Epic.io in Context

Epic.io is the latest in a series of research and experiments at inspiring a better future sooner. It is designed as a product at the intersection between the evolutionary change in how we, as humans, come together and the pains of collaboration overload we experience from that change.

The root discoveries of this journey over the last 4 years boil down to the fact that purpose is what motivates us to step up to something greater, and progress is what fuels us to keep going. There are no two more powerful ingredients in making great things happen.

It is around these two principles that Epic.io is designed. If we are able to connect the progress people make with their purpose for making it, we can’t help but think that people will feel good and focus more on what matters. On Epic, we’re already seeing it happen with projects, strategies, and even the personal missions in life people are trying to fulfil.

Personally, it has quickly become the place I turn to focus on what matters, check-in on the latest progress and reflect where best to spend my time. It’s also becoming the best reminder of the progress I am making, as opposed to the tasks I have yet to accomplish. And that feels pretty good.

We’ve got a long way to go, but it feels like we’re on the right path. A path that leads to making purpose a platform. A platform where people connect by making progress on what matters. And that, to me, is the best thing I can think of to inspire progress towards a better future, sooner.

If it matters, make it epic.

Collaboration Overload


The rise of the mobile, social web is wonderful. More than that, it is providing a foundational base for an evolution in civilization. While the long-run potential of that is great, there are a lot of transitional tremors along the way. Those tremors are shaking nations, industries, and even our lives. On the personal level, I’m calling that tremor collaboration overload.

Tools like Google Docs, Basecamp, Twitter, and my new fav – Talker, are a response to the reality that an increasing number of our collaborations are outside the conventional boundaries of geography or firewall. Blurring these boundaries makes it easier for more collaborations to happen across another set of boundaries: work, life, community etc.  Finally, as applications get easier to make, there are shiny new solutions to the smallest of problems every day, and yes if they are good either I try them out or my collaborators ask me to for this next great collaboration. Either way, the result is the same. A flood of notifications and destinations constantly calling on my attention, and all of them, arguably related to something I’ve signed up to help make happen. They are not just bits of information I can ignore. They are things that relate to what matters, to me… if I could just remember what that was.

The primary problem here for me is that these calls for attention are disconnected from the reason I used the tool in that instance. Why is this google doc important? Why should I care about this project? How does it relate to what want to make happen? Only once I remember the purpose can I meaningfully prioritize where my attention is best spent… not just from a rational efficiency point, but more importantly, from a life fulfilment point.

And that seems to be the root of how to address collaboration overload. It’s not just a matter of efficiency and analytic relevance. It’s a matter of reconnecting to meaning. To purpose and passion. And so, as I welcome the next best tool to help me and my collaborators make progress, I also now know to look at how they keep focused on what matters to me. Now that sounds productive.

You are a…

I recently tweeted the question: “What term to you prefer. ‘user’, ‘person’, something else.”

I received some pretty polarized responses:

I’m torn myself. Not entirely comfortable with ‘user’ but I haven’t come across any options I like better. ‘Participant’ is interesting, but somehow still undervaluing.

What do you think? Any better suggestions or examples?

More pirate!

Reading The Pirate’s Dilemma thanks to a chance encounter with the most excellent pirate Matt Mason himself got me thinking. What jumped out was a rawness – not in an aggressive way – but in natural, passionate sense. It’s the very rawness that we try and institutionalize out of our society. The very rawness that actually creates the conditions for our greatest leaps… leapfrogging incrementalism… right into a different future.

What seems common among the pirate stories is the inclination to reject convention, hack their way forward, and an irresistible compulsion to do so.

Matt paints that picture beautifully in advertising (graffiti), music (DJ’s and P2P), and software (open source). When I look at microfinance, citizen journalism, crisis mapping, renewable energy, activism, I see the same roots.

I also wonder what happens if we turn those same conventions inward. What is it to pirate oneself? Enlightenment? Were the Bhudda, Jesus or whatever enlightened being of your choice pirates too? I don’t know.

But I do know at a time when our civilization is set to pivot, organization is evolving, and people are pursuing purpose… we could all use a little more pirate.

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RealVote – my simple promise to democracy

Another election has come and gone and while voter turnout increased, the substance of the debate hit new lows. So, while my passion is at its peak, here’s my simple commitment to revive real democracy in my community for the next election.

  1. I will create a platform for people in my district to ask questions, and invite all candidates for that district to respond.
  2. I will campaign door to door to make people aware, gather questions, and share the answers for what’s been answered.
  3. The next election in my area is October 6, 2011 (Ontario)
  4. My district is London West

This is the best way I can think to fight partisanship in favour of real dialogue and engagement. We all deserve more. It’s time I took responsibility. It’s time I did something to make it happen.

This is my promise. Join me if you wish. Democracy matters.

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People, purpose, and a better future, sooner.

The shifts underway at civilizational and organizational levels are of course happening at the personal level too. That shift, which was touched on in each of Power of Pull, Future of Management and Heart of Enterprise (see last post), is best brought forth in Dan Pink‘s latest book Drive. If you haven’t read the book or seen either of his TED talk or RSA Animation (see below), it’s definitely worth it. 

