Nov 30 2010

Have a real conversation at your next holiday party

As we enter into the holiday party season, Night Train offers this dramatic rendition of an actual conversation with another human being, breaking with time-honored, traditional party questions (especially in DC):

Authentic Conversation

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Nov 9 2010

Jim Shelton – Slate Evening on 21st Century Classrooms

At an event in DC last night put on by Slate, Hive, and Coca-Cola, Jim Shelton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, spoke on the opening panel.  One of the things he said was so striking to me I had to repost it in whole, as best I could reconstruct from my notes. This is my loose transcription, not his exact words, but the point remains just as strong, I hope:

“With or without schools, students are learning all the time.  They may not be learning what we want them to learn, but they are learning all the time and are very good at it.  They are establishing collaborative learning groups of their peers.  They are using a variety of learning formats, technology, and physical spaces.  They are taking on projects to develop their competencies.  They are establishing complex learning communities and hierarchies of expertise based on each individual’s areas of greatest interest.  Especially when it comes to using technology, they are already teaching each other and their teachers, much more than the other way around.

“The students that stick with the system do so because they understand that school is still the only place where they can get the one thing they believe they need, which is a credential.  If they can find a way to get a strong enough credential elsewhere for what they want to do in life, then you might see a lot more students checking out.”

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Nov 8 2010

Drumbeat 2010, and the nature of education

In addition to all of the great individual interactions I had at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival this week, there were also some themes that resonated throughout every conversation. I am still traveling for the moment, so a more detailed recap of the (amazing) conference is forthcoming.  In the meantime, consider these thoughts about the nature of education that are still buzzing in my head.  Do any of these connect with your experience?

1) Learning is about experiences, not just school!  We should recognize, nurture, and reward that.

2) Learning should be able to be represented in a universal way in order to highlight your experiences and competencies – whether they are accredited by someone else or not!  The dynamic value of each “badge” is based on the evidence/accreditor behind earning it, and the value placed on it by the eye of a particular beholder (potential employer, community, self, etc.).

3) Learning takes a fine balance between individual drive and social support/collaboration.  Let’s not forget the latter, in the push to build more technologically savvy tools for educating ourselves and others.

Social network wall

Photo by Samuel Huron

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Nov 1 2010

Night Train heading to Barcelona for Drumbeat Festival!

Today, I head off on a great adventure to the land of los toros y jamón for a sure-to-be amazing conference called the Drumbeat Festival, put on by the great folks at Mozilla.

Alan and I have been working on developing a great new project for small group, face-to-face, peer-to-peer learning to help students develop core skills and knowledge for social innovation and changemaking, which is a project incubated by AshokaU (more).  So we are looking forward to meeting other participants, especially in the P2PU community, and getting to work on the following topics.

Open Learning Accreditation:

  • How to represent success…badges!
    • The festival has an entire “space” and series of sessions dedicated to creating, storing, and highlighting a person’s achievements through badges.  We plan to be there to help get these efforts off the ground and are particularly interested in discussing online badges that can be triggered by offline activities.
    • Of particular interest: Examining the history of badges, and what makes them work, in the session: “Badges, badges, everywhere!”, and helping start a badge framework for the open web in “Badges, learning and online identity” and “Who needs a degree, when you can have a drawer full of badges?!?”.
  • How to get schools and companies (en masse) interested in recognizing credentials from open learning:
    • Alan and I started the Living Transcript project because we felt that we needed to start building the platform that the next wave of open learners, past the first round of intrinsically motivated early adopters, will be motivated to use.  These learners are likely to be incentivized by clear mechanisms to use credential earned through open learning (e.g. merit badges and certificates) to open up immediate opportunities, such as getting into the right college, finding their next job, or winning funding for their projects or further education pursuits.
    • The Living Transcript tool is a badge/skill/experience platform, and job board, that addresses both a learner’s need to better manage their experiences and capabilities, and a company or school’s need to drill down deeper into an applicant’s skill set and competencies.  Since the tool is built with the open web and open accreditation in mind, it becomes easier to sell these ideas to both parties that may have initially signed up simply for the efficiencies offered.  In this sense, we see it as an Open Education Trojan horse.
    • We believe that once schools and organizations begin acknowledging the value of knowledge gained from non-traditional sources, learners will immediately become more incentivized to participate in these mediums.  We want to hear from companies/schools who are already accepting credentials from these sorts of courses, as well as organizations and people who are working on this problem from the same angle as us.
    • A few sessions of interest here: “Translating skills into badges” and “Storming the Grade Book”, though this general theme of how to pragmatically bring open education to the masses will be a theme that we bring up throughout the festival.

