Presentations & Interviews

Transcendent interest

The single most essential element of collaboration – of cooperative efforts at any scale – is an inadequately understood idea called transcendent interest. This is what GreenHouse unearthed at the request of the world-renown TED Conferences, which was looking to boost participation in and impact of its annual, global TED Prize.

“I’m not talking about a win-win, where our interests overlap. It’s something that lives up here – above our interests, a grander concern,” Jeff Leitner said in a subsequent address on transcendent interest to the Kellogg Innovation Network. “Let me tell you what it’s not: it’s not a homeowners’ association; it’s not the EU; and it’s not cooperation, in which I help you move your couch upstairs and you give me a beer. That’s a win-win. It’s not simply a sublimation of interests. It’s beyond that.”

GreenHouse has successfully isolated a few of transcendent interest’s key features. For example, transcendent interest requires suspension of individual identities; it renders original interests hollow and it utilizes an untapped element that wasn’t being accessed in previous interactions between the parties.

Throes of idea-making

As a culture, we’re fetishizing ideas. Our thoughts, notions and insights are becoming increasingly precious – served up at conference after conference like haute cuisine. You’d think it would be a great turn of events for the folks behind Insight Labs, but it all makes us a little crazy.

“Everybody’s innovating, everybody’s iterating, everybody seems to be in the throes of idea-making. That’s an awful lot of thought leadership going around,” Howell Malham Jr. said on one of our regular appearances on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station.

“There are people talking about ideas. There are people talking about the idea of ideas. But there doesn’t seem to be anything significant happening.” We said the real problem is the opportunity cost – what we’re not doing when we’re all together because we’re so busy applauding each other for presenting ideas.

Among our other appearances on WBEZ were our thoughts on the future of civic engagement and Chicago’s social anxiety.

It’s not bullsh*t

Quick! Before the very real power of empathy gets converted into hundreds of meaningless business offerings, let’s try to really understand and unleash it for substantive social change. That was the central idea in Jeff Leitner’s remarks to the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

Leitner dug into how empathy resulting from shared experiences can be engineered and scaled. Incidentally, this introductory video was prepared for the conference, but never seen – thanks to every presenter’s nightmare: a complete meltdown of the audio-visual system.

Typewriter repairmen

Maybe voting is played out. Maybe we’re ready to move beyond the confines of representative democracy. This is the fight we were trying to start on our one of regular appearances on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station.

“We can finally stop electing middlemen. We have the tools and the inclination to scale Athenian democracy, where we actually represent ourselves,” Jeff Leitner said. “Think about it: we hate our politicians; we hate our elected officials; and Congress’s approval rating is negative 4. Some of them deserve our ire. Some of them are badly behaved. But mostly they’re just doing jobs we don’t need anymore, like typewriter repairmen.”

We suggested that we take all the technology and agency we’re currently spending to throw more effective tantrums and use it to figure out how to re-tool the political system.

We picked this fight with host Steve Edwards. Among our other appearances on WBEZ were our thoughts on the emerging idea bubble and Chicago’s social anxiety.

Scale for impact

In the 20th century, the signs of an influential organization were obvious: more offices, more members, more dollars, more everything. But in our times, some of the most influential organizations are those that make the biggest impact with the smallest number of people – be it a digital startup or a terror cell.

This idea is called “scale for impact.” It animated a discussion Andrew Benedict-Nelson chaired at the Ashoka Future Forum. Flipping the usual format, he asked the assembled social entrepreneurs what decisions they had made to increase their impact without growing in size.

“The ability to generate demand for your mission is key to successful scaling, and generating demand requires new structures, new thinking and new networks,” Ashoka’s Avani Patel reported in Forbes after the event. “In a world where everyone can—and must—be a changemaker, we must be willing to constantly adapt our models, avoid repetition, and find partners in unlikely places.”

This wasn’t the only time we took on this problem with Ashoka; we also worked with their team to ask how we might scale up empathy in schools.

Birthplace of modern thinking



Chicago really, really wants you to believe it’s a world-class city. Hence, the failed bid to host the Olympics in 2016 and the successful bid to host the NATO Summit in 2012. The strategy appears to be to show how important the city is by showing how important its guests are.

But Chicago is already legitimately world-class. It is arguably the hub of modernity in the United States: the birthplace of modern thinking in science, literature, architecture, journalism and social justice.

“Why should NATO come here? Because NATO is re-thinking NATO,” Howell Malham Jr. said on one of our regular appearances on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. “Because NATO needs to break through, to think beyond what NATO already knows. What better place (to do that) than a place like Chicago?”

We worked this through on air with host Steve Edwards. Among our other appearances on WBEZ were our thoughts on the emerging idea bubble and the future of civic engagement.