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

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.