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The Lexicon of Tomorrow

by Langdon on September 30, 2016

Robot and human hands almost touching with a binary burst of light - 3D render with digital painting. A modern take on the famous Michelangelo painting in the S

Language evolves as society evolves, and since our society is evolving quite rapidly, new words are being created every day to label new experiences, new understandings, and new things, and so it takes some effort to keep up. Our new book Foresight and Extreme Creativity is a detailed study of the driving forces of change that are shaping the world of tomorrow, and of the strategic responses that leaders and their organizations need to undertake to sustain themselves through the challenges of the years ahead.

In preparing the book we encountered (and in some case invented) so many interesting concepts and new terms that  identify them that we ended up compiling this Lexicon, a glossary of future terms, which is included as an appendix to the book.

The purpose of this Lexicon is thus to compile a useful list of words and concepts that I’ve used in the Foresight book or which relate to topics covered in the book, and which newly describe essential and essentially new aspects of today’s world, and which may also usefully describe tomorrow’s. It’s certainly not a complete list, but in aggregate it’s pretty interesting set of about 130 concepts that no one had heard not so long ago because they hadn’t been invented yet, but which may be the key descriptors of the experiences and artifacts of tomorrow.

foresight-cover

Foresight and Extreme Creativity:
Strategy for the 21st Century

By Langdon Morris
Available October 2016

Additive Manufacturing – Machines that create new stuff in layers, by adding. More complex shapes and forms can be made this way. Printers can be located anywhere – on the Space Station, in your kitchen, etc. Additive manufacturing removes the factory from the factory. Also known as 3D printing. “MakerBot” is a company making and popularizing early versions these machines, which have the potential to significantly change how products are designed and manufactured. For example, a MakerBot at the San Francisco Public Library is being used to produce customized artificial limbs for amputees, at a small fraction of the previous cost.

Agglomeration Economy – Economic gains including higher output per worker, higher wages, higher profits, and higher incomes that come from geographic concentration of firms and people, typically as the congregate in cities. London and Silicon Vallery are prime examples, where both demonstrate significant concentrations of expertise, wealth creation, and higher incomes than neighboring cities and regions. (Mario Polèse, The Wealth & Poverty of Regions, p. 31)

Anti-Fragile – Technically, anti-fragile is something that becomes stronger when it is stressed, as distinct from fragile, which breaks when it is stressed. (Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Anti-Fragile. Random House, 2012)

Autocatalytic – Literally, something that produces the fuel that propels it; in our context, a process of change that feeds itself such that further change results. (Henrich, p. 57) In the urban context, on a street where interesting things happen, more interesting things then happen. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 151) (See also, Autopoesis.)

Autopoesis, Self-creation– A process that creates itself. Similar to autocatalytic, the difference being that in autopoesis the process is self-originating rather than just self feeding. Both terms are important when thinking about change and the acceleration of change because they describe subtle but important attributes of systems undergoing change. (Varela, Maturana, and Uribe, Autopoesis and Cognition, 1974)

Behavioral Economics – Study the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions, and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation.

Bias – Factors that influence opinions and decisions are biases. There are many different types, six of the most notable of which are:

  1. Anchoring Bias: Ignoring contradictory evidence.
  2. Availability Heuristic Bias: Vivid and easily imaginable events and recent events are weighted disproportionately in making decisions. Something that occurred this morning, even if insignificant in the bigger picture, may exert disproportionate influence in a decision making process.
  3. Confirmation Bias: Initial decisions become self-fulfilling prophesies, and data are collected after the event to justify the decision. Contradictory evidence is often disregarded.
  4. Commitment Escalation Bias: Previous commitments tend to influence present decisions; this is often referred to as “putting good money after bad,” and generally refers to our unwillingness to walk away after a bad investment.
  5. Framing Bias: How a situation is presented affects the decision; and it can be easily even if unconsciously framed to validate a given expectation or position.
  6. Hindsight Bias: It is easy to construct a logical narrative to explain events in hindsight, even when foresight had no clue what was coming.   Nassim Taleb explains it in these terms: “Past events will always look less random than they were.” Or, “I saw that coming all along…”

Black Swan – Something that was thought to be impossible or nonexistent until it is subsequent discovered or occurs. More broadly, the cognitive fallacy of assuming that something cannot exist or could not occur just because it has not been seen or has not yet occurred. “Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. …This illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation [or event] can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Random House, 2007. p. xvii.)

Climate Refugees – People who become refugees as a result of climate change.

CEO Disease – The tendency to abandon the rigorous thinking efforts that led one to become CEO, once one has become the CEO.

Climageddon – A hypothetical and worst case outcome of climate change, the result that would occur from continued warming of the climate, the consequent melting of all the polar ice leading to significantly higher sea levels and thus major coastal flooding, while at the same time prolonged droughts, increased incidents of infectious diseases, and all of the resulting human suffering and massive financial losses. (See Chapters 2, 12, and 13.)

