For Shared Challenges and Shared Situations, We Need Networked, Proximity-Oriented Approaches

Do you think that many of our most critical challenges these days are shared challenges? I do. I’m talking about challenges shared by groups of people, from small groups to regions to humanity itself. I think our dominant mental frameworks are not as robust or as effective as we need them to be for shared challenges. And, our dominant mental frameworks don’t leverage our current technologies well enough. I think there are better approaches for our critical shared challenges, and using them could boost not just our survival prospects, but our health, happiness and sustainability too. In addition, these approaches can be used for more everyday shared situations, including shared situations in businesses, communities, organizations, schools, governments, churches, homes and elsewhere. I’m looking for adventurous early adopters to try out these approaches. But let’s think about tools for a minute.

Using the right tool for the job, or a better tool, usually helps. There are many kinds of tools, including physical tools, software tools and also conceptual tools. Conceptual tools may be some of our most important tools. Using conceptual tools to change how we conceptualize or conceive of problems and situations can make big differences in how we deal with them. Not only can they make possible different approaches, but different conceptual tools can generate very different results. Also, an interesting thing about conceptual tools is that often, the more general they are, the better. When you have general concepts that apply to a broad range of situations, you have powerful tools that can be used more often.

I’ve developed some new conceptual tools for shared challenges and shared situations. These leverage the concept of proximity, including the idea that proximity also means nearness in relationship. Proximity thinking is a very general proximity-oriented framework that as a whole is a conceptual tool. And, the ProxThink framework becomes a set of multiple conceptual tools when you get to know it. I developed the framework over many years, integrating my diverse background in the arts, sciences, design and business. It’s a framework for creativity, innovation, problem-solving, sustainability and living, and a significant part of it is for people who share a proximity, challenge or situation. A situation is whatever a person or a group is dealing with or considering. A challenge is a type of situation.

From a proximity thinking point of view, some of the conceptual tools and approaches we use for shared challenges and shared situations could be better. I can’t go into everything here, but for now remember that we can consider situations, in a very general way, with just three terms: element, relationship and proximity. And, that the proximity consists of elements related or potentially related to a situation, in physical, mental and other ways. With these terms in mind, we can begin to see that many of our approaches for dealing with challenges tend to be more element-oriented and/or relationship-oriented, in contrast to being proximity-oriented. For example, element-oriented and/or relationship-oriented approaches like markets, politics and hierarchies can work well in some situations, but they are often also used less effectively in situations which are more proximity-oriented. Now consider more proximity-oriented shared challenges like climate change, sustainability, shared projects, shared spaces, shared resources and shared events. In these kinds of challenges, it helps if the group with the shared situation can relate more directly to the proximity of the situation. Networked technologies, when combined with some proximity-oriented approaches I’ve developed, help groups relate more directly to proximities. How? By deploying the ProxThink growth model processes of RelatePoints, ProxMonitors, Vadi Agreements and ProxRewards (proxri) on a collaborative, networked, mobile platform. Not only does this help a group better deal with a shared situation, but the proximity of their shared situation can become a kind of living thing.

Not relating well to proximities may explain the persistence of some of our challenges and some of the dysfunctional situations in our lives. Using proximity-oriented approaches for some of our shared challenges and shared situations could make a difference. And at the same time, using them could be more healthy, fun and enjoyable. I think it can also create more sustainable proximities and what I call sustainable variety. However, we need to be somewhat careful in transitioning to proximity-oriented approaches, since our “muscles” for relating to proximities are weak. Also, just as there are limits to element-oriented and relationship-oriented approaches, there are limits to proximity-oriented approaches. So element-oriented and relationship-oriented approaches will still be valuable. Life then becomes more a matter of choosing, combining, and even overlapping the most appropriate approaches. In other words, using the right tools for the right jobs.

A longer introduction to these proximity-oriented approaches, including links to the collaborative, mobile Shared Situation Guide that you can use now, is a piece I wrote called Some Situations Call for Proximity-Oriented Approaches Like the Shared Situation Guide, Leading to More Sustainability and VarietyKeep in mind that the Shared Situation Guide is a preliminary implementation of proximity-oriented approaches, and more will need to be done to integrate the processes it uses into our systems and lives.

If you’re interested, you might try one or more of these non-sequential options: Read the piece mentioned above. Start using the Shared Situation Guide immediately on your mobile with your associates, friends, family or neighbors (no cost, offered via proxri). Schedule an online or in-person guide workshop. Dive into the ProxThink framework at proxthink.com. To explore and use the Shared Situation Guide, to contact me, or to collaborate with others using the guide, visit: sharedsituations.wordpress.com.

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Some Situations Call for Proximity-Oriented Approaches Like the Shared Situation Guide, Leading to More Sustainability and Variety

Some Situations Call for Proximity-Oriented Approaches

Hello,

Are you, as an individual or in your organization, exploring ways of thinking about and relating to situations that could make more progress on the big and small challenges you face, and humanity faces? Whether you’re exploring or not, what follows will expand your possibilities. First, these four definitions will help with what’s coming up. A situation is whatever you are dealing with or considering. An element is anything you’re considering as separate, including a person, place, thing, idea, feeling, time, group, relationship, etc. A relationship is any kind of association or connection between elements. And, the proximity consists of elements related or potentially related to a situation, in physical, mental and other ways. With the proximity thinking framework I created, you can consider situations and challenges with the four basic terms situation, element, relationship and proximity. Although considering elements, relationships and the proximity may each be important in dealing with situations, sometimes one or two of them may dominate our attention and activities, even when that is less effective. You may see that many of our approaches for dealing with challenges, which are kinds of situations, tend to be more element-oriented and/or relationship-oriented. For example, approaches like markets, politics and hierarchies are typically more element-oriented and/or relationship-oriented, meaning they have a greater focus on elements and/or relationships than proximities. No doubt, certain kinds of situations are most effectively dealt with by element-oriented and/or relationship-oriented approaches. However, some of the big and small challenges we face are shared situations, and may be more context-related or environment-related, or may relate to diverse elements across areas that may not typically be connected, so they are more proximity-oriented. And, sometimes it’s easier and more effective to consider a proximity, such as when relationships between elements are hard to define or in flux much of the time, so element-oriented approaches become difficult. Plus, sometimes it just becomes clear that we need to focus on a proximity. For example, consider shared challenges like climate change, sustainability, shared projects, shared spaces, shared resources (whether big like water or power sources or small like parks or kitchens), or shared events (whether big like a festivals or conventions or small like potlucks, picnics or meetings). These kinds of shared challenges are more proximity-oriented. In these kinds of challenges, it can help to relate more directly to the proximity of the situation. Networked technologies, when combined with some new proximity-oriented processes I’ve developed, let us relate more directly to proximities.

While developing the proximity thinking framework, I created some new proximity-oriented approaches that let us relate more directly to proximities. How? By deploying the four ProxThink growth model processes of RelatePoints, ProxMonitors, Vadi Agreements and ProxRewards (proxri) on a collaborative, networked, mobile platform. The ProxThink growth model was developed to work with networks, and grew partly out of asking myself, if you want to relate to a proximity sort like we relate to a person, what would be needed? A RelatePoint is a primary starting point or place for coordinating relationships in the proximity, and is similar to the ability to meet and/or talk to someone. A Proximity Monitor, or ProxMonitor, provides greater awareness of and information about the proximity, similar to the feedback we get from facial expressions, voice tonality, body language, and of course what someone is saying, when we relate to them. Similar to commonly accepted standards of behavior and ways of interacting with people are Vadi Agreements. The term Vadi (pronounced vah’dee) is short for valuable differences. Vadi Agreements acknowledge that differences are a part of relationships and some differences have value, and provide relationships and agreements which can help valuable differences persist, adapt and change as needed. ProxRewards (proxri) are somewhat similar to the need, when dealing with someone, to provide encouragement, positive feedback, rewards, and so forth, which help one or both of you, and which keep the relationship flowing. So a ProxReward is a reward which relates elements in the proximity, and is often a reward made with the proximity in mind. ProxRewards are also called proxri for short (pronounced prox’ree).

