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    I’ve been tracking emerging trends for a while now, exploring the co-evolution of humanity and our technologies, and building visions of the kinds of futures I’d like to see. Lately, I’ve found myself a bit restless, wondering “what’s next?”

    The conferences and gatherings I’m attending are beginning to feel stale, the conversations needing new framings and lenses through which to look at our world and ourselves.

    I’ve been on the hunt for a word or phrase that can encompass the essence of what feels important and resonates with me right now.

    The search has been prompted by my decision to start a new project — writing my first book. (yay!)

    I’ve spent the past few weeks reviewing everything I’ve written so far on the blog, reflecting upon what I’ve observed, what I’ve learned, and identifying the deep values I’ve chosen to serve as a compass and foundation for what is meaningful and significant.

    At the same time, I’ve been surveying the landscape to get a sense of what’s being constructed out in the global mind, and see where the two intersect.

    The general narrative is that we‘re facing increasing complexity and uncertainty in the world, information overload, distraction, shallowness of critical thought, and a lack of foresight. On the silver lining side, we have an overstock of creativity and imagination, sufficient to level up humanity and change the world and our crumbling systems, if we could only figure out how to unlock and unleash it from our billions of minds.

    While some will posit that the ‘solution’ is technological (better algorithms! quantifying trust and reputation! big data! innovation!), I lean to the side that our breakthroughs will occur when we acknowledge and confront our most raw and human issues.

    I’m finding that the barriers to our ingenuity are not stemming from a lack of desire, but from a range of cognitive and emotional barriers that have been set in place by most of the systems that surround us and condition us - the media, family and societal expectations, cultural standards, fear in trusting our own intuition, and the ingrained beliefs that any other way of thinking or being could be possible. (to name a few)

    These barriers create a rigidity and calcification to how we perceive reality and ourselves, vastly limiting the potential for our inherent genius and heroism to manifest itself.

    As I travel across the blogosphere, I notice these sentiments being echoed, in their own language:

    In a recent post in HBR, there was a rallying call to the startup community to build companies infused with *purpose* that will bring lasting value to society. A skim of the Management Innovation eXchange reveals posts about embracing one’s inner artist, restoring values at work, and how to mobilize and motivate people. The Innovation Excellence blog categories include 'build capacity' and 'culture & values.' The most popular talks on TED this month are about happiness, vulnerability, courage and shame, inspirational leadership, and cultivating creativity capacity. Other hot themes out there include storytelling, passion, empathy, play, and design.

    After brainstorming a few concepts that might weave together this emerging pattern, I’ve decided to frame it as the rise of culture tech.

    :: Culture ::

    I found it interesting to discover that the English word “culture” is based upon a term used by Cicero, “cultura animi,” referring to the cultivation of the mind or soul.

    In reviewing other origins and definitions, I resonated strongly with the ideas of culture as a pursuit for the highest ideal of human development, the liberation of the mind, and the attainment of freedom through the fullest expression of the unique and authentic self.

    The other side of culture, beyond its internal cultivation, is the degree to which it can be communicated and propagated to others.

    The American anthropological definition of culture “most commonly refers to the universal human capacity to classify and encode experiences symbolically, and communicate symbolically encoded experiences socially.”

    It might then follow that a conscious effort towards cultivating the self, towards independent and critical thinking, towards direct experience, and hence towards wisdom, would then contribute towards the cultivation of human capacity at larger and larger scales.

    Neat. So we need to know what we know, embody it, and then pass it on. How?

    Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” as a description for a “self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.” They’re transmitted from mind to mind through writing, speech, gesture, ritual, or other means which can be imitated, replicated, mutated and implemented.

    So how do we build new memes - new units for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices - and transmit them through society, at scale?

    This is where technology comes in for an assist.

    :: Technology ::

    “The word technology comes from Greek τεχνολογία (technología); from τέχνη (téchnē), meaning "art, skill, craft", and -λογία (-logía), meaning "study of-".”

    From fire to the wheel to the internet, technology refers to the tools, processes and systems humans discover and develop to get things done.

    Its definitions range from “the practical application of knowledge” to “an activity that forms or changes culture.”

    This is where I begin to see a gap.

    :: The Need for Technologies of Culture ::

    We are awash in data, information, and knowledge.

    We can search and find just about anything, and now complain about being ‘overloaded’ with it all.

    We want machines that can help us sift through the noise and find exactly what we want, or a predictive set of results that are probably what we want, or a serendipitous series of results that might lead to something we didn’t even know we wanted.

    This may be fine for parsing and delivering some types of information, but I question what informs the word “practical” in the above definition of “the practical application of knowledge.”

    As an era of machine intelligence approaches, I wonder what ‘practical’ decisions they will be making. For instance, what might we do when a global supercomputer does an analysis of our resource allocation, climate, and global population, and sees an unpleasant trajectory for the human species based on current trends. It then decides that the most ‘practical’ thing to do is to manufacture a biological weapon, targeted to a specific race or haplogroup, and remove 5 or so billion people from the planet. (this being the most efficient way to create conditions to restore us to a sustainable situation, in this scenario).

    Perhaps an extreme example, but the point is that the power of our technologies are accelerating at a rate faster than the rate at which we’re developing our capacities for the discernment to use them appropriately or to contemplate their longer-term implications.

    In this case, the practical application of knowledge would come via wisdom.

    Wisdom is defined as “the comprehension of what is true coupled with optimum judgment as to action” — the coordination of “knowledge and experience” and “its deliberate use to improve well being.”

    Many quotes about wisdom, whether they be from spiritual texts, philosophers, or public intellectuals, refer to wisdom as coming first and foremost from self-knowledge.

    Knowing others is intelligence;
    knowing yourself is true wisdom.
    Mastering others is strength;
    mastering yourself is true power.
    ~ Tao Te Ching

    But how many of us are connected with our authentic selves and know who we really are, know what we fundamentally believe to be true, and why we think so?

    How many of us have an experience-based reference point that links our theory to practice, before making a decision?

    In trying to ‘save the world,’ how many of us live the example of the external thing we think we are trying to ‘fix?’

    My ponderings come from a place of self-inquiry and reflection first. Engaging in the cultivation of my mind, combined with the experiments and testing of evidence-based reality against my ideas, have been my most useful pursuits in my process of seeking more expansive consciousness and sapience.

    These practices generally still seem to be siloed in the domains of philosophy, self-help or mental therapy, or when discussed in the context of indigenous wisdom or spirituality, are often discredited or referred to as “woo.”

    I, on the other hand, see a convergence of science and spirit. As I track the “discoveries” in neuroscience and brain-mind research, I see information that’s been known by ancient wisdom traditions for thousands of years now being ‘validated’ by science.

    I think there is an evolutionary impulse to learn and grow, to express and transform ourselves through creativity and love, and to become multidimensional in our ability to perceive ourselves, the world and existence. I think we can become both more intelligent, and wise. We do have the capacity for greater health and well-being, happiness and compassion.

    And I think we can fully participate in this process of bootstrapping ourselves.

    Hence, I suggest we look to technologies of culture to help us liberate ourselves from old patterns, and become fully conscious agents and participants in our individual and collective evolutionary development.

    :: Culture Tech examples & working definition ::

    I started thinking about all this more intensely over the past few months, as I’ve been experimenting with a group of people in building an open enterprise.

    We’ve talked about building a skills/resources/superpowers database, as both a shared commons, and as a guide for arranging ourselves into co-creation teams around projects.

    We’ve come together face-to-face for small gatherings, workshops, and to collaborate on short-term projects.

    Everyone wants to be autonomous and sovereign, yet to also be strongly bonded and committed around a shared vision.

    It’s a bit tricky.

    Again, it’s not really a technological issue. It’s about learning how to become extraordinarily clear internally on what each of us wants, identifying our core values, being able to articulate our intentions to each other, being capable of setting boundaries around our time and attention, and then being about to build a shared vision together that enables us each to provide and receive value towards getting what we want, while also serving the greater purpose. It’s about continuous feedback, iteration, and mutual support.

    I’ve found several people who are building these processes at the team level into a kind of art, which they refer to as “culture hacking.”

    The premise is that culture can be treated like software — having a viewpoint, an architecture, an internal structure, and some familiar characteristics:

    - ease of use
    - reliability
    - interoperability
    - extensibility
    - compatibility
    - portability
    - adaptability
    - scalability

    Reprogram your techniques, practices, commitments and viewpoints, and you reprogram yourself and your culture.

    Jim & Michele McCarthy, authors of Software for your Head & the Core Protocols, have engaged me in some great dialogue (and hands on experience!) around the processes they’ve been developing for this kind of cultural design.

    Dan Mezick, author of The Culture Game, has also been teaching me a lot about tribal leadership, agile, scrum, and group facilitation. As he put it, “We’re in the business of culture.”

    Social scientist Sebastien Paquet has a nice 5 minute Ignite talk back from 2010 about How to Become a Culture Hacker. His blog, Emergent Cities, casts a wide net around networked co-creation, intentions, and birthing new worlds and social movements.

    Other colleagues are working on lexicons and shared language for the new economy, on gift circles and share networks, and on frameworks built on foundations of coherence, alignment, resonance, amplification and manifestation.

    I’m seeing a leveling up as we move beyond mapping “social graphs,” and move consciously towards mapping intentions, emotions, capacities, worldviews, desires, value creation, gratitude, and energy.

    All of this has essentially been leading me to the same place:

    There is an urge to redesign human culture, to construct life and work in a way that enables everyone to ‘follow their bliss’ and show up fully in their gifts and experience. We want to experience higher intelligence and capacities, and to choose what represents meaning and significance in life. We want to do it with style, grace, ease, beauty, and simplicity — as art.

    But before we can establish our new collective values, and lay down the groundwork for new societies or paradigms, there is a personal healing and self-awareness process as a critical intermediary (or parallel) step.

    While this is still a work in process, I’m defining culture tech as follows:

    ‘the systems, tools, processes and etiquettes designed to cultivate the full expression of the authentic self, liberate collective creativity and imagination, and foster the expansion of universal human capacity’

    I’m looking forward to exploring this sweet spot at the intersection of technology, consciousness and culture!

    The next few months will be spent in domestic and international travel, doing interviews, and finding inspiring examples of those on the leading edge of culture tech.

    As always, feedback is welcome, and thanks for joining me on the journey. :)

    Thanks to the many friends and colleagues for hundreds (if not thousands!) of hours of musings and critical dialogue that informed this post.  I don’t claim any ideas here as original or as my own, simply a synthesis of my own reflections and those mirrored in the bubblings of the global mind.


    Culture on Wikipedia
    Social Technology on Wikipedia
    Technology on Wikipedia
    Wisdom on Wikipedia
    Meme on Wikipedia

    image via Christina McAllister, Heart of Wisdom Mandala
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    This is part 6 in a 12 part series. The first five skills were Pattern Recognition, Environmental Scanning, Network Weaving, Foresight, and Conscious Awareness.

    :: storytelling ::

    The following video by Jonah Sachs, creative director at Free Range Studios has prompted me to get back to completing the next installment in this Essential Skills series. He does a beautiful job revealing the secrets of effective and high-impact storytelling.

    Jonah Sachs at Compostmodern '11 from AIGA San Francisco on Vimeo.

    One of the concepts Jonah presents is that of a “myth gap.” He defines ‘myth’ as the combination of Explanation + Meaning + Story. Historically, myths are the vehicles of culture. They provide a context and framework for the world, hopefully imparting wisdom, insight and guidance as to how we should live our lives. (ie - myth of Genesis). But sometimes, society falls in a myth gap.

    Like now.

    Another way of saying this is that the cultural narrative is broken.

    Most of us are acutely aware of this current state of affairs, especially in the broader context of systemic change. We see that our institutions (education, finance, politics, economy) are not equipped to serve us any longer, and we’re clawing around for a story (or stories) to describe the “new way of doing things” that can be agreed upon by society so we can move forward.

    As Jonah notes in the video, it’s marketers and designers who are closing this myth gap and infusing our culture with the new stories we can choose about how to live our lives and exist in the world. It’s a powerful message, and one that seems pretty accurate to me.

    People are disillusioned and lacking trust, and a new story infused with simplicity, aesthetics, beauty and grace will go far. I think many of us are looking for something resonant to believe in and stand behind, something that is in alignment with our deep desires, passions, values and principles.

    So what are some stories shaping culture today?

    Well here’s a few that I’ve been listening to and weaving into the architecture of my own mind:

    • Makers, hackers, prosumers, and cultural creatives are the driving force of the new economy.

    • It makes practical sense to support local economies, buy food that's grown regionally when possible, and build resilience by creating infrastructures designed to weather uncertainty.

    • The "future of money" is about cooperation over competition. We’re llearning how to intelligently share resources, build value together, and display integrity in thought, word and action - which is then reflected in a boost of social currencies like reputation, influence, trust, authority, and access to opportunities.

    • Mindless consumption is uninspiring, and ultimately a distraction from engaging in the types of behavior that actually lead to sustained happiness. These include: spending time with people we love, having goals and actively working towards accomplishing them, and cultivating gratitude daily for having the opportunity to experience Life.

    These are just a few narratives that keep me inspired and motivated these days.

    What stories are guiding you towards a more meaningful future?

    In today’s polarized and fractured narrative landscape, the winners are those who can get above the noise and weave new mythologies that act as a beacon of light for the path ahead. As a wise man once said:
    Those who tell the stories rule society. ~ Plato

    Below are a few resources to help you on your journey to becoming better storytellers and mythmakers.

    Stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, you can follow my musings on twitter @venessamiemis.
    “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”

    Brian Massumi - Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus

    some storytellers i like:

    - Notthisbody
    - KS12
    - Compathos
    - Coalition of the Willing
    - Cowbird
    - Epipheo Studios
    - Workbood Project
    - Motherlode

    a few storytelling curators on twitter worth checking out:

    @AStoriedCareer -


    The Hero with a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell on comparative mythology
    slide:ology - the art and science of creating great presentations
    Resonate - present visual stories that transform audiences

    further resources:

    Center for Digital Storytelling
    7 Tips for Storytelling
    Digital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps
    The 17 Stages of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth - infographic
    Storytelling for Knowledge Management in Projects - slideshare
    Influence through Storytelling - slideshare
    The Social Life of Visualization: Part 1
    Transmedia Storytelling - wikipedia
    Story-Based Communication Skills - on scribd by makingstories
    With Clarity and Beauty, the Weight of Authority - NYTimes
    The Pull of Narrative - In Search of Persistent Context - john hagel
    Lost in Translation - language profoundly influences the way people see the world
    The Future of Social Networks is Storytelling
    The Hero’s Journey - video on big think

    header image via

    jonah sachs video via @mgusek555

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    This is part 5 in a 12 part series.

    :: conscious awareness ::

    A recent article in the New York Times, Building One Big Brain,  prompted me to write up the next skill in this 12 part series. The piece quotes Nicholas Carr’s opinions about how the Internet is reducing the “capacity for concentration and contemplation,” scattering our attention and reducing our ability to focus.

    It goes on to posit that “technology is weaving humans into electronic webs that resemble big brains.” (It’s nice to see this concept going mainstream... we talked about that idea here last November in the ‘Twitter’s Intelligent, Welcome to Web 3.0" post ). The next stage in the line of thinking is that this process is part of our species evolution:

    Could it be that, in some sense, the point of evolution - both the biological evolution that created an intelligent species and the technological evolution that a sufficiently intelligent species is bound to unleash - has been to create these social brains, and maybe even to weave them into a giant, loosely organized planetary brain? Kind of in the way that the point of the maturation of an organism is to create an adult organism?

    The article didn’t treat the evolution of technology as something that was going to happen outside of us, such as a machine intelligence that will outpace us, as the technological singularity implies. (which may also happen, though). Rather, it suggests something more akin to a process of evolutionary development, in which interconnectivity and cooperation will indicate a move towards higher intelligence. The ideas reminded me of the work being done by John Stewart and the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group on intentional evolution. Check his Evolutionary Manifesto.

    As someone who spends much of my time online, both of the premises of the article - decreased focused attention and increased potential for a distributed consciousness - do resonate. But, I do wonder if an intelligent planetary brain is going to emerge without some intention and conscious awareness on our part.

    Call it Presence, the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness, or a version of meditation, but I see this increase in hyperconnectivity forcing us to adopt some type of mental practices in order to be highly functioning and effective humans. While the Web is a tool that does allow us to extend our minds, our identities, and our worldviews, it can also be a trap that sucks us in to compulsive behaviors that can be practically incapacitating. I experience it myself - trying to read every semi-interesting thing that is emailed to me, scouring Twitter for that must-read article that’s going to really matter, or chatting and ideating with friends nonstop. At some point you step back and realize you’re operating in a reactionary state most of the time, attempting the impossible task of “keeping up” with the information flow or chasing after every tangent.

    Where is our practice that reminds us to reassess the situation, recontextualize, and be present and aware of our thoughts and actions?

    A globally interconnected network of scattered thoughts doesn’t sound intelligent - it sounds chaotic. Both on and off the web, if we allow ourselves to be pulled around by every distracting force around us, do we really think we’re going to magically evolve? And what do we mean by evolution? Just being connected doesn’t guarantee growth. If we aspire to move up the ladder of consciousness to higher ideals like self-reflectivity, cooperation, compassion, and empathy, will it not require some intentional awareness?

    We’ve seen the studies that meditation/mindfulness boosts attention span as well as mood and mental toughness. But it also makes us think a little bit about the role of the self and how that relates to the other - about what we are, why we think what we think, how our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by our minds and our environments, how to tap into deeper intuition and clarity, how to filter through the noise to get to what matters, and how to even decide what matters when our consciousness is expanded to be inclusive of the whole of humanity.

    Sure, the world is fast and complex, but it seems that much of what distracts us is due to our own inability to ground ourselves and choose to turn our attention to what we truly value. The system is set up so that it’s all too easy to be on auto-pilot, going through motions without needing to be consciously aware. But we may not have that luxury for much longer. It’s interesting that was once considered an exclusively Eastern practice or a New Age fad may very well prove to be an essential skill for survival and sanity, thanks to the strain imposed by our technological advancements.
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    [This is part 4 in a 12 part series. The topics covered so far are Pattern Recognition, Environmental Scanning, and Network Weaving.]


    The ability to develop foresight is a cornerstone for forward thinking individuals and change agents. I can say that on the personal level in my own life, when I did not have a clearly defined goal or vision of what I wanted or where I was going, I floundered. My ability to "see" potential opportunities or pitfalls was clouded, and I fell into a rut or holding pattern in life. Then, when those wild cards and "black swan events" did occur, I was completely blindsided and unprepared to handle them. I think this applies at the individual as well as the organizational level.

    So what exactly is foresight? Here are a few definitions from the wikipedia page on Foresight (Futures Studies):

    - critical thinking concerning long term development
    - debate and effort to create wider participatory democracy
    - shaping the future, especially by influencing public policy

    These components can also be restated as follows:

    - futures (forecasting, forward thinking, perspectives)
    - planning (strategic analysis, priority setting
    - networking (participatory, dialogic) tools and orientations

    Essentially, foresight the ability to see "the long view;" to look at information from the past and present, extract the patterns and lessons, and use them to inform decision-making in order to impact the direction things go into the future. There are a range of tools for foresight, the most common being: environmental scanning, trend analysis, brainstorming, modeling, gaming, visioning, and scenario development. Scanning was already covered earlier in this series, so here is a brief overview of the others.

    Trend Analysis

    In order to have an idea of what the future may hold, it helps to be aware of the current driving forces underway. Though there are several ways to categorize overarching trends, a useful reminder is the acronym "STEEP" - Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political. These categories can then be broken down into subcategories. (i.e. "Social" could be viewed at the levels of culture, organization, and personal). Once the trend is identified, we can look at both their causes and impacts. Also, since events and ideas do not exist in isolation, it is useful to think about the implications of trends across several or all of these areas. For instance, a rise in life expectancy might be caused by rising living standards, better medical treatments, and healthier environments. The corresponding impacts of this trend may be that a longer portion of a person's life is spent in retirement, and so there will be an increasing demand in goods and services for the elderly, and perhaps a bigger financial strain on families to care for aging parents or grandparents.


    This is a favorite of mine, and I spend a portion of every day thinking of new ways to think about things. One of the features of building intelligence, some would say, is about being able to expand your context, see things through multiple lenses, and switch perspectives quickly and with fluidity. Being able to wear these different "hats" when thinking about problems is helpful for me to generate new ideas. Mapping out ideas and people also helps me to see "the big picture," and think of new ways of combining information or aligning people. For instance, mindmapping software like Mindmeister or Compendium are useful online tools for creating a visual aid in problem solving. (paper or a whiteboard also work).

    To show a personal example, I started putting together a map of my twitter connections a while back so that I could be more effective at network weaving. It made it easier for me to build bridges between people, and get exposed to interesting ideas that I could integrate and build upon. Map here.  The next major map we're working on is a visual description of the components of the platform/environment that are necessary so Junto can exist and evolve.


    Designers and architects are familiar with the use of physical models to help people visualize future structures or products. As thinkers and philosophers envisioning our cooperative, technological future, we also create mental models to represent what this "thing" that we're all talking about might look like. Call it fantasizing, engaging in a thought experiment, or running a simulation, we are able to think about potentials once we have constructed a model within which we can apply our theories.


    Called serious games or serious play when used in this way, gaming is a powerful way to simulate potential realities. The military uses them for training, and there are many projects going on to encourage people to take action and change the world, like Urgent Evoke. Players are able to role-play and simulate how they would respond in situations, interact with others, and create positive solutions in a group environment. The idea is to create cohesion and acceptable decisions that best serve the community. And then actually make it happen.


