“A Future By Design...
wall graphic by Alica Bramlett

...Not Default”
time lags and implementation cycles

Link: part 1 • Link: part 2 • link: part 4 • Link: part 5
In Part Two of this Paper I did my best to build the case that Humanity faces a crises of, for all practical purposes, of unbounded opportunity mixed with a great variety of possible pitfalls on the path to this new reality; and, that our present social design/decision and governance processes are clearly not up to this challenge. This is a Thesis which I first stumbled upon in 1961, developed in 1974 and acted on as co-founder of MG Taylor in 1980. The many aspects of this Thesis, from research, to design, to creating systems of response and the articulation of “Worthy Projects” [link: worthy problems] which have consumed my attention for 30 years. It has taken this time to reach proof-of-concept and to build the beginning technical and organizational capacity to launch the first steps of an appropriate response to the condition which I “discovered” in 1961. This effort has required an almost fanatical focus and dedication which has demanded as close to a 24/7/365 effort as it is physically possible to sustain. It has also required a social/business entrepreneurial effort of great length and personal financial and social risk on my part and on the part of a small team which has stayed dedicated to the outcome through several cycles of good and bad times [link: interation 6]. While I can derive a certain satisfaction in what has been accomplished by our small band of “Cathedral Builders,” it is impossible to say at this point if any of it has mattered at all. It cannot be predicted if it will be possible to judge success or failure in the near future. Such is the nature of efforts and ventures which are technical, social and businesses innovations with goals that take decades to accomplish. The journey, however, has had it own rewards. Shaving, which requires looking in the mirror, does not hold great terror for me and during the few hours I sleep I actually sleep very well. If this be the result of peace-of-mind or exhaustion I will leave to speculation. At any rate, I have given this effort all that can be given and worked as smart as I know how. It is because of this dedication to a very long term and broad outcome and, the exclusive focus on creating the technical means to it, that the effort, itself, has a certain value in the pursuit of understanding how social innovation comes about [link: the art and science of 21st century organizational transformation]. The ability to judge success or failure may still be illusive but there is no denying that the venture has reached the point where it has a certain life of its own. Its own experience and history is illustrious of a generality larger than itself. In thinking about things of this nature, it is always a good idea to keep time and scale in perspective [link: powers of ten].
I may be the best or worst designer, knowledge-worker and entrepreneur in the world so there is no way to know if this generational effort - from ReDesigning the Future to the 06 Forum WorkPlace - was bungled every step along the way and that is why it took so long; or, that it was actually pursued in an effective way and the time spent is actually a reflection of the rate by which society can absorb an idea that challenges it at its core. I can point out that Drexler [link: eric drexler bio], with nanotechnology, has experienced a similar timing [link: eric drexler site]. There are other examples. In the late 60s when NASA asked for studies to document the technology transfer benefit to society from the Moon Program, the research companies cited, consistently, that the technology employed had its roots in the 20s and 30s. A 30 year period - idea to demonstration. Now, another generation later, the US is talking about returning to the Moon, a private effort has reached the threshold of space [link: spaceshipone] and the dream of exploring and commercializing space once again emerges [link: space tourism or bust]. This time we may be capable of doing it and we may be entering a period when doing so may be necessary in order to promote our well being and prosperity. Of course there has been benefit from the beginning with the space effort. The boost to technology development and acceleration to ubiquity is real. There has been benefit from several thousand DesignShops also - but ubiquity of a new way of working remains ahead. This two generational pattern can be seen time and again. Even in the era of rapid change. The change is not only because society is adapting faster - it is. it is primarily driven by the mass of change which is taking place and in some areas, like technology, it is clearly accelerating with multiple