Oct 21, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Communications, Digital Gymnasia, Governance, Group Dynamics, Imagination, Leadership, Psychology, Social Machine, Stewardship, Web Science
The Solstrand programme contributes to the development of Norwegian businesses and the public sector by providing participants with a better understanding of organisational structure and greater insight into leadership processes.
Since 1953, Nordic leaders have come to The Solstrand programme to learn from and with one another supported by leaders and key actors in Norwegian society and international research who contribute their knowledge and experience.
There are two core aspects of the work that we do through Intersticia.
The first is our focus on Group Relations and the dynamics of human interactions in groups which underpin all aspects of leadership and stewardship.
The second is our focus on integrating digital literacy and digital fluency in the work that we do with our Fellows, with partner organisations and through all of our events, especially Brave Conversations.
This year saw me able to bring these together with two Brave Conversations events in September, the first of which was as a part of the 2022 Solstrand Leadership Programme.
I first learned about Solstrand when I met three Solstrand coaches at the 2018 Tavistock Institute Leicester Conference and subsequent to this two of my Leicester colleagues, Marianne Darre and Philip Hayton, have become members of the Intersticia community as Advisors.
In January 2020 I was invited to Solstrand and was privileged to observe this programme over two days through sitting in on one of the Small Groups, participating in the larger group and then witnessing the Artistic Programme held at the Oseana Art and Cultural Centre in Os.
The Solstrand Hotel began it’s life in 1896 built by Norway’s first Prime Minister Christian Michelsen. Michelsen wanted it to be a place where the tradesmen of Bergen (Norway’s second largest city) could gather strength for their big mission in the city.
Since then leaders from all walks of life have visited Solstrand and in post-WWII Europe it became a beacon of hope for the ravaged Norway with the first Solstrand Programme held at the hotel in 1952 as a partnership between the NFF (Norwegian School of Economics) and the AFF (Norway’s largest Leadership and Organisational Development Consultancy). From the outset the founders of Solstrand wanted to draw on the very latest and most innovative thinking in leadership development and the foundations of the programme are built on this philosophy and the crucial aspects of group relations which manifest in the Tavistock institute’s Leicester Conference.
Every year since 1953 some 48 participants from virtually all sectors of the Norwegian economy, of varying ages and stages in their careers come to Solstrand to participate in a 7 week programme split across two and one week blocks over a year and a half to learn about themselves, the groups they participate in and the organisational system as a whole. They are supported by highly trained coaches and a wide range of guest lectures and talks from speakers and thought leaders around the world.
When I first learned about Solstrand my immediate reaction was “no wonder Norway is doing so well!”. It is, in my opinion, the most effective and successful leadership development programme in the world and has provided an inspiration for how we are developing Intersticia, albeit on a much smaller scale. When I think of how it works it resonates deeply with the values that we at Intersticia espouse and integrate in what we do – those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace. What I realised when I discovered Solstrand was that, quite simply,
our vision is for Intersticia to become a mini-global Solstrand, one person at a time.
This year I was hugely privileged to be invited to present a Brave Conversations to the incoming 2022 Solstrand cohort, the first fully face to face one since the start of the Covid pandemic and the first to be held totally within the context of the onging Russia-Ukraine War – the first major conflict in Europe since WWII. The week I attended was also the first week of mourning for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
I always find going to Solstrand a transformative experience, not only because of the sheer beauty of the hotel sitting quietly on the Hardangerfjord, but in the energy of the work being done within the Solstrand programme itself. This time my experience was that of feeling the deep historical and cultural connections between Britain and Norway not just due to the Viking heritage (Lindesfarne and all that) but as two nations which both have Constitutional Monarchies, are both crucial to the defence of the values of Western Europe, are both blessed with energy independence (Norway now Europe’s main energy provider) but both are prepared to be brave in how they approach things and push the boundaries. There is something wonderfully familar about Norway that I have felt since I first visited (perhaps my own Viking roots) but there is also the courage that is displayed within the Solstrand Programme and it’s own ambitions to facilitate brave conversations.
