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Can We Live In a World of City-States?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

David Roselle is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article an important question about the increasing importance of city-states.

In 2015, the UN proposed the Urban Development Goals – a list of seventeen ideas for global collaboration that strive towards planetary health by 2030. The UDGs include eradicating poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality, and developing affordable, clean energy, as representing our most pressing challenges in the 21st century. To achieve the UDGs, the UN must rely on governments and the private sector to execute them. While these goals are aspirational, we must ask: are our current government institutions designed appropriately to deliver legitimate solutions to these complex problems?

The purpose of the proposed question is to investigate the efficacy of our existing geopolitical institutions for the 21st century. Are they structured to handle the world’s most challenging issues? Could a model dating back to antiquity – the city-state – plausibly be a more innovative governing structure for the future to respond to such lofty goals? While we need to avoid apologetics for the city-state government model, the city-state model could be used as a way to consider a new geopolitical landscape within an alternative future. It is a provocative future which could evolve beyond the competition of superpowers for global dominance, allowing new values to emerge.

This question is timely. Ostensibly, we are amidst a major era of transformation in which everything is being challenged — from our currencies to our cars, to the sanctity of our democracies. Yet, the government institutions themselves appear to be overlooked.

While there are valid reasons for concern, there are tools to make a difference. Design, for example, is one cognitive tool of many that has the potential to change organizations fundamentally. What if governments integrated human-centered design methods into the DNA of their institutions? What new opportunities would that afford society? In order to attempt such an overhaul, we first need to be able to name the social invention we are seeking to transform: the nation-state.

The nation-state is a relatively recent political construction that began after the Treaty of Westphalia in the mid-17th century. The nation-state bounded people together through customs, language, and religion, forming a powerful bond of allegiance to the state and land. This model was then exported to the world through colonialism and reinforced through colonial powers.

Today, the world looks much different. Nations are diverse, multilingual, and secular. The same customs that bonded citizens together before hold less meaning. Consequently, this sparks tension between ethnic groups as some struggle to cope with the change — illustrated through the wave of nationalism sweeping the West. This change brings into question what it means to be a citizen of a country. Within the course of a century, the world gained six billion people with two billion more expected in thirty years. The UDGs serve as a focal point to handle intensified pressure from exponential population growth. Can the nation-state adapt to these technological and social challenges or will a new model need to be innovated? It is a challenging question, but the urgency and importance of these questions are such that we cannot afford to ignore them.



© David Roselle 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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Society, the economy, and the planet

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Polina Silakova is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the intersection of societal norms, economic conditions, and the environment.

In the lead-up to the festive season, streets are dressed up in chic decorations, stores experiment with creative stands with sweets and gifts, and wherever we are, we can hardly escape from commercials, kindly offering to help us choose presents for our nearest and dearest. The hustle in the media and in the shops became an inseparable part of this special time and we can hardly imagine it to be otherwise. End of the year’s shopping boom is good for us and good for businesses, right?

At the same time, a different announcement nearly got lost in this busy media clutter. A world meteorological organisation reported 2016 results which show the record increase in global carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere (403.3 ppm for those who like figures) – a rate not seen for millions of years. The increase is largely attributed to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels. Those fuels keep our homes warm (or cool), make (most of) our cars move, enable the production of all the things that we need (and the ones that we don’t really need), and help me write this post by powering my laptop with electricity.

Until now the price of most of these goods and services did not include full environmental costs and we only start considering this now, possibly too late and too slow. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is the first attempt to address the issue at a big scale. With Syria recently having signed up the accord, all the countries in the world agreed to act collaboratively to limit the negative impact of human activities. The United States has become the only one leaving, as announced by Donald Trump earlier in 2017. Trump’s reasoning is that the terms of the agreement are bad for America’s economy (which is, by the way, the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon). In other words, if the United States commits to the accord, they will not be able to produce as much stuff as they do now, as profitably as currently.

The reason for Trump’s decision is in the short-term thinking and capitalistic values behind it. But he is not alone in prioritising the more tangible short-term outcomes over the more blurred future on the horizon. Generally, as recent research by the University of California suggests, human brains are “not wired for the future”. However, as with everything, there are exceptions and in another part of the world, we find a different story.