    From what I've experienced, clarifying a vision is one of the most powerful mechanisms for engaging an organization or community and getting them excited to unite. Each of the posts on this blog in some way is clarifying my own vision for the future, both my personal future and a greater future I would like to see for humanity. Creating a clear vision is a precursor to goal setting and planning, and as I see it, a key to mobilizing people. There is a nice guideline in the book Futuring that breaks down the process of "Preferred Futuring" into these eight tasks:

    1. Review the organization's common history to create a shared appreciation.
    2. Identify what's working and what's not. Brainstorm and list "prouds" and "sorries."
    3. Identify underlying values and beliefs, and discuss which ones to keep and which to abandon.
    4. Identify relevant events, developments, and trends that may have an impact on moving to a preferred future.
    5. Create a preferred future vision that is clear, detailed, and commonly understood. All participants, or at least a critical mass, should feel a sense of investment or ownership in the vision.
    6. Translate future visions into action goals.
    7. Plan for action: Build in specific planned steps with accountabilities identified.
    8. Create a structure for implementing the plan, with midcourse corrections, celebrations, and publicizing of successes.

    And of course, it's not about creating MY vision, but about creating a SHARED vision. So many of us are talking about creating a better future. But what does it look like? Have we defined it? Have we described it? Who are we within it? What does society look like? What does currency look like? What does interaction look like? I see so many people working on aspects of it, but how do we link these ideas together to create a clearer picture of this shared vision?

    If we can see it, we can build it.

    Scenario Development

    This is where the power of the narrative comes in. Throughout human history, we are defined by the stories we tell each other and ourselves. We create meaning and understanding by the way we remember our stories, like personal cargo that we carry in our minds. When thinking about the future, whether it's the future of society, the organization, or the self, developing a series of scenarios allows you to objectively deal with uncertainty and imagine plausible costs and benefits to various actions and their consequences. It is often suggested to create at least three scenarios when considering future events or situations involving decision-making, by identifying futures that are possible, probable, and preferable. Again from the Futuring book, here five sample scenarios are suggested:

    1. A Surprise-Free Scenario: Things will continue much as they are now. They won't become substantially better or worse.
    2. An Optimistic Scenario: Things will go considerably better than in the recent past.
    3. A Pessimistic Scenario: Something will go considerably worse than in the past.
    4. A Disaster Scenario: Things will go terribly wrong, and our situation will be far worse than anything we have previously experienced.
    5. A Transformation Scenario: Something spectacularly marvelous happens - something we never dared to expect.

    So once the story has been written that describes what each of these scenarios looks like, the conversation can begin. What is the likelihood of each of these? What is the desirability? What are the correlating values of the people? What actions can be taken today to steer the ship and influence the events that will create or avoid these various scenarios?

    Other elements of scenario development include forecasting and backcasting. While forecasting starts in the present and projects forward into the future, backcasting starts with a future goal or event and works it's way back to the present. In this method, the sequence of events or steps that led to that goal are imagined and defined, so that a roadmap to that desirable future is created.

    Become a Fearless Futurist

    So this is a brief overview of foresight and "futures thinking." There are many many resources to learn more about these thinking tools, and I hope your interest is piqued and you keep exploring!

    Here's a few places to start:

    Foresight Education and Research Network
    Acceleration Studies Foundation
    World Future Society
    World Future Studies Federation
    Global Foresight
    Future-focused blogs


    image designed by gavin keech

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    (this is my final paper for cybernetics class and for graduate school. it is a theoretical metalogue between myself and gregory bateson. many of his phrases and passages are pulled directly from the book Steps To An Ecology of Mind)

    vm: i want to understand the ecology of mind, how it works. I want to understand how technology is accelerating intentional evolution, and what the Web is becoming... a collective intelligence? a global mind? a path to destruction? How do you propose i begin?

    gb: You certainly are full of questions.

    vm: Yeah, it's a curse. I’m insatiable.

    gb: Perhaps, but an exploration of mind and self is a worthy endeavor. To begin, we might say that in creative art man must experience himself - his total self - as a cybernetic model.

    vm: Please explain.

    gb: We are complex, self-corrective systems. As a simplified example, take a steam engine. It is simply a circular train of causal events, regulating itself to maintain some type of status quo. It is the same principle for processes of civilization, or human behavior, human organization, or any biological system. We check for irregularities, and correct against internal disturbance... keeping the system in balance.

    vm: Yes, that makes sense. And this is why the obvious can be difficult for people to see. Our self-corrective mechanisms try to assimilate disturbances..... hide them, ignore them, shut out parts of our processes of perception to avoid acknowledging them. But if we remain ignorant of this occurring below the surface of our consciousness, then isn't life partly a self-deception?

    gb: Indeed. This is where wisdom comes into play. Wisdom I take to be the knowledge of the larger interactive system - that system which, if disturbed, is likely to generate exponential curves of change.

    vm: Sounds like a holistic approach. Being able to see things at the meta level and extrapolate outcomes. When you say "exponential curves of change," this could be for better or worse, right? For instance, meeting a person whose energy resonates with yours could catalyze change and psychological/spiritual growth. Alternately, the non-sustainable decisions that are made around the planet every day could lead to rapid environmental degradation and climate change.

    gb: Well, the meaning of terms like "better" or "worse" are contingent upon whom you ask. Regardless, lack of systemic wisdom is always punished. Always. When trying to understand the self and the big picture, it is useful to think about three enormously complex systems operating in tandem.

    vm: Which are?

    gb: There is the human individual, with its physiology and neurology, chemistry and psychology, all these arrangements of conservative loops. These components exist in an uneasy balance of mutual dependency and competition, working to maintain an equilibrium and avoid the exponential curves that would be caused by a disturbance to the system.

    vm: Right, like a giant program, maintaining homeostatis via its interrelated subroutines.

