Personal Blog of Joe Brewer

Archive for the ‘Social Change’ Category

The Power Politics of Ignorance

In Cultural Evolution, Semantics and Perception, Social Change on April 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Did you know there are “product defense” firms whose primary mission is to confuse the public for financial gain?  These companies spread doubt about scientific findings so that tobacco companies can sell more cigarettes (which cause cancer), fossil fuel companies can delay climate action (to sell more oil), pharmaceutical companies can keep dangerous drugs on the market longer (to extend profits), and more.  Every time a large financial interest is threatened by knowledge, these PR firms step up to the plate and do their bidding.

This tells us something important about the science of social change — namely that what we DON’T know about something is part of the power politics of society. Continue reading “The Power Politics of Ignorance” »

Toward A Design Science of Cultural Change

In Complex Systems, Cultural Evolution, Global Integration, Social Change on April 24, 2014 at 8:39 am

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.

Now, in the 21st Century, we have before us the difficult task of learning how to guide our civilization using intentional design. Continue reading “Toward A Design Science of Cultural Change” »

Hidden Significance of the Big Data Explosion

In Cultural Evolution, Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change, Tech Innovation on April 17, 2014 at 8:30 am

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” »

Can Culture Really Be Studied Scientifically?

In Collaboration, Cultural Evolution, Design Science, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on October 23, 2013 at 9:09 am

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?” »

The 4 Step Path to Human Thriving

In Human Behavior, Social Change on October 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

This article is co-authored with Michel de Kemmeter and published concurrently on his blog at Uhdr UniverseCity.

It is time to state clearly what is needed to live in a sustainable world.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

– Mahatma Ghandi

We have all heard these prophetic words.  But exactly what do we have to do in order to be the change?  Conversations about sustainability rarely focus on the personal elements that must be present in our everyday lives.  They simply miss out on the importance of human thriving at the personal and social levels.  In this post, we explain how to become a fully thriving human being.  That way you can achieve the greatest fulfillment in your life while also helping humanity tackle our global challenges.

There are four steps that you will need to take in order to become fully alive.  As you set off on this journey (or continue from somewhere midway), be sure to keep in mind that the single most important thing you can do is to know and love yourself.  With that in mind, let’s dig in! Continue reading “The 4 Step Path to Human Thriving” »

A Great Threat to

In Cultural Evolution, Human Behavior, Social Change on September 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I have long been a fan of TED Talks.  They have inspired me to laugh out loud, to weep at the grand beauty of the cosmos, and to scratch my head and ponder deep assumptions that I once held dear.  And so it is with grave concern that I write this post about the largely unnoticed threat to this invaluable cultural asset.  TED is in danger and they don’t seem to know it.


The threat I speak of is memetic in nature.  A set of hostile stories have been unleashed into the minds of the populace to fester, reproduce and spread with great efficacy.  A set of memes have been created — initially as a form of retaliation, then for the shallow sake of self-promotion by the antagonists, and now the memes are taking on a life of their own.

Continue reading “A Great Threat to” »

Building Research Tools to Catalyze Global Social Movements

In Design Science, Global Integration, Social Change on March 13, 2013 at 9:56 am

Back in 2011, I pondered the question, “Will there be a convergence of the world’s social movements?” 

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” »

What Happens When We Shock A System?

In Complex Systems, Global Integration, Social Change on December 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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.

Continue reading “What Happens When We Shock A System?” »

Applying Meme Science to Global Warming

In Human Behavior, Social Change on December 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm

This article is co-authored by Joe Brewer and Lazlo Karafiath.  They are co-founders of DarwinSF, a social impact company whose mission is to help good memes spread.

We all want to live in a world that supports life and promotes human well-being.  Okay, do we really want to?  That’s a critical question that can only be answered by taking a deep look at the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions of people in the world.  How many people out there believe the world is finite and precious?  What is the proportion who see the End Times as a good thing?  And what kind of research methodology would even create valid data that can answer questions like these? Continue reading “Applying Meme Science to Global Warming” »

Want to Solve the Climate Crisis? Study Meme Science!

