RFRA and the Urban/Rural Divide

The recent RFRA law has been an awakening for many Hoosiers, certainly for me. We had been lulled into complacency by a string of moderately moderate Republicans. It’s pretty certain Mitch Daniels wouldn’t have signed such a terrible piece of legislature. Our Republican mayor here in Indy wants nothing to do with it. I’m pretty sure if Pence could go back in time he wouldn’t sign it again. He’s too much of a politician to walk into this firestorm twice. Right now it’s hard to find anyone willing to defend it. How did this happen?

Yeah, sure, a bunch of zealots wanted a reason to not make gay wedding cake, that may be true. But lots of crazy ideas never make it to the Governor’s desk. But this one did. Here’s why- Indiana's legislature is mostly rural but our population is mostly urban. We are ruled by rural. Especially now with Republican majorities in the statehouse. Here’s the Indiana senate and house wikipedia pages. Some good ol’ Gerrymandering going on here to make sure Republican’s retain control. When 80% of the senate and 70% of the house is controlled by Republicans in a state that went for Obama in 2008, you know something is up. Most of the urban districts are extended into rural areas to make sure they don't turn "blue". Here's the Indiana senate map. Some nice slicing and dicing of urban areas going on.

It's no secret that rural people tend to be more conservative. Personally I think it’s good to have people on all sides of the issue.  On the positive side- conservatives value individual liberties and an open market. On the other side- there is more than a little religious zealotry and fear of progress.

So, overall, this brings us balance. The progressives/liberals pull us forward. The conservatives hold us back. My mother once told me “the extremes reveal the middle.” But right now the balance is out of whack. That’s how we got RFRA.

But I see the reasons for concern. Our culture is changing very quickly and change is scary. It’s human to want to protect what you know and love.

I think we sometimes forget how quickly the tide has turned on homosexuality. This is a very recent thing. It was ok just a few years ago to say “that’s so gay” about stuff that was dumb. 

I grew up in a mostly rural community, southside of South Bend. I had lots of friends that lived on or around farms. Everyone I knew was a Christian. It was a given that being gay was about the worst thing you could be. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that my thinking changed- when I actually got to know some of these “gays” and they were great people. Nothing about their lives seemed fake. 

The reality is that there still exists a group of people that don’t seek or want that exposure. In the back of their mind they might be afraid that becoming a friend with an LGBT person might change their thinking. That’s totally valid, because it probably will! 

But here's something us city folk need to admit- we embrace change too willingly, unquestioning. Especially technology. Looking at our screens, not each other. Tech zombies. We get caught up in progress, believing every step forward is a good one. But we know that’s not always the case. We are balanced by the rural communities that tend to question progress. Let’s admit it, they are sometimes right. 

Unfortunately the urban/rural tension is being acerbated by the accelerated pace of progress. While some of the urban communities explore, some of the rural communities retreat- frustrated by the rate of change. I am speaking in generalities of course. 

As our connectivity increases, our collective social development speeds up. New standards are made. What was once considered acceptable is now considered hateful. Sure, we may be racing ahead of our rural counterparts. Shouldn’t that mean we are even more understanding when they aren’t on the same page as us?

In the heat of this debate I keep reflecting on my own experience and remembering that there are things we all do now that will shock our grandchildren. For instance- pollute, eat meat, etc. We can’t get so self righteous as to lose our human empathy for those that may be fearful of change. We have our own irrational fears and we are far from perfect. 

So let’s remember to “judge not, lest you be judged” and “love one another”. Instead of hating those that wish to discriminate, let’s show them love and seek to understand. Let's remind them of how Jesus lived. He welcomed all.

Springtime In Bloomington: The Combine & Culture Shock

I know that spring makes even the most drab city spring to life, but nothing I’ve ever experienced compares to spring in Bloomington, Indiana. “Bloom” is exactly what happens. With people and plants.

Winters suck, and recently they have really sucked. Last year was the worst but it was almost erased by a near perfect April day in Bloomington. 

The Combine was the reason I went to Bloomington last April. No, not the sports thing- the tech/entrepreneur conference/party. It’s an annual event that unfortunately flies a little under the radar here in Indy. I’ve gone three times and they’ve all been memorable. It’s a little like what SWSW Interactive feels like but much more intimate. 

Jimmy Wales was the keynote last year. First time he had been back to campus since he left short of finishing his PHD. The work he did at IU eventually lead to Wikipedia but IU hasn’t really embraced him since he never finished his degree. At least that’s what I could gather. He was a great speaker and defied my expectations in healthy ways. Throughout the conference I ran into great people and had great conversations. 

