Crowdsourcing Humanity’s Future

Calling all futurists, anthropologists, culture designers, storytellers, empathic technologists, emergent thinkers & P2P commoners

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” — Thomas Paine. Image courtesy gdefon.com.

Solving humanity’s grand challenges is going to take much more than meeting the puny targets of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN calls them the goals that will transform our world, but the targets set for each goal paint a picture of a dismal world — a world that’s barely better than in 2017.

Consider just some of what the UN champions as success by 2030:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty, which means that “non-extreme poverty” (people living on less than $10 per day) as well as extreme wealth will both still exist. Why not aim for extreme abundance for all?
  • End hunger, which means that processed foods will have a bigger addressable market through subsidies and grants. Why not aim for food sovereignty for all?
  • Achieve 7% annual growth in GDP, which means the UN wants indefinite growth, on a physically finite planet. Why not aim for personal empowerment for all?

Why are the UN’s SDG’s sub-optimal?

The answer lies in cognitive bias and group polarisation, but rather than dive into what these social psychology theories are, let’s look at an example of a global challenge from our recent past.

The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

By the late 1800s, large cities all around the world were “drowning in horse manure”. The problem became so bad that in 1894, The Times predicted,

“In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”
The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

To solve the problem, the world’s first international urban planning conference convened in New York in 1898. The conference was planned for ten days, but was abandoned after three days, since no solution could be found. It seemed urban civilisation was doomed.

Unbeknownst to the conference attendees was that Henry Ford was about to come up with a process of building motor cars at affordable prices. By 1912, the seemingly insurmountable manure problem had been resolved; in cities all around the globe, horses had been replaced and now motorised vehicles were the main source of transport and carriage.

The UN’s SDG’s is today’s example of the cognitive bias which blocks meaningful solutions to global crises. Our planet needs radically different ideas if we are to solve our complex global challenges. The inconvenient truth is that transformative thinking won’t come from governments or other structures that are part of the problem.

“Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed — the ecological, social demographic or general breakdown of civilisation — will be unavoidable.” — Vaclav Havel, past president of the Czech Republic.

Overcoming cognitive bias and group polarisation is tough!

I’m the first to admit that the size and complexity of the challenges we face can be daunting. However, if you’re reading this you’ve no doubt been granted two superpowers which make the task a little less intimidating. These two superpowers may very well have been a curse for most of your life, because your ideas were probably rejected by the masses. However, at this critical juncture in humanity’s history, I believe it’s time we commit to putting these two superpowers to good use:

  • Sense-making: Your journey probably began — unconsciously and without planning — 10 or more years ago. You realised things about the world didn’t make sense and it bugged you that you were told just to accept things the way they are. So you set off to actively try to make sense of things and along the way you learned lessons which gave you insight. But every new insight compelled you to revise and restructure all of the existing answers you thought you already knew. It was probably a frustrating process, but you started to put more and more pieces together, leading to more powerful paradigm shifts and new epiphanies. That journey continues to this day.
  • Story-telling: Stories create cultures and whoever creates the best story wins. CEO’s have known this and have used storytelling to effect cultural change in organisations. Stories and storytelling have always been an important part of ancient cultures, being used in many communities to assist individuals learn the complexities of their culture. Over the past few years you’ve probably built a mental model of what a Utopian world might look like, and you may or may not have been able to explain your mental model to a sceptical audience, in a way that inspires “a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness”.

That’s where crowdsourcing humanity’s future comes in. I’m doing the best I can to let Gracey’s story flow through me — actually, all I’m doing is providing fingers to type and getting out of the way. Although divinely inspired, there’s no way this story could possibly be complete. There will be many technologies, processes, developments and ways of thinking about grand challenges that my own cognitive bias has blinded me to. That’s why I’m actively looking for cultural anthropologists, culture designers, storytellers, empathic technologists, P2P commoners and emergent thinkers to critique, challenge, add to, simplify and otherwise create a much-needed new story for humanity. If that’s you, do please get in touch. If you know someone like that, please ask them to add their insight to Postcards from 2035.

What we need now is a conscious evolution “project” to facilitate and gently guide the quantum jump. The coming 50 years should be dedicated to bringing together the intellectual, social and spiritual resources of our brilliant species to lay the foundations for the next stage of human evolution. — Barbara Marx Hubbard, Conscious Evolution — Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential
Jamie Drummond of ONE.org suggests a crowdsourced reboot for the next 15 years (TED June 2012).
“The stakes are immense, the task colossal, the time is short. But we may hope — we must hope — that man’s own creation, man’s own genius, will not destroy him. Scholars, indeed all men, must move forward in the faith of that philosopher who held that there is no problem the human reason can propound which the human reason cannot reason out.” — Albert Einstein

Postcards from 2035 is a series of profoundly simple interlinking ideas describing life in a highly desirable society, where everything and everyone is advanced, happy, intelligent and problem-free. It’s a blueprint of the world we need to create. The best thing you can do to help us get there is to share with your friends and get the conversation started.

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