“A Future By Design...
wall graphic by Alica Bramlett
...Not Default”
time lags and implementation cycles
Link: part 1 • Link: part 2 • link: part 3 • Link: part 5
Prediction Control and Emergence
The Thesis of this paper is that the rates of change and completely are increasing their rate. That no matter if this is good or bad change it has the power to lead to extraordinary negative returns that can threaten life as we know it and radically alter what it means to be human. In Part One, I suggested that Humanity needs a new unifying project - one that comprehensively creates a new Global Agenda - that of the Human Enterprise. I suggested that this is a one to two generational project the result of which can be planet that is a work of art suitable for a wide variety of life. And, that in concert with this, Humanity starts the systematic exploration of other worlds - natural and human made - because to live on only one is to pursue a potentially disastrous single-point-of-failure strategy. My Thesis is not that change and complexity are intrinsically threatening. It is their rate in relationship to our social decision and change process - and the lack of awareness we are bringing to the human enterprise - is making the biggest challenge that Humanity has ever faced. We have created the framework and means of our own evolution and do not seem to know it - or care. It would be impossible to get an investment or bank loan, of a few hundred thousand, to start a small business with the careless approach represented by the entire Human Agenda as it presently exists by default. Humanity has no plan and no sustainable economic policy.
In part Two, I presented my basic argument that the change in the rate of change and complexity will overwhelm us unless we become requisite with it. I offered several books that explore the changes that are taking place right before our eyes and many links to further supporting information. many of them make the same points in their own unique way [link: are we guardians, or are we apes designing humans?]. I proposed an extensive three day synoptical weekend which is sufficient to explore this Thesis in enough depth to decide if it is credible or not. I recommend that doing this sooner not later is a prudent exercise. Getting you to do this is the objective of this entire Paper. Convincing you about anything else or to do anything specific other than this reading and thinking - is not.
Part Three explores the rate of social adaptability and the evidence that one generation is generally required for an idea to move from discovery to acceptance - proof-of-concept and another to become embedded - ubiquitous - in the social fabric. Further, issues of design, creativity and group process are addressed. The purpose of this is to show that a systemic gap between condition and response exists; and, that this gap can be closed. We know how to do it. We are simple not doing it.
Part Four - presents a number of applications essential to a healthy response to this Thesis: The World Economic Forum and the Making of a Global Agenda. Innovation cycles and MG Taylor Corporation - the quest to discover how a for-profit enterprise can be successfully employed to look at extremely long term issues by conducting a practice of transformation: facilitating it and doing it oneself - to make a marketable product. The concept of Worthy Problems which creates a framework for projects that can be successful in the now and address systemic issues.
Part Five, Closing Comments and Personal Reflections, describes the reasons for my web site - Matt’s Notebook - and how I have employed it first to regain my path and now to communicate what I have found - this is a record of one person’s personal anticipatory design science practice as Bucky conceived it. And finally, the status of a new organizational design for the 21st Century, the ValueWeb. These are applications - on different recursion levels and scales - of a philosophy and Method helpful for “installing” a new OS to aid the decision processes of Humanity. They are not a prescription nor even, in themselves, a solution. They are first steps of what will have to be many steps of many origins. I also offer some examples of Good News projects and initiatives with the precautionary principle applied: do not think that these, and the many others that can be cited, constitute and adequate response to what we face. Their quality shows Humanity has answers. Their lack of scale and timing shows we are not yet serious. I close with some Questions which are designed to make my entire Thesis real in concrete terms. If you can answer all of these in positive terms, and with a high degree of confidence, I would have to say that you are in good shape. If you cannot, I would say that this is prima fascia evidence that my Thesis should be explored in some depth. I also comment on the human use of Systems Theory and Cybernetics.
Prior to proceeding with Part Four, we have to first look at the topics of control, planning, strategy and the process of knowledge facilitation. These are critical to our subject and I will offer a different vantage point on each of them.