Somehow I didn’t know The Combine was the same weekend as Culture Shock. I had not gotten that memo. Then I found out that Mac Demarco was headlining. This was, as they say, “cra cra”. 

Mac Demarco is one of my very favorite musicians right now. This time last year I was pretty obsessed. Somehow I wasn’t aware that he was playing Culture Shock last year. Culture Shock is an annual event run by the student radio station WIUX every April. 

On top of all of this it was the first truly beautiful day of the year. The weather was in the 60s and the whole town and campus was alive. It really felt like a festival. Bloomington can do that, it can transform very quickly. Usually for the better. 

So all of this is to say that I think you should seriously consider going to the Combine and Culture Shock this year. Foxygen is playing this year. Another one my favorites. I’ve got to meet these WIUX folks, shake their hands or something. The Combine lineup is looking good and really, it doesn’t matter as much who is speaking. It’s all about the people who attend. 

I hope to see you there.

The Combine is April 8-10th and Culture Shock is that Saturday, April 11th. So you can come Friday and leave Sunday or something like that. Stay at the Union if you can get a room. There are other hotels if it's full.

Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee awesome weather but what if it is awesome and you aren’t there and all that will be left is to cry while slowly scrolling through your Instagram feed. Don’t let that happen! 

Selling The Realized Self

Hail entrepreneurs and marketers! I’m curious, have you noticed the shift? In recent years we've gone from selling “stuff” to selling experiences. This has been coming for a while but the transition is almost complete. You can find the roots in our recent abundance that triggered our shared awakening. Now that our basic needs are fulfilled, what next? I believe it’s the fully realized self.

So in the end, all we really sell is the realized self. So much is standing between us and that “self”. Our bodies, our habits, our diet, our activity, our thoughts. We need help. Underneath all this crap is a unique and, just maybe, magical being. 

This pure self is what we all seek. But we can’t do it alone. We need to help to get there. It’s a  massive collaboration. Essentially the internet is the playground for that collaboration. Not just the old internet trapped behind a screen. We are being connected via an increasingly screenless Internet.

The “internet of things” has begun intersecting our lives at an intimate level. We know the only way to create change is to change thoughts and habits. Recent movements like the “quantified self” are enabling awareness and change. This is not a fad but our new reality. This presents an even bigger opportunity than the screen-bound internet. So how do you cash in? By creating awareness and changing behaviors. By helping others live better lives.

So the more you help others realize their potential the more you will have to gain. But here’s the rub, those that have success will be increasingly held to a higher and higher standard. The next generation of entrepreneurs and marketers will be forced to be far more virtuous than the present or past. 

This is because they will experience an unheard of level of openness and transparency. Which means accountability, which can be bad for sales. 

So how do you navigate this new world? How do you sell the realized self and not screw up? 

We must become worthy of our customers and employees. We must set the example of a fully realized self, show how our product or service has changed our lives. But it isn’t really a product or service we are selling, it’s a cause.

Companies without causes will be lost in a world of infinite choice. If following that cause hasn’t changed your life for the better then why should I bother? To sell the fully realized self we must first practice what we preach. 

The challenge is set, all businesses must answer the question- what helped you that could help me? How can you change me for the better?

The Trouble With Transparency

Sometimes openness seems inevitable. We are on a high speed train driven by technology and open systems – “Knowledge wants to be free” is the saying. I’m not so sure knowledge “wants” anything. It’s people who want things. We are just beginning to explore our wants and technology is a fantastic, and frightening, enabler of that journey. 

Here's the math, as I see it: technology enables data transparency which creates individual and organizational openness which has the byproduct of vulnerability which threatens our privacy.

Organizations seem particularly vulnerable to transparency. I have trouble imagining a future where all organizations of any real size or significance will be immune to its unrelenting light. Anytime there is a gathering, there is data. That data always has value to someone- internally and externally.

But what about individuals? What role does openness play in our individual lives? Openness leads to vulnerability which is a tricky energy. Vulnerability drives all kinds of behaviors and outcomes, good and bad.

Vulnerability is big right now in the business world. And for good reason. It’s a secret weapon. Biz guru Patrick Lencioni said “I’m tired of talking about servant leadership as if there is any other kind." Maybe wishful thinking but it speaks to what works- leaders that show vulnerability build committed teams. You can’t do great things without commitment. 

