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 "You can't get THERE from HERE, but you can get HERE from THERE."  MG Taylor axiom, 1983

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.

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/


 

Sunday
Mar162014

Coming to Knowing Group Genius

"In excited conversations we have glimpses of the universe, hints of power native to the soul, far-darting lights and shadows of an Andes landscape, such as we can hardly attain in lone meditation.  Here are oracles sometimes profusely given, to which the memory goes back in barren hours."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was during my second year of teaching 2nd graders in a public school that I first connected with the concept of group genius. I had 22 students and each of them had chosen a subject that they were curious about to study and then share their learning with the rest of the class. This was 1965 so there was no Internet and the research was difficult. They had two weeks to prepare.  The only question I can remember with clarity was "Why do soap bubbles have colors?" Many of the questions like this one, were questions that I could not answer without doing my own research. 

Report day arrived and the air was full of excitement. This was work they had done on their own with little support from me. The subjects had only one thing in common, each was personally chosen by the presenter.  The room was set up as theater, honoring whoever was on stage. Each had his own way of presenting their findings.  And then it happened, the entire energy in the room changed. It was charged with excitement and anticipation. My 22 students and myself became one. Something emerged in those few hours that was indescribable but we all felt it and bathed in it.   Despite my degree in education I must admit, I had never really thought about the brain before. I had not really thought about what was going on in the heads of my students, or my own head for that matter. I had no words or explanation for what I had just witnessed - what had turned the room electric -  but I had a deep knowing that something remarkable had happened.

A few years later I came across the notebooks of Lawrence Halprin and saw the words "Group genius" written in a margin. That's it! This is what was happening in my class room! I did not know the science behind the concept of group genius. Words like "emergence",  "self-organizing systems', "complexity" were not used in lay terms in the 60's. But here was Halprin  talking about project-based learning with the community. People were learning through doing. That's what I was doing as teacher and facilitator. This is when I noted that when people of all ages designed together ... produced something of value together ... group genius was a likely outcome.

I set my mind on discovering what I could about group genius. Why does it happen? What are the forces that cause a working group to go into a higher order?  Both The Learning Exchange and MG Taylor were partially formed to create a laboratory, a method and a practice where Group Genius was likely to happen, not just with kids, but all ages and cultures.  I went deeper into complexity science, self-organizng systems and project based learning.  I discovered Kevin Kelly's brilliant book, Out of Control, and read the chapter on Assembling Complexity over and over.  I came to a deeper understanding of complexity, emergence, and simple rules for creating healthy self organizing systems through the writings of Steven Johnson,  Fritjof Capra, Stewart Kauffman and Meg Wheatley. Neuroscience has been one of my more focused studies.

My classroom experience was nearly 50 years ago and over this time span I have seen many, many groups escape into the Group Genius mode. I know now with some certainty how to cause it, not control it, but give it freedom to occur. Now finally, through Stanislas Dehance's book, Consciousness and the Brain: deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts, I am understanding what happens in the brain. Dehance is quite metaphoric and yet very specific and detailed in his writing.  The book is on the individual brain but in his description of how the brain creates a work space to assemble complexity.  I can see the very same thing happening with individual brains when they become group genius.  All the individual brains go into the same assemblage causing group genius.  It is a recursive model! Very exciting because now I can do more than feel it, design for it, take part in it ... I can also understand it! As far as I know there is no formal research being done on group genius. Perhaps this will be coming forth soon. I'd love to know more if anyone knows of this kind of particular research happening.  The MG Taylor method and process can provide real time evidence!

The brain builds itself by laying down large synaptic highways, which become the scaffold of communication corridors from which secondary and tertiary corridors emerge, until a vast “hairnet of axons” covers the brain. Once this hairnet is in place then we have a brain that is able to self-organize an infinite number of connections, thoughts, ideas, innovations and learnings while at the same time behave and direct behavior in dependable, learned ways.

— Marilyn Hamilton, “The Art and Science of Meshworking” from Integral City 

Tuesday
Feb112014

What Is Design? Unlocking The Genius Within

Todd was recently interviewed by Forbes.com columnist Victor Hwang, an venture capitalist and entreprenuer based in Silicon Valley. This interview originally appeared in Forbes.com on February 11, 2014. Posted here with permission from the author.

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Todd Johnston was a designer before designing was cool.  For decades, he and his colleagues have practiced design to accelerate innovation for corporations and countries.  His team designs the collaborative sessions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where they are often tasked to help leaders tackle the biggest challenges. Next week, Todd makes his debut as the Head of Design for our Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley.

We set a simple challenge for ourselves: if we believe that innovative ecosystems can be designed across entire countries, then surely we can create an ecosystem in a single conference.  Therefore, working with Todd, we have turned the conference into a giant design laboratory.  Instead of listening to one-way lectures, our participants will be working in small startup-like teams to tackle real problems in real time.  Instead of talking in abstraction, our participants will be building tangible, 3D prototype solutions to tackle systemic challenges.

I wanted to share some of Todd’s insights on design with you, as they are particularly interesting and relevant to anyone trying to accelerate innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic value creation.

photo by Chris Nohr, thenumbercreative.com
Victor Hwang:
  What does design mean to you?

Todd Johnston:  The first definition I remember learning for design was “to mark out,” which comes from the Latin form of the word (dēsignāre). The simplicity of this definition speaks to me and does as good a job as any definition in getting to the heart of the matter. To design is to mark out a pattern as a means of making meaning of an experience. A design marks out a vision for what can be; the act of designing is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions and that vision.

Hwang:  How do you practice design?

Johnston:  Design as I have practiced it has always been prefixed with “co-“, meaning together, mutually with others. When done well, collaboration unleashes collective intelligence and channels that intelligence into the design process to produce dramatically better results. Co-design recognizes that everyone has expertise to offer, and that there are no experts in the fields of the unknown and undiscovered. The complex problems we face today call for all kinds of intelligences, voices and vantage points.

Hwang:  Why has design become so important today?

Johnston:  Design is a hands-on endeavor of the mind, body and soul. It is both playful and thoughtful, and can be highly liberating. Worthy design is immensely challenging. Rarely are boundaries or solutions clear or easy to come by. This is a great time to be a designer, as I believe we are living in a time when a fundamentally new paradigm, or way of understanding and interacting with the world, is being formed and coming into being.  What better reward could a designer ask for than to help give shape to this?

Hwang:  You talk about how the knowledge economy has transitioned into the creative economy.  What does that mean?

Johnston:  Let me first say what I’m not saying. I am not saying that the knowledge economy is going away, or that knowledge is becoming a less relevant source of what shapes our collective worldview. Over the last quarter century, there have been a number of overlapping descriptors of the social, economic and technological paradigms in which we live. It is largely accepted that what was known as the industrial economy is no longer dominant, and has been replaced by the knowledge economy and network economy as more accurate descriptors of what shapes the marketplace. Part of what is driving this transition is that knowledge is becoming easier and less expensive to store, share, transfer and replicate.

Hwang: What is the result of that transition?

Johnston:  The ability to creatively combine and apply various bodies of knowledge in new and more powerful ways is becoming of great and greater significance. In other words, it is not just about knowledge, but what you do with it. Steve Denning, who has been writing about the creative economy for several years, characterizes it as  “an economy in which the driving force is innovation… in which organizations are nimble and agile and continually offering new value to customers and delivering it sooner.” Building on this, I’d argue that networks are in many instances replacing organizations as the primary mechanisms for combining disparate bodies of knowledge in innovative ways, and are typically more likely to be nimble and agile.  Thus, the creative economy is the name I give to what is emerging from the combination of the knowledge economy in the networked age.

Hwang: How do you describe the philosophy behind your work?

Johnston:  From a practical point of view, the power really comes from its recognition that design, creativity, collaboration, modeling, meaning making, problem solving … all of these things are inherently part of who we are as human beings.  There is a quote attributed to Bucky Fuller that goes something like “All children are born geniuses; 9,999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently de-geniusized by grownups.”

Happy

Genius at work?

Well, maybe one way of looking at the MG Taylor philosophy [in which I was trained] is the process of re-geniusizing people to their fully human selves.  How?  By doing.  By bringing people into the hands-on experience, as a community, designing their future together. From the get go, the Taylors recognized the value of any concept, theory or idea, was in what it enabled you to do.

Hwang:  What lessons have you learned from you work at the World Economic Forum in Davos?

Johnston:  First, dealing with the constraint of incredibly short sessions. …  I’m talking about true, experientially rich, participatory design sessions, in which we are asked to take on a subject or theme complex in nature and provide a platform for 40 – 60 participants to move through several iterations of the creative process in order to make significant, meaningful progress on an issue with global impact. Intellectual property, transatlantic relations, gender equality, climate change, access to water, responsible wealth, and so on….

Secondly, with the World Economic Forum, the teams and programs I’ve been a part of are just a small fraction of the overall system and community that is brought together. …  So, what we, as a small team of facilitators have learned and are continuing to learn, is how and where we can make a difference to the system. Where are the critical leverage points we can leverage for greater impact? How do we make the work visible beyond just those that participate in a session? What can we do to facilitate connections between individuals and parts of the system that may not otherwise be made?

Hwang:  How will your participation at the Global Innovation Summit be similar or different from Davos?

Johnston:  I am very much focused on what we can do to facilitate participants having an integrated, progressive experience. What I mean by this is that I want participants to both get great value from each individual aspect of the program but also for them to make sense of the whole and leaves them feeling as though they have contributed to and accomplished something meaningful collectively.

The key difference, and challenge that we’ll have to meet, is in my work with the World Economic Forum, we have fairly robust facilitation teams and overall smaller groups of people that we’re working with at any given time. So, [the large size of the Summit] will undoubtedly stretch my thinking and my skills to a place they haven’t been before. And that is one of the things that is most attractive to me. New ground. New challenges. Bring it on!

Todd Johnston is Director, Process Design & Facilitation with Tomorrow Makers and a Founding Member of The Value Web. He is Head of Design for the Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley.

Victor W. Hwang is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.  He is Executive Director of Global Innovation Summit + Week (February 17-21, 2014), an event focused on catalyzing systemic innovation across companies, communities, and countries. 

Friday
Dec062013

Nelson Mandela and the Adjacent Possible

"The impossible has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks."
Douglas Adams,  The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I consider Nelson Mandela to be a miracle for our time and age.  He was a true gift, gifting us in ways  impossible to foresee. His deeds and words will live on throughout all time and space.

I have been researching and writing about the adjacent possible for sometime now. The life story of Mandela has been unfolding via the news over the last few days.  I am amazed with how many adjacent possible opportunities he took and used to further not only his options but widened the options of behavior and philosophy for all humans.  It seems to me that Mandela had a small number of non-negotiable values which he held true to during his entire life.  They were about fairness and opportunity for all. 

By holding true to these values, he seemed to have had an innate knowledge of when and how to take his next step in his long journey. He walked the fine edge between chaos and death and peace and justice as a way of life.  He knew which doors to crack open and when. He invited others into these adjacent possible spaces and together they opened more possibles.  Over the years, he widened his opportunities for freedom as he did for all of humanity. 

Today, even with his passing, his beliefs and how he lived his beliefs will continue to open new doors to discover new adjacent possibilities to all of us who pay attention to his words and actions.  Mandela seemed never to take the simple way of compromise but always to find the practical way to inch freedom forward.  In his actions, he realized what was impossible to most people. Encouraged by many to compromise, telling him that his undying hope was improbable and useless, he stood his ground and moved forward one adjacent possible at a time creating a higher order solution... a more fit world. 

Each link  shows a different aspect of the adjacent possible.  For those of us with hope in our eyes and hearths, may we come to know as Mandela did the adjacent doors to open as we move forward on this great journey. 

Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward. S. Kierkegaard

Saturday
Jul132013

Assembling Complexity: When the community practically falls together

"Evolution not only evolves the functioning community, but it also finely tunes the assembly process of the gathering until the community practically falls together." Kevin Kelly, Chapter 4, Assembling Complexity"

Those that know me know I return to this chapter over and over, always finding new insights and value.  I was thinking about naming this journal page "When it is time to railroad, people start railroading." a quote by Robert Heinlein...another way of saying everyone jumps on the bandwagon. And then Todd suggested I think about nature and ecosystems, rather than modeling a mechanical mindset of a fading paradigm.

Today, re-reading Assembling Complexity re-minded me of how nature learns and scales into patterns of renewal and growth. "Nature learns from the ground up and in a somewhat random order."  The chapter takes on new meaning every time I read it.  Today, I think I am coming to knowing my work and vision.  With foresight I only had words ... in hindsight, I have experience and realization. 

More than 30 years ago, Matt and I created a process and method that has come to be called the MG Taylor body of knowledge.  At the time we thought we were creating something that would catch on quickly and provide a new way of working.  We thought that terms like anticipatory, collaborate, design, paradigm shift, requisite variety, and group genius were self-explanatory and would be welcomed into work places of all kinds.  We assumed our modeling language would find its way into the culture and new "words" and models would be added to create a way of thinking and doing. 

Today, in hindsight we are coming to knowing the complex systems in which new ideas ... new paradigms... are forged and become reality.  The methods and processes we developed so long ago have traveled a winding, curious course of evolution. There have been a number of emergent phenomenon providing new ways of seeing and understanding what we set out to do so many years ago.  We are no longer alone in our desires to create healthy new ways of working. Now the field of consultants, academy course offerings, and corporate experiments are employing terms like anticipatory, design, paradigm shift, requisite variety, and group genius in a ubiquitous manner. Complexity theory and all the concepts embedded within it are coming full cycle. I think a tipping point has been reached ... not in five years as we thought, but in thirty years of phase transitions of two kinds. One in the slow decay of the existing paradigm where each year we lose more and more faith in our existing organizations, and institutions until there is little faith that there is anything worth holding onto. The other is the creative aspect of renewal and better ways of working and creating support structures, especially designed for the 21st century and all of its potential for a better world. Our work has been at the core of this.  I can see it emanating from so many newly forming ways of working. I feel that all of who formed the core team and set forth to do the work in the late 70's and 80's should feel that we laid the path, set the course. 

Now as this organic "falling together" takes place, I cannot help but ask myself what next? I feel that we are at the beginning of a new challenge and vision... new phase transitions, new journeys and explorations into an unknown next cycle.  We are not alone this time; it will be a bigger group, a newly informed group of us using 21st century tools and experiences. 

Tomorrow Makers has a particular desire to help this larger group form, learn from each other, and create a deeply embedded understanding of the opportunities and challenges to take leadership to a new understanding, a new way of crafting and designing and acting.  Together we can identify and create a new fitness level... a higher order.

Stuart Kauffman tells us that the "algorithm is incompressible." In other words, one must make something before one comes to know it and understand the phases and transitions that occur invisibly and naturally. Indeed, there are no shortcuts to a higher order, but we think we can help the movement move forward with more vitality and understanding. We can help take the waste out of the system.