Local Learning Incubator:

  • The core intent of The Change School is to build an efficient and effective learning framework across the world that leverages world class open educational content through the use of local, small-group, peer-led study circles.  We want to see who else is working in the open web world that sees the benefits of these in-person, social interactions, how they’re doing, and where we can collaborate together.
    • One session in particular stands out in this area: “Citizen Identities and Neighborhood Literacies for Open Learning” which wants to put the focus on local engagement with open education.
  • Libraries – we all have fond memories, but in today’s digital world, many are being under-utilized.  We’re interested in transforming libraries from a “building with books” to a community gathering place focused on the needs of open learners and active citizens
    • “Rethink Reading and Remake Libraries” is a session that we hope hits on not only bringing digital materials into libraries, but also rethinking the framework and purpose of libraries as a whole.

Other Interests:

  • Hear about the future of the P2PU platform – we used it for our education class this Fall and although there were a few hiccups, we really believe in the vision they are pursuing.
  • Check in on the open content and open textbook world – Alan and I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this subject early on, but soon realized that there were a lot of people already doing a great job of increasing access to open learning materials.
    • It will be interesting to see what the open content folks view as their next big movement in the session “Content and then? The next big thing…”.
  • Get involved in one of the sessions in the Webcraft Toolshed – how to create a clear, engaging learning network for people interested in participating in the open web.
  • Stop by one of the open video sessions to learn about how educators are creating and using video.  We would be curious to see if anyone else is working on concepts like Digital Study Hall in other parts of the world.  This is an area for me that I’m particularly green behind the ears – but what would an education conference be without learning opportunities!
  • I have a soft spot in my heart for robots, gadgets, hacked-in-1-day web apps and the like and am looking forward to seeing what crazy inventions the guys and gals will be working on in the hackerspace!

These are just a few of the ideas and sessions that will be at the Drumbeat Festival.  I have a feeling that it will be one of those conferences where it’s literally impossible to make it to all the different things you’d like to see / be a part of.  I can’t wait to meet all the amazing people in the open education space that are paving the way for change, to hear about their innovative projects, and to brainstorm ways to collaborate with one another going forward.

If you’re at the conference, please say hello – I’ll be the guy in VFFs!  For everyone else, I’ll do my best to tweet updates of what I’m up to @jeffthink.

Hasta pronto!

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Oct 28 2010

A Tale of Two Minimalist Systems Engineers

The First Annual Report of Night Train Consulting

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On the occasion of Night Train’s first birthday, Jeff and I have taken the opportunity to see how much deep thinking we could project onto our former (younger, brazen, foolish) selves to make us sound wiser and more introspective than we are.  These are our open notes and reflections from that tomfoolery:

First, the fun stuff:

  • Any resemblance of the name Night Train to the following is completely intentional.  Take your pick between Night Train the bum wine, the zulu poem, the song by Amos Lee, James Brown, or Guns ‘N Roses (or the recent album by Keane), or the Olympic Gold-winning American bobsled.
  • When we were not working this year, we were hiking, playing the guitar, traveling, or taking photographs.  We’re no good at any of those yet, which means a lot more practice is in short order.  Practice is a lot more fun in groups, so why don’t you join us for our next hike, class, or jam session?

