Recently I came across two things which I felt are very important in our work to make education better. Whether we work within the existing education systems or outside it, I think it’s worth considering these things.
This image is from a recent Harvard Business Review article. It nicely illustrates the polarization of values in “new” and “old” paradigm organisations:
The right hand column in the image is what we futurists call a preferred future.
Even if the characteristics of the “new power values” in this future are what many of us wish for, we’re far from there yet. The left hand column of “old power values” still dominates our lives. However, it’s now increasingly clear to us that many aspects of these values no longer work. But on the other hand, the new power values don’t work either, as that preferred future is not here yet.
I guess our challenge today is that we’re in between the two paradigms – somewhere in the strange space between these two columns.
Some of us work towards the new paradigm, but still within the old paradigm. And this work is naturally confusing, conflicting and difficult for most of us.
Some call this the post-normal era: An era characterized by transition, emergence, shifts, both/and approaches, uncertainties and paradoxes. I think depth, foresight, presence and hope are some key tools/concepts to make sense of this in-between era.
On the x-axis we have time and on the y-axis impact.
Those who work in a new or alternative paradigms of education (whether it’s online MOOCs, alternative approaches, peer-to-peer concepts, life-long education, self-directed learning, home schooling, multiple intelligence based learning, indigenous wisdom, Meetup groups, etc) often struggle to be accepted, certified and acknowledged by the “old”, formal education system.
One way to envision exchange between the two systems is by acupuncture or “injection” of a future virus in the old paradigm. The benefit for the whole is a more seamless transition between the two systems, which will eventually happen anyway, but with more or less friction. The creative forces in the new, alternative paradigm cannot be prevented and will eventually win.
The challenge here for both the old and new is to find the exchange mechanisms between the paradigms. The systems of the old paradigm are set up to react against the new and most of the new does not fit into the templates – hence the slow ‘death by stagnation’ of the old.
What can educators, learning hackers and entrepreneurs gain from trading with the other side? And how can they do this?
“We find ourselves now at a crossroads in history. The institutions – commercial, educational, political and civic – that we created in an earlier era in an effort to expand our potential have now become increasingly significant barriers to progress. It is not surprising that our trust in these institutions is plummeting around the world. We see so much opportunity and yet the institutions that are supposed to be helping us are increasingly standing in our way.”
These archetypes seem to come back over and over again in civilizations of the past, according to Dator’s studies. And today – as before – these four trajectories are on the cards for us and our civilisation.
But which one will it be?
Being a futurist and thinking about these models all the time makes it very difficult to strategize and make plans. Sometimes I wish that continuation and the business-as-usual scenario was the only thing on my mind. Life would be so much easier then.
I think about the likelihood of these four. And this depends on who you listen to.
If you listen to Ray Kurzweil and the singularitarians we are in for another type of incomprehensible shift where man and machine will merge (very soon).
If you listen to Michel Bauwens and the P2P people, we will collaborate globally on an unprecedented scale, in networked living arrangements, which transcend organisations, governance and financial models as we know them today.
I listen to all these people. Who do you listen to?
I guess that at the end of the day these four archetypal scenarios are all about hope. To give us hope and something to live for.
Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones is known as a rock’n’roll survivor. Unlike mythologized stars like Janis, Jimi, Jim, Kurt and Amy, who all died young, Keith is still with us. And not only that: He’s had an amazingly eventful and crazy life with several near-death experiences. Over the years, sensationalist music journalists, fans and other close observers have speculated on his self-destruction many times, but surprisingly Keith is still with us. With us on the global stages, touring the world with an old Fender Telecaster and a cheeky grin on his lips.
Sometimes I think of our planet as being a bit like Keith. A survivor that has been through remarkable things: Ice ages, supervolcano eruptions, asteroid impacts and so on. And now it seems like good old Earth is up for another big challenge: The Anthropocene – this era where the clever, fast, ruthless organisms called humans geo-engineer and hack their way into the planet.
So what are some plausible scenarios for us humans on this planet? Well, here are four of them based on some of the eras in the Keith Richards’ life:
1. Mischievous Lad
The Rolling Stones formed in London in 1962. In the swinging 60s London, there was a naive belief that rhythm & blues and rock & roll could change the world. And it actually did. Keith and his merry band of musicians built on the old American rhythm and blues tradition, and turned it into something of their own. Together with other young mischievous lads like The Beatles and The Who they took the world by storm and global domination ensued.
But long West End nights at places like The Marquee Club were often followed by early morning flights to gigs in other countries. This lifestyle required stimulation beyond natural and legal highs. Amphetamines and other drugs were needed to keep playing and partying.
In the Mischievous Lad future we’ll all keep on playing the game. We’ll keep on churning out hit songs, like there is no tomorrow. We’ll go on never-ending global tours because the show must go on. Just as Keith and his fellow 60s musician friends were fuelled by “uppers”, the planetary citizens in this future will be fuelled by various drugs and medications to keep us going.
