July 22, 2015
A MULTITUDE OF HANDS
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.
excerpt from Robinson Jeffers “Hands”
Each summer, the Aspen Institute gathers its network of entrepreneurial leaders from 13 different geographical regions across the globe around a topic designed to spark values-driven action. This year, we convene with “Collaboration” as our inspiration.
Collaboration is the very real driver of enterprise accomplishment. Everything from designing Apps to developing vaccines relies on team effort, regardless of how engaged and innovative the founder or lead scientist happens to be. Digging deeper, however, success depends on the technological and clinical insights — plus the revelatory mistakes — of prior generations. We have such basics as the discovery of static electricity (600 BC) and cell biology (1665), as well as the brilliance of those who carried these early insights forward in the 18th Century, to thank for both the sharing economy and polio eradication.
We also have to thank the soldiers who fought in ancient wars and the philosophers and politicians who set our various nations on the paths that have made our lives — for better or worse — what they are today. We have to thank the artists who celebrated or protested or helped make sense of historic human disruptions, as well as the people who educate our children and tend to our parks, roadways, and office buildings.
Collaboration is cumulative. The human endeavor is a team sport, though too often we view it as a competition, in which we divide the spoils with no thought for the future and no respect for the past. We now live in an age when discussions of whether the human race will soon become as pets to the robots we’ve created. Perhaps the masters of Artificial Intelligence will be more benign to us than we have been to ourselves.
Questions about the future — how we not only navigate it, but lead it responsibly — require us to look backwards and to look around in the present, as well as to look forward. If we fail to respect each other, how can we expect the future to be kind?
This issue of respect for those around us is very much on my mind, not only as I read the news of people thousands of miles away, but as I think about disruptions in my hometown of San Francisco. Our city is changing. Artists, non-profits, and the middle class and immigrant populations, which have made this community a glorious explosion of socio-cultural co-creation, are becoming economic exiles. Rents are rising at exponential rates to make space for growth in the technology sector. Our challenge is not to assign blame but to pick up the torch, look around., and collaborate on shaping the future as long as we have the chance still to do so.
No one wants to live in a hollowed out city. It will only be through respecting the varied and essential voices of all who contribute to making San Francisco shine that we turn this tide. San Francisco of 2015, is not the first and not only community grappling with displacement of working artists. In Aspen, I’ll find fellows from 49 countries, who see the future as a canvas for a better world. My pledge is to leverage the power of this incredible crowd to pull the canary out of the coal mine, making business leaders catalysts for thoughtful, engaged action around Art and the Good Society. Stay tuned. Follow me on Twitter