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

Instead of answers, clues

In her recent post, A world without answers, Gail expounds on one of the effects of increasing rates of change and growth in complexity: Answers aren't what they used to be. So how then, as we venture into panarchy, can we utilize the incredible expertise time has accumulated, if not for answers?

An effective process through which to put "expertise" is a syntopical reading. Most often (in my experience), this is done in groups, with each person having different books or source material, and taking an hour or 90 minutes to scan and note. However, it can also be an enlightening way of thinking and engaging with ideas as an individual.

Create a dialogue with and among the authors. Don't limit them to analysis and critique - let them imagine and galumph with each other's thoughts. Use syntopical reading as a means of getting familiar with someone's ideas and the all important context and situations they rest upon... and then carrying them forward. Engage both imaginative, play-of-mind thinking as well as analytical and critical thinking.

Don't set your sights on answers. Rather, seek out clues, and explore the relationships that connect them.

I'm using syntopical reading and conversing in this way in a current exploration of paradigm shifts and other kinds of phase transitions. Gail and I recently crafted a paper touching on paradigm shifts in general but more particularly, exploring current history for compelling signs that a significant shift is unfolding, and may be on the verging on a global upcreation to borrow a term from Kevin Kelly.

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Lilly-Pad Economics

We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.
R. D. Laing

I remember years ago (1962-65) when I was teaching second graders by showing pictures of a pond with one lilly pad on day 1; two on day two; four on day three, etc.  Young eyes drew large when the metaphor revealed that one day after the pond was half full, ti was full! "No way" they exclaimed.  That's when we began our own experiment accumulating rice at an exponential rate. Each day one of the students would double the grains of rice. One corner of the room got quite full and each day it took the student longer to count out the grains.  I also challenged the class to estimate how far an adding machine roll of tape would go. Such a small roll. Students estimated that one role would cross the classroom, about 35 feet.  WOW ... all the way to the principal's office! How could that be as they unrolled and unrolled. We talked about compounding interest and other such things ... project learning for 7 year olds.  We all learned a lot that year. Young minds learned to think about patterns and I think they came to know that being surprised about their assumptions was a very good thing. 

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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. 

From the Inside-Out...

"I never teach my pupils;
I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."  Albert Einstein

I have been listening to an interview with Oliver Sacks on his new book, Musicophilia. He mentions that much more of the brain is recruited for music than for language.  There is no one spot where a neuroscientists goes to access music from the brain.  Music pulls from many, many parts.  Music, Sacks asserts is innate, even for those who like myself, are musically challenged.

I recall hearing about a prisoner who kept himself sane by understanding the idea that "Once one gets deeply into a subject, he discovers that it relates to everything else in the universe."  In deed, this soldier's mind was able to take untold learning journeys that kept him not only sane, but enlightened under the most awful of external realities.  No one told him what to learn next, or how to connect. His mind took him on these explorations.

Both of these stories reveal the awesome innate abilities that each of us have inside us. Yet, almost all schooling assumes that learning comes from the outside and fights its way into our brains so that we can grow up knowing what we need to know...

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One Laptop Per Child

"Beginning with Seymour Papert's simple observation that children are knowledge workers like any adult, only more so, we decided they needed a user-interface tailored to their specific type of knowledge work: learning. So, working together with teams from Pentagram and Red Hat, we created SUGAR, a “zoom” interface that graphically captures their world of fellow learners and teachers as collaborators, emphasizing the connections within the community, among people, and their activities." From the One Laptop Per Child website, 2007

olpc-1.jpgI have my own OLPC computer now. It sits on my desk beside my MacBook.  It looks like an interesting toy ... something that you might get at Toys R Us. And yet, it is extremely sophisticated in its simplicity.  It is indeed a disruptive technology, not because of its design and power (which is powerfully advanced) but because of how it is designed to be used.   Right from the start, the designers of the laptop assumed that children know how to learn and they learn best from each other or by emulating others. They learn because they are curious, playful, and interested in life.  The OLPC does not assume that learning is a scarce commodity ... that only the wealthy can afford to be well educated. In fact, it is distinctly against the model that says children learn by being taught by a teacher.  To me, it is a wonderful experiment, and if it can scale, I am betting that it makes a wonderful contribution to our understanding of how and why learning happens.