Our values and long-term vision:

  • We love helping you work out all the angles for your strategy, uncovering inspiration from unusual places, and implementing minimalistic solutions.  Minimalist solutions are anything that make a system a lot more efficient, use existing resources and energy wherever possible, and stay laser focused on the most important objective for the project, while treating all of the rest as contraints.
  • We, honestly, geek out whenever we think of a cool minimalist solution, and it’s even better to get paid when we do.  We have been lucky to find a few of you willing to take that risk on us and, therefore, have been able to do more of what we love lately- research, analysis, and strategy work- compared to when we first started and were doing more building of specific technology applications for the web.  We enjoy analysis and strategy work so much that we would like to be doing that exclusively in the future.  So we are now focused on working on the types of projects and skills that help us reach our goal of doing systems analysis and minimalist strategy projects full-time by 3-5 years from now.  We dream of working all of the time on projects like helping a university create a better evaluation system or helping a public library fix a terrible card catalog system.
  • One of our sources of inspiration for going down this path has been meeting interesting people from other companies already doing similar things, such as the Santa Fe ComplexMayaTeam Rubber, and IDEO.  Like these other companies, our projects would use tools from systems engineering, design, and complexity science (particularly behavioral economics), with a focus on our core values of minimalism and improving community wellbeing.
  • In addition to focusing on improving a few of our personal skills to help us get there, such as writing (why we’re keeping up this blog) and taking on more data analysis projects, we’re also starting to have a good idea of profiles of other people we want to bring into our team to work with us, when the time is right.  We eventually want to invite a few more partners to join us whose skills- like design/arts, great sales and deal-making skills, data visualization and ethnographic surveying- help fill out a robust minimalist system engineering design shop.  We’re already talking to people who have some of those skills and who share our interest in analyzing complex systems, our insatiable curiosity, and our values.
  • We have learned from our experience this year that it helps us when we focus on finding solutions to the problems of a particular community, which is why community wellbeing has made it into our two most important values.  To be more specific, at the moment we love working in the fields of education (particularly open education), social entrepreneurship (and, more broadly, social innovation), and travel, and also particular physical communities like Charlottesville, Virginia.  Improving the wellbeing of our communities and our families tend to make it into that “most important objective” slot quite a bit more often than other things we often hear about much more frequently, like growth, profit and personal income.   Therefore, we will make it a priority to work with those whose primary goal in life is to improve the wellbeing of their communities and their families first, and who see profits and growth as important but secondary objectives- as constraints for improving their community’s wellbeing sustainably.

What we did this year:

We would like to thank our clients for the opportunity to work on the following projects this past year:

