Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Work of Thinking

"I am disposed to agree with what has been surmised by others, that...learning by personal observation the necessary conditions of practical conduct of public affairs, has been of considerable value to me as a theoretical reformer of the opinions and institutions of my time."
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography of John Stuart Mill

For ten or twelve years I reviewed books for a little magazine, The Neighborhood Works, out of Chicago, publishing about eighty or so reviews on books about various aspects of community economic development. I'm rediscovering some of the pleasure and clarity I experienced back then in my musings about books and things on this blog.

In Nonprofit Leadership I liken my reviewing, perhaps presumptuously, to a form of mentoring or coaching for the field, hopefully providing some useful ideas and resources for those in the trenches. I came to have great respect for my fellow nonprofit colleagues not only as organizers and developers but also as public intellectuals of a sort. During this period, Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectuals lamented the virtual disappearance of independent intellectuals -- critical thinkers -- admidst the rise of universities and the fall of magazine culture. This was no doubt an overstatement, and too early by a few decades to consider Web 2.0. I found it odd that so many working folks were left out of the picture. The people I knew doing community economic development read books, wrote on occasion, and had all sorts of interesting opinions that they liked to share.

In our CED and Mistakes project we're hoping to tap some of this practitioner knowledge and critical thinking in reflections about projects and strategies that just didn't turn out the way they were planned, at least on the first go around.

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