Epicenter

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= the places where collective social innovation (cfr. Scenius) happens

Description

Alex Steffen:

" [E]very community needs the space where people who do innovative, creative, risky, noble, worldchanging things get together and fuel each other's ardor. Meeting your allies -- shaking hands, sitting down and eating together, talking, laughing, getting to look one another in the eye, getting to know someone in all the rich, primate non-verbal ways which can only happen in actual physical proximity -- is powerful. Epicenters are tools." (http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008160.html)


Examples

"Examples continue to come in. There's of course the aforementioned Aula, and London's the Hub. There's the215 Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto; Location1 and The Tank in New York; to a certain degree the Capitol Hill Arts Center in Seattle, Cafe van Kleef in Oakland and the Odeon in SF; perhaps the Forest in Edinburgh, as Jon believes. I bet the telecentros of Sao Paolo are pretty hopping, too." (links at http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//002067.html)


Discussion

Alex Steffen:

"Kevin quite rightly points out that scenius is difficult, if not impossible, to create on demand, and the same is true of its epicenters. You can't just open a bar and expect collective genius to erupt. Artists can tell you that the same thing is true of any form of human creativity -- it just doesn't turn on like a tap. But artists can also tell you that while you can't command creativity and innovation, you can create a welcoming space for it and increase the likelihood that it will show up. It can't be commanded, but it can be courted.

The art of courting genius is one that people hoping to solve the world's big problems would do well to learn, because truly worldchanging solutions don't arrive steadily or predictably on schedules as deliverables for rational investment. No, truly worldchanging solutions tend to arrive in unruly clumps, in great non-linear spills of changed thinking.

This reality vexes today's philanthropists and social investors. For the past two decades, the trend in the practice of giving money intelligently in an effort to do good has been all about measurable outcomes and predictable returns on giving. This approach has had some benefit, driving social enterprises to leaner operations; but mostly it's been an abject failure. Indeed, as I wrote last summer, many social investors are finding that in trying to bring predictability to their work, they've become incredibly averse to risk, and that this fear of risky giving has left them almost completely incapable of finding and funding efforts that would create the conditions for the emergence of the kinds of innovation we most need.

(Worse yet is the trend towards half-assed citizen media and social networking approaches, projects based on the insane assumption that all that's needed to court collaborative creativity is a website and a good advertising campaign. This tendency to think that innovative collaboration comes free of cost, bubbling up out the Internet like spring water, betrays a poor understanding of the actual workings of either online collaboration or quality thinking. Most often, when these open/ citizen-media/ online-collaborative approaches work, it's because a core group in the project provides most of the important input, and usually curates most of the other participants' input into useful forms. So, frequently, funders' hopes that they can create transformation on the cheap actually just create a system that appears cheap because it externalizes the cost of expert participation onto the shoulders of others... and when their enthusiasm lags (or they need to get day jobs), the project falters or dies. The examples of failed peer-based social innovation efforts outnumber the successful cases by orders of magnitude.)

I suspect what we need is an exploding number of epicenters, independent and creative people and groups, and well-designed networks to support them -- things that set the conditions for a planetary explosion of new thinking. We need to prepare lots of welcoming spaces where genius can take roost. That's going to take some risk-oblivious, keenly perceptive, imaginative money.

But even more, I suspect it's going to take worldchangers understanding how valuable networked scenius is, and joining efforts to welcome it into their own lives and communities." (http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008160.html)


More Information

  1. The concept of Scenius
  2. More on Epicenters at http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//002067.html