    gb: Second, we have the society in which the individual lives. There are dependencies and competition among groups of people, just as there are in the individual body. Disrupt the societal balance, and the system will buck to preserve itself. If you think of important social change, you must assume there is in some degree a slipping of the system at some point along an exponential curve. The slippage may not go far, or it may go to disaster.

    vm: Sounds dangerous.

    gb: There is always danger in such slippage. It’s a matter of the system’s ability to be flexible and self-correct and adapt. Thirdly is the ecosystem, the natural biological surroundings of these human animals. We are, of course, destroying all the balanced natural systems in the world.

    vm: Useful framework for understanding our place within the world. It sounds like we’re in trouble as a species though. What’s causing that?

    gb: Conscious purpose.

    vm: Wait.... what?

    gb: Of crucial importance in man’s life is the “semipermeable” linkage between consciousness and the remainder of the total mind. We must understand that our conscious self is a construct. Call it the screen of consciousness, a systematic sampling of the greater whole of the mind. Filtered, and not random.

    vm: Agreed. I know there is more to ‘me’ than what is in my immediate conscious awareness. I know that my conscious self, the one that interacts with the world, is merely an interface between the deeper more expansive me below the surface and the external world. That interface has a personality, a belief structure, a worldview, all which were certainly developed through some combination of genetics and environment. I know that these constructs color my perception of reality, and that they are malleable. But how does the mind select which of my deeper unconscious patterns to project up to my conscious level of awareness?

    gb: Well, it is clear that we are aware of only a fraction of the information coming in through our senses. It would be inefficient to notice everything, and would likely drive us mad. So what do I choose to notice? I, the conscious I, am guided in my perception by purposes.

    vm: When you say purposes, I’m understanding that to mean intentions or desires. So conscious purpose is the aggregation of intentions that potentially lead to action. What’s wrong with that?

    gb: Purpose is not wisdom. Consciousness is organized in terms of purpose as a short-cut device to enable you to get quickly at what you want: Dinner. Sex. Money. Power. It’s not set up to act with maximum wisdom in order to live, but to follow the shortest logical or causal path.

    vm: Ah, I see. It is certainly not common practice to take the “long view,” that’s for sure. The world is filled with short-term thinking and greed and exploitation. And we’re seeing how that plays out.

    gb: There are countless real situations going on right now where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favor of purpose or “common sense.” And the terrible thing about such situations is that inevitably they shorten the time span of all planning. Emergency is present or only just around the corner; and long-term wisdom must therefore be sacrificed to expediency, even though there is a dim awareness that expediency will never give a long-term solution.

    vm: I’ve wondered if that kind of weak-mindedness will be further exacerbated by our activity on the Web. In our need for immediacy and “real-time” data, are we just becoming infinitely more distracted? We seem to want to know what’s going on NOW.... but without context, without stepping back and taking in the bigger picture, are we simply losing all sense of perspective? The other byproduct seems to be ultra-reactivity. No reflection, just reacting to stimulus. And these reactions tend to be based in fear, focused on near-term gain, and utterly negligent in playing out what these decisions mean within the larger system and over time.

    gb: It’s a phenomenon which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal. The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair. He still does not see himself as part of the system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

    vm: That doesn’t sound very intelligent.

    gb: No, it is not.

    vm: A mix of hubris and ignorance, eh?

    gb: Historically a fatal combination. The fundamental flaw is the belief that we are somehow separate from the systems in which we live, as if we controlled them. Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captains of our souls.

    vm: So, what do we do to combat the arrogance of conscious purpose?

    gb: Man must necessarily relax that arrogance in favor of a creative experience in which his conscious mind plays only a small part. Arts, poetry, music, humanities, contact between man and animals, man and the natural world - these all breed a kind of wisdom.

    vm: I can relate to that. Finding outlets for creative expression has helped me grow tremendously. I’ve noticed that it helps me switch between multiple lenses of how I choose to perceive reality. When they say “think differently,” it’s really true. Instead of being trapped in a single rigid worldview, the ability to suspend disbelief and see the world from a different angle is almost magical. I get a flood of ideas, can link seemingly disparate information, and my creativity seems to soar. The trick is balance. Nonduality, even. Being able to link all these perspectives into something holistic. Also, being in tune with nature and the environment has been extremely helpful. It isn’t about being a hippie or treehugger, it’s a method for building intelligence and systemic awareness. The discussion about conscious purpose verse nature seems to be a crucial one. We are nested systems, after all.... organisms within larger organisms.

    gb: That is what I refer to as “wisdom” - recognition of and guidance by a knowledge of the total systemic creature.

    vm: Yes, integration of those different levels of self. Self as individual, self as an interconnected node within a society, and self as an interactive part of a greater ecosystem. And then sometimes I expand even further and simply feel like I am the universe. Do you know what I mean?

    gb: Yes, I experimented with LSD briefly in the 60s.

    vm: Ha ha. But seriously, that sense of being able to expand the sense of self opens the doors for some very creative thinking. It saddens me that many of the institutions in today’s society discourage fresh ideas in favor of maintaining status quo. Just as the institutions are soulless, so it seems the people who work within them are shaped to be.

    gb: Yes, the social scene is nowadays characterized by the existence of a large number of self-maximizing entities which, in law, have something like the status of “persons” - trusts, companies, political parties, unions, commercial and financial agencies, nations, and the like. In biological fact, these entities are precisely not persons and are not even aggregates of whole persons. They are aggregates of parts of persons.

    vm: Exactly! We are living in a world where we have created fictional entities to rule us. What’s worse, they have been designed so that no human(s) are responsible for “its” actions, and accountability and responsibility are deferred. But to whom? If the organization itself has no ethical framework, what can we expect from the people who work there?

    gb: Consider it this way: when Mr. Smith enters the board room of his company, he is expected to limit his thinking narrowly to the specific purposes of the company or to those of that part of the company which he “represents.” Mercifully it is not entirely possible for him to do this and some company decisions are influenced by considerations which spring from wider and wiser parts of the mind. But ideally, Mr. Smith is expected to act as a pure, uncorrected consciousness - a dehumanized creature.

    vm: It seems absurd. Like an artifact from a much more primitive time. So what can be done now to pull us forward through this time of transition into a more advanced stage? Are we even capable? It seems the pressure is increasing and we are reaching systemic limits. We require flexibility now to take us to the next level as a global society. What is the role of consciousness in the ongoing process of human adaptation?

    gb: I would say that an intelligent society is one which is designed to increase wisdom, and to give physical, aesthetic, and creative satisfaction to people.

    vm: Ahh, a lovely vision. This is where I see the evolution of the Web coming in to play.

    gb: How so?

    vm: Well, everything we’ve just talked about, it’s all being simulated on the Web. Sure, you can go online and treat it as a destination for information gathering. But it’s also the outpouring of all the thoughts and emotions of humans everywhere. The Web is humanity’s mirror, in all its beauty and ugliness. The strength of our thinking is being reflected back to us. I see it as an opportunity to grow. Challenge us to exhibit more clarity in our thoughts and language, question our assumptions about “the way things work,” engage in generative dialogue on a massive scale, transmit and propogate memes virally. And definitely to cultivate long-term thinking and wisdom.

    gb: And do you see this happening?

    vm: Of course! All around me. It’s what makes me so passionate. It’s wonderful to have this multimedia communication platform, but it will become even more powerful when it’s infused with some futures thinking. It’s already happening. There are new initiatives and models all the time for increasing collaboration, resource sharing, and openness. The ideas are founded in principles like sustainability and long-term gain for all. It’s integrative. Not us vs them, but what can we accomplish together as a higher level society that understands what cooperation means.

    gb: These ideas are still very fringe, you know. Borderline heretical to some.

    vm: That is fine. Innovation happens at the edge. The most interesting thing for me is coming together in this online space, naked of age, race, location, or embodiment. It’s an infocology where minds connect. For those that are willing to open themselves to it and be flexible, there are an infinite number of possibilities. And by flexibility, I mean an uncommitted potentiality for change. If we can adapt this mentality within our own minds, I think it will carry itself out in all the other structures within society. It will allow us to adapt and evolve.

    gb: Ambitious, indeed. And necessary for species survival at this point, I would say. All the current threats to man’s survival can be traced to three root causes: technological progress, population increase, and conventional thinking and weak-mindedness. A dangerous combination. I wonder if a critical mass will be reached in time to course-correct Spaceship Earth towards sustainability.

    vm: Well, that is up to us to decide, isn’t it......
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    I've seen a bunch of posts bubble up over the past few days that are really sparking my curiousity about what is really going on with Twitter, so I need to do a little brain dump. Bear with me.

    Insight #1

    An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter was just published today on the Harvard Business Review website, titled On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors. In it, she highlights the fact that there is an organizational trend moving away from the hierarchical networks of the 20th century, and towards complex, distributed, non-hierarchical structures of business organization and leadership.

    She also points out that success today is based on a person's ability to leverage power and influence within their social networks, to act as "connectors" between people and information, and in turn build social capital.

    She leaves the evaluation of the significance of Twitter open-ended, but she lays out a few characteristics of Twitter that I found most interesting:

    In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.

    (just keep those points in mind, I'm going to come back to it)

    Insight #2

    Also published today over on Stowe Boyd's blog, /Message, was a post titled The Rise Of Networks, The End Of Process. He makes a case for the abandonment of worn out systems of industrial management thinking, and a move towards a social way of structuring work.

    He points out that the explosion of the social web is allowing us to connect with others in a previously impossible way, and the ability it's giving us to share information and ideas is actually reforming our learning process and the way we think:

    People are thronging on social sites like Facebook and Twitter because they are a straightforward way to stay connected with others, and this in turn shapes our worldview.

    This same sentiment was also hit upon by JR Johnson on mashable in the post Social Media can Change the World through Common Ground.

    He also points out that as we are awakening to the power of this interaction on the web, the most progressive companies and individuals are the ones actively creating new business models around this information, hybrids that combine existing frameworks with new social models.

    From a social viewpoint, the architecture of business seems all wrong.

    It's becoming clear that to constrict a person's capabilities into rigid, set roles that limit creativity and innovation just doesn't make sense. Diving talent into silos is an outdated paradigm. Rather, we should be encouraging the facilitation of diverse groups of people working together on common problems. I touched on the potential power of this in a previous post, "The Future of Collaboration Begins with Visualizing Human Capital."

    I think his points completely validate the need for a new approach to thinking in general, which is exactly what I'm outlining in my 'metathinking manifesto'.

    Insight #3

    Wim Rampen is also noticing a trend, with yesterday's post, Connecting the Dots, referencing Graham Hill's recent post, A Manifesto for Social Business, and Mitch Lieberman's post Social Just is..., both acknowledging the power of customer networks, looked at through the lens of Social Business. Hill laid out fifteen trends shaping the future of business, which clearly outline the fundamental shift underway:

    I would almost go as far to say that we are fast approaching a period of ‘Business Enlightenment', based not so much on the linear thinking that drove the Enlightenment in the 18th Century, as on networked, emergent thinking which is driving so much new thinking in the 21st.

    Everyone is catching on - Lieberman's post also references Esteban Kolsky's new 5 part series on the Roadmap to Social CRM, an in-depth series of blog posts that outlines how to develop a Social Business strategy.