2. Elegantly Wasted
In the late 60s and early 70s Keith Richards turned into an enigmatic, globetrotting counter-culture hero. Like other elegantly wasted aristocrats, successful artists and rich debauched heirs, The Rolling Stones set up camp on the French Riviera for the summer. In 1971, Keith reigned like a king in the Stones’ rented villa at Villefranche-sûr-Mer outside of Nice. Here, surrounded by his friends, he waterskied and entertained princes, writers and mannequins by day, drank bourbon and recorded incredible music by night. He could do whatever he wanted to do. However, the British tax authorities, various drug dealers, former girlfriends and others were on his back.
In the Elegantly Wasted future we will have lots of fun, since we will do what we like to do. We won’t have any money or material wealth but we will have lots of friends. The space we inhabit will look very different, where most things are derelict and overgrown with plants and scattered with strange technological gadgets. Essential societal institutions like hospitals and fire departments will still function. Many of us will die on the way to this future but those who survive will thrive.
3. Heroin Casualty
The elegantly wasted Keith sunk deeper down during the 70s, and in the 80s many counted him out as his severe heroin habit got in the way of his creativity and life. He was rumoured to have replaced all his blood at a special clinic in Switzerland because it was so toxic and could kill him from within (!) He was emaciated, dark and gloomy – a ghostly shell of his former gloriously, elegantly wasted self. The cheeky grin was gone.
Too much excess, wild weather and apocalyptic events make way for the Heroin Casualty future – a scenario, which feels like sleeping on a damp mattress in a dark and gloomy basement. The Heroin Casualty future is a bit like those dystopian zombie futures we’ve seen in the movies, but where the narrator has a constant flu with accompanying phlegmy cough. Our vital infrastructures have collapsed. All is dark and the streets are full of lethal threats and diseases. The global society in the Heroin Casualty scenario is all but resilient, as all systems are out and only the faintest of reserves remain. A virus outbreak could end all life.
4. Captain Jack Sparrow’s Dad
Keith survived the cold, lethal period. And from the 90s and onwards he’s taken on a crazy, colourful and unpredictable character: The role as Captain Jack Sparrow’s dad in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Johnny Depp, who plays the charismatic captain, is friends with Keith, and when asked if he wanted to star in the sequels, Richards said yes. He had always considered himself a pirate, so why not?
Captain Jack Sparrow’s dad was once the most feared pirate in the world, so is highly respected and feared by all the pirates in the Brethren Court. He was once the Pirate Lord of Madagascar but later resigned to become the Keeper of the Pirate Code, the Pirata Codex, which he keeps with him at Shipwreck Cove.
The Captain Jack Sparrow’s Dad future is similar to the Pirate future, which is propagated by many thinkers and hackers around the world today. A global, transparent future based on direct democracy, where all is open and free, as pioneered by The Pirate Bay and various European pirate parties.
Captain Jack Sparrow’s dad is however different from the regular Pirate future. This future is older, wiser but slightly erratic and nutty. The Captain Jack Sparrow’s dad future has been to hell and back, but on the way it went through a fundamental paradigm shift. It is something of a wise fool with its youthful cheeky grin intact, but with strange beads and braids in the hair.
Keith Richards is still alive and a fifth scenario for the future of humanity will be added to this list when we have identified it. Or as Keith himself puts it:
“I don’t want to see my old friend Lucifer just yet. He’s the guy I’m gonna see, isn’t it? I’m not going to the Other Place, let’s face it.”
Inspired by Daniel Levinson’s “The Seasons of a Man’s Life”, I am working on a framework for male development with a complementing psychometric test I call “Suffering Sultans of Swing”. The beauty of the test is that the only material needed is headphones and access to the song “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.
Before you read the rest of this post, take some minutes and test yourself by listening to the song here:
So all men out there…
Did you listen to the whole song?
Or did you turn it off before the end?
In any case, if you would tell me a) your age and b) at exactly what point you turned off the song, my “Suffering Sultans of Swing” test would reveal a lot to me about your life and its future.
The purpose of this research was to find out whether there is a correlation between a man’s happiness and his like of Dire Straits’ song “Sultans of Swing”.
In a study based on individual listening sessions in a state-of-the-art music studio in Frankfurt am Main (with a vintage German amplification system), I surveyed 300.000 men. These men, flown in from all over the world, had various cultural backgrounds and income levels, and were aged from three to 93.
The study clearly shows a correlation between male contentment and how long they managed to listen to Sultans of Swing without turning it off. I identified five phases or stages, which are clearly defined as seen in the graph below. The interesting observation is that the length a man can listen to the song changes dramatically depending on age. From the extreme 20-something who couldn’t bear the song for more than a couple of seconds, to the child, dad and deaf male, who listened to the whole song without reaching for the off-button.
Here are some comments from participants in each group, which nicely illustrates each stage.
1. HAPPY DANCING CHILD (Peak at 3 years) “BAM-BAM-BAM. NAH-NAH-NAH”
3. DAD ROCK PHASE (Peak at 43 years) “Genuinely one of my favourite songs..Mark is an absolute king when it comes to licks and riffs, and this song is just the epitome of coolness. The fact that he also did a version of this with Eric Clapton just blows my mind too, since they’re two of my absolute inspirations for playing/learning guitar..”