Co-Evolution – An evolutionary process in which two factors evolve as a consequence of their interaction with each other. Also used in title of an influential journal from the 1970s, Co-Evolution Quarterly, which was one of the most prominent publications to emphasize the way that technology influences society, and thus a precursor of thinkers such as Ray Kurzweil.

Cognitive Dissonance – The tendency “to suppress, gloss over, water down or ‘waffle’ issues which would produce conflict or ‘psychological pain’ within an organization. (Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 303)

Cold Trade War – Conflict between China and the US over electronic hardware and software (Clay Shirky, Little Rice, p. 78)

Commuter Amnesia – Commuters tend to shut out their daily experiences of commuting to work, and to forget about commute trips as soon as they are done. “The longer people’s commute, they more likely they are to report chronic pain, high cholesterol, and general unhappiness.” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 180)

Complexity – In common language complexity is often confused with complicatedness, referring to something that can manifest in a lot of different ways. But that’s not such a useful definition for us. In more precise systems language, complexity refers to the possible states of a system; more complex systems have more possible states. In most cases this is a consequence of having more inputs and/or more connections. Hence, complex systems such as the human brain (the most complex organ and possible the most complex biological system), are so deeply interconnected within that 80 billion neurons are connected by tens of trillions of synapses, resulting in an uncountable range of possible human behaviors.

Conspicuous non-consumption – A pattern of consumer consumption in which we show off our environmental awareness by letting others know how conscientious we can be, and how little we can consume. This is contrasted with “conspicuous consumption,” the competitive act of consumption as a demonstration of wealth and power, which was common from the 1950s through the 1990s. The American concept of “keeping up with Joneses” embodied conspicuous consumption; if your neighbor, Mr. Jones, bought a shiny new car, you felt social pressure to buy one as well.

Counter-Intuitive – Something that behaves in ways that we do not expect, as it is contrary to our intuition. Typically refers to systems that do the opposite of what is expected and intended. These behaviors are generally due to the their very high complexity, which succeeds in fooling our intuition. (Jay Forrester, “Counter-Intuitive Behavior of Social Systems.”)

Crony Capitalism – Quasi-capitalist national economy in which the friends and relations of a national leader enrich themselves through preferential treatment and corruption. The Economist reports that aggregate crony wealth is now a massive $1.75 trillion worldwide, although down from $2 trillion in 2014.[i]

Cultural Neuroscience – Study of the impact of human culture on human neurology, and particularly on the human brain. (Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success, p. 268)

Cybersovereignty – The idea that the internet should have borders and controls for information to respect the sovereignty of nations. (Clay Shirky, Little Rice, p. 27)

Davos Man – Member of the global elite who attends the annual World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland (Samuel Huntington)

D-Curve – The double curves implied by Moore’s Law, the rising curve of exponential improvement in computer chip technology, and reciprocal downward curve of cost. Computers get rough twice as powerful and half as expensive, so 4x better, even 18 months or so. The curves drawn together form the shape of a D, hence the D-Curve. (See Chapter 1.)

Demand Destruction – Reduction in demand based on changing consumer patterns. For example, energy efficient appliances and light bulbs “destroy demand” for electricity, which in turn destroys demand for whatever is used to generate electricity, whether oil, coal, or nuclear. (Peter Zeihan, The Accidental Superpower, p. 133: “If 3D printing captures just 1 percent of global manufacturing it will slice 50,000 bpd from global oil consumption just from transport savings.”)

Digital Danger Zone – A period of history into which we are entering that is characterized by a profusion of new digital technologies of significant power that make it possible for new companies to threaten older ones, if the entrepreneurs behind the new ones are able to harness the power of technology more cleverly or more quickly. (See Chapter 1.)

Disruption Map (D-Map) – The graph of a potentially disruptive technology or social trend. The intent is to anticipate future shifts in the market, or disruptions, in order to prepare strategically. By carefully gathering early warning signals, a model can be assembled which may preview subsequent developments. (See Chapter 15.)

Economic Geography – The study of why some places grow and prosper compared to others. (Mario Polèse, The Wealth & Poverty of Regions, p. 1)

Elderpocalypse – The hypothetical result of the continuing aging of the population in conjunction with reduced birth rates. As the number of elderly people increases while the number of working adults decreases, the financial strains on national and local governments will become severe because of the costs of health care for the elderly will rise significantly while tax revenues will be shrinking. At some point the conjunction of both trends could become a massive social and economic disaster.

Emergence – The appearance of unplanned and/or unexpected behaviors, often as a result of the conjunction of forces. Evolution and technology typically act on the form of a system, which enables new functions to then emerge.

Energy Density – The amount of energy that can be extracted from a given mass or volume of a raw material. Oil has a very high energy density because one unit of oil can generally produce more useful work than the same unit mass or volume of nearly any other non-nuclear material. Due to oil’s high energy density it is particularly challenging for non-fossil energy systems such as wind and solar to be economically competitive.

Ethnic Nationalism – Alignment of the historical or ethnic population of a region around a nationalist concept. (Clay Shirky, Little Rice, p 104)

Euro – The European Union common currency.
The word Euro has also become a popular prefix for an entire vocabulary of terms related to the EU:

Eurozone – the 19 EU members states that have adopted the Euro currency (the other 9 have not).

Eurosceptic or Euroskeptic – someone who is feels that the EU is not a good idea.

Euroenthusiast – someone who feels the opposite, that the EU is a good idea.

Eurosclerosis – a term coined by German economist Herbert Giersch in the 1970s, to describe a pattern of economic stagnation in Europe that may have resulted from government over-regulation and overly generous social benefits policies.

EuroStar – the high speed train from London to Paris.

Evolutionary Happiness Function – A mathematical formula developed by economists Gary Becker and Luis Rayo which says, basically, that Happiness = your success minus your expectations, and is thus your perceived social status. (Roy and Becker 2007) “The equation explains the psychological process that both fuels our desire for a bigger home, and ensures that we will be dissatisfied shortly after moving in. Humans do not perceive value in absolute terms. We compare what we have to what everyone else has, and then recalibrates the distance to the ‘finish line of happiness.’” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 80)

Exit – Common suffix used in media denoting proposed, planned, or threatened departure of a member state from the European Union.

Brexit – Denotes the departure of Great Britain, voted by the British population in 2016. (Note also that should the British change their minds, as well they might, the process of rejoining the EU might be termed “Breconciliation.”)

Grexit – Denotes the departure of Greece. Once this usage was widely accepted, usage of the term then spread. For example, this headline, “Can Germany engineer a coal exit” (Science Magazine, January 29, 2016) refers to the discontinuation of coal usage throughout Germany, which is a proposed national response to global climate change.

Texit – Hypothetical departure of Texas from the USA in the event of strong forces lead to breakup of the nation. Of all the states in the US, Texas maintains its separate identity perhaps most strongly and might be most included to secede.

Exopolitics – Political relations between Earth and off-Earth sovereign entities, such as independent communities or “nations” inhabiting Earth orbit or other celestial bodies such as the moon or mars. While a term of science fiction today, within a few decades it could become a reality.[ii]

Financialization of Citizenship – The practice of buying citizenship in a country. (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, The Cosmopolites, p. 84) See also Investment-Based Citizenship.

Floating Storage – With a glut of oil flooding the market leading supply to exceed demand, oil producers are running out of places to store it. Since there is also an abundance of oil tanker ships that aren’t needed for transporting oil, they’ve been turned in to storage facilities. Compare “rolling storage,” which is the same concept applied to oil tanker railroad cars, again, not needed for oil transport and used instead for oil storage.

Freakonomics – Another, flashier name and book title pertaining to Behavioral Economics, the study of how behavior influences and is influenced by economics. Due to the success of the book the suffix “onomics” has become fashionable. (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. William Morrow, 2009.) (See also Narconomics.)

Frenemy – Another entity that is simultaneously your friend and your adversary or enemy. China and the US, for example, have a massive volume of commercial trade between them, but also sustain difficult relations over a number of contentious topics.

Future Shock – Alvin Toffler coined this term in his book of the same title to describe how the acceleration of change creates an adverse psychological reaction. (Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. Random House, 1970.) (See also Present Shock)

Geometry of Conviviality – The study of the design of urban spaces to promote and enable convivial behavior. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 135) (See also, Law of Social Geometry.)

Geopolitics – The study of how place matters in the political dialog, and thus the political significance of geography for nations and cultures. (See Geostrategy.)

Geoprofiling – Software that analyzes times and geo coordinates of military actions along with related information about terrain, roads, ethnicity, tribal or civic alliances in order to identify the likely location of the attacking forces and/or locations of weapons caches. Useful for tracking locations of insurgents and for anticipating and countering future attacks. (The Economist. “Shrinking the haystack.” January 16, 2016.)

Geostrategy – The strategy of a nation or region in relation to others, studied from the perspective of geographical factors and features such as oceans, mountains, etc. For example, Russia has no substantial geographical features separating it from its European neighbors to the west, and is therefore vulnerable to land attack. The US, in contrast, is protected by massive oceans on both east and west, which provide natural barriers to potential aggressors. (See Geopolitics.)

Gerontocracy – Societies with a significant and growing proportion of elderly citizens. These societies will significantly increase in number in the coming decades, resulting in significant economic shifts globally. (Peter Zeihan, The Accidental Superpower, p. 149)

Great Firewall of China, GFW – (Officially, the Golden Shield) – The name of the filters used to prevent information from coming into China from the outside world via the internet. A combination of automation and human oversight.

Groupthink – The tendency of executive teams and decision making bodies to align on a shared view of an uncertain trend or future event based not on the data about that event, but on a shared but generally unspoken desire to maintain a convivial and collegial atmosphere. Dissent is often discouraged, which leads to deficiencies in the decisions adopted. Identified by Irving Janis in his book of the same name.

Hedonic Utility – Emotional benefits of a given activity.

Hedonic Treadmill – The tendency of humans to increase our expectations as our fortunes improve, leaving us perpetually dissatisfied. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 11)

HENRY, High Earner Not Rich Yet – A young person, usually highly educated, who has a high paying job but has not yet accumulated significant wealth. Considered a good credit risk by the start-up financial services firm SoFi, which has pioneered personal loans and mortgages to HENRYs. SoFi received an investment of $1 billion from SoftBank ventures in September 2015. (The Economist. “So far, so good.” January 16, 2016.)

Honor Culture – (Or culture of honor) – Cultural norms based around the concept of honor and the need for particularly men to protect and defend it, often through intimidation and violence. (Nisbitt and Cohen, “Insult, Aggression, and the Southern Culture of Honor.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 70, No 5, 1996)

Hyper-connectedness – When everything is connected to everything, then anything can happen. (See Omni-connectedness)

IED, Improvised Explosive Device – A bomb made from, for example, a cell phone and some explosive, and able to be detonated remotely via a phone call. A particularly destructive weapon in an urban civil war setting. Developed in Iraq and Afghanistan by forces opposing the American occupations there, and which caused hundreds of American casualties.

Improvisational Intelligence – The human capacity provided by evolution to improvise to attain objectives based on a general understanding of how the world works. (Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success, p. 11)

Indefensible Space – Featureless space between buildings that collects garbage and attracts crime. (Charles Montgomery Happy City, p. 131)

Internally-Displaced Person – A citizen of a given nation who has been forced from their home due to civil war, natural disaster, or another traumatic event, but remains within the same nation. (Compare: Refugee)

Investment-Based Citizenship – The practice of buying citizenship in a country. (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, The Cosmopolites, p 84) (See Financialization of Citizenship).

J-Curve – Any process that, when graphed, is revealed to grow exponentially, and thus mimics the shape of the letter “J”. (See Chapter 1, and Moore’s Law.)

Jevons’s Paradox – Any situation in which efficiency improvements lead to more, not less, consumption. “More fuel-efficient steam engines didn’t lead to less coal consumption. Better engines made energy use effectively less expensive, and helped move the world to an industrial ear powered by coal.” (Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City, p. 37) Henry Ford also understood this.

Law of Accelerating Returns – In some social and market settings, those who have more get still more. These markets do not tend to balance out, but rather to concentrate more and more resources under the ownership of fewer and fewer people.

Law of Social Geometry – Behavior by people, particularly in their front yards, that defines the ideal separation between the public street or sidewalk and the individual residence, enabling sociability and privacy at the same time. Identified by Jan Gehl at 10.6 feet. (Gehl, 2006) (See also Geometry of Conviviality.)

Lead User Innovation – When the most intensive user of a product understands its utility best, and their adaptations and modifications are often adopted into the standard product.

Leading Indicator – A signal from the external environment suggesting an impending change. Often identified as part of the scenario planning process. Very useful for planning and strategy, as receipt of leading indicators supports proactive rather than reactive planning and management. (See also, Scenario Planning; Weak Signal; Weak Signal Research)

Learning

Joseph Henrich identifies 3 different types:

Cultural Learning – Subclass of Social Learning based on specific factors of human-specific culture, such as inferences about the preferences, goals, prestige, and strategies adopted or exhibited by others, and by copying the actions of others

Individual Learning – Learning through direct observation of and interaction with the environment. Note that the process of learning is identical to and yet the inverse of the process of creating. Hence, learning occurs when one’s creativity is directed inwardly (creating the self), while creativity is when one’s learning is directed outwardly (learning about the environment).

Social Learning – How an individual’s learning is influenced by others.

(Henrich, Joseph. The Secret of Our Success, pp 12-13)

Milgram’s Theory of Overload – How people respond to situations of excessive density of people and cars. “You cope by either ignoring the people around you or doing subtle battle with them.” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 225)

Mind Uploading – Copying the contents of a person’s brain into a computer. A theoretical possibility only, until the advent of superintelligent AI.

Moore’s Law – Named for Intel Corporation co-founder Gordon Moore, describes exponential improvement in the performance of computer chip technology. Moore identified this phenomenon in 1965 and published an article about it, which resulted in the name Moore’s Law being applied to it. (See J-Curve.)

