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!

 

 

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 dot.com 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 anymore...it 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.

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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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Hive Minds: Time to drop the fiction of individuality

For instance, in one experiment aimed at promoting more healthy behaviour we compared the strategy of giving participants cash when they improved their behaviour to the strategy of giving cash to the participants' buddies. We found giving buddies the reward was more than four times as effective as giving rewards directly to the participants. Similar social network incentives have yielded even more dramatic results when used to encourage energy savings and voting.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229630.300-hive-minds-time-to-drop-the-fiction-of-individuality.html

As a teacher in training during the 60's neither the quote at the top or most of the bullet points below were ever mentioned.  I learned that individuals were competitive, not cooperative and that mostly education was a remote, mechanistic necessary happening.  Feelings, empathy, sharing, and co-operation were things to be pounded into young minds. There was also a lot of competitive "dog eat dog" thinking. Teachers' search images were tuned to see this very limited understanding of human nature and young minds. 

Today, thank goodness, we are learning how naive we were in our understanding of human nature and young minds at play and work.  In my own teaching when I was at my best, I learned through observation how often children proved these limited theories wrong. When I changed my expectations, and expected different behaviour, I learned how easy it was to inspire and challenge them. They naturally fell into working together, learning together. 

  • Learning is a lifelong experience that begins at birth and never ends.
  • There is a direct relationship between self image and learning.
  • Environments affect learning. Learning is optimized in creative, trusting environments that provide experience, exploration, risk-taking, and mastery.
  • Learning is an interdependent process involving cooperation and collaboration.
  • Learning involves the engagement of body, mind and spirit.
  • An individual's potential for learning is unknown; without high expectations this potential may never be realized. People excel when they experience high expectations and appropriate challenge.
  • Peak performance is driven by vision and a hunger for a "preferred" state.
  • Learning is a multi-modal, multi-sensory, multi-intelligences experience.
  • Each individual is responsible for his/her learning and for contributing to the learning of others.
  • Education is not the same thing as training. To educate means "to lead forward" and thus to guide an open-ended process, characterized by self-conscious and discretionary activity. To train means "to draw or drag behind" and refers to a closed process of making things habitual or automatic. Learning requires both education and training.
  • Learning happens at different rates for each individual; it can be facilitated but not forced, as it occurs when the individual is ready.
  • Learning is best achieved by defining the learning process as a system and continually taking action to optimize the performance of that system.
  • By establishing a system which both exemplifies and expects responsibility from each individual, and which embeds life-long learning into every segment of society, full and healthy employment will result.
From our Redesigning the Future Proposal, 1972

I can remember, in 1980, doing an early version of our Backcasting module. We asked people to find a "write-on panel" and answer questions about how they solved a problem.  About 15 minutes into the exercise, one of the male participants started crying. He was standing at the wall, with one hand behind his back as he had been taught to do in school, writing and drawing away with tears in his eyes. He said to me, "I only remember the black board (now a white wall) as punishment where we had to go before everyone and be right in our answer.  Here I am pouring forth all kinds of ideas and I will be rewarded for them!".  As adults, we need processes and environments that helps us re-member our natural tendencies to play, and work with each to make better worlds.

I use this list as a barometer and I check it all the time.  How am I facilitating what it really means to be human? And how do we as transition managers help minds of all ages step into their potential?

Enjoy these links. They challenge me to consider new possibilities and let go of old assumptions. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/world/europe/in-france-new-tech-academy-defies-conventional-wisdom.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://petervan.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/principles-for-open-innovation-and-open-leadingship/


 

Coming to Knowing Group Genius

"In excited conversations we have glimpses of the universe, hints of power native to the soul, far-darting lights and shadows of an Andes landscape, such as we can hardly attain in lone meditation.  Here are oracles sometimes profusely given, to which the memory goes back in barren hours."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was during my second year of teaching 2nd graders in a public school that I first connected with the concept of group genius. I had 22 students and each of them had chosen a subject that they were curious about to study and then share their learning with the rest of the class. This was 1965 so there was no Internet and the research was difficult. They had two weeks to prepare.  The only question I can remember with clarity was "Why do soap bubbles have colors?" Many of the questions like this one, were questions that I could not answer without doing my own research. 

