The 2030 Project

This is my first journal entry that features another project. I find Michaels project so compelling and aligned with my beliefs.  It models our axiom "You can't get there from HERE but you can get HERE from there.  In other words, today is too full of baggage, fear, frustration, and talk of what we don't want. Leaping out and having the courate to create a "new world" is the only way to go.  While I have every person, every client  I work with learn to do  backcasting and gain an ability to play with the future, to design possibilities and potential, to explore the natural emergence that will erupt and disurpt our thoughts, making room for viable fresh ideas that can create a better future.  

Another one of the MG Taylor axioms is "The future is only rational in hindsight" rings true. This is why any robust project like 2030 needs to attract people to come together and model preferred future. Together we have tremendous energy and know how to work with ideas, to mix and match, to integrate, and explore how to procede with the least negative unanticipated consequences.  

I'm looking forward to how Tomorrow Makers can play a role as an organization and as a tomorrow maker.  Together, we can help 2030 be rich and vital for all species.  This is going to be quite an adventure!

In assembling complexity the bounty of increasing returns is won by multiple tries over time. As various parts reorganize to a new whole, the system escapes into a higher order.   Ilya Prigogine

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Quotes are like photons

Quotes are like photons, discrete packets of energy that circulate at the speed of light. I love to stumble onto them in my reading.  There I am reading along when suddenly I read

 ‘In assembling complexity the bounty of increasing returns is won by multiple tries over time. As various parts reorganize to a new whole, the system escapes into a higher order.” — Ilya Prigogine

Its like I’ve fallen into the white rabbit’s hole and the entire universe changes shape.  I first read these words in the late 90s and to this day, it still speaks to me as fresh and wondrous as the first time I read it.  These 30 words speak from the heart of the universe and can teach me more than some of my university semester-long

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We the People

The list below was one of the first set of assumptions that Matt and I created together when we first met in 1976.  We have used and evolved it over time. It defined many of the first principles we used in creating our way of working.   It is form these shared beliefes that we proceeded to created our process and method.  While it seems painfully simple today within the midst of a dying, fighting paradigm, and our radical either/or mentality, to me it still holds true.  I've shared this list before along with the URL about "We the people" being the second super power.  Both, along with my recent posting for what is a Tomorrow Maker, I think I have the bare begining of a form for engaging others in the creation of a healthier world.  We can't afford to merely tweak the existing infrastructures and cultures and expect to transform ourselves or others.  While we are building on ten thousand- or more - years of history, ours is a new story, one just being born.  Our history will be reframed from within the anthroposcene era.  We won't throw it away, nor do we let it control how we design, decide, and create....

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The Transition Manager's Creed.

The Transition Manager's Creed.

Matt and I had such high hopes in the late 70's when we began designing a way forward for a new way of working.  But we have been practicing, event after event, and waiting somewhat patiently for Earthlings to wake up and realize what we the people are actually capable of doing for the good of all species on Earth.  We have had fabulous mutual learning experiences with each engagement taking us further into our coming to knowing process. 

It is only now that we are beginning to see signs that there are others, many others working to make a difference.  We are all pretty invisible now but ready to spring forth.  

Enjoy our Creed and find yourself within it.  

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Tomorrow Makers Manifesto

"Funktionslust means the pleasure of doing, of producing an effect, as distinct from the pleasure of attaining the effect or having something. Creativity exists in the searching even more than in the finding or being found. The word enthusiasm is Greek for filled with theos – “filled with God”." Quote from the book Free Play: Improvitazation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch.

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Big Dreams Spread their Wings Over Time....

Big Dreams Spread their Wings Over Time....

"What do ideas become? Big things, brave things, smart things, silly things.  Things like stories, artwork, journeys, inventions, communities, products, and cures. Every thing we see around us was once an idea." From What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamanda and Mae Besom.  (find more in our bookshelf.) 

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Either Or

I think when we rid ourselves of the long held concept of either/or, Earth and all of its life will be a lot better off.  It may have been necessary once long ago in our history to be an either/or kind of thinker, but today?  We need to give AND a lot more room to play.  In today's quantum world, there is no need for the win/lose, you or me, mine or yours, make or break.  Imagine a world that embraces the word "AND' above "but" and "either your are for me or against me" mentalities.  How do we enroll ourselves in Infinite Games, rather than finite games?  

