Thursday, July 22, 2010

Public Service tip of the day: Go create some non-zero-sumness

I have been tearing through some great books this summer! Last week I finished reading the Bill Clinton-approved Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. I had started reading it back in December, but when Christmas and then spring semester came along, it got put back on the shelf. I'm glad I took it with me to read in Kenya though - it's easily one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

The author Robert Wright looks at human history as a process of cultural evolution, just as our biological development as a species is a process of organic evolution. Like the genes in our bodies, Wright says our cultures are built on "memes," small units of ideas or information that get improved on every time they are transmitted to a new person. For instance, a song melody is a meme that enters my brain and whether I am aware of it or not, it influences the next melody or idea that I put back out into the universe. The idea of memes is actually what I think Malcolm Gladwell was getting at in his book The Tipping Point. Gladwell tells of how a small group of people in Greenwich Village started wearing Hush Puppies again in the 1990s; soon other people saw them doing it, thought it was a cool look, and then millions of people were wearing Hush Puppies again. This was a "Hush Puppy meme" that got spread throughout the world like an epidemic.

The books that I'll never forget are the ones that make me change the way I look at and think about the world. Nonzero has joined a few books that have done that for me - Earth in Mind, Bowling Alone, and The Tao of Pooh. In fact, Nonzero is one big fat meme in itself - the presentation of a profound idea that will influence the way I think about my role as a public servant and human being moving forward in this life. The book ends with a call to action for us all to go out into the world and create more of what he calls "non-zero-sumness" Non-zero-sumness is his adapted term from game theory, meaning situations where there is a win-win for all parties involved (amusingly, Wright actually wanted to title the book "Non-zero-sumness" but his publishing company thought it was a little too goofy, hence the sleek title, Nonzero).

Among the most intriguing questions he ponders is this: Will there one day be a single global government? His points about the non-zero-sumness that has been created by current international governing bodies such as the World Trade Organization, European Union, United Nations, and others has me extremely intrigued...

Go read this book!


D Monteith said...

Do you have ideas for how non-zero sumness will change your habits or behaviors in addition to your thoughts? This post gives me the push I need to finish the book. Thanks! :-)

David said...

It will hopefully make me develop a habit of creating non-zero-sumness!

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