Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heretics, Henry Gifford and Filmmaking

Recently I returned from the ACI Conference in Kansas City, M.O., where I learned a lot about improving home performance. While I was there, I recognized how many synergies there are between my full time job in energy efficiency and my first documentary film.  One of these synergies, the role of the heretic in creating a movement, I would like to write about here.

One of the sessions I attended was titled "Why LEED Buildings Use More Energy Than Comparable Buildings, & How Serious Practicitioners Can Avoid the Same" by Henry Gifford.  It stirred passionate conversations, and truly helped me let a few life lessons sink in.  For the sake of this blog post, I hope you will set aside any preconceived notions about the performance of LEED buildings and focus on the bigger picture. I work with top building science experts, but am not one and therefore will not write about my own opinions or conclusions of the session on LEED here.  Instead, I hope to draw some conclusions relative to my documentary film, specifically about the role of the heretic.  


Let's start with Seth Godin's book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.  It is a book about leadership, communities, movements and social media.  I highly recommend reading it.  In the book, Godin talks about the status quo, what it means today, and how one individual can upset it.  Here is an exerpt so that we all understand Godin's use of the terms status quo and heretic.
All You Need to Know is Two Things
The first thing you need to know is that individuals have far more power than ever before in history. One person can change an industry. One person can declare a war. One person can reinvent science or politics or technology.
The second thing you need to know is that the only thing holding you back from becoming the kind of person who changes things is this: lack of faith. Faith that you can do it. Faith that it's worth doing. Faith that failure won't destroy you.
Our culture works hard to prevent change. We have long had systems and organizations and standards designed to dissuade people from challenging the status quo. We enforce our systems and call whoever is crazy enough to challenge them a heretic.  And society enforces the standards by burning its heretics at the stake, either literally or figuratively.
But the world has changed a lot. There are heretics everywhere you look. It's so asymmetrical that burning heretics isn't particularly effective any longer. As a result, more and more people--good people, people on a mission, people with ideas that matter--are stepping forward and making a difference.
Just about every system, whether it's political, financial, or even religious, has become asymmetrical.  The process has turned upside down: scale isn't the same as power; in fact, scale can hurt. We've seen this in the war in Iraq as much as we've seen it in the war in the soda aisle or in the growth of new religions. In each case, an individual or a small group has the power to turn an existing system on its head.
Now, most of the time, we call heretics leaders.
The day after Gifford's presentation on LEED buildings, I recognized that he very well could be labeled a heretic in his industry.  I left Gifford's presentation with the following: LEED certification is gaining recognition and market share, but is it setting forth best practices in the building industry and creating real, measurable energy savings?  And what impact is it's growth having on the general public's opinion if it is not creating real, measurable results?  Gifford is challenging a program that's gaining strength, and because of that he is upsetting the status quo.  Because he is upsetting the status quo, it stirred a lot of strong reactions in the session (and on a much grander scale, outside of that session).

During the session, I used Twitter to share some of Gifford's thoughts on LEED with my friends. Let's be clear: I don't want to steer us away from the main exploration about heretics, status quo and creating change.  I do wish to share the reactions from Rob Watson, a Twitter user and self-proclaimed father of LEED.  You can see his Twitter profile (@klrwat) here:

Fairly immediately after I posted my tweet, Watson responded.  This means that he is aware of the impact of social media.  It means he is aware that each individual has a very powerful voice, or as Godin states, "One person can change an industry." My tweet from the session was merely a way to share what I was hearing, and I was impressed that Watson responded so quickly.

It also added evidence to my growing theory that Gifford is a heretic in the industry.  Watson (and a few others in the session) responded so quickly and passionately, that I couldn't help but recall this excerpt from Godin's Tribes:
The Easiest Thing
The easiest thing is to react.
The second easiest thing is to respond.
But the hardest thing is to initiate.
Reacting, as Zig Ziglar has said, is what your body does when you take the wrong kind of medicine. Reacting is what politicians do all the time. Reacting is intuitive and instinctive and usually dangerous. Managers react.
Responding is a much better alternative. You respond to external stimuli with thoughtful action. Organizations respond to competitive threats.  In dividuals respond to colleagues or opportunities. Response is always better than reaction.
But both pale in comparison to initiative. Initiating is really and truly difficult, and that's what leaders do. They see something others are ignoring and they jump on it. They cause the events that others have to react to.  They make change.

The reactions in the session and on Twitter are very interesting.  Why was this audience so quick to challenge what Gifford was stating?  Why were they so quick to try to correct him, and say that he was wrong?  Was it because they were acting in favor of the status quo?  Were they reacting in this manner because there is truth in what Gifford has to say?  Or were they defending what they believed was true?

The morning after the session and my Twitter exchange with Watson, I kept running over the details of what had happened.  Strong reactions within the session, strong reactions on Twitter from my paraphrasing of Gifford's theories.  It then occured to me that Gifford is a living example of Godin's description of a heretic.  

