Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stone Soup

One of the reasons I came to the Yay Area was because I was a member of a pre-internet community based in San Francisco call "The Well" (Whole Earth eLelectronic Link) in which I had met a vibrant community of aware people who cared a bunch about how technology could be used to shape our lives positively. Upon arriving one of the first things I did was go to an "office party" for the WELL hosted by Howard Rheingold, who was a founder. The theme of the party was "Stone Soup".
Some travellers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all. - from Wikipedia
This story touched me very early on about the opportunity that co-operation and collaboration can provide, it can be a transformative force for communities of people who are willing to find new ways to solve problems.

Now there is evidence that cooperation is part of human evolution, and even though there are motivations based on competition that are innate and natural, there are also just as natural and important drives related to co-operation that were formed as part of human evolution.
Innate human propensities for cooperation with strangers, shaped during the Pleistocene in response to rapidly changing environments, could have provided highly adaptive social instincts that more recently coevolved with cultural institutions; although the biological capacity for primate sociality evolved genetically, the authors propose that channeling of tribal instincts via symbol systems has involved a cultural transmission and selection that continues the evolution of cooperative human capacities at a cultural rather than genetic level — and pace. - from Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, Peter Hammerstein, MIT Press
Howard Rheingold has been socializing this concept for years. It is mostly an idea about the future of emergence in human society, and although our society has competitive drivers it also has cooperation as a new driver in our societal evolution. The basic idea is that while Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection in the animal kingdom has the tendency to infer that competition is a primary driver for behaviors, it may have actually been responsible for helping us evolve into using cooperation to give us a evolutionary advantage over other animals. Competition is not always the best way for humans to survive, in fact it may be going the way of the DoDo.

Local, to really work, will need to rely on the concept of cooperation because local is about communities of people, not individual companies (which is why you will hear of hyper-local being dead in the VC set). We will need to band together to solve our own "collective action problem", this problem is the building of an infrastructure for sustainability of our local culture, and we will thrive by thinking together and working together.