Sunday, February 25, 2007

Diverging Diversity Data

Last night we attended a Harvey Robbins' soul music tribute to James Brown, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Marvin Gaye. Great fun and a wonderful celebration of one of Black America's contributions to our society. About 500 people turned up at the 90 year old Regent Theatre in Arlington MA. About 30 of them were Black American. Anyone watching the sold out Oldies shows on PBS will note the same sort of disparity: the music is black and the audience is white.

There are probably many explanations of this particular phenomenon, but, in general, we are Caucasians who usually find ourselves in situations where there are very few non-whites present. This has many negative consequences to our life experience, our mind sets, our mental models, and our learning. The experience many, if not most, both white and black, is to live in a social world without racial diversity. This creates a sort of sad symmetry of distance, misunderstanding and mutual alienation. Not all of us suffer from this absence of connection across the races, but a lot of do.

Of the many structural drivers standing behind this situation, none is more important than economics: it's easier for whites to get higher paying jobs. Their employment enables them to buy homes in neighborhoods where the population is mostly like them. This condition has many consequences, and a lot of the explanations about why this happens contradict each other. We're not exploring those arguments at this moment, however. We're just looking at the simple fact that one is more likely to be poor if one is non-white, and poverty limits one's life options.

A recent action by Wal-Mart may prove to be an important step in making better paying jobs available to non-whites. The world's largest retailer just announced that it will be establishing diversity targets for its 60,000 suppliers. The structural consequences of this move could be enormous. For better and for worse, Wal-Mart dominates the way work gets done in its supply chain. Thousands of vendors have revamped their processes as a result of their "success" in selling product to Wal-Mart, and many, like Vlasic Pickle, probably wish they hadn't. Be that as it may, what Wal-Mart wants, Wal-Mart usually gets. Overtime, Wal-Mart's initiative will contribute greatly to racial diversity in American, and we think that is a good thing.

Human system diversity needs to be considered within the context of the larger world system. Species diversity and biodiversity are features of that larger milieu. Unfortunately, the number of different types of life forms on our planet and the quality of their existence are on the decline in virtually every domain. Humans are destroying their habitat. It's irrational to the point of being insane and it's immoral, but there it is.

The alarming reality of the situation is brought home on an almost daily basis. This week included a vivid example with the story in the NYT of the mutilation of several giant and colossal squid, including the tragic death of one. The squid, whose ecosystem resides one mile below sea level, were repeated tempted by baited probes, to which they finally succumbed. Japanese scientists announced with glee the searing off 18 inches of a squid's tentacle, which they were amazed to find in possession of regenerative properties. They expressed disappointment that a 24 foot long young female giant squid died during her third attempt to escape their efforts to catch her so she could be scientifically dissected and researched. "She put up quite a fight. She got away twice, and something must have traumatized her the third time because she died." American newscasts trumpeted the death of another member of this rare species a few days later saying, "If you were to get a calamari from this half ton squid, it would be the size of a tractor tire. Wow, can you believe that?!"

There are many people who have no concern for the well-being of the planet. Some hold that these are the "end of days," and the fate of the planet is sealed. Other religious conservatives believe that all the fruits of the earth are made for the well-being of our species and we are, therefore, not obligated to concern ourselves with their protection. One might think that the advocates of a fetus' "right to life" would be in the forefront of advocating protection for the multitude of species that have no defense against humankind's technologies, but this is not the case. In fact, a 2004 study found that the 230 members of the US Congress that received an 80% or higher rating for making "pro-life" votes on abortion-related issues voted in favor of environmental protection less than 10% of the time. The procreative abilities of Mother Earth haven't been a concern of theirs (

So, the news is mixed.

Wal-Mart's insistence that its suppliers document their diversity policies and pursue diversity objectives strike us as a good thing. Ditto for the movement that they and other mega-corporations are making in the direction of sustainability in their business practices. GE's commitment to use "ecomagination" to reorient billions produced by various business lines is, ultimately, going to be very good for biodiversity, for example (

On the other hand, the world system continues to be clear cut by rapacious and desperate peoples in almost every community. What good will it do us if the market place will protect the planet's biodiversity twenty year from now when all of that diversity will have disappeared?! Wal-Mart's big move may end up being nothing more that a melodic digression in the much larger cacophony of the earth's decline.

This rumination is another demonstration of the urgent need for whole systems thinking. Humanity needs a mental reboot to comprehend and address the enormity of the challenges we're facing; we need an OS XI, and we need it now! When we get it--and we think we will--we'll be amazed at how quickly so many seemingly insurmountable problems yield to new ways of thinking. May tomorrow be the first day of the rest of our lives.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Distributed Knowledge Networks

If knowledge is power, American universities are engaged in an effort which is likely to make a lot of people in a lot of different locales a lot more influential.

As recapped recently in the Wall Street Journal ("Yale on $0 a Day," 2/15/07), an increasing number of eminent colleges and universities are making their course material available to the public for free on line. Not surprisingly, MIT's "OpenCourse Ware" spearheaded the effort in 2003, and by this November, it intends to publish syllabi and class notes from all of its 1,800 courses. Yale will be producing digital videos of undergraduate lectures beginning this Fall 2007. The list goes on, and this is just the beginning. We don't know what is happening in this domain outside the U.S, at the moment, but, certainly, other countries cannot be far behind.

A lot of eclectic and curious people like us could be even more tempted to never get up from our computers now that we can sit in on lectures from great profs on subjects ranging from orangutans to the Old Testament. This new step in the trend toward an ever-increasing availability of a never ending quantity of information will have a number of consequences. Here are four positive ones that we're thinking about:

1. More people are going to be informed on a wider range of topics. Teachers, especially good ones, turn data into knowledge and wisdom. They use memorable stories to make their points. People in China are going to use well-formulated analyses of American history to understand facets of the developmental challenges of their own societies, and vice versa. People in Micronesia are going to become more articulate in explaining the consequences of global warming. People in India are going to be debating the relationships between South Asian ethnic groups by translating Samuel Huntington's arguments into their own terms, and the English are going to be refuting Toynbee's ideas about the importance of creative elites by directly quoting Vietnamese intellectuals explaining the way that Ho Chi Minh simply spoke the will of the masses rather than shaping it. Cocktail parties all over the world are about to become even more interesting.

2. The Internet has already brought the thinking and the impact of the few to the many, and the availability of better and better information, information formulated into knowledge, is going to accelerate that phenomenon. Everyone will be able to tune in to Noam Chomsky's analysis of Middle Eastern dynamics and then watch Bernard Lewis challenge them. Meditation and concentration techniques will be incorporated into emerging web software and enable us to enter quasi-hypnotic states in which we will absorb this huge volume of information by using the whole brain. We'll be watching physics lectures by MIT's Walter Lewin in a quiet mind state as a result of our interaction with a feature of operating system that stills distracting noisy thoughts, like "Where did I leave my keys?!"

3. Video streaming will mean that more people will be able to learn and to know without necessarily having to read. Understanding will come from being present while teachers who really know how to explain things are talking. Just as advancements in graphic software have improved the visual component of presentations, so will the digitalization of lectures encourage higher and higher visual production values in the classroom and the need to accomplish that will drive down the costs of doing so.

4. The "democratization of education" is a feature of the adaptive quality of humanity's place in the world system. Many of us adhere to a dystopic view of world conditions. Being depressed about the prospects for greater peace is understandable, for example. War seems to be proliferating, for example. Yet, the world system produces antidotes to these ills, and the spread of knowledge and wisdom challenges the threat of annihilation. Barak Obama is a living example of what can happen when everyday people, disadvantaged people, gain access to insight: a guy from nowhere, the child of a broken home, just happens to be really bright and energetic. He's able to parley his talent into becoming a serious contender for the American presidency. How many other thousands of people are there like that who will thrive on a great education without having to pay for it?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Unmarried Women Will Set the Pace

According to the New York Times (1/16/07), unmarried women fifteen and older outnumber those who are married for the first time in US history by a 51% to 49% margin. This "tipping point" is particularly prominent in a number of key groups. Forty two per cent of those 15-25 year olds were married in 1950, while only 16% are now. Among 25-34 year olds, married women have declined from 82% in 1950 to 58%. Tony Soprano once told his daughter, Mello, that "it may be a new century outside this house, but it's still the 1950s inside here." She's not listening.

As with a multiplicity of structural trends, there are many dynamic implications of the emerging dominance of single women:

1. Many workplace benefit packages and tax policies are based on the assumption of family formation and male power. These are going to be under tremendous pressure to change. Women in the workforce are going to demand that the value they create for organizations be funneled into non-traditional vessels.

2. Women already play a tremendous role in community politics and that influence is going to become greater and greater. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, etc. are examples of very influential married women. Think Barbara Mikulski. We're going to see alot more single heterosexual women influencing community policies and communities politics in the direction of their own interests rather than in the direction of families. What is this going to mean for urban night life? What will it mean for the definition of safe streets? What will it mean for the behavior of men? We don't know, but we'd sure like to know what y ou think.

3. What will happen to advertising? A recent Kleenex presents a strong woman. She's got a career. She's confident. She's in a relationship. And, you know what, she says, "Sometimes I cry." Suddenly, by legitimating crying by women in a non-dramatic context, the Kleenex brand displayed its awareness of a huge market. Single working women are going to stop trying to act like men. In fact, we're probably going to get a lot more crying by men in public. Increasingly, women are establishing the norms for male sexuality and behavior. Instead of professional women acting like men, professional men may start acting a lot more like women.

Monday, February 5, 2007

World Futures: Irianian War Prospects

Unfortunately, an increasing number of sources are discussing the possibility of an "accidential" war between Iran and the United States. There are many voices describing the threat posed to the United States, Israel, and to western interests by an Iran possessing nuclear arms. Certainly, the hateful language of that theocratically-ruled country's president is certainly of great concern. However, the sabre rattling of the current administration in Washington is occurring within the context of what can only be charitably called a debacle in Iraq, which has stretched our troops very thinly in the prosecution of an ill-conceived conflict.

War is an extremely, extremely ugly thing and Iran is a very different place in which to pursue this horrible human invention than its neighbor Iraq. Iran is a much larger country. It has a multilayered military. It is more unified religiously. It has well-armed allies in both Lebanon and Iraq. It would be able to shut down oil supplies to the West, at least for a while, and so on. In other words, when people yell and shake their fists at each other, someone is likely to make a mistake and slug the other party and, suddenly and surprisingly, we're going to have one hell of a war on our hands, a war that the majority of people in all of the nations involved would feel justified in pursuing, a war that would make a lot of people angry and afraid, a war that would not have an easy or near term end.

Obviously, students of the near and long term future have a lot to be concerned about by this. The amount of money that we're spending on the "War on Terror" is already staggering, especially since its results are so muddy. At the same time the Bush administration is proposing an increase in the Pentagon's budget by 10%, it is proposing massively scaling back social programs like Medicare, let alone not expanding peaceful versions of foreign aid. The current war has had many negative consequences for the US and its expansion would likely mean more of the same.

A severe tightening of the labor market would be one of the results of a new front in the Middle Eastern war. Full mobilization of reserve forces in the US and elsewhere would be likely and a national draft in the US would also become much more probable. Social polarization would definitely intensify in the US in the face of a draft, unless an overwhelmingly convincing argument could be made in support of it. It would be a very unstable time in the US and throughout much of the world. That might be good because instability can sometimes generate needed changes, but it sure won't be comfortable! Workplace scenaricists would be advised to develop plans that contemplate the eventuality of yet another factor cutting into the availability of qualified and focused employees. A bigger war will make it much more difficult to pursue business as usual.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Changing workplace demographics

A recent study by Intuit and Institute of the Future highlights three dramatic trends affecting the evolution of entrepreneurialism over the next ten years:

1. People from the edges of middle age (teenagers, "mompreneurs," non-retiring Baby Boomers, immigrants) will increasingly start new businesses in the US and elsewhere. As in so many other instances, the stereotype of entrepreneurship in the US as a white male dominated field is evaporating.