One of the most popular quotes captures it well:

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

He goes on to explain to that this drive also relates to purpose:

The most deeply motivated people – not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied – hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.

Given that organizations and our civilization are systems of people, this becomes a key perspective in understanding how organizations are changing and civilization might pivot.  It also explains part of the popularity of the mobile, social web and its role in building a better future, sooner.

Personally I’ve benefitted from social communities for running, unschooling, and entrepreneurship. There is no question that I would not have been able to pursue as full a life as I have without them. And for most people who use the social web, I’m sure the experience is much the same. For the rest of you, don’t worry, this is just getting started. Take a look at the video below, think about what drives you and take the plunge… even if it’s just a few clicks at a time. There’s an ocean of awesome on whatever matters to you.

The new threads of ‘Organization’

A thread runs through it.

Organization is one of our most potent social technologies. In a world where chaos, connectivity, and creativity have risen to new heights, increased attention on the topic is both natural and welcomed. Quite simply, if our civilization is set to pivot, getting better at it will help us realize a better future, sooner.

My three favourite books on the topic are (reading recommendations at the bottom of this post):

I recently revisited them side-by-side to see what they had in common. What stood out for me were the themes conditioning, humanity, networks, and social technology.

Conditioning trumps control

Already back in Heart, Beer recognized the role of management as attending to cohesion, sensing for incipient instability and making the minimum of intervention. In both Future and Pull the authors are more critical of the dehumanizing effect of command and control driven organizations and zero-sum management practices. They all argue that control restrains the creativity, humanity and innovation needed for any organization to thrive and adapt in complex and dynamic environments. Designing and managing organizations is increasingly about creating and conditioning spaces for passionate people to pursue a common purpose.

Organizations are human first

In Heart, Beer talked about the ultimate manager being someone who achieved enlightenment – someone who was fully alive and aware of who they were. Similarly he saw the optimal organization as one ‘exploding into self-consciousness’. Future and Pull more simply recognize that people are at their best when they are free to pursue what matters to them, in short, when they are treated as human beings, not production resources. Where Pull dives into the shift from transactions to relationships and the role of trust, Future summons the moral imperatives of beauty, truth, love, service, wisdom, justice, freedom, and compassion.

System dynamics dominate

Information flow is at the heart of Beer’s Viable System Model and Heart excels at driving the rigor of design around information sensing, amplification and attenuation. Its purpose is primarily for being able to sense for incipient instabilities and opportunities within and around the system in focus. This systems perspective is more fully fleshed out in Future through a case illustrating the power of prediction markets in achieving more accurate forecasts than the best analysts. Pull goes further drawing from examples of how sharing, production and collaboration through social media foster natural innovation and illustrate how these dynamics lead to increasing returns. In fact, they argue, that the real value of an organization lies in its networks of long-term relationships.

Social technology playing a pivotal role

Before Beer wrote Heart, he led a Star Trek-esque roject using telex machines in Chile to manage a centrally planned economy. It’s hard not to have a chuckle at first glance, but the core principles of the design are at the core of the opportunity in the emerging ecosystem of social technologies we have at our disposal today. In Future, written at the start of Web 2.0, Hamel boldly declares “Argue with me if you like, but I’m willing to bet that Management 2.0 is going to look a lot more like Web 2.0”. While the novelty of Web 2.0 had worn off a bit by the time Pull came out, the examples of how social technology is enabling people to pursue their passion, connect, and create value are foundational to how organization actually happens today. It is of course about more than the technology, it is about the technology having reached a point where it nurtures, enables and is compatible with the other three themes above. It seems, these technologies are instrumental in allowing organization to happen more naturally, and of course with over 4 billion people connected, at a scale never before imaginable.

In summary, it seems that the technology of organization is undergoing a transformation, enabled by our social technologies, and powered by passionate people. It seems that we naturally are drawn to collaborate around purpose to create a better future, sooner, however that looks to us individually. It seems, even, like a rennaissance of humanity.  Whatever it is though, it is on the upswing.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the great thinkers and writers discover next. I’m also, of course, looking forward to seeing what I can contribute to the game with things like Epic.io.

These are fun times to be alive and engaged.

>>> for those who haven’t yet read the above books… here’s my quick take on which is best for whom

  • Heart of Enterprise: A beast of a read but the most accruate understanding of what an organization actually is. Best for those who really really want to get their geek on… or those who are somewhat sadistic.
  • Future of Management: A powerfully passionate case for reinventing management. Best for those who are in management and in need of serious rehab from convention… if you don’t what I’m talking about, that’s you.
  • Power of Pull: A well researched and articulate understanding of how ‘organization’ is fundamentally changing. Best for those who want to understand what is going on right now and why… and those who are working to innovate for good right now.
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Our civilization is set to pivot.

