Question 214 of 365: What changes everything?

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Image by Jesslee Cuizon via Flickr

I don’t often make proclamations that I believe to be true for everyone. I don’t do this because I know that there is a high likelihood of me being wrong. So high, in fact, that I feel as though it would undermine my credibility as an expert on much of anything. However, for this I will make an exception.

There are two things (and two things only) that are required to create radical positive change:

1. Knowing that you are not the only expert in the room.
2. Never submitting or asking for the submittal of a piece of paper.

I didn’t realize that I held those core beliefs until yesterday. In a convsation I was having, I tried to summarize the main things that I try to get across whenever I speak in public and those are the two things that came out of my mouth. I didn’t realize how true they were until they were both out. I didn’t realize that I had been working toward them for years until they fell at my feet.

The reason I am writing this is to proclaim that I am not the only expert. I write this to be a part of what has come before, and to build upon it. I am on Twitter because I know that there are others that will give me great context and ideas and whole labors of love that they are contributing to the world. I work so that I can learn, and I play and publish so that I never forget what it is like to be a part of something bigger and more engaging than the endless monologue going on in my head.

And if in any meeting, classroom, or board room the participants will simply grant to the other people in the room and those following along via digital means that they are not the only ones with value and substance, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

I am not talking about the wisdom of crowds. The revolutionary aspect of believing that you are not the only expert in the room comes in simply being humble enough to listen to others. You do not have to accept or believe in what they say. You may even find yourself rejecting their premises, but to simply listen for a moment to the other experts changes the ways in which decisions are made. It isn’t by consensus or by committee, decisions are made with the best expertise available, no matter what the source. If it is a 12 year old or a seasoned professional, knowing that there are other experts in the room and giving them a voice is the only way to move forward.

The other belief is counterintuitive. If we are listening to all experts and being humble in our approach, surely we should accept paper submissions. Surely we should allow those who still use paper as their means of transmitting information to take part in creating value. To this I say: No.

The act of removing paper from the equation as a submission format is not meant to save trees, although it might do that. It is not meant to focus everyone on technology, although it may do that as well. Disolving the transmission of paper is responsible solely for disrupting expectations, and exploding what is possible.

Paper isn’t about ease of use, it is about making concrete and singular the things that would rather be abstract and collaborative. Anything that is written down is held in one place and one time. This is special, and we should treasure it. But it is one thing, and it can only be that. By submitting that piece of paper, you are dictating all that it can be. By asking for someone to submit a piece of paper, you are limiting what you can receive.

And some will say that we need to limit submissions. We need ot have signatures that can only be that. But submission of a signature that is not tied to the one piece of paper means that we can find that signature elsewhere. We can string together all of the documents with that scrawling across the bottom, and we can start to tell a story through tagged contracts.

This is a shallow look at revolution. But take a look at the alternative:

Those that disagree with the two above statements as the catalyst for change could be defined as Paper Experts. They are experts that are only backed up by the paper that defines them (diplomas and letters of recommendation). In every submission of paper to others, they are proclaiming their value (every report, handout, and printed email). In every request for paper they are trying to hold on to power (jumping through legal and beurecratic hoops for signatures and documents requests). Their paper expertise is static. They do not hqve the power to expand their knowledge into a network of experts because networks are not made out of paper. And, they are certainly not made out of people who proclaim their value above all others in the room.

So, if we want to move beyond being Paper Experts, we must acknowledge publicly every time we speak that we are not the only voices in the room worth listening to. We must honor this in our actions as well by leaving time to listen and protocols to support that effort. We must also stop giving people the option to submit pieces of paper as proof of their knowledge and expertise. We must stop asking for drafts to be marked up. We must stop making copies so that we can further devalue the precious comodity of original creqtive thought. If something is worth sharing, it is worth sharing in open communication. If something is worth submitting, it is worth publishing to those who need the information. If something is worth making, it is worth exposing to the light of day.

I do not take these words lightly. I understand the gauntlet I have laid out for myself. I just know that it is something I started a long time ago by learning from students and allowing them to turn in their essays on a blog. I guess they are still teaching me.

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