Creating the Life We Want, with a Tip from Skiing

Ski i Trysil

Ski i Trysil” by Ola Matsson for Trysil is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I think it’s probably true that we, as individuals and groups, can create the life we want, to a large extent. But I also think it’s a bit like skiing. If you do the right things at the right moments, the ski and the mountain do a lot of the rest of the work. In life, the skis are things like the systems, tools, products and services that we create and we use. When I say “systems,” it includes not just things like infrastructure but things like formal and informal social networks, conceptual frameworks, and processes we use to do things large and small. This means such systems might include the proximity thinking framework, the sustainable proximities approach, the shared situation guide and the shared situations website. I’ve worked very hard to make these ProxThink-related systems be like a good pair of skis. When used with reality (the mountain), they can do a lot of the work for us, and can help make life better and more enjoyable.

As touched on, an important point about the above is related to the word “we,” which can mean ourselves individually, but also larger groups of people, and even all of humanity. So we need to think carefully about the systems, tools, products and services that we create and we use. But I think we especially need to think carefully about the systems, as systems can condition the range of options we have, and our quality of life in general. I’ve thought very carefully in creating the ProxThink-related systems mentioned above, and even about the transitions to using them more often.

 

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Challenge:LA — The Shared Situations Submission to the Los Angeles Civic Technology Challenge

The Civic Innovation Lab of the City of Los Angeles recently held an open challenge, and I applied. Here’s how the lab described the challenge:

Challenge:LA is Los Angeles’ first civic technology challenge to leverage the collective ingenuity of its citizens to solve some of our most pressing problems.

In partnership with the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, we encourage designers, developers, artists, activists, students, data scientists, policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and citizens at large to submit a solution to one or more of the following challenge areas: transportation, community, water conservation.

Challenge winners will have the opportunity to present at the #techLA Conference on October 10, 2015 and participate in Accelerate:LA, a four-month city accelerator program in Los Angeles designed to encourage the sustainability of each solution and create real impact.

If you’re interested, here’s the official introduction to the three challenges (Transportation, Community, Water Conservation):
http://www.civicinnovationlab.la/challenges

I applied to the Community challenge. Here’s how they framed it:

HOW MIGHT WE HELP FACILITATE ACCESSIBLE PARTICIPATION IN CIVIC ISSUES AND INCENTIVIZE DISENGAGED POPULATIONS TO CONNECT WITH CIVIC LIFE?

Possible areas of focus:
• Support the integration of new Angelenos into the community;
• Facilitate citizen engagement via local civic participation;
• Drive economic activity by helping entrepreneurs launch local small businesses.

Applying was an interesting and productive experience. Even if I don’t win, I developed some useful new ideas and approaches. And, it forced me to develop the new Shared Situations website sooner!

I thought you might find my application interesting. Below are some key parts.

WEBSITE 

http://sharedsituations.wordpress.com

PROJECT NAME

Growing Community-Oriented Skills, Capabilities and Outcomes Through the Collaborative Mobile Shared Situation Guide, and the Shared Situations Website, Starter Sets, Workshops and Public Collaborations

PROJECT HEADLINE
Enter up to 15 words. One-sentence “elevator pitch.”

Groups come alive and thrive when people relate to the proximity of their shared situation.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Enter up to 100 words.

People are more likely to be active and effective in their communities when they can see and use the same processes that work with friends, associates and neighbors. The collaborative mobile Shared Situation Guide uses the scalable four processes of the ProxThink growth model. A group can improve a smaller-scale situation by relating more directly to the proximity of their shared situation, which the guide teaches and enables. The guide is extended and enhanced by the Shared Situations website, providing in-person and online workshops, as well as searchable and shareable guide starter sets and larger-scale public collaborations.

AREA OF FOCUS
• Transportation
• Community (X)
• Water Conservation

PROJECT MATURITY
• Idea
• Early prototype
• Full prototype
• Beta (X)
• Publicly available product or service

AUDIENCE
Enter up to 250 words.
Describe the target audience or community your project aims to serve. How does your solution impact their role or participation in the community?

The collaborative mobile Shared Situation Guide is for a group of people with a shared situation. It can scale from small groups to large. At larger scales, human limits are more likely to be reached than technological limits. At that point a “team of teams” approach might become appropriate, and the ProxThink growth model processes used in the guide scale for this as well.