Report day arrived and the air was full of excitement. This was work they had done on their own with little support from me. The subjects had only one thing in common, each was personally chosen by the presenter.  The room was set up as theater, honoring whoever was on stage. Each had his own way of presenting their findings.  And then it happened, the entire energy in the room changed. It was charged with excitement and anticipation. My 22 students and myself became one. Something emerged in those few hours that was indescribable but we all felt it and bathed in it.   Despite my degree in education I must admit, I had never really thought about the brain before. I had not really thought about what was going on in the heads of my students, or my own head for that matter. I had no words or explanation for what I had just witnessed - what had turned the room electric -  but I had a deep knowing that something remarkable had happened.

A few years later I came across the notebooks of Lawrence Halprin and saw the words "Group genius" written in a margin. That's it! This is what was happening in my class room! I did not know the science behind the concept of group genius. Words like "emergence",  "self-organizing systems', "complexity" were not used in lay terms in the 60's. But here was Halprin  talking about project-based learning with the community. People were learning through doing. That's what I was doing as teacher and facilitator. This is when I noted that when people of all ages designed together ... produced something of value together ... group genius was a likely outcome.

I set my mind on discovering what I could about group genius. Why does it happen? What are the forces that cause a working group to go into a higher order?  Both The Learning Exchange and MG Taylor were partially formed to create a laboratory, a method and a practice where Group Genius was likely to happen, not just with kids, but all ages and cultures.  I went deeper into complexity science, self-organizng systems and project based learning.  I discovered Kevin Kelly's brilliant book, Out of Control, and read the chapter on Assembling Complexity over and over.  I came to a deeper understanding of complexity, emergence, and simple rules for creating healthy self organizing systems through the writings of Steven Johnson,  Fritjof Capra, Stewart Kauffman and Meg Wheatley. Neuroscience has been one of my more focused studies.

My classroom experience was nearly 50 years ago and over this time span I have seen many, many groups escape into the Group Genius mode. I know now with some certainty how to cause it, not control it, but give it freedom to occur. Now finally, through Stanislas Dehance's book, Consciousness and the Brain: deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts, I am understanding what happens in the brain. Dehance is quite metaphoric and yet very specific and detailed in his writing.  The book is on the individual brain but in his description of how the brain creates a work space to assemble complexity.  I can see the very same thing happening with individual brains when they become group genius.  All the individual brains go into the same assemblage causing group genius.  It is a recursive model! Very exciting because now I can do more than feel it, design for it, take part in it ... I can also understand it! As far as I know there is no formal research being done on group genius. Perhaps this will be coming forth soon. I'd love to know more if anyone knows of this kind of particular research happening.  The MG Taylor method and process can provide real time evidence!

The brain builds itself by laying down large synaptic highways, which become the scaffold of communication corridors from which secondary and tertiary corridors emerge, until a vast “hairnet of axons” covers the brain. Once this hairnet is in place then we have a brain that is able to self-organize an infinite number of connections, thoughts, ideas, innovations and learnings while at the same time behave and direct behavior in dependable, learned ways.

— Marilyn Hamilton, “The Art and Science of Meshworking” from Integral City 

What Is Design? Unlocking The Genius Within

Todd was recently interviewed by Forbes.com columnist Victor Hwang, an venture capitalist and entreprenuer based in Silicon Valley. This interview originally appeared in Forbes.com on February 11, 2014. Posted here with permission from the author.

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Todd Johnston was a designer before designing was cool.  For decades, he and his colleagues have practiced design to accelerate innovation for corporations and countries.  His team designs the collaborative sessions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where they are often tasked to help leaders tackle the biggest challenges. Next week, Todd makes his debut as the Head of Design for our Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley.

We set a simple challenge for ourselves: if we believe that innovative ecosystems can be designed across entire countries, then surely we can create an ecosystem in a single conference.  Therefore, working with Todd, we have turned the conference into a giant design laboratory.  Instead of listening to one-way lectures, our participants will be working in small startup-like teams to tackle real problems in real time.  Instead of talking in abstraction, our participants will be building tangible, 3D prototype solutions to tackle systemic challenges.