In Complex Systems, Semantics and Perception, Social Change on November 20, 2012 at 8:11 am

This article is co-authored by Joe Brewer and Lazlo Karafiath

It’s almost the end of 2012 and a leadership vacuum continues to plague the nations of the world on our single biggest global threat.  Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

The urgency of this problem is clear when we think about the wave of wildfires, floods, and droughts that spread across the world this year and “freak” storms like Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc on New England earlier this month.  Even the skeptics among us are increasingly nervous about offshore oil rigs going up on flames and pouring millions of barrels of precious crude into the open waters of the world’s oceans.

Continue reading “Want to Solve the Climate Crisis? Study Meme Science!” »

Launching the Climate Meme Project!

In Collaboration, Design Science, Human Behavior, Social Change on November 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm

This project is a joint effort of Cognitive Policy Works and DarwinSF.

The Climate Meme Project is a crowd funded, open collaboration initiative to reveal the meme landscape for climate action.

You can support it here.

By contributing to this project, you will help spread the ideas that can challenge climate denial and the dogmatic beliefs of skeptics who have stalled out a global response to the greatest environmental threat ever to confront humanity. We are experts in the dynamics of culture—specializing in the study of memes, political frames, social networks, and brand marketing—with a passion for applying our craft for the betterment of humanity.

So if you are frustrated by the lack of forward motion on global warming, concerned about the world your children will inherit, and ready to see us all reach a global tipping point in awareness and all the collective actions that follow, this project is for you! Continue reading “Launching the Climate Meme Project!” »

Evolution of Empathy and the Third Industrial Revolution

In Design Science, Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change on August 29, 2012 at 7:49 am

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.

Powerful and enlightening!

Evolution, Cooperation and the Transition to Sustainability

In Collaboration, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on July 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

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:

Continue reading “Evolution, Cooperation and the Transition to Sustainability” »

Design Better Systems by Questioning Your Theory of Change

In Complex Systems, Design Science, Human Behavior, Social Change on May 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm

A major consideration in the design of large-scale systems is that humans have to interact with them.  Want to create a massive transportation system for your city?  People need to take the bus or feel safe jumping on their bikes.  Seeking to build a regional food system?  Someone’s got to grow the food and deliver it.  Someone else has to pick it up and prepare it for dinner.  Every time a “grand vision” is put in play for changing the world, there is an implicit assumption that people will participate in the alteration or replacement of an existing system.

So how DO people interact with changing systems?  That’s a question that has frustrated many a system designer.  Engineers in the IT world know only too well how difficult it is to build software that people can use (or, just as important, that customers prefer over someone else’s software).  Transportation policy experts have been baffled by the ways people choose to get around despite the design choices that went into the blueprints for that rapid bus system or congestion traffic lane.  And political activists have been bewildered by the voting behaviors of so many otherwise intelligent people who behave so strangely when election season comes around. Continue reading “Design Better Systems by Questioning Your Theory of Change” »

The Best Reading List You’ll Ever Find for Cognitive Science and Social Change

In Complex Systems, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change, Video Blog on May 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Interested in learning cognitive science to solve global problems?  Here’s the best reading list you’ll find to help you do it!  Since writing articles like Want to Change the World? Study Cognitive Science! and Five Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change, and recording videos to explain The Great Blind Spot for Sustainability and Where Rational Choice Theory Comes From, I’ve received a lot of requests from people who want to learn more about cognitive and behavioral science.

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!


Want the Power of a God? Become an Accountant!

In Complex Systems, Human Behavior, Semantics and Perception, Social Change on March 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

Have you ever wanted the god-like power to create entire worlds?  Wondered what it feels like to destroy a universe with the flick of your hand?  Then become an accountant.  That’s right, you heard me.  The Great Creators (and Destroyers) of reality are the people who define what is worthy of measurement.

Consider this:

Current wisdom says that the amount of global economic activity is the total of Gross Domestic Production (GDP) for all countries in the world.  This number tells us how much value is created each year through productive activity.  And yet none of this activity would be possible if children were not born, raised by devoted parents, and educated by society.  The most essential “productive” activity performed by humans is parenting. And what is the net economic value of parenting?  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  It doesn’t exist as far as economists are concerned.

And how do we know this?  Because it doesn’t appear on the accounting books!  Being a mother has no economic value — at least not according to the accounting schemes used by macro economics today.  This sweeping power to make massive value-creation disappear is wielded by accountants every single day. Continue reading “Want the Power of a God? Become an Accountant!” »

How Design Can Be Used to Solve Global Problems

In Global Integration, Social Change on February 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

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?

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Complex Issues

In Complex Systems, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on February 9, 2012 at 9:18 am

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.

Read the entire interview here.

Toward the Global Transition — 2012 and Beyond

In Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change on January 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

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” »

Strategic Frames of the Occupy Movement

In Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on December 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm

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” »

Cultivating Innovation When The Future Is Unknowable

In Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on December 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm

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” »

A Social Innovator’s Guide to Riding Out the Global Transition

In Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change on November 19, 2011 at 3:29 am

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” »

Occupy Wall Street, Swarm Behavior & Self-Organized Criticality

In Complex Systems, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on October 15, 2011 at 3:46 am

If you’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests these last few weeks, you may be surprised by how quickly it spread from a small group of disgruntled youth in New York to a planetary mobilization that is now active in more than 100 cities — all in a few short weeks.  This is an unprecedented ripple of change in local conversations, media coverage, global consciousness, and international solidarity.

My friend and fellow observer of global patterns, Timothy Rayner, describes the Occupy protests as a “swarm movement”, suggesting that we may be in the midsts of an unprecedented pattern of self-organization that wasn’t possible before the internet.  I am inclined to agree with his core thesis and want to suggest that we are observing what complexity researchers call self-organized criticality, defined in the following way: Continue reading “Occupy Wall Street, Swarm Behavior & Self-Organized Criticality” »

Want to Change the World? Study Deep History

In Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change on September 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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” »

Are We Missing A Vital Piece?

In Collaboration, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change, Video Blog on September 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm

What if there was something vital missing in our efforts to address global challenges in the 21st Century?  What if it were simple to create?  And what if all the pieces are ready to be assembled now?

 I’m looking for collaborators, financial sponsors, and an innovative academic institution to create this.  Would you like to be part of it?  Let’s talk…

Understanding Phase Transitions for Social Change

In Complex Systems, Economic Patterns, Global Integration, Social Change on September 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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.

I recently hosted a call with several futures strategists about the nature of phase transitions in social systems.  We met to talk about what is known about phase transitions in physical systems and the lessons they can teach us for promoting cultural shifts in society. Continue reading “Understanding Phase Transitions for Social Change” »

Creating A New Science — Human Interface with Global Change

In Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change, Video Blog on August 26, 2011 at 12:02 am

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” »

Global Revolution in Alternate Reality?

In Collaboration, Economic Patterns, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on August 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Imagine it’s the year 2050 and a vibrant, high-tech global economy is thriving.  We made the transition away from fossil fuels.  Our cities are designed around regional security and multi-layered resilience.  Prosperity is widespread and capitalism has taken a new form that promotes human well-being as its modus operandi.  In other words, we’ve transitioned to a configuration of sustainability and relative stability on a planetary scale.

How did we get here?  It took a revolution. Continue reading “Global Revolution in Alternate Reality?” »

The Great Blind Spot for Sustainability

In Human Behavior, Social Change, Video Blog on August 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Addressing 21st Century challenges will require that we understand how human beings interface with global systems.  I’ve dedicated the last 10 years to the study of Earth System Science and the cognitive sciences to shed light on the Great Blind Spot for Sustainability.  This month I am offering a series of workshops to begin training change agents for the planetary transitions that are unfolding around us.

Video recordings were made of the first session on “Getting the Big Picture.” (Thanks to Kelly Gerling for filming this!)  I’d like to share some of the material we covered with you.

The two videos below offer an introduction to the application of cognitive science to solving 21st Century global challenges — exploring the significance of psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and linguistics and their implications for the transition to sustainability. Continue reading “The Great Blind Spot for Sustainability” »

Laying Foundations for Large-Scale Change

In Human Behavior, Social Change on July 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm

If we are to tackle the major challenges of the 21st Century, we’ll need to address the cultural, political, and psychological drivers of our collective behavior.  Tomorrow I’ll give the first in a series of workshops on How to Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change.  I believe this to be one of the most important topics that we can grapple with together.  The reason for doing this is simple:

Advancing threats to humanity outpace the intensity and scale of behavioral response


I’d like to share with you what we’ll cover in the first session to give you a better sense of how we intend to tackle such a monumental set of issues.  (If you like what you see, consider helping these materials become an open source design manual.)  The following outline shows how the four hour session will be broken down. Continue reading “Laying Foundations for Large-Scale Change” »

How to Be A Resilient Change Agent

In Human Behavior, Social Change on July 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Are you someone who wants to help address the big global challenges looming before us in the 21st Century?  You will need to prepare yourself for a long endeavor if you’re working on climate change, sustainable cities, social entrepreneurship, or global justice.  There are important choices to be made and vital life skills to learn in order to be an effective change agent across your lifetime.

I’ve been preparing a workshop on How to Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change that I’ll give in Seattle later this summer and will emphasize the psychology of resilience in the midst of ongoing turbulence as a vital part of the learning tool kit.  Some of this material may be useful for you in your social change efforts so I am sharing it here.  After all, it’s going to be a bumpy ride and you’re going to need to manage the change process effectively if you want to be happy, healthy, and effective over the long haul. Continue reading “How to Be A Resilient Change Agent” »

Help Create Tools for Social Change!

In Human Behavior, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on July 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm

This guest post was written by Eldan Goldenberg at Sustainable Seattle.

To change the world, we need to persuade one individual after another to change their behaviour.

This can seem like a daunting challenge, but there is a large body of knowledge out there about how to do it.  We at Sustainable Seattle think this is one of the most important challenges facing all of us, so we’re working to share this knowledge with as many people as we can, with classes and handbooks. Continue reading “Help Create Tools for Social Change!” »

Will Compassion Save Humanity?

In Human Behavior, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on June 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I have looked squarely at the most pressing problems confronting humanity — global climate change, mass extinctions, resource depletion, increasing toxicity of our soils, over population, and more — and still I am hopeful.  How can this be?

The answer is that human beings are incredibly resilient creatures.  We are capable of love and beauty unparalleled in the animal kingdom.  And we are wired for empathy.

While studying cognitive science, the cross-cutting field of research dedicated to understanding the human mind, I learned something that has inspired me greatly.  The human brain has within it a set of circuits called mirror neurons that enable us to simulate and re-enact the experiences of others.  I can watch someone eat chocolate and feel stirrings of desire for the subtle combination of bitter and sweet.  And I can also look upon the hungry and feel a grumble in my belly.  This foundational discovery was made by neuroscientists in Italy in the 1990’s.  And it offers the possibility for salvation in the midst of crisis. Continue reading “Will Compassion Save Humanity?” »

Want to Change The World? Study Cognitive Science!

In Human Behavior, Social Change on June 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

For all you change makers, young and old, I offer this advice:

If you want to change the world, study more cognitive science.

When I left grad school almost a decade ago with a strong desire to address climate change and trained as a climate scientist, I knew that another physicist wasn’t going to make it or break it.  The fundamental challenge was and remains large-scale human behavior.  Human civilization is on a crash course with oblivion if we prove incapable of designing our urban landscapes, political systems, and market economies with foundational understandings of:

  • Evolutionary Psychology :: Our deep biological legacy of primal emotions, herding behaviors, brain structures, and more — all that makes us the kind of animal we are today;
  • Cognitive Semantics :: The human mind is fundamentally a “meaning-making machine”.  Changing our cultural narratives will require that we understand (a) how language is processed in the brain; (b) the role of frames and conceptual metaphors in constructing meaning from our bodily experience; and (c) why emotions shape how we reason through the coupling of neurological processes with language comprehension;
  • Cognitive Neuroscience :: To fully understand how human behavior works, we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the different ways our brains process fear, disgust, hope, despair, and the stresses of personal change;
  • Cognitive Anthropology :: Grasping the universals of humanity across cultures will demand that we combine ethnographic research with experimental studies in psychology.  This is how we’ll finally understand the nature of belief in religious communities, the adaptive fit of various cultural ideals with sustainable living, how to collaborate across cultures, and much more. Continue reading “Want to Change The World? Study Cognitive Science!” »

Designer’s Manual for Large-Scale Change

In Collaboration, Human Behavior, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on June 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Last year I gave a workshop on How to Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change that set out to accomplish an ambitious goal — to demonstrate that all of the essential knowledge for designing large-scale social change campaigns exists and can be taught to practitioners from many different backgrounds.

The workshop was such a success that I was asked to give it again, this time as a 3-Part Series breaking down the materials into a set of tools and activities that tailor the content to the particular challenges faced by attendees.  And I realized that this provides an excellent opportunity to share this knowledge more widely with change makers all over the world.  So I have partnered with Sustainable Seattle to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund the creation of a Designer’s Manual for Large-Scale Change.

This video describes the basics of the project:

If you’d like to be part of this, you can register for the workshops (which will be in Seattle late August through mid-September) and contribute to the crowdfunding project.

I look forward to sharing my knowledge about the behavioral, cultural, political, and economic aspects of large-scale social change with you through this exciting process!

A Global Convergence of Social Movements?

In Collaboration, Economic Patterns, Social Change on May 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm

What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?  It’s impossible to say for sure, especially since the collective impacts of human civilization have altered the state of the world at unprecedented scales.  We stand at a cross-roads with an uncertain future.  And we have important decisions to make.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a promising path that lies before us.  It is a road we can travel down if enough of us choose to do so.  Imagine if the major social movements of the world — sustainability, global justice, world federalism, corporation reform, open collaboration, and social finance — were to congeal into a new way of being.  There are trends that suggest this is already happening.  We can help amplify this convergence.  Or we can suppress it. Continue reading “A Global Convergence of Social Movements?” »

The Key Ingredient for Revolutions

In Human Behavior, Social Change on May 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Earlier this year, a wave of populist uprisings swept across Northern African and the Middle East.  Regimes fell, new governments were put in place, and questions lingered about why some countries initiated revolutions and others did not.  Of particular note was the observation that income disparities are greatest in the United States, and yet there is no sign of revolution on the horizon.

The American people have lost faith in our cultural and political leaders.  Public confidence in governing institutions — corporations, the mainstream media, the federal government, and banks — is at an all-time low.  Living wages are scarce and corruption is widely recognized in the electoral process.  And the final bulwark of democracy fell last year with the Supreme Court decision with the Orwellian name “Citizens United” that granted corporations unlimited access to influence elections through direct advertising.

