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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.


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/


 

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