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If I Could Do It Again....

“To learn is to change. Education is a process that changes the learner... Learning involves interaction between the learner and his environment, and its effectiveness relates to the frequency, variety and intensity of the interaction. Education, at best is ecstatic.”      George Leonard, Education and Ecstasy, 1976

I read Leonard's book in 1976 and knew it would become a classic.  He made strong points about what education could and should be. I was considered a forerunner in education having opened one of the most creative and innovative Teacher Center's in the country. I was given awards and invited to speak at large teacher associations and conferences. The Learning Exchange  that I helped to create engaged with exemplary teachers throughout the greater Kansas City Area  to create curriculum that the cummunity felt was lacking in the area schools. I thought a lot about the 21st century and wondered what young people would need to learn in the 20th century that would help them be fit in the 21st century.  I regaled against the "sit-and-get" way of learning and  the LX became well known for project-based learning and for making collaboration, design, and exploration seem natural ways of learning, even for adults. 

In 1978, my husband, Matt, and I started teaching a course together for students and adults called TOOLS (Time of Our Life Seminars). We created an outline curriculum for the 21st Century.  Our course was intense explorations into the future, engaging the personal, organizational, and world views of each participant.  And yet, and yet, as I now live in the 21st century ... as I see the changes that have occurred in just one generation  -- 30 years or so -- there is so much I wish I had offered that I did not even think about then.  I took so many things for granted.

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A Playshop for Evolutionary Leadership, Collaboration & Systems Thinking

A few weeks back, I had the honor of designing and facilitating a 3-hour event - or "playscape," as Professor Laszlo called it - with a class of MBA students at the Presidio School of Management studying "Evolutionary Leadership, Collaboration, and Systems Thinking."

With such a juicy course title, I wasn't a hard recruit. I knew from the get-go that I did not want to try to present to the class, opting instead to first give the students a participatory experience of the kind of collaborative design processes I like to create, and then open the room for conversation and questions generated by the interaction.

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In less than three hours, the class created six new enterprises, defined the guiding principles and organizational practices of each, incorporated key insights from three dozen world-class writers and authors and, finally, presented these business models to each other in way that could be readily understood in about three minutes.

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It was a rich and immersive afternoon of collaborative design and social learning, embued with emergence and playfulness.


Doing What Comes Naturally

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. Plato

Years ago when I was a teacher, I found that even my second graders sometimes got too serious. Once when they were all intense and upset about some test, I created the Esnesnon Club (nonsense spelled backward) and they were all members.  The rule was to create nonsense ideas that engaged all members.  Sometimes, what happened was brilliant, other times, just pure corn.  The Esnesnon Club continued throughout the year. Always though it brought fresh air into the room and lightened things up. 

Later when I founded the Learning Exchange, (1972) play was a healthy part of the process.  We had a large recycle department that stocked left overs and scraps from businesses throughout the city.  We would have contests to see who could think of the most uses for these items.  These items became reusable wealth and became a healthy part of the LX budget each year.  One of the things the LX spawned was an Invention's workshop for teachers and principals. Teams were asked to select ten to 15 items out of a barrel of goodies and then they were asked to invent something with them.  Non just anything, but a "timer that would run for exactly three minutes then send a signal to send a rubber ducky down stream"; or "a vehicle that would run on its own power for 90 seconds then emit an odor that would trigger something else to happen". Teams had to design, build, market, and sell their ideas.  We often had adults ... serious adults rolling on the floor with laughter.  There was a freedom in the room,  unencumbered moments where people became themselves ... curious, collaborative, playful, and active.  These were the years before anyone thought about the value of collaboration. But here they were seeing how different minds could see and solve different parts of the problems.  In the debrief there was always astonishment about how they all participated and because of that, created success.  In a three-hour module these adults who worked side by side each day - who counted on each other - got to know each other better than all the hours they had spent working, worrying about students and parents, playing politics, and acting adult. 

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Undressing in Public

The only valid test of an idea, concept or theory is what it enables you to do. MG Taylor Axiom, 1983

I sometimes stare at the clothes worn by people throughout the ages and wonder what the motive was for such costuming. Corsets, pettycoat hoops around the feet, shoes that bind and distort, armour so heavy that one could hardly walk... and on and on. In the 1920's, Helen Willis, one of the world's greatest tennis players was the first to question the need for long dresses and corsets when playing tennis. She dared to undress in public by trading her dress for mid calf pants of a sailor type style. Follow swimming suits fashion through the ages and you will find the same questioning over time about the appropriate dress for the situation.  And over time, new images of what is appropriate dress comes into fashion. 

Today, another form of undressing in public is happening. This time it is not about clothes but about expertise. For years and years, we have sought to get our doctorates or other certificates signifying that we have the answers ... that our answers out-trump other answers.

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Creating A Cultural Shift

"People don't resist change. They resist being changed."
—Peter Senge

Since the premier of the WorkSpace at the World Economic Forum 2005 Annual Meeting, it has hosted well over 50 sessions and workshops, traveled from the Alps to Egypt and South Africa, and brought several thousand participants into an unprecedented depth of collaboration and co-design. From climate change to the creative imperative, ending chronic hunger to ending intellectual property rights, tribal dynamics to information epidemics, WorkSpace sessions have taken on issues that touch about every individual, community and society on the planet.

Individually, many of these sessions have been a highlight of participants' experience, and have done as much as any other session to shape the Forum's annual agenda. More importantly for the Forum, the cumulative impact of the WorkSpace has been a cultural shift within the Forum community.

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Quotes as Design Agents

"In those places where we're most alive, we are questions, not answers. These questions change as we age. One has to listen carefully, again and again, to detect new questions, which may announce themselves in a whisper. At any age, the questions we're asking define our growing edge. So long as we've got even a single question, we're not dead. If all we have are answers, we might as well be." Robert Fuller, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank

I am often invited to provide quotes to people or for an event.  I love quotes. Note that each of my Journal entries begins with a quote. Each reminds me that I am not alone in my thinking; there are others musing over similar challenges and insights...  I have hundreds of quotes and each is an instruction or insight for me.  They are far more than words; they are ideas to build on and to take as instructive commands.  They give added voice to  my own thinking or to that of a group. I can remember many of the moments where "words jumped off the page" and introduced themselves to me.  Sometimes I have been lucky enough to meet the authors and thank them for their gift. Sometimes, the authors have been surprised and delighted with my insights into their words.  I have added meaning they never considered!  Good exchanges between author and myself  bring forth even more meaning. 

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Must be present to win

"The poet Rilke asks, Why are we here? Why do we have to be human? And he answers: '. . . because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.' Everything living gives and receives according to its nature and its possibilities. What specifically is a human being designed to give—to others and to the earth itself? In a culture dominated by money and by the principle of personal gain, could there arise a wholly realistic way of giving and serving beyond the clichès of altruism and hidden fears for our own safety or the opinions of others? What could Rilke mean by speaking not just of our 'being here,' but of truly being here? Is there a quality of awareness that is itself something we receive as a gift, and is there a quality of awareness that we can give to our world without needing to take anything?" -Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, pp. xxi, 1991

Shopping at my local Trader Joe's last weekend, I caught a glimpse of a t-shirt that offered me the title of this journal entry:

Must be present to win

Now there is a useful re-minder, I thought to myself with a smile and a nod. I've no idea of the particular cause or context of the t-shirt slogan. It is, of course, a play on the all too familiar message, "need not be present to win," embedded in the inescapable daily barrage of advertisements, promotions and giveaways that fill our air waves, television screens, and mailboxes (both electronic and snail).

Well, you may not need to be present to win that classic Stratocaster with whammy bar, the six-piece stainless steel fondue set, or the 5-night / 6-day all inclusive Vegas vacation, but when it comes

to recognizing the sublime in everyday experience;
to walking in new shoes and creating new experiences;
to understanding our role in the emergence of an unfolding future;
to learning and making meaning of the world ...
for these, present we must be.

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Coming to Knowing Ecotopia

"None of the happy conditions in Ecotopia are beyond our technical or resource reach of our society" Ralph Nader, 1975

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach was first published in 1975... before the internet, recyling bins, before we knew California was the 4th or 5th or 6th largest economy ... while many of today's activists in northern California and Washington and Orgegon were still preteen. When I first read Ecotopia, I lived in Kansas City, Missouri. I am not sure where or how I found the book but it captured my imagination and I am sure perturbed me into a new quest for meaningful community. Now here I am living in Northern California, Mendocino County, the heart of Ecotopia.

I recently purchased a used, heavily yellow-marked copy and am winding my way through Ecotopia again. I am awe struck, really with how many Ecotopian-suggestions are happening here.

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The Unfolding and Enfolding of Shared Experience

"Everything someone tells you is true: they are reporting their experience of reality.... To argue with someone else's experience is a waste of time. ... To add someone else's experience to your experience--to create a new experience--is possibly valuable." -MG Taylor Axiom, 1981

Physicist David Bohm has described the principle of enfoldment in his book, Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue. The one-sentence summary states that the entire universe is enfolded into each of its components and that the visible universe is the movement or process of enfolding and unfolding--the reflexive transit between principle and expression. We are literally the enfolding and unfolding of our experience.

Communicating our experience of something is necessarily attenuated. Feelings, textures, colors, sounds, the pattern of sensations dancing across time and out of time, are all incompressible--they can't be shared by the spoken word. Someone can only report to you about their experience. Since you can't truly understand the experience from their vantage point, the only wise course of action is to accept it at face value and move forward together or move further apart from that acceptance.

The big danger about arguing over someone else's experience rises if one of the parties actually wins the argument, at which point, some critical understanding and vantage point on the universe--and the resulting learning--is denied and lost. (full article on the axioms)

So how do people from two different cultures begin a conversation and create a language and a doing that supports the reality of both vantage points?

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The Power of Play

“If science always insists that a new order must be immediately fruitful, or that it has some new predictive power, then creativity will be blocked. New thoughts generally arise with a play of the mind, and the failure to appreciate this is actually one of the major blocks to creativity.

Thought is generally considered to be a sober and weighty business. But here it is being suggested that creative play is an essential element in forming new hypotheses and ideas. Indeed, thought which tries to avoid play is in fact playing false with itself.
Play, it appears, is the very essence of thought.”
-David Bohm

Last evening I watched a PBS special on the Power of Play and was fascinated for an hour with the way animals (including humans) use play...

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The Next One

During a Sponsor Session for a recent event, a Sponsor challenged us to make ‘this one’—the one for his organization—'the best.'

The comment provoked Matt to recall something Frank Lloyd Wright said a half-century ago. Matt shared the memory this way:

“It was in an interview in the mid 50s with Hugh Downs, I believe. Asked which was his best building, Wright said, ‘my dear boy (anyone under 60 was a boy to FLW), the NEXT one.’"

Wright’s comment captures the essence of why both collecting and using feedback is of such importance. From a design sense, feedback is what links the past to the future in a meaningful way. Yet, it seems all too rare that we treat the collection and offering of feedback seriously, let alone systemically.

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Who are the Tomorow Makers?

The creative process includes the entire method by which ideas are discovered and translated into useful tools, products, and services and used in the “marketplace”.
-Matt and Gail Taylor 1981

Years ago, during my experiences with the Learning Exchange in Kansas City, I learned how to perturb the process so that people and teams became aware of their own ability to consciously create tomorrows of their choice.

With a few simple rules, design teams rich in diversity - inner city teachers, kids, parents, suburban teachers, business executives, professors - were able to step up to challenges well beyond what was assumed possible...
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