So why haven’t we seen a revolution in the United States?  What drives a country over the edge?  How can analysts mark the trends that convey a structural civil unrest that culminates in political transformation?  There are excellent frameworks for the stages a social movement goes through (like this one), including a tipping point where new behaviors go mainstream and shift the scales.  But what precursors tell us that such a tipping point is nearby? Continue reading “The Key Ingredient for Revolutions” »

Barriers for Behavior Change and Sustainability

In Human Behavior, Social Change, Video Blog on April 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

In this video blog I explain why it has proven so difficult to incorporate insights from the cognitive and behavioral sciences into the sustainability movement. Barriers exist in the idea adoption process due to the threatening nature of this vital knowledge.

We have to recognize and overcome issues like this as time grows short and the global need for strategic engagement and design only increases.  Failure to do so will result in sustainable solutions not being implemented in time.  And the consequences are just too serious to allow this to happen.

How Social Innovation Really Works

In Economic Patterns, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on April 16, 2011 at 12:17 am

We often hear stories that celebrate the heroic exploits of exceptional individuals.  Bill Gates creates a software empire.  J.R.R. Tolkien writes a masterpiece that defines the fantasy genre.  Mohandas Gandhi brings the British Empire to its knees.  These narratives frame the nature of innovation in a manner that blinds us to the web of social systems that actually make big changes possible.

If we are to innovate on the scales necessary to make the transition to a sustainable world, we have to understand how social innovation REALLY works.  In this post, I will offer a framework that reveals as much as the Hero Myth conceals in the hope that you will become more effective at driving social change in your own work. Continue reading “How Social Innovation Really Works” »

5 Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change

In Human Behavior, Social Change on April 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Addressing the biggest challenges like global warming, political corruption, and a broken economic system will entail significant amounts of large-scale behavior change.  As Change Makers we will have to learn the basics of the cognitive and behavioral sciences in order to design campaigns that result in significant changes in social norms, community priorities, and personal behaviors. Continue reading “5 Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change” »

A Change Maker’s Guide to Economic Paradigms

In Economic Patterns, Social Change on April 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm

We are in the midst of a collapsing economic paradigm.  This is evident in the widespread wealth inequality, absence of strong civic institutions, corrosive infusion of money into our broken democracy, and a deteriorated environment ravaged by a profound blindness to our impacts on the larger world.

As Change Makers, it is our job to understand the patterns of economic systems so we can participate in the creation of the next economy — one that must embody ecological principles if we are to survive on the Earth. Continue reading “A Change Maker’s Guide to Economic Paradigms” »

Designing A School for Change Makers

In Social Change on March 28, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Imagine if there were schools you could go to and learn how to catalyze large-scale social change for the betterment of humanity.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were programs that train you to be a Change Maker?  In these turbulent times, there are so many big changes unfolding around us that we’re going to need people who know how to spread good ideas, work well in teams, and remain effective in the midst of chaos.

Update 1 :: Help Us Build It!

There have been so many enthusiastic responses of “I want to be a part of this!” that I’ve created a Google Group to host discussions about actually building a school like this.  Join us here.

Update 2 :: A Design Manual for Change Makers

Since writing this post I have partnered with Sustainable Seattle to offer a series of workshops on large-scale behavior change.  We’re also launching an open collaborative project to create a Design Manual for Large-Scale Change.  Help us make it happen here!

I’d like to build one.  Having done education design work in the past, I’d want to include the following subjects: Continue reading “Designing A School for Change Makers” »

The Various Roles for Social Change

In Social Change on March 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Want to be a change agent?  You’ll need to understand the different roles involved.  Drawing upon Everett Rogers’ theory for Diffusion of Innovation, I’d like to share the model for how different people contribute to the change process.  This web of relationships represents the way that change really happens. Continue reading “The Various Roles for Social Change” »

What is Chaotic Ripple?

In Social Change on March 21, 2011 at 10:32 am

Right now, there are unprecedented changes happening in the world.  We are in the midst of a global transition from an 8,000 year period of agrarian life (largely defined by growth, conquest, and the consolidation of power) to a new epoch that requires open collaboration and steady-state systems if human civilization is to remain a part of the planet’s ecosystems. Continue reading “What is Chaotic Ripple?” »