To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. History has been unevenly written and unevenly shared, but even if we never arrive at a singular “truth” or telling of our story, it is our aim to do better, to make the tent bigger, to understand a more multifaceted perspective. Made By Us is a beacon, a collective effort and guiding force that provides historical context and perspective to inspire action. We use our Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.
How do we get from a vision to reality? It’s a question almost everyone from activists to entrepreneurs, Etsy merchants to children making birthday wishes must confront. While it’s become popular to call oneself a “futurist”- someone who explores predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present — this title used to belong to academics and innovation groups for a reason. There is a discipline to becoming a responsible futurist: developing a solid understanding of both our history (how we got here and why) and the ways emerging systems develop (how what’s within our control interacts with what’s not).
A wish, a hope, an idea or a vision is always a prerequisite for change, along with the courageous belief that something other than what is could be possible. And that’s why we have launched My Wish for U.S. to invite each of us to contribute our individual voices to inform the collective conscience for our future. But then what?
How We Got Here
Publicly proposing something different from the status quo requires courage and often risk. If we’re honest, many leaps forward make much more sense looking backwards. And every breakthrough requires the dogged willingness of at least a few to insist on something not yet visible or seemingly impossible until they gain the support of the many. Germs? Gravity? The Cosmos? Brave souls, often dissed as heretics, have always challenged accepted reality and dared to envision something new.
On top of that, contrary to the myth of the lone inventor and the Eureka moment, most great inventions are the result of many small contributions, tiny lightbulb flashes and the unpredictable intersection of many hands shaping a better solution over time. As conditions change, and ideas need to evolve, there must be a willingness to work with others to shift systems that protect their own power. Fannie Lou Hamer is quoted as saying, “With the people, for the people, by the people. I crack up when I hear it; I say, with the handful, for the handful, by the handful, ’cause that’s what really happens.” A wish, for something better, for a best case, is what can inform the decisions we make about where we each throw our shoulders and handfuls of energy and time and coordinate those efforts.
But, wherever we choose to start pursuing those audacious visions, we can’t possibly be successful unless we look to history for its many lessons. Much as gardeners understand that you can make a lawn look nice by trimming and upkeep, the weeds will keep coming back unless you dig to the root. Civics organizations like the Mikva Challenge cultivate the practice of root cause analysis to help young people pinpoint where change needs to begin and the conditions that underpin a challenge that may seem entrenched. There are many ways to examine the factors that have impacted how we ended up with the current status quo. Mapping the influencers in ecosystems, looking at power dynamics over the decades in formal and informal settings, and tracing individual histories that intersect at key moments on the local, national and global stage, we have many tools at our disposal.
Let’s take one example to see how we might tease apart threads of history to understand something we often forget is a relatively new invention — that was decades in the making: the weekend.
Really. How often do you stop to think about a time before there was a weekend? TGIF has been around less than a century, and we have many people, a few named and a great many unknown, to thank for the time we get to spend with family, to worship in different ways and to rest before the week begins anew. A two-day weekend went from an unthinkable concept prior to the Industrial Revolution, to an articulated vision, to a cause to be fought for, to leadership from labor organizers, industry titans and eventually, at long last, the federal government with the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. This shift took well over 100 years and many, many hands. And yet — knowing how long it takes to realize change, shouldn’t we get started with the imagination part today?
Now, a weekend might not seem like a revolution, but some gig workers today struggle to balance economic survival with safety, privacy and reliable access to healthcare. Everything has a history, and looking backwards is a powerful inspiration for how to move forwards.
How We Get There
The United States of America began as an experiment in self-governance, breaking from the rule of monarchs and nobility. And, while we have a history littered with transgressions and examples that run contrary to our stated ideals, vision acts as a North Star that we can use to calibrate and re-calibrate our compass to guide our actions. As we inherit the dreams of founders and factory workers, great grand-mothers and immigrants, enslaved Africans and Native American tribal leaders, My Wish for U.S. invites each of us to look beyond election cycles and consider our own vision for the future of our country. We know that most audacious ideas sound crazy when they’re first hatched. So, what might help us take chances? Made By Us looks to the field of design thinking and innovation for guidance.
Later this summer, we will be offering several interactive sessions online for anyone interested in learning a few core techniques that futurists and innovators use to connect a vision for tomorrow with actions you can take today, like Backcasting, for example. You may remember in the Star Trek TV shows and movies, they were able to hold a handheld device up to a wounded or sick patient and diagnose the problem immediately. This device was called a tricorder. And though Sci-Fi might seem like a far-fetched place to change the present, using that big vision can lead to a roadmap back through time that reveals where to begin making it a reality.
The XPRIZE Foundation used this vision to galvanize scientists to create innovative technologies capable of accurately diagnosing a set of 13 medical conditions independent of a healthcare professional or facility, ability to continuously measure 5 vital signs, and have a positive consumer experience. Backcasting is a methodology that helps us step back from the future so that we can create the conditions, movements, technologies and social structures today necessary to give the vision of tomorrow a fighting chance.
As with Catterina’s wish above, it may seem like “education reform” is so broad that it’s impossible to know where to begin. But her perspective offers a clue: surfacing stories which have been erased from or left out of our shared understanding of American history might be a reform towards broader, more inclusive education. Sometimes, it comes down to just taking that first single step. If your wish is to live in a world where our institutions operate to enable equity, and you work your way back, at some point, people must understand the role of systemic racism in addition to how racism shows up in individual behavior.
Right now, as many people begin to engage in the Black Lives Matter movement, they are working from a variety of definitions of racism — and we can’t tackle problems if we all define them differently. 22-year-old Kennedy Mitchum saw this, and took action by reaching out to Merriam-Webster to get them to update their definition to include systemic aspects of racism, how the belief that some races are superior to others becomes baked into the societal institutions on which we all depend, from education to policing.
Kennedy’s action touches on another method we’ll be exploring, which is how to map an ecosystem of influence and understand the networks of power — both so that we may join forces and amplify our efforts but also to prioritize limited resources and use the most impactful levers for change. After all, who would have thought Henry Ford, representing employers and business, would become a critical if unlikely ally for the labor movement that gave us the weekend?
Getting Started Today
Tapping into our own power to shape the future requires us to zoom out to see the bigger context across history and our present systems, as well as zoom in to get real about what we’re willing to take on. So many incredible organizations, many of whom are part of the Made By Us coalition, are creating opportunities that invite us to put our civic superpowers into action. Civics Unplugged is inviting young changemakers to take the Civics 2030 Challenge, so that we can start to commence a brighter future for American democracy together. Citizen University challenges us to consider the idea that active citizenship is not about a formal status or title but about how we show up every day at the intersection of power and character, offering action moves that anyone can do (they’re simple even if they’re not easy).
As we each take on the individual work of examining our blindspots, we know that there is no end to making a more perfect union; and embracing lifelong learning means it’s never too late to get up to speed on how a bill gets passed (Schoolhouse Rock is great for the young and the young at heart!) to how we might better evaluate the people we elect into formal positions of leadership if we had other tools. We’ll be offering a final session in partnership with futurists, designers and educators from Stanford University’s d.school who are experimenting with a non-partisan, issue-agnostic approach to critical thinking that supports anyone to get the most out of their vote.
So, if tomorrow starts today, where should you begin? Sign up for the Made By Us newsletter to be notified about the upcoming events. And, if you haven’t already, share your vision (and how your story informs why it matters!) on My Wish for U.S. where you can explore glimpses of our past and the breadth of our possible futures.
What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present.