tipping points and synergies coming into play. Yet I point out, the vast uses of the computer, until very recently, have been “automating the 19th century” - true knowledge augmentation is still ahead. Ask Doug Engelbart about this; or, go back and read As We May Think [link: matt taylor idiap presentation - bush]. The computer is just now approaching the capacities envisioned by the early pioneers of the 40s and 50s. For an interesting article on both the possible social consequenses of disruptive technologies and the generational issues read Damien Broderick [link: cultural dominates and differential mnt uptake]. Even in the area of consumer electronics the same two generational cycle can be seen. The May 23, 2005 cover of TIME is graced with a picture of Bill gates holding Microsoft’s new X-Box. The Article has a graphic by Ed Gabel titled “From Geek To Chic in 33 Years” - it diagrams the history of computer games from 1972 through 2005 highlighting the significate benchmarks alone the way. The Time pieces goes on to say:
“LETS NOT MISS WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE. Microsoft, a company known primarily for making highly profitable business software, has put a box in you living room. It entered your house under the humble pretense of being a game machine, a toy for the kids, but it just ate your CD player and your DVD player, and it’s looking hungrily at your telephone. It’s all up in your media cabinet. It’s talking to your iPod, your digital camera, your TV, your stereo, your pc, your credit card and the Internet. It has created a miniature electronic ecosystem inside your home, with itself at the center.”
For amusement you may want to read my description of CyberCon conceived in 1974, based on my 60s work, and written for an unpublished book in 1979:
“A CyberCon is an integrated device that incorporates what are now the separate components of: television, stereo, telephone, copy machine. mini-computer, micro-film and video camera/storage/playback system, drafting, typing and book-binding equipment, modeling tools, and more. The home CyberCon will be directly connected to the great information processing centers of the world: industry, government, educational institutions, museums, and libraries. The entire knowledge of humankind will be at each individual’s fingertips - at home.”
For the background of this idea go to my article on CyberCon [link: cybercon].
Now, in 2006, the expectation is that gaming and serious modeling will merge and, ultimately the boundaries between virtual reality and physical reality will blur and become indistinguishable - perhaps in 25 to 30 years - right on schedule. I suppose this is as good a definition of ubiquity as can be had.
Another example of the two generation lag is to be found in the idea of energy from space. In the 1970s interest in Space Colonies [link: gerard o’neill] was coupled with the transmission of solar space generated energy [link: solar power satellite] being broadcast to Earth for earth side human consumption which was a concept of Peter Glaser [link: peter glaser]. The idea received a great deal of attention yet little funding. Now, India is seriously looking at developing the capability to do this and serious investment is being made [link: india - space solar energy generation]. Again, a generation (if you will forgive the pun) has passed from credible proposals to real development. And, a generation will be required to achieve global ubiquity of this technology to whatever extent this proves profitable. For my critique of O’Neill’s concept see my interview with Norie Huddle for the L5 Society which I believe remained unpublished [link: matt taylor l_5 interview] - for being too dull, too obvious or too critical, I do not know.
The premise of the design economy is that design is the primary value added component in the process of creating an organization, service or product. I do not believe we have achieved a design economy yet as rigorous design processes are still limited to narrow areas of the human enterprise. Organizational design, for example is mostly a fantasy being largely the practice of rearranging existing elements with little original thought and deep engineering. Design is the most human of capabilities and the most difficult to automate. It should not be assumed, however, that design will always remain the province of human beings [link: john koza - the invention machine]. Not only will machines get smarter, long before they become truly intelligent, so will the interface between human and machine. I am more interested in what what a smart human and a smart machine can do together than I am about what either can do alone. I agree with Kurzweil that the day will come - and not that far in the future - when the boundaries between human and machine and physical reality and virtual reality will someday disappear [link: a rapture for the rest of us]. In the short term, just the incremental steps to this state will produce startling results. We went through the “information” then “knowledge” economies in a flash. The “design” economy may well turn out to be as transient. It is not easy, upon reflection, to project any kind of “economy” that remotely resembles economics, as we understand the subject today, more than another 15 or 20 years into the future. In 1988, I was asked to write a 25 year Scenario. To my surprise I ended up with the title being “the end of economics.” It was not a popular scenario nor what the client, being a financial services company, wanted to hear. I once had a potential investor, in the early 80s, ask me if they invested in MG Taylor if I would make them very rich. My answer was “yes, but by the time I do you will not care!” I have not changed my mind. It is difficult to wrap one’s head and paradigm around the kind of world that Humanity is capable of making. This does not mean that there will not be challenges for humans to meet in any future no matter how positive the circumstances. There actually may be more of them. Removing traditional constraints does not necessarily teach us how to live. The last 150 years of human history should be convincing of this. I think that if our ancestors could see us now and how we squander resources and opportunities, while fighting ages old no-longer-relevant battles, I think they would shout “what is your problem.” Those who follow us, assuming there are any, I am sure will look upon these times in disbelief. The fact is, if a single individual in our existing society today acted as we do as a society, s/he would be locked up - declared mentally incompetent and dangerous to self and society. There really is no question about this. The Human race, as a whole, is acting in a way that only can be described as clinically insane. Every precept of moral and ethical behavior that we do not always follow - but at lease subscribe to; every principle of economy which we preach; the very rules which we take for granted in regards the proper conduct of the individual; are being violated by our major institutions and the collective conduct of our species. Do you think you could get a loan to improve your house if you managed your property the way we are “managing” Planet Earth? You would be told that you are not a proper “owner” and your collateral is inadequate.
All this said, it is still appropriate to look at the “design economy” because this does identify many aspects of the era we are in. The 06 Davos Theme was “the Design Imperative,” the selection of which, touched on two important thoughts: that we should not get too caught up in the tag “design economy” (and thus, trapped in it) but that there is an imperative to bring good design and effective design processes to everything we do on all scales - from products, the creation of organizations to the global agenda itself. The Davos WorkPlace - the part of the Forum in which the MG Taylor ValueWeb participated - had the theme “the future by design - not default” a concept which I coined in 1975. Again, notice the one generational time lag. A course given for about 30 people in 1974-75 to an environment for leading CEOs of major corporations at a prestigious global Forum in 30 years. One could think of this as success except it is important to remember is that all that has been accomplished is getting the idea to a significant level of social acceptability and the making of a process which can facilitate intelligent dialog of the issues appropriate for such a focus. Ubiquity is in the future and yet to be secured. The cost of this has been a generation of time and the problems which this effort was intended to address have become far greater and more buried in a morass of ultimately insignificant distractions. Yet, MG Taylor is no longer a lone voice in the wilderness in regards the notion that design can be - and needs to be - the major epistemology in the creation of enterprise. There are others, IDEO [link: ideo] being a major one and this has long been the ideas embedded in GBN [link: global business network]. This idea is getting very popular and hopefully will avoid the tenancy to have its 15 minutes fame on the way to obscurity. We use ideas up quickly in our society even as action remains slow. In this regard, perhaps the Forum will decide to stay with this theme long enough for its full implications to be explored and understood - 2006 just scratched the surface of the issue. It would be tragic for design competency to become a clichè before it has the chance of becoming a valuable social tool.

