Boredom

A couple of months ago we worked on a little project that unfortunately didn’t come through. We asked very smart people to contribute their thoughts about how the world is changing. Dannie Jost – you might now her as a speaker at our Cognitive Cities Conference –, always insightful and happy to help, contributed a text that we want to share with you.

A couple of months ago we worked on a little project that unfortunately didn’t come through. We asked very smart people to contribute their thoughts about how the world is changing. Our single point in the briefing was: It should be about the Uncomfortable. Dannie Jost – you might know her as a speaker at our Cognitive Cities Conference –, always insightful and happy to help, contributed a text that we want to share with you.

Tools emerge, and solutions are discovered later. Problems are our prayers. Deeply baffled by human nature and its ability to muddle human affairs, I turn to the only truth that I know. Words. Just words. Beyond truth, I know reality. Reality is that part of truth that does not need belief. I can not believe the words, they just stand there and represent an experience, or a passing thought, and the never ending quest to make sense of it all. Words beg for interpretation.

The many ideologies invented in the past century – capitalism, communism and nationalism to name the biggest offenders – differ very little. This triumvirate wrecks havoc in human affairs every day. Uncomfortable times is the natural state of human affairs. When have the times not been uncomfortable? If one is to consider that last sentence in full, the only relief that there is, is that times is a passing thing. I can not cope with the discipline of history. One day, I asked a distinguished colleague and scholar in that discipline what it was that men had learned from history? I had the feeling that he had not taken my question seriously. He did not respond, he smiled, he did not dare laugh. I was truly interested in what a scholar of history would tell a scholar of science and technology. I did not get an answer. I may never get an answer. Is there an answer?

But what have we learned from science and technology? These are dark days for humanity, we are right back in the darkness of the middle ages where our ignorance is only exceeded by our arrogance and brutality. Ours! We, we are the humans. Are we a race? Are we a species? Are we von Neumann automatons? What on earth are we?

Failing any good answers forthcoming from history, despairing that religious dogma and Grimm’s tales provide comparable satisfaction, I advance the lubricous proposition that humans are animals. Lubricous is ludicrous. I am not dyslexic. Such is the condition of the animal roaming the planet, burning fossil fuels, incapable of understanding nuclear fusion, and then going on a witch-hunt for knowledge. Is knowledge going to fix anything at all when men’s irrationality still drives us to actions that destroy the very substrate that sustains all life? Between money and sex, what other interests are there?

The witch-hunt for knowledge includes burning those who are shy of numbers, fuzzy in their thinking and uncompromising in ideals. Those are the naive who believe that humans can act rationally. Humans can collectively act rationally, but we have not yet reached that desired state of civilization. I love those strange creatures who are born far from perfect, write a few words on paper, and go to battle and find a few more like minded who are willing to do battle with them. Some just write and leave the battle to others. Democratic constitutions and declarations of human rights are the creation of such fools who write words. Tools emerged: democratic constitutions and declarations of human rights.

Men do not deserve the governments that they get. French, Swiss, Libyans, Japanese, Germans, Australians, nobody deserves government. Governments, elected or not, are a matter of luck. Government is not a necessary evil either, it is the result of existence. It emerges where humans live. Some governments are better than others. No single ideology of government is ‘the right one.’ We do live in a manifold of problems. These problems are our prayers. Without them we would be bored out of our wits. We have all the problems that we have ever prayed for. We live in abundance of problems and we live in scarcity of spirit. We are animals fighting for survival. We are killing ourselves ever so slowly, ever so surely, and all ever so out of boredom! At the end, whenever that will be, we will not be just dust, but information. As the universe passes through another big bang, it will forget that we have existed. Will we remember?

How to cope with change

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

We kicked off our “Uncomfortable Talk” at LHBS last week with this quote from our old pal Galadriel:

The world is changed; I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.

We think that she’s spot on, not only for Middle Earth but also for our world in the 21st century. Technology and Moore’s law are changing the face of every industry out there. So we followed that quote with a tour de force about some of the changes we see in our cities, our work and our media happening right now.

There’s so much amazing stuff happening our there. From the possibilities of analyzing collective data of people moving through public transport systems to challenging consumerism with collaborative consumption and open source product development to publishers losing the monopoly on distribution. We are excited by change. We always have been. But we are a small minority. That’s why we were able to talk about the stuff that excites us but label it “Uncomfortable”. The stuff that gets us going makes others cringe and tremble. But as our friend Ben Hammersley said recently at the Lift conference:

The pain isn’t from the change, the pain is from the struggling against the change.

We humans in general don’t like change. We feel the safest if everything stays just like it is. That’s why we mostly re-elect the person in charge than the new and uncertain one. That’s why every change to Facebook triggers the creation of “Bring back the old Facebook”-petitions and that’s why every technological advancement in our history has been deemed the end of the world, be it the emergence of the written word, the invention of the printing press, the railway etc. The funny thing is that we always adapt. It took a lot of years with the written words, still about 50 with the printing press and now only a couple of days with Facebook. Nevermind the music industry which seems to go back to the printing press time frame for adapting to digital.

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. Nothing has ever gone back to how it was before. In the long-term we only move forward or stall, there is no reverse gear. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

Stay curious

I can attribute my own success and the success of many of my friends to the fact that we are really curious, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn

I am obsessively interested in everything.

Michael Wolff

People feel overwhelmed by information overload, but for us, all this information, insight and inspiration available is a great thing. If there’s one shared thread between us three at Third Wave, than it is to have no boundaries to what seems interesting and relevant. The key is to let go and let serendipity do its work. Trying to know everything is futile but letting the flow of information take you wherever it goes will open the way for all kinds of interesting aspects and opportunities.

Embrace complexity

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

Embracing complexity is a scarce trait, worth acquiring.

Seth Godin

If you’re curious about everything you begin to comprehend the complexity of things. Everything is connected. Trying to shoebox things is so 20th century. We’ve created too many solutions that never worked because we cut down the problem to what we perceived as the core and by this missed all the subtleties and nuances of the situation. Embracing complexity means to do more big-picture thinking to create a “feeling”, some sort of bigger understanding for the whole situation and than work back down to the level of the problem. It will take more time and much more iterations but it will also create much more sustainable solutions.

Tinker away

One recurring theme in almost all the people that I look at is that they have a lot of hobbies. The innovators are constantly working on three, four or five pet projects — beyond their main job.

Steven B. Johnson

We didn’t sit around a boardroom thinking, here are 10 ideas to build into a company. We like building products, and if it became a business? Great!

Dennis Crowley

If you are curious about everything and embrace complexity, you almost automatically end up at what Steven Johnson describes above as a common threat among innovators. You never work at only one project and you have to try out a lot to understand the complications of it. You have to immerse yourself into it, try it out in all kinds of ways and see how it connects with your other projects. That’s one reason why we just did a conference on the future of cities for example. It helped us to deep dive into everything happening with cities and technologies so that if you ask us now about location-based services or creating a crowdsource-platform for city improvements, we can provide you with a much more informed expertise. We’re already lining up new topics to immerse ourselves into.

So for us, staying curious, embracing complexity and tinkering away is the best approach we’ve found yet to cope with the constant change that’s going on in our world. We can only encourage you stop struggling against the change and look at the possibilities it holds. And if you need some help with that, give us a call or write us an email.