The future cannot be predicted or controlled. So, how do you plan for it? Some believe we should consider only what we can (supposedly) control. Some, that since we cannot predict and control, that we take the future as it comes and respond to it as necessary. Many “plan” without even pondering these issues. All of these approaches are flawed for obvious reasons. Only thinking about what you know and can control places you in a very small and uninteresting world. Thinking that an organization can adequately respond to great change and complexity only after it reveals itself and all agree to the importance of the situation is absurd - as the present situation with global warming and our ever increasing periodic economic meltdowns reveal. So called pragmatic planning without a philosophical base is an exercise in the mundane. Any planning without vision is an exercise in the obvious. All of these approaches are wrong and all of them make a valid point.
The Best Case - Worst Case Models was created to resolve the “be spontaneous” versus “plan” a specific future, argument. It says both are wrong and both have a point. Planning is about equipping the “trunk” appropriately. Click on the diagram for a description of the Model.
Organizations do need to adjust and act in the moment and no amount of planning is going to change this. You only “control” the resources that you have in your immediate hand yet planning should not be limited to what you have. Planning has to address whatever your real requirements are. Expanding the resources, if necessary has to be part of the strategy and subsequent implementation activities. Not knowing how to solve for global warming with out destroying our present consumer-based economy, of example, is not a valid reason to ignore it or to promote partial fixes which we can “afford.” Has anyone priced the cost of a fully functional planet lately? Seeing the future only through the lense of the possible-now is an exercise in futility. The function of the plan is not to predict the future and to layout rigid steps to a set of goals - the function of the plan is to bracket the future by understanding the likely range of conditions which effect your enterprise and building the appropriate response capacity so that you are capable of acting when an aspect of the future does reveal itself. Planning is not proscribing the future - it is creating the design specifications for making the trunk-of-options that have to be funded in order to have a future.
A strategy is a design not a prescription. Design is a process not a result.
Design is iterative. Each iteration is actually a transformation of the idea. An idea progresses through a series of uniquely different physical expressions as it moves through the Design Formation stages. Each of these requires both a recreation of the idea and the form by which it is expressed.
click on graphic for more detail
The engine which holds all of this together, in an organizational and social context is the Ten Step Process which is how mind-like capability is created and practiced on team, group or society recursion levels and, therefore, benign strong-memory created. I put in the qualifier “benign” because humankind has many extraordinarily effective means to create and hold memory the consequence of which is endless cycles of destruction.
The 10 Step Process is an engine that captures,stores, integrates data and information and “chunks” it into higher order form to support knowledge-creation. It facilitates the appropriate insertion of this knowledge into successive iterations of design and work making it possible for a community to build on its accumulated experience.
click on graphic for more detail
The clarity of thought and the rigor of process and action implied by these models is rare in individuals and significantly lacking in organizations who still focus on controlling ideas and behavior rather than releasing and facilitating human creativity and collaboration. These kinds of work processes are totally absent on the global level - the scale of the HUMAN ENTERPRISE. Humanity, as of yet, creates its future by war, negotiation, the creation of laws and the run away consequences of market mechanisms which are improperly “installed” in the global social fabric. This is an impoverished epistemology. The sum of it is a variety creating mechanism operating on a dangerous scale and scope. Paradoxically, the only “planning” that even approaches the kind required to conceive the Planet as a system is war planning. There is no such thing, beyond wishful thinking and propaganda efforts, as peace planning. This is not to discount the occasional heroic efforts occasionally made in the name of peace. It is just that they are ad-hoc and periodic - they are not systematic, systemic and continuous. These efforts are driven by a default agenda based on scarcity [link: upside down economics], conflict and centuries of accumulated anger - a massive positive feedback loop. It almost exceeds the ability to imagine it to think of what would be the result of all the genius applied to killing, instead, was applied to living. Living is not consuming, by the way. It seems, in our present social architecture, consuming is what occupies us in between periods of mass killing. If you think I exaggerate, please review the body count accomplished in the 20th Century along with the increase in the GNP. The purpose of a system is its output. Generally, over time, a system remains because people like it that way. I can only conclude that the effort of doing it another way has been, so far, more work - to the vast majority of people - than funding the World’s defense budget. Or, perhaps people just cannot imagine where all this is taking us. Unless we change, or we turn out to be extremely lucky, this is gambling on a gigantic scale.
