Why do we innovate?

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Why do we innovate?

To address that question allow me to reach out a little further – in fact, into space.

I was surprised to see an article, by a Harvard scientist no less, suggesting that Oumuamua, an ’oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object’, as it is described in the article, may indeed be an alien spaceship sent to spy on us.  

My first reaction was, of course, it is here to spy on us, everyone is highly competitive and out to get us because we are so special (yeah, right… interestingly, also quite recently airline pilots have reported suspected Ufo sightings, as reported in The Guardian and Global News).

After I got over that I was wondering, if they are out there to observe what else is going on in the universe, what would they make of planet earth?  This amazingly beautiful and special blue sphere floating through the universe on its endlessly looping trajectory? They would probably watch in awe of its beauty, its uniqueness, marvelling how anyone could be so lucky to call this planet home. 

If they had been observing us for a while, they might have been wondering what is going on though. They would have seen our planet change in fundamental ways. They might have noted in their logbook that these changes seem to have started with the planet’s inhabitants digging up the earth in a big way, starting just over 36,500 rotations of the planet ago.  From afar it would have looked as if  this digging was inflicting incredible wounds to the planet.  They might also noted, more recently, that the white bits on opposite sides of the globe seem to disappear fast, and that instead funny patches were appearing in the middle of the ocean.  (Indeed, one of the plastic garbage patches in the ocean has reached the size of France so are easily visible from space.)

They might wonder what large outbreaks of fires might be about,

what was causing huge floods,

and that raging storms were appearing with increasing frequency.  All of this was of such a scale that it was visible from space. They might wonder what mighty forces were at play. Surely there could be no creatures of power to havoc changes of such a scale? And most certainly, it could not possibly be those who called this planet their home.  Surely, no species could be stupid enough to treat their home with such disregard?

Yet here we are, with all our power of imagination, creativity and inventions, we have manage to poison air, sea and soil, creating these effects that destroy the most beautiful planet in the universe, our home. What is worse, there are still so many of us who still deny any responsibility, arguing that change – climate and otherwise, has always been part of our planet’s history. This can of course not be denied, but arguably, the rate of change has not been experienced before and is alarming, especially as it continues to accelerate. Even if we are not the cause of it, so, equally undeniable, our actions contribution to the acceleration.

The saddest thing is, what ever we do now, it will not be enough to deal with the damage that has been done.  Such is the nature of systems and systemic effects that even if we stop all damaging activities and counteract them as best as we can, the momentum of the past will continue for a while yet before it can be reversed – if it can be reversed at all.

Yet it seems that even the collective will to take such action is lacking.  Debates take place, promises are made – to be delivered against at some point in the future, when those who have made these decisions are no longer in positions of power and influence. At times even the promises that have been made are revoked. Solutions proposed allow the destruction and abuse to continue – just elsewhere, as happens with emissions trading and sending rubbish to faraway places, placing an increasing burden on developing countries.  As the  BBC comments on emission trading, “the effectiveness of these schemes has been questioned, with research indicating that some have created more emissions than they have actually curtailed.” Of course, there are also those who take their responsibility to environment and planet very seriously, and not only aim to limit their negative impact but even create a net positive one, such as Kingfisher and Interface.  Unfortunately these organisations seem to remain a minority

Ignorance and fear are what subtly (not not so subtle) influences decision making of so many today. To talk and declare best intention is easy. Courage is only required when truly looking at our word as it is (and then despair is easily found just behind that mirror).  Listen to, and believing, those who promise that they can fix it, is certainly easier. How else can things such as Trump and Brexit be explained?  And Brazil, and Austria? How else can it be possible for a foreigner, married to an Austrian for almost a decade and having lived in the country much longer, to be asked to pay €700 for unlimited indemnity insurance per month as part of the never ending demands she encounters on her attempts to earn the right to stay in the country she has been living in and contributing to for years? The solutions offered by those ‘strong’ leaders involve focusing on self at the peril of others.  Can isolation from the rest really work in a world that is so deeply interconnected at so many levels? See box below why isolation does not work well …  

So, why do we innovate?  And how do we innovate? How do we use our amazing abilities to create and shape, to shape our future? Is what we are currently creating the future we want for our children’s children?

PS Those who know me a little know it is not my way to point out what I perceive to be a challenge without taking a look at how to address this.  In the next mailout I will share some thoughts on the why and how to innovate ;-).

Why closing our boarders cannot be the solution

To put it quite dramatically, one certain way to ensure stagnation followed by certain death is to seal off all boundaries. While this is a statement that holds true for living systems, I would argue that organisations and nations follow the same law – former East Germany under the communist regime and North Korea are examples of nations that have attempted to seal themselves off, and suffered the consequences from that isolation.  While boundaries are important at one level, their openness, porosity is essential for the survival for what ever is within these boundaries. I am taking the liberty of sharing an extract of Margaret Wheatley’s book, “Who do we choose to be” in which she lays out the argument much better than I could:

A living system has permeable boundaries and cognition. It can open to its environment, notice changes and disturbances, process that information, learn and respond with adaptations. This is the process of self organization: Responding to changes in the environment creates new levels of order.  This is how life creates newness and diversity and continues to sustain itself through shifts, crises and catastrophes.  All of this is possible and commonplace as long as the system remains open and alert. 

If a living system closes itself off, there is no possibility for change and growth. Closed systems have no potential for life’s self-organizing capacity. They work like machines, passive travelers on the arrow of time, deteriorating and losing capacity, predetermined to waste away because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law describes the trajectory of heat energy from useful to useless. (The First Law of Thermodynamics states that the quantity of energy is always conserved; it is neither created nor destroyed as it changes form.) The Second Law describes how the quality of energy deteriorates as a closed system does its work. With every interaction, some amount of energy becomes useless. This is entropy, the measure of disordered energy. High entropy describes high levels of disorder. 

Living systems resist the arrow of time and the Universe’s movement to increasing disorder by using their capacity for cognition to open to what’s going on in their internal and external environment. Living systems are distinguishable from machines by this cognition, their ability to learn. Through a semi-permeable boundary, they participate with changes going on in their environment. The choose what to notice and how to respond. With cognition and a metabolism that processes nutrients, living systems exchange energy rather than lose it. Even as their environment is experiencing entropy, living systems can thrive as long as they are actively engaged and aware. 

If they close down, they wear down and death is assured.”

I believe this to be true also all complex systems that want to thrive and survive, be they organisations, or nations.  Closing the boarders will not work.

You can read the opening of Margaret Wheatley’s book here.

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