Civilizations are complex systems that evolve and change through time. For thousands of years they have risen and collapsed, grown in sophistication, battled and merged, and — in the 20th Century — forged together the first truly global incarnation of a human society.
The world is awash in data. Billions of people routinely surf the web and click on links. They connect with their friends, like or block content to suit their preferences, and share information widely on social media sites. This happens every single day.
Even more people get into cars, take buses and trains, board airplanes, or move around by human power on their commutes to work, exercise routines, daily errands, and to socialize with friends and family. This also happens every single day. What most of us are just beginning to realize is that all of these activities (and many more) now produce streams of data. Data that gets aggregated. Data that is analyzed for patterns of meaning to be used by governments, research institutions, and commercial enterprises. Data that makes visible the awe-inspiring dynamics of our human world. Continue reading “Hidden Significance of the Big Data Explosion” »
It is worth pausing to reflect on the fact that cultural studies have historically been separated from science. Yes, it makes sense to apply the tools of science to the movement of planets, properties of metals, and other physical things. But isn’t culture different? Isn’t it made of something other than physical stuff? This is a question that philosophers have grappled with since before the foundations of modern science were set in stone. And it has still not been fully resolved in the minds of quite a few contemporary thinkers.
As a quirk of the world we live in today, it just happens to be the case that the resolution to this age old debate is unfolding around us right now. You may be surprised to learn that the philosophical divide between science and culture is breaking down because so many of us are buying smart phones and surfing the net. Wondering what I’m talking about? Jump to the next section. Continue reading “Can Culture Really Be Studied Scientifically?” »
Addressing global challenges in the 21st Century will require a fundamental rethinking of what it means to be human. We can no longer embrace the false doctrine of human separateness from the natural world. And nowhere is this more powerful than the intersections between biological and cultural evolution. Continue reading “Toward a Rigorous Science of Cultural Evolution” »
I was struck by the possibility that a deeper, paradigm-level transformation of civilization may be unfolding around us. The open culture movement–with all of its social media and digital organizing tools–is spreading alongside other decentralization processes that can be seen in the rise of ecological thinking, compassionate approaches to economic development, a globalized cosmopolitan mindset of world citizenship, and the pervasiveness of systems thinking across all domains of knowledge. Continue reading “Building Research Tools to Catalyze Global Social Movements” »
One of the great challenges looming over the climate debate is the sheer complexity of planetary change. As our education systems continually fail to instill robust critical thinking skills in the populace — and a vast PR system confuses and obfuscates to stall significant action — we are left with a confused population of lost souls whose ideological filters do more to shape attitudes and beliefs than the basic observations about what is unfolding all around us. Continue reading “Seeing the Complexity of Planetary Change” »
Have you ever noticed that some things in the world like to be disrupted? Rogue militant groups set out to garner counter-attacks that distract their opponents while draining their resources. Viruses encourage multi-cellular organisms to activate their immune systems in attempts to wipe them out. Teenagers seek the disdain – and occasional wrath – of authority figures in their lives.
These seemingly counter intuitive behaviors are the centerpiece of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. They are the “teachable moments” that enable us to truly understand the driving dynamics of systems that undergo shock. Indeed, there are entire categories of systems that benefit from disruption.
If I had to pick a single word to describe the global economy today, it would be fragile. Policy makers and business leaders have actively built a system that destroys the environment in order to produce profits in the short term — by distributing goods and services across a global supply chain that is designed to minimize costs and maximize financial returns — while relying on structures that are profoundly susceptible to disruption. Continue reading “Towards a Resilient Global Economy” »
Will human civilization make the transition to global sustainability? Or are we doomed to collapse and possibly even extinction as a species? I have grappled with this question for years as I journeyed through the intellectual landscapes of Earth System Science, cognitive science, and complex adaptive systems. And now it is clear that I am not alone on this journey.
This video is a talk given by Jeremy Rifkin at the British Royal Society about what he calls the Empathic Civilization. Note how he describes a fundamental shift in how we think about human nature — inspired by the revolution now unfolding in the cognitive sciences — while casting a story of cultural evolution through which new energy production regimes meld with new communication technologies to birth new stages of consciousness.
I’ve organized some of my thoughts on the evolution of cooperation, how society forms organizations, and the key insights into human nature that will be needed to build a political pathway to global sustainability. Then I put them into a video:
Years ago, I took the road less traveled and set out to build an integrated approach to global change. I realized early on that the only way to address global climate change was to focus jointly on the complexities of the human condition and the coupled dynamics of Earth Systems. It was a telling observation that no academic institutions were equipped to support the broad transdisciplinary approach I sought to take, which is why I remain outside the university setting in pursuit of this goal to this day.
I am pleased to share that after 15 years of formal academic training and independent study, a clear set of guidelines has appeared that brings this ambitious goal within reach. A rigorous design science for building the pathway to sustainability is now available for use. Continue reading “An Integrated Approach to Global Change” »
So in the spirit of open innovation, I’m sharing my reading list. Check out this video to learn about more than 50 books you can pick up and start reading any time you want to. They have greatly expanded my understanding of human nature, morality, and the mind so that I can help design transition tools for global civilization.
This intellectual journey brought me to the point last year where I announced that I want to create a new field of research in Human-Centered Design for Global Change. You can learn more about it by following these links:
Please let me know if I can be helpful to you in your quest for more knowledge. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to unlock so many secrets about humanity and the dynamic universe we are a part of. Enjoy!
It is increasingly clear that human beings are more than simply self-interested rational actors. We are profoundly moral, immensely social, and deeply political beings who often “lose ourselves” in social causes. A friend of mine who studies social psychology at the University of Virginia, Jonathan Haidt, recently gave a TED Talk about this that captures my thoughts very well:
A massive body of research now confirms that human beings are wired for empathy, tend to cooperate with one another through shared social identities, and mediate our socialness through layers of semantic meaning that arise in our conceptual systems — via metaphors, semantic frames, culturally shared cognitive models, and more.
It is often thought that design only applies to the creation of gimmicky products and cute images, yet the most pressing challenges in the world can only be understood through a deeper meaning of design that includes how problems and solutions are analyzed and addressed. In this video, I explain how design is essential for solving global problems — especially those that are most challenging and potentially catastrophic for humanity.
What do you think? How can design be used to identify deficiencies in existing systems — be they financial, political, cultural, or what have you? And once such deficiencies are discovered, how can design be used as a creative process for implementing social innovations that replace or update these deficient systems?
In the last few months, I have been honored to work with the International Centre for Earth Simulation (ICES) in Geneva, Switzerland, which has the ambitious goal of creating a new set of capabilities for simulating and visualizing the dynamic Earth in a fully integrated manner. My primary responsibility so far has been to assist in the creation of an overview document that conveys the scope and vision for this inspiring effort. And now I am excited to announce that it is available to the public. Click the image to download it as a PDF.
(Note: It’s a large 9 MB file!)
The ICES Foundation was founded by Bob Bishop, with whom I worked closely to co-create this important piece of work. Feel free to inquire with me directly about our progress in bringing ICES closer to reality. This is absolutely the most ambitious endeavor I’ve ever been a part of. It is appropriately at a global scale grand enough to match the level of highly complex challenges we must all face together in the coming decades.
I was recently interviewed by Bhavani Prakash at Eco Walk the Talk about cognitive policy, large-scale behavior change, deep history, and the transition to sustainability. We explored the importance of cross-disciplinary thinking for addressing global challenges.
Here’s an excerpt:
So what we’re seeing now with these global social movements, is an acceleration of change that goes back at least 3 decades. In a global sense, we can see the rise of the environmental movement, which started about a hundred years ago and catapulted in the 1960s with Rachel Carson, and what’s called the modern environmental movement. We’ve seen the beginning of the collapse of the empire with post colonialism, from the independence of India, the rise of nation states, and social democracies. Going back 70 or 80 years, fairly quick and big changes have been happening. Now it’s much faster still.
Let’s take ‘Occupy Wall Street’ – it has been incredibly successful, in a short period of time. It has been only with us for a few months and it has already changed the way that people talk about the economy and social issues all around the world. Now maybe Occupy Wall Street won’t lead to the changes that we need, but the scale of impact would have been very difficult to predict. Imagine you were sitting and watching the world in the beginning of August 2011, you probably wouldn’t have anticipated that something like Occupy Wall Street would have come into being and have such an effect in the last few months.
That is an indicator of how quickly change is coming and the fact that change is coming quickly tells us that we are in the middle of one of those phased transitions. Change is happening very quickly because the entire system is reorienting itself. I think there’ll be a much bigger, deeper change in the next few years.
At the heart of the ecological crisis is an unhealthy relationship between humanity and the natural world. Western philosophical traditions, in particular, are wrought with a history of unbreachable chasms — between mind and body, truth and fact, life and death, etc. We have lived out a troubled existence with metaphors of competition, battles, and outright war on the natural systems we depend on for our survival.
Human settlements now leave a massive footprint on the water supplies, forests, mineral deposits, and food stocks offered forth by the planet we live on. We are severely out of balance. This begs the question How will humanity survive and thrive indefinitely into the future? To answer this question, which cuts to the very core of human struggle on earth in the 21st Century, we must consider the design criteria that enabled life to spring forth in our cosmological past. Only when we understand the governing dynamics of life can we thoughtfully and strategically design community structures that generate and support urban landscapes and social processes that promote a thriving existence. Continue reading “Want to Build Sustainable Communities? Study Living Systems!” »
Big changes are coming. Every indicator suggests that the world is transitioning on a global scale. Last year we saw the emergence of populist movements in what has come to be known as the Arab Spring and later watched Occupy Wall Street grow rapidly, taking root in many countries where governing institutions have produced unbearable inequality and suffering. Alongside this civil unrest are a rising tide of natural disasters, rapid adoption of mobile technologies, and a growing recognition that humanity itself has become a truly global force of nature. Continue reading “Toward the Global Transition — 2012 and Beyond” »
I’ve been watching the Occupy Movement from a distance these last several months, intentionally standing back so that I might observe the larger web of patterns shaping its unfolding path. In the early weeks of the movement, I wrote about the swarm behavior through which OWS grew quickly — seemingly out of nowhere — from a small group of activists in New York City to its global presence in thousands of locales. Then I stepped back and waited to see what the future might hold for the movement.
And now, as we enter the new year, I would like to share how I see the changing landscape of strategic action as informed by my knowledge of political frames and complex pattern formation. The ideas presented below are meant to help shed light on the underlying forces of change that have given Occupy its core strengths up till now and to prepare change makers around the world for larger impacts in 2012 and beyond. Continue reading “Strategic Frames of the Occupy Movement” »
Sometimes what we think we know is more consequential than what we actually know. As we nestled into our beds on the night of September 10th, 2001 most of us did not know that we would awaken to a terrorist attack that would unleash a decade of global unrest. Few among us foresaw the meltdown of financial markets in late 2008. And many were unable to believe it possible that we would witness the ascension of an African American to the White House that same year.
The world is a profoundly complex place where subtle dynamic patterns shape the trajectory of everything from personal relationships to emergent social order on a planetary scale. How do we grapple with this complexity when the consequences of our ignorance are so severe? This question cuts to the heart of our sensibilities about knowledge and reason. What we don’t know is often shrouded in a mask of presumed knowledge — we tend to think we know much more than we actually do. Continue reading “Cultivating Innovation When The Future Is Unknowable” »
Are you a social innovator seeking to help in the global transition? Would you like to thrive and survive during the most profound paradigm shift in human history? Then you are going to need a strategy. You are going to have to figure out how to live through the first half of the 21st Century.
What must you do to plan for the tremendous changes that increasing numbers of people are recognizing must take place during our lifetimes? Simply put, we’re going to have to let the old global economy collapse around us while simultaneously building a new one that carries us on to global prosperity and peace. This will be complicated by the converging challenges of planetary climate disruption, resource depletion, financial meltdowns, and diminished confidence in governing institutions. Continue reading “A Social Innovator’s Guide to Riding Out the Global Transition” »
Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. We’ve all heard this adage and many among us take to heart the wisdom of looking backward as a vital practice for understanding the future. As a student of global systems, I’ve followed the rabbit deep down its dark hole on more than one occasion. And I’ve always come back to the surface better able to navigate the terrain with the perspectives gained by doing so.
But what of deep history? Why must we understand the origins of the universe, evolution of stars and planets, and geologic forces in order to grapple with contemporary social issues? The answer — to be succinct — is that only such a broad backdrop will reveal the landscape for potential action today. Continue reading “Want to Change the World? Study Deep History” »
The great challenges of the 21st Century are systemic in nature. From ecological decline to cybersecurity in a digital age, the patterns of change we must grapple with are profoundly complex. Change agents will need to understand how change unfolds in complex systems in order to promote political and economic stability during these turbulent times.
The 20th Century was an era of specialization. Many new fields of research were created that separate one domain of knowledge from another. The 21st Century must be an era of synthesis and integration. The challenges set before us are incredibly complex, unfolding as seamlessly interconnected patterns that span the globe.
As a social innovator who specializes in human system design, I have spent many years gathering useful knowledge across disciplines. And now I am setting out on a path to integrate two vast domains into a rigorous framework for strategic action — earth systems research and cognitive science.
The video above explains what I am setting out to do.
Essentially, I want to address the compounding problems of systemic risk that propagate across interconnected systems. Over the years I have observed that a vital missing piece is the role of human beings in the unfolding patterns of change around us. How we think about the world, what we are able to see, and what we believe all shape our responses to economic and political instability, natural disasters, and societal transitions during periods of turbulence. Continue reading “Creating A New Science — Human Interface with Global Change” »
Public Speaking :: Innovation Design :: Integrative Research k I am a social visionary, innovation strategist and interdisciplinary scholar who weaves together brilliant people and ideas to create integrated solutions t0 the world’s most pressing challenges. My passions include design for social change, the architecture of social enterprises, creating large-scale behavior change, and incubating social ... Continue reading »