Mutual Insecurity – Interactions between two nations characterized by insecurity on both sides as a consequence of not being able to anticipate or understand the actions and intents of the other. (Henry Kissinger, World Order, p. 336)

Narconomics – The economics (really finances) of illegal narcotics businesses, which are converging on the same set of management principles as are generally used by multinational corporations, namely hierarchical structures, human resources policies, metrics and rewards, etc. (Tom Wainwright, Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel.) (See also Freakonomics)

Nature Deprivation – Lack of natural beauty in a given location or accessible to a given person. “Buildings that look out on trees and grass experience about half of the violent crime of buildings that look out on barren courtyards.” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 110)

NEET – Not in Employment, Education, or Training. Typically a young person, and one whose future prospects are not bright. (The Economist, January 23, 2016)

Neuromorphic – Computer hardware designed to as closely as possible resemble the neural architecture of the brain. (Murray Shanahan, The Technological Singularity, p. 32)

Non-Genetic Evolutionary Process – Evolutionary processes that are cultural rather than genetic, such as new capabilities and behaviors that emerge not based on genetic mutation, but because of learning. With the acceleration of change, non-genetic processes are having increasingly significant effects on the overall evolutionary process. (Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success, p. 35)

Non-Place – A place where people do not want to be. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 168)

Non-State Actor – An entity of geopolitical significance that is not a nation-state. This is therefore typically a church or religion, a corporation, particularly a large, multi-national one, or a large-scale criminal enterprise that works across national boundaries. (See also “TCO,” or Transnational Criminal Organization)

Obseogenic – Literally, fat-making. Social and cultural factors that promote obesity in humans, such as diet choices, lack of exercise, and urban designs that discourage exercise. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 95)

Observer Effect – Once we begin to measure something, such as an economic variable, its behavior starts to change. “If the government starts to artificially take steps to inflate housing prices, they might well increase, but they will no longer be good measures of economic health.” (Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise, p. 188)

ODMS, On-Demand Mobile Services – The tendency of service providers to offer a complete service experience via apps that aggregate consumer demand on mobile devices, but fulfill that demand through offline services. “ODMS deliver a “closed loop” experience by collapsing the value chain including discovery, order, payment, fulfillment (offline but within owned network) and confirmation. In the pre-mobile era we had to search yellow pages (or Google), find a provider, call or email that provider, wait to connect with someone, schedule a convenient time, hope the provider arrives on time, and then pay with a credit card or cash. A new array of mobile services removes all of that friction we were used to experiencing.” (Source: Steve Schlafman: http://schlaf.me/post/81679927670) (See also Uberification.)

Omni-connectedness – Everything is connected to everything, causing complexity to increase exponentially.
(See also Hyper-connectedness)

Overshoot – Excessive consumption of natural resources; refers to “overshooting” the productive capacity of Earth, i.e., using more than is produced. Technically it is possible to overshoot in a discreet given period of time due to accumulated stocks, but overshoot cannot be sustained indefinitely. For example, underground water tables that store water over a period of years or decades can provide water for agriculture, but if the water is drawn out faster than it is replenished then it will one day run out entirely.

Phase 3 – Refers to the three phases of human history. Phase 1 is the Agricultural Era; Phase 2 is the Industrial Era; and Phase 3 is the as-yet unnamed era that we are now entering. The defining point of entry is the graph of human population, which by its very shape suggests that Phase 2 is now in the process of ending as the rate of population growth that characterized Phase 2 is slowing. Demographers expect that slowing to continue based on historical rates of urbanization and reproductive rates in urban families. As more than 50 percent of the population is urbanized and urbanized families tend to have 2 or fewer children, the population explosion of 1800 – 2000 is coming to an end apparently of its own accord.  (See Chapter 7.)

Population Implosion – Declining population of a region, nation, or globally due to declining birthrate, in some cases combined with accelerated mortality. Japan and most nations of Eastern Europe are currently experiencing population implosions, that is, their overall populations are in decline. In Japan, for example, current trends suggest that by 2100, the country’s total population will be about 55% of current levels. This trend is not inevitable, meaning that the birth rate could rise should Japanese women choose to have more children. But based on current trends this will be the result. More broadly, as humanity continues to urbanize, it is likely that the overall birth rate will peak in the 2040 – 2050 time frame, and decline thereafter, again, based on current trends. Population implosion will have decisive and potentially adverse consequences economically, as modern capitalism has never dealt with this situation, and is structured to benefit from population growth. (See Chapter 4.)

Post-Biological – Living systems and processes that are no longer only biological, but which include in part or in total those that are technological and/or digitally enabled.

Post-Human – Along the evolutionary line a being that is no longer human but whose ancestors were human. The existence of post-humans is speculated but has not yet been demonstrated / achieved. In particular, it is expected that long-duration space flight and off-Earth habitation over multiple generations will result in the development of post-humans because they will be living and thus evolving under fundamentally different conditions than those residing on Earth. While this was once a matter of science fiction it is now a matter of legal speculation and if the Space Age continues it will be a matter of law within a century or two. (See also Trans-Human)

Power Density – The amount of power (work) capable of being produced by a given resource. Similar to “energy density” but referring specifically to the work accomplished rather than the potential of work to be accomplished.

Power Vacuum – In politics and geopolitics, when established authorities in a nation or society are removed by force, or they collapse due to internal causes, the resulting void often devolves into chaos. Riots and looting are local examples, as when police or army cannot contain a mob and they run wild. On a national scale, and particularly when an authoritarian government is removed, the resulting power vacuum often leads to chaos. In the majority of cases new authority figures step forward and seize control. In recent history, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was not accompanied by a major input of authority, and the result was national chaos. Eventually ISIS emerged as a brutal authority figure in some parts of the country, capitalizing upon the vacuum to seize power.

