Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life Sustaining Organizations as Talent Magnets

 David Brook's terrific column, "Talent Magnets," appearing in the January 25th, 2011 Op-Ed section of the New York Times deserves attention and appreciation.  Brooks describes a virtuous feedback loop that Anticipatory Leaders can generate by creating conditions in organizations that attract and hold creative talent:  "The nation with the most diverse creative hot spots will dominate the century."
There are many creative centers in the United States.  Take Greenville, North Carolina, for example, a city of about 85,000 people, named one of the nation’s “100 Best Communities for Young People” by America’s Promise Alliance.
Greenville doesn't get a huge amount of press, but it is home to East Carolina University and the site of an excellent medical school, with specialists like Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, who performed the first mitral valve repair surgery in the United States in 2000.  This far off corner of North Carolina that you probably never heard of is one of the best places in the world to learn robotic surgery.
Our point: While 47% of the US population presently believe that China is the world's largest economy, there is still a tremendous window of opportunity for the planet's leading democracy to demonstrate the competitive vitality of its more open system.
Unfortunately, there are many ways in which the United States is squandering its key advantages in the competition to nurture creative hot spots.  Its children have not learned the fundamentals of science, for example, and this is clearly a weakness to the country's prospects for continued influence as the 21st century unfolds.
A problem in the present doesn't foreclose the prospects of improvements in the future.  In fact, the recognition of a short-coming can incentavize needed change.  Will it in this instance?  U.S. scores in science have been lousy for quite a while; so, that's not a good sign.  But, it could change.  The future of science education and the importance of scientific understanding to educators in the  public school systems is uncertain.
It's a Critical Uncertainty.
In our book, Life Sustaining Organizations–A Design Guide, we show how anticipatory leaders can play an essential role in energizing  organizations and societies by exploring alternative futures.  They do this by asking big questions to which there are a lot of legitimate answers, each one of which can lead to a different kind of future.  "What role will science play in the United States in 2025?" is an example of that sort of question.
Ideally, a set of these questions are looked at simultaneously, like looking at several striations of soil to understand what might grow.
For example, we think that the future of women's rights and political power is a world-wide critical uncertainty.  It's up for grabs and, as others have noted, it's a fundamentally important political, economic and moral issue of our era.  Art of the Future as an entity is four-square in support of women's rights on a planetary basis.  That and $3.50 will buy you a latte at Starbucks.  The rights of women are certainly not guaranteed in a global context where women own less than 5% of the planet's assets. 
The power of women is interacting with many, if not all, dynamics on the planetary stage.  So, what happens with women is going to have a big impact on what happens with science education. Women are key to creative hot spots.  The organizations and the societies that have no problem with that have an advantage over those that do not.  That doesn't mean that they're going to come out on top, it just means that we think they've got a head start.
The future will not look like the past.  The slope of change is dramatically accelerating everywhere.  Thoughtful observers like Ian Morris anticipate that the level of social development that will occur in the next 100 years will equal that which humanity achieved in the last 15,000 years... if we don't kill ourselves first. 
As a species, we may be reaching lift off velocity, moving through an opening that will make the present seem like a very distant past...and, then again, maybe not.  Anticipatory leadership entails helping us explore where we are and what that means for where we might be going.  It is the catalyst for insight and learning.  It requires a willingness to take a real risk.

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