Future Skill #3: Thrive

Four skills needed to lead from the future are

1) SIMPLIFY: the drive to simplify
2) MAKE: the instinct to make
3) THRIVE: the hunger to make the world thrive
4) SYSTEMS: the imagination to connect seemingly unrelated dots

Today, I want to draw again on MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future for a third skill:

The hunger to make all things thrive

GENESIS CHAPTER ONE: The Poem of Thriving
One way to describe the Creative persona of Genesis chapter 1 is – The One who makes all things thrive.

Everything he touches flourishes.

He is so full of life giving energy that even the things he creates create.

“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” (Genesis 1.11)

And so the land itself began producing vegetation. The same goes for the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. The process of life begetting life is the result of being touched by a creative force so potent that life kept emerging from within the chaos.

“In the view of the genesis poem, our world of living things regenerates itself as an act of God. They are at once and the same time, the same thing. The discoverable mechanics of the natural world, the evolution of life, are all fingerprints of God at work in our world.” -from Makers of Fire

Towards the end of Genesis chapter 1, God creates a creature in his own image.

“And we, along with the other creatures, continued the creative work. And the biosphere continued to blossom, to open like a flower revealing layer after layer of beauty. According to Genesis chapter 1, God is at work when life thrives. Thriving must be the metric by which human rulership can be measured. Every creative act made by any creature that makes the world thrive is at one and the same time an act of God.” -from Makers of Fire

The third skill required to lead from the future is the hunger to make things thrive. This requires the development of new a discipline: self control. Our rapacious hunger, magnified by our technologies, have demonstrated our capacity to wreak havoc on the world around us and even on each other.

In the last 100 hundred years, we have all but eradicated wild Atlantic Salmon. The passenger pigeon went from being the most abundant bird in North America to extinction in 50 years. From billions to zero. When the first Europeans arrived, the pigeon was here, along with the America bison and the peoples of the First Nations, the Beringians, who had resided here at least 18,000 years since their crossing over the Bering Straight during the most recent ice age.

When the technologically advanced cultures entered the North American space, the wild things, valuable things, began to disappear. And, as our technology evolves at an even faster rate than our culture and our wisdom, we must learn from our past and step into the future wary of our own powers and of how our current choices may impact future generations.

How can we best make our biosphere thrive? How can we best make our society, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, our family and friends thrive? How do we become a species known for how it makes all things thrive?

Making all things thrive is a calling which can have many expressions. These expressions can become the fountainhead around which healthy communities can form. Imagine communities committed to making a world that works for everyone. Imagine that these communities start by making a world that works for their neighbors. This might mean an end to mindless consumption at the expense of others. It might mean we’ll need to simplify. It will mean that we’ll need to understand that everything is connected. Which leads to us the fourth skill we’ll need to lead from the future.

Alex McManus

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

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Future Skill #2: Make

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

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Future Skill #1: Simplify

“Leading from the future” is the tagline of my new book, MAKERS OF FIRE. As we make a turn towards the 22nd century, what are some of the leadership skills we’ll need to navigate our rapidly changing world?

Four of the skills we’ll need 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

THE DRIVE TO SIMPLIFY
One of the characteristics of our age is that of increasing complexity. It’s not that our age is complicated. Our age is complex. The difference is that in complicated systems one can predict the outcomes by understanding the starting conditions, while in complex systems outcomes are unpredictable. For example,

  • Building a Rocket is complicated
  • Formulaic
  • Linear
  • Static
  • Leading a Community is complex
  • Self evolving and determining
  • Multi-dimensional
  •  Dynamic

If you build one rocket, you can build another one exactly the same way, and get the exact same result. If you lead a group of people to live in healthy community, and you lead another group exactly same way, anything can happen.

Our complex age resists linear, one size fits all, and formulaic strategies for success. In order to lead in a complex environment, an important skill we’ll need to develop is the ability to simplify. To simplify is to clarify. We live in a world so obsessed with consumption that we lose the ability to know what we want and don’t want. We don’t know what we need and don’t need. To lead in a world of such clutter, we’ll need to see through the commercials, conflicting truth claims, alternative strategies, and opposing demands that clutter the world around us to a future that others can not yet see.

Describing that future — a skill which in the leadership literature is called casting “Vision” and in the discipline of Strategic Foresight is called creating the “preferred future” — until it becomes the north star within a world of tempestuous change simplifies the world. Others may become paralyzed or frazzled by all the contradictions and competing demands, but leaders must keep their eyes on that star. This will help simplify things without being simplistic. Getting there becomes the goal. That’s tight. How to get there can vary as widely as the conditions dictate. That’s loose.

Hold tight. Hang loose. Make Fire!

Alex McManus

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

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Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

Recently two Christian artists crossed my radar. The first is Gungor, who does not take the Bible “literally.” The second is evangelical recording artist, Vicky Beeching, who came out as gay.

This post is about Gungor. Now, I don’t know Gungor or his music. I’m listening to his music for the first time as I write this. My tastes tend more towards Thievery Corp, Zero 7, Bjork, Koop, Fau, Brae, Gypsy Kings, and Bebel Gilberto. But as I read this interview about Gungor’s “drift” from biblical orthodoxy as described by World Magazine, I was reminded that orthodoxy is the heresy that won.

Just about every week I read an article about how theologians wrestle with scripture in light of the science of evolution. Let’s be clear, this post is not about evolution as much as it is about scripture. And, for full transparency, I have evolutionary frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is. But I could care less if evolution were overturned or established tomorrow. Quite the contrary, I would be delighted by whatever new thing could be learned and discovered.

This post is about how we understand the scripture. Theologians wonder how we can understand the biblical figures of Adam and Eve in light of the fact that, given the evolution of our species, they had ancestors reaching back millions of years. They struggle with how there could have been death and suffering in the world for millions and millions of years before the “fall of man.” They struggle with how the creation story fits with what we know today about the emergence of life in the world, as if they were somehow parallel.

So many of us listen to theologians, academics, and other fundamentalist christians wrestle with these questions with the same incredulity we would if they were wrestling with how to understand cosmology in light of the church doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

The challenge for Christians is not that we don’t understand the science. It’s that we don’t understand the Bible… at least not the way millions of believers will understand it the farther we get into this century.

Enter the artist.

Michael Gungor reads the creation stories as a poem.

(This may also be a minority opinion, so far. In any case, majorities are overrated. After all, Christ was crucified with the majority in agreement).

The opening chapters of Genesis are a poetic saga. The creation story of Genesis is an epic myth thoughtfully and intentionally constructed from a multiplicity of sources including the babylonian poem known as the Enuma Elish.

Genesis does not record the chronological origins of the universe. It is the consolidation of stories from multiple sources (and cultures) which had substantial oral histories. These stories were brought together to express a particular and new faith that emerged four to five thousand years ago. This new faith is arrived at by a nomadic tribe whose patriarch, a man –whether a composite or an individual– named Abraham, had encounters with a guiding spirit in the wild. Their intention in pulling together these stories may have been to offer an apologetic for faith in Abraham’s God in a world full of gods.

For so many Christians it seems impossible to maintain this kind of point of view and still follow Christ. But Christians who have an evolutionary framework for understanding the world listen to Gungor and hear nothing but common sense. And they have fewer problems integrating new science with ancient faith than those who read Genesis like it was written by an ancient community that was somehow up to date with 21st century science. This may be one of the fault lines between Modern Christianity and the Christ-following faith of the 22nd century that is still in vitro.

To those within these frameworks, it is the theologians, academics, fundamentalists, and Christian organizations –especially the “watchdogs” of orthodoxy who are cemented in the past —  that seem biblically illiterate.

Are artists like Gungor, with or without intending, parting a theological sea? Are they, with or without knowing, raising a staff and prophesying the way of faith forward? Many who cannot understand the fundamentalist faith will run through these waters and begin to shape a tribe of faith that will populate the latter 21st century. They will read the scriptures with different eyes.

But, even fundamentalists can be saved. That’s the beauty of the courageous leadership offered by Gungor. (And, Im not saying here that he’s got it all figured out or even claims to have it figured out. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know much about him.) After Israel left Egypt, things went back to “life as usual” in the land of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians probably didn’t even miss a step. But the narrative arc of the story followed the nomadic tribe who found their way across the desert and through the waters led by a guiding wind.

I suspect that the narrative arc of the story of scripture may be headed out into the wilds again and the artists may be leading the way.

By the way, Michael and Lisa, enjoyed your music.

Alex McManus

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

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MOF_BOOK

What is MAKERS OF FIRE about?

BASIC IDEA

Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future  provokes readers to ignite change through their own creativity by using the analogy of Making Fire.
book pic banner
In order for fire to happen, three ingredients must be present:

fuel

oxygen

heat

By analogy, in order to create a “burning event” of social change, we must be

(1) fully present in the moment

Exponential change characterizes our world. Being fully present includes developing an awareness of the “weak signals” of change that are all around us as well as the events and trends that are shaping our present world. This is the Fuel.