Practical Isolation – As in, “the strategy of practical isolation,” that is, the strategy adopted by the Chinese government to keep its citizens isolated from news and events of the world outside of China to prevent the seeds of domestic unrest. (Clay Shirky, Little Rice, p. 122)

Precision Agriculture – Application of digital technology to improve the efficiency of farming and to increase yields. Sensor arrays installed in farm fields measure soil moisture and chemical composition, enabling farmers to apply water and chemicals much more efficiently. Farms are thus becoming small-scale digital factories, with many sensors feeding data via wireless networks to the farmhouse and then to the tractors. Drones are also being used extensively to monitor crops and to deliver chemicals as well.

Precision Medicine – Therapies and treatments customized for individual patients, often using a combination of genetic sequencing of the patient and/or of the malady, as in the case of cancer.[iii] (See also, Genetic Medicine)

Present Shock – Douglas Rushkoff coined this play on words, building upon Alvin Toffler’s concept of Future Shock, to describe the psychological impact that occurs when too much is happening simultaneously. (Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. Current, 1994.) (See also Future Shock)

Refugee – A person who flees their home or native country due to persecution, civil war, natural disaster, etc. (See also Internally-Displaced Person)

Reverse Mentoring – Mentoring is a normal cultural process wherein people with more experience and expertise share advice with less. Typically this occurs when older people help or support younger ones. In reverse mentoring, however, the point is that the acceleration of change has made the knowledge of the older ones obsolete, while the younger ones have often more quickly and readily adopted new ideas and technologies, and so they coach the older ones on how to utilize all the new stuff, and what it might mean for their organizations and institutions.

Rolling Storage – With a glut of oil flooding the market leading supply to exceed demand, oil producers are running out of places to store it. Since there is also an abundance of railroad tanker cars that aren’t needed for transporting oil, they’ve been turned in to storage facilities. Compare “floating storage,” which is the same concept applied to oil tanker ships, again, not needed for oil transport and used instead for oil storage.

Scenario Planning – A planning or thinking approach in which we determine the likely driving forces in a given situation, and then model various possible states of those forces through thought experiments, with the intent of modeling the future without making specific predictions. The underlying view is that given accelerating change and exceptionally high uncertainty, the likelihood that any specific predictions will be incorrect is very high.

Seastead – Human-made islands in international waters outside of the jurisdiction of any nation, a project undertaken by entrepreneur Peter Thiel.

Self-domestication – As a result of the impact of human culture, evolution has favored the development of certain qualities in humans that include being inclined to social behavior, following established norms and rules, monitoring behavior of others, and sanctioning those who do not follow them. (Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success, p. 5)

Selective Attention – The principle that people pay attention to a limited range of inputs, and select what they pay attention to according to personal and cultural biases.

Singularity – The anticipated point in time at which computers become so capable that computers with human or human-like cognition are able to create copies of themselves and/or additional computers that can learn from one another, such that the learning process proceeds exponentially, at which point the vector of human and computer evolution speeds up in a way that is at present incomprehensible. Or more simply, the point at which everything changes because computers become smarter than people. Also referred to as the “technological singularity.” (Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, Random House, 2005.)

Social Deficit – Lack of opportunity to socialize with other people. “We can meet almost all of our needs without gathering in public.” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 153)

Soft Power – The influence of culture on a society, as distinct from hard power, the influence of force. (Joseph Nye, The Paradox of American Power, Oxford, 2003.)

Stalker Economy – Massive databases compiled on individuals based on their online purchases. (Al Gore, The Future, p. 370)

Suicide-by-Cop – Someone who commits suicide by starting a gun battle with the police in the expectation and hope of being killed.

Swanson Effect – The declining cost of solar panels as a result of technical improvements through research and development. Named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower Corporation.

Systems Thinking – The process of trying to understand, or understanding, the behavior of a system, and presumably a complex one, through disciplined study.

Television Effect – Impact of the introduction of television into a community. “When TV service was introduced to otherwise healthy communities in Canada in the 1980s, it has an almost immediate corrosive effect on civic participation. Watching TV correlates with higher material aspirations, more anxiety, lower financial satisfaction, lower trust in other, and less frequent social activity.” (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 154)

Thinking Types – There are different thinking approaches to challenges intellectual problems including forecasting and decision making under uncertainty.

Counterfactual Thinking – Thinking about how something may have turned out differently than it did, useful when assessing the chain of events that resulted in a given outcome, and considering how slight changes along the chain may have resulted in quite different outcomes.

