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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

4-Day Work Week Mistake?

In recent months cities and states across the country have been debating and experimenting with the four day work week.  It has even hit the federal scene, with congressmen calling for a four day week in DC.  And in almost every case the driving concern has been the reduction of car fuel savings and energy costs for the employer.  And of course Hawaii is half-way through it’s state experiment and responses seem positive.  But will this response to a ‘crisis’ set in motion more difficult strategic challenges in the years ahead?

The idea of the work week has been under criticism for some time; it is, after all, an arbitrary construct.  For most of human history, most people engaged in the work of living pretty much every day.  Long before there were farms or agriculture, humans had an amount of socialization and ‘leisure’ time that many of us would envy.  It’s partly to the Judeo-Christian worldview that we see the week as having days that should be without work (and thus, if we have to make our numbers, we’re supposed to cram them into our ‘work’ days).  And it’s to the mechanization and drive for cost-reduction created by the industrial revolution and mass production that we owe the time card and the concept that your hour has a certain dollar value.

But an interesting new book by cognitive scientist John Medina, Brain Rules, points out a host of provocative new findings about how the human brain works and how our modern approaches to education and work often run counter to the most effective lifestyles for our delicate and wondrous brains.  Did you know that 10% of people truly think and work best early in the day, being very early to bed and early to rise?  Or that 20% of people are truly better late at night and seldom get to bed before 3 am?  A full 30% of our citizens are literally not wired to do well in the standard 9 – 5 routine, yet we have in recent decades required everyone to confirm, with measurable losses in mental abilities, focus, and productivity.

We’re not designed, mentally or physically to sit at a desk for 8 hours, much less 10, yet that is the kind of routine with which we’re experimenting.  It is certainly too early to judge the long-term effects of extending the work day, and the ‘solution’ is really intended to address energy costs.  But once we open up this issue, it’s an opportunity for us to consider broader or additional changes in the construct of the work week.  For instance, in the short term, with our current dependence on fossil fuels to generate the energy we use to get to and from work and to light up the work place, reducing the number of days while lengthening them seems prudent.  But in the longer-term, as renewable and alternative sources of energy come online, the energy issues change, and we will want to keep in mind alternatives that increase overall happiness and productivity in even more fundamental ways.

If anyone has any good sources on scientific studies of alternative work schedules, we would love to hear about them.

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Filed under: Biology, Business, Economics, Energy, Hawai'i, Transportation

Our Long History as Context

I am by training and profession a ‘futurist.’ I’ll admit that it’s a fairly odd and ungainly title, but it’s really all that professionals in the field of futures studies (at least in the US) have come up with. What is futures studies? Not an unusual question. Definitions can be hard to come by, but the common one, that it studies the ‘future’ is wrong. The future doesn’t actually exist, so there’s nothing to study in that way.

People often call futurists to come tell them what the future will be like, what trends to watch out for, or what fad they should build their next product line around. But the fact is that neither futurists nor any other profession knows how to “know” what will happen before it actually happens.

But real futurists do deal a lot with change, with trying to understand change and trying to help others understand how and why things change. And one of the ways we come to this is by starting with context. If you want to gain a different perspective on something like, say, most of the modern social issues that we face, start by taking the futurist’s view and place these issues in the context of our long history on this planet.

It’s important to remember that so much of human behavior, cognition, and need is shaped by our long biological history on this planet, stretching back millions of years. Some 99% of our long history shaped us for hunter-gatherer living in small family groups of like 25 – 125 people. We’re talking before agriculture, before the lo‘i, before the cultivated fields of corn, before the local village. We’re talking about living in small, intimate related groups, not quite settled in one place, and without predictable meals.

By contrast, only like 1% of our history on this planet dealt with living in situations any of us, whether we would call ourselves ‘traditionalists’ or ‘modernists’, would find even remotely familiar. Tribes, harvest season, kingdoms, cities, traffic, and information overload… all of these are actually very recent things. The cultural history that most of us are familiar with, the last couple thousand years that most people bother to trace, deals with our attempts to reconcile our biological history with the unusual social, economic, and political forms we’ve created recently.

And so?

So, the cultural histories that we remember and tend to see as so sacred and eternal (and this includes the American set of cultural outlooks and practices), are in fact much, much shorter than our long biological history. We have a very long, shared biological history, and very, very short and divergent cultural histories.

So, when we’re are looking at and thinking about the modern issues that we face, from the stress of traffic jams, performance in modern schools, and unhappy or unhealthy lifestyles, it can be incredibly important to place these issues in the context of our Long History, beginning to ask how humans, because of that history, have been shaped to experience and respond to these modern and very unusual situations.

Sound a little too academic for you? Then the next time you’re suffering through the late afternoon in your cute little cubicle, which you inhabit for most of your waking hours, remember that no one was expected to sit through two hour-long PowerPoint presentations in a stuffy room for those several hundred thousand years on the savanna…

When professional futurists work with others to design future organizations, cities, or even economies, this is one of the ways they start the conversation: by putting it in context.

See, History is important for the future; just not the recent histories our high school teachers told us to memorize.

If you thought this was cool, check out some titles like Human Natures, On Human Nature, and Guns, Germs, and Steel.

And if you’d really like to learn more, we’ll cover this and much more provocative stuff at our Hawai‘i Futures Summit this October 3 and 4.

Filed under: Biology, Change, Culture, Forecasting, Hawai'i

Regrowing Tissue

Scan: A recent BBC article featured a man who had lost a fingertip but regrew it with the use of an experimental ‘cellular matrix.’  The man had lost the tip to a model airplane propeller, but with the application of special ‘dust’ developed at the University of Pittsburgh, he regrew the finger tip.  See a somewhat graphic video.

Thoughts: the current buzz word for the mainstream is ‘sustainability’, with an array of overlapping and related notions ranging from ‘no-growth’ to hybrid cars to anti-GMO supporters.  But even as the public consciousness is being focused by non-profits, corporations, and politicians on ‘green’ issues, potentially dramatic advances in health sciences continue to be made everyday.  While the 21st century health system is no longer the top of mind issue, the developments in understanding human biology and manipulating its course still promise some of the most fundamental changes civilization may yet undergo.  Notions of disease, injury, and the medical professions stand to be redefined as advances in things like automation, medical records, tissue regeneration, remote monitoring, and genetic manipulation are woven together.  Visit here for a short primer on how some experts expect the “P4” generation of health care to emerge.

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Filed under: Biology, Health, Technology

Creating Stem Cells

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Two groups of researchers have announced the ability to create human stem cells from human skin cells. The teams, from Kyoto University in Japan and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, both used techniques inserting four genes into existing skin cells, causing the cells to turn into a pluripotent state. Scientists have good hopes that once other issues are worked out, researchers will be able to easily create stem cells to work with, eliminating the need for the ethical debates around the current sources of stem cells, namely embryos.

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Filed under: Biology

Powered Prosthesis

Scan:
Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab (specifically in the biomechatronics group) have developed an experimental ankle prosthesis. The device mechanics are modeled on the human ankle and is powered to provide the same sort of propulsion that the natural joint does. The researchers hope to have lighter and more powerful commercial versions available next year.

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Filed under: Biology

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.


The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


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