Classes (and homework) Commence!

13 Sep

Fall Semester is finally here and we’d better be rarin’ to go because after reviewing the syllabus’ I already see the work load is going to require a lot of focused energy.  Courses have been carefully pored over, selected, requested, bid upon, and now finally approved, I am officially registered.    For many, if you add the opportunity cost of a year’s lost income, plus Harvard tuition and divide the 8 to 10 courses we will take this year, you could make the case that each course selected is akin to buying a new car.   This explains why what course to take, and will we get the courses we want (some popular courses will be oversubscribed) has dominated nearly every waking thought and hall way conversation here on campus for weeks. 

We have received no shortage of advice about this question of how to think about picking the courses that will shape our year from the wise sages of HKS faculty.  Fortunately, this actually did provide us with useful frameworks, but the one piece of advice that really answered for me was something like this.  ‘Consider the skills are you going to need to succeed in the rapidly changing landscape of extreme government austerity, irreversible trend of globalism, rapidly changing technology’, to name just a few example that resonated with me.  The world is changing, so you better adapt if you want to survive and especially if you want make any kind of impact.   

I have selected 4 courses for this fall semester with this advice in mind.   So I had two basic themes, how to develop an improved understanding of society and government will look in the future, with my focus on evolving technology and social media.  Secondly, given these changes, how to increase my leadership capacity to help implement profound and meaningful changes in institutions not accustomed to rapid changes.   I happen to believe that it is important that the institution I work for, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, to be effective as possible given the environmental challenges facing our state, country and the world. 

Well, after just a few days of classes I have plenty to do and even more to think about.   I will try to relay the gist of what one required reading that has me scratching me head.     The reading selection was from a book called ‘Groundswell’ and the message is quite powerful.   It goes something like this.  Basically The combined forces of the internet, the ubiquiteness of smart phones, affordable access to lightning fast wireless networks, and the rapid adoption of social media has created a new and powerful phenomenon – referred to by the authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff  as a Groundswell.   The combined effect of these tools have essentially removed all barriers that have historically prevented people from easily organizing or coalescing around an issue or cause.  This capability has not historicaly existed and we are still seeing this play out in real time.   The author gives detailed examples that are convincing to his case that this is something new.   Ordinary people now have the means, and have actually demonstrated, the ability to organize en masse very quickly to achieve what might otherwise have unthinkable, everything from toppling government (Egypt), to changing industry policy (airlines), to impacting and creating news as events are unfolding.   (You will have to do some reading if you want to read the fascinating accounts!)

 So this reading raises serious questions for those in government.   One lesson that the book and other readings in this course makes clear is that efforts of large organizations attempting to control or create this new ‘force’ for their own means have rarely been successful.  To date, this seems to be much more a grass-roots phenomenon.  So how does think affect my thinking about my goals at the state level of leveraging  social media to increase government transparency, create new partnerships, better engage citizens who are impacted by new policies or regulations, create new paths for dialogue around government intervention or action (or inaction).  I still believe these are the right goals but there are risks.  How to deal with these new risks is the question.   I wonder what you think?

One Response to “Classes (and homework) Commence!”

  1. Qi Li September 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    We share the similar advice with you in mind: )

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