time – history – future – scenarios

Scenario planning for a purposeful future

We shape the world and the world shapes us. The problem with scenario-planning-as-usual is that it focuses attention on exogenous variables — how the world shapes us — without enough consideration for how we might shape the world. “To the extent that we mimic scientists in claiming value-free objectivity in our view of the future, [...]

Sean Carroll: Teleology and the laws of science

“Teleology is absolutely acceptable in the laws of science,” says Caltech physicist Sean Carroll in this June 2013 talk (“Purpose and the Universe”) at the American Humanist Association annual conference. Not the kind of statement one hears every day. Carroll begins by joking that they must have invited the wrong person, takes the keynote audience [...]

Objective and subjective scenario planning

Stewart Brand and Jay Ogilvy, two of five co-founders of scenario planning consultancy Global Business Network, describe very different views on objectivity and subjectivity. Brand, from Clock of the Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World’s Slowest Computer (1999): I think it is time to draw a harsh distinction, similar to that [...]

Future shock? Adapting to change

Conventional wisdom is that we are living in an era of unprecedented socio-technological change. Recently, however, I’ve been intrigued to discover a couple of dissenting voices. One is Noam Chomsky, in this talk at the 2012 Future of Learning conference (~6:35): We should bear in mind that the technological changes that are taking place now [...]

Will climate shuffle the pace layers?

I’ve written before about Stewart Brand’s pace layers — a nifty hierarchy that orders rates of change from fast to slow, system by system: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and nature. On a panel with Geoffrey West, Paul Romer, Benjamin de la Peña, and Anthony Townsend at the 2011 Urban Systems Symposium, which I recently [...]

Adam Kahane’s whole system transformation

It goes without saying that societies are not like firms. The dynamics are different, and expertise in business does not necessarily translate to social systems. For facilitators or activists or designers, context shifting from one domain to the other can be tricky. Here’s one point to keep in mind. When working on social issues and [...]

Margaret Mead debates Herman Kahn

Video of a passionate 1976 debate between Margaret Mead, Herman Kahn, and William Irwin Thompson. Topics include nuclear energy, genetic engineering, and poverty alleviation. Kahn’s book The next 200 years: A scenario for America and the world had just been published. Mead on ozone depletion: “We don’t know what the thresholds are!” Kahn on transportation: [...]

Hoffman and Rubin debate social change

How does social change come about? 1960s radicals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin traded strategies and barbs in a series of mid-80s debates, including this one filmed in 1986 in Vancouver, British Columbia and hosted on UbuWeb. Sure, there is plenty of yippie-versus-yuppie posturing, but entrenched institutions evolve but slowly, and much remains relevant today. [...]

John Ralston Saul: Our contemporary NGO army

John Ralston Saul does not mince words. We are lost in a “maze of logic,” in which “solutions are the cheapest commodity of our day,” Saul wrote in 1992’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. In this summer’s Adbusters, issue #102 on spiritual insurrection, the PEN International president turns his sights on [...]

The core of the Marshall Plan was “an enormous sovereign debt relief programme,” writes Albrecht Ritschl, professor of economic history at the London School of Economics, in The Economist (“Germany, Greece and the Marshall Plan“). The Marshall Plan had an outer shell, the European Recovery Programme, and an inner core, the economic reconstruction of Europe [...]