2. The Internet's "long tail" will enable many peole to launch new businesses reaching specialized international niche markets that, previously, would never have been served because there was no mechanism to connect providers of goods and services with prospective users. Instead of a thousand flowers blooming, there will be millions!

3. Focused entrepreneurial education will add to (and sometimes replace) the learnings that come from the school of hard knocks. High schools, art schools, vocational schools, language training schools, and so on may all start to add entrepreneurial education components to their curriculum. Students who want to start their own business will learn about topics like accounting, marketing, logistics administration systematically, rather having the reactive experience so many of us entrepreneurs have when we realize that we should have understood some general business topic...yesterday!

These trends are important to us personally at Art of the Future because we are an small entrepreneurial service shop that currently works with many different types of people and eagerly looks forward to doing a lot more of that.

And, of course, these developments are significant at a larger strategic level: A multiplicity of new employment options are opening up. This means more competition for key talent, more diversity in lifestyles and workplace culture, more social and economic complexity, and more freedom of choice.

Proponents of laissez-faire capitalism herald the proliferation of entrepreneurialism as a demonstration of human capability, especially when it is unfettered by government bureaucracy and regulation. It is not clear to us what sort of net gains are actually being achieved in small business employment, however. Keeping the doors open is very hard to do for most entrepreneurs. Restaurants are the most frequently started small business, and most of them don't make it, for example. Plus, it could be argued that many small businesses add little to the overall dynamism of the American economy, e.g., franchise operations that are ancillary to the internal combustion engine. So, the jury is still out on this aspect of the goodness of entrepreneurialism.

But, smart city and town planners can take advantage of these emerging trends to make sure that they attract and hold the sort of small businesses that can revitalize communities and/or further secure their position as attractors to innovative businesses. Instituting truly universal WiFi access within the boundaries of a particular community seems like a very logical and easy first step in this direction, for example. Make it easy for young people, mompreneurs, and self-motivated people without much income to work anywhere. Rehab unused industrial facilities and turn them into low rent creative bee hives driven by a set of tenants integrated by some form of common interest and/or market. Be the first in your state to offer entrepreneurial education at the high school level! Have the media celebrate local entrepreneurial firms that crack into an international market.

These are just a few of the strategies that towns, cities and regions can use to align the entrepreneurial energy of their citizens with the desire to put themselves on the map as a thriving, destination community.

Click here to see the original Intuit/Institute of the future article.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Future of Work and the Work Environment!

Welcome to Art of the Future’s The Future of Work!

As systems thinkers, we know that everything affects everything else. Having a fascination with virtually everything is a key ingredient to being a futurist. In this blog we will be linking our facinations with their implications for the future of work. Work is not your grandfather's life long loyalty to a single employer, commute to work, nine to five rat race, full benefits package, annual review, corporate ladder climbing, pension plan, gold watch and retirement. Those things are long gone and the nature of work continues to change and an ever increasing pace.

This blog reflects our cumulative 60 years of experience, insights, research, and biases toward issues concerning the future of the workplace, the nature of community, the leadership of human systems and methodologies for studying the future. Other subjects, such as global warming and other environmental issues, security , religion, transportation, education, etc. will be addressed primarily as a result of their having a relationship to our core interests.

For example, a recent item in USA Today (1/16/07, pB1) describes the narcissistic character of many highly paid CEO’s, people who can do a hell of a job dishing out criticism, but do really poorly when it comes to accepting it. This topic is of interest to us from a number of angles, to name a few:
(1) It has ramifications for the future of training and coaching.
(2) It reminds us of Argyris and Schön’s formulation of the gap between the theories that people have about how to be effective leaders and the theories one can infer by observing their behavior.
(3) It highlights the problems created by complex systems where the leaders of organizations don’t get needed information simply because they have no contact with the people at lower levels in the hierarchy.

So, Hello Blogosphere! Art of the Future is joining the conversation!