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


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

One of my favorite MG Taylor axioms is "You can't get THERE from HERE but you can get here from there." Backcasting has become popular over the years but when we first used it with our clients in 1980.  It seemed very strange - and powerful - to them.  Work walls to work big on? Collaboration across all boundaries, both vertical and horizontal? Unleashing Group Genius? These were things our clients had never thought about, let alone experienced. There was no proof in our beginning, no benchmarking. We simply had to put our concept to work.

RUN-WALK-RUN is a process we used on ourselves when we founded MG Taylor Corporation and put into place methods and tools that were not  available in the market place.  R-W-R is the process of leaping out into the future and envisioning a world that could be - well beyond what you know to be possible from the vantage point of here or today. Between  THERE and  HERE there are many possibilities. What is known that could help us realize our vision? One example of this was our need for large write on walls as we were sure that working big was a critical tool in enabling deep collaboration.  No walls could be found. Possible vendors stared at us like we were crazy.  So we made the walls ourselves by finding a manufacturer of refrigerators and getting access to the surface materials on refrigerators. One weekend with a rented truck, colleagues, and Matt's artistic imagination and engineering skills,  we created our first Working Big environment of at least 20 four wide by 6 high panels. 

We invited friends into the space and asked what to do with the space.  Draw, create, share ideas, work together were the responses. Our walls were covered with ideas and plans.  Because we had created a tiny part of our vision and been willing to share it, others were able to engage with us. In a single afternoon of working together, one office supply store owner wanted to put his furniture in the space as a showcase.  Others had ideas for how to make the environment work better. We were off and running, learning as we went.

WALK signifies what isn't to be found and needs to be made up from scratch -- something that can fill in while waiting for someone to invent it.

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Random Thoughts About The Body at Rest

Consciousness: that annoying time between naps. ~Author Unknown

 Last weekend I got to enjoy watching young Owen (18 months) sleep the afternoon away. After a very short messing about, he got so still and stayed that way for more than two hours. He was so still, so calm. His body was so relaxed and present in some strange way.  I thought it was beautiful. When Owen woke up, kind of slow, but happy, he seemed to take delight in seeing his stuff surrounding him.  Smiles, and ews and ahs ... his delightful comments about the things he cares about.  It is like he drew his world around him again.

Over the last few days the same thing has been happening to me.  I am beginning to get a new thought about this kind of sleep. This past year has been a curious one as I have moved in and out of pneumonia, surgery, and now chemo therapy, I remember some of my awakenings.  It is as if the minute before there was no me, no world ... just body. Each of these times are so different from most when I wake up full of thought, axiety, excitement, restlessness, tired, etc. etc.  I wake up to my brain, not my body!

I think there must be times when the body just takes over and puts everything conscious on hold. I like these times! I am no expert here so I give way to my imagination. I remember watching a Nova film about children growing. They don't grow gradually, but in spurts. It can be true that your son is 1.5 inches taller one day from the next! I bet the body puts the mind to rest when it is doing this stretching and drawing forth, modeling the seeds sprouting forth, working their way up from the rich soil of possibility.

I have been told that sleep heals and I have tried to be patient with the time it takes.  Mostly I have succeeded, especially when I have the "body at rest" type.  It is so wonderful.  Such a miracle to wake up and wrap my complete world around me again.  I know now that I am in chemo, that the treatment itself might be killing off some of my healthy cells that make me tired and anemic. So, I am watchful.  And appreciative that there is real comfort and peace in the midst of fighting this cancer. 

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Spark Card: Build A Model

Words - whether exchanged through conversation or composed into a written document - can get us only so far in expressing ideas. Our words are abstractions that live purely in our heads, and rely upon shared, implicit assumptions of what they mean and represent.

Get out of your heads and put your hands to work!

Use any physical materials you have available and build a three-dimensional model of your idea. Make it as detailed and explicit as you can - bring the idea that lives in your head to life in the space where your working.

Our are typically outfitted with “modeling kits” for just this purpose. These may include items such as clay, foam, wire, string, construction paper, popsickle sticks, egg cartons, wooden dowels, straws, sacks, glue, tape, and all sorts of other odds and ends. In our view, no social or group meeting space is complete without resources and tools that enable 3-dimensional model building.

This is the fourth in a series of Spark Cards being published to the Tomorrow Makers Journal.

Spark Card: Humor Yourselves

“If you can’t have fun with the problem, you will never solve it.”
- MG Taylor Axiom

"No ha-ha, no ah-ha."
- My version of the same

Humor plays a huge role in our ability to solve problems.  When two or more ideas come together in an unexpected way, they can cause surprise and delight -- our minds reframe. Humor can help us realize totally new emergent ideas.  

Jokes are a good example of this, where two seemingly conflicting ideas come together and are resolved by "getting the joke." At the moment you get the joke, the tension from the initial conflict dissolves in laughter.

 Take a few minutes and share some jokes with each other.

Now, take a few minutes and create some jokes about the ideas you are playing with.

This is the second in a series of Spark Cards being published to the Tomorrow Makers Journal. 

follow up: Creating A Cultural Shift

Following up on a previous post, further evidence of the cultural shift within the World Economic Forum:

  • I see that they have selected "The Power of Collaborative Innovation" for the theme of their 08 Annual Meeting in Davos - a theme well outside the imagination - collaborative, collective, or otherwise - of the Forum only a couple of years ago.
  • The WorkSpace has continued to get prominent placement and widespread engagement this year, with return deployments to the Middle East and Africa, as well as inaugural trips to China (including sessions entirely in Mandarin) and India (coming in December).
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Where Do Ideas Come From?

"That very night in Max's room a forest grew and grew and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around." Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are.

Children's books are subtle.  I believe that each of us is born with an inherent creativity  and longing to make a contribution to our world.  But often, those around us—parents, teachers, businesses, society—with good meaning, conspire to rid us of this creativity. Adults seem all to eager to turn children into productive, serious, on-track-grown ups. But, authors of childrens' books have a trick up their sleeve. They embed ideas into wonderful stories ... stories that as children,  we ask for over and over again.  Marice Sendek is such an author.  Sendak is the kind of author that won't let children forget what they inherently know. 

Children's books are subtle.  I believe that each of us is born with an inherent creativity  and longing to make a contribution to our world.  But often, those around us ... parents, teachers, businesses, social norms ... with good meaning, conspire to rid us of this creativity... these ideas that we long for and turn us into productive, serious, on track grown ups.  Authors of childrens' books have a trick up their sleeve. They embed ideas into wonderful stories ... stories that as children,  we ask for over and over again.  Marice Sendek is such an author. Sendak is the kind of author that won't let children forget what they inherently know. 

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Turn Around Sam

"Anyone can talk to a tree but not everyone can carry on a conversation because they will not stay still for long enough. Sometimes it takes a whole day for a tree to tell you its name." Tokien

Joanna Macy speaks of the great turning... our turning away from a world no longer working to something more fit, more thriving for all those who are part of Universe, and in particular, Gaia, our Earth planet. In my day to day life, it is difficult to see the changes happening ... the great turning in the becoming. Rather, I keep wondering when it will begin. And then I think of Turn Around Sam one of the many characters in Tom Robbins' Skinny Legs and All. In the book, Turn Around Sam is a living statute that turns around so slowly that no one can see him move, yet move he does turning in a complete circle several times a day... everyday in a New York park.

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