Launched at Gathering ’11, featuring Jean Russell: Thrivable from alan rosenblith.
Jean Russell, Founder of Thrivable
There’s all this talk about breakdown when actually there’s also a breakthrough happening at the same time. It’s a thrivable world that emerges even as this old industrial order collapses. We’re making a world that works; that promises for more people better opportunities; and creates better futures for individuals, communities, organizations, and our whole collective. That old order? It’s destabilizing and there’s more and more uncertainty. We don’t really know what to do. All this stuff is happening at faster and faster rates but it’s also connecting people, ideas, and actions. We play in new possibilities, and that makes room for serendipity. Something else is emerging: a thrivable world.
From Stories to Action
The story that we’re telling ourselves? It’s really crucial. What we tell, the stories that we tell about ourselves, they determine the actions that we think work, what we think is possible. If we tell ourselves stories about breakdown, we start to limit what we think might be possible. What happens when we say, “What’s the future that we want to create? How can we co-create that?” and then open our possibilities to make that happen? The stories of collapse aren’t making this new world. We have to speak our thriving into being and create stories of this emerging world.
The Human Mind: Our Social Wiring
There are several key aspects of this emerging world. The first one I want to talk about is: how do our brains really work? Who are we? There’s a whole bunch of brain science showing up to tell us what we’re motivated by, what makes us happy. It turns out we’re actually predictably irrational instead of that rational, self-interested actor that economics tells us we are. And we’re easily nudged and swayed to do different things. This is really self-empowering for us because it brings an element of self-awareness to how humans work that enables something new to emerge. We need to think of ourselves as not so much wired for self-interest – which is true, we are that – but we are also wired to connect and share.
Marcia Shenk, Business Anthropologist: A neuroscientist would say to you, “The human brain is wired, organized, completely triggered for sociality.” What they mean by that is that a little force we call emotions keeps us oriented to other people and what we are doing with other people. As the research gets richer and deeper – it’s happening right now as we’re speaking – they’re discovering, for example, that one of the major pleasure centers in the brain (as powerful as sex and chocolate) is the pleasure that comes from contributing to another human being.
Network Organisms: The Me/We Dynamic
Another key aspect of the thrivable world that is emerging right now is the shift in group dynamics, or our social structures. We’ve come through a period where we’ve treated those things in a very mechanistic fashion. There are pyramidal structures. Leaders are dictating orders to the people below. We’re shifting to an open network or an open culture in which people organically come together. They serve each others’ needs and their own. They produce things together. This is really exciting. We see things like Wikipedia, and we have new group processes like wikis. I call this the great rebalancing of the “me/we dynamic.” The way that we handle this is really crucial to being able to increase network health and individual health in a way that’s going to open up more and more possibilities for a thrivable world.
Rachel Botsman, Author and Social Innovator: I actually think this is driven by self-interest, and that sharing is the new self-interest. What’s happening is we’re actually finding this common ground where self-interest can meet collective-interest. It’s utopian to believe that most of the world are going to put collective-interest before self-interest. It’s just not the way we’re wired. It’s ok if people go into these things because they’re better – they’re more convenient, they’re offering more choice, they can make money, they can save money — but it benefits the whole. That actually becomes a sustainable economy.
Ward Cunningham, Inventor of the Wiki: A collaboration among possibly strangers that, self organized, produces something of surprising value… Some people might say, “We’re going to have a meeting in real space. This is going to be a wiki-style meeting. We’re going to plan what we’re going to do on the day we meet with the people that we have.” And they turn out to be very good. What they’re really saying is, “We bring something and we know we do. We’re willing to share. We’ll dynamically organize. We’ll organize our efforts by paying attention to each others’ needs, and [by] bringing hope but not necessarily too many preconceived notions about where this is heading. And at the end of the day we’ll have something we can be proud of.
Metrics Matter: Feedback for Behavior Change
So the next key aspect of creating this thrivable world is about seeing ourselves: how do we get the information that we need in order to adjust the behaviors that we’ve got? We’ve got to be able to know where we are. There are all of these breakthroughs in data visualization, and metrics and feedback loops, that allow us to know what we’re doing. We’ve moved away from GDP and measures of the economy towards Gross National Happiness. And we’re even creating games that give us immediate feedback so that we can adjust our behaviors. That opens up room for us to change our course and create the thrivable world we want.
Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor, Wired Magazine: The main event happening is that we’re becoming more pluralistic in how money is made. There’s no longer a single business model for whatever industry. There are multiple business models. Mom and pop stores will never go away – they’ll remain as a way to make money – but every other possible way of running a business is still out there. We’re inventing newer and newer ways of having a business. When we look to the future, what we want to imagine is not that there’s a single way of doing it but that we’re going to continue to increase the variety of ways of having and doing a business. Increasing the variety of ways in which the economy is organized. Increasing the variety of ways in which things are monetized. Increasing the variety of ways in which things are demonetized. All those things are happening. I think that gives us great hope and we should look forward to that, because its means there are more possibilities for more choice and freedom for all of us.
Together, we can create a great world that works. First we have to tell ourselves stories about a world that we want. Stories of possibility. Then we have to have faith in how people are connected. We’re wired to be empathic and altruistic. We want to care and share. Next, give people an opportunity to be a contribution to something larger than themselves. Form network organisms of purpose. Lastly, design data visualization and metrics and feedback loops so we can see themselves. Have fun in that process. Invite play. Make games. Together, we can co-create a world that works.
Presented by Thrivability and symbionics
with Jean Russell, Thrivable, Inc. @thrivable, thrivable.org, thrivable.net
edited by Alan Rosenblith, Symbionomics.com, @AlanRosenblith