I will be in Amsterdam for several weeks this year for THNK‘s Creative Leadership program, an 18-month, part-time, executive education program for senior international talent from social entrepreneurship, creative entrepreneurship and business intrapreneurship. THNK comprises of several intensive weeks spent on campus in Amsterdam during the first 6 months engaging in Quest (coaching), Forum (workshops) and (innovation) Challenges, followed by a personal entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial challenge (Accelerator) during the next 12 months.
An important part of THNK is Accelerator, which involves working on a 12-month long personal project, to start a new entrepreneurial venture, lead an organisational transformation, or create sustainable social impact. In preparation for the first THNK module in early March, I am reflecting on my initial ideas for my project, where they came from, what’s the change I wish to bring about through them, and how I will need to change myself to work on them.
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I feel like I have spent the last few years trying to find meaning in my life and work, through a journey of reduction, by asking myself who will I become if I don’t do this, or own that. This journey has included: living a year without buying anything I didn’t need, giving away almost everything I owned, taking a year off to think and teach a class on social media and social change, creating a social platform to crowdsource election monitoring, starting my own social media and social change agency, practicing Vipassana silent meditation, beginning and abandoning three books, and living in America and China.
Sometimes, I feel that I am like the Greek king Sisyphus who was cursed by the Gods to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever. Sometimes, I feel that I am like the Indian king Trishanku who wished to ascend to heaven in his mortal body, but was suspended by the Gods in his own heaven, between earth and heaven. Sometimes, like Albert Camus, I think of it as the irony of the human condition, and wonder if the only meaning to be found in our lives is in striving to ascend to heaven, in rolling the boulder up the hill.
In any case, my search for meaning is far from done, but I have learned what’s important to me: creating a positive change in the world, learning from new experiences, striving to be my best self, having the freedom to make my own choices, and being generous in sharing what I own and create. Last year, I synthesized these five principles into a personal manifesto. This year, I have used these principles to create a personal dashboard on Trello to visualize what success will look like, at the end of the year, and track my progress.
In the context of work, in everything I have done over the last five years (as a marketer, a writer, an academic, a changemaker, an entrepreneur, and an intrapreneur), I have been rooted in two values: purpose and participation. These values have shaped the consulting work I have done for clients, the new thinking and offerings I have created, the personal projects I have worked on, and the communities I have participated in. These two values have also shaped the two initial ideas for my Accelerator project.
My first idea is FutureCrafting, a community of changemakers, who are using technology to craft better futures. FutureCrafting aims to use crowdsourcing and transmedia storytelling to help us think about possible and preferable futures in the areas of sustainability, wellness, learning, urbanism, and media; and help us evaluate our personal and policy choices today, so that we might craft better futures for tomorrow. First, we will work within small groups to map possible futures in these areas on a 2×2 matrix with likely/ unlikely scenarios on the X-axis and negative/ positive scenarios on the Y-axis, leading to four sets of possibilities. We will be guided by William Gibson’s advice that “the future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed”, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s advice that “any technology in current use is likely to be at its half life; the older the technology is, the longer it’s likely to last”. Then, we will use transmedia storytelling to craft speculative fiction narratives that bring these possible futures to life, and make them accessible to the larger community. Then, we will use these speculative fiction artifacts as provocations to invite the community to participate in a crowdsourcing challenge, to expand our set of possible futures, validate their mapping on the 2X2 matrix, and link them to our personal and policy choices. Finally, we will design mechanisms to make it easier for people to make the personal choices and support the policy choices today that lead to preferable futures tomorrow.
My second idea is Mirror, another transmedia storytelling project, built around a near future science fiction novel, which explores the possible and preferable futures in the areas of sustainability, wellness, learning, urbanism, and media through the lives of six everyday heroes: an Indian data scientist, a Dutch ethnographer, a Kenyan community organizer, a Brazilian game designer, a Chinese filmmaker, and an American hacker. We explore the storyworld through the lens of a social network called Mirror, which is so popular that everyone in the world uses it, and so powerful that it not only curates experiences we want to participate in, but also gently nudges us towards experiences that are good for us, that make us happy, help us grow, become better people. We witness our six protagonists embark on perilous quests to find meaning, in a cosmic game that blurs the boundaries between the real and the virtual, only to discover that they can only find the answers they are looking for if they learn to still their minds and look within. We explore a new world order, in which independent city-states pursue their own visions of benign technological utopias, only to relearn that technology alone can’t help us create a utopian society, unless our spiritual progress catches up with our technological progress.
I have been playing around with both the ideas for months now, without being able to really work on either of them. Now, I feel that I should design my THNK project as a hybrid of the the two ideas; the FutureCrafting community can help create the storyworld, while the Mirror novel can bring it to life. Between the two, they can inspire, organize, and energize changemakers around the world to strive for their best selves and craft better futures.
Both these ideas speak to many of my gifts in the areas of envisioning a better future, applying an explorative mindset, and acting with passion and purpose. Specifically, gifts like thinking big, articulating a clear vision, having the courage to be a pioneer, seeking inspiration from different sources, growing and harvesting creative networks, and storytelling that moves to act will come into play, as I work on the project.
At the same time, I realize that I will need to work on my learning edges in the areas of orchestrating creative teams, and driving breakthrough change. Specifically, I will need to work on edges like personal mastery, empowering others to create, coaching creative teams, and unleashing the creative organization to bring the project to life. Then, I will need to work on edges like flexibly driving change, unleashing an accelerating change, engaging the whole system for change, and protecting bottom line viability to create long-term, sustainable impact through the project.
I also realize that I will not only need to learn new behaviors, but also new skills to work on the project. I will need to immerse myself into the disciplines of scenario planning and transmedia storytelling and train myself to become a practitioner. I will need to master an understanding of the technologies and social dynamics that are shaping the future of sustainability, wellness, learning, urbanism, and media. I will need to bring together a truly multi-disciplinary team, including many volunteers, and learn to play the role of a producer. Finally, I will need to learn how to raise the funds for the projects, perhaps through a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter.
To do all this, I am sure that I will need all the help I can get, from potential funders and collaborators, scenario planning and transmedia storytelling gurus, and social entrepreneurs and changemakers. So, if FutureCrafting and Mirror speak to you, do write to me or share a comment below; I would love to hear your feedback and explore opportunities to collaborate.