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The Tomorrow Makers Journal is a collection of musings and reflections on how humankind and the rest of our living planet may find a way of escaping to a higher order.


Thursday
Nov202014

The Origin of Our Design Axioms

“Discovering you don't know something is the first step to knowing it.”
“Everyone in this room has the answer. The purpose of this intense experience is to stimulate one, several, or all of us to extract and remember what we already know.”


All of our axioms were created in 1981 while Matt and I were living in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland, a tiny community was about 3,000 feet above Boulder, Co.  MG Taylor corporation and the DesignShop process were just forming, growing out of workshops we were offering on personal planning under an organization called CHOICE (choosing healthy options in changing environments). It was through these workshops that participants began asking us to work with their businesses, government departments, and corporations.  

1981 was twenty-five years ago. The Rate of Change model was one of our earliest models. Almost all of our workshops/DesignShops began with this model.  None of our participants had ever thought about change in this way.  The idea of exponential change was quite foreign. Collaboration, Group Genius, design, paradigm shifts were other strange concepts.  Yet, we discovered that when we created an environment and a process for people to explore these ideas, to create with them, as opposed to debating them, whole new ways of thinking began to take hold. People were hungry to learn a new way; they were curious; they were scared; they were stepping into a new world.  As Matt and I were driving down those 3,000 feet from Nederland to Boulder where we had our first office, our axioms were born. They were created as a scaffolding to help participants  leave the safety of their existing mental models and begin to get hand-holds on new ways of thinking and acting.  One by one the axioms were created over a couple of months as we watched participants move from one way of thinking to another. We spoke the axioms in the car. None of them were written, or iterated; rather they just formed as we watched people do what seemed to come naturally when they were given both the freedom and structure to think and work differently. Matt and I spent time exploring the ‘fitness’ of each axiom. Did it seem innate to humans? Was it authentic and universal?

Today, the axioms might seem fairly obvious.  But the idea of everyone having part of the answer was very strange in the 80’s and most of the 90’s.  The thought of working together to get better answers than we could possibly do on our own was a ridiculous concept.  Admitting that we didn’t know something was dangerous. We had our job positions because ‘we knew the answer.’  We held our status in school because we knew or didn’t know answers.  

Once we had our set of axioms we began each session with them. We didn’t explain them. We just offered them for consideration.  And throughout each event, participants would come to us at different moments and tell us that they ‘got one’ and how delighted they were to re-member something they knew innately, but had been taught differently.  Our axioms enabled people to be bolder, more transparent, more transformative in their thinking and working. The axioms created a scaffolding, a safety net, for different ways of thinking. They weren't to be argued, or rationally understood. They were  just statements to be used in design.

When I look at my THERE, my vision of our work so many years ago,  I can see how far our cultures have come in becoming comfortable with life-long learning and being able to say I don't know.  "Let's find out ... together!" is becoming the way! The axioms created a social benchmark for me. Change can seem non-existant, or very slow. With the axioms I can look back and see how far we have really come.  And, they are still powerful, still providing meaning and insight to me and many others. 

Wednesday
Oct152014

The Power of Backcasting

It was 1977 that Draper Kauffman visited The Learning Exchange, an organization a friend and I had founded. Draper was a futurist and when visiting Kansas City someone suggested he visit the Learning Exchange. We had several hours together sharing our thoughts about how unprepared students were to think about relevant futures for themselves. Draper had been with the Rand Corporation, a futures think tank. He was horrified by the gulf between what was being taught in schools and the world that was unfolding in which students would find themselves. Over dinner with Matt (Taylor) and me, Draper got to talking about how he learned to trick the mind into opening up and allowing itself to play with the future.

Draper left the Rand Corporation and secured his doctorate in education, specifically to teach teachers how to engage the future in grades K through 12. He had a hunch and he wanted to run experiments. When working with a classroom of 5th And 6th grade teachers, he handed out as assignment that simply ask the teachers to write the rest of the story. Each handout had a paragraph beginning the story. For all, the task was to make up a story based on this vague first paragraph. Draper left the classroom and retuned about 20 minutes later. Many of the teachers were just sitting, having written very little. Others were several pages into their story. He asked them to share their experience of writing. What none of them knew was that half the teacher’s paragraphs were written in past tense, the other half in future tense. With few exceptions, teachers who had past tense had fun and wrote many paragraphs making up the story as they went along. But those writing future tense struggled imagining a story that was yet to take place. This discovery led Draper to teach his course very differently.

