Future Search The Method

Why Future Search Works
By Ralph Copleman, Consultant and FSN member

I have been reading a book by Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest and renowned cosmological thinker. Berry says (correctly, I think) that the environmental crisis runs more broadly and deeply than most of us understand. He calls to our attention that it's not the size or scope of the problem but its very nature.

I would like to concentrate on a lesson from his book, The Dream of the Earth that's relevant to what we do in future search. But I will start by saying if we continue to believe that being a good environmental citizen is limited to recycling the Sunday newspaper, skipping an occasional car wash and sending an annual check to the Sierra Club (all good things), we all have much to learn.

Three Behavioral Laws

Berry describes three forces we all need to understand if we're going to resolve the environmental challenge in a way that preserves life. The three are actually behavioral laws of the universe. Together they capture the immutable essence of the way the world works on the most fundamental levels. To be in harmony with the natural order, we have to understand these laws and, better yet, know how to participant with them. Here they are, in my understanding of Berry's teaching. See if you don't think they relate to future search.

Differentation. Nature and the universe literally require diversity in order to work. If everything were the same, there would be literally no life. The universe created many elements, many species, many colors, many ways to solve problems, many ways to be alive and celebrate life. This is not good; it just is and any attempt to reverse of frustrate the energy that differentiates is certain to fail and such failure would produce an all-encompassing death, no kidding.

Subjectivity. All the differentiated species and beings have unique experiences. In the case of humans, this means awareness and personal consciousness. As individual being we exercise options and make choices and develop the sensation that we have self-perceived understanding and experience. Nature, it appears, abhors conformity and compliance. It wants us to have (and appreciate) our very own knowledge of being. For me, this means I am unique and wonderful and it also means my answers are not the right answers; they are just my answers.

Communion. For all our differentiated individuality and wondrous interior life, we nevertheless act together. We interact and communicate. We relate and we are absolutely inseparable. Person to person, group to group, species to species, soil to air, water and seed, earth to moon, sun and beyond. Everything is connected and needs everything else. This is not merely a fact; it is an equation necessary for life to exist in the first place, let alone continue.

The Parallels

If you have ever seen a future search, you're getting my point right now. It's just this: The forces that create life and drive the universe are the same ones that propel every future search conference. Future search, therefore, works because it is congruent with fundamental natural law. With all loving respect to tribal mythologies and traditions, which many of us have seen reflected in the patterns of a future search conference, it goes far deeper than that--into the very forces that gave rise to such stories and rituals, right down into the nature and spirit of the very earth itself.

To see what I mean, match up the key principles of future search and how they manifest in the various design elements of the conference with Berry's three universal themes.

Getting the whole system in the room. This is a deeply respectful bow to the idea of differentiation. The whole notion of having all stakeholders present during a conference is recognition of the differentiation principle. We cannot imagine doing anything with a full orange of diversity in attendance. Neither can the universe.

Think globally, act locally. Everything is connected to everything else. Activity on the local scene not only reflects what happens on a larger stage, it depends on it. There is nothing that happens in my hometown that is not somehow continuous with other things elsewhere, say your hometown, where ever you are. And not just now but before. Everything and everyone are context for everything and everyone else. Mind-maps, time lines and every small group report that we've ever heart start out with a tip of the hat to the one that just preceded it.

Work toward common ground and desired futures. Our differentness craves community. We stand on our ground and with hope in our hearts, scan for overlap in culture, mores, and practices with others' lives. We know that our vision cannot survive if it does not win acceptance of others who are not us. If someone validates an aspect of our take on the world, then we are no longer invisible, we count for something and we have a chance of living after ourselves - just as atoms of one element have the capacity to attach to those of another and create something different. Or we can bounce about the planet as separate entities for eternity, never rising above ourselves, never getting much done.

Future search understands this. It offers the change to work together in new ways and to achieve things our hearts have imagined.

Self-Managaement. The universe is a self-organizing, self-managed system, the original and the ultimate. It creates and replenishes itself eternally. There is no fuel station, it can pull up to. Any future planning conference that fails to mirror this fundamental fact is bound to have a very short half-life because it will run counter to the law of nature. The future search design understands this.

The presence of self-managed groups throughout means that the universe inside a conference can operate organically. Interaction among the groups keeps the learning real, natural and living.

I'm fond of the oft-cited lesson from Albert Einstein that warns us not to attempt to solve a problem by thinking about it from with the same mental model that produced it. Tom Berry puts it quite gently, this way: "Our cultural traditions, it seems are a major source of our difficulty."

Future search offers an opportunity to collaborate somehow in ways that transcend our everyday ways of operating. It seems instinctively capture the wisdom that we cannot save ourselves, no matter what we're working on, without each other. Berry says further, "It appears necessary that we go beyond our cultural coding, to our genetic coding, to ask for guidance."

If we are genetically coded, as I think we must be, to seek guidance from each other, I don't know a better way than future search to help us fulfill this aspect of our destiny.







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