Municipal identification as a platform

Bill de Blasio introduced New York City’s new IDNYC municipal ID card program this week. The concept of a municipal ID looks like it’s still relatively new, with the idea generally beingthat these programs can provide access to services that aren’t normally accessible for people on the margins of society.

I read a few weeks ago about Nordic nations leading the trend toward fully cashless societies, and that article pointed out the similar problem that those without access to mainstream credentials and resources could be seriously impacted in that transition. I know of one state here that’s already investigating shifting its driver’s licenses from physical to digital wallets. So this trend of fully cashless societies and digitized credentials will become increasingly important.

This is why I’m bullish on what de Blasio has introduced in New York, which isn’t just a municipal ID program enabling better access to city-administered social services, but what looks like a pretty comprehensive program that combats both potential incentives for grey/black markets and enables access to the city’s social and cultural institutions. From the article:

“On Monday, New York is expected to introduce the country’s largest municipal-identification program, issuing cards intended as a boon for undocumented immigrants, the homeless and others who strain to navigate the bureaucracy of city services and institutions without government-issued ID. The card will confer discounts for prescription drugs, access to city buildings and free memberships to zoos and museums. It will be accepted as a library card across the city’s three public library systems and recognized as identification to open an account at several banks and credit unions.”

Again, what makes IDNYC remarkable isn’t that it’s simply providing access to city services, but that it looks like it’s been created with the potential to really exist as something like a platform for broader access and engagement with civic life. If IDNYC can be sustained and expanded in terms of its platform-like offerings, that should drive broad interest and sign-ups that in turn should expand the benefits of the program.

College football playoff system

Spent last night enjoying the first college football national championship under the College Football Playoff system. Urban Meyer coached Cardale Jones and the Buckeyes to an historic, physically impressive victory. Even when the Ducks nearly tied things up early in the second half they didn’t really seem to be there.

Urban Meyer claims his third national championship and Ohio State claims its first playoff-era national championship, breaking an 11 season title drought for the Big Ten conference in the process. I didn’t like Ohio State’s decision, with under a minute to go, to push in for a final touchdown. A 35-20 victory with a knee seemed to me like the classier route, but maybe it was more important to make a statement. I snapped the above photo of the screen as the celebrations began.

I’ve been pro-playoff system since I started paying attention to Joe Paterno’s advocacy for it years ago. I think the last time he spoke out for the playoff system was in 2008, saying “philosophically I think you ought to win it on the field” rather than through an opaque voting system. I can’t count the number of times this week it was remarked that under the bowl championship system neither Ohio State nor Oregon would have been playing last night.

The college football playoff system already seems to be one of those things that looks incredibly obvious to the point of being unremarkable. But the decades-long advocacy of coaches like Paterno are also a reminder that the obvious things often start out being seen as impractical, and their advocates suffer through years of being seen as meddlesome. As recently as 2008 advocates like Paterno were still a minority voice largely opposed by conference and bowl championship elders.

Excited to see the next step in making the obvious a reality, which should involve expanding next year’s playoff schedule.

Avoiding talent depreciation

Something else I came across yesterday through Ashoka is, a really compelling nonprofit with an unusual mission: is building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.

And their vision:

While many see our aging society as a problem, we view it as a solution. Those in and beyond midlife represent a powerful source of talent with the accumulated skills, experience and wisdom to tackle some of society’s most urgent challenges. …

Neither young nor old, the vast population moving into midlife offers an extraordinary resource. Millions are determined to apply their experience to make a difference for others. And they are looking for a new model combining elements of work, service, and social impact – an “encore” or “encore career.” Some are able to do so as unpaid volunteers or in roles in their communities or families. But for many, encore work can bring a new source of continued income.

A few years ago I was speaking to an elementary school leader who was lamenting that he had a lot of personal contacts with retired accountants, scientists, business people, civic leaders, etc. who would be great fits in teach roles at his school. But because of regulatory policy for teacher accreditation, the reservoir of knowledge in that community wasn’t able to be put to use in the classroom in a formal way.

I’m not sure I see myself having the desire to retire. It’s my nature is to tinker and to try to be useful. As health and medical care improve life expectancy, we’re likely to be left with more time for “work, service, and social impact,” and I hope we can think through more compelling ways to spend that portion of life than spending down that inheritance through age-segregated communities and golf courses.