While Trump is trying to protect the production of new goods, Sweden introduced a 50% reduction in tax on repairing goods. This is the government’s attempt to rationalise new economic behaviour for people to revive their possessions, instead of buying new stuff; to create the new norms, as opposed to what developed countries are accustomed to. The initiative aims to cut carbon emissions from production, reduce waste and more generally, promote sustainable consumption. In other words, Sweden gives its citizens an additional, financial reason to take care of the planet. Sustainable values of responsible citizens are supported both by making this behaviour normal in society and by providing monetary rewards. And Swedes don’t seem to expect any negative economic outcomes from the new law.

The difference between the responses of these two countries to the wicked problems we face is in how much weight does the future have in the decisions we take today? The Brundtland Report in 1987 gave rise to the most influential definition of sustainable development. It states: “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The difference between the Swedish and the American response is exactly in defining the needs of the present and in understanding the impact of today on the generations of the future.

While the governments of different countries may choose different actions in regard to these two components of sustainability, we are curious about whether we will see a more American or a more Swedish response from consumers in the future? We are not inviting you to re-gift your last year’s present or to carry a Christmas tree home on a bicycle. The problem is much more complex than that and the solution involves all three parties: government, businesses and consumers.

What role will we choose to play? What is the relationship between our values, societal norms, economic conditions and our buying behaviour? When will we start including full environmental costs in the price of the goods and services and when will we be ready to pay for it? Will it direct our choices between alternative goods? Or not?



© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  society 

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Swift trust in virtual reality

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nichola Cooper is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the importance of trust and when implementing mixed reality technologies.

Is 2018 the year you advise on the business impact of mixed reality (MR) technology?

The enterprise potential for alternate reality products is growing, with an increasing number of use cases from technology companies that create immersive scenarios in gaming, social media and team collaboration that can potentially transform how we share culture, communicate and collaborate.

It is important we also consider the inherent risks in implementing MR into a business environment – one such risk is trust. As we design environments with a projected self, how do we not just protect the data within the environment, but also the outcome of the collaborative process too? Trust is a functional lubricant that enables effective feedback loops between people and systems. As our communication is advanced to include a non-human projection of ourselves, are there impacts to the psyche and the subsequent development of the trust process that might undermine the business impact of MR technology?

Social networking sites indicate our digital persona is a narrated composition of our authentic identity and our ideal self, customised for each channel. The narrated self is a defence mechanism the self-employs to manage the risk involved in issuing a faceless communication. Humans have evolved to instinctively discern from non-verbal cues whether someone is trustworthy or not; communicating online introduces uncertainty, which we manage by controlling the trust process. Unless digital communications are supported by offline personal relationships we distrust the other until evidence proves otherwise. Strategic mistrust is efficient, rational and functional, it may not, however, be the best way to organise our affairs.

The success of mixed reality for industry and educational use is predicated on creating trust in the virtual environment and the persons present to make the most of the technology. While cyber-security and risk practitioners concentrate on delivering trust in data integrity, it is incumbent on business to instil trust in the virtual space. Using principles of human-centred design and swift trust, business can customise existing operating principles to recognise the short-term nature of virtual engagement.

Establishing traditional forms of trust take time. Trust involves cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors in the assessment of another’s trustworthiness and the decision to make oneself vulnerable in commencing trusting relations. Interpersonal trust also assumes longevity: we trust to build relationships over time.

Swift trust, however, is cognitive and normative in development; trust is assumed as a condition of the gathering and is verified in the actions undertaken by participants. It is best employed in conjunction with traditional team-building strategies, for it is fragile. Deviations from group norms in a swift trust environment can produce volatile reactions that are unmitigated by trusting relationships.

Therefore, swift trust is a tactical approach to team dynamics which needs to be supported by strengthening offline relational trust in order to enhance its impact. Companies considering integrating the use of MR technology into their operating practices from 2018 could consider an MR playbook that outlines the principles and practices of applied swift trust, and then integrate expectations for virtual environments into codes of conduct. It is quite probable that team members engaging in virtual environments have not met before. It is essential they understand the rules of the game.



© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  technology  trust  virtual reality 

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Trust Beyond the Present

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 15, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Monica Porteanu is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the intersection of society and trust.

Trust is a social construct essential to economic and societal development. However, trust has issues that the passing of time has not only not yet solved but also blurred any futures orientation. Furthermore, while technology presents possible solutions, it also introduces new challenges. One would expect that science has resolved such issues, but science itself has undergone a trust crisis. A solution to re-establishing trust is designing the future with the society itself.

