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
Tuesday, April 22, 2003  

Agents: Me Go-Go Fast

Chapter Two: The Ridge

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

“The cost of oil dependence has never been so clear. What had long been largely an environmental issue has suddenly become a deadly serious strategic concern. Oil is an indulgence we can no longer afford. Not just because it will run out or turn the planet into a sauna, but because it inexorably leads to global conflict. Enough. What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power. The technology is at a tipping point. Terrorism provides political urgency. Consumers are ready for an alternative. From Detroit to Dallas, even the oil establishment is primed for change.”

Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, “How Hydrogen Can Save America,” Wired April 2003

Journal of 2020 Foresight: You’ve described the extreme Agents
as charter members of the One Percent Solution club. Which seems like an oxymoron to me.

Trailblazer: I prefer to describe them as “paradoxy-morons.” They’re dumb like-a-fox, often looking at a well-established, mature approach from an offbeat perspective. And what they notice is how limited the traditional way solves the really complex problems.

J2020F: So they don’t identify with the keepers of the tradition – Associates on the one hand, and Academics on the other hand.

TB: That’s right. Both of those groups gravitate to different versions of the Ninety Percent Solution clubs. Academics prefer to distance themselves from the action so as to remain objective. They follow a well-articulated and tested methodology through which they filter all changing conditions. Agents represent the new and untested. The new science, if you will, in direct contrast to the old science.

J2020F: And what about Associates?

TB: As one of my colleagues says, “They drank the Kool-Aid.” They’ve digested the mission of their organization and it resides in their blood stream. When you ask them what they do, they almost always tell you the organization they work for. They’re keepers of the social system – the formal and informal culture. They may change jobs and careers, but all within the same organization.

J2020F: What do you mean by One Percent Solution?

TB: You’re probably familiar with a bell-shaped curve. If you split it in half, on the left-side you have an S-shaped growth path of acceleration. On the right you have the mirror opposite of an “S.” Instead of growth, you find accelerating decline.

J2020F: So, the threat to the 90% mature organization – enjoying their top of the bell -- is the freefall into the valley of despair?

TB: Right. They’ve sustained their innovations from the past, but now their offering is such a commodity that they can’t prop up their perch any longer. If they haven’t invested in enough 1% ideas – organic growth – at the right time, they’ll miss the benefits of accelerating up the next S-curve (the left side).

J2020F: And, extreme Agents, then supply those 1% ideas, right?

TB: That’s right. Joel Barker broke down the lifecycle of a new paradigm into 3 phases along the s-curve – A, B, and C. Likewise, Harry Dent described the phases as innovation, growth, and maturity. Since the 1970s Dent has successfully forecasted how specialized products, services and technologies move from small niche markets into the mainstream.

J2020F: Agents appear in the innovation, A - phases?

TB: Yes, Dent’s contributed a way to better predict when to invest. His work says the time it takes for an Agent to move an idea from a .1% idea to a 1% prototype, and finally to a 10% niche in the marketplace (Innovation), is roughly the same amount of time it takes for that niche to accelerate up the curvilinear curve of market acceptance through 50% to 90% (Growth).

J2020F: And the same time for a mature market to reach saturation?

TB: Exactly. You can enjoy the benefits of being the king of the hill for roughly the same amount of time it took you to move through either of the first two phases.

J2020F: So maturity, from 90% to 99.9% is equal to the amount of time it took to move from 10% though 50% to 90% acceptance?

TB: And, is in turn equal to the amount of time to move from .1% through 1% to 10% market acceptance.

J2020F: I take it that Agents come in several flavors.

TB: That’s right. They may be change agents in organizations or they may be living a more entrepreneurial lifestyle. They collaborate in non-organizational federations, networks, or strategic alliances. Some are inventors. Others are artists, writers, consultants, salespeople, and entrepreneurs.

J2020F: What do they all have in common?

TB: The faith that they have what it takes to bring something new into being. They’re drawn to high risk. They’re capable of anticipating something new and act decisively to establish a new market, industry, technology, or a new scientific discipline.

J2020F: They are what Joel Barker calls the paradigm pioneers? They champion a new paradigm with the potential of resetting the established way of doing things back to zero?

TB: Yes. In early 2003, the author of “A New Kind of Science,” Stephen Wolfram, fits your description.

J2020F: In what way?

TB: Here’s how “Wired” described him for their 4th Annual Rave Awards – in both the Author and Renegade-of-the-Year categories – “Wolfram’s theory that virtually everything – from the patterns on a seashell to the universe itself – is the result of simple instructions is revolutionary.

If Wolfram is correct, nature builds complexity much like a computer program, and his view are likely to change how science is conducted in the lab and taught in the classroom.”

J2020F: Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Renegade Award given by the readers?

TB: No, you are right. Here’s his profile, according to Wired – “Stephen Wolfram has never been bound by a sense of what’s possible.

He earned a PhD in physics at age 20, and created Mathematica, the premier technical computing software system, before he was 30. With the publication of his epic book, A New Kind of Science, Wolfram has set out to rattle the foundations of research, in the tradition of Galileo and Newton.”

J2020F: So Wolfram fits the description of an extreme Agent.

TB: He’s an AGENT-Agent. Later we’ll get to the other three types of Agents – AGENT-Athlete, AGENT-Associate, and AGENT-Academic, but for now let's continue with our "Running Together" (Athlete) scenario.

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

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