4. NOISE-HATING GRUMP (Peak at 63) “TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF! WHAT IS THIS NOISE?“
5. DEAF AND HAPPY (Peak at 93) “BAM-BAM-BAM. NAH-NAH-NAH“
“The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.” ― Banksy
A couple of years ago I had a very nice conversation in Melbourne with Richard Slaughter, one of the giants of futures studies. We talked about foresight, Melbourne street art, post-conventional leadership and many other things. He advised me/us to do two things;
Create infrastructure which builds social foresight.
Identify and highlight absurdities, which need to be challenged.
The first is something I try to do in my main two projects at the moment, Superherospaces and Enkel.
The second is something I haven’t paid much attention to since I talked to Richard. Of course I identify and highlight absurdities here in my blog, but I don’t actively work to do it. Perhaps that’s the role of this blog….?
Richard especially mentioned one such absurdity, which seemed to be of great concern to him; the glossy magazines which come with our major newspapers on Saturdays and Sundays. The weekend lifestyle magazines, full of ads which aim to perpetuate the unsustainable lifestyle of the developed world: The clean, airbrushed perfect lifestyle, which doesn’t exist.
Today, we in the developed world understand this. We know that these images are as true as Santa Claus. We have learnt that this glossy life only exists in Vanity Fair articles and George Clooney films. We know that it has nothing to do with reality and that gloss doesn’t equal happiness, but rather Sertraline, divorce and addiction.
But the issue is that we’ve made the developing world believe that gloss means happiness. We have inspired China, Brazil, India and other countries, which are slowly pulling themselves out of poverty to head into gloss. This is why we see the Chinese line up outside the Louis Vuitton and Prada shops in London, NYC, Paris and Tokyo.
They want to become glossy.
A form of societal changemaking which fascinates me now, is the concept of ‘systems acupuncture’. This approach involves to identify and intervene through systemic pressure points or critical spots in society. Instead of massive incremental change, or radical violent change, this rather builds on small, smart actions, directed towards sensitive areas.
One of these so-called “societal acupoints” is advertising, which the people behind non-profit organisation Adbusters realised years ago. They are probably the advocates and activists sticking the sharpest acupuncture needles into the advertising industry today.
But there are others.
The blog Zen Habits recently suggested that “the biggest obstacle to a wonderfully minimalist life is advertising”.
Lei Cidade Limpa is a 2006 law in the city Sao Paolo, which prohibits advertising such as that of outdoor posters.
Commercial Alert is a non-profit that opposes advertising to children and the commercialization of culture, education, and government.
The challenge for these organisations and lawmakers is that we humans love gloss. We love George Clooney, Vanity Fair articles, beautiful people, old Bugattis, Rolex watches and Riva boats.
But that doesn’t mean we need them on our breakfast table on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I don’t think we in the developed world need advertising any longer. We’re past that.
In fact no one in the world needs advertising I guess.
So let’s think about how we can change things to pay people who work in the ad industry to make art and comedy instead.
I’m sure Banksy and Richard Slaughter would like that.
One month ago I posted some thoughts on cleanin out my ideas closet.The purpose with this challenge to myself was to get rid of my huge ‘to-blog-list’ over one month, instead of slowly posting when I “had time” to do it.
I did get rid of most of the items on my list. But of course this exercise in rapid blogging made me have other, new ideas, which are now on my list for future posts. So, some items were crossed out while others were added – to put ideas out of our inner sphere and into the world is a never-ending quest. But I think it’s very important that we do it and stop keeping ideas to ourselves. Here are some reasons why:
The earlier you share an idea, the more vulnerable you feel. And feeling vulnerable is good as we know from Brene Brown’s TED talk The Power of Vulnerability.
The earlier you share an idea, the more you let others into your mind and give them access to your self. This will hopefully break down some barriers and lead to trust.
The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can help you.
The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can steal and remix your ideas, which is good.
The earlier you share an idea, the more you learn and get used to releasing things into the world that are not perfect. As my good friend Juan says; “perfection is the enemy of innovation”. This experiment has taught me that it’s ok to release half-baked ideas early.
I write faster after this month. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I have learned to write without thinking so much (too much thinking is not good for writing). Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have time to care much about what others thought as I wrote faster than normal.
Some other learnings from this experiment:
I started with the intention to post once a day, but this was too hard. This was inspired by a similar challenge that some friends of mine participated in a couple of years ago. Apparently they didn’t manage to post every day either. It is quite ok in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks it’s hard with work, family, weekends and life in general. You need a break some days. So therefore – if I’ll ever do this again – I’ll rather aim for 30 posts in one month. I published 22 posts this time, which I’m happy with for a first time.
The stats and social media attention I got for some of the posts were much bigger than for others. The big hit during the month was Serendipity is the New Black – a post I had no idea would be popular. There were many other posts, which I found more original and interesting myself, and had thought would generate more hits. This is good to know for my future activities.
To summarize, I can recommend this experiment. My ‘ideas closet’ is cleaner and my mind is clearer than a month ago.