps even more inspiring – Peace Through Music. If you have 20 minutes to look at this Bill Moyers interview you can see the whole Stand By Me video, a part of One Love, and learn what went into the many years it took to make them, as well as catch a glimpse of ancient power shining brightly through the dross of a troubled world.

Posted by: Ken Homer | November 17, 2008

If I Were on the Obama Transition Team

Today my friend Jerry Michalski held his weekly tech community yi-tan call. Yi-tan means conversations about change in Mandarin. The invitation for today’s call was to imagine yourself as having been appointed the “minister in charge of all things ‘technologikal’, with a wide purview, (but mercifully little authority). What would you recommend?”

Were I to actually find myself in that position, one of my main questions would deal with how the incoming administration can support the kind of on the ground, nitty-gritty conversations that will allow for more effective citizen engagement and public participation. Conversations that will revitalize our democracy by encouraging us to include more people in our decision making processes while arriving at better decisions as a result of the expanded inclusion.

It’s not everyday that I get to indulge in such a wonderful imaginative exercise. I wrote back to Jerry with the following, and he did in fact ask me to frame this out as a lead in to kick off the call – which quickly went in several different directions once people began to share their own questions and perspectives:

Q. How can the Obama administration support the marriage of the F2F and Virtual worlds of democratic-community-enhancing conversations?

A. Provide the funding and convening power for coupling virtual support with creating a f2f infrastructure that will support innovative conversations that will reinvigorate democracy at the local level.

There now exist several proven methodologies for convening large groups of people in collaborative conversations.

Collaborative conversations are ones where people are able to: 

  • arrive at a clear idea of what is important to them regarding a specific issue
  • explore what is possible based on the constraints they are operating under 
  • determine and coordinate effective actions 
  • critically reflect and learn in order to hold even more effective conversations in the future

A collaborative conversation is also where the diversity of opinions and perspectives of hundreds or even thousands of participants is an asset that can be harvested in the service of more robust thinking and the generation of innovative ideas for working with complex social issues. 

Collaborative conversations occur in the context of processes such as the World Cafe, Future Search, the Conference Model, Whole-scale Change, Open Space, the Art of Hosting and others. These processes are well known to a few experts in the OD field. They have broad applicability for bringing together business, education, government and community leaders into the kinds of conversations we all need to engage if we are to create a livable future in a world of rapidly shifting priorities and resources. However, knowledge, skill and competence to design and host these processes successfully resides for the most part in the domain of a relative few and they are not widely used outside of the OD community. There is a huge opportunity here for engaging people at every level in the culture in becoming accountable as citizens and revitalizing democracy.

Community-centric conversations are to be convened with a representational cross section of the community in the room, where key questions are posed about issues of vital importance in the lives of those who live in the community. Numerous dialogic approaches support conversations that elicit personal and collective meaning in ways that bring out people’s best thinking through appreciative and strength-based inquiries into complex issues. In so doing they are able to include more voices and make better decisions as a result of the inclusion. That’s the F2F side in a nutshell.

Satellite linking technology allows for low cost ways to connect thousands of people in geographically dispersed areas.  Keypad technology allows for rapid processing of yes/no/ranking questions. Wikis allow for a collective memory to be easily accessible to all participants and stakeholders. Twitter and other applications allow for a density of perspectives to be recorded and made visible to the whole that was impossible just a short time ago. That’s the virtual side in a nutshell.

There is an emerging but not yet a coherent effort to bring together the variations these two nuts offer to seed a network capable of growing a forest ecosystem of enlivening conversations, but if it were to receive wider resourcing it could take off and produce dividends of astonishing proportions.

How can we speed the marriage of the process experts of F2F conversational modalities with the project experts of the virtual world? What will help them to frame and support sets of conversations and relationships that can harness the collective intelligence and wisdom of hundreds/thousands/millions of people in confronting and navigating our social, economic and ecological challenges in a ongoing manner that produces high value ideas and behaviors that can be quickly implemented and enacted throughout the system?

What kinds of policies and programs can be enacted that will make it easy for people with collaborative conversation leadership skills to work with those who have virtual conversation tracking and memory creation skills to join in creating national collaborative conversations around such topics as: water, energy, agriculture, defense, livable cities, poverty, wealth creation and distribution, etc?


As I said the conversation moved rapidly in many directions once the main thrust of the ideas above were introduced. As I listened to the voices on the conference line and read the comments on the IRC chat, it became readily apparent that the idea that is it possible to bring together large numbers of people who hold divergent or opposing views and who do not know each other into a room and have them enter into a conversation around hot topics that produces real value in the space of a day is quite beyond the ken of many people who have no experience with collaborative conversations. There were comments on the IRC chat to the effect that the idea of wisdom arising in the room is a fantasy of OD/HR people.

There was also the specter of mob mentality creeping in.

I am very grateful for the chance to hear and learn from the skeptics. I will not blithely dismiss mob mind, but I will say that in all the designed conversations I have ever been a part of it has never been a problem.

I also agree that expecting wisdom to arise simply because you have a good cross section of people in the room and a process to follow is sometimes unreasonable. In fact, in my experience it is hard work. You need to choose an appropriate process and you need to know something about group dynamics. You need to carefully select your design team and know what it is you want participants to talk about. You need skilled facilitation and you have to spend a good deal of time – hours to days depending on the issue/topic and the people involved – in order to identify the questions that will crack through the resistance and open up the possibilities that people long to connect with when given a chance. If all those are in place, then a sense of being connected to a larger intelligence, greater clarity about what is important, and yes, even wisdom almost always shows up.

