May 7, 2008

Strangers On A Train

The 8:03am Hurstbridge line train to Melbourne is overcrowded this morning: you can feel the stress and tension emanating from passengers as they huddle together, glance at nearby faces or seek escape via an Apple iPod or mobile phone game.  It's as if Connex's operations staff have learned of Fritz Leiber's occult science Megapolisomancy --- predicting the future via neo-Pythagoriean geometry, architecture and population masses in large cities --- and are using the railway network as a Monte Carlo simulation.

This morning something is different.

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October 2, 2007

Agile Disruptive GTD

Meet The Life Hackers

Wired Magazine's Gary Wolf has an extensive profile of Getting Things Done author David Allen in the October 2007 issue.

Allen's GTD system is a heuristic for time and workflow management popular in Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley firms.  GTD gained visibility after The Atlantic Monthly's James Fallow profiled Allen in its July/August 2004 issue.  New York Times columnist Clive Thompson also mentioned Allen and GTD in an influential article on the "life hacking" movement, which includes sites such as Lifehacker and Merlin Mann's 43 Folders.  Allen has parlayed this exposure into the coaching firm David Allen & Co. and its subscription online community GTD ConnectLockheed, Microsoft Research and O'Reilly Media have all applied or debated Allen's GTD in their research environments.

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September 30, 2007

Ben Eltham on Micro-Entrepreneurs, Risk & Strategy

I recently caught up with Ben Eltham, founder of the Straight Out Of Brisbane (SOOB) festival, and one of the cultural creatives I met at This Is Not Art (TINA) in Newcastle. Eltham is in Melbourne to work on the Melbourne Fringe Festival and with the new independent think-tank the Center for Policy Development. You might have read Eltham's articles in Artshub, Crikey and New Mathilda.

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Film director Ridley Scott will be releasing Blade Runner: The Final Cut in US cinemas this week and on a 5 disc DVD set in December. Fred Kaplan in The New York Times praised the re-edited film with remastered special effects as "something different: darker, bleaker, more beautifully immersive."

Blade Runner: The Final Cut trailer

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September 29, 2007

Reflections on This Is Not Art

The Australian independent arts festival This Is Not Art (TINA) is on this weekend in Newcastle (27th September - 1st October 2007). Over the past 9 years TINA has evolved from an underground subculture to become the catalyst for thousands of artistic collaborations and vanguard projects. For its panelists and participants TINA is a very real example of collective intelligence and a rhizomatic network that transcends academic theory to change lives.

I had been in a year of isolation after the demise of 21C Magazine when Sean Healy aka Jean Poole invited me to TINA in 1999. The TINA years from 1999 to 2003 were an intense period of improvised logistics, late-night conversations in the Octapod or on the cenotaph hill, meetings at Goldbergs cafe, crowded gigs, and amazing panels. It coincided with my most creative period as Disinformation's new editor which Healy, Marcus Westbury, Barry Saunders, Erin Clark and others enabled me to experiment with. I started with sessions for Electrofringe and the National Young Writers Festival before ending up in the Student Media Conference, in a meta-reflection on my 1994 stint at La Trobe University's student newspaper Rabelais. Finally, TINA provided a participatory space to experiment with Strategic Foresight frameworks and models, such as running a Spiral Dynamics session on film clips and considering how Octapod could become a Vital Signs Monitor on community futures. In-the-moment experience trumps the artefacts.

By 2005 I'd had enough and wasn't saying anything new. So I've not gone to TINA for a few years although I run into TINA allies in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. In these meetings, I often think of Chuck D's advice that your thirties should be a time of consolidation and building on the energy of your twenties. I'm looking forward to a new period of collaborations with some fellow TINA alumni --- and waiting with interest for what emerges from TINA 2007.

September 25, 2007

Scenario Connector

John Cassel is working on a project to develop an online collaborative approach to scenario development based on web 2.0 principles. The concept is basically to create a peer to peer approach to scenario development. In his words:

The overall goal of this environment is to provide a large-scale, analytical-deliberative platform for collaborative foresight and open scenario planning.

He calls the approach 'Scenario Connector' because it is about connecting a diverse number of online actors / agents in a fluid and ongoing / heuristic manner to develop sets of stories or 'tag bundles'. This means that potentially each entry by a participant can be evaluated, added to and modified. Sort of like wikipedia for scenarios and futures? Imagine a project called 'Future of water for such and such a location'. Potentially such a project has a main page, something like wikipedia or other format, which shows the primary assumptions about what people think are driving change. A farmer might offer farming practices, a climatologist might offer greenhouse emissions, an academic might offer as a driver 'worldviews', and together it links a whole number of stakeholders that normally have a difficult time sharing space. But the page stays up, so that over the years, as our awareness of water trends and emerging issues changes, so does the 'water futures project page'. Thus it links the potential of longitudinal and diachronic narrative scenario development, with the potential for open and epistemologically diverse stakeholder inclusion. The image of a wikipedia-full of possible futures comes to mind.

[it] makes scenario creation simple by allowing sit-
uations and events to be described as combinations
of tags, which are short text labels. Then, situa-
tions and events are joined together in networks that
illustrate the possibility of events transforming one
scenario into another. Scenarios can be quickly as-
sembled from existing tag sets, from scenarios the
user has previously created, from scenarios that other
users have shared, and by tags provided by the sys-
tem on installation.

My interest in this in part stems from my desire to see many many people engaged in the process of futures exploration. Early on in my discovery of Futures Studies in 2000 I was inspired by Robert Jungk's 'Future Workshops', which aimed to popularise the visioning of preferred futures in Europe for citizen empowerment in the face of creeping technocracy. Later I worked to link action research with futures studies, as I felt we / I needed to create a bridge between the visions of futures and action / innovation in the present. John Cassel's concept certainly carries many of the principles on action research, such as stating one's assumptions explicitly, the heuristic evaluation review of facts / concerns, and providing an open and participatory space where such work can unfold.

Yet like the branching system it wants to create, such projects also branch into different possible futures, so I will list some of my fears and preferences:

- It would be a shame to see such a platform dominated by the affluent, which is almost inevitable when we think about who has IT infrastructure and bandwidth / speed. How does one create such a system so that it can reflect that experiences of the majority world, and their perspective?

- It would be a shame if the scenario connect approach or culture were wedded to a positivist epistemology that dismissed the moral / ethical and normative dimensions. We are still haunted by David Hume. Can this system accommodate the need to develop preferable and ethical futures, not just descriptions of what we think will / can happen?

- It would be interesting to see whether it is possible to develop layered futures based on Inayatullah and Slaughter's categories (eg litany / pop, social analysis / problem oriented and worldview / epistemology), incorporating both empirical, systems based and epistemically reflexive approaches, or on Chris Stewart's framework for Integral scenario development. Is this asking too much for an open online approach?

- Can such a platform also facilitate the development of policy, projects and innovations, eg action-influence in the present? To satisfy me, it must be more than just speculation and mental exercises, we need to link these approaches with wise social change that addresses the importance of developing socially just and ecologically sustainable futures.

The project throws up some interesting questions and challenges. The project is in the development stage, and John Cassel is currently creating the technical foundations and building a collaborative team. But he should be commended for taking a bold leap into a new frontier for scenario development.

Anyone interested should contact: john [dot] benjamin [dot] cassel [at] gmail [dot] com

View the project concept overview at:

September 23, 2007

Jose M. Ramos on Anticipatory Innovation

Futuristics contributor Jose M. Ramos has published a 7-part series called Anticipatory Innovation which spans many dimensions:

• A reflection on Ramos' personal journey and evolution as a futurist.

Genetically Modified Organisms as one example of collective innovation.

• The effects of debates on nuclear deterrence and sustainability on Ramos' values and worldviews.

• Innovation as the coevolution of sociotechnical systems.

• The personal influence of crises and normative futures as a form of radical awareness.

• The multiple dimensions of self: cultural, ecological, ethical, normative . . .

• The foundations of Anticipatory Innovation as a mode of inquiry, a heuristic method and a change process in different contexts (e.g. individual, firm, community, industry, national, global).

Ramos' reflections cohere around a pattern that I've seen over the past 15 years in other co-journeyers: large-scale crises (structure) triggers the transutation of the individual (self agency) through the willful creation and application of methodologies (symbol-creating agency) which becomes a "strange attractor" for a small group (collective agency) to influence sociopolitical and civilisational trajectories (deep structure). This pattern is diachronic: it is observable through individuals, groups and societies over an extended timeframe. For individuals, it's a stratagem to achieve Dreams and overcome Hazard.

September 22, 2007

The End Is Nigh. Be Positive.

Futurist, social commentator, academic and general rabble rouser Dr Richard Eckersley (director of Australia 21, a non-profit, public-interest research company, and a visiting fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University) has had a very thought provoking opinion piece published in the Melbourne's Age newspaper today. It is called "The End is Nigh. Be Positive."

With clear an accessible prose Eckersley invites the reader to consider the psychological impact of the current images of the future that our industrialised societies hold: about war, famine, pandemics etc. He explores the crucial link between they stories we collective use to frame our situation and the type of social interactions these lead to and the type of actions these make possible.

Changing the story, he proposes, is one of the most effective ways to start shaping how we will collectively respond to the challenges of our times… Well worth the read…

September 19, 2007

Darren Sharp on the 3rd Living Knowledge Conference

Smart Internet CRC researcher Darren Sharp has filed a blog report on the third Living Knowledge conference, held in Paris from October 30th to September 1st 2007.  The Experientia blog Putting People First offers a parallel commentary on Sharp's presentation.

Amongst Sharp's observations are reflections on Fondation Sciences Citoyennes which organised the conference, and his meeting with La Fabrique du Futur founder Eric Seulliet.

This is familiar territory to Strategic Foresight practitioners: Richard Slaughter has articulated the vision of Social Foresight on the basis of institutions and movements that builds social and civilisational capabilities, notably in his book Futures Beyond Dystopia: Creating Social Foresight (RoutledgeFalmer, New York, 2003).

Eric Seulliet's connection of foresight and innovation has parallels with the European tradition of the World Futures Studies Federation, and many other practitioners from designer Bruce Mau to Jose M. Ramos' work on anticipatory innovation.

Sharp's report suggests the transdisciplinary frontiers of foresight + design are morphing as Slaughter and others suggested from a conceptual capability via methodologies such as Eric von Hippel's innovation toolkits into a social capacity.

September 12, 2007

Factory Girl

The nemo is a man's sense of his own futility and ephemerality; of his relativity, his comparativeness; of his virtual nothingness.
- John Fowles, The Aristos (1964).

I first heard of bohemian muse Edie Sedgwick in 1996 whilst writing a 21C Magazine profile on maverick physicist Jack Sarfatti. George Hickenlooper’s Factory Girl (official site, IMDB page & Wikipedia entry) has received flak for its portrayal of Edie, Andy Warhol’s Factory, musician Bob Dylan and the “swinging ‘60s”. Despite this, Factory Girl has several themes of interest to Strategic Foresight practitioners. Spoilers warning!

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