Identifying talent

We learned to “BOLO” (Be On the Look Out) for rockstars. The right people do not always appear when you need them. It is exceedingly important to practice recruiting, interviewing, engaging, inspiring, and managing people. We are now trained to seek out and expect excellence and to reassign mediocre performers, even if they are an unpaid intern or volunteer. As a result, we now have an exceptionally high performing team that not only includes staff and interns but also university partners, contractors, and funders.

That’s from Ashoka U’s Marina Kim and Erin Krampetz on working with Jane Leu, an Ashoka fellow. I’ve always really enjoyed identifying talent in every relationship. It’s mostly an unconscious habit, but if I had to describe it is essentially the process of asking myself, “Who would this person really love to work with?” Another formulation is “What’s something that really deserves to get done, but that no one is doing yet?” In practice, this is mostly born out in terms of identifying talent for nonprofit board or committee service, and also on specific projects both for-profit and nonprofit.

I’m sure some would categorize this simply as the practice of networking, but I’ve never found that term to be specific. I prefer to think about which talents we seem to exude and how those talents can be useful to new people or in other contexts.

Snowball’s chance

It’s fascinating how so many of the most memorable moments in history turn on a chance moment. And those moments, those cultural signposts and turning points, seem to usually involve only a few people but come to define the character of a time, a people, a place, etc.

That’s definitely the case with Philadelphia’s legendary reputation as an unforgiving and cold-blooded sports town. It turns out that a lot of that reputation can be traced to the 1968 Eagles-Vikings game where fans booed and snowballed Santa Claus. I grew up hearing about this, but I had never heard the full story until Christopher Wink retweeted a link to this ESPN feature.

So much effort and money is spent on brand and marketing campaigns that usually have a snowball’s chance in terms of lasting impact. There’s probably a lot to be discovered by studying moments like this for their constituent parts to learn what made the moment so remarkable.

It was a small, strange moment that continues to define an aspect of Philadelphia’s identity.


A few weeks ago during Christmastime I bought a few Apple episodes of Ken Burns documentaries including The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and Ken Burns: America. It was my grandmother who introduced me to the Roosevelt series. I like Ken Burns, because his approach is more appreciative than critical. I think the study of history tends to have a poor reputation today because too often historians seek to highlights the frailties of human history rather than our defining triumphs over those frailties.

One of the moments from Ken Burns: America in the episode on Congress has stayed with me. David McCullough is speaking:

car_of_historyIn the old House of Representatives, which is now Statuary Hall, the members of the House looked up at two statues which are still there. One is a figure representing Liberty, and the other, behind them, was Clio, the muse of History, keeping note of their actions and holding the clock. Very important idea that was they did there didn’t just matter in the moment, but for time to come. That they would be measured by history, that they would have to live up to standards that would be set by historical precedent.

After finishing the documentary I looked up Clio’s statue, and found the photo for this post on the Architect of the Capitol’s site along with more on the 1819 era piece. On the topic of an appreciative approach to history, I think Clio’s presence is striking for at least two reasons.

Clio’s presence is an example, first, of what I think of as a sort of enchanted approach to architecture and physical places that believed in the power of symbols not only as a way to distinguish a building, but also to actually influence the spirit and actions of the people who inhabited those spaces. I think our artists tend to be disenchanted today, which is why so much of contemporary art is inscrutable.

Clio “holding the clock” is also powerful because as a manifestation of history, she roots us in physical place and in some way can make us accountable to the better angels of our nature. She has watched over every legislator from Henry Clay and Daniel Webster to Jeannette Rankin to the present. When we look at her, we have an opportunity to consider the triumphs and defeats of ourselves as a people as we decide our future.

Branding public transit

I think I had read about this in Straphanger a few years ago, so it was fascinating to see this on Instagram.

Public transit tends to be a somewhat politicized issue, I’d guess mostly because areas that need large investment are usually already suburban and their tax base doesn’t see the utility, and on the flip side addressing deferred maintenance let alone expansion isn’t necessarily exciting. Areas that have it already should be improving their systems more aggressively, and taking a page from Tokyo’s book.

