Reports from the Knowledge Labs about our recent findings, research topics, and interviews with lifestyle leaders who are creating their own futures.

How to stimulate your own powers of foresight. Consider the following thought provokers. Ask yourself, in these categories what are the brand new trends and forces? Which are the ones growing in importance? Which current forces are loosing their steam? Which have peaked or are reversing themselves? Which are the "wildcards" about to disrupt us in the future? POLITICAL AND TECHNICAL thought for food: Electronics, Materials, Energy, Fossil, Nuclear, Alternative, Other, Manufacturing (techniques), Agriculture, Machinery and Equipment, Distribution, Transportation (Urban, Mass, Personal, Surface, Sea, Subsurface, Space), Communication (Printed, Spoken, Interactive, Media), Computers (Information, Knowledge, Storage & Retrieval, Design, Network Resources), Post-Cold War, Third World, Conflict (Local, Regional, Global), Arms Limitation, Undeclared Wars, Terrorism, Nuclear Proliferation, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Governments (More/Less Power and Larger or Smaller Scale), Taxes, Isms: Nationalism, Regionalism, Protectionism, Populism, Cartels, Multinational Corporations, Balance of Trade, Third Party Payments, Regulations (OSHA, etc.) Environmental Impact, U.S. Prestige Abroad. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC Food for thought: Labor Movements, Unemployment / Employment Cycles, Recession, Employment Patterns, Work Hours / Schedules, Fringe Benefits, Management Approaches, Accounting Policies, Productivity, Energy Costs, Balance of Payments, Inflation, Taxes, Rates of Real Growth, Distribution of Wealth, Capital Availability and Costs, Reliability of Forecasts, Raw Materials, Availability and Costs, Global versus National Economy, Market versus Planned Economies, Generations: Y, X, Boomers, Elderly, Urban vs. Rural Lifestyles, Affluent vs. Poor, Neighborhoods and Communities, Planned or Organic Growth. Got Knowledge?

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The Journal of 2020 Foresight
Saturday, August 17, 2002  

Where’s the Real Rock When A River Runs Through It?

Chapter One: Basecamp

By Steve Howard, CKO
The Knowledge Labs

Table of Contents
Chapter One: Basecamp
Chapter Two: The Ridge
Chapter Three: The Outpost
Chapter Four: The Tribal Territories

“Think of a river: smooth, crystalline, sand-bottomed, sandy-shored, slow, steady-flowing. If someone said to you, 'Look, I want you to get from this side of the river to the other side,' it wouldn't be much of a challenge. All you would need to do is find a boat and a way to power the boat. The point is to cross a river like that doesn't take much anticipation, because all the information you need is unambiguously in front of you. Now, let's think about a different river, a highly turbulent one. It is filled with whirlpools and eddies and changes in the current. Because of its turbulence, it has churned up a lot of dirt from the bottom so that the water is opaque. It is filled with boulders that can't be seen. The shores on both sides have been erode by the turbulence and are rocky and irregular. If someone asks you to cross this river, it is fundamentally a different proposition. Here, in fact, anticipation will make a big difference in your success. If you can anticipate the rocks below the water, if you can anticipate the whirlpools and the changes in the current, if you can anticipate the landing on the other shore, you have a much better chance of getting across that river successfully.”

Joel Barker, “Future Edge”

Journal of 2020 Foresight: Over the past few years you’ve been able to collect a wealth of experience – and knowledge – as individuals, teams, and leaders journey from Basecamp to the Ridge, to the Outpost, and, finally into the Tribal Territories.

You list a learning expedition comparing The David Letterman generation to the Bob Hope generation. And, other expeditions investigating shifts in technologies, economics, social trends and political forces.

Pathfinder: Right, we talked a little about identifying transitions between old rules and new rules, old games and new games, old playing fields and new playing fields.

J2020F: Can you give us some examples?

PF: In the summer of 2002, what started out as pockets of thunderstorms across the US and, perhaps across the planet, morphed into a sequel to that blockbuster movie, “The Perfect Storm.”

A turning point here.

A turning point there.

And, then a swirling weather pattern pulling them all together into one massive breakpoint – one big vicious cycle feeding on itself.

J2020F: Go on.

Trailblazer: You don’t have to look too far. As Reed Johnson
asked: “Wasn't this supposed to be the season the American economy threw off its lingering 9/11 jitters and high-tech blues, so we could all get back to making money hand over fist?”

Explorer: It’s the economy, stupid!

The S&P 500 has dropped 35% from its record high in March 2000. For a drop of that magnitude, you have to go back to the ‘70s -- it dived 48% in 1973-74.

Eagle: Right. Back when we suffered through the Arab oil embargo, runaway inflation. It culminated in Nixon's resignation.

J2020F: We’ve been monitoring the pundits and the ‘70s keep coming up as a comparison to this economy’s performance. Many question whether we’ve lost a generation of individual investors as in “Great Crash of 1929” or en masse as in the 1970s.

PF: The patterns we see break the past periods, for comparison purposes, into ’99 to 2002 – the millennium passage; ’95 to ’99 – the IT productivity push; the mid-80s to early ‘90s – the quality revolution; and the late-‘70s to mid-‘80s – boomer innovation.

TB: For general comparison purposes we’ve been segmenting by generations, as well.

J2020F: By generations?

TB: Right. Some expeditions have been using the boomers and their family generations as a touch point.

Their parents – the Bob Hope generation -- have been moving into the latest stage of “elderly.”

Their brothers and sisters represent the three waves of birth from 1946 to 1964 moving through their 40s and 50s.

Their children range in age somewhere between 30 and mid-teens.

LoEa: Well, maybe it’s the boomer extended family, stupid!

J2020F: Instead of “what’s-good-for-General Motors-is-good-for the country,” maybe it’s “what’s-good-for-the-boomer tribe-is-good-for-the-economy, dummy?”

LoEx: As in Economics for Dummies?! Not bad.

TB: Well, you also frame the 20th Century with those generations. OB Hardison, one of my favorite authors described how in the last century the visibility of the real world had been altered.

PF: Wasn’t he the one who connected the dots by teasing out the dynamic relationships between technology and the American culture? He viewed cultural innovations through the lens of nature, history, language, art and human evolution, right?

TB: We have a learning expedition forming to explore his premise, as well as, McLuhan’s on technology and media.

J2020F: Can you give us an example?

TB: Hardison said fundamental changes in each of these areas since the beginning (of the 20th century) have altered the visibility of the real world.

J2020F: By that he meant, what?

TB: Hardison says, "If you begin with the ancient idea of art as imitation, it is clear that modern painting and sculpture are imitating several kinds of experience.

J2020F: As opposed to what, something “really real” -- like this rock? A rock by any other name … is still a rock.

TB: But is it? Not any more thanks to science in the 20th century.

J2020F: What?

TB. Hardison wrote, “A rock can be the object of geological, chemical, environmental, mineralogical, physical, mechanical, or climatological studies, and each of these modes of analysis has its more specialized subdivisions. Each of the modes is valid, and in each of them an image of the rock is produced that is different from the images produced by the others.

Where is the real rock?”

J2020F: So, this rock “disappears” through over specialization.

TB: And that happened in the 20th century by extending our senses through massive magnification – “microscopes-on-steroids” in one direction and “telescopes-on-steroids” in another direction.

J2020F: Which yields whole new schools of thought.

TB: For another example, in 1920 TV didn’t even exist. By 1980 television sets were out there in the world wherever you looked, he said. So the new concept, even the vocabularies and images framing the new innovation, no longer seem real to older culture.

J2020F: The car – the automobile – couldn’t be thought of as the horseless carriage.

PF: Or, as McLuhan wrote, each new technology or media extends one of our senses beyond what it had been used to. So the “common sense” – that sensory balance – is thrown out of wack.

Explorer: Which means a person growing up in a world without television sees and senses things differently than a person born after the 1980s.

TB: Exactly. Hardison used TV to illuminate a principle of cultural innovation. He said, “If an innovation is basic, simply because it is so, a generation after it has been introduced, it becomes part of the shape of consciousness, you might say, rather than the content of consciousness.

PF: That’s why TV seemed such an amazing phenomenon to the generation in the 1940s. What did he call it?

TB: He said it was seen as “an amazing triumph of human ingenuity and pregnant with social implications.”

Eagle: The boob tube, giving rise to cocooning couch potatoes. I guess you could say its influence has been as great as was predicted.

TB: Though not in the way they imagined. Why? The important lesson, of course, is that change is always subjective.

J2020F: But, when a new technology is being used to do something more easily or efficiently or better than what is already being done without it – how is that subjective?

TB: This can be called 'classic' use of the technology. The alternative is to use the capacities of the new technology to do previously impossible things, and this second use can be called 'expressive.'

Eagle: But, a truly new technology refuses to stay classic.

TB: That’s right. Even if it was first created for a classic function, it eventually becomes expressive and reshapes the function.

J2020F: So back to the car. The success of the automobile created so many new conditions that society had to be reshaped to accommodate them.

PF: In spite of the best of early intentions, within a few years after its commercial introduction the automobile ceased to be classic and became expressive.

TB: Back then it was seen as the center of modern life – the new rock. But, now that it has been assimilated and our culture transformed by it, Hardison says it moved to the periphery, “it is invisible at the same time.”

PF: Hence the title of his book, “Disappearing through the Skylight.”

Eagle: Marshal McLuhan observed that in our Western culture, in that reductionist 20st century Hardison examined, our left-brain dominated our view of the world.

J2020F: Let’s see, if I remember my left-brain versus right-brain functions correctly. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. It also controls language and logical activities -- things that happen in a specific order.

Eagle: Robert Ornstein says, “The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. It directs spatial, simultaneous things -- which happen all at once -- and artistic activities. These differences probably appeared when our ancestors began to make and use symbols (both language and art)."

J2020F: Didn’t he also say it is the evolution, less than 4 million years old, of the two sides of the brain that makes us “distinctively human, distinctively creative, and distinctly isolated from our mental processes.

Eagle: Yes. The left hemisphere brain’s advantage has been to focus our attention on the figure, while ignoring the much larger background – or the framework that provides the context for meaning.

PF: We have habitually conceptualized our world within proportional space while striving to conform to measurable facts.

Eagle: The downside, then, is dominant left-brain mode of thinking favors only one of our senses, excluding all others.

J2020F: And, that’s bad when society experiences new innovations?

PF: Why? Because, their impact goes unnoticed by the left-brain since it is the background that changes first.

J2020F: So, the shift in background, first noticed by the artists and creative people, feels like the turbulent river has churned up a lot of dirt from the bottom so that the water is opaque. It’s as if our common sense fails us and we lack the clarity we once had.

PF: That’s right. The extraordinary changes triggered in the pace, pattern, or scale of our lives slips in below the surface, hidden from view. When grasped by the creative minority, the entrepreneurs among them capitalize on the new rules, game and playing field before anyone else can.

Got Knowledge?
Copyright ©2002 - 2006 Aarnaes Howard Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.

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