“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.

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Proxri for the WordPress Community

This blog entry on the leenk.me site contains an example of a proxri. Near the end he talks about giving 10% of his net revenues to the WordPress foundation. He talks about how WordPress is a community that makes a lot of other things possible.

In this example, the WordPress community is a key element of the proximity of his business situation. And he’s giving that 10% with the proximity in mind. Can you see how that 10% is a proxri? For more on proxri, see proxri.org.

Proximity Focus Bears Fruit

(r] proxthink.com

NOTE TO READERS:

A few paragraphs down is our first press release. It’s also a great introduction to ProxThink.

In this press release, I introduce a proximity point of view as well as some new proximity-related practices for thinking, creativity, sustainability and growth. The release starts with the proximity and creativity, and ends with new perspectives and more sustainable approaches related to climate change, financial turmoil, websites, blogs and downloadable digital content such as music, movies, video, art, books and software.

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
David

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Proximity Focus Bears Fruit:
Proximity Focus Sparks New Ideas, Tools, Models and Standards which can Boost Thinking, Creativity, Growth and Sustainability, and which Relate to a Wide Variety of Challenges and Situations

Los Angeles, CA, November 10, 2008, 2:40 PM – “Whether you want to meet a challenge or have fun, or both, the proximity usually matters. From climate change to financial turmoil to business to conversations to parties, relating to the proximity usually makes a difference. It can boost creativity, enhance growth, and improve sustainability. Situations like climate change and financial turmoil may be telling us we need to relate better to proximities. Then add networks to the mix. Communication networks and the Internet are increasing our connections and relationships such that relating better to proximities may be less optional, since so many people and other elements may be part of our proximity via these networks. Yet networks present many opportunities too,” says ProxThink creator David Loughry. “The proximity is a useful way to think about connections, relationships, challenges and situations, since the meaning of proximity includes nearness in relationship. So the proximity may include people and other elements related to a situation in physical, mental, emotional, temporal, intuitive, technological, historical, social and many other ways. I’ve created an integrated set of ideas, tools, models and standards for relating to the proximity of situations. It’s called ProxThink, short for proximity thinking. ProxThink can boost thinking, creativity, growth and sustainability. It lets you start quickly and advance as you go. ProxThink can be used by individuals, friends, teams, neighborhoods, communities, businesses, organizations, governments, regions and people generally, since many proximities overlap. It relates to a wide variety of challenges and situations. You can use ProxThink online, as well as use the ideas and concepts wherever you are. The site allows free sign-up as part of your proxri-based membership, which is based on a new sustainable growth model for proximities that works especially well with the Internet.”

ProxThink relates to many different challenges, proximities and situations. In addition to relating to climate change, financial turmoil, business, conversations and parties, here are a few other examples: innovation, problem-solving, strategy, science, design, the arts, social relationships, collaboration, conflict resolution, resource management, growing community, writing, downloadable content (music, movies, video, art, books, software, etc.), intellectual property, business models, the evolutions of markets, and growth models for websites, web applications and blogs.

Loughry created ProxThink using his diverse background in the arts, science, design, philosophy, creativity and business. ProxThink began as an effort to capture something of what creativity and life are about, to help him relate to a wide range of situations. This led to an integrated group of sixteen patterns (ProxPatterns) for creatively and sustainably relating to situations, including ways to consider how the patterns relate to each other. In creating the patterns, he developed a structure (ProxThink Basics) for thinking about, describing, and relating to the proximity of situations, which includes a foundation, terms and tools. He then used the patterns and structure to create a growth model for putting them on the Internet in a sustainable way. The site includes concepts and definitions, explanations, tips, questions, examples, tools, background, and a start area with a variety of different ways to begin. ProxThink in general has aspects of a model or system, and while the word “framework” is a decent description, it is better considered as an integrated set of ideas, tools, models and standards.

Of particular interest is the interactive ProxThink Hints. This tool combines ProxPatterns with your answer to the question “What are you considering?” to create hint questions. These hint questions can generate ideas, possibilities, options, consideration and action. There are main hints using the sixteen ProxPatterns, sixteen followup hints expansions with further discussion and questions, a VIU Hint tool (which focuses on the interplay and synergy between the Relate a Variety, Honor Integrity and Allow Uncertainty ProxPatterns), a ProxThink Core Idea hint, pairs tools (which allow you to consider thirteen kinds of relationships between pairs of ProxPatterns), a three random hints generator (one from each ProxPattern group), ways to consider how your hints synergistically relate to each other, and links to related ProxPatterns, definitions, explanations, examples and further questions. The site also allows you to save ideas the Hints stimulate, and track your familiarity with the Basics and the ProxPatterns.

The growth model Loughry developed to sustainably put ProxThink online was used to develop a proxri-based membership approach for the site, featuring a Proxri Deal. How do you proxri? “Proxri,” pronounced prox’ree, is short for “ProxReward,” a reward of your choice, money or otherwise, which relates elements in the proximity. In usage, “proxri” can be both singular and plural. Allowing free sign-up for the site, the essence of the Proxri Deal is this: “As you find our relationship rewarding, proxri with the proximity in mind.” The use of proxri allows many kinds of rewards, from money to thanks, referrals, links, resources, products, services, advice, suggestions, support, relationships, connections, collaboration, opportunities and so on. Proxri let you relate to the proximity, which includes your perspective as well as the perspective of the proximity more generally, including elements of the Proxri Deal such as Our Relationship, Your Rewards, and the ProxMonitor. Proxri suggestions are included if you want them or you don’t have time to explore the proximity of the Proxri Deal. Also supporting diversity, you have the ability to turn advertising on the site off and on with membership levels two and three. The Proxri Deal doesn’t require you to do anything, but you are asked to relate to the proximity. The growth model approach, and the proxri-based membership developed with it, is similar to the give and take of a neighborhood, relationship, friendship or perhaps being a considerate traveler — you want the neighborhood, relationship, friendship or location you’re visiting to survive, thrive, and take care of you as you take care of it. This may sound idealistic, but given the connected nature of the web, it can be highly practical, efficient, flexible and even fun.

