Six Questions At SOCAP

Oct 28, 2018

[Last Thursday, Michelle Long convened a morning session at SOCAP conference, with venture capitalist Bo Shao, researcher Dacher Keltner and myself. Bo shared his personal story, and then Dacher and I engaged in a dialogue. Below is a summary of my reflections on Michelle's thoughtful questions.]

Is our fundamental nature cooperation or competition?

We have a lot of science now that tells us that our fundamental nature is cooperative. Even ancient bones tell the story of compassion. Some Australian archeologists found 4 thousand-year-old relics in Vietnam and noticed that hunters and gatherers carried a paralyzed man with them.

Competition is driven by a sense of fear, and cooperation is driven by a sense of love. Another way to frame it is this: if we had all the freedom in the world, would we be lazy or innovative? Would we maximize self-interest or serve? We have both instincts in us, but, on balance, I think we would serve. Gandhi's social change movement in India was entirely rooted in this idea, that we have intrinsic good in us and potential to live into that in any given moment.

In face of urgent fires, how do we find space for long-term solutions -- including working on our own inner transformation?

Sometimes we need to address short-term relief, but any sane person would couple that with a long-time cure. While addressing urgent fires, but we have to start to think about its underlying causes. And as we start to probe deeper at those systemic issues, we ultimately get at our self. Our inner architecture, of our ideas, concepts, and beliefs, is often the hardest system to dismantle. :)

At its core, the invitation is to really shift from direct reciprocity to indirect reciprocity. Direct reciprocity is essentially a quid-pro-quo transaction, and indirect reciprocity is trust in a kind of ripple effect of my action touching someone else and eventually coming back to me in some other form. The question really is -- how long is your feedback loop? Can I wait for a few minutes, few years, few generations? Native American elders would hold each design decision in light of seven generations down the road, whereas in today's world, our attention span has shrunk to 8 seconds. So there's a tremendous growth opportunity there. :)

Are today's technology advances a blessing or a curse?

A lot of today's tech solutions start off as a blessing. Internet, search, social networks, and now AI. And then we stumble into its unintended consequences, like democracy hacking and screen addiction. Then, we discover unconscious design principles that we often in our blind spots. At its core, technology is inadvertently disconnecting us -- to our self, to each other, and the systems we are embedded in. When kids were asked to give up either their phone, internet access or sense of taste, 72% chose to give up taste! They cared more for connection, which they primary got through their phone and internet.

Can we leverage technology to cultivate deeper ties? If so, tech be a blessing. To do so, we have to be vigilant about the proportion between human growth and tech growth; between cultivating expansive relationships over an echo chamber; between efficient and resilience solutions. If the Internet of Things dictates our connection to Inner-Net of Life, today's highly-leveraged technology (over simpler technologies like the wheel) runs the risk of being a catastrophic curse. If it's the other way around, though, it can be a great blessing.

What is your favorite example of bringing pro-social values (compassion, awe, gratitude) into finance/business?

We run a monthly newsletter that is full of many examples. My favorite is perhaps a small company in Oakland that ran a 21-day kindness challenge, and it was so transformative, that they just kept on doing all kinds of other challenges. It's no longer just people coming together because they want a salary. There's a deeper purpose.

Overall, I sense these virtues are innate to us and easily accessible via a quiet mind. One of my friends was running a venture fund on Wall Street. They had a great year, and his boss calls him in to congratulate him and offers the proverbial blank check, "What would you like?" He looks at his boss in the eye and says, "What I'd love is a minute of silence before all our group meetings." Wow. The boss is thinking, "In a context where people are billing every three minutes, a minute of silence to do nothing? That's like wasting time." He refuses. "No. Anything else?" he asks. No. After sleeping on it, though, the boss comes back to say, "Look, if you really want that minute of silence, fine, I'll give it to you." They start meetings with a minute of silence. That minute turned into two to three to five minutes. Today, they do thirty minutes once a week, and even have their own meditation bell. Such stories give me hope.

How do we shift away from transactional economy?

In ServiceSpace, we often speak about this shift from transaction to trust. One of our experiment is Karma Kitchen, which is a pop-up restaurant taken over by volunteers, where you have a meal but your check will read zero -- because someone before you has paid your tab, and you are trusted to pay forward as much as you want for the person after you. Few years into it, it became a seminal case study at UC Berkeley business school and the paper was titled: Paying More When Paying for Others

I think this road from transaction to trust runs through deep relationships. Transactions are one-dimensional, while relationships are multi-dimensional; and in a poly-culture field of deep ties, trust grows.

If you had to address today's world suffering, what acupuncture points would you invest in?

We design who we are. So I would first point to two acupuncture points within our inner architecture -- to shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation and from financial capital to multiple forms of wealth. Most of today's b-school graduates are ill-equipped to design a product that is, for instance, optimized for community capital or that is run by volunteers. As we become familiar with that terrain, though, we would pattern a very different kind of innovation in society.

At an external level, I think we need farms where values can grow, and farmers who are skilled in tending to the soil. Most of our spaces today are factories, not farms. It is biased towards manufacturing, and hence, formulas, scale and control. A farm, on the other hand, is emergent. A farmer doesn't work on the fruit, but rather the seed. Success depends on some factors in your control, but also in a subtle surrender to larger forces of nature. We've held various retreats with world leaders, and invariably, the participants tell us how they've never been held in this way. We call this "laddership", which I feel is a great acupuncture point for today's society.

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