Category: Ideas

Rethinking the Term “Nonprofit”

“Nonprofit.” It’s a curious word. It doesn’t tell us what it is, but it tells us what it’s not. Given that the term has come to define a vast sector of American society — one that encompasses more than 1.5 million organizations and accounts for some 10 percent of the nation’s GDP — it would [...]

Transformative Leadership

Some thirty years ago, historian and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns introduced the concept of “transformative leadership.” It was a powerful idea, one that continues to shape how I think about great leaders — in politics, certainly, but also in organizations, in communities, and even in small and informal groups. Burns observed that most leaders approach followers [...]

The Trouble with Ideas

Today I read a remarkable passage from Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. It touches on the fate of great ideas and how the world tends to marginalize “true believers” and drive them down the path of disillusionment and defeat. The quote is from Okri’s book In Arcadia: If you believe in something your very belief renders [...]

Avoid Success At All Costs

“Be anything you like,” Thomas Merton once said, “be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.” I love this quote. It’s a reminder to slow down and reexamine what we’re doing. The fierce drive to accomplish something and make a name for ourselves too often [...]

On the Evolution of Ideas

One of Hegel’s great contributions to Western philosophy was a theory he called dialectical progression. As he saw it, ideas and worldviews tend to evolve through a series of stages. First there is an idea or concept, a thesis. Over time it inevitably gives rise to its opposite, its antithesis. The interaction of the two [...]

Speaking to Different Value-Sets

  To create real change, we have to “language” our message so it speaks to different value structures, says Ken Wilber in an interview in the latest issue of Ode Magazine. For example, when Al Gore speaks of global warming, he says that the entire world needs to change its behavior. “But he says so in [...]

The Future of Books

After almost six years, I moved my office out of the old Lobero Building last week. I was astonished by the amount of stuff I’d accumulated during that time — the papers, yes, but especially the books. I receive a lot of review copies, but I’m also guilty of buying too many titles. It’s a tough [...]

On “Branding” and Other Buzzwords

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell observed that just as thought can corrupt language, so language can corrupt thought. “A bad usage can be spread by tradition and imitation,” he said, “even among people who should and do know better.” Academic prose is the most obvious example. Many scholarly books [...]

Our Next Evolutionary Leap

As hippie-mystic John Perry Barlow has pointed out, the Internet has a lot in common with the 19th century American West. It’s vast, unmapped, culturally and legally ambiguous, hard to navigate, and up for grabs. Large institutions already claim to own the place, but most of the actual natives are solitary and independent, sometimes to [...]

Finding Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent the better part of forty years studying the phenomenology of happiness. What makes life genuinely satisfying, he says, is the experience of “flow” — that state of optimal awareness in which our concentration is intently focused and we’re fully absorbed in what we’re doing.  During flow experiences, our body, mind, and consciousness [...]

The Power of Dialogue

It’s a sad fact that while most of us spend a sizeable part of our lives communicating with others — in face-to-face conversations, over the phone, in committee meetings, via e-mail and social networks — we seem more separate and disconnected than ever. Genuine understanding seems to be the exception rather than the norm in everyday communication. We [...]

Lurch and Learn

The German philosopher Hegel gave us what is still perhaps the most compelling model of how societies change and evolve. His theory of dialectical progression suggested that cultures evolve in much the same way as ideas or outlooks do. The prevailing concept — or thesis as he called it — over time gives rise to its opposite, its [...]