Draper began to teach modeling to his students. Most of them had no idea how to create models in their imagination… or how to use models in their thinking processes. To his students, the future was something left to the experts, to be proven right or wrong over time. The future was made up of facts just like in their history books, not possibilities and imagination.

And it gave Matt and me an important insight. This is how the axiom "you can't get There from Here, but you can get Here from There" originated.

When you begin to frame the future from the present, all kinds of blocks show up. The present is full of the here and now and of many reasons change is not possible. Very little of our school life is composed for facilitating imagination and foresight. It is based on learning facts and facts are only within the past, or the here and now. It is based on test scores and right or wrong. To ease the tension, Matt and I decided that the first paragraph we wrote, from which participants would use as a baseline, would insure success. It would ask participants to remember their success story.

Draper's work was an important influencer in the development of our method and process. The importance of modeling, playing with ideas, assuming success became core principles in our work.

(Draper's book, Teaching the Future, is an important book and still very relevant. It is, however almost impossible to find. Our “Curriculum for the 21st Century” was also inspired by his work.)

This morning this article on Peter Drucker showed up in my in box. Drucker was quite good at envisioning THERE and bringing it to his HERE. 

- Gail

Wednesday
Oct012014

A timeline of the use and spread of the term "Group Genius"

1980: Inspired by her observations and reflections on her time teaching second grade in the late 1960’s and her exposure to the work of Lawrence Halprin, Gail Taylor coins the term. It finds its way into the business planning documents and collateral of Taylor Associates in the early 1980's.

1997: Fast Company Magazine publishes Group Genius, a feature article on Matt and Gail Taylor and the DesignShop process they created with MG Taylor Corporation (formerly Taylor Associates).

1998: Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work, by Chris Peterson and Gayle Pergamit published by Knowhere Press. This book was the first, comprehensive mass market publication detailing the MG Taylor frameworks, processes and methods. Currently unavailable in print at a reasonable price, the book is available for free online.

1999: The Foresight Institute, where Leaping the Abyss authors were Senior Associates, hosts Group Genius Weekend at the Knowhere Store in Palo Alto, California. This marked the first appearance of the Group Genius logo (pictured below right) created by Christopher Fuller and Claire Arias.

2000: The inaugral "Group Genius Awards" are presented by MG Taylor to individuals, event teams, and NavCenters that exemplify Group Genius in how they work and release creativity in groups.

Around 2004, Architectz of Group Genius forms as a design consultancy in Milan, Italy, inspired by the work and methodology of Matt and Gail Taylor.

2007: Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer, a renowned and highly regarded scholar on the science of creativity, is published. So far as we can tell, this is the first public appearance of the term not directly connected with the original usage of the term, though the context and meaning has much overlap. The book has been well received and is typically receives the highest Google page rank when doing a search for “group genius."

2014: The Difference Australia, a subsidary of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, launches a promotional video that appropriates the term, indirectly referencing the Taylor methodology as a core source of their own methodology. Gail and Matt are frequent advisors, educators and co-designers to The Difference Australia team.

2014: Tomorrow Maker Todd Johnston appears at TEDx Livermore and gives a Talk on several of the core conditions that contribute to the realization of Group Genius.

 

Monday
Sep222014

TEDx Livermore: Uncorking Creativity with Group Genius

Screenshot from Todd's TEDx Livermore Talk via LivestreamNote: The following is the written version of my talk at TEDxLivermore: Uncorking Creativity on September 20, 2014. When the talk is available online, a link will be posted here.

----

Good morning.

I want to begin with a simple assertion:

To be human is to be creative..

It is in our nature. Unlike batteries, creativity is included in the package.

Now, we may each have our own means of expressing this creativity, and our own perception of our creativity relative to other people may vary.

And, certainly, good arguments have been made that as we grow up and are socialized into the world, our abilities to tap into and express our creativity may diminish if they are not developed and practiced.

But at a fundamental level, whether it is expressed by baking cakes or writing code, painting portraits or snapping selfies, architecting buildings or building businesses, we are all innately and unavoidably creative.

And it is this creativity which lies within each of us that has largely brought about and enabled the world we live in, with all of it’s incredible in its beauty, sophistication and capability.

And, we have no reason not to think that immeasurable good things will continue to be brought into the world with this creative force.

And yet...

The sum of our creativity is not enough.

It is not enough to solve for the kind of complex problems that we, as a species have and will continue to create as a natural course of our lives.

It is not going to be enough to solve the challenges that matter most in our organizations, institutions, communities, ecosystems and so forth..

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Jun212014

Hive Minds: Time to drop the fiction of individuality

For instance, in one experiment aimed at promoting more healthy behaviour we compared the strategy of giving participants cash when they improved their behaviour to the strategy of giving cash to the participants' buddies. We found giving buddies the reward was more than four times as effective as giving rewards directly to the participants. Similar social network incentives have yielded even more dramatic results when used to encourage energy savings and voting.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229630.300-hive-minds-time-to-drop-the-fiction-of-individuality.html

As a teacher in training during the 60's neither the quote at the top or most of the bullet points below were ever mentioned.  I learned that individuals were competitive, not cooperative and that mostly education was a remote, mechanistic necessary happening.  Feelings, empathy, sharing, and co-operation were things to be pounded into young minds. There was also a lot of competitive "dog eat dog" thinking. Teachers' search images were tuned to see this very limited understanding of human nature and young minds. 

Today, thank goodness, we are learning how naive we were in our understanding of human nature and young minds at play and work.  In my own teaching when I was at my best, I learned through observation how often children proved these limited theories wrong. When I changed my expectations, and expected different behaviour, I learned how easy it was to inspire and challenge them. They naturally fell into working together, learning together. 

  • Learning is a lifelong experience that begins at birth and never ends.
  • There is a direct relationship between self image and learning.
  • Environments affect learning. Learning is optimized in creative, trusting environments that provide experience, exploration, risk-taking, and mastery.
  • Learning is an interdependent process involving cooperation and collaboration.
  • Learning involves the engagement of body, mind and spirit.
  • An individual's potential for learning is unknown; without high expectations this potential may never be realized. People excel when they experience high expectations and appropriate challenge.
  • Peak performance is driven by vision and a hunger for a "preferred" state.
  • Learning is a multi-modal, multi-sensory, multi-intelligences experience.
  • Each individual is responsible for his/her learning and for contributing to the learning of others.
  • Education is not the same thing as training. To educate means "to lead forward" and thus to guide an open-ended process, characterized by self-conscious and discretionary activity. To train means "to draw or drag behind" and refers to a closed process of making things habitual or automatic. Learning requires both education and training.
  • Learning happens at different rates for each individual; it can be facilitated but not forced, as it occurs when the individual is ready.
  • Learning is best achieved by defining the learning process as a system and continually taking action to optimize the performance of that system.
  • By establishing a system which both exemplifies and expects responsibility from each individual, and which embeds life-long learning into every segment of society, full and healthy employment will result.
From our Redesigning the Future Proposal, 1972

I can remember, in 1980, doing an early version of our Backcasting module. We asked people to find a "write-on panel" and answer questions about how they solved a problem.  About 15 minutes into the exercise, one of the male participants started crying. He was standing at the wall, with one hand behind his back as he had been taught to do in school, writing and drawing away with tears in his eyes. He said to me, "I only remember the black board (now a white wall) as punishment where we had to go before everyone and be right in our answer.  Here I am pouring forth all kinds of ideas and I will be rewarded for them!".  As adults, we need processes and environments that helps us re-member our natural tendencies to play, and work with each to make better worlds.

I use this list as a barometer and I check it all the time.  How am I facilitating what it really means to be human? And how do we as transition managers help minds of all ages step into their potential?

Enjoy these links. They challenge me to consider new possibilities and let go of old assumptions. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/world/europe/in-france-new-tech-academy-defies-conventional-wisdom.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://petervan.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/principles-for-open-innovation-and-open-leadingship/