Think Pond Tools: Basic Rules for Sustaining New Endeavors

Entrepreneurial projects are most vulnerable in the early stages, when no one is yet earning money or public recognition. People see the possibilities. They are excited. They want to be part of the team. They are willing to contribute. Then a team member sees an opportunity to get immediate financial benefits or career advancement. The need to earn a living and achieve security is compelling. Thus they place the experiment on the back burner. The project loses momentum. The leader says nothing because he or she can’t pay anyone yet. The promising endeavor fizzles.

Similar problems arise in the world of nonprofits. A team with a promising new program idea may become quickly diverted when a new grant solicitation offers the opportunity for short-term gains.

Think Ponds sustain members’ experiments and projects by adhering to these ground rules:

  • We will communicate as a team every x weeks, even when nothing is going on.
  • For an active project, the project leader will update the team regularly (at an agreed-upon interval).
  • There will be at least one mechanism for sharing information as it emerges and keeping the whole group up-to-date on important developments.
  • We will make only commitments we can keep. Barring dire circumstances, we will keep our commitments even if it means making greater sacrifices than originally anticipated.
  • If we are having an unforeseen problem that could affect a project we have committed to, we will let the leader know immediately so that backup can be planned or schedule adjusted. In dire circumstances, we will do everything we can to make sure we can hand off the work in the best shape possible.

Inspiring Quotes for Think Ponds

“The future is not in building a new tower of Babel, but in cultivating well trodden paths from house to house.”
Raimundo Panikkar

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Howard Zinn

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope…These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

Fake News vs Real News: A Simplistic Comparison

I think we all know by now that the content found on the Facebook platform is a mix of real and fake news, but we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking in black and white terms. Otherwise, we will start categorizing news we disagree with as fake. Here is how I would categorize the information we see every day online:

Straight News. Accounts of completely verifiable events and statements. Journalists gather facts and evidence from first-hand observation of events and reliable sources. In writing their stories, they strive to present information with adherence to the ethical principles and traditional practices of responsible journalism, which places a premium on fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Fact-checkers and editors provide further quality control. After publication, reputable media outlets are accountable for any errors that are revealed.

In-Depth Journalism. Articles in which principled writers take a position and make a strong case for that position after thorough and objective research. They follow journalistic and ethical principles, as well as the rules of logic and rhetoric. Their research includes careful examination of all principal documents in the public record (e.g., laws or pending legislation, existing regulations, relevant court decisions, relevant correspondence, speeches and statements), interviews with knowledgeable sources that credibly represent all parties, and thorough examination of opposing viewpoints. They do background reading and interviews to ensure that key facts are surrounded by a relevant “bigger picture.”

Public Relations & Advocacy Communications. Information that often imitates journalistic forms and style but is designed to shape public opinion about an organization or group and the causes, positions, or products it represents. PR professionals study their target audience and craft messaging that will persuade them toward desired beliefs or actions. PR and communications professionals typically strive to portray their subjects in the best possible light without making overtly false claims or omitting key facts. Readers realize the bias when they’re looking at company literature or op eds written by a CEO. But sometimes it’s not apparent what interests are behind the content. Exxon or Dow, for example, may sponsor a documentary about Alaska that has nothing to do with their oil pipelines and disposal of chemical waste. But the subtle message is that they are environmentalists who would not do harm. Moreover, journalists may get story ideas from press releases and use material from a company as background in their stories. Often, due to budgetary reasons, news organizations rely too heavily on media releases or inside sources.

Junk news. Sensational, often misleading headlines followed by shallow, poorly sourced content that echoes the emotions and prejudices of targeted groups without adding anything new to what is already reported elsewhere. Its purpose is to generate ad revenues, often for junk products. The information in junk news is not fake, but its production typically bypasses the quality controls that exist in reputable newsrooms. To produce junk news, the “writers” selectively assemble facts and quotes from reputable news sources, but they often ignore important context, opposing evidence, and background that would weaken the grand narrative that the targeted audience chooses to believe.

Propaganda. Content in which language, structure, and facts have been purposely manipulated to mislead, sway, divert attention, obscure truth, and/or cloud judgment. Typically, its purpose is to serve the interests of those holding or seeking power by promoting (propagating) an alternative to the predominant narrative. Not all propaganda is patently false. More often, propagandists present accurate facts but cite sources and select details that make the preconceived claims seem more logical, well-supported, and emotionally compelling than they are. They may use words, forms, images, and music that underscore the effect they are seeking. In short, propagandists persuade an audience to reach a conclusion based on emotion, psychological manipulation, or faulty reasoning rather than relevant evidence.

