Embracing an ambiguous world
In 2006 IBM produced a report called 'The enterprise of the future'. The survey of CEOs revealed that 8 out of 10 CEOs saw significant change ahead and yet the gap between expected levels of change plus the ability to manage it had tripled. Why? I would argue these leaders did not have the means to see an unfolding story, that we are decoupling from a linear industrial society and so were unable to embrace, nor articulate the emergence of new organisational structures, legal frameworks, new production and design processes, not the underlying societal trend that sought greater mutualism, opportunity, freedom, diversity, and empowerment, that were in direct contrast to the increasing unfairness and monoculture of a wholly consumer orientated society.
In this non-linear world, companies and organisations premised upon the old orthodoxies, linear, industrial-scale models must think and embrace the unthinkable and work out how they innovate to survive. Whether we survey the political, media, engineering, NGO, educational or healthcare landscape we can identify an increasing sophistication in how we are responding to the challenges of living in a more complex world. At the same time, there is the ever-increasing acceleration of the collapse of the old ways of command and control. Every work of art, said Wassily Kandinsky, is a child of its time.
And so to learn new ways of doing these things we have to hack the future.
Hacking as a term was first attributed to Stephen Levy as described in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. The key points of this ethic are that of access, free information and improvement to quality of life. There are a couple of key points worth sharing. First, sharing is expected within the hacker culture and the principle of sharing stemmed from the atmosphere and resources at MIT. During the early days of computers and programming, the hackers at MIT would develop a programme and share it. Secondly, many of the principles and tenets of the Hacker ethic contribute to a common goal - the hands-on imperative. As Levy states: 'Hackers believe that essential lessons can be learned about the systems - about the world - from taking things apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to create new and more interesting things.' Thirdly, a common value for hackers and their work processes is that a sense of community and collaboration are present at all times. In 'Civic hacking: a new agenda for e-democracy', James Crabtree references reciprocity. 'The opportunity is the construction of a civic space in which citizens talk to each other, rather than to the state'.
And as Crabtree points out, hackers tend to work collaboratively. So sharing information is the key to development; the more sharing of knowledge within communities of interest or practice means that community, like a Linux, or an or a Local Motors community, becomes more capable - it can accelerate innovation, it can enable people to acquire new skills to apply to new challenges. Sharing good knowledge within a community is also creating a reservoir of knowledge - we are harnessing collective intelligence.
The hacker ethic and pattern recognition
It was the ability of the entrepreneurs or groups of dispersed individuals or situated communities to apply innovative thinking and action that enabled them to adapt to ambiguous, challenging and dangerous situations. They were able to identify a new pattern, a new way of doing things - which was not seen as risky, but eminently doable. Consequently they have all transformed aspects of healthcare, economies, society and politics. There is indeed artfulness, an underlying creativity that is able to operate because the creators have all allowed themselves to imagine what others thought to be impossible. Not because they think it's a nice thing to do, but because there was a very pressing need - in essence all obstacles must be overcome. They had to design for transformation.
So in hacking the future we ask the really important question "HOW": How do we remove the acute volatility and therefore risk of running large scale farms by thinking about the problem as a systems challenge? How do we discover a new sustaining business model by enabling our customers to constantly co-create the future of our company, meaning we co-create better products, services, and increase revenues? How do we create a service to better manage people's chronic healthcare. Reducing; wrong diagnosis, over prescription of drugs, and clogging up hospitals and specialist time? How do we rapidly build a platform that can take eye witness accounts of atrocities and crimes against humanity and deliver this information as text, pictures, eyewitness accounts, with geo-location and time tagged data to help build a comprehensive story of an unfolding crisis - with no money, no time and no infrastructure? These 'How' questions are about effective responses to acute situations they are not premised on a framework of squeezing efficiency out of an ineffective and inefficient model.
Be realistic imagine the impossible then create it
Whether the challenges we face are commercial or let's say are civic in nature, small or large scale, the ability to resolve those challenges means to imagine a new reality, but a reality all the same that says we can create better functioning organisations, we can create for more cohesive societies and deliver an economic vibrancy that is of mutual benefit for all, which is more humane, more sustainable and often a lot less costly.
But to do that we need some navigational principles to hack the future:
- The hacker accepts the uncertainties of an ambiguous world and becomes master of them. Requiring openness and deep listening.
- The hacker explores how to become adaptive and agile. This ability to upgrade constantly in hardware, software, organisational structures, and business models is required at least for the time being. To be adaptive we must be constantly creating, collaborating, critiquing, communicating, by identifying key drivers we can better evaluate, and it enables the development of a new literacy to describe where we want to go and what we want to create.
- The hacker understands that living and working in an open culture offers mutual benefits to all.
- The hacker embraces participatory cultures as a sustainable form of economics, innovation, organisation and leadership.
- The hacker is an innate craftsman: the craftsman is always in beta, consistently using "PLAY" as a process for discovery, the development of new insight, technique and creativity.
The question many organisations have to ask themselves is - are they ready to hack the future and create it?