I overview our future work and the business opportunities that I will
pursue with our help at our Minciu Sodas laboratory http://www.ms.lt for
serving and organizing independent thinkers. I break up my letter into
* Goal: Projects and teams on-the-ground
* Business principles
* Work for our participants
* Helping the market know, What is good?
* The optimal project size
* Thinkers we might serve
* Worknets, can they be viral?
Thank you to Jeff Buderer of One Village Foundation
http://www.onevillagefoundation.org for hosting me for a productive ten
days in Silicon Valley. It was great to meet after so many years online
together! We thought a great deal about the business opportunities for
our laboratory. We were fortunate to discuss them with Greg Wolff (for
whom we are creating http://www.myfoodstory.info), Kevin Jones
(http://www.xigi.net) and Gary Bolles (http://conferenzablog.typepad.com
and http://www.microcast.biz). I also had helpful phone conversations
with Steve Bosserman (who leads our Social Agriculture working group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socialagriculture) and Adrian Bowles (OMG
Regulatory Compliance Alliance http://orca.omg.org/ ) I share my
Goal: Projects and teams on the ground
First, I want to share my goals for our lab this coming year. I am very
keen that we do more investigatory work. We have collected from more
than 300 people their deepest values in life, and from more than 150
people the questions which they don't know the answer to, but wish to
answer. I encourage us now to develop plans of investigation and
steadily, openly pursue them. As we work side-by-side we will all grow
We are blessed by Greg Wolff for the work that he has given us to start
up My Food Story http://www.myfoodstory.info We have focused on
collecting personal stories so that our work is valuable and sustainable
as a public asset. The personal stories are a step in reaching out to
others and learning from them about their world. They also allow us to
investigate almost any personal question that we might think of because
food is so concrete and of such basic and universal importance. Ask any
question (such as How do people learn? How can we help others? How can
economy support liberty?) and you can find dozens of relevant stories
(and our tags help!) I hope for us to show, again and again, that if we
empathize with such stories, we will run up against the limits of our
minds, as there are only so many ways (typically eight) that we can
empathize, and the stories are "data" by which we uncover these ways.
Indeed, many thinkers (Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, George Lakoff,
Christopher Alexander, Stephen Covey, to name a few) identify or espouse
sets of principles or metaphors or patterns, and they back them up with
stories or experiences, but there is as yet no general resource for such
stories, nor a general methodology for using such data from real life.
Food stories are so down-to-earth that we are practically wired to
wonder about our food and its role in the web of biology and the web of
technology. As Levi-Strauss noted, aboriginal societies make cognitive
use of the food system as a sophisticated philosophical spreadsheet for
mapping out and thinking through all manner of social relationships and
analogies. I imagine that Aristotle proceeded from a similar impulse.
I encourage us to speak out about our interests in other kinds of
stories as well, such as what kinds of buildings are livable and
function well, how do people come to live in peace, what economic
relationships are satisfying, what activity makes for a global village.
Let's see where this leads us!
I have learned from organizing My Food Story that at this stage, for our
purposes, small stipends in increments of 100 USD are the most practical
way to collect stories. Our archive of stories is not like Wikipedia,
which is a communal work where people can add a sentence here, or fix a
typo there, to make for an ever improving encyclopedia. My Food Story is
a collection of individual stories, and each story is to be kept as true
as possible to express the original storyteller. I will improve our
interface so that it is easier for visitors to suggest a url, a
storyteller or to add an excerpt or interview. But it takes some
editorial understanding to know how much of an excerpt is appropriate
(often less is better) given a website's copyright or terms of service.