In 2017, trust in official institutions registered a collapse in the US and a significant drop in the UK, after a steady decline over time. Decades earlier, behind the Iron Curtain, the communist regime thrived through the propagation of mistrust.

Centuries ago, the victory or defeat in war was a question of how the communication amongst generals, stationed at various locations, was transmitted through trusted, non-forgeable links. The system, at that time, did not have any control or feedback loop to ensure traitors did not intercept and interfere with the message. Dubbed the Byzantine Generals’ problem in mathematics, in many ways similar to the Prisoners’ Dilemma in economics, the challenge might now be solved by blockchain technology, with its promise for a single record of fact between two parties involved in a transaction.

Even if blockchain succeeds, another technology facet raises trust questions: data. With staggering amounts of data available but a remarkably low percentage analyzed, and even smaller amounts validated, how do we know whether we can count on the truth of this content?

The belief that scientific research is a trusted leader is also challenged. Investigations show that less than 50% of psychology studies could be replicated, together with increasing instances of corruption, including priming effects, fake peer reviews, or proliferation of citation cartels.

Extending the question of trust to forward-looking settings enhances decision makers’ ability to anticipate possible futures and navigate risks and uncertainties, especially when trust molds into “the willingness to be vulnerable to another party’s actions.” Trust in futures thinking enhances the capacity to embrace opportunities presented by “actionable images of the future” while deflecting weaknesses and threats.

A solution to re-establishing trust is expanding its definition from being an ingredient that catalyses economic prosperity and social life for people, to envisioning futures of a society with people. This participatory approach is diametrically opposed to the communist doctrine as well as the hierarchical, patriarchal, belief, and value systems that underlie existing power structures. Participation not only increases the likelihood of trusting what could be developed but also the engagement to ignite futures and shape the preferred one.

The reciprocal relationship between participation and trust is self-explanatory: participation spawns trust through dialogue, transparency, and agency, while trusting beliefs and actions (e.g., ability, benevolence, integrity) strengthen participation through the willingness to engage, take action, and break various barriers such as personal, situational, functional, or psychological.

Such relationship alleviates the anxiety of unknown futures through mental training and careful orchestration of expert and participant involvement. For example, while futurists’ skill is critical in trend analysis to unearth blind spots and set the stage for grounded results, diversity and wide participation is more beneficial than competence during the next phase focused on opportunity prioritization. Further refining of selected opportunities is easily enabled by experimental prototyping of actionable future narratives, as a method to understand and handle the uncertainties and risks of unproven ideas about the future. The experts’ facilitation skills and toolkits, such as empathy maps, role-playing, or installations, contribute to establishing the need, desire, and feasibility of building the envisioned futures.
As a final note, participation to build trust is the opportunity to develop further the networked society in which the collaboration amongst creativity, ethnographic, foresight, and analytical approaches convert the unknown into a viable and promising future for society.

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  future  technology  trust 

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Why do we need to think about the infrastructures of tomorrow?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 28, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Bonin is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article discusses the importance of futures thinking for building infrastructure.

By 2050 the face of our built environment will have changed. While this seems to be a long way off, there is good reason to start thinking about tomorrow’s infrastructure today.

Infrastructures outlive civilizations, country borders, and governments. It can take years until they are up and running. Infrastructures have been symbols and indicators of power: from the Egyptian Pyramids to the Golden Gate Bridge in the U.S. or the One Belt One Road Initiative of China. Infrastructures are physical legacies for the generations to come and constitute the framework conditions we innovate around. In some sense, our thinking is not only shaped by bounded rationality but bounded by the existing infrastructure. We tend to think of new ways to use streets, but not about alternatives to streets. As a part of a complex system, partially aged infrastructures cannot be simply removed and re-inserted without risking disruptions. The inert nature of infrastructures is also at odds with faster innovation cycles in technology. These characteristics are at stark contrast with the evolving needs of people and business and the global challenges on our way to 2050.

Depending on whom you ask, you will get different answers to the question of what infrastructures are. Some will spontaneously name airports, high-speed trains or broadband internet access, while you can hear the dreaming in the voice of others when they say wastewater disposal, uninterrupted power supply or well-equipped hospitals. Infrastructures are the physical backbone that allows people and businesses to fulfill their needs and desires. And even a fully digitized world with telecommuting or tele-education would still require some sort of physical infrastructure. The access to infrastructures means somehow destiny – reducing or exacerbating social inequalities. It is evident we need to think about infrastructures in order to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in areas like health, education, renewable energy, environmental protection, justice, and peace. A more sustainable world would ultimately be a world where infrastructure converges both between and within countries.

This is clearly an ambitious goal, considering a perfect storm of weaker economic growth, growing governmental debt, workforce ageing and a reduced taxpayer base due to labor automation. These factors will greatly reduce the ability of governments to fund and maintain infrastructures up to the year 2050 and beyond. At the same time, less developed countries and their energy and resource hungry middle classes will grow. Besides the unprecedented demand for expansion in less developed countries, developed countries are starting to fall behind in infrastructure quality as their century-old infrastructures continue to age.

The resulting infrastructure investment gap could be even larger than previously thought, given that economic growth forecasts have shown to be way too optimistic in the past. But infrastructure development comes not only at an easy measurable monetary cost. Each additional square meter of sealed surface, deforestation and land grab of the world’s most fertile soils puts our ecosystem under more and more pressure. Yet the irony is that we will need to expand and adapt our infrastructure to tackle challenges like climate change and push decarbonization efforts. With tighter governmental budgets, economic costs might well trump environmental impacts. It is all the more urgent to develop business models for sustainable infrastructures that are attractive for private investors. On the positive side, higher efficiency technologies and decentralization of knowledge, power, and production might reduce some of the expansionary demand.

The overwhelming majority of our infrastructure for the year 2050 has yet to be built. Each additional infrastructure must be well planned as it adds complexity to the inert infrastructure systems. We have to anticipate tomorrow’s needs to understand future investment requirements. Moreover, we need to design infrastructures in a way that they can be adapted over their lifetime to keep up with the changes ahead and beyond 2050. Otherwise, we will find ourselves drawing upon yesterday’s infrastructure to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.



© Daniel Bonin 2017

Tags:  government  infrastructure  politics 

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What is climate change?

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 18, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ariana Lutterman is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article seeks to clarify what climate change is and its implications for the present and the future.

Climate change is often cited as the most pressing problem facing humanity today. To truly understand its implications, it’s important to first understand its language. Here I hope to present a framework for how climate change has been defined through a process of international scientific consensus as well as how human actions are implicated in what we are currently observing as climate change.

Climate is weather over time, the earth’s climate is a combination of climates across the planet, and planetary climate change is a change in the earth’s climate over an extended period of time.

Phrased slightly differently, planetary climate change is a change in the combined climates made up of combined weather around the planet over a long period of time. Everyone anywhere experiences weather on a daily basis, and while everyone on the planet is affected by planetary climate change, its effects are infinitesimally small and often more intangible.

Global warming, a rise in the average global temperature, is one measure of planetary climate change. Often used interchangeably, global warming is just one measure of climate change. As the name suggests, it is an overall rise in planetary climate change, but this is only one aspect of what climate change means. The daily lived experience of climate change may, in many areas, look like cooler seasonal temperatures or more frequent cold weather events. So climate change as a term indicates that not only warming is occurring but also a host of other fluctuations to the usual planetary weather patterns.

The earth’s climate is constantly changing. Historically there have been periods both warmer and cooler than now. These fluctuations have resulted from natural processes like variations in Earth’s distance and energy received from the sun, volcanic eruptions, plate tectonics, and changes in earth’s oceans. There is a distinction between this natural climate change variability and what we are now observing. Current observable climate change is occurring much more rapidly than any historic climate event. It is this speed of change we are currently observing with which scientists are concerned. It is this that is attributed primarily to human activities.

The primary anthropogenic, or human-induced, contribution has been a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) since industrial times largely through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas). Though a misnomer (not actually the mechanism through which a greenhouse functions), the greenhouse effect describes how solar radiation trapped by a planet’s atmosphere warms the surface. Human actions since the industrial era have dramatically increased the number of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This anthropogenic greenhouse effect is caused primarily by actions like burning fossil fuels, agriculture, and deforestation which significantly increase atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide and cause higher than normal rates of solar radiation to become trapped by the atmosphere.

I plan to follow the international scientific community’s consensus in recognizing climate change as referring to planetary and anthropogenic changes to climatic patterns. Climate change is a part of a complex system of Earth processes, and its consequences manifest in similarly systemic ways. It represents not only an environmental crisis, but a social, economic, and cultural crisis as well.

© Ariana Lutterman 2017

Tags:  climate change  environment  global warming 

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Is Another Great-Power War Inevitable?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 14, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Craig Perry is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. This first article about war asks an important question for the present and the future.

“Anarchy places a premium on foresight.” – Kenneth Waltz

A century ago, with the world embroiled in what was then naively dubbed the “war to end all wars,” few people imagined a second global conflagration igniting just a generation later. Since the end of World War II, however, humanity has experienced over seven decades of relative peace, with the frequency of war deaths trending sharply downward throughout this period. This is largely attributable to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a standoff that spawned numerous proxy conflicts but never turned truly hot. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing reemergence of a multipolar world, with potentially several states capable of exerting influence on a global scale, will lead to yet more wars among these so-called great powers.

There are good reasons to fear a return to great-power conflict. Warfare has been endemic to the human condition since the dawn of civilization, and remains the ultimate way of resolving conflicts among states even in the modern era. World affairs are inherently anarchic, with states pursuing their own advantages in a Hobbesian struggle of each against all. While the weak may occasionally band together to balance would-be hegemons, the prevailing self-help system of international relations features no permanent friends or enemies, just interests. “Countries have always competed for wealth and security, and the competition has often led to conflict,” the late neo-realist scholar Kenneth Waltz noted. “Why should the future be different from the past?”

Indeed, war has accompanied the rise and fall of great powers throughout recorded history. In his classic account of the Peloponnesian War, Greek historian Thucydides concluded that the growth of Athenian power and the fear this inspired in then-dominant Sparta made war between these city-states inevitable. This dynamic, which political scientist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides Trap,” has ensnared rising and established powers in more than a dozen wars over the last 500 years—and it threatens to do so again as other states challenge the United States for global influence.

Such systemic, structural factors are not the only aspects of international relations that can drive states towards armed conflict. Marxists argue that capitalism compels the core, industrialized powers to compete for dominance as they exploit peripheral countries for labor and raw materials. Political scientist Samuel Huntington suggested it is culture—rather than ideology, politics, or economics—that is shaping patterns of conflict, with the Western belief in the universality of its values leading to clashes with rival civilizations. Constructivists similarly believe ideas shape international relations, as each state perceives world events in its own peculiar way.

So why should the future be different from the past? With nearly 200 sovereign states around the globe, it seems inevitable that at least some of them will come into conflict in the coming decades—and great powers will occasionally intervene if only to enforce international law or for some other ostensibly noble purpose. Yet it is far from certain that these great powers will again come to blows with each other, for several reasons. While anarchy will continue to characterize international relations for the foreseeable future, a number of developments—including nuclear deterrence, globalization of trade and investment, relevant international institutions, shifting social norms, and widespread competition below the threshold of war—are incrementally reducing the likelihood of another great-power conflict. Will these trends be enough to prevent the eventual outbreak of World War III?


© Craig Perry 2017

Tags:  power  strategy  war 

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When Money Grows Wings and Flies Away

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 3, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article discusses the futures of money and the economy.

On March 19, 2014, in a Canadian courtroom, 66-year-old Arlan Galbraith was convicted of fraud of over $5000 and sentenced to a little over seven years in jail. While all agree that he lost millions of dollars of other people’s money ($42 million to be precise, and contractual obligations to pay another $356 million), many, including some of his victims, are still unsure of whether he willfully defrauded them.

In 2001, Arlan founded Pigeon King Industries. The concept was simple. Pigeon King would sell you a set of breeding pigeons for a certain cost and agree to buy back all offspring at a fixed rate over the next 10 years. Over time the story of what, exactly, the business model would be, shifted. First, the pigeons would be sold to the supposedly lucrative pigeon racing industry, then the story changed to a plan to sell squab meat. In actuality, the offspring were sold to other farmers as breeding pairs, and the excess pigeons were housed at Pigeon Kings’ expense. Ostensibly the plan involved a period of building a “network of breeders” before taking over the world. Eventually, farmers and government got leery. Pigeon inventory started to rise as Pigeon King continued to honor contractual agreements, buying up offspring, despite a dwindling number of buyers. Barns were retrofitted to house the excess inventory. Funds were spent to feed and vaccinate the exploding population. Finally, farmers willing to sign on dried up. Without new buyers, Pigeon King couldn’t pay their existing breeders and the whole thing fell apart.

Sound familiar? Kind of like a Ponzi scheme except, instead of money, the currency was pigeons?

How real will the real economy be in the future? This series of blogs sets out to explore how fiction turns into reality, reality turns into fiction, and how this will shape the future of the real economy. Reality and fiction are often at war with each other. Perhaps we inherently move between periods in which reality is dominant and periods where fiction/myth dominate. And in our most recent fictional turn away from the real, we now have the destructive tools and technologies (and some very good reasons to escape from reality) that allow us to bore deeper and deeper into the mystical archetypal hearts of our own dreams and collective desires. And with this deepening of unreality, we take our systems and structures with us: families, politics and, yes, the economy.

What is the financial market if not a future bet on a compelling story? Between the virtual and financial economies, how will the real economy be influenced? Will it become a “puppet” economy for its two bigger and stronger cousins? Or, with scarcity and limits to growth, will it come roaring back as the dominant economic sphere? Since we abandoned the gold standard, have we drifted into a hyper-real economy from which there is no escape? If late-capitalism requires constant new areas of growth to survive, does the turn to a fictional economy create limitless new areas of expansion?

As for our poor unwanted pigeons, after health and city officials warned of a potential release of the birds, and with the specter of a mass migration to Toronto, where they would blacken the skies and overwhelm parks, much like their now extinct Carrier cousins, the birds were slaughtered en masse. Drowned. Gassed. Burned. Hundreds of millions of fictional dollars. Up in smoke.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


© Adam Cowart 2017

Tags:  economics 

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Immunity To Change

Posted By Administration, Sunday, September 20, 2015
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Simon Dehne reflects his thoughts about the immunity to change in his blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Why I enjoy practicing in the foresight space is two fold. The first is one of self-discovery and the other being able to help people question how they think and to give them tools help them think critically.

As a new practitioner, I have soon discovered that just challenging people on their unquestioned assumptions and raising there awareness on emerging trends that may disrupt or at least challenge there business as usual thinking is not enough for me. I have found I prefer a type of workshop that allows people to learn, experience, challenge and self discover more about how they made sense of reality.

As a result I have found that I have been gravitating towards more a hybrid workshop and presentation format. This allows people the freedom to participate instead of just listening to a keynote speaker and at the end think that was nice or otherwise.

Recently I have been running workshops using Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s work on “Immunity to Change”(Lahey 2001). This process has been useful as I have found it is something that organisations understand as I pitch to them to convince them to pay for my services. Plus it resonates with them regarding self development for their organization and I have found a topic around helping people to learn how to change seems to resonate with many people what ever their purpose might be.

As you would expect each workshop is different, but not for the usual reasons that you might think. The main reason is because of me. As I deliver, participate and experience facilitating the Immunity to Change workshop I find that I develop a deeper understanding of why it seems to be so effective. That is because it is an effective tool or map that allows people a process that helps them think deeper in terms of just an event or pattern that might be happening that they are trying to solve or improve on.

What is the Immunity To Change Process?

Kegan and Lahey have found based on 15 years of working with hundreds of managers in a variety of companies have led them to a surprising yet deceptively simple conclusion. Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia, even as people hold a sincere commitment to change, many people are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment.

Thus they have developed a process they have called an x-ray, which is a three-stage process to help people and organisations figure out what’s getting in the way of what they are trying to change or achieve.

The Process

So I thought I would provide a summary of my mini workshop and the key points that I have found to be effective and which seems to resonate with participants. Note, an effective workshop is determined by be as a result of the amount of engagement and follow up questions that I receive during and after the workshop.

 

Steps

Task

Focus

Outcomes

1

Introduction

Today’s challenges require new thinking – but how do we develop new thinking?

Explain a number of tools that they can learn and use that will help them think about how they think.

2

Mental Models

Exercise – Arm Wrestle

Purpose is to get them to arm wrestle a colleague to see how many times they can win. Many people default to a mental model of strength and competition. Only a few work to together and cooperate so both can win. We all have implicit mental models and I have found this is a good way to bring this to the fore and increase the participation and energy in the room.