I wanted to share some of Todd’s insights on design with you, as they are particularly interesting and relevant to anyone trying to accelerate innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic value creation.

photo by Chris Nohr, thenumbercreative.com
Victor Hwang:
  What does design mean to you?

Todd Johnston:  The first definition I remember learning for design was “to mark out,” which comes from the Latin form of the word (dēsignāre). The simplicity of this definition speaks to me and does as good a job as any definition in getting to the heart of the matter. To design is to mark out a pattern as a means of making meaning of an experience. A design marks out a vision for what can be; the act of designing is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions and that vision.

Hwang:  How do you practice design?

Johnston:  Design as I have practiced it has always been prefixed with “co-“, meaning together, mutually with others. When done well, collaboration unleashes collective intelligence and channels that intelligence into the design process to produce dramatically better results. Co-design recognizes that everyone has expertise to offer, and that there are no experts in the fields of the unknown and undiscovered. The complex problems we face today call for all kinds of intelligences, voices and vantage points.

Hwang:  Why has design become so important today?

Johnston:  Design is a hands-on endeavor of the mind, body and soul. It is both playful and thoughtful, and can be highly liberating. Worthy design is immensely challenging. Rarely are boundaries or solutions clear or easy to come by. This is a great time to be a designer, as I believe we are living in a time when a fundamentally new paradigm, or way of understanding and interacting with the world, is being formed and coming into being.  What better reward could a designer ask for than to help give shape to this?

Hwang:  You talk about how the knowledge economy has transitioned into the creative economy.  What does that mean?

Johnston:  Let me first say what I’m not saying. I am not saying that the knowledge economy is going away, or that knowledge is becoming a less relevant source of what shapes our collective worldview. Over the last quarter century, there have been a number of overlapping descriptors of the social, economic and technological paradigms in which we live. It is largely accepted that what was known as the industrial economy is no longer dominant, and has been replaced by the knowledge economy and network economy as more accurate descriptors of what shapes the marketplace. Part of what is driving this transition is that knowledge is becoming easier and less expensive to store, share, transfer and replicate.

Hwang: What is the result of that transition?

Johnston:  The ability to creatively combine and apply various bodies of knowledge in new and more powerful ways is becoming of great and greater significance. In other words, it is not just about knowledge, but what you do with it. Steve Denning, who has been writing about the creative economy for several years, characterizes it as  “an economy in which the driving force is innovation… in which organizations are nimble and agile and continually offering new value to customers and delivering it sooner.” Building on this, I’d argue that networks are in many instances replacing organizations as the primary mechanisms for combining disparate bodies of knowledge in innovative ways, and are typically more likely to be nimble and agile.  Thus, the creative economy is the name I give to what is emerging from the combination of the knowledge economy in the networked age.

Hwang: How do you describe the philosophy behind your work?

Johnston:  From a practical point of view, the power really comes from its recognition that design, creativity, collaboration, modeling, meaning making, problem solving … all of these things are inherently part of who we are as human beings.  There is a quote attributed to Bucky Fuller that goes something like “All children are born geniuses; 9,999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently de-geniusized by grownups.”

Happy

Genius at work?

Well, maybe one way of looking at the MG Taylor philosophy [in which I was trained] is the process of re-geniusizing people to their fully human selves.  How?  By doing.  By bringing people into the hands-on experience, as a community, designing their future together. From the get go, the Taylors recognized the value of any concept, theory or idea, was in what it enabled you to do.

Hwang:  What lessons have you learned from you work at the World Economic Forum in Davos?

Johnston:  First, dealing with the constraint of incredibly short sessions. …  I’m talking about true, experientially rich, participatory design sessions, in which we are asked to take on a subject or theme complex in nature and provide a platform for 40 – 60 participants to move through several iterations of the creative process in order to make significant, meaningful progress on an issue with global impact. Intellectual property, transatlantic relations, gender equality, climate change, access to water, responsible wealth, and so on….

Secondly, with the World Economic Forum, the teams and programs I’ve been a part of are just a small fraction of the overall system and community that is brought together. …  So, what we, as a small team of facilitators have learned and are continuing to learn, is how and where we can make a difference to the system. Where are the critical leverage points we can leverage for greater impact? How do we make the work visible beyond just those that participate in a session? What can we do to facilitate connections between individuals and parts of the system that may not otherwise be made?