  • We worked for Sol Systems, a very impressive and successful start-up in DC who is creating the marketplace for solar renewable energy credits in 13 U.S. states.  Jeff became their acting CTO and did a lot of great work for them over the last few months.  We also have learned a lot from them about running a great business and how to hire great people and treat them right.
  • Alan worked for a Tibetan-run NGO called Machik, both as a volunteer last year in DC and at work in Tibet this summer.  Alan helped Machik, along with many other great partners such as the Tibet Sustainable Governance Program at UVA, organize the first ever Tibet Social Business Conference at UVA in April and in Tibet in July.  He also helped run a summer enrichment program for Tibetan students and taught a few classes on economics and social entrepreneurship.  A lot of development projects fail because they don’t stick to such simple, powerful values as those for which Machik stand.  But because of Machik’s values, they are empowering Tibetans to do some incredible projects in one of the most difficult contexts on Earth.  Their ability to do that with a sense of respect, pose and a commitment is alluring to everyone who knows their work.
  • We built a website for Rainmaker Fundraising, under the gun in less than 48 hours, which included a private content management system, an integrated google map for tracking team activities, and a blog.  We helped them optimize the website for search engines and set up online advertising accounts.  And we wrote a detailed research and briefing paper for the first reconnaissance team that went to Haiti in April to help with reconstruction of L’Hôpital de la Communauté Haïtienne in Jacmel.  Congratulations to Larry and his team on taking a big risk to get started, assembling a skilled team to go to Haiti so soon after last year’s disaster, and for having their work featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.
  • We helped overhaul RateYourStudyAbroad.com under the hood.  We also facilitated a detailed strategy exercise with founders Henry and John, covering a dozen different technical and non-technical options the team could use to increase traffic to the site and to help build the brand.  The strategy exercise gave a team who was starting to show some fatigue a great burst of energy which has resulted in a factor of 10 increase in traffic, new deals with other partners and advertisers, and more focus on the core strengths of the team and the brand.
  • We helped Myers & Chapman build a new website.  We loved working with Myers & Chapman because of their values and clear commitment to great relationships with clients.  We would like to thank Bo South especially for providing good direction, feedback, and much appreciated comic relief throughout the project!  We also worked with them on a pretty awesome proposal they submitted to the City of Charlotte to build an online Green Building Trail, which is an interactive website for local building owners, vendors, and contractors to brag about and find examples of green building technology in use in Charlotte.   [Full disclosure, the CEO of Myers & Chapman is Alan's dad]
  • We also enjoyed many creative or practical brainstorming sessions with friends who are passionate about starting their own new projects, such as Daniel Hudspeth, who is starting a new charter school in DC (and had a baby!), Weipung and Penhao Huang, who want to start a peer teaching network and a Time Bank in Guangzhou, China, Julie Bowes, who is starting an intergenerational teaching network and study circles in Washington D.C., Neela Rajendra who is starting an underground restaurant in DC, Greg Herrington, who is creating MySideVenture.com to help match students and entrepreneurs to work together in Charlottesville, VA, Tedd Determan and Lucas Cioffi, who have a tool called OnlineTownHalls.com, Robert Thomason, who launched GlobalResourcesNews.com, and Allison Basille, who is launching Hub DC and Time Banks DC.  You are all doing cool things and we thank you for letting us be involved in chasing your dreams.

What’s next?

We are now focusing on two main projects and we’d love to get you involved with them.  As you know, we are big fans of open learning.  This year we found a great community of like-minded people at a few different organizations like AshokaUYouth Venture, Wiser-U and P2PU.  Along with Laura White at Tulane, we have helped pull together the energies of a few of these groups to start a project to build the new Change School.  Right now we are running a pilot course on P2PU that has been so successful that many of the course’s participants have told us it has been hard for them to stay focused at school or work.  We are in early stages of getting more course organizers and champions involved, and also are helping develop a vision for that school.  Many thanks to P2PU for offering financial support and to AshokaU for incubating this project, along with the Living Transcript.

The second project, the Living Transcript, is directly related to the first.  The Living Transcript is a tool for earning merit badges for practical life skills and for using those badges to earn new opportunities, like jobs and scholarships.  For the Change School project, we’re starting with merit badges covering the skills of social entrepreneurs, changemakers, and social innovators to prove that they’ve got the stuff they need to take on big challenges in their community- including subject areas (social innovation in education, engineering, maternal health, etc.), skills (systems thinking, root cause analysis, management, community leadership, etc.), and deep character traits (empathy, creativity, vision, etc.).  We’re excited that Mozilla has offered us a scholarship to attend their Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona next week to work on this idea with more than 500 other people who are passionate about the exact same, geeky topic (can you believe it?).  We already have users creating static living transcripts, but we are now actively seeking funding to help us build the prototype this spring.

Work with us

Where do you fit into our vision and projects?  How can we help you?  Let us know in the comments, or email us.

Most importantly, thank you for helping us get to this point!

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Oct 25 2010

To preserve it, pass it on

At his funeral this weekend, Lewis Marcum Townsend, my grandfather, was remembered most of all as a hard worker with an incredible can-do attitude and ability to solve problems.

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Mr. Townsend was a true self-made man who began working hard from a young age, after losing his mother when he was five.  He never stopped until the day he died.  He paid his way through college by working as a contractor one semester to save money to go to school the next.  After serving as a field engineer for the Navy, he returned home and built his church and both of his homes by hand, with the help of his family and community.  For more than 30 years of his career he was the first call of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System to fix or build anything that they needed.

