Black and White Program

Global Ideas Outside the Box

July 11th, 2008 by John Eastman

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The phrase “thinking outside the box” refers to a process in which individuals and groups disregard outside limiting parameters of the norm, and generate ideas to solve problems. Often in this process, thinking patterns are different and unconventional, almost always the participants enter in from a new or different perspective. In some instances this novel approach works and is effective. In many instances, it asks the established power-wielding forces to widen their acceptance of untraditional ideas, and, further, to take larger risks. Resistance to new ideas doesn’t stop the creative thinkers from attacking obstacles. In fact, frustration with institutional forces– that are either unwilling or unable to make big decisions– can fuel outside the box thinkers, whether or not they believe that their solutions will be readily embraced. Someone needs to start making big decisions in broad daylight and see them through to fruition.

The U.S. Congress continually falls short in timely planning adequate solutions to major foreign and domestic problems. There are hundreds of reasons for this, many already well-voiced by the media. The end result is often that big problems– although widely recognized– are not properly addressed. Which brings us to leadership. It is the role of leadership to seize ideas that can be developed into solutions, using all of the powers in their grasp. Leadership is lacking in this area.

Enter the outside the box thinkers. There is a growing trend, evident in political speeches, commentary, and interviews, of thinkers becoming frustrated with the framework in place for addressing major issues. It is more apparent now than ever before.

While the problem of leadership in Congress will linger and may never be resolved, outside the box thinkers are on the move. The lack of leadership within Congress itself may not be the most pressing problem to solve. An energy policy, a healthcare policy, a policy for the Middle East—including Israel and Palestine and the muddied engagement in Iraq, and a financial markets regulatory policy are all direly needed. These problems have been lingering for years with mounds of rhetoric, false starts, and wasted time and money as the evidence of intent. These are expanding problems that ideas, big and small, can solve if the will of the people and leadership is present.

There are increasingly active “outside the box efforts”. Many of these groups have power in the form of a dedicated audience, and members with the know-how and resources to get things done. Many have the desire, and patriotism. Recent efforts include:

Aspen Ideas Festival

With a focus on the arts, science, technology, culture, religion, philosophy, economics and politics, the conference initiates stimulating discussion about current issues. Along with presentations, programs, and tutorials, seminars are carried out throughout the weeklong event. Writers, artists, intellectuals, and big thinkers from multiple nations converge to present and discuss their ideas. This year’s topics included: Global Dynamics, the geopolitical state of the world, including security, nuclear weapons, terrorism, technology, the middle east, Latin America and Southeast Asia; Climate and Sustainability, which addressed carbon emission control; Children and Education; Innovation and Technology; Global Commerce and the World Economy; the Net Generation, which looked at how the internet has redefined the definition of community ; and Food, Fuel and Famine, a focus on the conversion of food crops for fuel, and the obesity epidemic. A common refrain heard throughout the sessions was that the U.S. Congress is broken and new systems need to be developed.

The Miller Center’s National War Powers Commission

This commission originally convened in February of 2007 to study the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and establish new standards on the process on entering into war and promote a meaningful consultation between the President and Congress. The commission was chaired by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker, III and Warren Christopher. After 13 months, seven meetings, and interviews with 40 witnesses, it concluded that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has failed in many fronts, and was in need of revision, especially in promotion of communication between the governmental branches and in establishing an appropriate processes to make decisions to go to war.

The Elders

A group of former statesman, business and religious leaders and international figures, convened in 2002 to form a trusted board of individuals with no political, economic, or military agendas of their own. The Elders provide assistance and resolve conflicts in areas in which traditional governments and international bodies have not succeed or have not significantly resolved the recognized problems. The group originated from a discussion between billionaire Richard Branson of the Virgin Group empire, and musician Peter Gabriel, and is based on the traditional model of village elders who resolve conflicts amongst its community. They approached Nelson Mandela, and the group was born.

Active on matters of reforming elections in Zimbabwe, aiding Darfurians, strengthening of national health systems around the world, and intervening on critical health care crises. In April of 2008, the Elders, based in London, U.K. named its first Chief Executive officer to oversee day to day operations. Significant Elders include former President Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Muhammod Yunas. In a Charlie Rose interview, Branson was asked what he would want his legacy to be about and one of his biggest achievements. His reply was that his involvement in the Elders would be of most importance.

The TED Conference

The Technology, Entertainment Design Conference, held annually in Long Beach, California, is a forum with over a thousand attendees. Science, business, and global issues are at hand. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot to present their ideas to attendees. The presentations are taped and made available free to the public. A host of innovative ideas are presented, contacts are made, resources are shared. Projects are started here and result in things getting done.

These free-thinking groups and many others formed around the world to provide relief to major problems have had mixed results. For some it is too early to measure; some are just gaining footholds with which to negotiate their ideas and efforts throughout the world. By no means are any of them proven effective over the long term, however, they represent a new way of helping resolve conflicts and solve problems, with a new model outside of the traditional institutional boxes.

Congress needs rethought. The system needs changed.

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