Setting the Sustainocene

On this day 2nd July 2013 let it be known that, thanks to browsing a few harmless tweets this morning, and building on my recent NIRES Sustainable Water sandpit (blog post promised), I have my new ten year plan, a new optimism and determined enthusiasm towards the benefits, outcome, vision (call it what you will) that is:


To facilitate, attract and amplify Homo narrans  (the storytelling human) into the emergent future that will  be known as the Sustainocene.


This is undoubtedly a complex task and I am going to need more than my trusty cynefin framework for this task.


All it needed was these three previously unrelated metaphors to come together , which in hindsight seems obvious.


This means changing every behaviour, action and creative idea towards the benefits of a sustainable Earth, one bit at a time (or rather many safe-to-fail experiments in parallel).


Helping the emergence of a narrative landscape, collaborative climate and creative environment within knowledge driven – open innovation ecosystems.


Lets throw everything we know about storytelling influencing childrens career paths, sense-making, creative problem solving, managing knowledge, step-change open-innovation, appreciative inquiry, ritual dissent, agile and kanban etc etc.


Anyone out there interested … ?

Hypothetical Development

I think this is a brilliant ‘story based’ concept. hat tip to my colleague @BrianSJ3 on Twitter for finding it.

In need of hypothetical development

The short but powerful video (which I have tried but failed to embed) can be found here and is the brilliant concept of Rob Walker and his Hypothetical Development Project.

It has set my mind buzzing about how many ‘hypothetical development’ stories abound in Peterborough where I live, and how not only should we be putting up hypothetical development boards, why not clad the buildings in boards to look as if they have been developed.

The long boarded up extension to Tesco in Werrington could be new ‘wine caves with free tasting every afternoon’.

The eyesore by Peterborough Station earmarked as a carpark could be the new ‘3D  Folk Museum of Anthropology and local culture with drive in cinema on an evening.

For far to long we have been subject to the fictitious hypothetical ideas of property developers that whet our appetite for buildings that never live up to their descriptions. Lets turn the tables and be creative and innovative, an idea might just emerge that sticks.


Mundane Lifefocus

I have been thinking a lot about natural complex systems and how I might embed the whole ‘nurture the positive, dampen the negative’ behaviours into the outcomes of a lessons learned workshop. Well this is not my proposed answer but it is hugely interesting, good fun and if it works I should see the benefits.

This is the mundane lifefocus 5 day cut and foldwallet sized business card from Jason Theodor at the the interestingly titled thereisnobox blog. Jason descibes it as a:

life-altering method to habitualize mundane everyday tasks and incrementally improve happiness and well-being over time

The idea is that you download an edittable version of the card above as a PDF (downloadable here) , fill in your top 10 behaviours that you would like to nurture (I started with negative behaviours to dampen eg ‘avoid fatty foods’ but decided they can all be reversed). The more mundane the better. Then print the weekly sheet, fold it into your moleskin and check off as you do them.

All I need now is some way of ensuring that I print out the sheet next week…

Lifecycle of Emergence

Hat tip to my friend @pascalvenier on Twitter for highlighting this superb 2006 paper by Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze of the Berkana Institute on the importance of networks, communities and emergence.

By applying the lessons of living systems and working intentionally with emergence and its lifecycle, we are demonstrating how local social innovation can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world’s most intractable issues—such as community health, ecological sustainability and economic self-reliance.

They then propose a four stage catalysis model

We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such. We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally. We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing experiences and shifting into communities of practice. We also illuminate these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them. We are attempting to work intentionally with emergence so that small, local efforts can become a global force for change.

I have always been a strong supporter of the illumination stage although I never called it such (but will in future). I have always believed that the strongest positive feedback loops in a system would be the stories that promote good behaviours or admirable successes hence my story of Bat Milk about the emergence of environmentally sensitive organic farming.

I then particularly like their three stage lifecycle theory that first we network, then we form communities of practice and finally a real system of influence can emerge. I have always been reticent to use the term community of practice or ‘CoP’ other than to acknowledge individuals who come together around their common practice. Organisations who say ‘Oh yes we do CoPs’ as if its something you can switch on, make me squirm. Berkana however use this in its simplest, generic form and I think makes it all the more understandable and appropriate.

Stage three ‘systems of influence’ excite me greatly as these explain the great cultural changes of our time from Punk, the abandonment of plastic carrier bags, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) through to Transition Towns which I hope grows and grows and grows in its influence.

Molten Strata

Molten Strata Series No. 1This week my daughter Samantha starts back at Leicester DeMontfort University having secured a First Class Honours BA and now taking up a new role as the artist in residence. Her speciality is blowing glass like the piece shown above. She has a new website and is ready to take on new commissions, and we are all wishing her a very succesful career beginning in Nottingham on November (7th and 8th) where she will be exhibiting at Lustre as one of the ‘young meteors’ [see pages 31-33 of online catalogue].

The power of story

Having just got back from a hugely enjoyable day taking a group of young people to the Slavery museum to collect stories, in retrospect we experienced three direct reasons why story is so important in communication and understanding.

The first part of our day involved a talk on the consequences of knife crime and involved the passing round of some disturbing photographs of the victims of knives. The truly memorable and most hard hitting part of the talk was a story of how a young girl ended up dead and with such horrendous injuries. You could hear a pin drop as everyone present felt the pain and anguish of her parents as a series of unintended events unfolded.

After lunch we were priviledged to have an exclusive dramatisation of the Civil Rights protester Diane Nash. Played inspirationally by Vicky Evans-Hubbard in a performance called “Keep your eye on the prize”  she kept every single one of the 47 young people we had brought with us hanging onto her every word and a fantastic example of using drama to get across your message. A large proportion of the youngsters did believe she was the real Diane Nash especially after her convincing question and answer session afterwards.

Finally the third reason, which is why we were in Liverpool, was the chance to test-run the collection and self signification of stories by the young people themselves. As I went through the process myself and watched individuals complete the task it quickly became apparent just how powerful this approach will be once we iron out the rough spots. Many books on storytelling dwell on the idea that a story can often inform us more about the storyteller than the subject and this method so cleverly reveals your values and thinking processes as a kind of ‘metadata’ for subsequent pattern analysis and clustering using SenseMaker . I am feeling highly optimistic, and the young people who worked with us gave me tremendous optimism for the next generation too.

Anthropological Serendipity

biol evolution on left cultural evolution on right
biol evolution on left cultural evolution on right

Don’t you just love it when an interesting trail starts to lead you deeper and deeper where you find a huge treasure chest of resources freely available as if you had specifically asked for them to be collated for you.

A hat tip to Keith Fortovsky who has been guest blogging over at at Cognitive Edge where he mentioned the late great anthropologist Mary Douglas and her grid-group model in an hugely interesting article from Prospect Magazine.

Trying to find this grid as a picture on Google images I fell upon a Flickr collection of amazing quality, depth and richness. A collection of diagrams featuring Great diagrams in Anthropology, Linguistics and Social theory as collected by the wonderfully named ‘afterantelope’.

Simply browse over the thumbnail pictures to get a glimpse of the fragment of anthropological knowledge that picture represents.The first fragment to interest me is shown above and illustrates on the left the divergent branching of biological evolutionwhile contrasting on the right with the often convergent branching of evolutionary culture.

I am getting more and more optimistic and excited about Cognitive Edge, my involvement and its current direction as it really does feel, to me at least, like a real renaissance, a cultural movement encompassing a revival of learning based on traditional sources such as anthropology and narrative while engaging with the new cognitive sciences while overturning all the ‘past their sell date’, ‘first fit’ approaches currently out out there, that seem so pitiful in hindsight.