In the past few weeks as I’ve travelled back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, I’ve found myself in several conversations and activities centered around agency. While these different practices all have unique lexicons, whether it be through the wellness community, psychology, art, science, or entrepreneurship (to name a few), I’m noticing some common threads that are beginning to shape my thoughts.
Several months back I got into Carol Dweck and the growth versus fixed mindset. As an experiment I started to mashup this idea along with some design thinking practices in my classes. What I found is that by doing this, I’m able to see changes in the communal body of the classroom where students feel more self-empowered and less reliant on me to give them the “right answers.” There are many aspects to these ideas that I’d like to write about and that’s why I’m going to graduate school this Fall to investigate and interrogate some of the ideology behind the practice.
One such area I’m currently fascinated with is the idea of agency within a network. In terms of human experience, it might be described as the moment at which one sees themselves for who they are truly and their place within a system. “System” here is intentionally vaguely defined but for our purposes it could be a classroom, it could be a social circle, it could be a personal journey or career. The idea being to confront one’s own role without judgement to see the past and the future through the lens of the possible.
The idea being to confront one’s own role without judgement to see the past and the future through the lens of the possible.
I, myself, have come to this path through the technology sphere. Being self-taught as a web developer, committing myself to the open-source platform WordPress, participating in and organizing hackathons, I witness moments of agency and awakeness as others pitch in to create new things. The “pitching in” moment being a point at which one realizes their full capacity for self-empowerment. A good friend and mentor to me, Edward O’Neill has taught me that all learning is self-help and I can see that being true as learning has happened for me and through facilitating it with others.
The trick is that all of these moments of agency happen within a fixed system. There needs to be a trust built first. Trust that the space is safe. The minute the trust and safety is broken, the capacity for change or self-realized agency is lost. We give into the fear of the unknown and the fixed mindset. This makes the practices difficult to scale. Since trust can only be built within closed systems, there’s a tendency to silo. We end up with Yoga, high-scale startups, art retreats, hackathons, improv groups and the like all stuck in silos. Empowerment works within but not between these disciplines. In the right hands, these communities have the power to enable self-empowerment and yet the minute you step out of the circle, the practice is prone to manipulation.
The fear and mistrust that happens in the gaps between these practices mirror to some extent the pillars of economics and society. Mistrust or a lack of faith is the basis for the old economy of scarcity. Scarce economic models prey on fear and lack. There’s not enough to go around, therefore we must protect our belongings. I like to think of this as territorial thinking. The idea of drawing boundaries around property, while helping to ensure the appearance of security, is the very idea that is preventing more radical changes across society.
It’s not the way that I’ve found success and it’s not the way that I see the future going. Scarcity models are giving way to abundance models built upon sharing resources. This shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of the glib “sharing economy,” instead I think it’s more about APIs and open-source practices. While not well understood outside of technology circles, APIs and open-source practices are thriving practices for developing an abundance mindset. While I’m apt to avoid preaching for some techo-libertian-utopia, I think these practices need to start being spread (and to some extent are already) outside of the tech world.
Scarcity models are giving way to abundance models built upon sharing resources. This shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of the glib “sharing economy,” instead I think it’s more about APIs and open-source practices.
While it may be difficult to form any perfect meritocracy as a sustainable model, building an open-source, action-oriented mindset approach to tackling projects does move in that direction. Action and reputation, instead of territory becomes the main indicator of success. When your ideas are trafficked through practice and application, then you can claim success. It’s why I get up every day and write down thoughts like this. The world is changing and we’re struggling to keep up. Change is going to happen to all of these groups simultaneously and we need them to start cross-talking and sharing rather than giving into fear and scarcity.
The siloing and territorial mindset are doing us more harm than good.