In our community, I have found that if I encourage people to work for a
community currency (backed by 1 USD per 1 entry), then I won't get
response. But if I ask, who would like to add 100 entries to earn 100
USD cash, then response is very good. We are also receiving profound
articles and interviews from on-the-ground. And we are thus able to
give work to our participants both online and on-the-ground in Africa,
the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and potentially, India and Latin
America. Indeed, my thought is to pair our investigators online
(working for free) and on-the-ground (working for small stipends) so
that they can coach each other as they pursue their investigatory
questions. As they work together, they understand each other so that
they are ready for small material projects on-the-ground to experiment
with fish ponds, green houses, solar panels, wi-fi networks, telephones
and so on. These projects can also explore small business
opportunities. I will certainly invest in such relationships and keep
looking for ways that our participants might fund such work or earn
funding for it. In Silicon Valley, I saw enormous interest in the fact
that we have the human infrastructure that makes possible such
As our lab supports and encourages material projects on-the-ground I
will insist that we organize small teams locally. This is because
material projects demand a social investment and so they should open up
social opportunity. They should link us to an individual along with
their community and not apart from it. I am very happy to see this
happening with teams in Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Uganda,
Israeli-occupied Palestine, Silicon Valley, Austria, Wales as well as
here at David Ellison-Bey's home in the South Side of Chicago, where
children, youth and adults drop in for his good spirit. We hope to
learn from you how you build your teams, please write! And what are
natural expectations to go with our small investments? One idea is that
cooking a meal together is a way for a team to demonstrate that it is
learning how to work together and at the same time tune into the the web
of possibilities that our food alerts us to. This type of activity
might somehow fit with Ray Seddigh's vision for Cook Camp
http://www.barcamp.org/CookCamp Another goal is to have "video bridges"
that let us connect as different groups around the world. This is the
start of Franz Nahrada's vision for global villages. I am setting up
this technology at David's home. Yesterday we bought a laptop (700 USD)
and perhaps tomorrow we will buy a projector (recommendations?) for
about 700 USD. Also needed is a broadband connection but around the
world this is becoming more and more possible.
We want our laboratory's activities to be sustainable at many different
scales. I may be wrong, but I don't think it's healthy for one scale to
depend on the other scales. Instead, we would like each scale to have
its own sources of income. That way the relationships between the
scales are voluntary.
Also, it is important for us as independent thinkers that we never have
to compromise on that work which expresses our creative purpose. We are
taught by our system to seek work that pays well and that we want to
do. But the result seems to be that people get jobs that aren't what
they truly want to do and don't even pay as well as they would like.
Instead, I think it's important to untangle the two questions as they
concern two different appetites. My goal is that every person who
builds public assets through their creative work in the Public Domain
should have "work on tap", which is to say, as much well-paying
temporary part-time work as they might ever want. Once they have that,
then they can start to choose, which part-time work might help them
build relationships, develop skills, gain new experiences and explore
Division of labor is a fine way to break up work, but it is also a
ready-made excuse to neglect and shut down our potential. We should be
willing to sacrifice short-term "efficiency" if we have the chance to
educate each other how to do our work. As independent thinkers who are
forever learning let us be prepared to take up many new roles: sharing
and digesting our thoughts by means of wikis, blogs, tags, chats;
connecting with each other as organizers; investigating our questions;
meeting locally; experimenting on-the-ground and across-the-world.
Algis Cibulskis is setting up our chat channel at
http://www.myfoodstory.info/chat/ and I will pay Sasha Mrlaiko 200 USD
in April (and hopefully in the future) and he will be available to help
us learn more how we can participate, including in the chat channel!
Indeed, I have spoken with Peter Kaminski, CTO of SocialText, how our
ability to assist in real-time would make us attractive to businesses
whose knowledge workers need help to be productive online, or to relief
agencies that need to respond to emergencies such as Katrina or a flu
Work for our participants
We are finding that in many parts of the world people can do a lot of
good work for 100 USD. They can build online public assets. Greg Wolff
emphasizes the value of our ability to listen and to respond. In
particular, our participants can be instrumental in interviewing others,
highlighting their activity and presenting their story. It is quite
possible that individuals would pay 20 USD or 50 USD to those who report
on the good work that particular individuals are doing. They might also
pay tips for intermediaries or "online representatives" who help them
stay connected. I will be leveraging our work at MyFoodStory to support
his vision to develop such an economy. He wants this to take place at
the wiki http://origins.wikia.com where it will have visibility and
neutrality as part of the Wikia network. Our lab can then organize
ourselves internally as we like at http://www.myfoodstory.info Also, we
can serve as an "integrity bank" for the online representatives who
don't have ready access to PayPal or other ways to receive tips. We can
receive their tips and rewards and earnings and apply them as we agree
is fair and fruitful. For example, we can pool the money and spend it
or loan it, or use it to purchase and ship equipment for use or sale, or
transfer it. Typically, as our lab's profit, we will receive additional
work on-the-ground or online, and I'll also expect that our participants
are active and making progress as independent thinkers pursuing their
investigatory questions. However, I don't expect that we'll ever take a
percentage of the money because that would confuse us regarding the
nature of our relationship and the huge assets we are building.
