"Change of Age": from Techno-Market Era towards a Socio-Ecological One

Posted: January 14, 2011 by FMstereo in Market Trends

As 2010 comes to an end, a mini-download from a recent future trends conference.

Every November in Miami brings 3 full days of “What if..?” thinking by experts that specialize in industries that run the gamut from space exploration to sneaker design. It’s the best way for me to get out of my own mind. So I thought I’d let you in on the download that I shared with the studio here at Flood.

The keynote speaker Josephine Green made such an impression on me that it lasted the entire time at the event, the flight home, and the weeks since. You can check out more about her at www.european futurists.org.

I could never do her justice, but I will share with you the major points which made an impact on me, and how I think it will reveal itself in our daily design roles.

We are not living in an ‘age of change’, we are actually experiencing a ‘change of age’. This is a rare period every few hundred years or so where just about everything changes. It’s not just about rapid technological changes, but personal and societal changes. We are moving away from a techno-market era towards a socio-ecological one. The days of a predictable, mass, linear, ‘winner takes all’ pyramid structure will have to change. More on the business aspects of this later…

In a nutshell, everything is up for grabs. So if you feel a bit wobbly in the morning and are not sure why because you are in good health, have a decent job, and are generally happy otherwise—now you know why. Deep, deep down in our psyche no one knows what is next. According to Green, we have been trying to control an emerging, complex, chaotic system. But trying to do so is impossible, especially in our current business and economic models.Wow!

Here are two main areas that are not new buzzwords to you per se, yet there will be extraordinary new meanings for these words:

1. SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY. This is not just about going green. This is about designing things that have a meaning so that we can be connected to them. We are so disconnected to what we buy. We do not care who makes it, where it comes from, or where it goes (just think about what you are wearing now).

If we did we might actually buy less. Our world economies need to stop using consumption to measure GDP. We are not measuring the harm, i.e. that it takes 10 calories of energy to make 1 calorie of food. And to be honest, we have nowhere to put all this stuff anymore. As designers, we will be asked to understand the human story, not a consumer story. We need to move beyond product innovation and seek social innovation. Most of us still design to sell and not to solve. The future will require designing customized (not personalized) solutions that work for society as well as the individual. So, this is not just about how making too much stuff is environmentally unfriendly, it’s more about the one-to-one product transaction being an obsolete concept.

2. ‘BIG’ IS NOT JUST SLOW, IT’S STUCK. Small players have already been shaking up categories for a long time, but this goes beyond that. Big has gone as far as it can. We reached all the corners of the earth. Linear management was needed to control materials, inventory, distribution, logistics, etc.  But we have solved all that now. Now this top-down management structure is hurting us because we can’t get out of the box. Ideas do not survive their way to the top. And we need innovation more than we need management. Half of working hours in a big company are spent on politics and admin. Green feels that the CEO model has created “a reverse accountability.” To fix this, we need to decentralize the design and innovation functions. It took decades for these functions to have a seat at the big table. This goes beyond that. This is not about an isolated ‘design hero’. We need to smash the pyramid hierarchy into a flat pancake. Design and innovation teams within our companies need to reflect the kind of chaotic yet collaborative network that is out there in the real word now.

To sum up, think about your own life today. You have so much freedom. So many lifestyle choices. You are making your own ‘content’. You do not want to be lead—either at home or at work. You would rather be ‘developing with, not be provided with.’

It’s the opinion of Josephine Green that those who benefit now with money and/or power based on the old system will undoubtedly not be the ones to change it. So that is where all you fresh young thinkers come in! Here are some examples and inspirational links for you. Good luck!

DESIS NETWORK is a network of schools of design and other schools, institutions, companies and non-profit organizations interested in promoting and supporting design for social innovation and sustainability.

Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.

OECD Forum is a “multi-stakeholder summit” which brings together: business (CEOs) and labor leaders, civil society representatives, government and leaders of international organizations to discuss the hottest issues on the international agenda.

Grameen Bank (GB) has reversed conventional banking practice by removing the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity.

School of Everything is to change the current education system, which is “a bit rubbish, rigid and out of date”.

About the Author

Renée Whitworth is a strategic partner at Flood Creative in New York. Over the last 15 years she has developed a reputation for providing unique insights that help every facet of design come together with a singular, shared focus.

in Popsop.com, published on 15 December 2010

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