August 24, 2008 note:

In 2008, the focus of the WEF Annual Meeting was COLLABORATION. Goto this link For a video profiling participant experiences at the the WorkSpace and my comments about MG Taylor’s process for bringing collaborative methods to the World Economic Forum. Once more, a 28 year span from the introduction of this system and method to its transfer and broad use to a major global forum. With systemic issues, by definition, design has to be collaborative if requisite variety is to be achieved.

It is necessary, when talking about a future by “design not default” to dispel some false assumptions about the nature of design and the design process. First, most think of design in terms of products and then usually only the superficial aspects of how they look. As important as this application of design is, it is perhaps the least utilized in actual fact. Design has become associated with fashion and commercial artifacts to the extent that its major applications are obscured. It is not common to think of a social system as “designed” but of course it is. If our social systems are designed as well as most products are - or not - is another matter I will leave to your judgment. A constitution is a design for a social system. It functions like the algorithms of a technical system which have to determined before coding can begin. The heart of engineering is design which has to take place before final calculations can be applied. A business strategy is a design as is a curriculum of study. Also, design is commonly thought of as a disciple of an individual or small team who impose their knowledge and point of view to make a predetermined result. Of course, complex systems cannot be designed this way and it is a disaster when someone tries this approach in their making. Complex systems are commonly recognized today as being emergent and therefore not subject to design which is incorrectly believed to be limited to linier and directive methods. Because complexity cannot be accomplished by the individualistic “heroic” model of design, the default assumption is that complex issues are not subject to rigorous design processes. This is a mistake. In the first place, a real design process is always emergent even if it is rarely understood as such. The popular single-heroic-model of design is a product of ignorance and self-serving reporting - not science. It is the direct consequence of our social structure which requires this kind of effort to overcome resistance - an effort which few individuals are crazy enough to invest. Also, product design and architectural projects are much more complex than is commonly understood and require sophisticated collaboration to be successfully executed. Collaboration is not to be compared to mere cooperation which is the goal of most 20th century corporations. So called group work, which fails to achieve real collaboration, cannot be taken as a effective model of the idea of true teamwork. Complex systems are different in kind compared to simple systems (although few systems are as simple as many like to believe). However, the design processes required for very large scale complex systems and projects are not different in basic kind from an individual’s design processes only in the scale and the time required for their realization which requires a radically different configuration of the process architecture employed. This is necessary so that the law of requisite variety can be satisfied. GroupGenius® is a real phenomenon and can be employed to accomplish design tasks of great complexity. This is accomplished by organizing a community of work to operate in the same way that a brain does. I mean this literally - not metaphorically. These insights are the heart of the Taylor Method which can be thought of an operating system (OS) for groups. It is more than this but this explanation is close enough for our purpose here. Complex design is achieved through the proper use of iteration and recursion in a process architecture [link: emergence] structured to create strong memory [link: 22 aspects of memory] in a diverse and distributed network of individual “nodes.” With this approach, it is possible to become requisite with change and complexity - not overwhelmed by them. As such, a group can function much as a carver with a piece of wood: intention, will, mind, wood, hands, knife engage so that something spontaneous and new can emerge - on one hand as intended; on the other, something unexpected and full of surprise. It takes years of thought and practice to create the skill of the carver - the carving is emergent. The environment in which a design process takes place is a powerful influence and is almost always ignored. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I am describing the physical conditions necessary for the phenomena of GroupGenius to exist and to be requisite with a worthy challenge [link: worthy problems] in an complex social economic/environment.
In addition to rethinking what design is and how it should be employed there are also several false assumptions about “creativity” which have to be dispelled. It is thought to be unique and rare. How each individual exercises their design talent is unique, however, the existence of design talent in our society is not rare it is, in fact quite common. It is the structure of society which (still!) represses this innate, repressed talent while, now, demanding it. Design ability is a natural quality of human-being. It is also believed that individual creativity and group creativity are at odds. Again false. The structure of the environment and process in which people are asked to work is what is being observed when people lament the apparent lack of creativity in the workplace or their society. Put people in the right environment, and their true capabilities emerge. Yes, it takes time. In most cases, a matter of minutes, for some a few hours. The rare hold-outs may need a few days. Creativity does not need to be taught - it must be first released. Once it is free and exercised, the appropriate principles and processes can be taught - and this is useful. Teaching creativity and promoting it - asking people to practice it - while not allowing the kind of organizational structure necessary for it, is immoral. Better to pull wings off of butterflies while laughing hysterically because that is what such a policy really is and what a depressing number of organizations are now doing.
I do not make these assertions from theory nor are they the product of wishful thinking - they are observations based on over a quarter of a century of practice under all kinds of conditions, in all kinds of subject areas with all kinds of people and organizations. Being part of hundreds of DesignShops® allows no other conclusions - to an objective mind - than those I have stated above. The case is simply overwhelming.

“I shall argue that the right kind of physical environment, when it has living structure, nourishes freedom of the spirit in human beings. In the wrong kind, lacking living structure, freedom of the spirit can be destroyed or weakened. If I am right, this will suggest that the character of the physical world has impact on possibly the most precious attribute of human existence. It is precisely life - the living structure of the environment - which has this effect...

“A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move toward objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy. The capacity to do these many things, to do them well, and to do them freely, is natural. It arises by itself. It cannot be created artificially in a person, but it needs to be released, given room. It does need to be supported. It depends, simply, on the degree to which a person is able to concentrate on those things, not on others. And this steady-mindedness, even in joy, is damaged by the extent to which other unresolved or irresolvable conflicts take up mental and physical space in a person’s daily life.”

The Nature of Order
An essay on the Art of Building
and The Nature of the Universe
Book One pp. 372-373

Chiristopher Alexander

So, how do we do it? How do we, as a society, respond to the future we have designed by default and build a better alternative? How do we do this while avoiding a top down, stifling, single-solution approach to be imposed on diverse peoples and societies? Part Four begins the process of addressing these questions.
Link: part 1 • Link: part 2 • link: part 4 • Link: part 5
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Matt Taylor
January 29, 2006

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posted: January 29, 2006

revised: July 6, 2007
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Copyright© 2006, 2007 Matt Taylor

(note: this document is about 80% finished)