How does ProxThink support sustainability? Loughry believes the meaning of sustainability supports the possibility that diversity and complexity can persist, adapt and change as needed. He says, in this sense, you might also think of sustainable as meaning lively. ProxPatterns, and ProxThink Hints built with them, stimulate creativity, innovation and liveliness partly by how they work together and play off each other. Further, much like the way emergence works, individual ProxPatterns are patterns for relatively simple interactions, yet when combined can generate complex behavior and order from a more general viewpoint. This enhances sustainability by supporting diversity and complexity. The four processes of the ProxThink growth model build on the sustainable qualities of the ProxPatterns, and the processes are proposed standards. The growth model has processes for connecting with people (RelatePoints), proximity awareness (ProxMonitors), sustainable agreements (Vadi Agreements) and rewards which relate elements in the proximity (proxri). By focusing on proximities, the growth model is an integrated way to more sustainably coordinate, collaborate and manage resources for proximities, and supports engaging and lively transitions to the approach. Regarding a strength of proxri, he notes that as we worry about avoiding monocultures and ensuring biodiversity for greater sustainability, we should probably also encourage many kinds of rewards related to proximities, such as proxri.

“The Internet and related technologies, combined with the ProxThink growth model, present new opportunities to relate more directly to proximities, especially when we need to coordinate, manage resources and collaborate,” says Loughry. “Sustainability, diversity, and liveliness seem to be enhanced when elements, relationships and proximities can each relate to each other. With the connections and proximity awareness the web can provide, we have the potential to relate to some proximities more fully and directly than before the web existed. The ProxThink growth model provides processes for using the web to do so. This can help us coordinate, manage resources and collaborate more effectively, and presents other opportunities as well. Resources can range from materials and environments to efforts and information, and the approach can also solve some intellectual property and copyright problems the Internet helped create. This presents opportunities for people, from websites and blogs to projects for larger proximities. It may also create opportunities for some proximities to become sustainable resources or system services, much like ecosystem services such as air and water. I invite people to adopt and adapt the ProxThink growth model. I’m also looking for partners to further develop logistical, legal and technological systems and standards which support easy use and adoption of the growth model on the web.”

Almost any situation involving some combination of coordination, collaboration and resource management is a likely candidate for using a combination of the ProxThink growth model and the Internet, Loughry believes. This range covers many situations, from the serious to the enjoyable. After he used the growth model to create proxri-based membership for the ProxThink site, he began to explore other such opportunities. First he added Proxri Deals to both his art website and personal blog, and then he developed a downloadable content proposal, started a climate change project, and considered how the growth model relates to our financial turmoil. The proposal for downloadable digital content (music, movies, video, art, books, software, etc.) includes a Proxri Deal and standards for creators as well as fans and users of downloadable content, and can be found at artdown.com (http://artdown.com). The climate change project, called Proxearth, lays out a proposal for using the ProxThink growth model to address what are perhaps some of our greatest areas of need regarding climate change, which may be coordination and collaboration at local, regional and global scales. The project can be found at Proxearth.com (http://proxearth.com), and includes things you can do right now if you have a website, blog, or use social software sites. Regarding our financial turmoil, Loughry thinks that financial markets benefit from the strengths of diversity in some ways but not in others, which may increase turmoil and decrease sustainability. This relates to aspects of financial decisions, financial relationships, and the proximities of financial markets. It turns out the challenges and possible solutions for financial markets also relate to other kinds of markets. He thinks that for proximities in which it is appropriate, the growth model and web combination may be more stable over time than markets, and also more dynamic, since diversity, complexity, sustainability and liveliness are enhanced and encouraged by the growth model. A longer discussion of financial turmoil and markets can be found on the ProxThink River blog (http://proxthink.com/blog/2008/10/31/financial-turmoil/).

Loughry says it would be great if people proxri for his 30-plus years of evolving ProxThink, and to support further efforts. He has over $70,000 of startup debt due to ProxThink development, which you can see on the site ProxMonitor. He says: “I’ve had this urgency to get ProxThink ready to show and try in various situations. I believe it can play roles in situations in which creatively and sustainably relating to the proximity is critical, and there are many such situations. Further, I’m working on some of our common challenges, such as climate change and basic ways we coordinate, collaborate and manage resources. These efforts could help you, your kids and grandkids if you have them, and other people as well. It would be great if you could help out with my expenses or debt, or with some other kind of proxri, as well as tell others about ProxThink. There is much more I plan to do, and I’m also looking for people who want to get involved, whether related to ProxThink, or to artdown or Proxearth. We’ve got to find better ways of working and playing together. I believe I have found some. I’m putting them into action and hope you’ll join me.” On the ProxThink Dear Visitor page, he seeks support and lists needed actions, people and money. He is available to assist with the site and ideas, to introduce ProxThink, to consult and to collaborate. To use ProxThink and for more information, visit ProxThink.com (http://proxthink.com).

Proxri Deal: As you find our relationship rewarding, proxri with the proximity in mind.