Wednesday, 13 January 2010

energy, communication, innovation

The pivotal turning points in human consciousness occur when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras. The new communications revolutions become the command and control mechanisms for structuring, organizing and managing more complex civilizations that the new energy regimes make possible. For example, in the early modern age, print communication became the means to organize and manage the technologies, organizations, and infrastructure of the coal, steam, and rail revolution. It would have been impossible to administer the first industrial revolution using script and codex.

Communication revolutions not only manage new, more complex energy regimes, but also change human consciousness in the process. Forager/hunter societies relied on oral communications and their consciousness was mythologically constructed. The great hydraulic agricultural civilizations were, for the most part, organized around script communication and steeped in theological consciousness. The first industrial revolution of the 19th century was managed by print communication and ushered in ideological consciousness. Electronic communication became the command and control mechanism for arranging the second industrial revolution in the 20th century and spawned psychological consciousness.

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Today, we are on the cusp of another historic convergence of energy and communication--a third industrial revolution--that could extend empathic sensibility to the biosphere itself and all of life on Earth. The distributed Internet revolution is coming together with distributed renewable energies, making possible a sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.

The convergence of new possibilities in energy and communications may indeed open new levels of human consciousness. And from a historic perspective these forces may be seen to be the defining elements of our time. Jeremy Rifkin's Empathic Civilization offers this valuable perspective.

The urgently needed complement to this is an understanding of what it takes to thrive in a time when the the world is changing so rapidly, and in unpredictable ways. Our foundations of culture, governance, and commerce are stretching, adapting, and sometimes cracking under the strain of this transformation. This is an evolutionary pressure-cooker and the process of adaptation is the key to survival and success.

We don't know where we are going, so trying to create the ideal organization of the future is a futile exercise. But we clearly cannot continue with business-as-usual. We need models that work NOW in the current economic and social realities, and we need models that can adapt as these realities change. This is social innovation.

Social innovation is a skill set, a mindset, and an approach to solving complex problems. Social innovation is the capacity to create networks of relationships and resource flows that match our current and changing realities.

The need for this capacity is certainly nothing new. What is new is the speed of change that needs to be adapted to, the tools that allow us to engage up down and across networks and hierarchies, and a growing cultural consciousness that pulls us all towards a higher level of engagement, creativity and authenticity.

We are being called to do more. To be more. Evolution isn't something done to us, it is a call to find greater alignment with our world as it actually exists here and now.