One of the great unspoken truths of the American rush of the winter holidays – particularly Christmas or Yule -- is how many people – in the midst of the gush of happy happy joy joy merry merry ho ho ho – are despairing, depressed, and crushed. Here we have a series of winter holidays that can fill a community, a family, and an individual with wonder, delight, and good cheer. But there’s just one thing – these seasonal celebrations are so laden with expectations of both family connectedness and consumption that the vast majority of us won’t be able to live in those holiday practices for more than a few moments of our lives, if ever. But that’s not the message we’re given. The message we’re given is: if we were really good enough or successful enough we can have it all. That might be true if we were talking about celebrations that neither depended on family formation nor consumption of excludable goods, if these holidays were the public goods that mythically and even here and there over time they have been.
“How do we create more public goods where there is non-rivaled consumption – your consumption does not diminish the supply of good for me – and is non-excludable – your consumption doesn’t mean I’ll have less of it?” – Professor Anil Gupta, “Bottom-Up Inventors”, University of Cambridge Audio Series Innovation, 7/2/09
Let’s innovate some public goods. There are still days left to rescue the Yuletide season from excludable and consumable goods – still days to gather some friends for community caroling, to look into ways to spend the holidays with people only seeing one empty or hungrier day ahead in long-term care facilities, shelters, and prisons, to tell wonderful stories in public places, to hold impromptu snow or sand sculpture events, to make room.
Innovators begin with the question: what’s the problem with…? Or what’s missing here is…? The deal with this game of innovating for the public good is that it has to meet these criteria – non-rivaled and non-excludable consumption. This is a game you can play and carry with you everywhere – when conversation lags or on the bus or waiting in line.
We human beings are essentially creative. That means each and every one of us is endowed with the power of innovation. When our focus shifts from what we do not have and want to the larger social questions of how we create a better world, then we’re really blessing ourselves and each other, reflecting that star power from which we’re all made.