Also, I am discussing with several businesses the sophisticated
data-entry work that our participants in Eastern Europe, Africa and
India might do, for example, to collect, describe and summarize
documents such as regulations. We can make portfolios based on our
ongoing work on MyFoodStory and elsewhere at our lab to show the kind of
work that we are able to do. We will also use our wiki pages, metadata,
tags and Touchgraph to create a database of our skills and
availability. I will try to attract more help with our websites so that
we can keep improving them and show off our technological skills.
As we look for part-time work, I will also look for some for myself. I
also will look for clients, especially independent thinkers, who might
benefit from our services for their projects, as Greg and others have.
I will focus my efforts on leveraging our work on My Food Story. This
will include small projects for $1,000 USD to expand our resource
through useful research in some area, for example, for Andrea Mills's
Italy Innovation Lab http://www.bravebrains.com And certainly we'd like
to do more projects for $20,000 USD or more, for example, to pioneer an
application of the semantic web for Steve Cayzer at Hewlett-Packard
But where should I put my efforts to find work for our lab? And how can
I find clients who might provide us with $10,000 of work, or optimally,
$100,000 of work?
Helping the market know, What is good?
Jeff Buderer and I had lunch with Kevin Jones of Xigi
http://www.xigi.net, a web resource for investors who want to invest in
"the good". Greg has been encouraging our partnership. Kevin explained
that they are focusing on the social entrepreneurs who have profitable
businesses that could use investment in the order of 1,000,000 USD to
expand. Of course, this is beyond the relevance of most of our
participants. He didn't have an answer, either, as to What is good?
But as Jeff and I drove back from San Francisco to San Jose, it became
clear that Kevin had an excellent point: The market cares about good.
Whatever strange reasons might explain that, it is likely that somebody
actually cares, What is good?
I think that we can answer this question with the human infrastructure
that our Minciu Sodas laboratory has organized. As independent
thinkers, we have practice with a set of values that can suggest and
make verifiable what is good. We needn't pass judgement on others, but
we can acknowledge those who make themselves ethically verifiable:
- Can we read stories from their customers and employees?
- Do any of them write blogs or participate in social networks?
- Do any of them share their deepest values and the questions they are
- When they have a project in some remote area, do they draw a social
map which shows that they are familiar with the other local actors?
These questions don't tell us who is good, but they do tell us who makes
themselves verifiable, who chooses to walk in the light rather than the
darkness. And they have us collect precisely the kind of knowledge that
lets us reach out to others, engage and include them, and also expand
our appreciation of the human experience. This also helps us orient
ourselves and organize our knowledge as to what to look for and respond
to in our world, or what dimensions to be sure to include in our global
villages and unity centers. My plan therefore is to invest myself to
develop a variety of tools and indexes that build on MyFoodStory, Xigi
and other sources so that we can show what we might do and find who
might benefit and provide us work. This might include the businesses
themselves, their partners, trade associations or organizations fighting
Here again we can also benefit smaller operations, particularly those
who are doing great work but can't afford to be certified, such as the
smaller organic farms. Or we might get work from some of the
certifiers, too. I suppose that we're best off in the long-term if we
invest ourselves in that "ghetto" which is most conducive to our values,
and that cares most that we use their resources effectively. Perhaps I
should focus on medium-sized businesses. But we do have a strategic
interest to break across the corporate wall and connect with the people
who are inside and help them thrive despite the anti-human nature of
The Optimal Project Size
At this time, what is an optimal size of a project for our lab?