From the outset of this event the group was responsive, curious and willing to embrace the challenge of asking difficult questions and seeking non-conventional answers. In their groups it was fascinating to observe how they responded to the Case Study based on The Nexus Trilogy which sought to highlight issues such as transhumanism, the ethics of AI and the emerging hive mind of connected humanity. As always it was the context of both the programme and the times which resulted in the most interesting conversations and, hopefully, the most effective learning.
I learned a huge amount about myself and the work we do from the experience and hope that the conversations started at Solstrand will continue to resonate for the participants in both their personal and professional lives and empower them to use their Solstrand learnings as much online as in their real-world interactions. As the metaverses evolve we are going to desperately need people who can be brave and not just follow others – we need those who will see beyond what is immediately apparent and have the courage to seek new paths. This is what Solstrand seeks to achieve.
I would like to thank Hans Morten Skivik, Marianne Darre and Gisken Holst for their very kind invitation and their always open and welcoming hospitality at Soltrand. I would also like to thank the Solstrand programme for the opportunity to introduce ideas around the Social Machine and Digital Enlightenment and to challenge them to leverage these brave conversations beyond Norway.
Aug 31, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Digital, Futures, Imagination, Social Machine
Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences. (Mikhail Gorbachev)
Today the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, died.
When I lived in London in the 1980s it was Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who were reshaping the Western World and the European continent. Today it is Gorbachev’s successor Vladimir Putin who, through waging the first European conflict since WWII between Ukraine and Russia, is seeking to return to the glory days of Empire whilst dividing Europe as a continent once more.
In the 1990s I recall my nephew asking me why all the baddies in spy movies were Russian – he couldn’t understand this East-West dynamic. The world did seem to be a safer, calmer, saner and more united place until 9/11 in 2001.
As I watched the early days of the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war unfold I kept on thinking about human history and how we seem to take two steps forward, then one step back. As Stephen Pinker argues the world (for humans) does seem to be getting better. There are more of us; fewer of us (percentage wise) live in poverty; more of us are educated; we are living longer better lives, and we have a command of technological solutions to do things that our ancestors would only dream of in the realm of magicians.
Of course the planet and other species might disagree, but perhaps we are being too quick to judge.
I watched a critique of the Russian versus US Army recruiting advertisements with the commentator ridiculing the US use of a young, female, gay graduate from (see this and this). We also know that Putin felt that the time was right to strike due to the perceived weakness of the West as it became increasingly focused on issues such as gay-rights and transgender identity.
Time has revealed several things:
- You don’t need to be a butch, buff Rambo to successful operate a high tech weapon and be a very effective fighter
- Putin underestimated the West in it’s use of smart technologies, social media and propaganda tools, and it’s determination to stand up for its values
- History does rhyme and move in cycles, but it does not repeat.
The more I have been thinking about this the more it strikes me that, just like Spiral Dynamics, humans may be evolving beyond the historical stereotypes and constraints that have so long dominated our thinking. We have always had strong men driven by greed, power and their own sense of personal destiny. We have always had armies and mercenaries prepared to fight for whomever pays the highest price. We have always had familial, tribal, and then nationalistic identities which have filtered any sense of empathetic thinking in terms of ‘others’.
If we study our history we have also had Empires and Societies which have failed through their own self-focus – think of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. If we look through the prism of artistic expression we see societies go through stages of development from early formation (archaic) to consolidation (classical) to a period of decline (Hellenistic). Whilst this may be very simplistic perhaps it also offers something to interrogate when it comes to looking historically at why societies collapsed and then thinking about what is happening with the West now.
The stock standard reasons that historians and economists give for Societal Collapse focus on economic decline, rise of competition, resource depletion, inequality, political corruption (see Andrews and Diamond as well as this list). But, perhaps there is something else going on at the minute that is beyond the bounds of human history, something that is over the event horizon that we are just beginning to intuit.
Perhaps what we are seeing is not a sign of weakness. Perhaps, in fact it is a sign of true strength and a major evolution in our thinking.
An event horizon is a boundary beyond which an observer cannot see or comprehend.
If I go back to the rant I watched about military recruitment the thought that continually kept occurring to me is that in times of stress and conflict it our base behaviours linked to our limbic and reptilian brains flooded with testosterone which drives us to pick up a gun and shoot someone or something. This has been our default and is evident in our entertainment (think gladiators to Marvel movies) and our definition of ‘heroes’.
However, the real heroes are those who don’t hit out, do not give in to those impulses, but who stop and allow our higher brains to determine our actions. This, for me, is the real power of turning the other cheek.
Instead of lashing out at and condemning that which we don’t understand the real challenge is to comprehend what it must be like to have been born in a body that feels alien and disconnected, to live a life which feels like a lie, to be physically or intellectually misaligned with many of the demands of everyday life, and to feel either trapped or disempowered by the society within which we live.
Many people feel like this all their lives but in the 21st Century our Western societies, driven by the Christian values upon which our societies are built I believe that we in the West are slowly taking on the challenges that are inherent within the diverse nature of humanity and seeking to embrace the fringes of our selves.
Perhaps this is what has happened throughout history and previous societies may have also got to this point but were unable to advance their thinking and being precisely because the invading hordes were at the gate and they had to divert their mental attention away from this really complex thinking towards the base requirements of survival. Perhaps now, after one of the longest periods of historical peace, and unprecedented technological development, we have enough momentum to finally be able to release the shackles of our past and move towards building a world for all of the human family.
Understanding the collapse of societies and Empires is a complex issue and no one really has the definitive answer. But perhaps instead of collapse there is a human drive towards something beyond anything we can truly comprehend and understand. Smart technologies are undermining the advantages of physical strength within human competition. We are working to defeat ageing and decay; we are working to unravel the mystery of the creation of life and begin to think about a human existence beyond sex and gender. So perhaps also we are beginning to be able to imagine a world beyond that which human history has bequeathed us. If we don’t then the emerging intelligences we are creating certainly will, although underpinned by the values we build in to them.
I believe, unlike Putin, that the West is not descending in to decadence, decay and depravity but is, in fact, slowly evolving to become both more empathetic towards those who don’t fit within the “norm” (whatever that is) and to appreciate that all humans have something to contribute towards the world we are all building. This is the real work of building human societies and takes both bravery and courage.
It is a slow and fragile process which may be derailed at any minute. Whilst things are improving we can often feel distressed that the speed is too slow, that there are too many forces working against us, and that we are powerless to effect any change.
The Ukraine War is just one example of this. Putin expected the war to be over quickly due to his underestimation of the 21st human values inherent in Ukraine and the West but collectively people have risen up to defend their rights to live freely and at peace. Putin may succeed in his goals and he is playing the long game but so is everyone else.
My instinct is telling me that we as 21st Century humans are in a place that humanity has never been before. For better or worse we are more globally connected; we have split second information and news cycles; we have an unprecedented insight and understanding of the physical, chemical and biological worlds; and, ever since we sent humans in to space, we have a view of ourselves living on one planet which we can now actually see. We are also beginning to think beyond the binary nature of male/female; us/them and see things holistically … but only just beginning.
As Carl Sagan demonstrates in Pale Blue Dot
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. (Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space)
For Intersticia and the work we do to help develop 21st Century Stewards I can think of no better guideline nor philosophy.
Regardless of how we approach this horizon or what we find when get there the preciousness of humanity is what phil-anthropos is all about and drives how we serve those within our community and from there the human family itself.
Of course we may not get there this time. We may self-destruct and go backwards as many previous societies have done due to our own fears and self-destructive instincts. But eventually I believe that we will.
Apr 11, 2022 | Communications, Futures, Imagination, Leadership, Stewardship, Trust
Layers of Time, Stewart Brand, Pace Layering, 1999
It is a rare thing to live through a moment of huge historical consequence and understand in real time that is what it is. (Alan Little)
For the past two years I, like almost everyone else on the planet, have been locked down (or up, depending on perspective!), separated from family and friends and corralled into the virtual world. Zooming or Teaming or just talking on the phone became my primary means of communication which meant that if I wanted to connect I had little option but to go online.
I keep on being reminded of E. M. Forster’s novel “The Machine Stops” where humans had exchanged the meatspace for the virtual-space.
The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. (E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops)
We have now had the opportunity to play in this space, and for many this has meant learning new technical skills and embracing new communication styles that are often at odds with our natural inclination. Whilst I’ve always been an early adopter of useful technologies the reality is that communicating via screens is not how I like to do things but this forced me to more fully explore myself as a digital being, both alone and in how I interact with others.
Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul. (E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops)
As I now reconnect with my global life back in London what has struck me the most is how much I have missed during the last two years being reliant on screen based communications. All organisations I work with are navigating the new world of hybrid work and I know that for many senior managers this is causing enormous stress. Whilst they are happy avoiding the time-waste of the daily commute, their personal sense of control and authority has been challenged, and they realise that they don’t actually trust people to work independently out of the office. Last year in the rush to resume ‘normality’ many organisations began to mandate a return to the office before the main Covid waves had even manifested. Since that time they seem to have realised that their timelines of command and control, and those of the ‘natural world’ are deeply out of sync.
This is where Stewart Brand’s concept of Pace Layering is so very useful, particularly as we begin to transition to whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to be.
I have felt a pressing need to re-engage and resume my London life as it was in early 2020, meeting lots of people, going to events and filling my calendar. But I have largely resisted this spending much more time in my flat, reducing the number of interactions and ensuring that those I have are given the right amount of focus and attention they deserve. I am hugely conscious that my new life can be, and perhaps should be, very different from my old. Being forced to stay put, to disconnect and to reassess has been life changing and powerful, whilst also confronting and exhausting as we spent so much time with ourselves. For some, like those in China, the pain of lockdowns continues and the mental health cost will take years to process. Having had two years being told to maintain social distance and that other humans are dangerous there is heightened sense of distrust of pretty much everything.
So, as we transition in to the new normal it is imperative to understand that people, processes and systems all change at different paces, and that these paces are much more nuanced and complex than we realise. Transitions, as people such as William Bridges, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Change Curve and Kurt Lewin’s Freeze-Unfreeze describe, all involve loss, fear, uncertainty and discomfort, but they also provide opportunity.
When one door closes another opens but the corridors can be a real bitch!
We are currently in the corridor – the interstice between the old and the new – which Bridges’ model describes as the Neutral Zone:
- Endings – the first stage is that of ‘letting go’, of identifying what is being lost, grieving for that loss, and appreciating that things will never be the same.
- Neutral Zone (in reality, the interstice) – the most crucial part of transition where “critical psychological realignments and re-patternings take place”, new processes and learnings emerge, and the foundation is laid for the future.
- New Beginnings – new understandings, values and attitudes. An emerging fresh identity together with reorientation and renewal.
I have been reflecting on the last ten years of Intersticia and all that we have achieved (more on that to come) and whilst I firmly agree that even before the Pandemic we were in the process of embarking on a new horizon the difference now is that everything around us has changed and we do ourselves a disservice if we rush the process of moving out of the interstice whilst it is still useful and productive.
We need to create our own space to imagine.
Our little community scattered all around the globe is much like a global radar giving us snippets of insights in to how humanity ids dealing with all of this, and the value of our work now is to really listen to the ebb and flow of what they are telling us, their different paces of change and their plans and dreams for the next phase.
The emerging generation is one of hope, awakened and will reboot the way we live – regenerate society as you gain voice, implicitly awakened choices – Professor Lisa Miller
This is why we do what we do, as servants of the emerging generation of 21st Century Stewards. They deserve that we do this with courage, persistence, grace, integrity and authenticity to give them the best chance they have, for all our sakes.
An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. (Bertrand Russell).
Nov 4, 2021 | Brave Conversations, Digital Gymnasia, Education, Governance, Imagination, Leadership, Stewardship, Web Science
We created the first Brave Conversations in 2017 but it had a long genesis and followed on from a series of events which we called Meta held between 2008 – 2011. (Funny as I think of how Facebook has now rebranded itself to exactly the same name but for entirely different reasons!)
Our “Meta” events were so named because they focused on metadata, which is essentially, data about data. The objective was to bring people from different perspectives and backgrounds (academia, business and government) together to explore the symbiotic relationship between humanity and technology as digital technologies become increasingly pervasive in everyday life. At these early events we were joined by the early thinkers and practitioners in what we now recognise as the Web Science space, but the conversations were far from mainstream. That has taken time and there’s nothing like a global pandemic, countries in lockdown, and everyday living moving online to kickstart the adoption of new technologies!
So, here we are a decade after our last Meta event and having developed and taken Brave Conversations around the world and online and it’s time for us to create something a little different, something targeted at the emerging leaders in our society and those for whom being online is just taken as given – those born in the 21st Century.
Our early Brave Conversations events attracted a number of young people, sometimes with parents and even grandparents, and Brave Conversations Kingston Jamaica was especially targeted to this demographic. Since that time we have been developing an idea to gamify the process of learning about Web Science and the ‘theory and practice of the Social Machine‘ but it wasn’t until we met MIT researcher Jessica Van Brummelen that it all came together with the result being Future Worlds Challenge.
Jessica is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science PhD student at MIT researching how conversational agents can empower and teach young learners about AI.
What are conversational agents?
According to IBM:
Conversational AI refers to technologies (chat-bots, virtual agents) which interact with users via speech and uses large volumes of data, machine learning, and natural language processing to help imitate human interactions, recognizing speech and text inputs and translating their meanings across various languages.
Jessica’s research focuses on empowering young learners through helping them develop conversational AI development skills and engaging them in discussions about the ethics of AI. (You can find out more about this work here). Once we met Jessica we knew we had the perfect partner to hold our first Future Worlds Challenge and so we now have two events planned for the end of November, each targeting a different time zone and audience.
Each Future Worlds will comprise the first day of learning to programme an Amazon Alexa using MIT App Inventor and then the second working in teams, each with their own Amazon Alexa, to undertake the Challenge itself.
What is Future Worlds Challenge?
There are so many challenges facing humanity at the moment – climate change, the future of education, health care, governance, work-life balance. The idea of Future Worlds Challenge is to help participants working in teams to think through some of these issues from a systems perspective considering each of the following and how they interact with each other and with the global system as a whole.
- Intrapersonal – What are the systems within ourselves: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual?
- Interpersonal – What are the systems between ourselves and others in our family, community?
- Societal – What are the systems at work within a society?
- Global – What are the systems at work in our relationship with the natural world?
We will combine this thinking with each of the following domains in order to explore the options and choices which are presenting themselves, and then each team, armed with the power of their Conversational AI Alexa, will work towards creating and presenting a Future World which they believe would be the most sustainable and beneficial for humanity.
The winning teams will then be invited to join us (virtually) for our Brave Conversations Barcelona event at the forthcoming ACM Web Science 2022 Conference hosted by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.
At this stage we have over 100 people from all around the world who have expressed their interest in participating but there are still places left so if you or someone you know would like to come along please register your interest here.
Dec 30, 2020 | Covid19, Governance, Government, Imagination, Leadership, Social Machine, Trust
The Allegory of Plato’s Cave – a powerful lens with which to view our 21st Century Leaders
2020 has shown us that the challenges of the 21st Century are global ones which we all share. We must learn now how to balance the needs of the ‘me’ with the ‘we’ to collectively change things for the better.
It was just two weeks ago that I was swimming in my favourite pool in North Sydney looking up at the Restaurant above and thinking how incredibly lucky we in Australia have been in 2020, but also having niggling feeling that we are so out of sync with the rest of the world that that luck may well run out. We have had numerous outbreaks of the Covid 19 virus which have been fairly rapidly squashed and the state of Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, has had a pretty torrid time with the harshest lockdown in the world. But our lifestyle had begun to bounce back.
Until last week when we had a reality check with the discovery of two mystery Covid cases found in Avalon, a mere 5 km from where I live, which has now spread sending Governments around the country in to panic mode accompanied by a plethora of conspiracy theories. For those of us living in what is affectionately called the ‘insular Peninsula’ we joined the majority of people on the planet in a locked down Christmas and now New Year.
I don’t envy any of our leaders as they struggle to cope with the rapidly changing situation that the Pandemic presents, not wanting to over-react as the “Festive” season approaches, but as a result creating additional anxiety and frustration with a lack of clear messaging similar to the first few months of 2o2o when the old world disappeared and the new “Covid” normal began to appear.
For Australia and New Zealand much of the strategy has been to aim for “0” as the optimum Covid number, with the only weak links being returning overseas travellers, diplomats and cabin crew. We have been largely successful and our particular response reflects a blend of our Convict Colony roots combined with the Tyranny of Distance. We are good at locking people up down here. But “0” is the most dangerous number and is totally unsustainable.
Governments around the world are now firmly driving the agenda when it comes to responding to the Pandemic, with varying degrees of success. One way of viewing this is to consider our Governments as Social Machines, huge socio-technical systems that bring together the cultural, political and technical characteristics of polities as expressed through policies, rules and regulations.
Years ago we undertook a research project with the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and the Web Science Institute on this very concept (see Government as a Social Machine) exploring the co-evolution of the policy and online communications spaces as Governments embraced digital media. Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Kieron O’Hara have further developed this idea with their Four Internets describing how geopolitics is splintering the once integrated global online infrastructure determined by “Four ideologies … because they have been adopted by state-level actors with the resources to push their visions, fund the science behind them and, crucially, “sell” them to allies.” (Wendy Hall)
To me this is the contemporary demonstration of Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order connecting all political action as a manifestation of long cultural histories and value systems. Now, catapulted by the Pandemic, global Governments are beginning to embrace the next phase of how we govern ourselves with the combination of culture, the polity and technology – the ultimate Social Machine.
Not long ago the mantra in the public sphere was to ‘wind back’ our bloated, bureaucratic and big governments in order to embrace market forces and be more ‘customer focused’. I have always felt that calling citizens ‘customers’ was an insult, together with adopting many of the ideas of managerialism where the bottom line trumped actually serving the public. The pendulum has now swung back to where people are relying on and giving greater trust to their governments to guide us through the Covid-era, and these governments are working feverishly to learn how to utilise the tools of digital information systems to more effectively collect, harvest and analyse data in their fight against the disease. These twin propellers are, as Yuval Noah Harari states
fast-forwarding historical processes (and)… Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments.
As Professor Dame Wendy Hall says we now desperately need to create a new social contract between citizens and our Government Social Machines, but, more than that, we need to reframe how we see our leaders and what leadership in the 21st Century needs to look like as we embrace these global problems.
Up until now the dominant thinking throughout Western societies has been based on “it’s all about Me”, beautifully articulated in the documentary the Century of the Self. This is a mindset that has caused us to exploit each other and our environment for short term gain. As we learn how intimately connected we are and how much we depend on that global connection we desperately need a new type of thinking based on our interdependence and this needs to be reflected in the stories we tell.