These conditions bring us the possible role of the World Economic Forum in the generation ahead.
The Forum and the Making of a Global Agenda
In any formal criticism, the four steps of T.S.Elliot should be followed [link: proper feedback and criticism]. And, one should remember Barzun’s [jacques barzun] dictate that only the best is worthy of criticism as the inferior is not worth the effort. The Forum is worthy of criticism. Also, the Forum has its own purpose and agenda and it certainly does not exist to accomplish those goals that I find important. I consider the Forum an important enough institution that I will continue to support it the best I can if it does or does not advance a Global Agenda as I have outlined on this Paper. That said, the Forum has achieved a position in our culture that carries with it a responsibility of which I am certain that it is well aware of. This is the distinction of consistently raising issues for world leaders to look at in preparation for executing their responsibilities. It is reasonable for a leader to infer if the Forum raises an issue, or not, that this is one credible measure of this issues importance. In recent years the Forum has become more explicit in bringing to attention those items which it considers critical to the Global Agenda. The Forum also, as I pointed out earlier, takes great care in listening to it constringency as well as a diverse group of experts when developing its Annual Meeting themes. This is a “push/pull” process that, in the end, is a remarkable measure of what world leadership is concerned about. This is the good news and the bad news. We live in a society where evasion of the critical but uncomfortable is an art form. The Forum, however, cannot get too far ahead of it’s constituency. The Forum is a market and it has to keep its members even as it sometimes causes them to address uncomfortable issues. This is a knife edge. In recent years the Forum has diligently sought to broaden both subject matter and participation of diverse viewpoints in its annual deliberations. All this is good. It is not - yet - adequate.

We are out of time. The implications of the rise of China and India, the crises in the Middle East, famine in Africa, the stance of the United States and a host of other issues are critical and must be addressed. What is necessary, however, is that their underlying causes are understood and that it is realized that once solved another more threatening and interesting opportunity set will emerge as a consequence of how we dealt with them. What has to be realized is that the systemic relationships, that make up our present social economic architecture, generate these results and that the leadership of the earth’s major institutions are responsible for the consequences of their organization’s actions. We have to face the fact that the very term “world leader,” itself, may be endemic to the problem. The purpose of a system is its output not the fantasies and “intent” of those who build it. The world is becoming is a human MADE world. No longer can we blame God, Nature, bad luck or random circumstance. No longer can we depend on the “Hidden hand” to guide us through. These conditions are our results. We caused them. We can solve them. We will solve them or the consequences will be very very severe. God-like power requires the execise of god-like judgment.

Every Forum I have ever participated in including the myriad of activities associated with providing support to Forum events, has always left me with mixed feelings. It is necessary to understand how smart these people are, how hard they work and how dedicated the team is to “improving the state of the world.” This is a stellar organization. “What,” I ask myself after every engagement, “is missing?” Yes, like with every partner or client we have our tugs and pulls about how to do the work and how best transfer the Method. So, this is not it. What I keep coming to is what seems like a lack of a certain boldness when setting the agenda. An assumption about their participant’s inability and willingness to engage that does not fit with our experiences with the same people when in the DesignShop setting solving a problem of their own corporation. The Forum has a great deal of social capital to spend and I wonder sometimes why - and for what use - it appears it is held it back. The sessions are too conservative, scripted and controlled. The WorkSpace is the most free yet by our standards still way too limiting. The environment for radical breakthrough thought is missing - the content not challenging enough. The Forum is a very good experience and many times extraordinarily inspiring yet the underlying structure of it subtly reinforces the status quo - the idea that we are basically OK. I do not think that this is true. We are not OK. Our society is at great risk. It is time that this be said and demonstrated - that 2,000 very smart people be put to work in a systematic way doing something about it. It is too late for lists, objectives, agendas - even good projects. We need all these things and they should be done. It must be understood that this level of concern an work is now business-as-usual in today’s world and should be recognized as such. Something has to be added. A shift is required. Those running the World’s major institutions have to understand that the game has changed and so must they. This is a time for extraordinary focus, candor, honesty, transparency and collaborative effort.
The Forum has been going through a significant change in its own. It is moving from a largely Annual Meeting format to multiple activities throughout the year. This has been going on for years but now the pace, scale and scope of this is accelerating. As mentioned, the Forum has always introduced new and challenging ideas to its participants but the importance of a Global Agenda and move to practical action has increased greatly in recent years [link: 06 forum am pod casts]. All of this is creating more work, greater stress and, I suspect, a higher level of internal debate. These are not easy decisions to make. In concert with all this, the Forum has to be looking down the road to the issue of succession management never an easy thing for any organization that has been founded and lead by a charismatic leader for many decades. All this leads to internal debates and makes the internal processes more difficult. These conditions will not go away; they will become more intense in the immediate future. This is natural. This is recreation at the beginning of what will ultimately be seen as a new cycle. Naturally, no organization wants its own internal processes to be too public. In the case of the Forum, I think this process should be transparent and it should engage the participation of its key membership organizations who also struggle with the same issues themselves and will to a much greater degree as they take on what I have outlined in this Paper. The Forum’s willingness to be courageous in this respect can be a gift and an encouragement to others. To be transparent and proactive with one’s own development and to include key ValueWeb® members in it, accomplishes three things: it is in fact the only way to emerge viable 21st century organizations. It is an integral part of the mission of ventures like the Forum (as it is with MG Taylor). It is a great gift to those organizations who are asked to participate.
The Forum has earned a unique position which will allow to bring forth a compelling and relevant World Agenda. I cannot think of another entity so positioned. To do so will require great boldness. It will involve risk that at time could threaten the existence of the Forum itself. It will not be comfortable nor the outcome certain. We are a world in denial and the so called traits of objectivity, hardheadedness, risk taking so often attributed to business leaders are notably absent in realms that require both speculative abstract thinking and practical, funded, tightly managed projects.
I suppose that it is possible to create a new world body to address what I present here and this has been suggested. The question is why? The Forum exists and it has an over thirty year legacy to bring to the exercise along with all of the capability that has been so carefully built. Why start over when the Forum’s mission is “improving the state of the world.” Skeptics will assert that this is code for “improving the state of business” at the sacrifice of everything else but anyone who has heard Klaus Schwab talk about why he created the Forum is not going to buy this. If the Forum is pushing it’s business partners enough is a legitimate question. If the Forum can marshal the will and resources to challenge some of the brightest and most powerful people on the Planet is another. Can the Forum do the work while going through an organizational transformation itself? Will it? These are the critical questions. Can it and will it? If not, what social space can do it?
If the Forum does not take on this task I think is is safe to assume that the vacuum is unlikely to be filled in any reasonable and useful time period. It would take years or great resources to do so. It would be, by necessity, completive to the Forum and unlikely to achieve a healthy result. This is not the right path unless extraordinary circumstances mandate it.
MG Taylor Corporation and Innovation Cycles
To demonstrate some ways that design can be applied on a global scale to complex issues - without imposing too simple a specific design, I will use the history of MG Taylor, why we exist, some projects we have done and our agenda of Worthy Projects, as example. We are at the half point of what I expect will turn out to be a 60 year project. I did not think of it this way when we started this process - I thought it would be more in the 25 to 30 year duration. What I did not see was that two generation cycle would continue to exist and and remain remarkably consistent to this day. The existence and the implications of this second cycle, and its persistence in an era of great change, is an important “reporting” of this Paper. When Gail and I started MG Taylor we did not expect to be able to bring it to success on our own. We did not even expect to be in “control” of it when it succeeded. MG Taylor had a clear Mission [link: mgt mission] from the beginning and this has not changed. The Mission included creating a new-way-of-working because we assumed that if people could work in a fundamentally different way they would arrive at fundamentally different conclusions and actions. This has been proven true over and over. Our “market” was and is the “transition manager” [link: transition manager’s creed]. The Transition Manager has to stand with a foot in two opposing worlds, have competency in both, and facilitate the transformation necessary for an organization and its people to move from one to the other - this is an act of fundamental re-creation. We had not doubt that the entire globe was going though a transformation of unprecedented scale and time-compression. The questions important to us were at what cost and what consequence. The Strategy was and is to build a network of Centers (we call them NavCenters today) each owned and operated by some entity, and for some specific purpose, yet all able to work together to in order to take on the global scale systemic issues I have been discussing in this Paper. The goal is to achieve ubiquity of this new way of working. In other words, it becomes the default standard and practice. The result: “...the rebuilding of planet Earth as a work of art [link: work of art] created and enjoyed by all people.”
