Making Sense of Our Non-Linear World:The Challenge: Be Realistic, Imagine The Impossible

How we can deal with complexity a book review from URBAN TIMES

What Do These Have In Common?

car company built around a global community as an organisation, enabled by combining flex manufacturing techniques, open source platforms, open legal frameworks and social communication technologies premised upon cooperation, fuelled by the desire to be a great company and green; that can build cars 5 times faster at 100 times less the capital costs.

A crisis management platform and organisation born out of the Kenyan post-election crisis of 2008 that can record critical information of events unfolding on the ground via a blend of location-based data, eyewitness accounts and mobile telephony, from often hard to reach places which visualises those unfolding events so that others can act and direct action at internet speeds. And now utilised for free in many parts of the world. Or, the largest organic diary farm in Britain, that has evolved a methodology that allows it to remain autonomous, profitable and sustainable in a market that is acutely volatile, because large-scale agricultural farming is mostly run on an oil-based economy, plus diary farmers are at the calculating mercy of the marketing needs and whimsies of large chain supermarkets.

A New Social / Organisational / Economic Model

Be realistic, imagine the impossible 

They are collectively representative of a new reality of living, working and organising. These organisations or companies have quested to find a means to serve humanity better, to search for meaning in the work that they and others do, and offer up new viable alternatives for the ways that, in the past, these things were done. They seek an outcome that is more distributive of wealth, ideas and resources. In fact, one might argue an outcome that is more humane and community centric. Rather than premised upon the extraction of wealth, and resources, whether they be physical, mineral or otherwise, these very different initiatives represent both moral courage and a collective purpose, if you will. And why is that important? Because it does not matter if you are an employer, a worker, VC fund, an NGO, an organisation, a local council or a government, you will miss out on the energies and capabilities of your people who will increasingly seek those new realities to discover a better way of living, working and being, when better and viable alternatives are on offer. And the fact is we now have the possibility to truly transform our world, to be more lightweight, sustainable and humane, through the tools, capabilities, language and processes at our fingertips. As Tony Judt argued:

‘Why do we experience such difficulty even imaging a different sort of society? Why is it beyond us to conceive a different set of arrangements to our common advantage?’ [Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, Allen Lane, 2010.]

Image by Alan Moore


The Cultural Challenge


The biggest challenge we face is cultural. How we contextualise (make sense of) the world around us determines how we engage and what action we take. Those actions then determine the outcomes we must live with and this requires a change from our industrial mindset and behaviour to one that is more cognisant of what is now seen as a non-linear world. This is where I want to return to the idea that what we face is a design problem, where answers exist not at an unattainable theoretical level but on the floors of our factories, in the streets of our towns and cities, the classes of our schools, the waiting rooms of our hospitals. These answers will manifest themselves as true acts of creation, originating new ways of getting stuff done, informed by the decisions we collectively take. So in re-designing the world, we need human creativity in the sense of the capacity to ‘make’, we need visionary leadership in the sense of making a difference. And we seek the craftsman’s critical eye, steady hand and creative mind. It is this process of seeing – realising new pathways to success, by bringing two ‘unlikes’ (new information, tools, processes etc.) together in close adjacency – that we create, and make new things. Then we can meaningfully apply that capability.

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