Finite and Infinite Games The Chance of a Lifetime
The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must change.
Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.
A finite player plays to be powerful; an infinite player plays with strength>
A finite player consumes time; an infinite player generates time.
The finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth>
The choice is yours.
James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games:
A Vision of life as Play and Possibility, 1986 

Some games, of course, are meant to be finite. But Life has got to be played as an infinite game.  This is where surprises challenge, emergence happens, higher order solutions found, life is play. Play is Life.  

Infinite games are not compromises. They explore the heights of creativity. They take us to the edges of our thoughts and then beyond.  They recognize timing, tradeoffs, and each of us as participant in the future of our choice.  

An upCREATION Experience

Upcreation – self-organization that brings forth an emergent level of complexity that encompasses, without destruction, the previous lower levels of organization. In the right circumstances self-organization can often also be legitimately called self-creation. Without an outside agent, the parts cohere into a new organization that brings forth an "emergent" level of self not present before. Since the new emergent level of complexity encompasses, without destruction , the previous "lower" levels of organization, I call this self-creation of higher levels 'upcreation'. Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, 2009

Our MG Taylor Axiom "You can't get there from here." has never been more relevant. Indeed, we cannot create a better world using the same framework from which we built and developed the now crumbling, infolding industrial paradigm that brought many of us wealth and good fortune.  Like all creative processes it has reached its end and is now eating and destroying itself.  Thus, we find ourselves entangled in what the science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, refers to as the crazy years.  Those holding on desperately to the world they know, and the growing percentage of people working to give form to the paradigm unfolding for a more just, humane world are both (mostly) working within an old, dying paradigm.

"But you can get HERE from THERE." is the second part of the above axiom. Here to there, there to here, what is the difference?  The first says "hang on to what we know just go faster, or consume less, or love each other more, or play fair, find the answer."...all good actions but they can't take hold because they still are trying to strenghten, understand and make better the existing paradigm. "You can get HERE from THERE" comes within an entirely different framework.

So what are the right circumstances that we are looking for? How do we bring forth through self-organization an emergent level of complexity that encompasses, without destruction, the previous lower levels of organization? I think we must Leap the Abyss before we can truly design from THERE back to HERE.  And that's scary to let go of what we know to be true and to trust in ourselves, our own knowledge and that of our friends and colleagues and bosses.  What does Kelly's quote mean when it says "without distruction"?

Stuart Kauffman in his book, Humans in a Creative Universe offers: "the process of reinventing the sacred requires a fresh understanding of science that takes into account complexity theory and the ideas of emergence. It will require a shift from reductionism, the way of thinking that still dominates our scientific world view." The existing paradigm declares that everything past, present, and future can be known. Science today is born of complexity, whole systems, adjacent possibles and emergent properties. It is not reductionist, but expansive moving from pre-adaptive to adjacent possibles.  In this world, reality is ours to choose not be driven by some other force. It states the universe and humans within are inherently creative and curious, constantly expanding possibilites. 

This then is the THERE we find when we leap the abyss: A creative universe working with us to create the world of our choice.  For many years there have been scores of us making attempts to leap the abyss, to wake into a new reality. We have made many tries over time.  So then, here is the good news.  Prigogine found that state chages, or phase transitions occur when about 10% difference is added to a culture. I think that the 10% is here. It is in within our midst but fragmented and incomplete.  Our work now is to work together enfolding and unfolding ideas, process, visions of our THEREs, authoring the world we choose. Clearly it is time to scale, but with a fresh understanding. "Without an outside agent, the parts cohere into a new organization that brings forth an "emergent" level or self not present before."

What is this self, not present before? As we reorganize and work differently together, I believe we will author our new selves into fresh possibilities.

That is the offering for our upCREATION Experience; it is discoveries we will make through our inquiries, and conversations, and deep dives into the past and the future. It is the network created together, the self-authoring we will do as we come to fully understand the hope and actions within upCREATION.  Apply now. Let's augment our practices together!

We Play in Centuries!

In civilizations with long nows, says Brian Eno, "you feel a very strong but flexible structure . . . built to absorb shocks and in fact incorporate them."  From The Clock of the Long Now, by Stewart Brand, 1999

When Matt and I began working together, he was just coming out of two years of deep learning and reading. He was looking at the patterns embedded within Cybernetics and systems theory, requisite variety and other systems coming out of the 30 and 40s.  We both read Future Shock and many, many other books on the future.  Many were brilliant until the end.  But in the end, no one offered brilliant solutions; in fact, there were no solutions leading to a better world.  The ideas fizzled out or were merely small linear transition steps. 

Matt was teaching a course: Redesigning the Future and part of his assumptions were:

  • There would be as much global social/economic and technology change in the next 30 to 40 years as there had been since the middle ages;
  • That most individuals had more capability then kings and queens of the past.
  • Each of us had more freedom and license to change and design our world than any time in known history.

I was working in education where everyone should have been thinking and designing for the future. Success for a teacher is 15 to 25 years in the future when their students would mature and begin to shape their own futures. Thinking beyond getting students through the year was rare for teachers.

It was clear to us that the future was happening by default, not design!

Thus as we designed and developed our first group workshop focusing on the future. We incorporated Matt's assumptions into our thinking. One of the first modules we did was a 100 year time line ... 50 years back and 50 years into the future.  Since our first workshops were family inclusive we had a number of young children who participated in creating the time line.  It was an amazing snap shot of a future in the making.  Participants moved backwards and forwards writing down their memories and assumptions.  Great fun and participation.  One idea sparked another and another as people came up one at a time and added a thought.  It was a worthy part of our SCAN. They began to see how they could shape the future, using the new found capabilities Matt had shared with them. And, best of all, participants, all from different sectors of a community began to trust each other. They were creating something together!

By the early 80's we had incorporated our into our vision the idea: "Everyone engaged in rebuilding Earth as a work of art"  Many of the participants were contributing powerful ways of seeing and sensing patterns.

Then we began working with Ernst & Young and while they put up with it, SCAN was just something they had to get their clients to endure. The time line was no longer essential, or if it was, maybe we could move it out five to ten years from the present.  Clearly the future vision and near term were in no meaningful way connected, one to the other.  As Ernst & Young sold to Cap Gemini, the time line got more and more sub optimized. It became tactical instead of exploratory, visionary, inpactful. This is not to say the work they did was not useful. It was and is. But rarely, does it ask enough of participants to think big, be bold, or to step up to transformation.

I tried several times to reserect the importance of playing with the future, looking at possiblities. Never did Matt or I see this as forecasting or predicting but rather an informed brainstorm.  The more we opened ourselves to the possibilities put on the timeline, the more prepared we would be to see reality when it came our way and could respond to it by design, not default. 

In the fall of 2014, a few of us met in Victoria and I once again incorporated the time line into the overall design of our two days together. It began slow but as our conversations warmed up to different thoughts it became more and more apparent that thinking about the future, playing long term, was at the core of our process and method.  We were about so much more than helping a corporation, or non-profit, or government deisgn for a six-month gain! As humans creating a world far into the future, our responsibility was to become foresighted, visionary, fruitful. This was practical and important.  We held the idea close wanting to develop it more, wanting it to become rich, essential, and not get dumbed down to fit within a tiny window.  We met again in 2015 with a slightly larger group and gave it more meaning. 

Since that time, I think each of us present in those sessions have been including We Play in Centuries concept in different ways.  I have liked the ways we have used it and how participants are stepping up and engaging with the future.  Each round brings new ideas and possibilities.  I actually think that an exciting one or two day event could be wrapped within We Play in Centuries and I'm looking for people who think so too! This is the work of Tomorrow Makers. 

Matt and I began our work in the 20th century. We are now well into the first 1/5 of the 21st century.  Our children may well be facing the quesion for how long they want to live. Forever? Perhaps. Certainly well into their 100's.  What kind of world are we creating for the 22nd century? Will we use our power? Our design essence? Our communities to create the world as a work of art?

Let's create a civilization with a long healthy now!  Can we say we have been good ancestors?



Niche Economies

Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I am not the same, the next question is who am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!"

Sunday mornings are days for me to muse and reflect. Today Ive been thinking about "THE ECONOMY". What is the economy I wonder.  In the early 80's we talked about the emerging Global Economy which morphed into the Information Economy, which after some years became the knowledge economy. Now, with increasing rapidity I hear the terms Experience Economy, DIY Economy, Entrepreneur Economy, Gift Economy, Network Economy, Generative Economy, and finally the Nourishment Economy. I love the last two! What would it be like to live in  Generative or Nourishment Economies?

Or perhaps there is no more global economy or one economy from which everyone tries to find themselves.  Maybe we are entering the age of  Niche Economies or many parallel universes happening at once. 

When Nature regenerates it throws out thousands of seeds in order to generate a few. Perhaps as we leave the dying industrial economy and are in the midst of defining the new, it is natural to throw out dozens of ideas and possibilities before choosing ones most fit for our age and emerging possibilities.  How is it we make the healthier economies be the ones that thrive and live while the others lay dormant, unrealized? And what are the unintended consequences of having many simultaneous economies? What is the exchange rate, one for the other?How many can I live in at once?



Our 2016 Stories


Growing up we had a tradition of going to a great movie on Christmas Eve. This Christmas we were able to have that experience again. My two sons, their wives, and our two grandsons went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  We watched in awe in 3-D IMAX theater.  Some of the time, we felt we were there in the midst of the story. 

During the movie, however, I couldn't help but think of the war and destruction that occupied almost every scene.  And thinking back over the past few years, it seems to me that there was an overwhelming number of viscous battles and end of the world Armageddon visions. 

William James, philosopher and psychologist, once said that "We must develop a moral equivalency to war". It seems we are far from that. To my six year old Grandson, war is glorious and fun.  Many of the best selling movies are full of heroes and anti-heroes.  I understand Joseph Cambell's writings on the Hero's Journey and can certainly see that it is an essential part of becoming human and in that vein,  I can enjoy movies like The Force Awakens and the ongoing saga of good and evil. 

However, I wonder where the balance of the healthy, unwaring stories are. Who is writing them? Who is telling the stories of the new world in the becoming? There is good news popping up everywhere, but I must look for it, amongst the horrible news that our current media focuses on... and often misrepresents or in some cases fabricates for its own uses.  In 2015 there were a number of turning points.  I call them Janus moments where the head turns from looking back and assuming more of the same, to looking forward with optimism and hope.  The Paris talks was one such point but there were a number of them.  I put more than 200 articles in my Evernote data base about things occurring that have the potential to change the nature of how we work and live and play together.  Some will take years to unfold and cause us in mass to change our perception of what is possible but many signs are showing up everyday.  The adjacent possible is wiring itself around the old established fear based paternal way of thinking and behaving and finding exciting new avenues to travel.  Hopefully some of these ideas will begin showing up in our movies and books and dinner conversations.  We so desperately need the stories that can carry us forward toward a new world, one born of co-design, collaboration, and a world fit for all life. 

A participant in one of our events once said after a session, "My Mom always said when good things happened that they were too good to be true.  But, now going forward I will say about good ideas "This is good enough to be true."

May 2016 be full of stories good enough to be true! Let's uncover and write all the stories deserving a place in our history and our future. What if in each classroom, the day began with asking students for good news? Perhaps then, these good news stories could be folded into a longer story, maybe even a book written by our young minds. And, what if these classroom stories became part of dinner conversations and FaceBook stories. We, the people, are the ones creating this new world. Let's tell the stories!


The evolution of the Knowledge Worker

"Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an "executive" if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results". - Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive (1966)

“The task decides, not  the name, the age, or the budget of the discipline, or the rank of the individual applying for it. Knowledge, therefore, has to be organized as a team in which the task decides who is in charge,  for what, and for how long." - Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity, 1968

In 1981 as Matt and I were developing our method and process, we called upon Drucker's use of Knowledge Worker to identify our way of working.  We fused Drucker's term with my work from the Learning Exchange re experiential education, and Matt's work with building crews and his studies in complexities.  We intuitively understood that the complexities of the future would require a deep understanding of collaboration and knowledge exchange.  We tied in Howard Garner's work with different intelligences and our understanding and support of the knowledge worker began to unfold.  Very few understood what we were doing as most facilitation processes were formed by a lead expert facilitator and several supporting administrator, organizers.  Even those on our team that we called Knowledge Workers balked. Few understood Drucker's understanding of the emerging future. 