I would like to earn $3,000 per month so that I could pay for my various
expenses and make progress repaying my loans. If I require $36,000 per
year, then what team might I lead to deliver the maximum impact? I
believe that this is given by a fractal approach that pushes resources
out to as many participants as the strength of our vision allows:
* $36,000 - 1 laboratory director (me!) who takes responsibility for
the entire project and works especially with 6 coaches so that this
project advances their objectives as organizers but also develops public
assets and fosters a shared culture of investigation.
* 6 x $6,000 - 6 organizers who each work part-time to coach 6 pairs of
investigators, helping them formulate their deepest value and their
investigatory question and to pursue that working together with others.
They would also help interconnect investigations, create infrastructure,
open up business opportunities and lay the ground for them. This is
similar to the role that I have played with MyFoodStory, but part-time
over an entire year.
* 36 x $1,000 - 36 pairs of investigators, typically one working online
with ample Internet access and one working on-the-ground with marginal
Internet access. The on-the-ground researcher would receive part of the
money for their work and apply part of the money for their on-the-ground
projects. We would also look for other sources to fund these small
* 216 x $160 - 216 researchers who are contributing to our collection
of stories either online or on-the-ground. They would typically receive
about $100 because of fees and taxes.
* 1296 x $25 - 1296 researchers who are rewarded perhaps for
interviewing a person. This may be too difficult, but it would
interplay with Greg's vision, and it shows the value of each layer by
which we can push our vision outward.
My point is that this type of distribution is designed to have an
enormous impact for the funds provided. The total budget would be up to
$140,000 for one year, but more likely $100,000 and we'd look for other
sources for the smaller levels, perhaps by offering matching funds.
Note that at each level we are meeting participants half-way because
they have enormous liberty as to how to direct their work, so long as it
supports the general effort and is in the Public Domain. Indeed, I
would be interested to take work on such terms from others at any level
on the scale.
There are many ways to adapt this model but it suggests an optimal scale
for our Minciu Sodas laboratory at this point. It is twice the pay and
twice the months compared with the work we have done for 24,000 USD in
six months for My Food Story. And that is the money that might easily
be spent on a single corporate worker. If we are able to find and do
such work, then I hope that it shows that other laboratories can, too,
and that we can work together in an overlapping culture. This is the
business model that I wish us to demonstrate and replicate.
Thinkers we might serve
I was greatly encouraged at the Tech Policy Summit
https://www.techpolicysummit.com that there is real interest at high
levels in business, nonprofits and the government for what our network
is able to do. On a human level, I feel that people inside the
corporate world appreciate the miracle of being able to connect directly
with Samwel Kongere in Kenya, or with Wendi Losha Bernadette in
Cameroon. On a business level, the fact that we can do small projects
(such as between $100 and $1,000) is most impressive. If we can do many
of them, then we are creating new possibilities for ventures around the
world, a "nano-economy" of nano-projects for nano-niches. As we do
this, we are rolling out a human infrastructure that meets people
half-way, and respects and fosters their values as independent thinkers.
Who might desire and benefit from us working openly on such a scale? I
don't know, but I was encouraged by the many ideas that came up in the
ten days that I spent in Silicon Valley. I focus our attention on some
key independent thinkers who we might hope to serve:
* Gary Bolles has set up a blog at http://www.kanect.net
("infrastructure for humanity") where he asks How can technology help?
and he suggests the creation of "a process, a place, a portal",
especially for a participatory Internet through wireless networks. He
is a strategic thinker in Silicon Valley http://www.microcast.biz,
http://www.muniwireless.com who is also focusing on the developing
world. His deepest value is Dignity and his questions are How to
connect islands of information? How to make explicit the solutions?
* Adrian Bowles leads the OMG Regulatory Compliance Alliance
http://orca.omg.org which takes an open source approach to helping
businesses comply with regulations. I have worked for Adrian and
appreciate the many opportunities here for working openly in areas that
we care about such as agriculture, architecture, energy. Our global
network might provide global coverage. We might excite a lot of
interest if we could link up compliance and ethics.
