Venturing beyond the possible

November 20th, 2011

When running the No Straight Lines Induction Days, I am often challenged, (on more than one occasion I have to add), though this particular challenge is now expected. And it relates to Apple.

Some people struggle to reconcile Apple as a company with the idea of Open, one of the principles of No Straight Lines.

Apple is not open, it is in fact the complete opposite is the pushback – and so we go into big discussion. Which is good as part of the process of No Straight Lines process is to really challenge our perceptions, so we can move beyond them, where we can imagine and then create our best possible future.

For me, Open as relates to Apple, is about the curiosity of the craftsman – tinkering, learning through the felt fingering space of play.

In this way as Arthur C. Clarke wrote,

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible

So one has to be open to new ideas, tools, technologies, process and organisational capability. And we have wonderful products like the iPhone because Apple were prepared to play in the closed eco-system that was the old Telco world. (I know, as I was there).

Apple created for the first time a phone that was relevant to the world it lived in – whereas before then it was the carriers that played Nero to its empire. Consequently the products were dull. It was Jobs that ruthlessly forced that market to change.

Jobs also went to Nokia, and I am sure a few others, offering a mutual relationship with the iTunes eco-system and was shown the door. And I also know of plenty of innovative Japanese companies innovating over a decade ago in mobile/web who were also shown the same revolving mechanism. Whilst these behemoths went back to counting their ducets.

So my challenge is – who was open and who was closed? Who saw the best future potential for us, as users of products and services and who only saw “the money”, and were only motivated by how much money they could extract from our wallets whilst giving back as little as humanly possible.

Apple built an eco-system and a platform. It has created great products because it was OPEN – it may not operate under a cc licence, and it may come across as über controlling. But, there is much more to this story than rejecting Apple as a closed, tight lipped organisation.

Apple thrives on diversity, and to accommodate diversity one has to live in open knowledge eco-systems. The story of many organisations and even industries that die is because they lived in a closed knowledge system. Unable to change their perspectives of how they saw the world, and operated in it and so became disrupted – to the point of catastrophic failure. Open is about learning philosophically, instinctively, new literacies to create new and novel products and services that create value.

Now how many companies do that?

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Openness is resilience

November 8th, 2011

What does it mean to design and create open source tools for civilisation?

Marcin Jakubowski tells us how. In many ways this story is very much part of the story of No Straight Lines that I have been researching, evolving and developing over the last 7 years. You can find out more about No Straight Lines here and pre-register for the free browser book, or indeed lets us know if there are other formats of the project you are interested in.

Marcin’s story is at a very human level, but it also asks big questions about ‘WHAT NEXT’ looks like, economically and, organisationally. His story is about questing for a more sustainable and enduring world, something that Gabriel Branby also talked about.

Marcin asks the What If? question, but he is one of a growing band of people, and these questions are pushing harder and currently deeper into the consciousness of our everyday lives. and I think Marcin is a trailblazer but he is also connecting up to and creating an entirely new eco-system, a ‘human operating system‘ that wants to get stuff done in very different ways.

As Tony Judt argued in Ill Fares the Land, why is it that we struggle to imagine a different world to the one we currently have, when that world could be built upon a philosophy of a more humane sense of the world we live in?

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The politics of truth and science in America

October 30th, 2011

An extraordinary story of how science is becoming highly politicised is told by Shawn Lawrence Otto.

First off less than 2% of Congress totaling 535 members, have professional backgrounds in science, whereas there are 222 lawyers.

When in 1987 the Federal Communications Commission removed the fairness doctrine of how difficult or controversial news was reported it open the door to more extreme punditry, take a bow Rush Limbaugh. And we have witnessed an increasing line of anti-science perspectives from Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, with the whip held by Newt Gringrich.

And Otto argues right now science is under threat by anti-climate change organisations – between 2009 and June 2010 the energy industry spent half a billion dollars fighting climate change legislation. He writes that 96 of the 100 newly elected Republican members of Congress deny outright that climate change is real or are voting against it in one form or another.

That said Otto argues there are complex forces that are shaping the debate on public perceptions towards science, ‘the moral ambiguity createdafter the dropping of the Atom bomb and living in a nuclear MAD world’, or some of the terrible excesses of toxic pollution that killed and maimed ordinary people – coupled with the culpability of government, the effects of postmodernism on the one hand and the rise of fundamentalist religion on the other smashing into each other. A deep distrust arouse around government and science.

This is the volatile cocktail that combines – commerce, science, truth and politics and results says Otto on an assault on American science that is unprecedented. Though the Barack Obama administration does not get away with it scott free

President Obama’s not much better. Running strong on climate change in 2008, he has since totally de-prioritized it, apparently marginalizing his scientist appointees like Chu, Holdren and Lubchenco, all of them outspoken on climate change, and now appears to be moving ahead with offshore oil drilling, lower air pollution standards, poor carbon standards, and the Keystone XL oil pipeline. In a time when the science has only advanced further and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences says anthropogenic global warming should be “regarded as settled facts” — a time when China’s leapfrogging ahead on clean energy investments in the next economy, that’s not going to take America where we need to go.