Neither Matt nor I wanted to grow a large organization so our response was a network of knowledge workers.  Our dream for KWs was that they could give us about two weeks a month and for the other month they could do their writing, art, science, school or what have you.  We created a pay system that would provide freedom to pursue their dreams.    Needless to say, we were ahead of the game.

However, in the 80's there were massive layoffs from the large corporations. They were forsaking their belief in life time employment.  Fast Company responded with an article call A Brand Called You and Tom Peters wrote a book called the same.  Companies of One were beginning to emerge.  The bubble also forced people out on their own.  This was a fertile time for incubation and beginning the quickening of the knowledge worker. 

The knowledge workers, born of the MG Taylor process were several steps ahead.  One, they were already a network and had learned the art of collaboration and design.  They knew how to find each other and they established a sapient leadership spirit amongst them.  Two, and perhaps most important, they had learned how to play as a core part of the work.  They became designers, makers, doers and players ... some of the most sought after skills today. 

Today, articles like The Dark Matter of Open Making; Six ways work will change in 2016; Meet KEE, A Social Network for Tackling Societal Problems. In my mind these all grew out of Peter Druckers first definition and the MG Taylor understanding for how Knowledge Workers would in the long run, help shape a new economy. 

I think we are all born natural makers and knowledge workers. The good news is that the Millenials don't seem to be outgrowing this natural inclination.Over the years ahead, knowledge workers will take many different forms and seek to make differences in all kinds of ways.     In Druckers words "The task decides not  the name, the age, or the budget of the discipline, or the rank of the individual applying for it."  Just think what we can do!


As I'm finishing this, I'm listening to KQED's Forum and Tim O'Reilly talking about the market place of the future.  Right now he is talking about a base income for all and what it could and will facilitate! What fun!


What Do You Do With An Idea?

In the light of the great value placed upon creativity, a stranger to our planet might infer that it is rare indeed. Yet nearly all of the characteristics of the creative mind are present in young children! The child explores the environment, coins words, synthesizes phrases. S/he relishes surprises and copes with a challenge. S/he daydreams, discovers, asks questions unceasingly. Her perceptions are fresh, strictly his own."

Marilyn Ferguson, The Brain Revolution, 1973

My son, Todd, gave me a precious Mother's Day gift.  What Do You Do With An Idea is a book written for the child within each of us.  Kobi Yamada, writer, and Mae Besom, illustrator have produced a wonderful book revealing how ideas come into your life, sometimes invited, sometimes not. 

Where did it come from? Why is it here? What do you do with an idea?

It is true, at least for me, that my best ideas come to me. They do not come from me. It is true that in the beginning, they seem to settle within my head as a tiny seed.  They demand attention. 

I can act like it doesn't belong to me, I can walk away from it.  But it follows me. 

The authors unfold the story as the idea grows and demands attention and stewardship. 

But there was something magical about my idea. I had to admit, I felt better and happier when it was around.

It wanted food. It wanted to play. Actually, it wanted a lot of attention!

It grew bigger and we became friends.

And finally, the idea gets accepted and a friendship evolves...

Then, one daym something amazing happened. My idea changed right before my eyes. It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky!

I don't know how to describe it, but it went from being here to being everywhere. It wasn't just a part of me was now part of everything!

And then, I realized what you do with an idea... you change the world!

A colleague and I once set out to write a book about where ideas come from. We covered our white walls with potential content. Our thoughts were filled with inspiration and ideas that showed up in this book. But, they were far more complex and convoluted.  Now reading this book, I think we missed the mark by not asking the idea for the book to lead us, to write the story. Instead we tried to time box it, control it, influence it with complex ideas.  We let the idea slip away.  But it didn't die; it found a new home, a new way to grow into something wonderful and precious!


What's in a Logo?


Tomorrow Makers has a new logo. (see above) Our first one was designed 14 years ago by Alicia Bramlett and we still love it.  The earth colors, shapes, and red thread running through it create a rich narrative.  We have had many, many complements on it.  I sometimes asked strangers what it conveyed  of Tomorrow Makers and I got back words like "beauty", "earth/nature", "parts and whole", "red thread ties together".  Pretty good!

In the beginning neither Todd nor I had any idea for what we were looking for, especially since we still appreciated the work of Alicia. But it seemed time to put out a new story and so Todd and I went to our colleague, Alfredo Carlo @ Housatonic Design Network, with a request to design something new for us.    Emails went back and forth from us to Alfredo and his teammates at Housatonic in  Bologna, Italy, for about six months as we were in no special hurry. Each iteration got us closer to what we were looking for.  Todd and I struggled with purpose.  In the beginning it was easier to tell what was not us, then to know what was us!  With extraordinary patience, Alfredo, Rayane, and Elena, and others provided rich design images and narritives as to what they represented.  Because of these, Todd and I came closer to knowing our own story.  We were able to articulate concepts that embedded natural life forms, Fibonacci concepts, the unfolding and enfolding of conversations each so much a part of our process They even incorporated Kevin Kelly's "Nine Laws of God" for how to create something out of nothing.  We saw each term as something embedded in everything we do. 

A few weeks later we received this graphic from the team:

 Click on the image to see it.

Here was our whole story! We could hardly wait to see how they would distill this very full image into a simple logo. Can you find the final design within this complex graphic?

Several weeks later we got a wonderful PDF back with our logo, how the design unfolded within the team, and a display for how the logo would play on a letterhead, business cards, brochures, web pages, and proposals. 

I think the most important thing for us, besides, the image, was to know the love, and intellect that the Housatonic team invested in our need.  Now, when I see the logo I can feel the Housatonic energy behind it.  And, we are not alone. The first time Todd and I used the logo for a proposal, we were complimented first and foremost on our logo! Now, I am waiting for the printer to phone telling me that my new business cards are ready. I have not had cards for years, but I will be happy to have these to hand out. 




Libraries and Museums

Recently Tomorrow Makers facilitated an event with Simmons College with partners from Illonois and Toronto Universities, funded by the Institute of Museums and Libraries.  Fifty three participants came from all aspects of information services .... librarians, museum curators, archivists of countries and the Internet, researchers, social media, schools of design, engineering, and education.  They came to explore the future of information services and to begin to design curriculum to meet the challenges of the future. 

Throughout the three days we were together I was constantly reminded of how much this group cares about their work. This was the first time all of the various aspects of information services had come together to design together.  They were hungry to share and learn from each other. They seemed to realize the importance of working together to curate the past, present, and future of information.  It was interesting to talk to the archivists of Canada and the US. I had never given thought to this enormous and important work.  The librarians were for inclusive justice in all ways.  As librarians they exchanged thoughts on the changes being made in urban and rural libraries to move to more inclusive ways of serving their communities.  Museums are trending more toward a "hands on"and collaborative  approaches to serving visitors. 

Their three days together were for the purpose of crafting a vision of the future and within this frame, to design curriculum for students working in information services.  The outcome over the course of the year was to be the development of a white paper that would put their ideas into a written form.  I think if I was a student today, I would carefully consider a field within information services! What rich opportunities were being talked about. 

The white paper will evolve over the year. Participants presented solid ideas for what they wanted the paper to include.  They spoke of being bold, of writing something that would stand out and matter in the here and now as well as into the future. They wanted their ideas for their role in civic discourse and for lifelong learning included.  With the changes happening so fast, it was not only students needing to learn but faculty as well. Technology no longer stands beside the curriculum but is embedded in every facet of learning. 

Clearly this group was happy to be together learning from each other. Although there was no expectation or outcome to keep this group together, it seemed clear that they would find ways to continue the conversations. Many stepped up to helping with the white paper. Others formed friendships across normal boundaries. 

I was delighted to have played a part in bringing this group together. My esteem for the work of these people has always been appreciative. It reached new heights in these few days together. And, I think they found new delight and significance in their work. Suddenly, the mundane of everyday effort got buried in a hugh amount of appreciation for the parts they play in our culture ... historically, and well into the future. 

The Origin of Our Design Axioms

“Discovering you don't know something is the first step to knowing it.”
“Everyone in this room has the answer. The purpose of this intense experience is to stimulate one, several, or all of us to extract and remember what we already know.”

All of our axioms were created in 1981 while Matt and I were living in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland, a tiny community was about 3,000 feet above Boulder, Co.  MG Taylor corporation and the DesignShop process were just forming, growing out of workshops we were offering on personal planning under an organization called CHOICE (choosing healthy options in changing environments). It was through these workshops that participants began asking us to work with their businesses, government departments, and corporations.  

1981 was twenty-five years ago. The Rate of Change model was one of our earliest models. Almost all of our workshops/DesignShops began with this model.  None of our participants had ever thought about change in this way.  The idea of exponential change was quite foreign. Collaboration, Group Genius, design, paradigm shifts were other strange concepts.  Yet, we discovered that when we created an environment and a process for people to explore these ideas, to create with them, as opposed to debating them, whole new ways of thinking began to take hold. People were hungry to learn a new way; they were curious; they were scared; they were stepping into a new world.  As Matt and I were driving down those 3,000 feet from Nederland to Boulder where we had our first office, our axioms were born. They were created as a scaffolding to help participants  leave the safety of their existing mental models and begin to get hand-holds on new ways of thinking and acting.  One by one the axioms were created over a couple of months as we watched participants move from one way of thinking to another. We spoke the axioms in the car. None of them were written, or iterated; rather they just formed as we watched people do what seemed to come naturally when they were given both the freedom and structure to think and work differently. Matt and I spent time exploring the ‘fitness’ of each axiom. Did it seem innate to humans? Was it authentic and universal?

Today, the axioms might seem fairly obvious.  But the idea of everyone having part of the answer was very strange in the 80’s and most of the 90’s.  The thought of working together to get better answers than we could possibly do on our own was a ridiculous concept.  Admitting that we didn’t know something was dangerous. We had our job positions because ‘we knew the answer.’  We held our status in school because we knew or didn’t know answers.  

Once we had our set of axioms we began each session with them. We didn’t explain them. We just offered them for consideration.  And throughout each event, participants would come to us at different moments and tell us that they ‘got one’ and how delighted they were to re-member something they knew innately, but had been taught differently.  Our axioms enabled people to be bolder, more transparent, more transformative in their thinking and working. The axioms created a scaffolding, a safety net, for different ways of thinking. They weren't to be argued, or rationally understood. They were  just statements to be used in design.

When I look at my THERE, my vision of our work so many years ago,  I can see how far our cultures have come in becoming comfortable with life-long learning and being able to say I don't know.  "Let's find out ... together!" is becoming the way! The axioms created a social benchmark for me. Change can seem non-existant, or very slow. With the axioms I can look back and see how far we have really come.  And, they are still powerful, still providing meaning and insight to me and many others. 

The Power of Backcasting

It was 1977 that Draper Kauffman visited The Learning Exchange, an organization a friend and I had founded. Draper was a futurist and when visiting Kansas City someone suggested he visit the Learning Exchange. We had several hours together sharing our thoughts about how unprepared students were to think about relevant futures for themselves. Draper had been with the Rand Corporation, a futures think tank. He was horrified by the gulf between what was being taught in schools and the world that was unfolding in which students would find themselves. Over dinner with Matt (Taylor) and me, Draper got to talking about how he learned to trick the mind into opening up and allowing itself to play with the future.

Draper left the Rand Corporation and secured his doctorate in education, specifically to teach teachers how to engage the future in grades K through 12. He had a hunch and he wanted to run experiments. When working with a classroom of 5th And 6th grade teachers, he handed out as assignment that simply ask the teachers to write the rest of the story. Each handout had a paragraph beginning the story. For all, the task was to make up a story based on this vague first paragraph. Draper left the classroom and retuned about 20 minutes later. Many of the teachers were just sitting, having written very little. Others were several pages into their story. He asked them to share their experience of writing. What none of them knew was that half the teacher’s paragraphs were written in past tense, the other half in future tense. With few exceptions, teachers who had past tense had fun and wrote many paragraphs making up the story as they went along. But those writing future tense struggled imagining a story that was yet to take place. This discovery led Draper to teach his course very differently.

Draper began to teach modeling to his students. Most of them had no idea how to create models in their imagination… or how to use models in their thinking processes. To his students, the future was something left to the experts, to be proven right or wrong over time. The future was made up of facts just like in their history books, not possibilities and imagination.

And it gave Matt and me an important insight. This is how the axiom "you can't get There from Here, but you can get Here from There" originated.

When you begin to frame the future from the present, all kinds of blocks show up. The present is full of the here and now and of many reasons change is not possible. Very little of our school life is composed for facilitating imagination and foresight. It is based on learning facts and facts are only within the past, or the here and now. It is based on test scores and right or wrong. To ease the tension, Matt and I decided that the first paragraph we wrote, from which participants would use as a baseline, would insure success. It would ask participants to remember their success story.

Draper's work was an important influencer in the development of our method and process. The importance of modeling, playing with ideas, assuming success became core principles in our work.

(Draper's book, Teaching the Future, is an important book and still very relevant. It is, however almost impossible to find. Our “Curriculum for the 21st Century” was also inspired by his work.)

This morning this article on Peter Drucker showed up in my in box. Drucker was quite good at envisioning THERE and bringing it to his HERE. 

- Gail

A timeline of the use and spread of the term "Group Genius"

1980: Inspired by her observations and reflections on her time teaching second grade in the late 1960’s and her exposure to the work of Lawrence Halprin, Gail Taylor coins the term. It finds its way into the business planning documents and collateral of Taylor Associates in the early 1980's.

1997: Fast Company Magazine publishes Group Genius, a feature article on Matt and Gail Taylor and the DesignShop process they created with MG Taylor Corporation (formerly Taylor Associates).

1998: Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work, by Chris Peterson and Gayle Pergamit published by Knowhere Press. This book was the first, comprehensive mass market publication detailing the MG Taylor frameworks, processes and methods. Currently unavailable in print at a reasonable price, the book is available for free online.

1999: The Foresight Institute, where Leaping the Abyss authors were Senior Associates, hosts Group Genius Weekend at the Knowhere Store in Palo Alto, California. This marked the first appearance of the Group Genius logo (pictured below right) created by Christopher Fuller and Claire Arias.

2000: The inaugral "Group Genius Awards" are presented by MG Taylor to individuals, event teams, and NavCenters that exemplify Group Genius in how they work and release creativity in groups.

Around 2004, Architectz of Group Genius forms as a design consultancy in Milan, Italy, inspired by the work and methodology of Matt and Gail Taylor.

2007: Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer, a renowned and highly regarded scholar on the science of creativity, is published. So far as we can tell, this is the first public appearance of the term not directly connected with the original usage of the term, though the context and meaning has much overlap. The book has been well received and is typically receives the highest Google page rank when doing a search for “group genius."

2014: The Difference Australia, a subsidary of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, launches a promotional video that appropriates the term, indirectly referencing the Taylor methodology as a core source of their own methodology. Gail and Matt are frequent advisors, educators and co-designers to The Difference Australia team.

2014: Tomorrow Maker Todd Johnston appears at TEDx Livermore and gives a Talk on several of the core conditions that contribute to the realization of Group Genius.


TEDx Livermore: Uncorking Creativity with Group Genius

Screenshot from Todd's TEDx Livermore Talk via LivestreamNote: The following is the written version of my talk at TEDxLivermore: Uncorking Creativity on September 20, 2014. When the talk is available online, a link will be posted here.


Good morning.

I want to begin with a simple assertion:

To be human is to be creative..

It is in our nature. Unlike batteries, creativity is included in the package.

Now, we may each have our own means of expressing this creativity, and our own perception of our creativity relative to other people may vary.

And, certainly, good arguments have been made that as we grow up and are socialized into the world, our abilities to tap into and express our creativity may diminish if they are not developed and practiced.

But at a fundamental level, whether it is expressed by baking cakes or writing code, painting portraits or snapping selfies, architecting buildings or building businesses, we are all innately and unavoidably creative.

And it is this creativity which lies within each of us that has largely brought about and enabled the world we live in, with all of it’s incredible in its beauty, sophistication and capability.

And, we have no reason not to think that immeasurable good things will continue to be brought into the world with this creative force.

And yet...

The sum of our creativity is not enough.

It is not enough to solve for the kind of complex problems that we, as a species have and will continue to create as a natural course of our lives.

It is not going to be enough to solve the challenges that matter most in our organizations, institutions, communities, ecosystems and so forth..

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