Thursday, May 11, 2017

Innovating at the World Wide Coffee Shop

Today in my Twitter feed my friend Simon Ensor, a university professor in France, who I met via the Connected Learning MOOC, #clmooc, posted this article, talking about how he was interacting with people throughout the world.  In the article was the TED talk that I'm showing below.  I hope you'll take time to view it.

In the TED talk the speaker, Steven Johnson,  talks about the English coffee house as a meeting place and spark for innovations that fed the Age of Enlightenment that stretched from 1715 to 1785. He finishes with a story about how a mid 1950s lunchtime conversation of two scientists led to GPS technology that we use every day to find a coffee shop near us.  In one part of the video he talks about how innovation is encouraged by allowing "those with hunches to connect with other people's hunches".

Don't know what I'm talking about? Watch the video. 

Simon's article talks about how difficult it is to engage in conversations with people who we pass in our daily lives and how he has been connecting with people like myself in on-going conversations via the Internet.

His article resonated with me, as many of them do.

I have a stack of business cards in front of me that I've collected over the past few months, and years, representing people I've met via various Chicago events. I've followed up with email and invited most to "have coffee and share ideas" with me, if they are interested.  Some do. Most don't. And even when we do meet, it's like a "one cup stand", not followed up with on-going connections that allow people to share "hunches" and connect with "other people's hunches" in ways that lead to new innovations in how we provide support to youth and families living in poverty, and how such on-going support might lesson the violence in our cities....while providing many other benefits.

I've been attending #ChiHackNight Tuesday evening sessions for a couple of years, and visit their Slack page daily to interact with participants.  Yesterday Isaw mention of this article from the SouthSideWeekly, which is reviewing a "Chicago at a Crossroads" event held recently to brainstorm solutions to violence in Chicago.

In it's critique of last week's event, the article said
The Times “live event,” coming nearly a year after the Memorial Day package, fell short in the same way its coverage did: its assemblage of voices offered no surprises and did little to push the fight against violence forward. After treating themselves to finger food in the venue lobby, its hundred-or-so well-dressed, mostly white attendees went home no closer to solving the gun violence crisis than they were when they arrived, and the perspectives presented on stage went more or less unchallenged. 
I've attended far too many events like this, with high profile talking heads on stage sharing ideas while several hundred in the audience listen. Maybe a few questions get asked. But there's no real interaction. And few event organizers create on-line spaces for participants and speakers to interact following the event.

The "It Takes a Village" concept map above shows my belief that people from all sectors need to be engaged in on-going efforts to reduce the poverty and isolation that feeds the violence we face in Chicago and other cities. In this article I expand on that idea.

The concept map at the right shows sections of the Tutor/Mentor Connection web library, which I started building even before I knew the Internet was a tool. I point to more than 2000 links, organized into four sections, with information and ideas anyone could use to build a deeper understanding of poverty, and to see work being done in some places that could be borrowed and applied in other places.  

Each link represents a group of people who I'd like to be meeting on an on-going basis in a "virtual" coffee shop of ideas and interaction.

When we think of the coffee house as a  meeting place, I feel there's just no realistic way that any of us can meet with more than a tiny fraction of people and ideas, if that's the only format available to us.  I've justified the time I spend on-line since 1998 by the fact that I can meet more people, and have deeper interactions over a period of years than is possible through face-to-face meetings.  We can not only connect with more people, but we can create gardens of ideas, such as our blogs and web libraries, that people from our immediate neighborhood and community, as well as people from around the world, can harvest for their own inspiration and application.

Unfortunately, the trade off is that I meet less often with people in Chicago who are part of this "village".

While I constantly say to people I've met in Chicago, "Let's do coffee and get to know each other", that just does not happen nearly as often as I'd like.  At the same time, while I have conversations with Simon in France, Terry in Kentucky, Kevin in Massachusetts and others from many other places, too few of the people working to help kids in Chicago are in these conversations.

It seems like Chicago is a hub for technology innovation but too many don't use this medium for networking, brainstorming and sharing ideas.  

I keep trying to change that. I'm inspired by people and ideas I keep meeting on-line.

No comments: