re-2/ The Transformation Project


Richard Moore

Bcc: FYI
rkm website

The Transformation Project: full version

Vera Bradova wrote: 

Well, Richard, all I can say is that Mother Nature seems to have succeeded at the emergent, radical incrementalist approach beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. But you say that since so far humans haven’t managed to imitate her successfully, “other approaches” must be tried. Strange.
  You responded last time that you feel unanimity has a place in microprocesses, if I am using the correct term. I think that you made a good point. But the question you pose, about the ideal financial system for the world, is a macro question, and the people who will be asking it will have no power to implement it.
  Didn’t the Hellrigl lecture demonstrate that communities can change using incrementalism? The people in those Austrian communities did what made sense to them, and when other needs arise, they will already have a process by which to do more. 
  I don’t know why I keep saying this stuff over and over. Perhaps because the rest of your project seems like a good thing. So here is my challenge: where is the evidence that backcasting works with anything but trivial examples? Where is there evidence it works with stuff — like inventing a flying machine — where the future is full of unknowns? Can you show an example where something truly significant and radical and surprising was accomplished by this process?

I have a lot of experience with the process of invention, at Apple and at many other places. Inventions always involve an interaction between backcasting and incremental evolution. 

Inventions always begin with a goal, such as ‘create a machine that flies’. Backcasting from that, someone comes up with a design that looks like it should fly. The design is implemented and tested. When it doesn’t fly, lessons are learned. The same person, or someone else, then comes up with another design that takes those lessons into account, again backcasting from the goal. 

In retrospect, we see an iterative, evolving process. But at the time, each of the pioneers was trying to build something that would actually fly. Each one was seeking to be the final inventor, not just a step in an iterative process.

If the goal is to build a flying machine, then you need people who are willing to take the risk of backcasting a flying machine design. And if the goal is to be achieved, you need people who are able to learn from the failed designs.

If we apply the flying-machine experience to changing the world, which is what you are suggesting, then we need people who are willing to take the risk of backcasting a plan for changing the world. And if we want to succeed at changing the world, we need to able to learn from the plans that fail.

Someone came up with one plan for changing the world, and that was to spread the meme: think globally and act locally. Lots of people adopted that ethic; many years have gone by; many people still swear by it. Unfortunately, however, the plan has failed. Some people won’t want to face that fact, but a fact it is. 

Transition Towns and relocalization are another plan to change the world, one community at a time. If each locality can become self-sufficient, particularly in energy, then we will have replaced the whole globalized system of long-distance dependence and transport. Sounds like a promising plan to me. And we can see how it’s been doing, in terms of number of communities participating, the number of people in each community who take part, and in the economic and sustainability gains that have been made. 

Again, as a plan to change the world, this localization design too has failed. And again, there are many who wouldn’t be able to face that. For some reason, people prefer to keep trying harder at things that don’t work, rather than seeking to find another approach.

Occupy is a movement aimed at changing the world, and it is a failure. Movements in general are a plan for changing the world, one cause at a time. We can see what that plan has done for us, by looking at the world around us. Movements have sometimes achieved temporary concessions, but always the grip of centralized control was tightened in the process. As a plan for changing the world, movements have failed. 

And then there’s the spiritual-awakening plan, and the related new-age movement. If everyone gets enlightened / changes their consciousness, the world will be transformed. Lots of people are into this one, and it’s been going on for many years. It’s not working, and there are no signs of that changing, despite the fact that so many cling to the hope. 

My assessment of the world situation is that it is getting worse rapidly, lots of people are trying to do something to change that, and none of the initiatives, as they are currently envisioned, is going to work. The initiatives are evolving, as exemplified by the evolution in Manfred’s approach, but the rate of evolution is too slow to be of any help in actually shifting the overall course of events. 

The reason for this is that people attach themselves to solution paradigms, and then keep trying harder with them, focusing their attention on their incremental victories. Very few people stop and ask, ‘Am I changing the world yet?’ And even fewer, if they see the answer is no, are willing to go back to the drawing board and try a whole new approach.

That’s one thing I’m willing to do, go back to the drawing board. I’ve done it many times. Always backcasting a process by which the world could change. Each time I found a way to test the process, either directly or indirectly. Each time it partly worked and partly didn’t work. Each time I learned specific lessons. And each time I would reassess the various solutions people are trying around the world, and identify some new synergistic combination that shows promise. I have no solution paradigm of my own that I can attach myself too. 

One lesson I’ve learned is that the level of conversation among a group of people depends on a lot of things. It depends on who they are, the expectations they bring, the framing of the event, the introductory comments, any presentations that are made, the impression made by the people who give the presentations, the processes used, etc. etc. 

I recognized early on the value of what can be accomplished with processes like DF and Wisdom Councils. I learned after that of the various obstacles that exist, preventing results in the microcosm from manifesting in the macrocosm. Overcoming those obstacles has been the focus of my work since then.

I’ve learned a great deal over the past six months about conversations among people. At the Reitschule in Basel, I saw how conversations work in a complex anarchistic business & activist environment, one that operates quite successfully. At the Climate Camp in Zurich, I saw how conversations work among people who mostly don’t know one another, but who have worked on similar collaborative projects before. 

In Awaken Ireland I learned a lot about how conversations work in public meetings, using various formats, such as Open Space, presentations w/ Q&A, etc. I also learned a lot about the problem of motivating people to show up at public meetings. And of course I learned a lot about how activist groups operate, how conversations work there, and how difficult it is to maintain coherence in a dynamically unfolding project.

My current backcasting design, the Transformation Project, is an integration of all the things I’ve learned so far. In particular, it seeks to maximize the productivity of the various conversations involved. A conversation starts off at a certain level, depending on the framing and the other factors I mentioned above. Where it goes from there depends on the process and the people. 

The project is aimed at maximizing the starting level of the councils, and then the councils are intended to maximize the starting level of the public meetings. The storyboards are an attempt to enable each conversation to start off at the level where previous conversations left off. The project is about always increasing the level of the conversations, and always moving toward greater inclusiveness and greater coherence.

Before I can invest energy in something, I need to see a path, even it it’s a questionable one, that leads to success. Except as a research exercise, I refuse to engage in activities that I know for sure can’t achieve the goal. To me, the Transformation Project outlines a viable path to the goal. So I’m willing to devote my energy to it, to seek people to work with, and places where the project can get started. 

But I fully realize – and I thought people would know this – that the project could not possibly unfold in the way I’ve imagined it. The map is never the territory. Assembling the project team will already bring in ideas about changing the approach. The very first pilot council event will undoubtedly dispel many illusions, and force some serious reconsiderations. How people respond to a storyboard will bring surprises, I’m sure. The project, if I can get it started, will be an emergent phenomenon, not a march to a fixed plan. The value of the initial plan, at least for people like me, is the hope it gives that the emergent phenomenon might actually get somewhere.

It’s the same thing for the vision & blueprint that the project seeks to produce. The vision of the new world gives hope that a specific better world is possible, and the blueprint – the backwards bridge – gives hope that the better world can be achieved in a specific way. It is the specifics that separate a plan from a dream. 

And when the time comes that the implementation of the plan can begin, when unity is achieved, everyone will soon learn that the map is not the territory. What happens after that will be an emergent process. The most valuable outcome of the whole project is not the vision and the blueprint, rather it is the conversational infrastructure that has been established. It will not be exactly the infrastructure I’ve envisioned, with weekend events and storyboards; it will be the infrastructure that evolves as part of the evolving project. 

The infrastructure itself is the essence of what a better world is all about. A means of having an inclusive, coherent conversation, that can achieve unity of intent. That’s what democracy is, and that’s the only way we, the 99%, can get what we really want. We don’t have any experience with that kind of empowerment, and so any plans we make in the meantime will be from a disempowered state of consciousness. Of course the plans will change. Such plans are catalysts to energize an unfolding creative process.

thanks for the dialog,