Hwang:  How will your participation at the Global Innovation Summit be similar or different from Davos?

Johnston:  I am very much focused on what we can do to facilitate participants having an integrated, progressive experience. What I mean by this is that I want participants to both get great value from each individual aspect of the program but also for them to make sense of the whole and leaves them feeling as though they have contributed to and accomplished something meaningful collectively.

The key difference, and challenge that we’ll have to meet, is in my work with the World Economic Forum, we have fairly robust facilitation teams and overall smaller groups of people that we’re working with at any given time. So, [the large size of the Summit] will undoubtedly stretch my thinking and my skills to a place they haven’t been before. And that is one of the things that is most attractive to me. New ground. New challenges. Bring it on!

Todd Johnston is Director, Process Design & Facilitation with Tomorrow Makers and a Founding Member of The Value Web. He is Head of Design for the Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley.

Victor W. Hwang is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.  He is Executive Director of Global Innovation Summit + Week (February 17-21, 2014), an event focused on catalyzing systemic innovation across companies, communities, and countries. 

Nelson Mandela and the Adjacent Possible

"The impossible has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks."
Douglas Adams,  The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I consider Nelson Mandela to be a miracle for our time and age.  He was a true gift, gifting us in ways  impossible to foresee. His deeds and words will live on throughout all time and space.

I have been researching and writing about the adjacent possible for sometime now. The life story of Mandela has been unfolding via the news over the last few days.  I am amazed with how many adjacent possible opportunities he took and used to further not only his options but widened the options of behavior and philosophy for all humans.  It seems to me that Mandela had a small number of non-negotiable values which he held true to during his entire life.  They were about fairness and opportunity for all. 

By holding true to these values, he seemed to have had an innate knowledge of when and how to take his next step in his long journey. He walked the fine edge between chaos and death and peace and justice as a way of life.  He knew which doors to crack open and when. He invited others into these adjacent possible spaces and together they opened more possibles.  Over the years, he widened his opportunities for freedom as he did for all of humanity. 

Today, even with his passing, his beliefs and how he lived his beliefs will continue to open new doors to discover new adjacent possibilities to all of us who pay attention to his words and actions.  Mandela seemed never to take the simple way of compromise but always to find the practical way to inch freedom forward.  In his actions, he realized what was impossible to most people. Encouraged by many to compromise, telling him that his undying hope was improbable and useless, he stood his ground and moved forward one adjacent possible at a time creating a higher order solution... a more fit world. 

Each link  shows a different aspect of the adjacent possible.  For those of us with hope in our eyes and hearths, may we come to know as Mandela did the adjacent doors to open as we move forward on this great journey. 

Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward. S. Kierkegaard

Assembling Complexity: When the community practically falls together

"Evolution not only evolves the functioning community, but it also finely tunes the assembly process of the gathering until the community practically falls together." Kevin Kelly, Chapter 4, Assembling Complexity"

Those that know me know I return to this chapter over and over, always finding new insights and value.  I was thinking about naming this journal page "When it is time to railroad, people start railroading." a quote by Robert Heinlein...another way of saying everyone jumps on the bandwagon. And then Todd suggested I think about nature and ecosystems, rather than modeling a mechanical mindset of a fading paradigm.

Today, re-reading Assembling Complexity re-minded me of how nature learns and scales into patterns of renewal and growth. "Nature learns from the ground up and in a somewhat random order."  The chapter takes on new meaning every time I read it.  Today, I think I am coming to knowing my work and vision.  With foresight I only had words ... in hindsight, I have experience and realization. 

More than 30 years ago, Matt and I created a process and method that has come to be called the MG Taylor body of knowledge.  At the time we thought we were creating something that would catch on quickly and provide a new way of working.  We thought that terms like anticipatory, collaborate, design, paradigm shift, requisite variety, and group genius were self-explanatory and would be welcomed into work places of all kinds.  We assumed our modeling language would find its way into the culture and new "words" and models would be added to create a way of thinking and doing. 

