October 27, 2011


Last week, a piece of mail arrived in an official-looking window-envelope, with an instruction:


So, we did.

Is that the opposite of a megaphone?

Dell Computer, Inc., is, evidently, offering government pricing on "copmuters":

(screenshot of a gmail advertisement)

Is a copmuter the opposite of a megaphone?

Or, might it refer to the mother of a German law enforcement officer?

October 24, 2011

Why Story Matters in Activism

On the Issues Magazine has recently published my article on why story matter in activism - and how to work with story in your own activism.

It opens, dear NeuroCooking readers, with a story about Sheila Thaler Pekar, mother of Jim and me:

I remember my first feminist act. It was Spring of 1974, and I was nine years old. My mother, Sheila Thaler Pekar, had gone to a car dealer earlier in the day, prepared to purchase a car. When it came time to sign the contract, however, the dealer required that she obtain my father's signature. Sheila had the deposit, the credit and the bank account. But, the salesman insisted, the dealership would not sell a car to a married woman without the consent of her husband.

When my mom returned home -- defeated, humiliated, and very, very angry -- she told me to follow her into my parent's bedroom. She retrieved the purse in which she kept her store credit cards. In those days, it was common for a middle class woman to have a credit card – in her husband's name – for every small, local department store. She sat me down on the floor, put a pair of scissors in my hand, and instructed me to cut up each and every one of the credit cards. As the scissors bore through the words “Mrs. Walter Pekar," my mom passionately spoke about the importance of a woman having her own money and being able to make independent financial decisions. And she spoke about the importance of women being respected, valued, and treated equally to men.

Click here to continue reading.

October 23, 2011

Analogy of the week!

According to an article in the October 15th issue of the Economist, Guatemala brought in the United Nations to prosecute corruption and organized crime because:
"Asking the justice system to reform itself was like tying up a dog with a string of sausages," says Eduardo Stein, the then vice-president.

October 21, 2011

Forget Expertise; Go for Immediate Engagement

This morning, I had the pleasure of coaching a brilliant law professor on an upcoming presentation. We've been working together for two and a half years, and I am continually impressed with her passion for the law, and her sense of it as a creative and forward-thinking field. And I continually struck by how the tenets of being a good lawyer contrast with the skill set of a good presenter.

Most notably. when presenting a case to judge, or teaching to a classroom of law students, a lawyer must defend his or her position by thoroughly establishing context and background, and providing all relevant data. Expertise - and thus the right to win, pontificate, or hold forth - must be established.

When one is asked to be on a panel, present a speech, or deliver a keynote, however, expertise is already established. You are there precisely because of your expertise and the audience is anticipating - and deserves - engagement. As a speaker, you must immediately engage with your audience, and give them reason to trust you. And then, especially in the limited time allotted to a presentation, you must continue to engage them in a compelling discovery of information.

Establishing trust with an audience is different than proving expertise to a judge or oppositional lawyer. If you know your stuff, it will be communicated whether or not you say it in the bulk of your limited remarks. (You can always share it, if necessary, during Q&A.)

You don't have to prove yourself; you have to offer an invitation to conversation.

October 19, 2011

Making Sense of Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street is an international sensemaking exercise. From my frame of reference of working in applied narrative, I see people coming together, sharing stories, examining them, gleaning insight, and extracting meaning. The problems are profoundly complex and any solutions (“demands”) that may emerge will require collaboration, careful analysis, and shared understanding.

Sensemaking is a social activity and “occupy” is a physical act. Social media is facilitating and spreading the news of the worldwide movement, and people are coming together physically to share their stories, detect patterns, and make sense of the emerging elements.

New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, explores this sensemaking exercise:

It so happens that near the start of the protest, when the police banned megaphones at Zuccotti Park, they obliged demonstrators to come up with an alternative. “Mic checks” became the consensus method of circulating announcements, spread through the crowd by people repeating, phrase by phrase, what a speaker had said to others around them, compelling everyone, as it were, to speak in one voice. It’s like the old game of telephone, and it is painstakingly slow.

“But so is democracy,” as Jay Gaussoin, a 46-year-old unemployed actor and carpenter, put it to me. “We’re so distracted these days, people have forgotten how to focus. But the ‘mic check’ demands not just that we listen to other people’s opinions but that we really hear what they’re saying because we have to repeat their words exactly.

“It requires an architecture of consciousness,” was Mr. Gaussoin’s apt phrase.

…Imagine Zuccotti Park, one protester told me, as a Venn diagram of characters representing disparate political and economic disenchantments. The park is where their grievances overlap. It’s literally common ground.

… “We may not have all come here with the exact same issues in mind,” [Sophie Theriault] told me, “but sharing this park day in and day out, night after night, becomes an opportunity for us to discover our mutual interests.”

To those of you reading this who may think that the Occupy Wall Street movement does not have a message, I ask you to reconsider: think of how you would describe the message you are taking away from the worldwide protests. Close your eyes or look away from this page and think about it: what message came to mind?

Richard Kirsch, writing on New Deal 2.0, explains the predominant frame (and one I am guessing crossed your mind):

One of the most common criticisms of progressives is that, unlike the right, we don’t have simple messages that tell our story. Our young leaders at Occupy Wall Street have come up with a powerful answer: We are the 99%.”

…This phrase’s power is in the emotions it elicits. It is triumphant, not defeatist. It says, “We have the power and the moral authority, not you!” It conveys action — we’re standing up for ourselves and occupying your turf. It declares our common humanity. It is hopeful.

Kirsch ends his essay by writing

When people say that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have demands, we should look at that not as a criticism, but as an invitation to complete the story. Everything about the phrase [We are the 99%] establishes the point that we build an economy that works for all of us when we make decisions that benefit the 99%.

This pleased me because approximately 10 years ago, I trained over 700 activists, legislators, and Congressional staff members nationwide in sharing the message that we must create an economy that works for all. Seeing the results of that concentrated effort is a lesson in language spread, adaptation, and adoption.

On October 7, Clay Shirky brilliantly tweeted:

Groups of voters have incompatible goals, so working democracy doesn't produce coherent policies, but livable compromises.

The message of #OWS is not "Here's is our 9-point plan." The message of #OWS is "This is not a livable compromise."

A smart friend sums it all up: “The bottom line from an economic point of view is that inequality stifles growth. So unless people are willing to move towards a banana republic-type set up where the rich drive in armored cars, etc., there will have to be concessions.”

From action will come audience, and from audience will come message. Out of what seems like chaos, insight will occur. Occupy Wall Street is making sense out of complex experiences.

October 11, 2011

"Here's what we've done to help."

Two things I said to the Board this morning about Rock Creek Hills Park:
"...understanding the availability of the site is key to avoiding wasting time, resources, and scarce tax dollars pursuing an option that may not exist."
"Doing so would be consistent with the due diligence that is required in any site selection, and in this case, it could help avoid enforcement actions or threats to future funding."

October 5, 2011

What is actually at stake.

"While phrases such as '... construction of a middle school in a park ...' may conjure images of a tidy schoolhouse set back in a bucolic green space, what is actually at stake is the total loss of Rock Creek Hills Park."
- from our letter in today's Gazette newspaper.

October 2, 2011

Q & A with a home-brewer!

Pitching liquid yeast into ale wort.

Q:  How can you tell if your yeast is lively?

A:  Throw it against some wort and see if it bounces.


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