The power of truth in storytelling
What is most important is to understand that politics and leadership is all about storytelling and how those we choose to serve in positions of power see the world.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (see also) tells the story of people imprisoned in a cave watching shadows on a wall which they take to be their reality. One of their number manages to escape and ventures outside in to the sunshine of the outside and realises that there are different truths to true what is being presented in the Cave. The escapee returns to the cave but no one of those still trapped inside believes these weird stories about light and sunshine and the natural world. Plato talks about the role of philosophers and politicians as being those to manage to escape to consider alternative realities and dream of different futures, but all too often the philosophers are ridiculed whilst the politicians use the situation to their own advantage. The glaring example of this is the use of political spin and manipulation in how election campaigns are run, the Social Media Caves which now provide most people with their news and daily updates, all of which are being filtered by the algorithmic shadows driven by unfettered and unchecked capitalist objectives.
We humans are story telling animals and our very sense of self comes from the stories we are told and what others tell us. It may well be that the modern day equivalent of huddling around the camp fire is that we now huddle around our computer screens, especially now so many of our interactions are limited to being online.
It is the politicians and philosophers who tell the best stories who have the greatest impact, and now more than ever we need these stories to be about hope for the future.
In this interview with Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Yuval Noah Harari talks about the power of stories and the need for leaders to believe in the stories they tell. Throughout history these stories have been driven by religious beliefs, playing on deeply held concepts of good and evil which have ensured that those in power keep control of the unruly masses, a theory beautifully expanded upon by Rutger Bregman in his book Human Kind and Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell and further developed by Joseph Henrich in his description of the West and our WEIRD way of thinking.
The Covid Pandemic is not a story, it is all too real, but how each and every one of us responds to it is determined by the stories we hear, how we retell those stories, and how each one of us uses our ability to filter fact from the fiction, recognise our inbuilt biases towards the negative and forge a path towards something more positive and hopeful.
As never before our leaders from all walks of life don’t want to deliver bad news, but they need to deliver real news and deliver it responsibly in a way that validates the trust that has been given to them, not just by their own citizens, but by the global collective. Just like Climate Change the Virus doesn’t recognise state borders or festive holidays, and it will seep through even the best quarantine systems.
The rollercoaster of the Covid year has left us all with increased levels of anxiety and frustration as we continue on in to the unknown. For me whilst I am not religious I have found that recognising the difference between what I can and cannot control or change has been what has kept me going. and what I cannot has been a powerful lens with which to cope, articulated in the Serenity Prayer.
‘God’ grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
(The Serenity Prayer)
One of the things we can all control is which stories we listen to and which we don’t, and how we choose to interpret them. A true 21st Century Leader will recognise this and become a master at storytelling, not for personal gain or political expediency, but for engendering hope.
Mar 25, 2020 | Creativity, Imagination, Leadership
Not long ago I was walking over the entrance to Narrabeen Lakes and I saw this fellow swimming against the tide. I had been talking to my friend about getting an endless pool and all of a sudden here was nature’s version.
As we now face the gravest human challenge in our lifetimes I have been thinking about the words we use to describe how humans solve problems, and what sort of skills, capabilities, mindsets and values we need to focus on to ensure that it is the humans that continue to play a productive role in society, rather than be reduced to either slaves or consumers within the Social Machine.
I have found myself reacting to the current buzzword of innovation and the fact that every man and his cat is seeking to innovate. We have Innovation Labs, Innovation Agendae, Innovation Grants, Innovation Officers, Innovation programmes – you name it, it’s there madly innovating and gobbling up peoples time, mindsets and resources.
But what are we really talking about?
Innovation can be defined as a new idea, device or method, something that is both original and more effective that what was there before.
The second “i” word we often think about is Invention which is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process. It is different because it achieves a completely unique function or result may be a radical breakthrough.