If one uses the example of Gifford challenging the LEED program, and compares it to those in my documentary film--they are each the definition of Godin's heretics.  I have been interviewing and learning from the heretics of our time, people desperate to upset the status quo, make positive change happen in our U.S. policies, and help improve the lives of the Montagnards.  It is no small feat to take on that challenge, and the members of my cast have been doing it for more than 30 years!  

One of my interviewees states that we live in an attention-deficit world.  I think this is quite true.  We move faster than ever before, quickly sharing thoughts and ideas.  The only thing that still seems to move slowly is change itself.  

Watson tweeted, "The center of gravity is moving towards LEED..."  If Gifford's theories are accurate, then change must be explored to improve the LEED program.  No matter how popular LEED is right now, no matter how much momentum it is gaining, those that run the program must be open to criticsm and change.  After all, the "best time to change your business model is while you still have momentum," as Godin states.

I'm passionate about making this film is because I'm a humanist, optimist, and truth seeker.  I am exploring the history of the Montagnards without bias and judgement, and hope to share the results of my research with an audience to help them draw their own conclusions.  Is our country doing what it promised during the Vietnam War?  Is our country treating its allies as it should?  Where are there areas for improvement, and who will lead those changes?  How do we, as a nation, look to our past to learn valuable lessons in order to leave a better, healthier world for future generations because that is our obligation.
The Obligation
Not too far from us, a few blocks away, there are kids without enough to eat and without parents who care.  A little farther away, hours by plane, are people unable to reach their goals because they live in a community that just doesn't have the infrastructure to support them.  A bit father away are people being brutally persecuted by their governments.  And the world is filled with people who can't go to high school, never mind college, and who certainlys can't spend their time focused on whether or not they get a good parking space at work.
And so, the obligation: don't settle.
To have all these advantages, all this momentum, all these opportunities and then settle for mediocre and then defend the status quo and then worry about corporate politics--what a waste.
Flynn Berry wrote that you should never use the word "opportunity." It's not an opportunity, it's an obligation.
I don't think we have any choice.  I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has any right to believe is possible.
You  see, it's not about Gifford.  It's about us.  It's about becoming a heretic and challenging the status quo.  It's about seeking, and demanding the truth from those that lead us each day.  It's about rising up, together, as one tribe, to say, "We expect more.  We demand better.  We will see that it happens."

We tend to lead busy lives these days.  Our phones are ringing, emails fill our inbox, bills keep coming in the mail even though some of us are out of work.  We have our daily battles to fight.  But can make change happen, and we have an obligation to make things better--no matter whether you're talking about green building practices, the plight of the Montagnards, or our policies with Vietnam.

More Information
I'm always open to feedback, healthy debates and constructive criticsm.  Feel free to comment here, or email me any time.  If you crave more information, here are several paces you can find it:


Mike Rogers said...

Very interesting post, Camden. Thanks for the fresh angle on this. (And not everyone disagrees with Henry--he makes some great reality-based points!)


Camden Watts said...

Thanks for the feedback, Mike. I'm still exploring the details so that I can learn more, and appreciate your insights.

Tom White said...

great post Camden. Henry was a panelist at the ACI09 media forum and, true to his heretical form, he spoke out on how HP media is failing the industry, comparing ACI's small attendance to USGBC's Greenbuild, and the fact that he has trouble keeping afloat as an HP contractor.

He pointed to the Intel Inside media campaign--folks will spend big bucks on GB of RAM that they can't see, but when it comes to HP retrofits they'll hold out even if it effects their own comfort.

Part of being a heretic is questioning the greenwashing practices in the building industry. Let's focus on measurable applied building science. Remember when the scientists were heretics?

Jim Gunshinan said...

Hi Camden. Tom just pointed me to your blog and I agree with him—great job carrying forward the spirit of the heretic Henry Gifford.

I have some experience in the Catholic Church—was ordained in 89 and served 8 years as a priest before leaving in 1999. I think many people think of a heretic as someone who tells lies, or isn't telling the truth. You've got it right. A heretic tells about some aspect of the truth that is hidden. When individuals or organizations have a lot invested in keeping that truth hidden, they go after the heretic—sometimes with lighter fluid and a match. The Catholic Church, like the USGBC perhaps, thinks of itself as the holder of the truth. But it just holds a part of it. Maybe that is part of God's plan for us humans. We can't hold all of the truth as individuals, we need top do it in relationship and in community.

Best of luck with your documentary. My brother is a Vietnam Vet and my friend and classmate in the seminary is an immigrant from Vietnam who led an escape in a crowded boat in 1979. He is a priest and an artist on the faculty at Notre Dame. My brother and my friend Martin hold different but compelling truths about the war. I love and respect them both.

Camden Watts said...

Tom and Jim, thank you both for your feedback. Your opinions mean a lot to me, and I am so happy to have connected with you both at ACI09.

Montreal Film Schools said...

Henry Gifford is one of the best person for the to give advices on film making. I think if we followed him then it will really good for our career.