Probabilistic Thinking – Thinking based on a clear grasp of the nature of probabilities. A probabilistic thinker recognizes that if a future event is forecast to occur with 70% probability, this also means that there’s a 30% likelihood that it will not occur. This is notable because of the common error that anything over 50% probability is taken as a prediction that it will occur. “A probabilistic thinkier will be less distracted by ‘why’ questions and focus on ‘how.’ This is no semantic quibble. ‘Why?’ directs us to metaphysics; ‘How?’ sticks with physics.”

Philip Tetlock. Superforecasting, Crown, 2015. p. 150.

Trained Incapacity – As trained capacity is learned skill, trained incapacity is learned non-skill, i.e., having learned how not to do something.

Trans-Human – The developed of evolutionarily advanced species that evolves beyond humans because of advanced capabilities, either cognitive and computational or physical. Simply, super-people. (See also Post-Human)

Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) – A large criminal enterprise that works across national boundaries. Typically involved in drugs, money laundering, human smuggling, and prostitution.

Uberification – The tendency of companies to emulate the Uber business model, which combines multiple elements and is therefore somewhat complex to execute, but when done well it is a high-value-added approach. It includes a smart phone app that provides mobile (and nearly ubiquitous) access, a built-in payment mechanism, and delivery of a service. It is also highly disruptive to an established business model. (See also ODMS, On-Demand Mobile Services)

UHNWI – Ultra-high net worth individual. A very rich person. (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, The Cosmopolites, p. 72)

Undercrowding – Insufficient urban density to create successful and self-sustaining urban environments. Typical of cities such as Detroit, which are radically contracting due to changes in industry or the economy. Also typical of wealthy suburban neighborhoods whose residents must consume disproportionately a high volume of resources to sustain their lifestyles. (William Whyte, Project for Public Spaces)

Unicorn – A mythical creature, or a start-up technology company that achieves a high valuation of more than $1 billion among investors, although it has not yet sold any stock publicly. Recent examples include Alibaba and Uber.

Urban Ponzi Scheme – New real estate development in suburbs creates short term benefits in the form of development fees, tax revenues, and construction jobs, but create long term costs that pileup faster than cities can pay them, in the form of infrastructure maintenance, health care costs, and subsidies for public transit systems that are not self-sustaining. On a wider social basis, suburban dwellers consume more natural resources and create more pollution per person than urban residents. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 260) (See also Undercrowding, of which sprawling suburbs are an example.)

Urban Poverty Paradox – “Any attempt to fix the poverty level in a single city may well backfire and increase the level of poverty in a city by attracting more poor people.” (Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City, p. 76) The same thing applies to Syrian refugees.

Vancouverism – Designs of cities that copy the elements of Vancouver, Canada, which is considered to be one of the world’s best designed cities. (Charles Montgomery, Happy City, p. 118)

Weak Signal; Weak Signal Research – Research focusing on identifying early indications of change. Particular useful in the context of scenario planning efforts, by identifying weak signals that we may be able to carefully discern in the environment, we get early warning of impending change, and can then act in anticipation, pro-act, rather than afterwards, re-act. (See also, Leading Indicator; Scenario Planning.)

[i]        The Economist. “The Party Winds Down: Our crony-capitalism index.” May 7, 2016.

[ii]       Howell, Elizabeth. “SpaceX’s Elon Musk to Reveal Mars Colonization Ideas This Year.” Space.com. January 9, 2015. http://www.space.com/28215-elon-musk-spacex-mars-colony-idea.html

[iii]      MIT Technology Review. “Precision Medicine.” September/October 2016.

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Little child looking through a magnifying glass on dandelion flower in the grass

The learning brain is constantly changing, constantly adapting itself and its structure to integrate new information and new experiences into the old worldview, into the old perspective. Some people, often the very naturally creative people, view this investment not as a burden, but largely as a pleasure; they like to think hard, and for a long time, about interesting and tough problems.

Here’s an example: it was reported that Bill Gates once took a vacation with his girlfriend in the days before he was married, and they supposedly watched videos about biotech and genetic engineering for an entire weekend, more or less nonstop. It takes a unique sort of person to consider such a weekend, “a vacation,” not to mention the sheer intellectual stamina that must have been needed. Then again, what did Gates achieve in his life? A penchant for learning indeed!

And he also demonstrated the willingness to engage in absorbing new information, rewiring his own brain. You’ll have some of that skill as a successful leader. A whole weekend of science videos? Maybe not. But maybe. Possibly. Yeah, go for it.

As a business leader, your learning responsibility isn’t just about yourself, for in fact you have to inspire and help your entire organization to be and become a learning organization, to make that investment in seeing what is already different, what may or will be different in the future, and what else can and should be different as a result of your own efforts.