Invention and innovation are different, and should not be confused (see Wired article).
The third “i” word that is often cited is Imagination.
Imagination is about the faculty of imagining, the creative ability to form images, ideas, and sensations in the mind from input of the senses, such as seeing or hearing.
Imagination is perhaps the key “i” word that has led to much of what we now have in the twentieth century, because it has fueled the Science Fiction that is rapidly becoming Science Fact.
All of these rests on three fundamental things – information, insight and intuition. Whilst our technological assistants are becoming increasingly good at the first, at the minute it is only us humans that seem to have the upper hand in the latter two.
I love Wikipedia‘s definition of insight
Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect within a specific context.
The term insight is best understood at being something much more than just a piece of information. It is more about
- understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively (called noesis in Greek)
- an introspection
- the power of acute observation and deduction, discernment, and perception, called intellection or noesis
- an dentification of relationships and behaviors within a model, context, or scenario (this links to AI of course)
- and, when it manifests itself suddenly it is called an epiphany.
Insights are crucial to how we read the world around us, and are often based on our sense of intuition, our ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning, proof or evidence, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.
All of these “i” words are important, however there is another, which, in my mind at least, is equally, if not more, important than innovation.
This word is ingenuity.
Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original, and inventive, often in the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. Ingenuity (Ingenium) is the root Latin word for engineering. For example, the process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, building an airplane model from a sheet of paper, or starting a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity. Human ingenuity has led to various technological developments through applied science, and can also be seen in the development of new social organizations, institutions, and relationships. Ingenuity involves the most complex human thought processes, bringing together our thinking and acting both individually and collectively to take advantage of opportunities and/or overcome problems.
What I saw when I looked at the swimmer in the Narrabeen Lakes was ingenuity – a human being who had observed the natural world, thought about how to harness and utilise the power of nature, and created his own personal endless pool.
Ingenuity is all around us, but it is not celebrated or articulated nearly as much as it should be. Ingenuity is at the heart of man and nature, man and machine, and will be what propels us to the next phase.
Ingenuity is what I believe countries like Australia are good at, taking something and bending it, breaking it, doing new things with it, and then coming up with a novel way of using it.
We can’t all be innovative all the time. Despite the rhetoric and the hype we can’t all start new innovative companies that will one day either turn in to mega-corporations or be gobbled up by one. But we can be ingenius about how we utilise the many technological wonders around us and harness them for our own purposes, rather than sleep-walk in to a future when we are mere consumerist cogs in the wheel.
As we hurtle towards a world where our inventions are increasingly beginning to redefine everything around us it is imperative that we identify what it is to be uniquely human, and fight to keep it as a priority.
In the world of work Shoshana Zuboff was one of the first to explore this in the Age of the Smart Machine and now there are plenty of calls for us to more fully understand what humans do best. In many ways we are superb pattern recognition machines but anything that can be articulated as a pattern can most likely be written as an algorithm (assuming the availability of the data to inform it). Kevin Kelly argued in 2012 that robots will actually be better at many of the jobs that we currently do stating that
The real revolution erupts when everyone has personal workbots, the descendants of Baxter, at their beck and call.
Zuboff predicted this in The Support Economy, a text I still highly recommend that everyone should read, and it is this combination of man and machine, the Social Machine, which is now heralding the next wave.
This is also what the group at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society are doing in their work around data principles (see https://digitalimpact.io/digital-data/four-principles/).
What that looks like is something that only Science Fiction has thus far predicted, but is coming more quickly that most people realise, and has profound social, economic and political implications.
This is where we need to harness and utilise all of our “i” talents!
As Douglas Rushkoff said at a recent talk I went to in London
When I was young I spent my time educating all of the analogues about digital, now I spend my time educating the digitals about analogue!
As we embrace and imbibe more and more of our technologies both around us and within us we need to celebrate and protect what it is to be human, and to understand what that is.