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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Looking for survival, and ultimately, growth

Morgen, folks.  A tad slower on the boot-up this morning, but the caffeine is beginning to kick in!

One of the things that we’ve been noticing in working on several different projects with a variety of different decision makers and thought leaders locally is an interesting confluence: on the one hand many people, decision makers included, are concluding that we (Hawai’i, the US, the world) need some transformative change and now actually have a small window of opportunity.  They are looking for it, but like many of us, the breadth and scale of the issues interacting to create our current immediate crises and longer-term vulnerabilities is overwhelming from an analytic standpoint.  It’s just hard to make sense of things and figure out what actions might really lead to successful systemic change.

At the same time, first- and second-hand feedback seems to show that people all over the place are hungering for, dare I say it, vision.  And not the airy-fairy vision statements most organizations and communities make, and not vague statements of purpose or topic, but a truly compelling vision of clarity and breakthrough thinking.  People do want hope and they do want (need) something to believe in, especially in these times.  But as has been shown the last several years, particulary in Hawai’i, such clear and compelling vision has been absent, from the government, from business, and from community.  We’ve gotten good at our ‘politics of protest’ and striking out after what we in narrowly defined groups want to protect, but we’ve either lost or abandoned our capacity for creating and articulating a collective vision.

And right now, from the vaunted World Economic Forum in Davos, to the communities and meeting rooms here in Hawai’i, people sense there is a short window of opportunity for meaningful change and they are looking for the clarity and foresight that might lead them through it.

Along these lines you might check out a number of recent articles and postings all relating to this, but this morning a couple in particular would be good:

  • Robert Scoble writes about the lack of focus on supporting small business through our various economic recovery plans
  • and Scoble notes small business owner Andrew Field who offered a new plan for bringing the economic stimulus straight to small businesses in a form they need
  • and the NYT Magazine has an interesting article on the economy and economic recovery
  • and an interesting visualization of the economic stimulus plan

Think about tomorrow.

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Filed under: Business, Change, Economics, Vision, ,

Looking for education

We’re prepping right now for an upcoming session on the future of education, and we’re pretty excited about the potential for provocative conversation and frank discussion of how to make positive change. A bit of research, a bit of briefing notes, and we’re looking for any really good sites people know about that have (serious) prescriptions for both improving as well as overhauling the education systems in the US. If you’ve got any to suggest, please let us know and we’ll happily check them out.

Tomorrow we’ll also be stopping in for some of the HCEI workgroup meetings, something that, if we can follow through on, could open up Hawai’i’s potential futures tremendously. It’s of course related to the energy working group on community engagement that emerged out of this past year’s Summit, the next meeting for which is on February 25. Good folks with serious hope for change. If you’re interested in learning more, sign on to SummitNet and we’ll start getting you connected.

Oh, and we’ll also be meeting on some other potential ‘future-of-Hawaii’ sessions for later this year, so if anyone has any suggestions as to what kind of work would be most inspiring to people, please let us know.

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Change, Education, Energy, Hawai'i, Summit

Climate Change Video Set

The Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting little video set about Climate Change.  Those of you who attended the Summit this year might compare this with the presentation given by Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, looking at Climate Change, energy, and carbon emissions.

One of the interesting things you find in the climate change/sustainability discourse is the tension between those who are looking at large scale changes and those who are looking at small scale changes.  There emerges from different quarters a difference in the basic strategic approach advocates for change have adopted for addressing both climate change and sustainability.  Some see the challenge as great in scope and advocate for major structural changes, such as new generations of technologies or significant shifts in infrastructure and processes.  Others believe in advocating change on an individual basis, promoting the implication that what’s needed are only small personal changes in order to address the roots of climate change or unsustainable lifestyles.

But a reliance on only either of these approaches is likely incorrect.  If observing complex systems has revealed anything, it is that they usually do not produce the outcomes we desire simply in response to a single strategy of change.  Complex adapative systems are composed of many agents, each involved in different relationships with other agents.  When we act, that input resonates through the system in usually unpredictable ways.  Unlike making a single great shot as we do in billiards, when trying to effect change in CAS we probably need to take a much more tentative approach, one comprised of many experiments with lots of feedback and adjustment.

One of the things that Hawai’i lacks is a really good strategic framework that presents a number of strategic approaches to effecting change to deal with both climate change and sustainability.  We need approaches that address the structural realities of modern living, as well as approaches that galvanize individuals to make their small (in-system) alterations in behavior.  Change on the scale that we talk about here requires us to address the many different levels of modern living, and eschewing the traditional and outdated belief in single strategies or ‘silver bullets.’

If you can dig this kind of thinking, then join us on Summit Net, the network for people who are concerned with the big-picture, rule-changing possibilities for Hawai’i’s futures.