    Insight #4

    Here's where things get interesting. From a learning standpoint, there is proof emerging that using Twitter builds intelligence. A study revealed these benefits:

    All of the study participants were new to Twitter and had not previously used it or any similar microblogging service.....In a relatively short period of time, the participants formed quite sophisticated peer networks.....Peer support became a key feature of this student network, with activity rising just prior to assessment deadlines or during revision for exams. Content analysis of the messages indicated clear evidence of the emergence of personal learning networks.....Twitter is also very attractive as a data collection tool for assessing and recording the student experience, with a wide range of free and increasingly sophisticated online analysis tools available.


    At the surface level, one could look at this information and agree that yes, social networks, and specifically the real-time network of Twitter, enable people to communicate and collaborate on new levels. I think there's something deeper happening.

    I've been reading about complex adaptive systems lately, and many of its key properties seem strikingly similar to what's occurring on Twitter:

    • Emergence: Rather than being planned or controlled the agents in the system interact in apparently random ways. From all these interactions patterns emerge which informs the behaviour of the agents within the system and the behaviour of the system itself.

    • Co-evolution: All systems exist within their own environment and they are also part of that environment. Therefore, as their environment changes they need to change to ensure best fit.

    • Requisite Variety: The greater the variety within the system the stronger it is. In fact ambiguity and paradox abound in complex adaptive systems which use contradictions to create new possibilities to co-evolve with their environment.

    • Connectivity: The ways in which the agents in a system connect and relate to one another is critical to the survival of the system, because it is from these connections that the patterns are formed and the feedback disseminated. The relationships between the agents are generally more important than the agents themselves.

    • Simple Rules: Complex adaptive systems are not complicated. The emerging patterns may have a rich variety, but like a kaleidoscope the rules governing the function of the system are quite simple

    • Iteration: Small changes in the initial conditions of the system can have significant effects after they have passed through the emergence - feedback loop a few times (often referred to as the butterfly effect)

    • Self Organising: There is no hierarchy of command and control in a complex adaptive system. There is no planning or managing, but there is a constant re-organising to find the best fit with the environment.

    • Edge of Chaos: Complexity theory is not the same as chaos theory, which is derived from mathematics. But chaos does have a place in complexity theory in that systems exist on a spectrum ranging from equilibrium to chaos. A system in equilibrium does not have the internal dynamics to enable it to respond to its environment and will slowly (or quickly) die. A system in chaos ceases to function as a system. The most productive state to be in is at the edge of chaos where there is maximum variety and creativity, leading to new possibilities.

    • Nested Systems: Most systems are nested within other systems and many systems are systems of smaller systems.

    Complex adaptive systems are all around us. Most things we take for granted are complex adaptive systems, and the agents in every system exist and behave in total ignorance of the concept but that does not impede their contribution to the system. Complex Adaptive Systems are a model for thinking about the world around us not a model for predicting what will happen. I have found that in nearly all situations I can view what is happening in Complex Adaptive Systems terms and that this opens up a variety of new options which give me more choice and more freedom.

    Is this perhaps the framework that we've all been hitting upon without realizing it? Many people have been sensing there is something special about the way we're able to access and exchange information and ideas on Twitter, organize into Twibes and niche groups to tackle problems together, and develop strategies (like using lists and separate accounts) to filter out the content that matters most to us.

    Final question: Is Twitter not a social media platform, but an actual entity, an intelligence made up of all of us?


    further thoughts: If you have room for one more idea to provide another context, consider yesterday's post by Tim O'Reilly on The War For the Web. If we start to experience real, measurable collective benefits from our ability to leverage the intelligence of the real-time web, will it be exploited, or will we ensure a system that keep our information and knowledge flows open source?

    sources of the thoughtstream:

    I would also suggest taking a look through Pierre Levy's slideshare on Collective Intelligence & Cyberspace, which I found on Victor Godot's site.

    Insights from the Twittersphere

    @SmartStorming Innovation is really a game of connect-the-dots. Try combining two or more seemingly unrelated things in a new way that creates value.

    @spikenlilli Halpern: "How does one learn to see?" "Make associations between data points" - relational, generative, gestalt, anticipatory design #IPF09

    @Innovation360 Can innovation be systematized?

    @acarvin Hargadon: social media can unleash our latent creativity. #ncti2009

    @WebStudio13 RT @craignewmark - RT @AlecJRoss: “The more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.” via @ariannahuff

    People referenced in this post

    Rosabeth Kanter @RosabethKanter
    Stowe Boyd @stoweboyd
    mashable @mashable
    Wim Rampen @wimrampen
    Graham Hill @grahamhill
    Mitch Lieberman @mjayliebs
    Estaban Kolsky @ekolsky
    Tim O'Reilly @timoreilly
    Victor Godot @victorgodot

    This post made possible by:

    @SameerPatel - RT'd @stoweboyd's article
    @SocialNetDaily - RT'd @AnneDGallager @HarvardBiz @KellySpors to @RosabethKanter's article
    @Wildcat2030 - RT'd @UniofLeics @TheHistoryWoman @timeshighered to Twitter in academia study
    @emahlee - RT'd @anildash to @timoreilly's article
    @phaloo - tweeted @mashable article
    @ekolsky - tweeted Roadmap to Social CRM article

    note: I'm going to try as often as possible to reference posts in this way, because I think it's a good illustration of how thoughts and ideas are developing as a result of distributed knowledge, and it's easier for me to follow my own train of thought.

    I saw all of these posts within the last 48 hours in my twitterstream.... I don't know that I would have come up with this by reading RSS feeds or by using other news sites.
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