3

Perceptions

Exercise – picture of an old lady and a young lady

Group discussions on what people see. Purpose is to highlight that people with similar backgrounds can have different perspectives on what they see. Our perceptions create our reality and so helping them learn some ontological humility.

4

Ladder of Inference

Helping people understand how they create reality and the introduction of reflection

The ladder of Inference developed by Chris Aygris helps people begin to understand how their assumptions and beliefs form how they make sense of their world and the actions they take.

5

Introduction to the Immunity To Change Process

Showing a YouTube video of Robert Kegan I have found to be an effective way of building credibility and reinforcing the outcomes.

After running many of these workshops now, I have found it effective to pause the video or rewind back to ensure as many people grasp the process that is used. Plus it gives me a chance to reflect on the energy in the room. My goal is for people to have fun and learn a process to help them reflect on their thinking and actions (Kegan 2012).

6

X-Ray

Walking though the process using the X-Ray map

I walk through examples of my own personal X-Rays of how I have used the X-Ray to discover many of my hidden commitments and big assumptions. I prefer to use myself as an example to make it personal and real. A key goal is to be open and honest and I find that if I can show my own vulnerabilities and challenges many people are more willing to embrace the process and learning and be more authentic.

7

Action Learning -

Immunity To Change

Running the process - Individual

I ask each person to work through the process on themselves. Share their understanding of the process with others and seek me out for clarification.

8

Debrief

I ask for volunteers to share what they have done and discovered. Talk about the challenges/discoveries in the process.

9

OST (Open Space Technology)

Learning to slow down and reflect on our assumptions, beliefs and values. To start to reflect on how we think about what we are thinking.

As a prelude to working in teams to work on an improvement goal that is important to them. I discuss a process to help people learn to slow down.

I have found the OST can be an effective way for people to stop and reflect on how they are thinking. To listen to what is being said instead of thinking about what they are going to say next (Owen 1993).

10

Challenging our assumptions

Revisiting Ladder of Inference

I rewind and ask people to think about how they are thinking, what are their assumptions and beliefs that maybe going unchallenged and to reflect on this thinking before they respond.

11

Thinking about thinking

So gently/slowly I am trying to introduce them to how we conceptualise. We all apply our own assumptions and beliefs usually implicitly and so the opportunity to be mindful and reflect on how you are making meaning of a situation as you debate an issue/problem such as we are about to do.

12

Action Learning -

Immunity To Change

Running the process - Group

Hopefully with some new models to use as maps, such as Ladder of Inference, OST, and fostering reflection, people in the groups can use the X-Ray process to develop more generative conversations.

13

Debrief

Seek volunteers to share what they have discovered.  

 

Summary

As Kegan and Lahey point out, our perceptions shape our reality. We assume how we make meaning is an accurate understanding of reality. Our big assumptions create a disarming and deluding sense of certainty, which throws up the challenge of why should we, even look for alternative views or perspectives that may challenge our assumptions, which create our reality (Lahey 2001).

So bringing this all together how does a group of people co-create a desired future that they are trying to achieve. In part it is about helping them identify their hidden commitments both individually and collectively. However, as a group, often we can get stuck with little or no progress. So a large part of these types of workshops are about fostering reflection and helping develop more generative conversations. Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding a mirror to see the taken for granted assumptions we carry in our language and appreciating how our mental models may be limiting us.

Deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organisations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view that is different from their own and to appreciate emotionally as well cognitively each others ways of how they are creating meaning(Jones 2015).

In order to learn from the future, we first might need to understand more about ourselves. And what might be holding us back. To uncover our biases and blind spots and from that self-knowledge and insight we gain, increase our level of self-awareness. Self-awareness is a necessary step if you want to build a useful Strategic Foresight process that will help us learn from the past, from the present and from the future (Lustig 2015).

References

Jones, C 2015, Getting Unstuck, Outskirts Press, United States of America.

Kegan, R 2012, Understanding Immunity to Change, viewed

Lustig, P 2015, Strategic Foresight - Learning from the Future, Triarchy Press, Axninster, Engalnd.