Filed under: Change, Climate Change, Hawai'i, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Control and Certainty

ScienceNOW online had a recent article that discussed human psychology and perception as it relates to issues of control.  Humans are extraordinary pattern recognizers, and it turns out that when people express loss-of-control sensations, they seem to have a greater tendency to see patterns in random things and to attribute cause-and-effect relationships to events that have no necessary relationship.

Why is this important?  It should alert us to what may be very common failures in thinking and judgment when we’re under stress.  Humans are greate story tellers and we seem geared to needing to create stories to help make sense of and even remember things, so we often place value and meaning into what are really unrelated and random events that occur around us.

And importantly during times of ‘crisis’ like extreme stock market fluctuations or natural disasters, people often feel a need to make sense of events, to find a reason and purpose for them.  But many of the events that arise unexpectedly and exert significance do not necessarily have a human purpose to them: it’s simply life.  And our strategic conversations, those that we conduct to keep one eye on the big picture and long-view for our organizations, needs to take into account this uncertainty and unpredictability in life.

Related:

  • The Black Swan: a very interesting exploration into the unpredictability and randomness in real life
  • Brain Rules: a cool new book on how our brains learn and remember
  • Break Through: a provocative book co-authored by Michael Shellenberger, a speaker at our second annual Hawai’i Futures Summit this past weekend who impressed the audience with, among other many other ideas, the understanding that ecological change and natural disasters are not divine punishment for human sins

Filed under: Change, Economics, foresight, Summit

New Answers for Hawai’i

Do you want to know what the Summit this week is really about?  The Summit is for participants to learn about new ideas but also, and more importantly, for them to generate new ideas.  Why is this important, and why is the Summit the best place for this?  Because Hawai‘i is in need of a host of new answers to the large, interrelated issues that define our shared futures.  We need change, and ideas of what to change into, in terms of our collective culture and identity, our technological systems that make modern life possible, and our economy.

These issues, and the many more we could lay on the table, are all related.  You cannot think to address one without having unknown effects on the others, or without having to also consider those others.  Dealing with this requires an occasional broad view, to occasionally rise up and consider the entire forest rather than the single tree.  The leaders at the Summit this week are, thanks to the tools and processes of professional futurists, going to get to deal with this big picture in a meaningful way.  Frankly, the Summit is the only event in Hawai‘i (designed and facilitated by trained professional futurists) that provides leaders in Hawaii with a structured method for addressing the big picture of our futures.

Engaging in this larger context not only helps us generate ideas for all of Hawai‘i, it manifestly helps decision-makers and organizational leaders understand the broader and longer-range context for the challenges and the potential opportunities that they are endeavoring to address within their own organizations.  If we only ever focus on our immediate surroundings, then we miss the larger patterns of change that are making our work more or less valuable.

What’s very important for Hawai‘i is the opportunity for our people to have the tools and the space they need to create new ideas, to literally map out specific new ideas and examine the changes that are needed, and the specific strategies that can influence that change.  Hawai‘i needs to get better at its own intellectual innovation, its ability to synthesize new ideas and approaches that are inspired by developments elsewhere but are uniquely tailored to move us from Today to the Future That We Want.  And we’re not talking simply about ‘policy options,’ the kinds of things typically debated in the newspaper or down at the leg.  We’re talking about seeing entirely new possibilities of what Hawai‘i could become, culturally, technologically, and economically.  Hawai‘i has always lacked for the kind of structured experience leaders need in order to actually work together on generating these new ideas, and the Summit is designed for that.

Hawai‘i needs new answers for the host of issues shaping its futures.  In order to generate these truly innovative answers, Hawai‘i needs a better understanding of the full range of possibilities that are emerging around the world, and it needs the tools and the space to take those possibilities and turn them into real opportunities to shape a better future for us all.

Hawai’i Futures Summit 2008

Filed under: Change, Hawai'i, Summit

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

Understanding Society

Scan:
A recent Tech Review article on artificial societies briefly explores the work of Joshua Epstein, a noted researcher in the use of agent-based modeling or artificial societies. The article notes how Epstein and fellow researchers such as Robert Axtell have been using new computer simulations based on agents (actors programmed with very simple rules) to set in motion systems of agents to observe the phenomena that result. In this way, complex social phenomena, like economic behavior, civilizational development, and genocide can be ‘grown’ from simple set-ups. According to an Epstein quote in the article, “Artificial society modeling allows us to ‘grow’ social structures in silico demonstrating that certain sets of microspecifications are sufficient to generate the macro­phenomena of interest.”

The article notes that while the researchers have been able to use this method to prompt the fairly accurate recreation of actual historical events (like the siting of virtual Anasazi dwellings in the same place as the historical ones), the researchers are clear that these new models provide fascinating new explanatory power and not necessarily predictive power.

Related:

Filed under: Change, Technology

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


SummitNet

Vision Foresight Strategy

We work with organizations to anticipate strategic change and to craft the strategies that will shape their desired futures.


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