Coming full circle

Returning to Coro to do another fellowship on the climate crisis

Almost a decade and a half ago, I did the Coro fellows program in public affairs. That’s a year long experiential learning program that’s (in)famously impossible to define. At the time, I remember alumni teasing us fellows that explaining the program was the most dreaded topic for fellows. Coro generally is an interesting experience, and I had a shall we say interesting fellowship year.

As part of the fellowship, I was a given the book Your Most Enchanted Listener for a big project to share with the rest of the cohort. The book explores how language shapes our thoughts and action. Spoiler: your most enchanted listener is actually yourself. The internal monologue many (but not all!) of us have shapes how we see, understand and act upon the world.

At the time I didn’t really appreciate the work. Instead the way I recall that fellowship project is sharing my own internal narrative which was kinda funny in a completely-miss-the-point-sorta way. That was particularly ironic because at the time I had just finished writing a book about the California dream and was pretty wrapped up in that bundle of words.

For the longest time, I was a man on a mission — to fix California, tackle the big drought and make a big dent in the universe. I still vividly remember sharing my spiel during the fellowship with an older and far wiser Coro alumni and him directly asking “isn’t that what California Forward already does?” (Funnily enough I ended up working at CA FWD for a few years, a story for another day.)

Two weeks ago, I went back to Coro and started on the newly created Coro Climate Leadership Network (CLRN). I’m excited for the opportunity to explore and be a beginner again. I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with tools like the ladder of abstraction — a simple but powerful lens for disentangling the symbol process and how something specific like a cow can also mean wealth.

(Legendary HCI designer Bret Victor has a great essay on the ladder of abstraction)

Having made a lot of mistakes over the years, it’s fun to come back and see those concepts with fresh eyes. I started rereading Your Most Enchanted Listener. With a few more laps around the sun, it’s also easier to place the general worldview embodied of the work as part of what philosopher’s call the linguistic turn in the middle of the century*.*

Being a weirdly curious nerd, I have dived into many of the threads opened up by the Coro fellowship — from the (somewhat crackpot) theory of General Semantics to its application in practice to re-engaging with what’s really real — what continues to exist regardless of whether we believe in it. (Links are for books that I was inspired to read by Coro and found worthwhile.)

It’s also been fun to return to a space to practice developing leadership skills now that I’m at a point in my life where I’ve actually led teams and projects carrying a bit more weight. 😛 I’ve already found it helpful in wayfinding through challenges at work. And I am particularly keen to learn and wayfind with the CLRN cohort how to make a dent in the climate crisis.

The next 25 years will be critical. The CLRN application asked several questions of prospective candidates, including the following important one: “What do you see as the biggest barrier(s) and opportunity(ies) to building a more climate resilient Greater Los Angeles?” Below is a lightly edited version of my submission:

The Coro experience reminds me of another Jerry Brown-ism: “the new comes out of the random.” I am honestly not sure how best to help address the climate crisis in LA and beyond. I am optimistic and excited to engage in deep dialogue with a diverse group across sectors. The climate crisis is an all hands on deck moment. May we have the courage to meet it.

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