Owen, H 1993, Open Space Tecnology - A Users Guide,

Tags:  change  foresight  future 

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Futurists as Leaders

Posted By Administration, Saturday, August 1, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alireza Hejazi reflects his thoughts about the role of futurists as leaders in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Referring to one of my previous posts in which I mentioned six roles that futurists may take, I would like to focus on three roles in this post by which a futurist may appear as a leader. The leadership skills strataplex (Mumford, Campion & Morgeson, 2007) suggests that leadership skill requirements are conceptualized as being layered (strata) and segmented (plex). In this sense, categories of leadership skill requirements (cognitive, interpersonal, business, and strategic skills) correspond to three levels of junior, mid and senior managers. I review what I explained earlier and then extend my thoughts to the purpose of this post: futurists as leaders.

A futurist analyst (junior manager) is the person who applies foresight tools and methodologies in his/ her activities, someone who is competent in scanning, trend analysis, and basic forecasting. As analysts, futurists are not laboring under the influence of others’ ideas. Instead, they study those ideas and propose the best way of applying them in favor of individual, national and international benefits. The futurist analysts produce information for the second role, the manager .

A futurist manager (mid manager) is usually a foresight project manager who supervises the foresight processes at the corporate level. He/she facilitates projects and generates intelligence from foresight methods and outputs. A futurist manager is a self-disciplined individual capable of creating change, managing uncertainty, coordinating a range of foresight activities, applying alternative futures and transforming to better futures .

A futurist consultant (senior manager) is a strategic leader who works with executives to facilitate change based initiatives on the base of insights resulted from foresight processes. He/she may be known as a senior executive, a director, or creator of foresight initiatives. A futurist consultant possesses good teaming and collaboration competencies, practices problem-solving foresight and welcomes transformational challenges.

All these three roles remind that futurists are capable of functioning as leaders at different echelons. When I shifted my field of study from strategic foresight to organizational leadership at PhD level, I wanted to find out what makes a futurist to become a leader, and whether multiple leadership roles can be practiced simultaneously. My studies to this point show me that leadership is an evolved form of foresight leading both the leader and the led toward better futures.

In my view, the wide variety of complex changes that we witness in our world today places a large load of responsibilities on futurists’ shoulders. To play their leadership role effectively, futurists can no longer depend on their foresight knowledge and skills alone. They need to transcend their foresight capabilities and enter the leadership territory to cope with changing complex demands. Finding the honor of cooperating with futurist leaders in recent years, I can comprehend that well-informed foresight requires multiple competences to deal adequately with the diverse and sometimes contradicting demands.

By this I do not mean that futurists should adopt a reactive approach toward environmental uncertainties. Instead, I intend that futurists as leaders are expected to be able to provide effective responses to novel forces arising in a volatile world. Scharmer’s (2007) Theory U reminds that futurists must be able to develop open mind, heart, and will. In this way, they sense the changes occurring in the external world as futurists and communicate them as leaders to other leaders in the internal context to create something different.

As Cartwright (2015) identified five crucial characteristics of foresight profession in one of her posts, futurists are expected to be able to help people think for themselves through an inspiring leadership. They need to be risk taking in order to transcend boundaries as brave individuals to provoke new ways of thinking. In her point of view, a true futurist aims to encourage leadership at all levels. Referring to a keynote speech delivered by Dawson (2015) on the role of futurists as leaders before the Dutch Future Society, she mentions that futurists “need to help others to think forward and in turn to act better today.” In this sense, “we are at a critical juncture in human history, when actions we take—or do not take—today will shape our collective future to an extraordinary degree.”

Together with Cartwright and Dawson, I believe that futurists are expected to function for higher purposes beyond foresight. In my view, the most effective futurists are the ones who can fulfill several leadership roles simultaneously. With respect to the changes being made in foresight as a dynamic growing profession, it is of course a relevant question if and how futurists contribute to the performance and outcomes of organizations they serve by their leadership. The expanded complexity of futurists’ roles requires us to redefine our profession not just as futurists but also as leaders who are faced with complex decisions and problems more than ever. Professional futurists are the best candidates for expanding leadership to the roads less traveled.

References

Cartwright, V. (2015). The future is bright for futurists: 5 crucial characteristics of their craft, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/the-future-is-bright-for-futurists-5-crucial-characteristics-of-their-craft/

Dawson, R. (2015). The role of the futurist as a leader, retrieved from http://rossdawson.com/articles/role-of-futurist/

Mumford, T. V., Campion, M. A., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). The leadership skills strataplex: Leadership skill requirements across organizational levels. Leadership Quarterly, 18(2), 154-166.

Scharmer, C. O. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Tags:  foresight  futurist  leadership 

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