When deploying the four growth model processes discussed above on a collaborative, networked, mobile platform, you have proximity-oriented approaches that are integrated conceptually and technologically. With them, people can relate more directly to the proximity of their shared situation. These approaches can help us make more progress on the big and small challenges humanity faces, but also everyday challenges and shared situations. In the process, these approaches help create more sustainable proximities and sustainable variety. It’s both fascinating and a nice surprise that these approaches can make our lives more sustainable as well as more interesting, healthy and vital with more variety. I think sustainable variety is closely related to what nature does, which is perhaps a clue that these approaches have value and potential.

The proximity-oriented conceptual and technological approaches mentioned above come together in a specific form in the collaborative and mobile Shared Situation Guide. You can use it for shared situations with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and others. It works on your Android phone or iPhone, your tablet and your computer. I’d like you to try it. It helps your group relate more directly to the proximity and each other, improving shared situations. It turns the proximity into more of a tangible, living thing, making it easier to relate to. It also gives people chances to relate to the proximity and each other in a wider variety of ways. Combined, these things can help groups with a shared situation come alive and thrive, and life becomes more enjoyable. There may be other people in proximities you share who are already using the guide, or if not, you can start collaborations that others can join. Keep in mind that the Shared Situation Guide is a preliminary implementation of proximity-oriented approaches, and more will need to be done to integrate the processes it uses into our systems and lives. Learn more, access and try the Shared Situation Guide, find guide workshops, access guide starter sets, and discover other people who are using it, at sharedsituations.wordpress.com.

If you explore the proximity thinking (ProxThink) framework and the Shared Situation Guide, you’ll learn more about and use the concept of proxri, briefly introduced above. You’ll also see that the framework and Shared Situation Guide are offered via proxri. Proxri in practice are sort of like the give and take of a neighborhood, relationship, friendship or perhaps being a considerate traveler. How do you proxri? Basically, you consider the proximity, including your benefits, your circumstances, the other party’s circumstances, and some wider context, and then proxri as appropriate. A proxri may include money, things, services, ideas, tasks, relationships, actions, and so on, as well as a combination of these. So a proxri to me for the framework and guide might also be a referral, consulting or speaking engagement, teaching gig, grant, or other opportunity. In addition, I’ve created a collaboration deal so that people who collaborate on or improve the framework and guide can get proxri. If you think my work might be, or is, useful, interesting or has potential, please consider a proxri for it. You can find out more about my circumstances via this ProxMonitor. You can learn more about proxri here. You can make financial proxri here or via the proxri links on most any page of proxthink.com. As far as non-financial proxri, you can let me know about them by contacting me via the contact methods mentioned below.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or for other related reasons, via the contact links on the Shared Situations or ProxThink websites. Also, if you’d like to get involved in growing the shared situations approach on various levels (social, technical, legal, organizational, etc.), please get in touch.

Thank you,
David Loughry
Shared Situations website: sharedsituations.wordpress.com
ProxThink website: proxthink.com

Progress on Proxearth Site

I spent a bit of time over the past few days thinking about and roughing out a new version of the Proxearth site. It will implement some aspects of the Proxearth climate change proposal and project, which uses the sustainable proximities approach and the ProxThink growth model, among other things.

One thing that will be moderately cool is you’ll be able to tweet from the site and have it add the Proxearth hashtags for you. And, view streams of tweets with those hashtags.

I also realized something I had written previously makes a pretty good tagline: “If sustainability doesn’t excite you, perhaps variety will.” And, I mapped the proxearth.org domain to the site.

Public Collaboration: What are some elements in the proximity of climate change?

Climate Change Collaboration

As part of our Let’s ProxThink Hangouts On Air, let’s think about climate change. You can comment here with elements you think are in the proximity of climate change. I’ll define proximity and two other terms below. I’ll add some of your elements to the mind map above. You can click on it to see a larger version. Then we can discuss it in future Hangouts On Air. Remember, by participating, you might get proxri as part of our collaboration deal.

A situation is whatever you are dealing with or considering. In this case, our situation is climate change.

Loosely, an element can be anything. Any person, place, thing, idea, feeling, time, group, relationship, situation, proximity, etc.

The proximity consists of elements related or potentially related to a situation, in physical, mental and other ways.

Putting the terms together with our situation, elements in this proximity could be people, places, things, ideas, feelings, times, groups, relationships, situations, and proximities that are related or potentially related to climate change.

So, what are some elements in the proximity of climate change? Please add your comments below.

Thanks and check our upcoming events page and/or follow ProxThink for announcements about upcoming Hangouts On Air, when we may work on this climate change collaboration!

And remember, by participating, you might get proxri as part of our collaboration deal.

Variety is my carrot. Climate change is my stick.

Variety is my carrot, since most people like variety and often want a bit more of it. Climate change is my stick, since we’re pretty much going to have to do more about climate change. But whether you’re motivated by variety, climate change, or both, learning and using the proximity thinking framework can make a difference.

Let’s start with the stick. If you believe in climate change, why wouldn’t you explore a new framework for thinking about it and dealing with it? The framework I’m talking about is proximity thinking, and especially one part of it called the sustainable proximities approach. However, if you do not believe in climate change, then you should also not believe in insurance. Because doing something to lessen the impact and threat of climate change is essentially getting some insurance. And, if you do not believe in insurance, then good luck to you, my friend, because there will likely come a day when you need some luck.

On the carrot side, if you do not believe in climate change, then perhaps you do believe in a life with some variety. Or if it hasn’t really become a belief, I’ll bet you at least want some variety in your life. And if you think about variety for a while, you’ll realize that what you probably want is sustainable variety. But then we are back to this new framework for thinking called proximity thinking. Part of the framework is the idea of sustainable proximities. How does that relate to variety? Here’s the thing: I think sustainable proximities and sustainable variety go together. I think they help create each other and enhance each other. Of course, it’s possible you don’t believe in, or want, some variety in your life. Again, I wish you the best of luck, because probably, no matter how great your life is, there will come a day when you get tired of it, and want some variety. If you, and we, don’t have ways of getting sustainable variety, we’re going to be depending on luck for the needed variety, and some of that variety may not be as pleasant as we like. If your life is working for you just fine as is, it’s probably partly because you’re getting enough variety. But getting enough variety is partly about keeping your eyes open for new kinds of variety, so sustainable proximities should interest you as well, in your quest for ongoing, sustainable variety.

So now you have both a carrot and a stick to help get you to explore proximity thinking!

“Relate to the Proximity of a Situation” is a shorthand abstraction (SHA) that may improve your cognitive toolkit.

In 2011, edge.org asked: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit? Then 164 different contributors answered it. They were basically asking the contributors for what are known as shorthand abstractions. Here’s how they explained it:

James Flynn has defined shorthand abstractions (or SHA’s) as concepts drawn from science that have become part of the language and make people smarter by providing widely applicable templates (market, placebo, random sample, naturalistic fallacy, are a few of his examples). His idea is that the abstraction is available as a single cognitive chunk which can be used as an element in thinking and debate.

Recently I attended a meetup.com philosophy meetup, where we discussed a slight tweak to this question: What one, scientific or philosophical concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit and worldview? This got me thinking and resulted in the following short piece related to the proximity thinking framework. I’d like to introduce you to this shorthand abstraction: Relate to the proximity of a situation. Here’s the essay …

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Relate to the Proximity of a Situation

You can also relate to the proximity of a situation, as opposed to just relating to elements within it like people, things, ideas, feelings, etc. A situation is whatever you are dealing with or considering. But what is the proximity?

Informally, good examples of larger scale proximities are contexts, environments, regions, communities, and neighborhoods. A lot of our toughest problems and challenges these days have to do with these kinds of proximities, so I hope that motivates you to read on.

Good examples of smaller scale proximities are a multi-person shared office; the people, ideas and things related to a project; and the location, people and feeling of a party or conversation.

But how to define the proximity in a useful way? One of the dictionary definitions of proximity includes nearness in relationship. Which leads to the question, relationship to what? And also, what are being related? So in the proximity thinking framework, I’ve had to be more specific. More formally, the proximity consists of elements related or potentially related to a situation, in physical, mental and other ways. What are elements? An element is something you’re relating to other things, such as a person, place, object, idea, feeling, time, group, relationship, situation, proximity, etc. (Yes, a proximity can be an element in a different proximity.)

So while we often relate to proximities more indirectly by relating to elements within them, you can also often relate to a proximity more consciously and directly. Although you may do this sometimes, you may not be used to thinking this way, because our current systems of organization and thought often tend to focus on elements rather than proximities. But it’s possible to change. And here’s more motivation to read on: our networked world is sometimes making it harder to separate elements from what they’re connected to, but also making it easier to relate to proximities.

Of course it’s been possible since the dawn of human coordination to do things which relate to a proximity, and people have done so. The key idea is that you do things with the proximity in mind, that have a chance of keeping the proximity alive, vital, interesting, invigorating and growing. These can be things you do on your own, as well as things you do in some coordinated way with other people, which benefit, for example, the context, environment, region, community, neighborhood, office, project, party or conversation. “Do them on your own” kinds of things might range from doing something that boosts the vibe of the party, to something that affects the environment, to something that helps the atmosphere at the office, to something that improves the neighborhood, to a change that affects the direction and progress of a project. Things you do with other people in some coordinated way might include meeting, planning, coordinating, celebrating, innovating, collaborating, creating shared systems, etc.

Now, think about the times we live in. We have many physical tools, such as computers, mobile phones, sensors and networks, to help more of us relate to proximities, and relate more directly to proximities. These can affect both things people do on their own to relate to a proximity, and things people do in coordinated ways.

And how do we best use these new tools? I think the biggest opportunity lies in certain conceptual tools that can help us leverage those physical tools even better. There are two conceptual tools I’d like to point out.

One of those conceptual tools for relating to proximities is the idea of a proximity itself. You’ll notice this one concept was just applied to contexts, environments, regions, communities, neighborhoods, offices, projects, parties and conversations. Any situation you are considering has an associated proximity, so the concept of proximity can be used at any scale. But what about when a number of people share a proximity? That’s where the other conceptual tool comes into play.

The other conceptual tool for relating to proximities is a model for coordinating and collaborating that I call the ProxThink Growth Model. It has four processes that are not too difficult to explain, and they make the proximity easier to relate to, especially when a number of people share a proximity. The four processes are RelatePoints, ProxMonitors, Vadi Agreements and ProxRewards (or the shorter version of ProxReward, which is proxri). The four processes and the growth model are in turn part of the proximity thinking framework. The framework is built on the concept that being is about relating, and the notion that you can think in a very general way with just four terms, which are: situation, element, relationship and proximity. The framework also has ProxPatterns for relating to proximities with more creativity and innovation. But back to the processes of the growth model. I’ll define the four processes and then provide examples.

RelatePoints are points or places for coordinating relationships in the proximity.

A Proximity Monitor, or ProxMonitor, increases awareness of the proximity, and provides information about the proximity.

The term Vadi (pronounced vah’dee) is short for valuable differences. A Vadi Agreement acknowledges that differences are a part of relationships and some differences have value. Vadi Agreements provide relationships and agreements which can help valuable differences persist, adapt and change as needed.

Proxri (pronounced prox’ree) is short for one or more ProxRewards, which are rewards made with the proximity in mind. Proxri may include money, things, services, relationships, actions, and so on, as well as a combination of these. More formally, a ProxReward, or proxri, is a reward which relates elements in the proximity.