Today, in hindsight we are coming to knowing the complex systems in which new ideas ... new paradigms... are forged and become reality.  The methods and processes we developed so long ago have traveled a winding, curious course of evolution. There have been a number of emergent phenomenon providing new ways of seeing and understanding what we set out to do so many years ago.  We are no longer alone in our desires to create healthy new ways of working. Now the field of consultants, academy course offerings, and corporate experiments are employing terms like anticipatory, design, paradigm shift, requisite variety, and group genius in a ubiquitous manner. Complexity theory and all the concepts embedded within it are coming full cycle. I think a tipping point has been reached ... not in five years as we thought, but in thirty years of phase transitions of two kinds. One in the slow decay of the existing paradigm where each year we lose more and more faith in our existing organizations, and institutions until there is little faith that there is anything worth holding onto. The other is the creative aspect of renewal and better ways of working and creating support structures, especially designed for the 21st century and all of its potential for a better world. Our work has been at the core of this.  I can see it emanating from so many newly forming ways of working. I feel that all of who formed the core team and set forth to do the work in the late 70's and 80's should feel that we laid the path, set the course. 

Now as this organic "falling together" takes place, I cannot help but ask myself what next? I feel that we are at the beginning of a new challenge and vision... new phase transitions, new journeys and explorations into an unknown next cycle.  We are not alone this time; it will be a bigger group, a newly informed group of us using 21st century tools and experiences. 

Tomorrow Makers has a particular desire to help this larger group form, learn from each other, and create a deeply embedded understanding of the opportunities and challenges to take leadership to a new understanding, a new way of crafting and designing and acting.  Together we can identify and create a new fitness level... a higher order.

Stuart Kauffman tells us that the "algorithm is incompressible." In other words, one must make something before one comes to know it and understand the phases and transitions that occur invisibly and naturally. Indeed, there are no shortcuts to a higher order, but we think we can help the movement move forward with more vitality and understanding. We can help take the waste out of the system.

 

Turning Worthy Problems Into Worthy Solutions

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Former US Supreme Court Justice

I've had a number of people ask me about this quote.  "What on earth does it mean?" asked one?  Most of us are not used to working with complexity.  We live within it; we name it; we love it or hate it... but actually trying to find our way through it...from one end to the other side is difficult. It's more than a maze because most mazes have walls and narrow runways.  Complexity really is far more ambiguous and un-bordered and unbounded and ideas and parts keep running into each other, getting tangled, seemingly unmanageable.

The creative process demands all the ups and downs of mood swings; a willingness to get lost and stay lost, without undo stress until, within a flash, a hole opens up and provides a new or different way of seeing and sensing... a coming to knowing differently. Suddenly there it is in plain sight! A new and interesting way forward. 

In March, with Matt and a great KreW, we co-designed and facilitated the launching of what I consider to be a worthy problem: How do we cure brain cancer within ten years?  Currently the thinking is it will take 50 years and 50 billion dollars.  However, Cure For Life Foundation, of Australia rejected that assumption and began pulling together resources to drastically cut the time and cost.  The CFL Foundation realized that the goal could only be reached by group sourcing... gathering brilliant minds together from many fields, and ways of thinking.  The DesignShop process was determined to be the best way forward and the project was given the name Global Brain Exchange. 

DesignShop #1, in Sydney, brought together 40 participants for two days.  The challenge: Create the path forward enabling brilliant minds from five continents to uncover the processes, technologies, and paradigm shifts that would make the goal accessible and acceptable.  One of the outcomes was to "inform future work and influence the future direction of The Global Brain Exchange".  In deed, together we got that outcome and found the next step forward.  We learned enough, pulled and tugged at ideas, followed threads of possibility and in the end, have next steps forward. 

By the end of the two days, participants had ceased speaking of worthy problems and started identifying worthy solutions! As participants and facilitators we moved through the ups and downs, the knowns and unknowns, the breaking of our own assumptions about an idea or or way of thinking. There is no better high for me than taking part in the unfolding of Group Genius. 

Recently I watched the documentary, Connected, by Tiffany Shlain. I learned about the hormone, Oxytocin that is released when people connect.  Oxytocin, according to Paul Zak, is responsible for trust, empathy, and other feelings that help build a stable society.

DesignShop #2 will be held in the Nashville, USA sometime this fall.  It will incorporate the learnings from the first and continue creating the GBX ecosystem. Together, we will find the funding, create the next set of questions to ask and work our way through more ambiguity. We are still on this side of complexity but confident that the other side will be reached without compromise. As Margaret Wheatley said in her book, Leadership and the New Science, 1993:Reality changes shape and meaning because of our activity. And it is constantly new. We are required to be there, as active participants. It can’t happen without us and nobody can do it for us.


The past lies in wait

The future is rational
only in hindsight. -mg taylor axiom

At long last, backcasting is becoming a common concept and a mainstream practice among the service design ecosystem as well as communities and organizations actively engaged in designing their future.

When I read this passage from the absurdly great Italo Calvino, I am reminded of a correlary axiom to "the future is rational only in hindsight": history lies in wait for us only in the future. In other words, what we do in the future will go a long way towards making sense and meaning of what has happened up to this point. Of course, Calvino embues it with poetry in how he phrases it:

"The more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there... What he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past, it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey.
The foreigness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossed places."  - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

 

A Singularity in Our Future

The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means.[1] Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood.

Proponents of the singularity typically state that an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent's cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.
Wikipedia

I've been following the Singularity Movement through Kurzweil's blog for years. It has been facinating and curious to me.  Much of what I read and hear seemed too complex for me to understand but I knew I could pick up the developing patterns. 

So this past weekend I attended the Singularity Summit in San Francisco to come face-to-face with the thinkers and makers of the movement.  I was curious to think about my own role in the coming years as the possibility of the Singularity unfolds and embeds itself in key decisions of governmental and corporate policies, strategies, as well as the everyday behavior of "we, the people."

I was attracted by the words for the Summit --

The Singularity is an event that could transform the world to its foundations in a way only comparable to the emergence of life itself. As converging technologies lead us towards the Singularity, we must ask ourselves: what is our own responsibility to ensure these technologies are used wisely and benefit everyone? We hope that the discussions here help you find your own answer to that question.

So having attended, what is my answer? I sat and listened with about 300 others to the 20 speakers. I was definitely one of the oldest people attending.  I met professors in philosophy, AI, humanities, linguistics, biology and computer science, all there to listen, to absorb, and to further their own thinking. But it was the youth I was most excited by.  There were a handful in their teens, but most seemed to be younger than 35, many in their early 20s.  My friend, Sharon, who attended with me, and I were freely invited into small conversations with these young minds. They were open in their enthusiasm, visionary in their vision to improve the state of the world, and passionate in their explorations and doing-ness.  Many participate, as fellows or staff or students, in Singularity University programs which has the express purpose of graduating students who will go forth and bring solutions to a billion people!!! So I asked them if this was an impossible goal and their answer was a universal, "No, we're on it" as if it was the most natural thing in the world. 

I felt significant changes in my beingness as I listened and conversed. I seem to lose my place, the me I felt I knew. Many of my talents and ways of thinking about myself seemed to become inconsequencial. At times I recalled the feeling of being in an isolation tank ... floating, drifting in and out of reality.  I found myself asking myself, "Who and what am I"?  For the first time, I saw myself within the Singularity movement, not standing outside.

When one of the speakers announced that there was a Singuarity volunteers web site, I immediately went to  and realized that I had no expertise for any of the volunteer jobs but one.  I could spread the word in a responsible manner.  My friend, Christine Peterson, from the Foresight Institute reminded us all that the Singularity movement is not foriegn to govenments or corporations. It is being actively explored by those with money and power.  Our work as ordinary citizens then is to step up and learn as much as we can, to inform ourselves and to take part in shaping the Singularity movement into technologies and thought processes...into art and science... that are used wisely and benefit everyone. 

Traditionally, we have let the governments and corporations do the work for us and look at the mess we are in! Now it is our turn.  So as I play with the essence of the Singularity movement, what can I grok? What matters that I can do? Our future is not without risk but I don't think it is useful to spend my energies being fearful or fighting the movement forward. That is not me. I sense that Singularity plays some part in our emerging paradigm. Singularity is part of the core seeds we are sowing now that will play out well into a future of some sort.  I plan to advocate that the best aspects of our humanity join with the movement and insure we have a collective, active partnership with technology moving forward.  In some ways, I think this is nature's most elequant and challenging design evolution.  Should she succeed, perhaps we will come to know ourselves for the first time.