March 14, 2011
social learning

Today, We Are All Japanese

Like you, I have followed with horror the events unfolding in Northern Japan, near the East Coast of Honshu, as a result of the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

To the thousands of individuals affected, you have my deepest sympathies, my unwavering hopes for a full recovery, and my sincere support. (however small it may be)

I myself live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (with three wee ones) and know all too well that what happened in Japan could easily happen in my own backyard. In fact, over three hundred years ago, the M9 Cascadia Megathrust Earthquake of January 26, 1700 did just that.

As Japan begins the long process of rebuilding, I took a moment to stop and reflect. Not only taking the time to think & sympathize about the Japanese people, as well as the ‘what if’ scenario should a cataclysmic event in fact happen on the West Coast of Cascadia, but I reflected on the process in which I became Japanese over the past 4 days.

In fact, over the past few days, I believe the world became Japanese.

And we did so through the combination of social learning, strong & weak ties, empathy and ‘pay it forward’.

The way in which I personally digested and learned of the tragic happenings in Japan went as follows:

  • While in New York on business, I casually strolled through Facebook status updates on the night of March 10th to see what was happening in my ‘friend’ network. I found this, from a friend in Hong Kong, posted at 2:10am ET: (the screen shot displays Pacific Time Zone)


  • At this point, the first thing that runs through my mind is “how big” and will there be a tsunami large enough to reach British Columbia. So, I text my wife (who is asleep) knowing she will get the text in the morning when she awakes, to fill her in that Japan has been stricken with an Earthquake and the Tsunami is in play, however unlikely it is to cause damage to Vancouver.


  • I’m now up, it’s 6:30am ET, and I’m back on the laptop in my hotel room. (notice, I’m not on a TV) I venture over to YouTube and find this remarkable footage from the NHK network. A few comments are already present.


  • As the morning progresses, I begin following various Twitter streams from my mobile device, learning, understanding, empathizing. One such tweet from my ‘weak tie’ network gave me the nudge to donate:


  • Over the course of the weekend, I’m now participating in a full frontal learning assault of Japan, Earthquakes and Tsunami’s through various websites, social media, opinions, articles and so on. Not only that, I’m now learning about nuclear reactors, including thoughts I never would have learned about were it not for this tweet:


  • Via email, I am pointed to a website that provides before and after satellite images of the tsunami stricken areas.


  • Loosely tied to the ‘pay it forward’ concept, firms like Twitter (free ‘promoted’ #HelpJapan trend tag), Google (Crisis Response actions) and MotionPortrait (donating all iPhone app sales to relief efforts) amongst many others, demonstrated to me there is good in this world (real empathy) and it can be mobilized quickly. Perhaps this is the true meaning of Cognitive Surplus.


  • On March 12 itself, Twitter reported that 572,000 new accounts were opened whereas over the past month they averaged only 460,000. Coincidence?

In a moment of crisis, we all learn a lot about society.

I’ve learned that our learning habits have changed. I knew this already, at least for me, but I truly believe the world is shifting to a collective intelligence learning path. (ok, even I said out loud … “that’s cool”)

This so-called collective intelligence learning path is also helping us to reshape organizational structures. If you’re here for the first time, read some of my other posts to understand what I’m referring to. (go to the ‘top five’ link at the top for starters)

To the people of Japan, my heart bleeds and my eyes well up thinking what you’re going through. I can offer only these words, some money, and the pledge that this experience is helping many people see life, learning and perhaps corporate hierarchies in new ways.

“The Big One” will happen in Vancouver again, this much is assured. I just hope I’m not around to witness it.

But today, we are all Japanese.



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