Of course you can use the ProxThink Growth Model informally without high technology. Here are examples: In a shared office, a RelatePoint could be the water cooler or a bulletin board in the break room. The ProxMonitor process could occur in the notes on the bulletin board or the discussion around the water cooler. The Vadi Agreement might be agreements or understandings about the use of the shared refrigerator in the break room, or that the company survives and thrives thanks to certain valuable differences between people, materials and processes. And proxri can include a wide variety of actions, from cleaning out the refrigerator once in a while, to financial dealings, to saying things to people in the office which help keep the atmosphere professional but also lively, interesting, and growing.

But now consider the technological possibilities. I think we could be doing a better job of using networks and technologies to relate to proximities, by using the ProxThink Growth Model with technology in networked applications. I think RelatePoints could be accessed via computers and mobiles, that have ProxMonitors showing both human- and sensor-generated monitoring of proximities, allowing shared Vadi Agreements on the network to be viewed, discussed and updated, and in terms of Proxri, there could be suggestions for proxri as well as places to share and discuss proxri that were made or received. You’ll notice the four processes, when combined with technologies, have the effect of transforming the proximity of a situation, or even multiple situations, into more of a tangible element you can relate to. I think such networked applications which use the growth model can be deployed at various scales, from homes and team projects to regions and global proximities.

In addition to the benefits of keeping a proximity alive, vital, interesting, invigorating and growing, I think relating to the proximity of a situation has other benefits. I think relating to proximities is a way to make proximities more sustainable, and also helps us with the challenge of climate change. (I’ve used the ProxThink Growth Model in what I’m calling a sustainable proximities approach.) I think relating to proximities can help people within them be healthier and happier. And, since proximities often overlap, relating to a proximity often helps other proximities.

I think one other interesting thing happens when the focus shifts to relating to proximities. It’s about variety. I think variety and relating to proximities help each other, grow each other, and reinforce each other, at many levels. But perhaps the most interesting level is that of individual people. When individuals relate to proximities, they often need and develop a variety of skills, viewpoints, and efforts, which is invigorating, challenging and rewarding and partly why they may become healthier and happier. The proximity also becomes a kind of living thing, and generates variety for the individuals within it. So relating to the proximity is partly it’s own reward, and becomes self-reinforcing. This is also related to my project VarietyPeople.org.

I hope this essay has helped convince you that you can also relate to the proximity of a situation. You may have picked up a few other shorthand abstractions as well! These include: proximitiesRelatePointsProxMonitorsVadi Agreements and ProxRewards (or the shorter version of ProxReward, which is proxri). For more about the growth model, please see this link: Brief Intro to the ProxThink Growth Model. I’m also trying to spread this approach via a project and site called Proxri.org. For more about the proximity thinking framework, please see proxthink.com or the new mobile site proxthink.wordpress.com.

Here are some ways you might want to explore the ProxThink Growth Model. I’m working to deploy the model in some basic ways with two arts projectsArtsdown and Artsflex. If you would like to somehow deploy this model in your business or organization, in any way, low-tech or high-tech, please get in touch. If you would like to adopt or adapt the growth model for your proximity or situation, here’s more about that. If you would like to explore tools that can be used or adapted to implement the growth model for a proximity that people share, please see this page. If you would like to find other individuals, websites, groups of people, proximities or situations using proxri and the growth model, please see this page.

I’d like to collaborate with developers to create networked applications that use the ProxThink Growth Model with technology in more extensive ways, to boost the sustainability and variety of proximities. If you are a developer interested in collaborating, or know of developers who might be, please get in touch with me and/or them. We could start small, and perhaps the process of building it and using it could be so much fun that it grows. I think people should get involved at first mainly for the challenge and the variety, and only work on it part-time. Also, we should have a place where people involved could post their own ProxMonitors and proxri wishes, so others could proxri them for their efforts in building this.

I’m also seeking a group of individuals who might like to collaborate with me, even part-time, on my projects as a collection (ProxThink, sustainable proximities, Proxri.orgVarietyPeople.org, Artsdown and Artsflex), as I think there is potential to grow them faster and better with a team of people and with each project helping the other projects.

Finally, I’m available for services such as webinars, flexible collaboration, idea sessions, speaking and consulting, each of which uses and demonstrates the proximity thinking framework, so please contact me for more information or scheduling.