Fake news. Fabricated stories with little or no basis in facts that are represented as news. Fake news stories may be used as clickbait to build traffic for ads or for disinformation purposes. Fake news often can be disproven simply by googling claims of fact, using a trusted fact checking publication, and thinking about the reliability of sources. Many people don’t take those steps, however.

Think Pond Wish List

Think Ponds are for people who want to:

  • Do joyful, creative, meaningful, and fulfilling work.
  • Have conversations and experiences that stretch the mind, spark the imagination, and expand the vision.
  • Make “digital life” less fragmented, more inquiring, and more aspirational.
  • Become attuned to possibilities and potential changes that could have wide-ranging effects on their lives and the world.
  • Work with a diverse array of minds and talents.

Tools for Think Ponds: Let’s “Betend”

When my grandsons play together with their action figures and toy cars, they create a running narrative that is always punctuated by the word “betend” (their way of saying “pretend”). The five-year-old–I call him “Buddy”–will say, “Betend all the animals escaped in the city” or “Betend there is a volcano over there.” The four-year-old–I call him “Punkin Pie”–used to follow along but now is starting to add his own “betend” scenarios.

Of course, the mispronounced word is now and will always be part of our Thvernacular, but I also think it might be a good way to describe a transitional stage many of us have experienced in our lives and careers. It’s when our actions and roles are more than pretending but not quite being.

Think Pond Enterprises is kind of like that now. It sounds like more than it is. But we are not pretending. We are looking at the world, exploring our imaginations and creative urges, and learning as if the world we desire is unfolding. We are swerving from the grooves of thought we took for granted, testing our wings, conducting thought experiments. That’s betending.

Imagineering: Essential Questions

  • In what ways do you consider yourself creative or innovative?
  • In what areas do you wish you were more creative or innovative?
  • What stimulates your imagination?
  • What are some areas within your industry or profession where innovation most needs to happen?
  • Based on recognized problems and developments you have seen in recent years, what is the likely next wave of your industry or profession? What change is currently emerging?
  • If you could change careers without losing any income, would you do it? If so, what would you do differently?

Entrepreneurial Experimentation: Essential Questions

  1. What comes to mind when you think about turning your passion into a business?
  2. What are you currently making or doing for free that could be marketed?
  3. Do you have a solution that could become a product or service?
  • Do you have any visible/tangible manifestations of that idea?
  • What would it take to start producing/doing something from your idea on the smallest scale possible?
  • What is the closest thing to that idea that is currently being offered?
  • What existing business or other entity (nonprofit, government body or agency) might possibly be working on an idea like yours? Who might be interested in it?
  • Who would be interested in buying your solution? Why would it appeal to them? What do they need?

Solution-Crafting: Essential Questions

  • What role do imagination and creativity play in your chosen profession and in your current industry, organization, and job? In your other roles (citizen, parent, partner, single person, homeowner, gardener, cook, athlete, whatever)?
  • What are some specific creative challenges you face currently?
  • What would you like to make?
  • What are some areas within your industry or profession where innovation most needs to happen?
  • What types of solutions would transform your industry or profession?

Life-Embedded Learning: Essential Questions

  1. >What is one area of your practice that would benefit from a period of learning?
  2. What material items would you need?
  3. What books would you read?
  4. What other learning resources would you use (e.g., workshops, online courses, tutorials, manuals)?
  5. Whom do you know with the most expertise in this skill area? Who else could advise you?
  6. How much time will it take to: a) Acquire the basic knowledge needed to ask good questions and make a plan for using the skill? b) Acquire enough competency to do a small, simple project for yourself or for free for someone else? c) Become capable of doing a bigger project with some guidance? d) Become skilled enough to incorporate the skill into your practice in a minor way? e) Become skilled enough to complete projects that require the skill in order to be successful?

What is a Think Pond?

Think Ponds are fluid associations of diverse individuals who bring their imaginations, knowledge, and skill sets, along with their dreams and passion projects, into a community of their own design. Creative energies converge, expanding possibility. Obstacles are flattened as complementary skills combine and available resources broaden. Timelines contract. Promising ideas stay out of the trash. Connections proliferate.

For individuals, a Think Pond is a next generation platform for shaping and strengthening four essential lifelong enterprises: 1) Imagineering, 2) Self-directed life-embedded learning, 3) Creative solution-seeking, and 4) Pre-entrepreneurship. Making the most of these enterprises will both improve your competitive edge and increase your level of fulfillment with the work you do in the world.

For the greater good, an evolving ecosystem of Think Ponds is a wellspring of creativity and collaboration that can increase the sustainability of innovative, socially valuable programs, incubate new businesses, and activate unrealized human potential.