* Paul Braund is Executive Director of the RiOS Institute
http://www.riosinstitute.org for "harnessing design innovation and
anthropological research as tools to improve social and technological
development projects". He organized the recent summit meeting of the
United Nations and Silicon Valley. He has represented the World Bank
and has worked in Silicon Valley as an industrial designer, and is an
* Phillip J. Bond leads the Information Technology Association of
America http://www.itaa.org also the World Information Technologies and
Services Alliance http://www.witsa.org I am very grateful to him that
he alerted me to Laura Ipsen of Cisco, Peter Pitch and Jonathan Williams
of Intel, and Barb Lawler, formerly of Hewlett-Packard, now at Intuit,
as outstanding people in the thoughtful development of emerging markets.
* Dale Curtis of Dittus Communications http://www.dittus.com works
closely with SAP, the business software giant. I spoke with him
regarding the creation of an "ethics module" within the SAP system for
both internal and external "ethical transparency" as part of
accountability and oversight.
These are all people who appreciate the value of our work and care that
we succeed for the right opportunity. I am delighted that quite a few
of them have agreed to join our working groups, notably Holistic Helping
led by Janet Feldman and Mendenyo led by Samwel Kongere. This reflects
my own conviction in our amazing work. I alert us to the "Academy
Award" that Janet has been awarded by a blogger for her exceptional
networking: http://tedernst.com/wp/?p=471 Bravo, Janet! Thank you to
all who read our letters and we encourage you to write, to introduce
yourself, and to "think out loud" about growing our lives and shaping
Worknets, can they be viral?
This coming year I hope to learn how we our "working groups" might
become "viral" so that we are surrounded by them. Perhaps we might call
them "worknets"? The basic ingredients of a worknet is an independent
thinker who "knows themselves" in that they can formulate their deepest
value in life, and identify with it, and who is willing to lead by
example by openly working on questions that they don't know the answer
to, but wish to answer. A worknet has venues in the Public Domain,
usually an email discussion list, but we'll be creating subwikis, blogs,
chat channels, tagging systems, graphs and other outlets. We have
eighteen worknets http://www.ourculture.info/wiki.cgi?WorkingGroups and
* Stephen Bonzak leads our newest one on "understanding the optimal
life" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/theoptimallife/ , he is a
practitioner of Chinese medicine.
* Edward Cherlin has set up http://groups.yahoo.com/group/earthtreasury/
for ending poverty at a profit, which I hope might be a working group at
* Terry Mace has proposed to lead a working group on his value The
Infinite Reality of Oneness.
* Synnove Mathe and I are discussing that she lead a working group on
her deepest value, related to Ecosynergy Art.
* Nancy Glock-Gruenich and I have discussed her value "creating the
conditions that bring out the best in us" and my interest that she lead
such a group and host our work on a vision for higher education.
* I spoke with Tom Wayburn that he consider leading a group on his value
The Triumph of Reason which might host our scientific thinking.
* I shared with Adrian Bowles my hope that he lead a working group on
his value "collaboration so that you can deploy better resources for
innovation". This would be a natural place for us to pursue around him
the possibilities my letter suggests and his questions of all sorts such
as How do you raise good kids in affluent areas? How do you teach kids
values? How do you know which affinity groups you are in? What are the
natural rules for collaboration?
* I was delighted to visit Robert Horn http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/
in San Francisco, a profound independent thinker and theorist of "Visual
Language", who I hope might in time provide leadership at our group
Working In Parallel and refocus that on his value "addressing complex
issues" and his question "How do we create larger visual structures that
enable us to think bigger thoughts?"
Each "worknet" introduces a new leader and a new value. My instinct is
to organize our wiki Our Culture to focus on supporting our worknets and
their culture so that they might be viral both inside our lab and beyond.
Thank you to us all for caring about thinking, thinking so openly, and
for sharing so deeply of ourselves!
in Chicago until March 20