Finally Otto refers to ScienceDebate2012 as he describes it, ‘a grassroots campaign for a presidential debate on science, technology, health, medicine and the environment’. Which was born out of Science Debate 2008 which was the largest political initiative in the history of American science.

We are on a journey from a linear world to a non-linear one (click here for more information) and we need good science to come with us. To attempt to shout down science, diminishes us all and limits the possibilities of our world.

For more information on Otto’s perspective read New Scientist October 27th 2011 (subscription required) or the Huffington Post- The un-American war on Science.

Shawn Otto has written book called Fool Me Twice: fighting thee assault on science in America

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Taking control of your healthcare with Patients Know Best

October 21st, 2011

I am thrilled that Mohammad Al-Ubaydli of Patients Know Best got to speak at the wonderful The DO Lectures. His message and story is important and critical to WHAT NEXT looks like. PKB is a case history in the forthcoming No Straight Lines (register for free browser book, and other formats). What Mohammad has created by using systems design, is something that delivers much much better, for much less. Its benefits are multifaceted.

Why Andrew Lansley is not talking to people like Mohammad demonstrates why BIG GOV struggle with designing for a better world. Its not top down with lots of expensive consultants. Designing for transformation is flat, emergent and networked. And the clue is in the name of Mohammad’s company PATIENTS KNOW BEST. Better thinking, better world. Its about blending technologies of cooperation, with data, platforms and people. Designing around people, for people, not inspite of them.

Mohammad’s story is the reason a patient knows best is because they are the only one who goes to all the consultations. So Mohammad has come up with a simple program so a patient can access their health records.

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Constraint in business design innovation

October 20th, 2011

Steve Song runs Village Telco – a name I love. We connected recently via the No Straight Lines project and he kindly sent me through a few posts to read that related to some NSL topics.

I was taken by his post on innovation, constraint, and design, he quotes Dave Snowden, and Aydin Örstan.

It is interesting that Africa is innovating in mobile and tech in amazing ways – simply because of, the hunger to make for a better life, and, to use what is available to hand, even though constrained. Those that do not see Africa as a place to study for why innovation happens almost in spite of so few resources – are looking through the wrong lens. Steve’s edict for his own operation is, make a telco as easy to operate as a wordpress blog, I LOVE THAT. And also – be as open as possible Principle #5 in No Straight Lines.

So over to Steve…

Constraint and Complexity

Interestingly, about the same time as Ethan was writing about constraint, Dave Snowden was offering his own tentative rules of complexity in the 5 Cs of Complexity.  The first of which is, you guessed it, constraint.  He says that

Constraint is key to understanding complexity, it governs the transition between the three ontologies. Increase constraint and you create an ordered system; do that inappropriately and you create the conditions for catastrophic failure; remove constraint and the system is chaotic…

Understanding the boundaries and critical variables in the environment that you are operating in is the key to intervening successfully in any complex system.  Too constrained and there is no innovation, witness most development projects based on a logframe.   With no constraint, innovation also doesn’t happen because (I believe) that innovation is a dialogue involving people and things.  With no control, innovation is easily dissipated in many possible directions.

Innovation and Evolution

Aydin Örstan has a great quotation from François Jacob (The possible and the actual, 1982) in an interesting post on evolution.  François says:

In contrast to the engineer, evolution does not produce innovations from scratch. It works on what already exists, either transforming a system to give it a new function or combining several systems to produce a more complex one. Natural selection has no analogy with any aspect of human behavior. If one wanted to use a comparison, however, one would have to say that this process resembles not engineering but tinkering, bricolage we say in French.


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TEDx Sheffield: No Straight Lines

October 18th, 2011

Thank you TEDx Sheffield for inviting me to kick off your event recently.

No Straight Lines, argues that we have reached the nadir of the adaptive range of our industrialised world. Now faced with an unsustainable trilemma of social, organisational and economic complexity, we have entered an era in which the rules we have previously organised our lives around no longer apply. Leaving us with both a design problem and a design challenge which we must urgently solve. By describing an entirely new way for true social, economic and organisational innovation to happen, No Straight Lines presents a revolutionary logic and an inspiring plea for a more human-centric world.

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Celebrating Craftsmanship

October 15th, 2011

In No Straight Lines one of the 6  principles of NSL is  #2 Craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship can and does manifest it self in many ways – we need to celebrate them all. This lecture from The Do Lectures given by the charming Nick Hand.

In an age of fast, there’s slow. In an age of quantity there’s quality. On a bike ride around Britain Nick discovered his appreciation of the craftsman and women of Britain. And how we need to keep these skills alive.

A video of my take on design. No Straight Lines more info.

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Human nature is not like a machine

October 14th, 2011

John Stuart Mill writing in On Liberty in 1859 said “man (humanity) is not built like a machine, that should be set to do the work exactly proscribed to him but should be seen more like a tree, that can grow on all sides depending on the inward forces that make it a living thing”.

That quote has always resonated with me. As it leads to the question, what makes work worthwhile? And how do we define work? This thought cropped this morning reading an article that Per Håkansson had flipped over to me. It was Douglas Rushkoff musing on the mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs Are Jobs Obsolete? – yes he agrees we all want to be doing useful things – but the jobs our current politicians describe he feels are built on a dying age, an industrial age. Perhaps he suggests we could envision a far better way of filling our time…

This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another — all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.

Its a great big idea and some I guess are already doing that. The big issue is also that jobs have come to define us as people. “What do you do?” is the line of interrogation that goes when first meeting someone perhaps for the first time. Brain surgeon or bank robber? Work and identity become hugely important.

In a post entitled Modern Life is Rubbish I refer to the work of Richard Sennett,

In, The Corrosion of Character: The personal consequences of work in the new capitalism. Richard Sennett describes how the sense of hopelessness, and isolation, deconstructs our character in the workplace, with ultimate tragic consequences. For Sennett, “character” is defined as the capacity to construct and keep commitments – not just in marriage, but also in friendships, communities, and workplaces – and the ability to provide continuous, coherent narratives of personal experience. In Sennett’s view, the “unfettered capitalism” that describes our recent history in labour markets, work schedules, institutions, and technology – renders “character” impossible. Contemporary capitalism demolishes the social and cultural foundations of “character,” and upholds instead the punishing ideal of incessant change.

Rushkoff concludes, “for the time being, as we contend with what appears to be a global economic slowdown by destroying food and demolishing homes, we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends”.

The nature of work and identity appear in the forthcoming book No Straight Lines: making sense of our non-linear world

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Grow VC opens API for developers for a truly open crowdfunding ecosystem

October 13th, 2011

The guys at GrowVC seem to be on a wave of constant iteration and development, constantly pushing the boundaries of how venture funding is going to look like, and be like.

Grow VC Chairman and Co-founder Jouko Ahvenainen said to me that his aim has always been to create the #1 equity crowdfunding environment in the world. And an important part of that mission is to make the platform and ecosystem open to all parties to develop services and businesses on top of the technical and legal framework which has been created. Growvc’s vision is that they want to see 3rd parties able to run successful business by utilizing the GrowVC platform and tools.

Jouko also points out that crowdfunding is technically and legally a complex environment and GrowVC have worked for 3 years to build this functionality, making it easy for 3rd parties to utilize those solutions.  In the first phase developers can apply for the Grow VC API beta program and get needed specifications and support to develop applications and 3rd party services that utilize the Grow VC platform. During this beta phase Grow VC further develops the API and its documentation together with the selected beta partners. Anyone is free to apply to the API beta program ( <> ). Developers can also meet Grow VC people during the “National Fall Tour” in New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley in early November.

There are already several parties that that are involved in utilizing the API. One of them is Silicon Valley based AHHHA™ ( <> ) that helps people to turn their ideas to profit. They can use the Grow VC API to get crowdfunding for startups that are created to implement an idea. AHHHA’s Founder and CEO Matt Crowe comments “I believe in the future of a more global ecosystem for early stage ideas, companies, products, and services through crowdfunding and Social Ideation and see the partnership between GrowVC and AHHHA the beginning of opening up opportunity to more people around the world.”

Another example is German-American Globumbus ( ) that is founded by successful serial entrepreneurs and founders of Zanox. Globumbus develops a crowd sourcing type community for startups. Globumbus partner Thomas Hessler comments “The Globumbus team loves the passion for entrepreneurship seen in the Grow VC team. We will definitely use the Grow VC API with our ‘Global Crowd Network’ to cover the crowdfunding needs of our deals.”

The API can be used for many different services and applications, for example: 1) other web services can use Grow VC functionality and transfer data to and from the Grow VC platform, 2) Mobile and social media applications can offer crowdfunding and startup community functionality, and 3) Grow VC specific applications can help startups and investors in the investment process and portfolio management.

“The iPhone app was the first application that utilized this API. Now we are expecting to see many more applications, for example, other mobile apps and Facebook applications. We also see that 3rd parties can develop applications to analyze startup data and make investment recommendations, or they can link their existing startup services and communities to our service to implement an investment service”, comments Grow VC CEO Valto Loikkanen. “In the networked society success is achieved by working as a part of networks. Grow VC wants to develop one important part for startup and investor networks and work together with other parties. This API is one important part of this evolution. And we will soon publish other important components to enable Grow VC to become a part of all startup and investor networks.”

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Craftsmanship with John Coltrane

October 12th, 2011

Click here for a deeper dive into Craftsmanship

More info on (No Straight Lines)

Video: Designing for transformation

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