In our scenario and visioning work, we need
to clarify whether our focus is to find one image of or pathway to the
future or to create forums for generating many of them. In my understanding,
the processes involved in generating one overarching vision and many diverse
visions are different (although similar and in no way mutually exclusive).
We may work on one image, just to show that a good future is truly possible.
Or we may create multiple visions to open a space of possibility that
may have juice for diverse people, projects or perspectives. Or we may
generate a very generalized vision which inspires diverse people to create
their own specific version of that. And so on.
Item 1: The Boulding/Ziegler model
Elise Boulding and Warren Ziegler did future visioning workshops, which
I first heard about nearly 12 years ago. They'd take an audience of perhaps
100 people and invite them to all move (in their imaginations) to a more
peaceful world 20 (or 50) years hence. "Think about what it is like in
this peaceful world, what life is like -- from what the news is to how
you do your shopping." After some individual visioning, they'd break the
crowd into groups of 3-5 and participants would take turns focusing on
one person, asking them questions, helping them get their vision really
solid and clear, and then helping them get it articulated in a written
paragraph. Then they'd move on to the next person in the group.... until
they'd all gotten something written up.
Then everyone would post their future-descriptions around the room and
there'd be a long break while people read each other's descriptions. After
the break people would reconfigure in groups of individuals whose visions
were similar. This time they'd move TOGETHER in their imaginations to
their more-or-less-shared future and work up detailed collective scenarios.
Then, together, they'd REMEMBER what had happened over the years since
this very workshop that led to their chosen future, with particular attention
on what they did following the present-time workshop to bring their chosen
future about. All this "remembering," of course, was going on in their
imaginations. Then they'd transform themselves into an action group to
plan and do those things needed to bring about that future.
At least that's my impression of what they did. I never did one of these
workshops; I have old notes from a lecture I heard. I have more recent
materials from Ziegler, but haven't read them yet (I'd be happy to share
them). I am intrigued by the novel idea of remembering back from an imagined
future. But what seems to me most significant about this approach is how
it embraces diverse visions within the realm of one powerful, ambiguous,
and passionately shared value (in this case PEACE).
The Boulding-Ziegler futuring workshops bear a strong resemblance in this
regard to Open Space conferences in which all who come must be passionate
about the topic. Once an Open Space conference starts, participants self-organize
into dozens of different dialogue and action groups. The diversity of
their perspectives and activities is contained and aligned by one unifying
principle -- the topic of the conference -- and a few simple shared procedures
(the Open Space methodology). I just realized that the Boulding-Ziegler
futuring workshops could be called Open Space Imagineering (I'll talk
more on imagineering, below).
Item 2: Self-Organizing Systems, Values and Visions
One of the main established principles of self-organizing systems (and
complexity theory) is that a few simple laws or principles capable of
shaping the behaviors of otherwise free agents can generate incredibly
complex and orderly patterns with little or no additional management or
co-ordination. In organizations, strategic visions that come from (and
therefore reside in) the hearts and minds of the stakeholders (as opposed
to mission statements dictated from above) serve this purpose, allowing
a facilitative (rather than directive) management style to be effective.
This organizational mode is especially effective in times of uncertainty
or rapid change or when the sphere of operation is very complex, since
centralized linear management systems cannot efficiently process the vast
amounts of information involved.
This would suggest that the basic values/realities of the new era (such
as the Golden Ruler trio of interconnection, wholeness and co-creativity
that I came up with in Monday night's meeting) could be the "attractors"
around which people did visioning along the lines of Boulding/Ziegler
(i.e., new era values/realities would replace the Boulding/Ziegler theme
of PEACE, but the rest of the process might be much the same). This would
generate a wide variety of possible forms for and routes to diverse futures
all of which embody new era values and take into account new era realities.
The resulting futures would align to new era values because only people
for whom new era values were paramount would participate in formulating
those futures. Any work then done to actualize these diverse futures would
be moving in the same direction (i.e., along the vector implied by new
era values and realities).
A key to the success of this approach would be the few-ness, precision
and articulation of those values: Are they THE values we want to have,
or are there others? If we try working with too long a list of values,
then its self-organizing power will be diluted; people's attention will
be dispersed and the results will be less alive and aligned. We need to
discover the few truly fundamental principles we're basing our new era
visions on, and use those.
Item 3: Some Words from a Useful Book
Here's a quote from Michael D. McMaster's THE INTELLIGENCE ADVANTAGE:
ORGANIZING FOR COMPLEXITY (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1996), pages 150-151:
"The concept of vision is our organizational attempt to fill the space
of possibility. Most visions suffer from a lack of understanding possibility
and the future. Most people see the future as a place to get to and live
as though the future is waiting out there in front of us with an existence
of its own. In these limited linear models of the universe and time, a
vision as a goal makes perfect sense. At some level [however] we all know
that the future will not unfold in the way that we are imagining it and
that a vision will not be accomplished as stated. But even so, there must
be some value inherent in having a vision.
[a statement in the margin proclaims:] "Exploring what's possible opens
possibility. Codifying what's possible closes possibility.
"Exploring what's possible and engaging in the thinking, dialogues and
actions that develop those possibilities are both of great value. The
richness of the representation of the resulting future will depend on
the amount of participation and dialogue that has helped create it. Then
how we are able to describe our future becomes the challenge. A rich representation
of that future will be possible and valuable only if it can be expressed
in poetic, metaphorical, or abstract terms. If these terms are able to
capture the fundamental and enduring values of that vision, then something
of power has been created. An expression that keeps a corporation's values
bright and clear and at the same time remains abstract and nonrestrictive
is a powerful way of keeping a space of possibility open. But even more
effective than that, the space of possibility can be kept open by continually
engaging in conversations that develop the very space itself.
"Most vision statements and other such expressions are designed to motivate
people. If these expressions actually carried intentions of including
people in the development of the possibility of the future, then we would
gain much more. But inherent in intentions to convince or motivate are
notions of separateness that are counterproductive to the possibilities
of inclusion and participation. To begin to integrate these intentions,
we must realize that exploration of the space of possibility is the domain
of each and every person. When we realize that people are interested in
and capable of exploring possibility, then we will unreservedly include
them and gain a wealth of information and creativity. When we recognize
that possibility emerges from dialogue and that the broader the dialogue
the richer the possibility, then we will have broken through into something
exciting that remains alive and flourishing."
McMaster goes on to say that the ideal vision or strategy statement --
one that maximizes the productive potential of a space of possibility
-- contains a rich ambiguity (metaphor, poetry, imagery, value-words,
implication, etc.) which demands engagement and interpretation by the
reader. A reader who shares the passion implicit in the statement can
creatively remove the ambiguity (through engagement and interpretation),
producing explicit statements (understandings, plans, etc.) upon which
they can then base productive activity. To the extent a statement is invitingly
ambiguous, therefore, it can embrace a wider zone of possibility than
an explicit statement. To the extent it is value-laden, it has power to
generate efforts towards explicitness and resulting explicit activities
in those who share the values embodied in it. I find all this an interesting
analysis and challenge.
Item 4: Story Fields and Co-Creativity
A story field is my coined phrase for a force-field of mutually-reinforcing
narratives and life-patterns which shape the thoughts, feelings, responses
and behaviors of those who live in the field. "The American Way of Life"
(rags-to-riches, own-your-own-home, etc.) is such a story field, as are
"Feminism," "Progress" and "The Career." Story fields could be called
the narrative dimension of culture (or, for an individual, the narrative
dimension of personality).
In a co-intelligent society, people would collectively and consciously
generate the story fields in which they lived, instead of having those
fields generated by corporate media, official spin-doctors, and authoritative
traditions. In the language of democracy, The People would co-create the
stories by which they then lived.
So a major aspect of co-intelligent social change / cultural transformation
is the co-generation of alternative story fields. Not just as a way to
"get from here to there," but as a component of ongoing, conscious cultural
evolution. (Where we're trying to get to is not a state but a process,
a process which starts right now. This can be a little hard to articulate,
a bit paradoxical, a bit confusing for those who haven't thought much
about the subject. But it is very important. To be consistent with our
understandings of holism, quantum mechanics, complexity and the participatory
nature of reality, "a world that works for everyone" cannot be framed
as a utopian system that generates benevolent conditions, but rather as
a co-intelligent culture through which succeeding generations can continually
recreate their culture to suit their changing needs. We are not wise enough
to design the future. No one is or can be. But we can easily be wise enough
to create conditions and systems that help communities to co-create their
lives, including their story fields.)
Item 5: Visionaries and Storytellers
Once I envisioned visionaries (like me) and experts in sustainability
getting together with storytellers (like Ursula LeGuin, Marge Piercy,
Bruce Springsteen and scriptwriters) and journalists (like those at YES!
magazine) -- as well as all the other story-workers in our society
-- the historians, psychologists, philosophers, etc. -- to create written/told/performed
narratives which would weave a many-faceted alternative story field. In
the novel Ecotopia we can witness certain things going on in one particular
place; but I always wondered: what's going on 300 miles north of the community
described in the book? There's another novel there, waiting to be written.
Same with LeGuin's Always Coming Home; she alludes to other cultures
here and there around the one she's describing. Why doesn't she or another
novelist take up the challenge of writing something from those other vantage
points. (Actually she does do it, from only from the bad-guy culture's
vantage point. So it's only a start.) If William Faulkner could create
Yoknapatawpha County (in which practically all his stories take place),
and Garrison Keillor could create a thousand stories about Lake Wobegon,
shouldn't a few dozen visionary novelists, singers and scriptwriters be
able to co-create a rich fabric of future stories and their "prequels"
(like Callenbach's Ecotopia Emerging)? We have precious few good
utopian novels and fewer yet that actually serve to help us build a new
culture. Such fictional stories, interwoven with stories of people who
are actually living out pieces of these stories (as reported in YES!
and elsewhere), is what I mean by creating an alternative story field.
The conversations that created those stories could be in an event (e.g.,
a week-long open space) or a network (with online conferencing and listserves)
-- and it could be product oriented (getting a series of novels written)
or it could just let the ideas and images flow around among the people,
with products popping out of it every now and then...
Item 6: Imagineering
Speaking of which... there is another approach, which I called imagineering
back in 1988 when I created the idea. (I later learned that Disney uses
the word with a different definition.) Imagineering to me embraces any
use of the imagination to actually create (or try to create) the imagined
reality. A supreme example is The Monkeywrench Gang, a novel which
provided the story out of which Earth First! arose, born of those who
decided to live out the story of sabotaging billboards and earth moving
equipment. Walden Two and The Turner Diaries are other imagineering
stories which generated real activities.
In 1988 I did a participatory imagineering experiment at a Green Gathering:
I created a small journal called The Ecotopian Grapevine Gazette,
which contained news articles about neat things that hadn't happened yet,
but which we wanted to have happen, written AS IF they had happened. Then,
at the end of each article, I put a contact name around whom people could
gather who wanted to make that story a reality.
Item 7: Scenario-building as a path to shared understanding
I read an article in "Wired" magazine about the Global Business Network
(Ogilvy and those other scenario builders) which described scenario work
among polarized South Africans (ANC, the National Party apartheiders,
etc) before the dissolution of apartheid. As participants collaboratively
worked over the four most likely scenarios for their collective future,
it became obvious that only one scenario would give ANY of them what they
wanted -- namely a coalition grounded in the majority and dedicated to
steady economic growth, not a welfare state. In this use of scenarios,
the participants weren't trying to find The Best Future they could work
for. They were considering the natural unfolding of various approaches
and discovering together the consequences of each approach. This resulted
in a shared understanding which then guided the subsequent behaviors of
the parties involved. This use of scenario-building has less of a planning
sensibility to it and more of a "let's get some insight into what makes
Often scenarios are explored using a quadrant grid, each axis of which
contains opposite possibilities. Prior to Y2K, for example, a leading
scenario grid proposed by David Isenberg and promoted by Douglass Carmichael
had one axis representing, at one end, technology-related failures being
sparse and independent, while the other end represented technical failures
being interconnected and systemic. The other axis represented society's
reactions: at one end there was social cohesion, and at the other end
social breakdown. The four quadrants were therefore labeled as follows: