This was a question raised on Radio 4 this week in an interview with Yuval Noah Harari. I have immensely valued the thinking he is bringing to our world and believe he, amongst others, has a critical role to play in helping us navigate a different future. He said – “We have a choice … and that choice will be with us for years to come”. He is strongly supporting the argument that it is within our gift as humans to determine our futures. What I implore us to challenge is that he, like many others, seems stuck in the language of either or options for the future. He talks of having a choice between Totalitarianism vs Citizen Empowerment. If we keep insisting that our global discourse is framed in polarised notions of what choices we have then we will continue to put our energy into arguing which fixed position is best – which leaves little energy to explore HOW we bring about a new world through the opportunities we see today. Now is Our Big Opportunity to re-boot and re-imagine our worlds.
As part of the Totalitarianism debate, he was exploring the issue of surveillance. I have long been fascinated by the construct we have that the data generated from us is something governments have the right to freely use and the IT companies that collect it have the right to profit from – end of conversation. As I see in a project I am involved in for Somalia, there is the opportunity to see data as the new means of farming for communities. We have decided as a world that data is a valuable currency. We have also decided (or let it happen) that the people gathering the data own and profit from it without engaging in a conversation with us about how the people who the data belongs can also benefit from it. What if the future was about data-cooperatives? Where countries with limited resources can use their data as a source of income and insight for their communities. How do I know this is possible? Because this is the outcome we are seeking to achieve in Somalia focusing on increasing security in the region.
The other point he was making was around the need for collaboration – a virus does not collaborate it simply spreads – but humans collaborate. The US like many countries are pouring trillions into the economy. The countries of the global south do not have the ability to do that. He calls for collaboration which I absolutely support – how we collaborate is Our Biggest Opportunity. If we collaborate by asking the questions – What is the new economic model that will ensure our future wealth and health? Then what could the future become? This question takes us away from tedious positional debate about the virtues and vices of capitalism vs socialism and moves us into a new future. How do I know this is possible? – because I have been working with a foundation in Denmark that is engaging in that very question to explore the inter-connection between profit and philanthropy as a way of creating a new economic model.
My simple points – there are a lot of assumptions we hold that can and should be challenged. Most of our world is a social construct and as such can be re-constructed. As we start to challenge those assumptions we start to open up opportunities for new questions that will lead to re-imagined futures. It is my experience over the last 25yrs of seeing countless transformations of people and organsations that I know without question it is possible.
Start today – challenge your assumptions, explore new questions, connect with others to create new futures – and know it is possible.
To get you going, have conversations with those you are with and those you are virtually with using these questions to launch your thinking:
- What are we doing now and enjoying or proud of that we would never have thought possible in December last year?
- How have our assumptions been challenged as a result?
- What new assumptions can we now believe?
- What does this tell us about what we are capable of?
- In the past, many of us have dreamed about things being different – in our lives, our families maybe even the world.
- Holding the assumption that all dreams are possible, what is the one dream you want to make true?
- What are the assumptions you need to hold to bring about your dream?
- What past experiences do you and others have that you could tap into to bring this to life?
- What is one action that you will take today, to move in that direction?
This blog was written by Charles Irvine, Managing Director of Questions of Difference.
A conceptual futurist, affirmatively disruptive philosopher and organisational resultant