If we want to see why public transit is so often mediocre, consider the brand of most public transit in the marketplace. Does it have a coherent brand in a given area? Is the price competitive? Is ticketing frictionless? Is it fun to ride?

Cities and regions should be thinking in terms of competition with private vehicle ownership and the brands developed by the manufacturers.

Code switching

I first came across the term code switching from Brian Watson’s post on it last winter. I’ve thought about it a lot since then. Code switching “explains how many of us subtly, reflexively change how we express ourselves in different contexts.” This graphic of President Obama illustrates code switching really well, and NPR has an entire blog on code-switching.

tumblr_inline_mxc5x5sqq21r825sv.gifI think of code switching as different expressions of the same personality, in the way that light can pass across a single, vast landscape to highlight and obscure at times different aspects of that landscape.

It’s natural to code switch somewhat between the professional and familial, or in speaking with peers versus the elderly and children. I’m not particularly good at code switching beyond those basic contexts. A risk is when the code switch is inauthentic, where someone essentially puts on airs and tries to signal they’re fluent with an attitude or lifestyle that’s alien to them. Like politicians suddenly inserting “y’all” into Southern speeches.

It’s interesting to think about code switching less as a reflexive or superficial change in mannerisms based on context, but instead along the lines of habitually learning more across a variety of fields, and being able to deploy that knowledge contextually and even cross-fertilize insights between experiences. I’m thinking of Robert Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

The fascinating code switch to me isn’t the handshake v. chest bump, but the ability to acquire foundational knowledge about Heinlein’s sort of fields, and identify the contexts where you can express that part of yourself.

Writing in public

We live in an extraordinary time of rising global wealth and the things that greater wealth buys access to—like communications, health, and travel. Our nature being what it is, “nobody’s happy.”

Or more to my point here, it seems like most of us aren’t generally taking advantages of access to communications. In the course of human history, being able to mass produce paper (rather than handcrafting it) is still pretty new. As recently as a few hundred years ago. So part of my motivation for writing in public isn’t that I think everything I have to say will be meaningful, but because I feel like I have some obligation to make use of the communications platforms afforded to me. Particularly a platform I control, that’s non-contingent.

I think about how much I wish I could learn about the day to day lives of my own older family members or ancestors—imagining what they would have blogged about life in a war or on the farm or coming here in the first place. We generally don’t have any of that, and given the platforms we have today, it feels right that we should make an effort to write in public.

I believe in “writing in public” is also worthwhile as a way to think aloud and share perspective and experience. Of course, there’s a lot that gets left unspoken in public. That’s as it should be. But I also think that before most substantive conversations happen in private, things first have to be thought through and brought out a bit as a jumping off point. In my own small way, that’s what I’m trying to do here. If public writing isn’t animating private conversation, I’m not sure there’s a point.

Relating to “public writing informing private thinking,” I like “Finck’s Coffee House in Munich, and I also like Wilhelm Bendz’sA Smoking Party:”

A Smoking Party (1828) - Wilhelm Bendz

These depict the sort of set-aside places and occasions that can be created for thinking, listening, and talking things through friends, neighbors, and strangers.

Starting fresh

Hi, I’m Tom Shakely. I connect mission-driven people and groups to the constituencies that will be stakeholders in their work. In practice, that’s reflected through my work in brand identity, communications, development, etc. I like to stay active with civic and nonprofit causes, and serve on several boards. I’m a recent arrival to New York from Philadelphia, and am a recreational traveler and runner.

I believe politics is downstream from culture, despite being a fan of politics and the street fight “man in the arena” aspect of statecraft. Consequently I’m interested in T.S. Eliot’s “permanent things,” and how to express and harmonize those permanent things with the contemporary spirit of our time.

I’m planning to write broadly about life and culture. At least for now, specific areas will include civics, social entrepreneurship, marketplaces, platforms, Catholicism, and place. Culture and social entrepreneurship because they reflect the sort of life we value, marketplaces and platforms because they shape and facilitate the former, and Catholicism and place because they provide context and root my life. It’s a certainty that other things I’m experiencing or thinking or working on will appear here from time to time.

I think part of the art of great writing is the act of carrying on a conversation with yourself in a way that others can listen in. Fingers crossed that this space ends up being worth “listening in” on.