Analogue leadership in a digital world

Museum of the Future

Museum of the Future

On my way back to London in May I decided to stop in via Dubai to catch up with Intersticia Fellow Osheen Arora.  Having some time to spare I popped in to visit the Museum of the Future.

Dubbed the most beautiful building in the world by its creators the building seeks

to confidently straddle the past and the future, applying advanced technology to traditional artforms. The building ‘speaks Arabic’: its facade is a canvas for the poetry of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum rendered in the calligraphy of Mattar bin Lahej.

It’s form is ‘futuristic’ and stands in stark contrast to the Dubai skyline with it’s geometric towers and multi lane highways.  It aims

to provide light in dark times: in an age of anxiety and cynicism about the future, we are showing that things can and must progress.  Our imagined futures are fundamentally hopeful, but honest about the dangers of the present.

These are noble aims and as I wandered around the pristine and beautifully presented immersive experience I was reminded of conversations that we had had with the young people who came to our Future Worlds Challenge Brave Conversations in Sharjah in September 2022.

One of the exercises we did with these young people was to ask them about Science Fiction and the role it had played in their lives. The response was that, apart from the relatively modern content available to most young people in the digital age, the main stories they had heard were those of fantasy such as The Arabian Nights and Sinbad.  According to this observer the genre of Science Fiction is Arabic cultures is relatively new and is linked to the post-colonial era and particularly the English language.  Arabic cultures have a long heritage of curiosity and knowledge building which can be experienced in a visit to the House of Wisdom in Sharjah, but it seems that true Science Fiction (based on science and technology and depicting scenarios that could be true one day) is relatively recent.  As with Chinese Science Fiction the integration of translations of western science sparked an interest in the ideas explored but this came in waves as local cultures adapted to their own changes and moves to become increasingly industrialised.

The House of Wisdom, Sharjah

As a child Science Fiction stories and both British and American television shows and movies were all around me and I grew up on a cultural diet of Lost in Space, My Favourite Martian, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Dr Who, Thunderbirds, Superman, and anything else I was able to watch.  I would be glued to the television as I came home from school and had afternoon tea, and if I was allowed at any other time.  I read Azimov, H. G. Wells, John Wyndham, William Gibson, Douglas Adams, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur C. Clarke, Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne, Philip K. Dick and later Cixin Liu from cover to cover.

What I have found as I’ve run our Brave Conversations workshops over the years is that this upbringing is not common, but I believe that the thinking processes around this type of storytelling and imagination are now crucial to how we face the rapid socio-technical developments which are all around us.

In this interview historian Yuval Noah Harari describes his thoughts on the importance of Science Fiction:

It shapes the understanding of the public on things … which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.

This is the essence of what I senses at the Museum of the Future, a desire and ambition to educate and demonstrate new ways of thinking about the future from a non-Western point of view.  As I wandered around there was nothing particularly outstanding or mind-blowing in the exhibitions themselves, but what was new and different for me was a fresh approach to technological development coming from the perspective of a young developing nation.

Dubai’s history is fascinating.  Not that long ago it was a fishing and pearling village on Dubai Creek which developed into a major shipping port. In 1966 everything changed with the discovery of oil and over the past fifty years Dubai has undergone nothing less than a radical transformation of which the Emirati are, and should be, rightly proud.

In the Museum of the Future a vision is presented of the world in 2071 largely based around Hope.  From the extraplanetary sky-lift taking visitors to the orbiting Space Station O.S.S. Hope; the Lunar Equatorial Solar Belt providing shared energy back to the Earth; the HEAL Institute with a Digital Amazon and DNA Library; the Alwaha Wellness Centre, finishing in Tomorrow Today, the visitor experience around the Museum is one of hope in the power of human ingenuity to increasingly understand and manage our planetary environment and beyond.

I sensed a freshness about how everything is presented as the Emirati culture experiences the transition of Science Fiction in to Science Fact.  But I also felt a certain naivety and almost childlike approach, something positive and expansionary with a limitless zeal for new bright shiny things.  This made me conscious of my own biases and cultural conditioning which is much more suspicious and hesitant, rehearsing scenarios in my mind about what could go wrong instead of working towards what could go right.

The breadth of the ambitions of people in this part of the world are staggering as can be evidenced by the Saudi Arabian led NEOM, (Neo-Mustaqbal – New Future) an entirely new model for sustainable living, innovation and advanced manufacturing and eco tourism.  Whilst NEOM has its own share of challenges there is something about the sheer audacity of the project which echoes something of the courage that drove other great construction projects throughout history or the Moon landings more recently.

The Museum of the Future is a bold statement by the Emirati government that they are thinking long term and want to be a player in the modern world we are all co-creating.  This just doesn’t come from throwing money at things and hoping for the best; it is something that evolves through taking responsible steps building on each previous one and understanding the deeply intertwingled relationship between technical tools, social systems and human nature.

I am very excited by the emergence of these different and diverse ways of seeing, alternative ways of working and fresh approaches to the challenges of being human as we co-evolve with socio-technologies.  We need these diverse approaches and different ways of thinking.

I just hope that non-Western cultures don’t feel that they have to copy and emulate what we in the West have done to succeed.  We need to learn from them as much as the other way around, the world we are building is for all of humanity not just those of us who happen to live in the more developed parts of the planet which have so successfully exploited natural resources for our own benefit.

The way forward is together celebrating the richness of human cultures and the hope that together we can create something positive for future generations.

Brave Conversations Stuttgart 2024

Brave Conversations Stuttgart 2024

Students from The School for Talents, University of Stuttgart.

We are the Web, and the Web is Us/ing Us.  (Professor Michael Wesch, 2007).

When I first saw this video in 2007 I found it totally captivating.

Michael Wesch presents the transition from Web 1.0 (the read only Web, once referred to as printing on the screen) to Web 2.0 (the Read/Write Web) where we have witnessed the emergence of Toffler’s Prosumer where humanity purposefully creates the online world rather than just passively consuming it.

This was turbo charged by the iPhone in 2007 and, as they say, the rest is history.

When Hannah Stewart and I were musing on what and how to present at our 2024 Brave Conversations for both attendees of the 16th ACM Web Science Conference and the students of the Stuttgart University School for Talents we felt that in order to cut through the noise about AI and Large Language Models it would be useful to go back to basics.

Where did all of this come from?

Whilst we always do some of this at Brave Conversations the more embedded digital interaction technologies become to our everyday lives the more important I believe it is to teach and explain the history of their development, particularly in order to remember how things have changed and challenge what we may see as the status quo.

In his video Michael Wesch begins with the WayBackMachine which has been archiving the Web since 1996. It is fascinating to look back on our own www.braveconversations.org website and our first events in Metadata and see that what we were saying in 2017 we are still saying now.  A decade or more ago it was all too easy to ignore the hard questions and just let the technology take its path; with the emergence of much smarter machines we can no longer afford to remain ignorant and naïve.

www.braveconversations.org in January 2017

All of this is built on the concept of Hypertext, itself inspired by the marginal gloss – the simple act of annotation or commentary that is written on a page which, which collated, becomes the Glossary.  Humans have been annotating documents (information within specific boundaries) for millennia – the difference now is that much of our information is in digital form and thus has digital affordances.

XML + You + Me create a database backed Web – tagging and adding metadata – we are teaching the machine.  Linking data, linking people.

We need to rethink a few things … copyright, authorship, identity, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, ourselves.

Nothing could be more important at the minute as we rely more and more on these systems, and begin to forget the older ways of doing things.

This is what we focus on at Brave Conversations and it was wonderful to have people fully engaged but most of all curious and ready to challenge and learn.  In particular the students at the School for Talents challenged us through their own explorations and the pedagogy of group projects based on the principles of the “Stuttgarter Weg“ which focuses on a systematic cooperation between complementary disciplines to creates unique opportunities to ask new questions and find answers.

These young people are those who will go on to work in many of the technical companies in Germany, be they automotive, sustainable energy, manufacturing or computer technologies.  Most came from a technical background, something that is to be expected in Stuttgart, a city known as the cradle of the automobile and high tech industry.  But, as the latest edition of The Economist investigates this is an industry that is in need of radical reinvention.

As we increasingly bring the digital and physical worlds together the need for those with technical expertise to be educated and schooled in the softer skills of critical thinking and emotional intelligence is paramount, and those with social expertise need to rapidly develop both a digital as well as critical literacy.

As we see more and more that the companies developing AI and smart machines compete for market share, for technical dominance often at the expense of safety and ethical concerns this combination and need to reflect and question is crucial.

A decade ago with social media, the world took a wait-and-see approach to how that technology would change society.  The results have been devastating.  With AI, we cannot afford to nod along with taglines and marketing campaigns.  What’s driving AI research, development and deployment is already clear:  a dangerous incentive to race ahead.  If we want a better outcome this time, we cannot wait another decade—or even another year—to act.  (Tristan Harris, The Economist)

In his essay In Search of a Better World: Lectures and Essays from Thirty Years Karl Popper stated that our future is not deterministic, we have to make it and to approach it with care and optimism.

All things living are in search of a better world. Men, animals, plants, even unicellular organisms are constantly active. They are trying to improve their situation, or at least to avoid its deterioration… Every organism is constantly preoccupied with the task of solving problems. These problems arise from its own assessments of its condition and of its environment; conditions which the organism seeks to improve… We can see that life — even at the level of the unicellular organism — brings something completely new into the world, something that did not previously exist: problems and active attempts to solve them; assessments, values; trial and error.

We have made great mistakes — all living creatures make mistakes. It is indeed impossible to foresee all the unintended consequences of our actions. Here science is our greatest hope: its method is the correction of error.

Our great mistake now would be to forgot this through our human arrogance and hubris and to dismiss the lessons of our history.

This is why Brave Conversations are so necessary and why we continue to bring them to whichever audience of people will give us their time, focus and attention.

We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to future generations to at least pause and ask the three fundamental questions posed by Aristotle and of crucial importance to us now:

Ethos – What may we do?

Logos – What can we do?

Pathos – What ought we do?

 

Imagine they held a war and nobody came …

Imagine they held a war and nobody came …

Photograph – looking over the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

We cannot change the past, but the past can inspire us to campaign and change the future. (Julia Gillard)

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Jesus of Nazareth, The Beatitudes, King James Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 KJV).

I took this photo as I sat on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Israel, in 2022 and pondered the words of Jesus of Nazareth. I felt deeply moved, but above all deeply saddened that the words he spoke at this place have been so ignored or deliberately manipulated by so many for so long in pursuit of their own agendas, and that his message has so often been used as an excuse for violence rather than peace.

So too with the words of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the Quran, man is called “khalifatullah”: Allah’s representative, His vicegerent, His responsible steward on Earth. … That man chose to accept the “trust” signifies that God has granted him free will. … Man is not free, however, to escape the consequences of his wrong choices, any more than the earth can escape the consequences of man’s constant misuse. (Barbara (Masumah) Helms).

As Barnaby Rogerson states in The House Divided it is a pity that throughout history the gap between the ideal example established by the Prophet(s) and the reality of political leadership has been a continuous tragedy.

I am writing this post as our Intersticia community gathers in London for the first of our Voice Workshops developed and facilitated by our Creative Fellow Jess Chambers.  Jess gave a great introduction at our 2023 Retreat and is following this up with both group and 1:1 sessions in London over the next month, for Intersticia, Founders and Coders and The Yalla Co-Operative.

Jess’s work is about

crafting a dynamic voice that completely and truly represents your dynamic thoughts and ideas. I believe that when we work with the voice, we are working with the whole person. (Jess Chambers)

Our hope for the programme is that as individuals our community will learn to trust, integrate, harness and amplify their voices in the work that they do, whilst simultaneously enabling them to craft a community voice for Intersticia and what it stands for.

With this in mind I am also beginning to prepare for our next Brave Conversations to be held in Stuttgart as a part of the 2024 ACM Web Science Conference.

I have been mulling over what the key themes to extract for the world in 2024 are, both for our Intersticia community and for Brave Conversations. Both our Intersticia work and that of Brave Conversations Stuttgart 2024 exist within the context of a world undergoing a confluence of social, political and technological change, perhaps the greatest confluence in recorded human history.