So, what would you focus on if you were asked to help the Obama transition team?

Posted by: Ken Homer | November 12, 2008

Riding a Dead Horse – The Wisdom of the Dakota Indians

Someone sent me this a few years ago and I don’t know who it was or where this originated. But given all the dead horse beating that has been going on in the MSM since the election, I thought if I posted it, it might provide a welcome chuckle for some of you.

Riding a Dead Horse

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

In modern education and government, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Threatening the horse with termination.

4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

5. Visiting other sites to see how others ride dead horses.

6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

7. Re-classifying the dead horse as “living, impaired”.

8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.

10. Attempting to mount multiple dead horses in hopes that one of them will spring to life.

11. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

12. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

13. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

14. Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses.

15. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Posted by: Ken Homer | November 1, 2008

The Real Difference Between Conservatives and Liberals

In my book – make that – in my blog, the TED Talks ranks as one of the most useful things you can find on the internet. It is a veritable treasure trove of information, entertainment and provocative ideas. The other day a friend of mine was tweeting* about the TED Blog, which led me to view a recently posted  TED talk video by Jonathan Haidt on what he calls the Five Foundations of the Moral Mind and which he titled: The Real Difference Between Conservatives and Liberals. 

Being of a liberal bent, I enjoyed his humor, and as I came to understand the profundity of his research, I found myself wishing that he himself had a more conservative presentation style – then I considered the audience he was speaking to and I cut him some more slack.

While what Haidt says may not be exactly “true” when it comes to the shaping of our moral functioning, the utility of this model is remarkable. Anyone whose work involves people who are very different from themselve is likely to find in this short talk a portal to a whole new way of seeing other people that can bring forth way more possibilities for collaboration then they ever dreamed possible. Enjoy!

*Tweeting for those unfamiliar with the term, is what people do on Twitter – a kind of microblogging site where you can only write 140 characters at a time. I am @ken_homer if you want to follow me.

Posted by: Ken Homer | October 22, 2008

The Faith Leaders Forum

On Valentine’s Day 2008, The Center For Interfaith Relations (CIR) in Louisville, KY brought together over 100 ordained faith leaders for a day of interfaith inquiry and conversation. The focus of the day was the role of faith leaders in creating a better future for the city of Louisville and the people who live there. It was a very lively day, filled with both challenge and promise. The resulting conversations were enriched by the contributions from leaders of the Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Islam, Jewish and Mormon faiths. 

Jan Arnow, the Executive Director of CIR, Mark Steiner, the Director of Programming and myself spent many hours over the course of several months in the design phase. This was a challenging design and it was critical to flesh out our context by exploring questions like – what does CIR want to achieve as the host and convener? What is possible in a single day among people who do not know each other? What will best serve the community?  – to name only a few.

We knew we had to create the conditions for people to feel safe enough to speak authentically to questions that were both personally meaningful as well as relevant to their congregations. We knew we had a limited amount of time and that there were a lot of gaps that needed bridging. Ultimately we wanted to be raising questions that have to power to bring the gifts of each faith into the center of the community. We were aiming to create relationships that will serve as bridges of hope and understanding.  Jan and I did the actual hosting of the gathering.

Eventually we settled upon an opening question that allowed us to build several more layers upon it. Our day began with:

What would it mean for me to see myself not just as a faith leader, but as an interfaith leader?

As the video below shows, the day was successful in many ways.

Posted by: Ken Homer | September 18, 2008

50 Things about White Privilege

The US Presidential campaign is heating up our national conversations about race – painful as that might be, it is a good thing.

The following list is taken from Peggy McIntosh’s excellent article: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in looking at the systemic aspects of race and power. 

Peggy, we’ve never met, but I thank you for opening my eyes to many things I was blind to.

Daily Effects of White Privilege:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

There is much more to this article, I hope you will read it in its entirety here.

Posted by: Ken Homer | August 22, 2008

Wealth and Waste

Among the more challenging issues we face as we attempt to develop systems for integrating human activity with planetary activity in ways that are mutually supportive is the question of wealth distribution. Personally, I think the term wealth when applied to money is misleading. Real wealth is not monetary, though in our culture it may be valued and measured as such. 

However, for the purposes of discussion, the term “wealth” will be used here as it relates to what is going on in the world of fiscal policy, consumer spending, class relationships, and democracy.

A strong case can be made that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is not only detrimental to those who are left at the margins, but also for the kinds of decisions that get made by those in positions of power which fail to take into account the consequences of their actions because they can insulate themselves from theses consequences.

The video below is from c-span, but before you jump to the conclusion that it is going to be another yawner speech delivered by some overfed politician, it has been “spiced up” a bit with some music and images that you may find entertaining. The message seems clear to me, but what about you? Do you agree with Senator Bernie Sanders (Indp.)VT, or is he just blowing hot air?

My thanks to my friend Steve Higgins for pointing me to this video.

Posted by: Ken Homer | August 15, 2008

From Institutions to Collaboration

Collaboration is a word worthy of rehabilitation. Thanks to the last century’s wars, collaborating came to be associated with cooperating and working with the enemy. But more and more this word is showing up in positive contexts and that seems all to the good in my view.

A dear friend uses this word in the sense of co-laboring, working with others – friend or perceived enemy – to bring forth a better way.

The TED talk below was filmed in 2005 but only posted on the TED site last month. In it, Clay Shirky, a man with an unusual ability to observe things that elude most of us, talks of moving from institutions to collaboration and outlines some of the challenges along the way. It’s 20 minutes worth watching if you are at all interested in the future we’ll all be co-laboring to bring about.

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