America’s Future

In nature, there are cycles.  In politics, there are cycles.  In economies, there are cycles.  In the evolution of the U.S.A., there are cycles.

As systems evolve through cycles of growth and decline they manifest three interdependent types of challenges:  tensions, disturbances, and scarcities.

In the U.S. internal tensions include: ‘left vs. right’, ‘public sector vs. private sector’, ‘urban vs. rural’, and let’s face it, ‘white vs. all the people whites have exploited.’

Disturbances include national security threats such as: ‘terrorism’, ‘international conflict’, and ‘climate change’.

Inputs and output scarcities:  the greatest scarcities are natural resource and energy scarcity relative to rates of consumption, as well as pollution sinks.

Any system which grows, reaches a steady state, and declines confronts internal tensions, external disturbances, and scarcities.  These three dimensions tend to reflect to each other.

The U.S. will not go down easy.  We’ve fought a civil war, developed done bombing technology to wipe our terrorists and entire communities which host them, and you can bet we will continue to fight for access to cheap energy.

There is a fourth quality of a system which goes through cycles. Identity. Who is the U.S.A. in the world.  What happens now that we are no longer the most free, the most democratic.  What happens now that we are no longer the economic super-power.  What happens when we are no longer the cultural leaders, the envy of the world?  What happens when we no longer want to police the world?  Who is the U.S.A. when the U.S.A. is not young, creative, and powerful.

Today’s world moves rapidly.   We cannot be sure, under which time tables this evolution will occur. As we transition, we will be overleveraged financially and socially.  We will make all of the same mistakes every other country has made. We will overextend ourselves economically and militarily, we will promise more to the people than we can afford, the elite will fight to control their position, we will develop technologies which overleverage our ecosystem. However, the extent of each of these mistakes is unknown.

Meanwhile, we can embrace our place in the world, and delay the inevitable, perhaps for many glorious centuries.  We can move through societal syntheses, among left and right, government and private sectors.  We can focus on providing green technologies, free of charge to developing nations and empower women along the way.  We can decrease our military power and increase our social, economic and ecological interdependence.

We can transition from an economy based on growth, on rampant materialism and consumption, to one based on determining the ideal size of the economy — the size which balances our needs with the extrinsic and intrinsic value of nature.




Cybernetics, Marketing and Consumer Engagement

In today’s economy, companies don’t just want to communicate to consumers, they want to converse. Interest and trust are two interdependent variables which facilitate this transaction. Being a triple bottom line company paves the way for this.

This post looks at Pangaro’s and Wenzek’s (P&W) CLEAT framework.

P&W start by surveying today’s marketing context: from targeting markets precisely, to mixed channel strategies with decentralized interaction to the expectations of consumers.

P&W expand consumer benefit to include benefits of conversation from changing ideas, and understandings to changes aims, and actions.

Generally, we find that theories of communication and conversation apply more broadly to marketing than they did before, and consumers behave differently through different stages of the conversation.



P&W emphasize who, when, how and what.  Collecting information streams can help us identify a target audience.  For large businesses, big data, histories and broader market information can provide clues.  However, for small business, this may involve some intuition, experimentation and small scale research.


Precise language is efficient.  It allows consumers to jump on board, and travel to the destination.  P&W give some attributes of language such as ‘Level of abstraction’ and ‘Vocabulary’.  Attributes such as this serve many purposes; for example, ‘insider’ language is both inclusive and exclusive.


Exchanges are dynamic and living.  How do they evolve?  Any number of metaphors might serve this analysis.  P&W point out that this exchange is ripe for generating insights about customers.  In fact, used properly it is like free research.


Structure, novelty, value, trust.  P&W emphasize clarity regarding purpose and outcome.  However, I’d point out that this clarity can be ‘soft’.  In other words, purpose is not always about selling, or informing.  A purposeful and collective transcendence of purpose may open the door for greater humanizing and agreement between a company and customer.


P&W point out that a commercial transaction is the final step, but also the beginning of the next iteration.

P&W give a set of important primary, secondary, and supporting metrics at each stage of the CLEAT conversation.

My conclusions

Engaging as a triple bottom line company opens the doors wide open for conversation.  This is because there is broader room for shared vision and trust development between consumers and companies.  Further, incremental investment includes non-commercial transaction, building and leveraging relationships.  In this arena, transactions fall on an expanded spectrum of goals, with greater room for emergence, and decentralized communication.  On the one hand, this increases the demand for data, while on the other, intuition, knowledge, and trust become more important; and we can hope that with this, companies gain popularity for a wider variety of reasons.

