My last post began (this series of four short articles) with a suggestion on how to deal with the complexity of our age: simplify.

As a reminder, the four skills we’ll need to lead from the future are

  1. The drive to simplify
  2. The instinct to make
  3. The hunger to make the world thrive
  4. The imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today’s future skill is the “instinct to make.”

This instinct is suggested in the title of MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

In Makers of Fire I suggest that the discovery of fire was humankind’s breakthrough technology. As the 22nd century approaches there is a growing distance between what we as humans can do (technologically) and what we can do (actually). For example, we can start a car, flip on a switch and light a room, browse the internet, share a post  – amazing. And we have little to no idea how that happens. We shop at the market for meat and veggies and yet have little knowledge of the journey those products endured from earth to market.

There is a growing distance between what we can do and what we can do. But in the beginning, we made fire. We made fire with our hands and nothing more than the raw materials we could find in our environment. And we have still have that instinct to make. The growth of the Makerfaire is one indication of this instinct.

Leading from the future will require harnessing the “instinct to make” again. Rather than waiting for something to happen, we want to make things happen. Rather than waiting for lighting to strike, we want to make fire. There’s a growing interest to farm, for example, among the emerging generation. They want to grow their own vegetables. They want to know where their meat comes from. Both of my sons – 26 and 20 – are tapped into this instinct. And I’m not sure how that happened.

My grandparents left the farm for the city. My mother left Central America to fly the friendly skies as a flight attendant and lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Miami. I thought we had left our rural past and were headed to an urban future. But now, my oldest son now owns dogs, sheep, and horses. He prefers meat he himself hunts and butchers. My youngest son, wants to farm, build his own log house, and fish and hunt for his food. He wants to know how to survive in the world (by which he means the natural world) and live sustainably without such a heavy dependence on the processes on which we are all so dependent and which we increasingly distrust.

We don’t just want to consume things, we want to grow them. It’s not enough to buy organic, we are reconnecting with the instinct to grow things ourselves. It’s not enough to use a robot, we need the instinct to make one. It’s not enough to live in a home, we need the instinct to dig a footer and pour a foundation… and to connect with other humans in the growing and in the making.

Making fire can be a tribal activity.

Even societies and communities are made. Makers of fire need the wisdom and skill to make a society that works for everyone. Making a community is not just a complicated task. It is a complex task. Recently, a leading scientist in the UK, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, stated:

“Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument.” Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

Sir Paul wishes that our complex world could be reduced to being merely a complicated word. In a complicated world everything can be reduced to a logical argument. Everything is formulaic, predictable, one size fits all. It’s no surprise, then, that, according to the Guardian, Sir Paul urged

“…researchers to forge relationships with politicians, lobbyists, religious figures and leaders of organisations in the hope that they might feel ashamed to misuse scientific evidence.

But if that approach failed, Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. ‘When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried,’ Nurse said.”

Shame, crush, then bury. I suppose this is an attempt at leadership in a complicated world, where conformity rules. In a complex world, it’s not leadership. It’s abuse. Scientists are not above personal and political bias. The proverbial “follow the money” applies to them as it does to anyone else. Science is also built on tradition and traditions can become layers of knowledge that blind us to new ways of thinking. Take, for example, Sir Paul’s advice that we shame, crush, and bury those who do not conform to our knowledge. That’s a very old way to treat those who think differently. Foolishness follows a society that has lost its instinct to make.

Not everyone is a farmer, robot maker, or scientist, but we are all becoming human. Making a robot is complicated. Building human community is complex. Becoming human requires that we reconnect with the instinct to make. Leading from the future calls upon us, at very least, to make community.

But how can we best make community? That takes us into skill #3: the hunger to make the world thrive.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Preorder your copy now.

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