Nothing has changed in regards this intent to this day. What has happened is that we have demonstrated proof-of-concept, the reasons for why we are doing what we are doing are a clear as they can be, and the path to ubiquity - the work of the next cycle - is directly before us. Along this journey, we ourselves, have been through several organizational changes. We are in what I call iteration6 [link: iteration6] of our own development and this is the transition from a traditional corporate structure to a true functioning ValueWeb - the organizational architecture we believe will be required by the demands of the 21st Century.
Organizational Transformation [link: transformation process] cannot be achieved in a vacuum. It is only accomplished in concert with the achievement of real and useful work. It is foolish to try to “talk” an organization through the process - to do it unequipped, with the tools now found in business and consulting, is fraught with risk. This is one reason that it is rarely tried despite all the rhetoric which gives another impression. Most corporate reorganizations and transformations are “reorganizing the deck chairs on the Titanic” as Gail puts it. It is the reshuffling of organizational components in what is, in reality, the same organizational architecture. Structure wins. To get a fundamentally different result requires a new structure.
The task that MG Taylor set for itself is almost unprecedented in its scope and ambition. When we took it on we had neither money nor contacts; nor did we have the social status one would expect to be necessary for such an undertaking. In the traditional sense, we had no resources at all. This did not disturb us greatly because - given what we intended - societal assets were as much of a burden as help. It is never easy to change the social game. It is nearly impossible when you are invested in it. Our premise was that no one had an advantage, nor the knowledge, credentials or necessary wealth, to recreate the future. We, of course, did not always stay perfectly on our path. We held to the principles well enough that, when we strayed, the lessons to be learned came quickly and were very sharp. We set a course which held us in its logic even when we, ourselves, became lost. While not always pleasant, it has been an adventure which has lead us to the center of many seminal events and unique learnings of great value. The body of knowledge that has been accumulated, in this generation of work, could not have been gathered any other way. It is now the asset of the Enterprise. Putting this to work on a broad scale is the very definition of ubiquity.
Doing this will certainly involve expanding what has long been our focus: facilitating organizational transformation, building environments that promote creativity and collaboration, creating a network of providers and users of our Method, transferring the accumulated knowledge and means of this work. This is good and necessary work. It will not, in itself, be sufficient. The time demands demonstration beyond employing the Taylor capabilities as we have for so long. It requires the development and implementation of a global strategy which supports projects capable of systemic change in critical areas of the Human Enterprise. While there will be businesses involved, this is not in itself “business” in the traditional sense of the meaning and practice of the concept - it will be the work of a ValueWeb as I will discuss in Part 5. The effort, for reasons I have stated in our Mission Statement [link: mg taylor mission], has to be profitable - at both business and social scales - in order for the mission to be accomplished. It is time to demonstrate that these ideas are viable in all dimensions. My term for such a pursuit is Worthy Problems.
Generally, problems are considered to be “bad.” In the Taylor Method, they are “good.” Problems are created and not to be confused with circumstances.
Problems are not “given” - conditions are. Problems are chosen; they are created by the difference between the given condition and the vision of an individual or group of something different and better than the condition.
Problems once created, and thus understood, are usually solved. The lack of an adequate Human Global Agenda is the consequence of a distracted humanity. A design strategy - of a network of carefully conceived and engineered problems - creates a means for getting at a field of issues which, added up, can have great effect. Done well this is an economy of effort. The Art of War has to be applied to the elimination of conditions inimical to the success of Humankind and all life. To paraphrase an old saying “be careful what you consider a problem, you may solve it.”
Worthy Problems
I bring up Worthy Problems here not to recruit you to the projects they engender - although if they do attract you welcome aboard. I use them to illustrate that a practical bridge between abstract ideas, long range goals and immediate profitable projects can be built. These problems and their projects are my choices. There will be - must be - many more such efforts, from many perspectives, if we are to build the kind of response we must. “Saving the World” does not require sacrifice - as a matter of fact, it is sacrifice that will destroy it. The only thing that can be sacrificed is life so when someone calls for it you had better duck. However, I do distinguish Worthy Problems and projects from the myriad of useful, honest, good and profitable projects that can be conceived and most likely need to be done. “Worthy,” in this context, means that they achieve a practical objective while getting at the heart of one or many systemic issues that have large scale and long lasting consequences [link: worthy problems].
There is a concept called Wicked Problems which shares many elements in common with Worthy Problems. This concept was born about the same time that I started my 1970s Futures work and is worth exploring [link: wicked problems]. The difference between Worthy Problems and Wicked Problems is not in kind - they are the same kind of problem - it is in type. All Worthy Problems fit the definition of Wicked Problems but not visa versa. Worthy Problems constitute a narrower set.
An example of a worthy problem/project aside from anything that MG Taylor is doing is the 100 dollar laptop project of Negroponte from MIT [link:100 dollar laptop]. His premise is that if computers can be made inexpensive enough they can be distributed to millions of children word wide and that is the single most important thing that can be done for their education. Assuming inter connectivity and ultimately significant connection to a free and uncensured Internet, I agree with him. He has some critics and it has taken a number of years to get his laptop built. It is also not possible to know just how this project will work out. It is a complex market and the there is more than one government out there that will not be too happy to have their next generation surfing the www. “Education” is one of the principle means of propaganda and “socializing” the next generation - and not only poor countries and overt dictatorships engage in it. This project is a systemic response to a systemic problem and one of the best that I am aware of. It seems to me, rather than criticize Negroponte over nits, the more appropriate response [link: 100 dollars is too expensive] would be to pitch in and help an idea like this work [link: negroponte hits back at critics]. We need more of these.
Glen Small [link: glen small architect] is an architect I met in the late 1970s. Then, he was teaching at a small innovative architectural school in Los Angeles which he co-founded. He was designing “green machines” in response to the coming energy/ecology crises. Of course, his work has been largely ignored. His work contains many projects that are appropriate responses to Worthy Problems. The article and interview referenced here is worth reading. Notice, again, the generation time for an idea to emergence and now the task ahead to ubiquity [link: glen small interview]. Read this carefully. 68 and broke. Fired from the school he co-founded, years ago, because the students were attracted to his ideas and this did not fit the focus of the times, clients afraid to hire him because he is now regarded as a “genius” link: my father the genius]. What is the price that innovators have to pay? Is this a good way to run a society? Look at Glen’s work an look at what has been supported and built over the last 35 years and ask yourself if the “market” (a secular form of religion requiring a great deal of faith) voted well. Notice that this article directly addresses the decision making processes which also concerns Diamond. If you want to address some Worthy Problems and are looking for good projects in the realm of architecture to do it with, I recommend you get together with Glen - you will find them in all sizes, shapes, forms and types and scales and degrees of risk and return. If there was ever anyone who should be a MacArthur Fellow [link: fellows program overview] - it is Glen.
There is no shortage of Worthy Problems nor projects to get at them. What there is is a shortage of attention. What there is not is a willingness to make a long term social investment. The short term payback mentality is destroying us. It will be a very good idea to start work of this kind, soon. It would have been a far better idea to have been doing it a generation ago. As is always the case, new wealth will come from these efforts. And perhaps, this time, it will be sustainable wealth which the great majority of our present wealth base it not.
Link: part 1 • Link: part 2 • link: part 3 • link: part 5
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Matt Taylor
January 29, 2006

SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted: January 29, 2006

revised: April 11, 2006
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Copyright© 2006 Matt Taylor

(note: this document is about 94% finished)



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