Through the networked mobile collaboration taught and enabled by the Shared Situation Guide, the proximity becomes more of living thing that people who share a situation relate to and help keep alive. Through that, groups come alive and thrive.

When people see the same processes being effective at different scales, they become more likely and more able to become active in public collaborations. These public collaborations can be for situations shared by larger groups, such as neighborhoods, communities, cities and regions. The larger proximities of such shared situations are then more likely to become living things that people help keep alive.

People can learn to use the Shared Situation Guide on their own or through in-person and online workshops provided through the Shared Situations website. There they can also find, share and comment on guide starter sets for common situations, leveraging what others have learned and created for similar situations. More intimate experiences with the Shared Situation Guide can lead to larger community experiences and outcomes enabled by public collaborations people find and join via the Shared Situations website. The reverse may happen as well.

DATA
Enter up to 250 words.
Describe how your project either utilizes publicly available data or creates new open data to enable better decision-making or an improved process [creating more equitable mobility / incentivizing disengaged populations / facilitating water conservation] in Los Angeles.

There are several nice things related to data about the Shared Situation Guide. First, within the guide, it is easy to link to web pages that provide needed data. Second, since the option of spreadsheets is literally built into any guide text document, it is also easy to include data in a group’s customized guide documents. Third, the ProxMonitor process and section of the guide lends itself to data and reminds people of the important role data plays in relating to proximities and keeping proximities alive.

Depending on their shared situations, groups using the Shared Situation Guide for smaller scale collaboration or larger scale public collaboration may utilize publicly available data, create new open data, or both.

New open data may get created as part of the ProxMonitor process, when groups choose to share ProxMonitors with other people and groups. This might occur simply as information sharing. It also might occur when ProxMonitors relate to multiple proximities and people see that the ProxMonitors can benefit multiple proximities and situations simultaneously.

DATASETS
Enter up to 100 words.
Are there any datasets to which you would like access to aid in the development of your solution that are not currently publicly available?

This would depend on the specific public collaborations that people start and join on the Shared Situations website.

IMPACT
Enter up to 250 words.
How will your project improve the outcomes and/or experience of people living in Los Angeles as it pertains to [transportation / community / water conservation] in an evidence-based way? What types of decisions or processes does your project inform?

The Shared Situation Guide and the Shared Situations website can improve the outcomes and/or experiences of people living in Los Angeles in both general and specific ways. The general ways have been covered fairly well in previous sections. Specifically, the guide and website can have evidence-based impacts and inform specific decisions and processes. To better understand, I’d suggest that anyone evaluating this application spend some time with the guide and website. The website is at http://sharedsituations.wordpress.com. Although the guide is linked to from the website, the guide is also at http://quip.com/XUclAKWY4Lmj.

A visual asset I’m including is the Flow Graphic shown on the guide document called Using the Guide and Linked Documents. The Flow Graphic shows a looping sequence for using the growth model processes that are part of the Shared Situation Guide. By using these processes, people naturally create ongoing evidence-based monitoring and make decisions based on information related to their shared situation. It should be noted that ProxMonitors can be any combination of technological monitors and/or human monitors. Smaller scale examples of such evidence-based monitoring and relevant decision-making can be seen in two ProxThink guide starter sets found on the Shared Situations website, one for organizing a picnic and one for a shared kitchen. A larger scale example would be using the ProxThink growth model for the California drought, which could become a collaboration joined via the Shared Situations site (see this link: http://wp.me/p1Ry8Q-fI).

SUSTAINABILITY
Enter up to 250 words.
Describe how your solution creates value for its end-users and could scale in a sustainable fashion?

I’ve covered how this project creates value and scales. Here I’ll look at sustainability and scaling, both in terms of technology and the concepts.

Technology: The Shared Situation Guide is a set of linked Quip documents with explanations for using them. Here’s how Quip is described: “Quip changes the way teams work together. Quip combines documents, spreadsheets, checklists, and chat in a simple interface that makes collaboration easy. With Quip, you work with people, not files. Thousands of companies from a wide range of industries have adopted Quip to make communication and collaboration more efficient.” The guide could be adapted to other major platforms. However, Quip is the most functional, elegant and multi-platform (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac). Since Quip is built for large corporations, and I’m not locked into Quip, the technology scales and is sustainable. A similar argument could be made for WordPress, where the Shared Situations website is hosted.

Concepts: With the ProxThink framework I created the sustainable proximities approach. From that evolved the idea of sustainable variety. I think variety in life is critical to health, happiness, and vibrant communities, and that variety and sustainability reinforce each other and enhance each other. The Shared Situation Guide and Shared Situations website are real-world implementations of the sustainable proximities approach, and I think have a solid chance of increasing sustainable variety. Also, a focus on keeping a proximity alive is inherently more oriented towards sustainability than focusing on single elements, such as individual people, businesses or organizations.

VISUAL ASSET
You may upload visual pitch materials (e.g., image, infographic, visualization) that helps illustrate your project. Please do not upload a copy of a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation or Word document that repeats your answers above. [Please note that we only accept the following file formats: JPEG, GIF, PNG, PDF, MOV; max 1 MB]

ProxThink Growth Model Flow Graphic

 

Shared Situation? Try This!

You probably have some shared situations with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors or others. This video shows you how to access and start using the Shared Situation Guide on your desktop or mobile. Your shared situation can be whatever your group is dealing with or considering. A shared situation might be a problem, challenge, opportunity, place, set of circumstances, something you’re managing or working on together, and so on. With smartphones, we have new possibilities. For more, see http://ss.proxthink.com.

Process Graphic Helps People with Shared Situations Use the ProxThink Growth Model

Do you and some other people have a shared situation you face together? Your shared situation can be whatever you are dealing with or considering. This graphic shows a process you can use, by starting at the top left and following the arrows (see 7-step overview below). The graphic leverages the ProxThink Growth Model, which makes the proximity more of a tangible thing. As a result, people can better relate to the proximity of their shared situation, which can help them deal with it. This can also help create more sustainable proximities and sustainable variety. You can click the graphic for an enlarged view.

Here’s a very brief 7-step overview of using the graphic.

  1. Adopt one or more RelatePoints for your shared collaboration. I like the Quip app.
  2. Consider and define your shared situation.
  3. Decide what valuable differences you are attempting to create, adapt and/or maintain.
  4. Create at least a simple Vadi Agreement.
  5. Consider needed or wanted proxri which can help your situation and sustain your valuable differences, and then proxri as appropriate. ProxPatterns may be helpful in considering needed or wanted proxri. Note that proxri can take many forms, including money, things, services, ideas, tasks, relationships, actions, and so on, as well as a combination of these.
  6. Create, adapt and/or maintain ProxMonitors.
  7. Use ProxMonitors to assess and reassess your proxri, situation, valuable differences and Vadi Agreement, looping back through steps as shown to make adjustments as needed.

I’ll provide a longer 7-step description of the graphic later. Or, perhaps I’ll make a stretched version with more details and definitions. However, if you click through to the definitions, I think you should be able to use the brief overview above. I’m also working on some Quip templates with brief descriptions to use with the graphic, which I hope to present in workshops presented in-person and online. But I wanted to get this out there now in case I get run over by a bus or something! You can find more about the growth model here and proximity thinking here.

A little about the development of this graphic: I had been working on some new examples to demonstrate the ProxThink Growth Model, as part of making a template for people to use with the Quip app. While doing that, I was also trying to better involve other parts of proximity thinking in an integrated way, which led to this graphic and some new insights, four of which are: 1.) It made me realize how considering a situation and creating a Vadi Agreement are related. 2.) It also made me realize that developing ideas for a situation can be proxri. 3.) And it made me look again at how the process of using the four growth model processes are related. One result is this new graphic. On the ProxThink site, I had presented the four processes in the order I thought they were easiest to learn. But this graphic shows it may be better to use them in a different order. 4.) I also realized that one person can use the growth model on their own!

Questions? Contact us via proxthink.com.

As you find this rewarding, please proxri with the proximity in mind via proxthink.com.

“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.

‘Broken Windows’ Policing Strategy and Proximities

Communities and neighborhoods are proximities, and proximities matter. In a telling comment, former police chief Bratton had this brief summary of what Wilson and Kelling were saying with their so-called “broken windows” policing strategy:

“The importance of what Wilson and Kelling wrote was the emphasis not only on crime committed against people but the emphasis on crimes committed against the community, neighborhoods,” Mr. Bratton said.

The above quote is from the New York Times story about James Q. Wilson at the time of his death. They say “his ‘broken windows’ theory of law enforcement laid the groundwork for crime reduction programs in New York, Los Angeles and other cities.” The full story is here.