(2) shapers of meaning

People are shaped by stories. Shaping meaning means telling the story of the human journey in ways that capture the 21st century imagination. We must engaged and expand our ability to think about the future. This is Oxygen.

(3) dream whisperers who are willing to step into the fray

Creating the future doesn’t begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. But dreams must become acts by which we step between the Fuel of culture and the Oxygen of meaning and ignite a spark of change. This is Heat.

When You bring this three ingredients together, you become a Maker of Fire.

BOOK STRUCTURE

The book is divided in three sections: Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat.

(1)

Fuel turns its attention towards our rapidly changing 21st century culture. It touches on the trends and events that are shaping our world. But not for the purpose of trend spotting or forecasting. Instead, Fuel focuses on our orientation towards futurity for the purpose of understanding and engaging the present.

(2)

Oxygen focuses on a timeless element of the human heart: our search for meaning. This second section explores the ways both theists and atheists, mystics and materialists, are tied together in a search for meaning in life. This is the human religion.

(3)

fireHeat gets practical. This is where dreams become deeds, genies come out of bottles, the imagined materializes into the experienced. This is where you apply your genius, creativity, and initiative to the Fuel of culture that settles like tinder at our feet and the Oxygen of meanings that swirl around us all. This is where you become a maker of fire.

The book is about the spirituality of leading from the future, a much needed corrective for those overly focused on the past and much desired perspective for those trying to be more engaged with the present.

The book releases on November 15, 2014 in Print, eBook, and PDF formats. An interactive PDF is available now at a special price and with special benefits, if purchased before August 31, 2014. We hope you purchase and enjoy the book.

Purchase

MAKERS of FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Look carefully at the photo. What do you see? Those of you who have experienced the beauty of the California coast line will need to brace yourselves. You’re looking at the floor of the Monterey Bay.
Image
A recent study revealed that 33% of the debris on the floor of Monterey is plastic. Over time this plastic solidifies into a new “rock” called plastiglomerate. This is not just trash. It’s an artifact left behind by us. On hundred thousand years from now a future archaeologist may find the debris in our photo as they burrow through the geological deposits and they will seek to know us through that which we left behind. In my book, Makers of Fire, I discuss the “future” artifacts which we are creating. Think of them as the stories we’re telling future generations.

lush earth

Welcome to the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is an informal moniker of geological time. It means the “time of man”. The formal name of our epoch is the Holocene which began approximately 12,000 years ago. The anthropocene demarcates the point at which humans began to mark the earth. The beginning of the anthropocene is variously dated. Some date it very recently to the time of the industrial revolution. Others take it back a bit further to emergence of cities some 10,000 years ago. I think of it as beginning some 2 million years ago around the time we discovered fire. 

Genesis chapter 1 contains a creation story that, in the end, portrays God as the One who makes living things thrive. Thrive. That’s the word. In this creation story humans are created in the image of God. We are most like God when we make life thrive. Now look at the photo again. Every person that reads the Genesis story in seriousness and couples this with what we are learning about our Earth needs to make a sharp turn back to the earth on mission… a mission to co-create the world with God and make it thrive.

That’s the story we want to tell future generations. 

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One Thing You Should Know about the Future

After reading an interesting and helpful post over at Forbes titled, 6 Things You Should Know About the Future, I was left with a question. The author writes:

The future isn’t what we thought it would be. We don’t walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars. Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.

Yet in many ways, we’re much better off than we imagined. Rather than a Mad Max dystopia of war, famine and disease we are safer, richer and healthier than we’ve ever been. As I’ve argued before, in a very real sense 140 characters are better than a flying car.

That’s the funny thing about the future. It’s never as fantastic as we hope nor as horrible as we fear.

jetsons

What do you think? Has the future lived up to our expectations? Perhaps it depends on where and when you are.

While I enjoyed the entire post, the last line in the quote above stayed with me. I wondered, Is that really the funny thing about the future? Could these words have been written In Germany in 1945 or NYC in October of 2001 or in early 21st century North Korea? Is the future “never… as horrible as we fear”?

My grandfather was never fully convinced that we had traveled to the moon and back. Too fantastic. Is the future never as fantastic as we hope? I wonder if these words could have been written in the labs where they created the first synthetic life forms in 2010? What’s more fantastic? A flying car or the creation of life in a lab?

True, Our experience may not match Bladerunner or the Jetsons, but 2014 is both fantastic and fearsome. We create life. Soon we will exercise the power of resurrection and bring back an extinct species. Fantastic. The global slave trade thrives and human slaves populate the dark corners of human civilization. Terrifying.

The real sticking point, I think, is the word “never”. It brings to my mind one thing we should all know about the future: We cannot predict it.

There may be coming around the corner something even more fantastic than we’ve ever dreamed and/ or something more fearsome than we have ever imagined… or not. Keep your options open and stay alert.

What do you think?

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If it Exists, Would’t Heaven be Boring?

A blog post from humanity+ makes the assertion that a future in which Artificially Intelligent entities take care of every human need and want will be boring. I couldn’t agree more. Image Imagine a future in which AI does more than perform all menial tasks for humans. They also do all the challenging tasks. They innovate, create, invent, discover. In that future there is no risk, no failure, no adventure. Let’s call it the boring future.

It’s also a reaction I’ve had when listening to theists talk about heaven. What would an eternity with no adventure, risk, and reward be like? Traditional images of heaven are scary boring. More recently, Christians are gravitating to the idea that heaven is not created by God for humans. God created the Earth for humans… and perhaps by extension the Universes too. Perhaps there’s an implication that we have lots more adventure ahead of us.

I find it interesting that both techno-utopians and Christians have some of the same misgivings about the future.

Both, I think, are pondering the question about our nature, human nature. Can there be happiness for us in an existence that is perfectly free of success and failure, predator and prey, evil and good, search and discovery? Or are we designed to be happiest when pursuing the ideals?

What do you think?

 

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On Preparing for Change…

In 2008 the Pew research group asked a group of us how much change we thought there would be in the 21st century compared to the 20th century?

We were given three options. How would you have voted?                                                           

UnknownChange in the 20th century was rapid. Think of the fact that at the beginning of the century, we could not yet fly. The Wright Brothers had their first successful flight in 1903. Then, 63 years later in 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. That’s blazing fast change happening. How many of you remember the world before email?  How many of you have actually used a landline to make a call? How many of you used to read an actual newspaper with your morning coffee? Those things all seem so long ago. When it comes to change, the 20th century was a blur. How fast will change come in the 21st century?

I think that “We will see more change in the next 100 years than we have in our first two million” as a species (from Makers of Fire, June 2014). The technology behind drones is outpacing the technology behind mobile phones. (And think about how they changed in the last five years). Soon, UAVs (think flying robots) will take to our commercial airspace. The race for genetic enhancements will be for the 21st century what the space race was for the 20th. And much, much more….I’m not sure that we’re prepared for the changes we will see in the next 10 years much less 100. How are you preparing for change?

What do you think?

(PS. I’ll post the answer the Pew Research Group gave us on the follow up post, On Preparing for Change – 2.)

On Becoming Human

human-body-leonard-da-vinci

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1.26)

Three Ideas to Ponder on Becoming Human…

There’s a saying you’ve probably heard: God’s not finished with me yet. What if that were actually true species wide? What if the creating God began in Genesis 1 is still ongoing? Perhaps the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a creation story pointing towards the goal to be accomplished far in the future: to give birth to the human. So, this short post is just a brain twister, the kind of thing I think about late at night.

Here are the three ideas:

1. We are not human yet…

To be human is an aspiration, not a present reality. Think about this word, inhumane. It means “not human like.” Why do we even have a word that expresses the negation of what we are? When a lion makes a kill, we don’t think, how inlione. That’s just not lion like. When they maul another animal, they’re acting according to their nature. But when we are inhumane, are we acting according to our nature or contradicting it? Whichever way you answer, the result  is pretty scary. We are both “human like” and “not human like.” Perhaps somewhen down the road we will actually become human.

What do you think? Chime in on our survey below.

2. Neither are we human beings

Every now and then I’ll hear someone say, we’re not human doings, we’re human beings. Probably they’re trying to emphasize our identity, the priority of who we are, over our works, the value of what we do. However, this term human being doesn’t sit well either.  We don’t have “being” in and of ourselves. We’re not immortal “beings.” The term human creature is closer. Whether you’re a theist or not, you recognize that humans had a beginning.  Whether through an act of God or through naturally occurring evolutionary forces or both,  we came into existence. We are creatures just like all the other life forms that populate the eco system.

3. We are human becomings

Still even human creature sticks a little. How can we emphasize our creatureliness and the fact that we are not yet human? We are human becomings. We had a beginning and we are on a journey towards that which we aspire to be: human. We are a story in the middle of the telling. There is value both in what we aspire to “be” and what we “do.” Both are necessary for “becoming.”

So rejoice. God is indeed not yet finished with you. And, as I’ve often said, Jesus did not come to make the world Christian. We can set our sights higher. He came to make it (and us) human.