One single answer to all the world’s problems: Women.

05Nov10

I spoke last night, along with Ellen Lupton, to a wonderful gathering of women at the She Says monthly event in Soho. While I have always been a bit jealous of people who can use the same presentation enough times to deliver it flawlessly, I typically end up writing something different for each occasion, making it endlessly time consuming and never a performance so much as an exploration into new territory. (Staying true to my personal motto that “There must be a harder way to do this.”). Last night I tried out some logic for what has been on my mind lately, which is, to be concise, how women can solve all the world’s problems – at once.

The invitation said I would talk about “innovation within design, technology and communications”. My version of that is below.

In Designing Minds, David Orr said, “As homo sapiens’ entry in any intergalactic design competition, industrial civilization would be thrown out in the qualifying round.” What’s interesting about this observation is not that it contains anything of which we aren’t already painfully aware. What’s brilliantly insightful about it is that it presents our entire society, and everything in it, appropriately and instructively, as one single design problem. One single problem that is the root of all problems everywhere.

Which inspires me to think that there is one single design solution.

“The Cutting Edge of Common Sense”
Taking the two words together, “common sense” is practicality and wisdom – useful, infinitely relevant information. And there actually is a cutting edge of common sense, just as there’s a cutting edge of fashion or technology or science. Moreover, it IS the edge we should be living on,  but we’re so overwhelmed with complexity that we can’t see it.

Separately, Common is what we share, what is accessible to all of us, not just a few. Sense is what we experience, what is real – far more real than thinking in fact. Humans are sensing machines – our eyes, ears, skin and tongue are built to register life outside ourselves and establish relationships with each other and the natural world. But “we” have to a great extent stopped sensing the natural world and sense only the world of man-made things. We urgently need to come to our senses.

Our human-made world has been created through separation, particularization and specialization. We separate, then we evaluate, then we judge, then we conflict. And once we separate, we have a very hard time overlooking those dividing lines.

Integration and Disintegration.
Integrity is the root of integration. My favorite definition of integrity is that when you look inside yourself, there is only one self there. I think it’s also called inner peace.

Disintegration prevents us from seeing the whole, and the common – from gaining real wisdom and insight, and from living on the cutting edge of common sense.

Disintegration is everywhere in our world.

In science, the reductionist method entails working deep in an extremely narrow area, hoping to discover something that no one has found before, avoiding the risk of being wrong by venturing outside that narrow area of investigation, and frowning upon others who do.

In business, integration is foiled by titles, divisions, politics and org charts.

Our government has become like a war without real bullets, with divisive reactions overcoming any hope for dialog.

Our real wars proliferate – we identify new enemies all the time.

The art world is as vicious in drawing lines in the sand as any congressional debate – I recently found this review of a new book by Andy Goldsworthy: “Beardsley addresses head-on the glaring mismatch between Goldsworthy’s popularity and the art world’s critical disdain for his work, which he attributes in part to ‘an avant-garde that in the years since Minimalism has been deeply suspicious of beauty, craftsmanship, formal directness and the absence of irony.”2

Our dividing walls between genders, races and religions are still high and solid.

“Specialists” in research and demographics work hard to convince that Gen X and Gen Y are barely the same species because they are so different from each other.

We accept like sheep impenetrable lines between life and work and money and ethics and greed and good and power and empathy.

We allow unscalable walls to go up between rich and poor, in other parts of the world and now in our own.

And for me, the most damaging division of all is the one between humans and nature. While it’s easy to lay blame for this on the industrial revolution, the problem began long before that, witnessed by Socrates in Phaedrus when he said, “You must forgive me, my dear friend. I’m a lover of learning, and trees and open country won’t teach me anything, whereas men in the town do.” Is this where we first went off the rails? Imagine if Socrates had studied trees, and if we had known since then that trees have everything to teach us – how to manufacture, how to live restoratively, how to clean the atmosphere and sustain life.

One of my favorite quotes from Peter Senge is, “All boundaries, national boundaries included, are arbitrary. We create them and then ironically, we find ourselves trapped within them.”

And all these arbitrary dividing lines are causing the world to fall apart. The point is that we need to focus on what we have in common, what we share, what holds us together and the things that we can rally around.

Now, where do women come in?
Integration is the role of the female. We keep things together, it’s our job and our calling. Much has been written about the differences between genders, and whether you accept them all or not, it’s safe to say that for the most part women communicate to strengthen relationships and are more attuned to intuiting emotions and emotional cues. Men are wired to have a fight or flight reaction to stressful encounters, whereas women tend to gather together to tend to the group, taking care of themselves and their children.

We can use our natural inclinations to identify what we have in common in each of these cases, rather than how we are different. We can work to rebuild relationships between ourselves and nature, between generations, cultures, races and convictions. We can create a vision of the future based on our common senses.

The role of integrator has not been a role of glory in our society. Glory comes from hierarchy, and from specialization. Our culture rewards narrow and deep, and doesn’t know what to make of generalists.

That’s a challenge for systems thinkers, a challenge for women and a monumental challenge for the world.

If we work together, can we make the role of integrator a valued one? Can we make it heroic and even sexy?

William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
If we think of the future as the assertion of feminine energy and a vision of an integrated, living system on our planet, this is a profound statement indeed.

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One Response to “One single answer to all the world’s problems: Women.”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I couldn’t agree with you anymore, the role of the female in society is key for unlocking economic disparities and bridging communities together. The Girl Effect is proven to work- yet it’s 2010 and hardly anyone knows about it. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s the explanation element, the explaining of concepts/projects dealing with social innovations, that may be the hardest part to absorb. Lack of effective communication is the problem. We take in so much information everyday, but does any of it stop and make us think? Think for ourselves? Or are we too embedded into the status quo that we aren’t seeing the big picture? The picture of collaboration, unity and connectedness.

    What spoke to me the most were your thoughts on the “identity” rather than a brand. I’m not a fan of titles, they always got to me. I feel that it limits someone to who they really are- quite possibly because its one dimensional. Overall, I nodded my head as I read your thoughts.

    I’d like to learn more about the She Says event in SoHo. Anywhere I can look to find more information?


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