Now a little metaphysical detour that will make sense later, I hope.

I believe we are wired to create. In my mind, any creation of value serves a purpose. So we are wired to serve through creation. I don’t claim to know the who, how or why of this. I’m just making an observation.

So as Dylan said “you gotta serve somebody”. Why not have it be a group of amazing people? In this case, what has always been true is a somewhat recent revelation in the cut-throat world of business. But again, openness rewards what was once a weakness. Vulnerability works. 

Openness also has an interesting byproduct: data. As noted above, that data has value. Something that originated altruistically (sharing) has become a commodity (data). In the future this disconnect will increasingly drive conflict between creators, platforms and consumers. 

How about another metaphysical tangent? Ok...

Increasingly you can see the revelation of nature’s intrinsic moral compass by simply looking at “what works”- with ourselves, our relationships, our organizations, our government. “Big Data” is essentially revealing our moral DNA. We can debate the author but we are cracking an intelligent code. Our openness, our data, only speeds our discoveries. Many amazing revelations could come, many dangerous tools could be built. I try to see the positive. 

Our collective openness could result in a more empathic world. A world where we truly know and care for each other. But this won’t happen unless people feel safe.

Openness thrives on safety. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t share. 

So openness and vulnerability cuts both ways. Humans are wired to care but they are also wired to fear. Fear drives all kinds of bad behaviors. Fear is the root of all evil, not money. I don’t know what Jesus was thinking. Must be a misquote. 

Beyond creating opportunities for more good ol' fashioned evil, what else will openness do to our nature?

If we open our lives completely to each other (via machines) will we lose some core human element during the reveal? A touch that kills?

Will openness diminish our private selves? That part of us that we only reveal to ones we trust. 

As we rewire for sharing, how will we maintain something worth sharing?

Not to mention the fatigue that comes from sharing. The constant flow of energy, mostly leaving. It’s as if our devices run on that energy. Maybe someday they will figure out how to do that.

After much wandering here’s where I’m at – humans are wired to have an off-state, computers are not. We need downtime. Our human rhythms are poorly matched with a machine’s. Maybe we should make them more human before they make us permanently less. 

This is where we could find some balance between openness and privacy. Creating safe environments for expression. Limited environments. 100% analog, not digital capture. As we open ourselves to each other, let’s remember to keep a good chunk separate, just for ourselves. 

My 2015 Wish List

I've been making a wish list of stuff that would be awesome to have happen in 2015, mostly Indianapolis related. This is an experiment, putting ideas out there to see what happens. Anyway, here are 5 things from my list. What’s on your list for 2015? What would you love to see happen?

Space for Musical Family Tree- MFT is now a 501c3 and needs a space to take its mission (to spread Indiana music) to the next level. We feel strongly that this starts with having a space- to host shows, recording/mixing, after-school programs, a store, meetings, tech for musicians to use, etc. We are currently looking at spaces in the Fountain Square area. We need a larger space with some separate spaces internally (ideally) and some help with funding as well.

20th Anniversary Re-issue of Sardina's "Presents" album- Sardina remains my favorite band to come from Indiana and their 1995 album "Presents" is one of the lost gems of the 90s (local or otherwise). It would be great to see some kind of re-issue for this album with outtakes, etc. I know the band would get behind it.

Cultural/Community Center in Broad Ripple- this is one of the missing ingredients in Broad Ripple and very needed at this time. The library isn't it, the Art Center isn't it (too far from "downtown" Broad Ripple). It's been great to see the BRVA open a retail location on Guilford. I'd love to see a larger community center that brings the community together, holds events, etc.

Co-working Space Downtown- despite the strong technology presence downtown we don't have a good co-working resource. The Hinge is great but in Fletcher Place. The Platform isn't really a co-working space, at least yet. A larger co-working environment (club structure like Speak Easy or Launch Fishers or just traditional day/week/month structure) is very much needed downtown.

Sake Brew House- this is a little out there but I strongly believe in the potential of a Sake brew house here in Indy. We are flooded with micro-brews, and that is awesome. But for those of us that avoid wheat/gluten (since Sake is gluten free, made from rice) along with the fact that people are just getting burned out on beer leads us to Sake. I love Sake and it is a very versatile drink. I went to a Sake brew house in Minneapolis (Moto-i) and it was awesome. They had 5-6 different Sakes on tap, served Asian inspired food and had a great info graphic about how Sake is made on a chalkboard. I think this would work in Indy. 

So what's on your list?