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.
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” »
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.
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!” »
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?” »
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.
In this video I offer a definition of open innovation and explain how it can be used to create “interaction architectures” that unleash the wisdom of crowds to solve previously intractable problems. Open innovation is an emerging arena for best practices in collaborative design, business strategy, and social change.
I’ve argued elsewhere that open collaboration will be a central component of all emerging business sectors and technology markets in the new economy. I also see open innovation as providing a pathway to solving the climate crisis through the rapid deployment of ideas and technologies in an economic system built around shared ownership and interactive solution-making.
I think I’ve discovered the solution to climate change, or more accurately, the paradigm through which innovative solutions will be widely implemented around the world that reduce our collective impact on the environment. No it is not a “tech fix” in the form of new gadgets that people use. Nor is it a piece of legislation that places a price signal on carbon emissions (although that remains essential as part of the restructuring of our economic systems as we transition to sustainable models).
I’ve dedicated a lot of research over the last few years to understanding the deep trends that will define the next economy. As I’ve written elsewhere, the global economy goes through a creative-destructive cycle every 50 years. And now we’re in the midst of a collapsing paradigm that is soon to be replaced by something new.
In this article, I will explain what the new paradigm is and how it will impact every sector of society — including business, government, education, and basic research. The old economic paradigm was a service economy built on the digital communications revolution that began in the early 1970’s. It is winding down now as financial capital has decoupled from productive capital and the global speculative bubble has burst. The financial meltdown of 2008 had many causes, but its most important result is that our major societal institutions have stalled out and the funding models that drove the whole system no longer work properly.
This systemic shutdown requires a new paradigm for economic production, one that has been incubating in the minds of lead innovators for several years now and is just beginning to get recognized as the next model for the burgeoning new economy.
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” »
We are in the midst of a revolution where self-organized crowds have begun to displace entrenched powers as the primary driver of social change in the world. At the heart of this revolution is the capacity for people to easily find like-minded peers and collaborate using social media tools. Crowdfunding has grown in popularity as a way for artists and entrepreneurs to directly engage their fans and invite them to help make their projects a success. The most visible element in this process is the money that changes hands. Yet, there are much more interesting (and potentially transformative) things going on that warrant special attention. Continue reading “Why Crowdfunding Isn’t Really About Money” »
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 »