I don’t think there’s any need to replay the state of the world. It’s pretty clear we’re in a period of intense change, where the many systems of our society have reached their limits, where our civilization is set to pivot.

Back in 2001, Ervin Laszlo wrote about this in Macroshift. He found a common pattern in civilizations over the course of our history. They set out on a trajectory based on certain combination of technology and mindset. At some point, that trajectory becomes unsustainable and the civilizations reach, like any system, a bifurcation point. Either they breakthrough based on a new combo of technology and mindset or they breakdown. While breakdown is alarming, it’s been pretty common in the history of civilization. The only problem is, this is the first time our civilization has been global. Breakdown would really, really suck.

Today, I believe that the emerging system of social technologies and the corresponding mindset founded in connectedness and purpose are the combination that offer a new, more sustainable trajectory. By social technologies I mean both the tangible ones enabling the mobile, social web, and the intangible ones like facilitation, inquiry, design, engagement and organization.

Perhaps the most simple and compelling reason is that where we find our selves is a product of what we’ve created in the past. Similarly the only way we can fix it is by creating new things that put us on that new trajectory. For that to happen, we need to move fast and from a different place than we did when we created this mess. And that’s where the social technologies and mindset come in. Social technologies give us unprecendented capacity to create effectively and efficiently. The mindset, on the other hand, gives us the presence and perspective to do it more constructively.

So that’s how I think we’ll make our pivot. Ventures do it all the time on their path to success. Civilizations have proven they can do it to. Now it’s our turn to do it together.

From where I sit, I know we need to, I think we can, I believe we will.

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Lessons in systemic entrepreneurship. The time is now.

Late last fall I had the opportunity to conduct an intensive review of the Vartana initiative on behalf of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.  Vartana was an initiative to create a chartable bank in Canada dedicated to serving the voluntary sector. It held the promise of changing the availability of capital for the sector and as a Schedule I chartered bank, influencing the Canadian financial services industry. While ultimately felled by the financial services collapse of 2008, it holds some valuable lessons in entrepreneurial pursuit of systemic change.

In brief, the key lessons learned were:

  • Systemic interventions amplify strategic vulnerabilities
  • Ideation is the missed opportunity in systemic entrepreneurship
  • Communication is a critical organizing capacity

To put it simply, systemic entrepreneurship is, well, really stinkin’ hard. The path is more ambiguous, the context more complex, and resistance greater. It tests the entrepreneurial process to its fullest. If I look to my own entrepreneurial experiences, communication was always the ultimate core infrastructure. But the more systemic the aims, the riskier the initiative and the longer and more iterative the ideation process. It’s in those areas that entrepreneurial self-destruction most show their face.

From the Vartana experience, I found:

Vartana demonstrates that initiatives seeking systemic change require both adequate investment in up front ideation and strategy formulation and an infrastructure that has the capacity to respond commensurately to systemic resistance and volatility.

More broadly, I pressed the issue of entrepreneurial infrastructure:

…entrepreneurial infrastructure is not to be confused with conventional governance models that focus on executive limitation. Rather it should be designed to enable proactive and focused attention to governance, strategy, and execution. It must enable founding contributions from many; leveraging instead of hampering what are traditionally seen as conflicted roles like founder and funder. It must enable entrepreneurs to do the impossible in an environment that is flexible, yet that has the capacity and rigour to address the scale of the challenge at hand. It must create a space that nurtures meaningful engagement, rapid iteration and routine reflection, and transparent decisionmaking that remains grounded in achieving the intended impact with optimal levels of investment.

It reminds me a lot of what I’ve since read in The Power of Pull by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison of Deloitte’s Centre for Edge. Even the sub-line “How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion” echos of systems thinking and social innovation.

Which brings me to my final point. As we pay attention to the systems of our society and find whatever we are working on increasingly influenced by changes in those systems… we elevate ourselves out of traditional sectoral silos. This isn’t an issue isolated to commercial, social, government or civil sectors. It’s an issue about our future and particularly those intent on creating a better future, sooner.

So, whether you buy into the Big Shift, the Great Reset, the Macropocalypse, the Macroshift, the Great Remix, or just think “we’re screwed”, the time is now. It’s about our future. Don’t wait. Try. Reflect. Share. Repeat.

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It’s time to bring the passion back.

lost and found: A Special Request.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how this happens. As an entrepreneur interested in a better future, sooner there are endless examples to point to. Grameen Bank, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms, Linux, the Internet, the Web, Wikipedia, and Craigslist are all ones that come to mind for different reasons.

The one thing that seems universal in all these is passion, that unmistakable blend of purpose and persistence that drives things forward.  It’s what brings that small group together to get something done, when no one really knows yet what they are doing or how it will happen.

Isn’t it funny then (not) that the tools we most associate with getting things done (task-lists, project plans etc.) are so devoid of passion. We’ve somehow come to think progress is painful and mechanical. Obviously it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but greatness doesn’t come from a bunch of robots on an assembly line either.

Last week I noticed it in myself…

Too Serious

It’s time to bring the passion back.

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