A particular aspect of this conversation about learning is important to be aware of in that it may have some significant impact on your relationship with other members of your leadership team, particularly if they’re in their fifties or sixties. Consider the following comments from psychiatrist Norman Doidge:

In childhood, our brains readily shape themselves in response to the world, developing neuropsychological structures, which include our pictures and representations of the world. These structures form the neuronal basis for our perceptual habits and beliefs, all the way up to complex ideologies. … these structures tend to get reinforced early on, if repeated, and become self-sustaining. As we age … it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore, or forget, or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways. Increasingly, the aging individual acts to preserve the structures within, and when there is a mismatch between his internal neurocognitive structures and the world.[i]

Doidge’s very fine book The Brain that Changes Itself examines the ways in which the brain changes and adapts to new demands and circumstances. In the passage quoted here, Doidge refers to the work of Bruce Wexler and the book, Brain and Culture.[ii] Both books are invaluable resources for the innovation practitioner, for reasons that the above quote should make entirely obvious.

Here you are, deep in the pursuit of innovation, fending off the naysayers and the opponents of change, and there they are, dismissing your great work because it does not match their beliefs. How many examples of corporate suicide can this neurocognitive pattern explain? Can it explain why Kodak, which invented the digital camera, was also destroyed by it? Can it explain why Nokia, master of the world cell phone universe, was brought down by the smart phone? Can it explain why Sears, the greatest global retailer in its prime, is now an also-also ran that’s sucking Wal-Mart’s exhaust fumes?

We cannot know for sure, but it’s entirely possible that the neuro-limitations of senior managers may indeed be responsible for a great many of the corporate failures we’re seeing in the modern world. The inability to come to grips with change, the incapacity to adequately support innovation, and the resulting crash of creative destruction; yes, it’s entirely plausible that some of these can be explained by the cognitive limitations of senior managers.

So what does this mean? Our theme in this blog post is learning, and the ideal innovative organization is constantly engaged in the learning process, in direct contrast with the learning-disabled. Leaders of innovative organizations are constantly engaged in seeking and finding new information and new experiences, and integrating them into ongoing operations, which activities are also central to the search for innovation.

There’s a paradox here, for although you, as leader, do indeed have a responsibility to learn for the organization as a whole, it’s also true that you literally cannot learn for someone else; everyone, each individual, must have their own learning experiences. So part of your role is to define, create, and structure opportunities for people to engage with new information, to do the work to understand the meanings, consequences, and the implications of that information for their roles, and for the organization as a whole. Based on Doidge’s work, we see that it may be especially important for you to create and deploy such learning experiences for your colleagues.

And of course there are different types of learning and many different kinds of learning experiences. One of the most profound for business leaders is called a Learning Expedition. While business leaders have been taking research trips since long before the Roman Empire, the modern version as invented by Dr. Pascal Baudry has proven to achieve amazing results. Drawing on his deep background as both a corporate leader and a psychoanalyst, Baudry created a compelling process for accelerated learning by fusing many different types of learning modes into an integrated whole, which provides individuals and teams with exceptional depths of experience while generating a strong will to action and profound alignment toward shared goals.

In these very carefully designed and executed learning programs, the participants gain deep insight into changing business trends, threats, and opportunities. They also confront their own responses and reactions to change, and gain a deeper sense of their own leadership roles and responsibilities. The key is that it’s not only corporate learning, and it’s not only personal development, it’s the integration of both.

This exemplifies one of the important and deep lessons for innovation leaders and managers, which is that they should avoid either-or thinking and interactions, and instead design greater integration between the cognitive/intellectual and the intuitive/experiential dimensions in the learning programs, processes, and experiences that they create for their peers and others throughout the organization. The results may be quite compelling!

•••

This blog post was adapted from The Innovation Formula: The Guidebook to Innovation for Small Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs by Langdon Morris. The revised edition will be released in September 2016.

[i]     Doidge, Norman, M.D. The Brain That Changes Itself. Penguin Books, 2007. P. 304.

[ii]     Wexler, Bruce. Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change. MIT, 2006.

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Agile Innovation Workshop – July 16-17, 2016 in San Francisco

June 20, 2016

Our sister company FutureLab is offering a workshop on Agile Innovation that is sure to be a fascinating and powerful learning experience. Based on the contents of our breakthrough book Agile Innovation, the workshop covers both the high level philosophy and the practical implementation details to help you and your organization adopt the latest thinking […]

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Space for the 21st Century

June 20, 2016

Over the past decade, InnovationLabs has partnered with some of the world’s leading space advocates and educators to prepare and publish a series of books about the possibilities, opportunities, and challenges related to space travel, space commerce, and the development of a thriving off-Earth economy. We’re pleased to announce that the fifth volume in this […]

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Skill at Decision Making: Evidence and Interpretation

March 10, 2016

This blog post discusses the question, “How can we make excellent decisions in an era of accelerating change and increasing compelxity?”  It is adapted from Chapter 10 of Langdon Morris’ forthcoming book Strategy for the 21st Century, which is due to be published this spring. ••• In reflecting on the 2008 financial collapse that was […]

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20 Million Ideas to Greatness

November 20, 2015

Sooner or later it occurs to the leaders of nearly every organization that their own employees should be a source of ideas that can improve their businesses. They then set about to tap into this valuable source of knowledge. Many of their efforts go astray, however, and result in idea systems that fail and are […]

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