Friends and family members all swapped funny stories this weekend about his uncanny ability to solve any problem put before him, often with a sense of humor.  The best way to get him to do something for you was to tell him “I bet you can’t figure out a way to do this,” as my grandmother Virginia told us; “It was as if once he got hold of an idea, he couldn’t let go of it.”  He connected with others through this talent.  He dedicated his whole life to building the things his family and community needed, so that they might have the three things he valued most: strong families, strong schools, and a strong faith community.  So it is fitting that he died doing what he loved; taking care of his family’s beautiful land in the mountains.

As I considered how best to honor my grandfather, I remembered learning about the way the Japanese think about historic preservation.  While it is common for us in the West to think that historic preservation means preserving physical things and structures as they stand, the Japanese place their emphasis on preserving the knowledge and skills needed to build their beautiful historic buildings.  These are made of wood, so they will all eventually burn or fall down in time.  In acknowledgement of this fact, the Japanese pass the techniques for traditional timber craftsmanship down from generation to generation so that they are ready for the moment when they are called upon.  If the memory is preserved, the physical buildings can come and go.

Mr. Townsend was a one of a kind.  ”God threw out the mold when He made Lewis,” my grandmother said this weekend.  That may be, but when we carry forward, through our everyday work and relationships, his unrelenting, can-do attitude and his love of using that talent for building strong communities, we can preserve the mold for generations.

To remember my grandfather, go and build something for the people you love.  Set your mind to their problem, don’t let go of it, and don’t stop until it is solved.

Really… don’t stop until it is solved.

Pass it on.

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Oct 13 2010

As Oil Drilling Moratorium Ends, Idea Engine poses a Riddle

Q: Overbuilding : foreclosures :: overdrilling : ________?

In case it is not obvious; the U.S. overbuilt single-family homes before 2008- we built more than we would ever need and did it way too quickly.

Some consequences of that poor allocation of resources, which have been playing out painfully for the last couple of years, include, but are not limited to:

  • Wasted Resources – Both money and physical resources- land, timber, energy, etc.- were wasted building things we did not need, to say nothing of the opportunity cost of not using all of that great human and creative energy in other industries which are still badly in need of innovation, like education and healthcare.
  • Crash – The subsequent drop in house prices has turned many Americans upside down in what for many is their largest investment.  Many people have lost their shirts.  Not to mention the subsequent ripple effect into every other part of the economy.
  • Permanently Lost Jobs – The unemployment rate in the construction industry right now, and other supporting industries, is as high as 60-70% in some markets.  Like the whalers of the 19th century, we must face the reality that many of these jobs will never return.  Many more people trained to be concreters, architects, draftsmen, etc. than there is a sustainable level of demand to justify in the long-term market.  Even if we return to a higher sustained level of building on an annual basis, which we clearly exceeded before 2008, there are not enough jobs in construction for all of these people.  This is a real-life horror story playing out right now in the lives and families of many people who were employed by this over-inflated industry before 2008.

Like any good parent would encourage their child to do, we should of course be generalizing the lessons from that boo-boo when we talk about other overbuilt industries, which can be defined as any industry that will inevitably face a lower sustained level of demand in the future.  (Does that describe the industry that employs you?)

For example, as the White House lifts the moritorium on oil drilling the Gulf today, you will hear the jobs argument made loud and clear by Gulf state’s politicians, residents, and oil companies.  But this is a short-term view on jobs, like a home developer in SW Florida in 2007 begging City Hall to grant just one more housing permit to keep all of those contractors employed.  What else will they do if you don’t let us get back to work building more houses we will never sell?

When demand for oil is not what it is today, oil company profits will not be the only thing affected.  So why are we supporting the overproduction of oil now, when there are so many positive-return-on-investment, technologically simple, readily available options already well known for using dramatically less today?  I am not talking about solar panels on homes.  Chilled beams were used in my former office in Australia and cut the building’s energy use by more than 40% per year, and they are mostly unheard of in the U.S.

Not to belabor the point made so well by so many others, but building new industries around these innovations creates jobs too.  Why not focus on all of the good that can come from that, rather than on the negative of what more drilling means for the environment?  We’ve already proven how good we are at creating soft landings for inflated industries.

* Note: I do not intend to criticize any one individual working in either of these industries personally, but rather to critique the general trajectory their industries are on.  I know many smart, innovative people in both the energy and property industries who are the ones who have the ability to bend this trajectory with their creativity and awesome know-how.  Many of them already are.

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Oct 1 2010

The effects of sitting vs. standing

We previously referenced the NY Times article about the ill effects of spending too much of our days sitting down when we shared our fitness/productivity tip of holding company running meetings.  This same topic has become pertinent again for Night Train Consulting recently.

For the last 3 months, Alan has been on the other side of the world helping Tibetans (young and old) become better social entrepreneurs, as I frantically attempted to keep our engine running (sorry…) here in the states and move my family to Charlottesville.  Given our hectic schedules, neither of us ran at all for about 3 months.  It soon became apparent how out of shape I had become on the first (and second, and third…) run back after the hiatus.  What’s interesting is that my hope of commiseration from Alan upon his return to the trails was soon dashed as he easily slid back into running form.

On one of our recent (though, much shorter) running meetings, we speculated as to why this might be the case.  During the 3 months, our fitness routines were roughly similar (read: non-existant).  Before the hiatus, both of us had been running 10-15 miles at a time together, and in the past, we have taken similar amounts of time to get back into shape after various injuries and fitness gaps.  We narrowed the difference down to the fact that while I spent most of the last few months sitting at my desk on the computer each day, Alan was on his feet at conferences and in the classroom most days.  Certainly, there were other factors, but it struck us that the major difference in our fitness levels after the hiatus seemed to be due to the effects of sitting vs standing.

Thinking back, we both remembered experiencing similar effects from extended periods of sitting and/or standing we had been through in the past.  And, while much of this is speculation on our part, various studies are showing similar results.  This correlation pops up in another experience of mine a few years ago.  I entered one summer, after high school, in great shape from soccer, subsequently spent all summer working 70 hours a week (with basically no exercise), and somehow ended the summer in the same shape as I had started.  It would be easy to chalk this up to a youthful body, but I endured similar periods of time where I went off exercising and was not standing, and then did not remain in shape.  As with this past summer, the major difference during that workaholic summer was that both of my jobs required that I stand up for much of the time (for the curious: parking lot attendant, and short order cook).

In an effort to better test this idea, I have decided to build myself a standing desk (buying one seems to be an all too expensive endeavor for some reason), and document the results of the switch.  Alan has also taken to using whatever counters or tables are available to him each day to do the same.  He feels more focused during his work days and also more tired at the end of the day.

Have you noticed a change in how you feel after either spending extended periods of sitting down versus standing up?  Any tips for those of us who work jobs that require long periods of sitting?

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Sep 5 2010

Reflections on Tibet – Personal Space, Happiness, and the Best Years of our Lives

Greetings from my last day in a country that has zero concept of personal space; where best friends hold hands as they walk down the street; and where one college dorm room can sleep 10 students. As I make my way back today to the US, and as I start to synthesize everything we experienced here this summer, I am reflecting on the almost complete lack of elbow room that any visitor to China knows well.  Strangely, it makes me smile. Does that make me un-American?

Americans often point back to their college years as the “best years of our lives.” But why is that?  My time in Tibet in particular and China in general this summer has made me revisit memories of my college experience and wonder; what if the total lack of privacy and free space was actually the cornerstone of making college the best years of our lives?

Both at Machik‘s Tibet Social Business Conference and the Summer Enrichment Program, I have witnessed the incredible effect of shoving people with a shared purpose into a common living area, giving them minimal personal space, and then depriving them of electronic distractions and cars.  Outside of camping or traveling, most of our lives as adults in America do not approximate this kind of constant close proximity with others, and the last time in our lives we were even close was in college.