Cybernetics and Design, reflecting on a piece by Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro

The Paper, “Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action” by Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro starts with four basic tenets.

If Design, then systems.  If systems, then cybernetics.  If cybernetics, then second-order cybernetics. If second-order cybernetics, then conversation.

This paper would not be any fun, if I did not pick an alternative perspective.  By considering an alternative perspective, I create space for a conversation.  However, I have already undermined my argument.  My argument is that, the notion of conversation, might equally be replaced with the notion of ‘tension’.  Where conversation emphasizes 2 becoming 1.  Tension emphasizes 1 becoming 2.

So my final tenet is rather, “If second-order cybernetics, then tension.”

This conversation we are having is about the nature of design; presumably about making design the best it can be and so we are from the outset engaged in the design of design.

This is captured by the sentiment that ‘There is the person who draws and the (other) person who looks.  The difference between these personae– between marking and viewing- is, in and of itself, a major source of novelty, Glanville claims.”

However, I am suggesting that an alternative view point is not that this division be understood as a conversation, but rather as a tension.  The tension we have created here is through marking a distinction between design and designing. By creating this space, we face tension.  That is, that an instance of designing will not fit with ‘design’, or that ‘design’ will not fit with it’s own activity. If this happens, we will become incoherent; and we will be forced to ‘choose’ a trajectory of definition.    As we step, the ground is shaking beneath our feet.

We experience this in our own cognition.  When we take a step, we generate an expectation, and ’embody’ our expectation. Our possibility space stretches, creating tension, and narrows as we move toward embodiment. It narrows until we find a larger thread, which was pulling us to a new place of balance, which may lie 500 steps ahead of us, or back where we started but slightly healthier.

Similarly, our perspective of design, whether it is ‘reducing tension’, or ‘engaging in conversation’, creates a possibility space for ‘designing’.  What evidence might we choose for ‘selecting’ from these alternatives?  Well, we can look to instances of ‘designing’ to substantiate either conversation or tension.

In this case, one could make a case for both.  This might be considered as a conversation, the beginning of an argumentation.  Of course, if this is a conversation, then we have hardly designed anything.  We have not created anything new. We have only ‘selected’ conversation; while the other side of argumentation fades into the ether.  And thus, depicting this as a ‘conversation’ is self-negating.

In other words, if ‘designing’ design is a product of conversation, we are left in an awkward position.  As Dubberly and Pangaro put it, “Engaging multiple perspectives is a necessary condition for conversation…”

On the other hand, this design of design might be considered a tension.  After all, here we are, torn between two possible articulations, two possible actions, which may result in different approaches, incoherent worlds.  Of course, if we select ‘tension’, then our tension is hardly.  We rest, assured, that design is a process of reducing tension, without any tension to speak of in the design of conversation.

But of course, as Dubberly and Pangaro quote Glanville “Design, instead, is “to do something magical” and “to find ‘the new'”.”

Our question is whether the coalescence of waves fragment the sea, or whether the fragmentation of the sea causes the waves.

‘Engaging multiple perspectives (in conversation), is a view from the waves down toward the depths; a suggestion that deeper, coherent patterns emerge from the movement of multiple waves.’  From this perspective, design is oriented toward ‘novelty’.

Paradoxically, in this view, an actor incorporates an element of their environment (or their past), seeing patterns of patterns.

Engaging with tension is a view from the depths; which sees patterns of waves, as the result of deeper potential differentiations. From this perspective, design is oriented toward ‘conservation’ (of potential).

Paradoxically, in this view, design is achieved when an actor lets go of an element of their future (which is no longer necessary).

In this, I am differentiating between an approach based on conversation, and an approach based on tension.

For our design of design, an approach based on conversation would assess these two approaches, and seek to understand a manner in which they might co-operate.  For instance, tension here is a resource for conversation from which new order might emerge. (Order from noise).  Meanwhile, conversation (including articulation) is a means through which we surface tension.

An approach based on tension asks if we need to ‘choose’.  This draws us into ‘experience’, our true source of magic; a magic available before we ‘identify’ with one actuality or another. Here we experience ‘tension’, and ask ‘What is really at stake?’ Another way or saying this is that we become attune with ‘what matters’.  Which relationships are we striving to maintain, and might they take new form?

So, the distinction between conversation, and tension, matters to me, because they surface alternative subconscious associations.  Conversation may facilitate experience.  Tension is directly experienced.

Design, as driven by the modern economy, is heavily oriented toward novelty, production, problem solving, and activity.  Forwardness, creativity, progress, new technologies.  Here we mix elements in novel ways. This is not to say that this is the intention of design as articulated by Dubberly and Pangaro.  In fact, to the contrary, they state that “novelty is not the primary goal of design.”  In fact, they argue, that it is rather an opportunity to ‘discover new goals and opportunities, and to co-construct shared frames’.

In this sense, placing ‘tension’ at the center of design creates a semantic shift. Perhaps, because it is more explicitly directed toward the subconscious impulse; as with the distinction between ‘discover’ and ‘surface’, ‘co-construct’, and ‘co-articulate’.

What is the stability against which Dubberly and Pangaro, differentiate ‘conversation’, while others differentiate ‘tension’.  Surely ‘there’, or ‘here’ is some source of truth; which we aim to distinguish.

As a society, going through large scale transition, toward a less intensive and production oriented manner of living, we ask, ‘how do our choices increase our demand for specialization?’ And ‘are we specializing without creating the capacity for conversation?’ What engines can we turn off, that is driving worlds apart?  What is no longer necessary?

The offering of Dubberly and Pangaro is not missed:  Let all articulations articulate their source.  Here I am suggesting that

If conversations, then perspectives.  If perspectives, then decoherence.  If decoherence, then tensions. If tensions, then potential balance.  If balance, then conversations.

In the cybernetic language.  A distinction is the condition of an eigenform, and an eigenform the condition for distinction.

As we strive to articulate the subject, name the nameless, we remember,

“There is no one self. There are no 10 selves. There is no Self. There are only positions of equilibrium, one among thousands, continually possible, and always ready.” Andre Michaux

“Act always so as to increase the number of choices.” -HVF

In a later post, I will discuss tension mapping as an approach to design and conversation.

Sir Geoffrey Vickers and Appreciative Systems

In 2016, at the International Society for Systems Sciences annual conference, I was awarded the “Sir Geoffrey Vickers Memorial Award” for a paper I wrote titled “Bringing Forth the Ecological Economy”.  A revised section of that paper is now published here titled “Exploring Foundations and Value Boundaries in Social-Ecological Systems”.

The work of Sir Geoffrey Vickers is inspiring to me, now more than previously.  Born in 1894, Vickers served in both World War I and II being awarded for his service as Colonel and Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Economic Warfare in World War II.  I mention this partially because it is an experience which I have no relation with and some times I like to reflect on how soft we have become.  Vickers would go on to accomplish much more as a lawyer, administrator, writer, and pioneer in systems science.

Vickers would develop the notion of ‘Appreciative Systems’.  This lens, this equilibrium, this fixed point, this distinction, can be appreciated in terms of our appreciative setting; that which allows us to create meaning of our environment.

In the understanding of Vickers, a system “codes” its environment according to it’s “Appreciative setting”, so as to maintain particular relationships and buffer against others.

In the words of Peter Checkland, a system’s history prepares it with a ‘readiness to notice particular aspects of [its] situation, to discriminate them in particular ways and to measure them against particular standards of comparison…’  These readinesses are organized into an ‘appreciative system’ which creates for all of us, individually and socially, our appreciated world…”


From: GCB Van Wyk


The word appreciate lends us an ambiguity: on the one hand connoting value and on the other a grasping.

It is this notion of appreciation, with its ambiguity which sits at the core of ethical design, as well as marketing.  To appreciate all that goes into making something which it was not, begets an invitation.  That invitation is to expand our conception of that ‘something it was’, into something far greater, something which has inspired us to modify its form.  Here we find a continuity or a relationship between a beginning and an end, an input and an input, in which we are participating.






Second Order Cybernetics and Design

Design, originating with Latin designare from de- signare “to mark” is now separated from ‘designate’, but perhaps only artificially.  One word ‘designate’ emphasizes the context in which some design is ascribed purpose, and the other, the object being designed, ‘the design’.

Second-order cybernetics is the essence of systems thinking and is inherent in all logic, mathematics and science; but it’s significance depends on its medium.  I prefer to think of cybernetics as the science of trust.

When we design, we trust that by exposing ourselves to some potential disorder, new order may emerge; that when we sensitive ourselves to our environment, new possibilities may arise.

Our ‘second-order’ question is, how do we design ourselves to effectively interact with our environment?

On the one hand we find an invitation, or rather a necessity to ‘step out’ of our current mode as if we are a distant observer. This is mediated with analysis using cybernetic models.

by Petri Lievonen with Heikki Hyötyniemi

See for instance, Paul Pangaro’s cybernetic approach: conversations about conversations.

On the other hand we find an invitation to relate, to enact, to become those objects of our consciousness. This is mediated in conversation through simulation, visualization and metaphor development.

But perhaps the deepest invitation we have is to recognize that our designs carry and manifest the experience in which they were born. We strive that our designs bear the signature of our ethics, humility, and gratitude for the unknowable environments which continue to make well-being and prosperity possible.


Modern shifts



Changing understanding and circumstances are also leading toward a change in the education framework…

For instance, in a recent lecture for the RSA Action and Research Centre, Sir Ken Robinson explained that our education system was built on an intellectual view of the mind born in the enlightenment, essentially that intelligence is based on deductive ability.

Coming to a better understanding of intelligence, learning and behavior, especially through the mind sciences, has changed the paradigm in education.

Today experts like Kenneth Wesson educate on the neuroscience of learning.  In his own words: “If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?”


Calling for a paradigm shift in economics…

Introducing the ecosystem:

Source: GDAE, Tufts University


“… ecological economics calls for a “paradigm shift” in the sense of philosopher Kuhn, or what we have been calling, following economist Josheph Schumpeter, a change in preanalytic vision.  We need to pause to consider more precisely just what these concepts mean.  Schumpeter observes that “analytic effort is of necessity preceded by a preanalytic cognitive act that supplies the raw material for the analytic effort”. Schumpeter calls this preanalytic cognitive act “Vision.” One might say that vision is the pattern or shape of the reality in question that the right hemisphere of the brain abstracts from experience and then sends to the left hemisphere for analysis.  Whatever is omitted from the pre-analytic vision cannot be recaptured by subsequent analysis.  Correcting the vision requires a new pre-analytic act, not further analysis of the old vision.  Schumpeter notes that changes in vision “may reenter the history of every established science each time somebody teaches us to see things in a light of which the source is not to be found in the facts, methods, and results of the preexisting states of the science. ”

-From ‘Ecological Economics by Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley


The constant process of changing the paradigm inside the brain:

“There is, in summary, then, a force for individuation (left hemisphere) and a force for coherence (right hemisphere): but, wherever the whole is not the same as the sum of the parts, the force for individuation exists within and subject to the force for coherence.  In this sense the ‘givens’ of the left hemisphere need to be once again ‘given up’ to be reunified through the operations of the right hemisphere.  This sense that the rationality of the left hemisphere must be resubmitted to, and subject to, the broader contextualizing influence of the right hemisphere, with all its emotional complexity, must surely explain the eminently sane and reasonable philosopher David Hume’s assertion that ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and so never can pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

-From “The Master and His Emissary”- Iain Mcgilchrist


Science is becoming increasingly interested in the subjective, in feelings, and in experience.

From ‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn:

“First definition: story.  A story is a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods.”

“Second definition: to enact.  To enact a story is to live so as to make the story a reality.  In other words, to enact a story is to strive to make it come true.”

“Third Definition:  culture.  A culture is a people enacting a story.”


Author, economist and Harvard Business School Professor, David Korten explains, “Those who control the stories that define the culture of a society, control its politics and its economy.”


Inequality is emerging as a major source of contention internationally and domestically.

This article focuses first on the effects of inequality according to Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, cofounder of the Equality Trust and author of “The Spirit Level”.  Wilkinson Reveals the following revelations on inequality in a Ted Talk titled “How Economic Inequality Harms Societies”:

Through the “developed” nations, per capita income has no correlation with life expectancy.

Yet, within nations, income directly correlates with life expectancy. Wilkinson’s explanation for this relates to “social status” and “relative income”.

Inequality does correlate with negative health correlates determined by: Life expectancy, math and literacy, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, trust, obesity, mental illness, and social mobility.

These have zero correlation across GNP per capita.

And Child well-being also a strong negative correlate with inequality.

Homicide rates, imprisonment,  within U.S. states also correlate with inequality.

He then points out that a healthy distribution can either happen through redistribution or through greater equality of income.  He finds that the health of the society benefits in both ways.

His last point was that even the most wealthy in an unequal society are less well off than the most wealthy in a more equal society.  Even if the income of the former subject is much greater than that of the latter.

While under our current model of individuals, we tend to see a rational individual and aim toward creating greater wealth for all, especially through introducing capital.  Well this may be similar to a dog chasing its tail. Of course, in reality humans are not purely rational and the social effects of inequality are quite stress producing.  Wilkinson finds that in less equal societies are greater fear of judgement, consumerism and status competition, as well as social threats to self-esteem.  They found that threats to self-esteem or social performance, in which others can negatively judgement your performance had the greatest effects on the physiology of stress. Wilkinson says that a great amount of research has gone in to showing the causality of the effects of social stress on the immune system, the cardiovascular system and other health indicators.

Wilkinson’s presentation shows a small sample of works done on inequality.  He points out that these themes are consistent across hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles.