The Holiday-Break-Sense-Making Experiment

Over the Christmas / New Year break I decided to do an experiment. Instead of aimlessly throwing out things that interested and excited me online (retweet them, post them on to my Facebook wall etc), I decided to save them for after the holiday.

Instead I wanted to try an experiment where I tried to find logic in the combination of this  information, of these thoughts and feelings. Thoughts from others which generated thoughts from me. Generated feelings and intuitions from me. To find patterns and make sense of these social media fragments. To weave them together.

After the break I had collected 15 “scan hits”.

1. An article about how “A New Working Constitution Emerges to Codify a “Liquid Holacracy” Governance Model”. Apparently “Bitnation in partnership with Swarm is developing a proto-constitution, or what it referred to as a holonic contract to govern interactions within its “Slack Community”, which is  a collaborative messaging and sharing platform used globally by organizations for a better workflow, while emphasizing the autonomy of its various holons and individual contributors.”

2. A new book called Platform Scale: How an emerging business model helps startups build large empires with minimum investment.
You’ve heard of it: “Over the last decade or so, we’re seeing the emergence of a new form of scale. Today’s massively scaling startups – which rapidly grow to millions of users and billions in valuation – do not sell a product or service. Instead, they build a platform on which others can create and exchange value.

3. A public policy paper put together by Stacco Troncoso from one of my favourite organisations, The P2P Foundation. Proposal for Public Policy Paper: “From Smart Cities to Smart Citizens: City as a Commons”. A policy advocacy paper to explore and promote the vision for a ‘city as commons. The paper will bring together specialists and advocates in a range of area, including: tax policy, co-working, co-ops, food production/consumption, peri-urbanism, sharing, political space, place-making, cultural diversity, de-gentrification, anticipatory governance, social enterprise and making / industry (to name a few). Overall about 20 authors can be accepted in this first round.

4. A tweet conversation with Nadia El-Imam, co-Founder and CEO of Edgeryders, a online community and distributed think-tank of citizen experts from across the globe. It was spurred by a quote in one of her recent blog posts: “Make relevant art“. This quote felt very important to me.

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5. An article on Salon.com about the rise of the techno-Libertarians: The 5 most socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley. It argues that the tech industry is morally and ethically bankrupt, and it’s starting to take its toll on ordinary Americans.

6. An old article in The Age, where former US president Jimmy Carter tells how he is losing his religion for equality.

7. A blog post by one of today’s most interesting thinkers and doers Vinay Gupta: Tell Me Who You Are. Identity, institutional memory, and the persistent illusion of the self.

8. Another p2p foundation blog post about living amongst the ruins after capitalism.

9. More doom and gloom in A NY Times article by author Roy Scranton. We’re Doomed. Now What?

10. A third collapsitaritarian post (!) from one of my Facebook friends about the carrying capacity of Earth.

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11. A quote in a TV interview with the master of weird and wonderful cultural production David Lynch. He described his creative process and ideation with a fishing metaphor. Apparently he uses that often, as I found it again online:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure.They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

12. An article about eight New Types of Digital Fabrication Machines from 2015.

13. Another NY times article – How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.  This one written by Pagan Kennedy, author of the forthcoming book “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World.” I wrote about serendipity a couple of years ago. A concept which is very popular and overused in management blogs at the moment. But I think it’s hugely important and needs to be considered and further explored.

14. A third text from the p2p Foundation by founder Michel Bauwens (actually excerpted from Matthew Heskin): Cooperation is better for innovation, than competition.

15. A tweet from @macroscope_ about how systems thinking can help you become a better person.

 

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So after putting these themes down on a paper I started to think. I saw a couple of connections and clusters, but nothing interesting. I looked at them with my explorer glasses. Which of these 15 themes would I like to explore further? I ended up with serendipity, ideas as fishing, identity & the self and relevant art.

The next day I looked at my paper again. This time I tried to divide them into three categories: problem, dichotomy and solution. This was interesting and I saw some similarities between the solutions and those I wanted to explore more. Perhaps I am drawn to solutions rather than problems at the moment?

Finally I used Wilber’s four quadrant model, which I find very helpful to check that I’ve taken a broad perspective on something. I placed the remaining five themes in it as per the figure.

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All these quadrants are linked and the themes in one of them will impact on all others. For example an  internal idea in my head (coming from my identity and Self) will lead to external output (art). Serendipitous encounters will rearrange my view of systems. My creations (which can be seen as art) will serendipitously lead me to new people, which will lead me to new ideas and a new identity.

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Well, this experiment didn’t really turn out as expected. The sense-making became more of a personal guide for my future thoughts and actions. But that’s not bad I guess.

Five reasons for rapid blogging

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Phew! This May experiment is over.

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:

1. Vulnerability

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.

2. Trust

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.

3. Support

The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can help you.

4. Share

The earlier you share an idea, the earlier others can steal and remix your ideas, which is good.

5. Innovation

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.

6. Speed

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.

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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.

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To summarize, I can recommend this experiment. My ‘ideas closet’ is cleaner and my mind is clearer than a month ago.

Now I will try to be quiet for a month.

Communicating Complexity

Complex things are hard to communicate. But it’s nevertheless important to do it. Here are some of my reflections on how to communicate futures thinking or foresight – the rather complex field I’m working in.

You might find some advice on how to communicate the complexities of your field. The post appeared first at the APF Emerging Fellows website.

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Communicating Foresight

One of the ongoing discussions in the futurist community is about how to communicate foresight. Recently a whole issue in Journal of Futures Studies was dedicated to this, and over the last year some excellent posts by my fellow emerging APF fellows have been written on this.

This is the last post in a series on my reflections about communicating foresight. In the first I wrote about how mixed metaphors can be used to illustrate the increased complexity in our organisations and lives. In the second I rapidly prototyped a website for a new imagined start-up; Futurizers: A Guerrilla Network that Injects the Future in Organizations.

I don’t know how well I communicated foresight in these two posts (in its first month the Futurizers website had 114 hits – so not exactly a revolutionary impact…), but they gave me some new insights which lead me to think further on a good article by Richard Rowe (2005).

The challenge of the upside-down pyramid 

Rowe uses Slaughter’s framework for layered futures.  He illustrates the amount of contact with the general public each type of futures work has. As you see in the figure, the second pyramid is turned upside-down, i.e. the more “deep” and important futures work is, the less contact with the general public it has.   

Image by author based on Rowe (2005)

Rowe writes: “The problem is that highest level, being pop, is the level that has the most interaction with the general population. It is also the level that the futures practitioners tend to disown because it tends to be shallow, misleading, shortsighted and marketing driven. The deeper you descend into the layers of foresight studies, the less contact there is with the general public and the fewer messages of depth and richness filter into the broader population.”

I’ve noticed recently that futurists increasingly post in open forums like Facebook and Google+. In doing this it’s tempting to fall for the Facebook “like” hysteria, i.e. aim to attract more “likes” for that which we communicate. But how do we make sure that we don’t slip up towards the pop futures and litany layer when doing this? Sure, we can use “litany hooks” to attract attention for our posts, but we must communicate deeper layers too if we want to do our job properly.

A service to our readers

Some bloggers write how many minutes it takes to read a blog as a service to their busy readers. I thought about a similar service for my blog regarding the difficulty of my posts, for example some sort of colour coding to indicate how theory-heavy or deep my posts are. Then my parents and non-futurist friends wouldn’t have to bother with some posts – such as the networked spiral dynamics post I posted recently (maybe the title itself scared them off).

Would a colour-coding system be handy to make it clearer for everyone or does this go against the idea of engaging the general public deeply?

For a colour coding structure from easy to hard, I thought about using Inayatullah’s (1998) Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), and the same colour scheme ski resorts use to show the various difficulties of downhill runs.


Image by author based on Inayatullah (1998)

Here, the articles would be coded from green litany (sensational posts based on recent issues) to more challenging posts exploring underlying systemic causes (blue – systems). Further down to thoughts and reflections containing worldviews (red – here you lose most readers!) and lastly even deeper to the black myths and metaphor layer, where (surprise!) you can actually attract your readers back.

So even if this deepest level is seemingly the most difficult one to understand, the communicating power here is very strong.

And this is what I find so beautiful in the CLA; the deepest, most unattainable layer is paradoxically also the most universal. Myths, metaphors and archetypal patterns and stories are understood by, and give opportunity to identification across worldviews and cultures. This is the planetary layer. I’m no expert on CLA, but I think this is what Inayatullah aims to do. To safely bring people down to the deepest layer, where we momentarily can feel and play with the essence of ourselves again. Past the litany, systems and worldviews and back to the original human myth and its evolution.

In reflection on my futures-heavy Facebook posts, I consider that some of the most thoughtful responses I’ve had are not from futurists or academics. They are from old school friends, people I’ve met when travelling or at the pub. Amazing, everyday people you meet in life. This makes me think that perhaps the general public is ready for deep futures past the litany of self-driving cars and drones? So, while the analysis of CLA is worthwhile, perhaps colour coding is counter productive. If the general public are ready to access the myths and metaphors of the black layer they should not be deterred by any colour coding advice – that would serve only to underestimate my readers.

Perhaps the challenge of Rowe’s upside-down pyramid can actually be tackled with some simple tricks, such as story telling, metaphor and images?

The Hourglass

I imagine the process of deepening foresight communication as grains of sand running through an hourglass. The gravity originating from the myth / metaphor level pulls down the grain of sand towards the depths.


Image by author based on Inayatullah (1998)

The litany layer contains thousands of grains of sand, quite happily sitting there comfortably, without noticing that they are being pulled down towards the vortex by the gravity from the depths. Superficial, simplistic chitchat and diversions act at this layer to make grains here unaware of the evolutionary forces bringing them deeper. Perhaps someone is pumping in helium in this section of the hourglass to make the grains stay longer? 

But the grains are eventually drawn deeper down the vortex to the systems level, which is complex, faster and more turbulent. Here, grains can bump into each other fight a lot. The bottleneck between the systems and worldviews layers is blocking much progress – not many grains can pass through. But once a grain of sand falls through the narrow gap into the worldviews and values level, the mind opens again, and there’s more space. This expanded section contains many grains of sand but they don’t know where to go. However, they sink deeper and deeper as more grains of sand land. And here, they become part of the deep, bottomless foundation that is humanity and all life.


Photo by author. Painting by Rothko (1958)

 

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I spent some time in the Rothko room at London’s Tate Modern on Sunday morning. Being there made me realise that great artists communicate across all levels from the litany to the deep unconscious levels simultaneously. In the calming room, a group of drawing teenagers, a retired old lady and family with a pram were all absorbed in the massive Seagram Murals.

Who knows what these people thought and felt – what layer or depth they experienced?

I only know what I thought and felt about:

What can we learn from great artists to better communicate foresight?

 

References

Inayatullah, S 1998, ‘Causal layered analysis: poststructuralism as method’, Futures, vol. 30, no. 8, pp. 815-29.

Ramos, J 2012, ‘ Special Edition on the Communication of Foresight’, Journal of Futures Studies, September, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 91-98.

Rothko, M 1958, The Seagram Murals, Tate Modern Gallery, London. 

Rowe, R 2005, ‘Sticky foresight: finding the future’s tipping point’, in Slaughter, RA (ed), The knowledge base of futures studies, 5 vols, CD-ROM, Professional edn, Foresight International, Brisbane.

Slaughter, RA 2004, Futures beyond dystopia: creating social foresight, Routledge, London.