During both of these programs this summer, participants were thrown back into dorm life.  We ate together, walked together, got on each other’s nerves, gossiped, laughed, danced, sang, and all of the other things that people tend to do under these conditions.

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Because of the venue for the Social Business Conference, we were forced to cram grown adults (who have real jobs and families and homes back home) for close to a week into what was effectively dorm life.  In addition, we were in an electronic communications black hole (these do still exist, in some places on earth) on a somewhat isolated Tibetan mountain.  I admired our participants’ good attitudes as they bared through the forced smart phone starvation, the gondola ride to the closest town for internet access, and having to turn the other way while others changed in their room.

But the bond these participants formed in less than a week was stronger than the average American will develop with their neighbor in a lifetime.  I credit a good deal of the bonding to the great spirit of the participants, the natural beauty of our location, and the common purpose that brought us together.  But I can’t help but think that the forced close quarters played a role.

What is stopping our cities and neighborhoods in America from being just as lively, social, and fulfilling as the college or Tibet Social Business Conference environment? I don’t mean that suburbs should become frat parties. I mean that if we value the social environment created by our college experience so much, it doesn’t take much work to look back with an eye trained toward what made it so fulfilling and replicate what worked in our college bubbles out in the “real world.”

The intentional effort to make a community in college goes a long way. Think about the things that make it work:

  • Shared dinning halls – quality of food aside, you and your friends are constantly bumping into each other over meals in college.  And you never have to think twice about having company for a meal.
  • Shared bathrooms and even shared rooms – you are rarely alone in college.  Sure, common living spaces come with the occasional embarrassment or frayed nerve, but these experiences often cements lifelong friendships.  How about now?  Do you even know your neighbors?
  • Activity Fairs – There is a constant call by student organizations at your college to get involved with their mentoring program, or audition for an A Cappella group, or join the crew team.  If your neighbor knocked on your door now and asked you to try out an art class with them, would you ask who else was going, or would you call the police?
  • Public Transportation – Transportation options are often good enough on campuses to encourage students to leave the wheels with mom and dad and opt out of the requisite one-car-per-American culture for a few years.  Walking or riding buses are a pain in the rain, or when you’re sick, but most of the time you are riding with friends.  Sure you were missing out on the private dashboard drumming session to Journey on your way to work (that’s our little secret), but at what cost?
  • Shared Schedule, Purpose, Traditions, and Celebrations – Remember the stress that hung in the air during exams?  Remember the excitement around football games or Bruce Springsteen coming to campus?  Remember what coming back to school after winter break was like?
  • Support Services – Resident advisers might have been a real party pooper on occasion, but- together with the dozen or so departments on any given University tasked with helping you out whenever you were in need, free of charge- they could be a real comfort.

Who is working on creating any part of that kind of environment in the community where you live now?  If you had access to half of those kinds of services now, would you join in?  Would you be willing to pay for them?

College doesn’t have to be the best years of our lives.

**Addendum from San Francisco International Airport: Thanks United!**

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Jul 12 2010

Happy 2 Year Anniversary!

Am hijacking the idea engine today to wish my wife a happy anniversary – it’s been an amazing 2 years and I am lucky to have married such a wonderful woman!

In order to make this somewhat relevant to the blog’s theme, I wanted to share a poem that was read at our wedding. I think it really characterizes our relationship, but also serves as an important reminder that the most cherished possessions in our lives are the moments spent with loved ones, not the things we buy that come and go.

“Together”

You and I by this lamp with these
Few books shut out the world. Our knees
Touch almost in this little space.
But I am glad. I see your face.
The silences are long, but each
Hears the other without speech.
And in this simple scene there is
The essence of all subtleties,
The freedom from all fret and smart,
The one sure sabbath of the heart.

The world–we cannot conquer it,
Nor change the minds of fools one whit,
Here, here alone we do create,
Beauty and peace inviolate;
Here night by night and hour by hour
We build a high impregnable tower
Whence we may shine, now and again
A light to light the feet of men
When they see the rays thereof;
And this is marriage; this is love.

– Ludwig Lewisohn

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