  • 2024 is the year which seems the most number of human beings participating in ‘democratic’ elections, something that has been described as an ‘election extravaganza’ (Reference)
  • Technology companies are releasing more and more powerful Large Language Models and Machine Learning systems and Intelligent Agents (Reference)
  • They are also rapidly developing and releasing new ways of interacting with technologies such as Augmented Reality (Reference)
  • Social Media companies are under increasing scrutiny by governments and regulatory authorities around online safety (Reference)
  • Progress on human longevity is becoming increasingly interesting with progress being made on the Science of Ageing (Reference)
  • It is hoped that renewable energy sources will achieve one third of global power generation in 2024 (Reference) particularly as the planet warms at an unprecedented rate (Reference).

Within all of these there is no one theme that is paramount, but it is the collision and convergence which is creating a pivotal moment for humanity – one in which we may either destroy life as we know it, or we may muddle through to embrace a Brave New World that is positive, or, something entirely unexpected may emerge.

History has shown that the success of homo sapiens has come about through collaboration, social intelligence and our preparedness to believe shared myths and stories (Harari 2015).  The power and influence of stories, and the voices that tell them, are often under-appreciated but they changed the path of history, and all too often resulted in the destruction of our environment and the desolation of landscapes, and the traumatisation and humiliation of human beings.  Whilst history does show that warfare has inspired, funded and progressed the human technological condition, it has also enslaved us because more often than not we have given in to our anger and aggression, we have allowed our primal reactions to dominate rather than to draw on our capacity for forgiveness and compassion.  We keep repeating the same mistakes and following the same patterns.

The definition of insanity is doing the same experiment and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)

With this in mind one framework I have been pondering is that of the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory, sometimes referred to as The Four Turnings. What intrigues me is to reflect on how human generations have been shaped by what they encounter in the key years of their development (their 20s) which then determines how they respond to major changes or crises that they meet later on.

For me as a Generation X (with a bit of ‘late Boomer’) what I find frustrating is that despite being armed with an unprecedented knowledge and understanding of a combination of history, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and politics, and supported by the growing power of artificial intelligence, we keep repeating the same mistakes that have rhymed throughout history:

  1. Dictators still think they are all-powerful and will defy history
  2. Democratic societies still don’t appreciate the fragility of their governance systems
  3. Religious leaders still exploit tribal differences to propel and further their own power and influence and political agendae.

History has told us that this often breeds results in the short term, but is usually destructive in the longer term.

Trying to foretell and influence the longer term is what Hari Seldon sought to do with his Psychohistory (the inspiration for, and basis of the Social Machine), which of course didn’t work.  This is perhaps because Seldon too succumbed to the arrogance, hubris and confidence that scientists always seem to bring to their own models, rather than drawing on sufficient humility to allow for Black Swans and the unexpected.

Carrying the past through collective memory and stories is crucial to our survival but it fails to serve us unless we heed all the lessons, good and bad, that our ancestors learned. Central to this is the power of forgiveness which is a powerful theme that permeates throughout human cultures:

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve Peace. (The Buddha)

Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass. (Confucius)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  (Jesus of Nazareth, The New Testament, King James Version, Matthew 5:38 – 5:39)

Having a cross-cultural understanding to focus on what brings us together, rather than what pulls us apart is crucial in a world where people are increasingly moving.

As Edward Said said:

We need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. … We need time and patient and sceptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.  (Edward Said, Orientalism)

As I consider the work of Intersticia as a group of people whom we have chosen deliberately to craft as global a community as possible, spanning across multiple generations, it seems that a key priority for us in 2024 is to harness the collective support and curiosity of the group experience whilst acknowledging and supporting the individual and cultural identity of our people.  As one of our Advisors Philip Hayton so astutely told me at the Leicester Conference in 2018 ‘this IS the work!”

If we can harness this to support each of our people individually whilst crafting a collective voice then our work will truly be transformational for us all and have a degree of impact beyond any one of us individually, and we can honour the trust that our Fellows have put in us to enable each of them to be the best person that they can be.  That is our hope.

We need to be able to sit in the interstice of forgiveness in order to break the cycle of madness or else we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and if so we will only have ourselves to blame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kardamyli 2023

Kardamyli 2023

Last month I spent five days in the delightful village of Kardamyli for the third Kardamyli Festival.

I first heard if this festival during lockdown through the HowToAcademy but sadly could not attend the first one in 2021 as I was in Australia but this year I made it.

The festival is held in the village of Kardamyli, one of the oldest settlements in the Peloponnese and once home to “Britains leading travel writer” and adventurer Patrick Lee Fermor.

The site itself is located in a large car park opposite Πέτρινοι Πύργοι στην Παραλία (Pétrinoi Pýrgoi stin Paralía), a picturesque beach populated by stone cairns with their own individual personalities added to by the daily passers by on their way to the beach.

I came to Kardamyli largely out of curiosity and the quality of the world class speakers featured on the programme many of whom I have long followed and greatly admire. The festival is undoubtedly a labour of love by all involved including a band of friends and family volunteers who cheerfully did the meet-and-greet, played bouncer and guard, and shepherded the 350 odd attendees who turned up to pretty much every session.

Nothing about Kardamyli disappointed.

We stayed in a lovely home-run studio, wandered the town, had some interesting conversations and explored many of the ideas that were raised.  The Festival began with Bettany Hughes exploring Socrates’ concept of “The Good Life” which especially resonated given the foundational concepts upon which Intersticia is based, particularly the work of John O’Neil.

Building upon this was Andrea Wulf’s “Magnificent Rebels”, a work which I read when it first came out and found fascinating in terms of how fate brought together some of the most important thinkers of late 18th Century Germany in one place at one time.  Many of these thinkers were instrumental in helping to define “The West” and the construct that underpins it which archaeologist Naoise Mac Sweeney extrapolated in her sweeping view of the evolution of the idea and concept of “The West” from where it began to where we are now.

Every society has a set of beliefs that go far beyond the life of the individual and have the power to define – and to divide – us.  (Neil MacGregor)

Neil MacGregor took us on a whirlwind tour of humanity through the objects, places, rituals and spaces that connect with and represent the theological dimensions that cultures and societies have used to identify themselves, ranging from the challenge of observing Ramadan in Space to the creation of the Shrine of Pont d’Alma for Princess Diana in France.  He concluded by asking some very poignant and crucial questions for “the West” centred around the challenge of how to define our shared beliefs as a society in the age of secularism, ‘the individual’ and the underpinnings of liberal democracies in their desire to embrace and embody multiculturalism.

These questions were further interrogated by the best Prime Minister that the UK never had” Rory Stewart who challenged the West in its need to explore new forms of both economic and democratic models suited to the 21st Century calling for Aristotle’s rhetoric as a powerful tool with which to explore the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

Stewart identified the three corners of what Harvard Professor Mark Moore has transformed in to The Strategic Triangle which is one of the foundational models for the design and analysis of Public Policy and which we use as a fundamental model for both our Founders and Coders Social Machine curriculum and in our Brave Conversations.

The triangle is based on the interplay and interconnection between:

  • Pathos – the need for emotional communication and resonance in exploring ideas
  • Ethos – the need to discover moral character in order to talk about Truth
  • Logos – the need for new ideas and vision

A key element to this is in understanding the notion of the authorising environment, where the power lies within a society, how it is wielded and where it’s limits lie.  This was especially relevant when German journalist Kai Strittmatter gave his perspective on Xi Xin Ping’s China in what I found to be a very one-sided and naïve criticism of an alternative to The West as represented by the Chinese State.  My main criticism is that Strittmatter was critical of the China surveillance model without acknowledging or even recognising the insideousness of our Western Surveillance Capitalism, let alone being in any way open to the potential advantages that might be presented by Chinese Data and AI Regulation.  I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the Chinese system but I don’t believe that we in The West should be lauding the system we live in to be one that is superior.  There could have been a lively and useful debate around this but sadly very few really interrogate our own system from the data perspective and the talk by Anjana Ahuja, whilst being aimed at the “average punter” gave some good insights, was fairly superficial and lightweight.

BBC Russia journalist Steve Rosenberg made his first visit outside of Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and through his stories and songs gave us a glimpse of the reality distortion that is life in 2023 Russia.  Both he and Kai Strittmatter provided contrasting perspectives on aspects of humanity that we in the West too often fail to appreciate because we don’t know how to interrogate their belief systems, mythologies and deeply ingrained traditions, rites and institutionalised practices.  If more of us did we would be far more prepared for the events which surround us and perhaps more nuanced in our analysis of them.

This became startlingly obvious when, on Saturday 7th October, we awoke to news of Hamas’ Operation Al-Aqsa Flood  and the outbreak of the largest Israeli-Palestinian confilct since the War of Independence in 1948.  My first inkling of the event was through a Telegram message from our Palestinian Fellow who comes from Gaza, but from that moment on the rest of the Festival was underpinned by what was happening in that part of the world.  Tom Holland addressed this directly as he opened the second day by giving some historical perspectives to the events we were witnessing.  After the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132CE it was the Emperor Hadrian who had determined to deal with the Judean uprisings once and for all by renaming the city of Jerusalem to be Aelia Capitolina and the Province of Iaedea to be named Syria Palestina, (Palestine) after the historic enemies of the Jews, the Philistines.

It goes back that far and yes this still matters.

History never repeats but it does often rhyme.  (Mark Twain)

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905)

To have a major world event happening in the midst of this Festival demonstrated the crucial importance and value of literature and history in helping to frame any possible futures we might envisage but also to perhaps suggest alternative paths we may take in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  It is through our myths, stories, poems, traditions and belief systems that we as humanity seek to articulate and describe our deeply embedded cultural DNA, so deeply ingrained within us that we fail to recognise their power as the scripts which run our lives.

The Kardamyli Festival provided those who attended with the opportunity to reflect on this for a few days inspired by the work of those who do this full time.  Armed with these insights and the most peaceful and idyllic setting there should be no excuse not to dare to strip away some of the filters and lenses with which we view the world in order to identify and address our own blind spots and perhaps, just perhaps, begin to frame the world anew.

My only criticism of the Festival was the lack of diversity in the audience, but it is only new and it may be that with time it will grow and mature in order to attract those with more outlying ideas whose intents are nonetheless philanthropic in nature.

Humanity 101 – Intersticia Retreat 2023

Humanity 101 – Intersticia Retreat 2023

The privilege of trust is the opportunity to empower others.

The privilege of trust is to recognise that leadership is inherently temporary and carries a specific responsibility to do no harm.

The privilege of trust is to recognise the vulnerability of others and see it as an opportunity to encourage not to exploit.

The privilege of trust is to elevate the needs of the many above the ambition of the few.

(Paul Gilbert, https://www.lbcwisecounsel.com/resources/articles/article/the-privilege-of-trust/)

I wanted to begin this post with a quote that spoke to my feelings about our fourth Intersticia Retreat which we held in early September 2023 at the beautiful Darwin Lake Holiday Village.  Eighteen members of our Intersticia community, plus Nancy the wonder-dog, came together amidst British Rail strikes, delayed flights and in to THE most glorious English Autumn weather, a symbol in itself of one of the global challenges we all face.

This fully face-to-face opportunity has been a long time coming and much has happened in the six weeks since we met which is having a direct impact on many members of our community.

As we entered the interstice of our Retreat every one of us came with our own expectations and hopes for the week – suffice to say that one thing about our community is that one never knows what will emerge and whatever our initial plans the group will always take things in unexpected and creative new directions!

The general plan was to craft a mix of learning within all the various ‘spaces’ through the combination of different groupings and conversations.  For the ‘formal’ we planned for a combination of content and discussion complemented by work in both plenary and small groups; for the ‘informal’ our objective was to use the small groups of each cottage to collaborate around the task of catering; for the broader environmental context we planned for long walks and the opportunity to reflect in the beauty of the Peak District.  Needless to say things never go according to plan!

It became apparent from the first day that our group of curious, highly intelligent, generous and fearless young people were wanting to contribute as much as they could to the learning of others and to the interrogation of any and all topics of concern.  As the week progressed ach and every member contributed to what our shared space became with each session stretching through questions and discussion and the intersticial space between their professional and career aspirations and their personal ambitions and challenges opening up.

This is precisely what we have been hoping to achieve and create for our community and the most wonderful thing to observe was that there was a safe and supportive haven where each individual could experiment, explore and push the boundaries of their own personal development in concert with that of their colleagues.

Whilst we didn’t go on as many, or as long, walks and explorations as we had hoped we did explore together some of the elements that Stewards of Humanity for the 21st Century will need to become proficient with in order to have any measure of impact or success, and our hope has always been to be able to draw on our own community for expertise in this.  Our 2023 Retreat demonstrated this very powerfully with all of the content sessions being delivered by members of our community.

The container of the Retreat itself was held very powerfully by Sam Crock and Marianne Darre who worked tirelessly to craft and recraft the agenda as each day reformulated itself.  Our walking was continuously reformatted by Louise Sibley who creatively presented different options based on weather, timing and everyone’s energy, whilst Dan Sofer found innovative ways for his Small Group to meet embracing the natural environment.

One of the key areas we explored was that of Voice and how to express oneself and in this we were ably led by Jess Chambers who brought her vast knowledge and experience to get everyone thinking about how we all communicate.

In life we have enough breath to speak our thoughts. 

This was beautifully complemented by Dr Marco Valerio who brought us the work of his PhD on The Placebo Effect and Somatics which enabled everyone to begin to more fully understand the power of mind-body connection and the impact it has on how we are perceived and how we interpret the world around us.  For me the poignancy of this was the importance of appreciating and understanding that whilst we are hurtling towards an AI driven world we do live in the physical space – the interstice between the analogue and the digital.

Dr Philip Hayton gave this context by introducing the concept of VUCA, first described by the US Army War College in 1987 to describe a complex, multilateral world perceived to have emerged after the end of the Cold War.

 

Philip built on Marco’s work by presenting this as the challenge that we all need to develop skills to cope with, and referred in particular to Polyvagal Theory and the need to understand, proactively work with, and continually recognise the power of our innate biological nervous systems in how we react to the environment around us.

The complexity of living in such an environment is something that challenges us all, and as humanity struggles to manage the convergence of multiple issues including the intensity of climate change, the increasing development of artificial intelligence, the rise of inequality, the increasing humanitarian needs as the result of conflict, (see the UN Foundation and my own questions to Pi).  As the current commotion around AI intensifies – it is estimated that some half a trillion US dollars is being invested in it’s development – the reality is that the only way to even begin to address these is to invest in people.

As we have always stated, however, we need Analogue Leadership in a Digital World and therefore, as much as we need to understand our biological selves we also need to learn to understand the technologies which are evolving. This is where Dr Ardavan Afshar‘s presentation on Machine Intelligence was so important, and stimulated a very long and detailed conversation around its role and place within our societal systems.

For every dollar we invest in Artificial Intelligence we need to invest in human minds, in human beings. (Yuval Noah Harari, interview with Zanny Minton Beddoes and Mustafa Suleyman – The Economist)

As is so often the case we could have included so much more drawing on the work of our Fellows and this is now one of our key challenges as the expertise within our community continues to grow and develop.  But it presents us with an exciting challenge – to craft a programme for each of our Fellows helping them to learn individually but also for them to teach the rest of us and grow the knowledge base of Intersticia itself.

This is the challenge that John O’Neil gave us when we began Intersticia many years ago, and it is incredibly rewarding to feel that we are beginning to achieve some small success even though we have a long way to go.

Our 2023 Intersticia Workspace at Darwin Lake, Matlock

Small Group Work

I would like to thank each and every one of our Fellows who participated and contributed, but in particular I’d like to give a huge thanks to our Elders – Sam Crock, Marianne Darre, Louise Sibley, Dan Sofer and Philip Hayton – who so selflessly and generously gave their time, insights, knowledge and wisdom to everyone in our community.  It was also wonderful to have Ed Saperia join us which meant that all of our key partners were with us.

Intersticia has now been slowly crafting our community for the past decade and bit by bit bringing people together whom we feel share our values, ambitions and hopes for the future of humanity (I presented a video telling the story of our first decade which can be viewed with permission only).  This 2023 Retreat nudged this just a bit further forward but with it raised the bar of what I believe we can, and should, aim to achieve.

A cohort of authentic, courageous, dedicated, humble, curious and yet gracious people who will each take the challenge of creating a better world.

Our work is just beginning.

Digitally Savvy

Digitally Savvy

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure to do an interview with Simon Western on his Edgy Ideas podcast.

As always in a real human-to-human conversation it enabled me to think through some ideas which have been percolating for quite a while.

Thank you Simon and for Aodhan Moran for introducing us.

Listen to the “Edgy Ideas” Podcast with Simon Western.

July 2024
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