NSL Blog

The UK's social and economic design challenge

April 6, 2013

Straight line thinking stops here

The next 10 years looks like this

A design challenge of epic proportions: a number of conversations this week that has resulted in this post. One was related to four cities in the north of England and their urgent need to rethink and rebuild their local economies, with wellness as the heartbeat of a resilient economy. Then a conversation in my home town of Cambridge which explored the challenges that counties and regions around the UK now face as the UK divests itself of the structures that we call The State that provides services to society. It is a challenge because there will be a cumulative short fall in revenues over the next 5 years with nothing to replace it. Once we have divested these infrastructures there is no going back.

No road-map for a new destination? The connection between these conversations is that we face a design challenge that is very real and very significant. The failing of our economic systems as we know them now confront us with a clear and present danger and are impacting upon our societies and will continue to do so – Old Mother Hubbards Cupboard at The Treasury is by all accounts empty and it can no longer afford the luxury of looking after us. Yet if we reflect on how we look after our elderly for example, or even how we talk about British “Yoof” we have forgotten to look after ourselves. And clearly austerity measures are not providing a road-map for what a better more regenerative society looks like. The off-shoring down the road of our problems to private companies built upon the linear economic profit principle does not for a better world make as they take money out of local economies rather than recycling it. And as Dutch economist Arnold Heertje argues that we have lived in a quantitative and dehumanizing economic paradigm which has alienated human beings from their labour and social being.

A non-linear tool box for a non-linear world: What we need is a different approach to these challenges that is non-linear with different set of tools. It is quite an interesting tool box, for example community and participatory cultures.


Community as a human technology

Community as a human technology: There is a view that technology is human intelligence manifest. And there are some that believe large-scale human-engagement processes are also a technology, something that Scott Peck believed in as does Margret Wheatley founder of the Berkana Institute. In this regard I believe that we have largely overlooked our human technological capabilities, underestimating their potential and their power. Our gaze has been on machines of the linear age believing in their power and potency above our own.

Over the 7 years of the No Straight Lines project and right back to the writing of Communities Dominate Brands in 2004, it has become absolutely clear to me that designing around the socialness of humanity is absolutely key to what next looks like. It is key because we are designed to work in aggregate, we derive context and meaning through our interconnectedness, the culture we create and co-create, the narratives that we build together are our DNA. When we work collectively with purpose as Toke Moeller wrote purpose is the hidden leader. With our own Transformation LABS we have purposefully designed these to be participatory because they release people from being locked into an individualistic perspective and understanding of the world allowing them to understand the potential of collective will and collaborative effort.

Literacy for a non-linear world

Literacy for a non-linear world

The literacy of collaborative effort: Our literacy must start with being able to properly discuss and understand human motivation in participatory cultures, and the tools that they use, and then how these can be used to make organisations more lightweight, more effective and deliver accelerated innovation, plus greater social cohesion at a variety of societal levels. From politicians to CEOs, leadership must be properly understood within the context of the Gestalt switch of participatory culture. We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging, wrote Scott Peck. Community Peck stated was built on inclusivity, commitment, consensus, and realism.


Human technologies, localism and the humanizing of our economies: We are going to be forced back to localism which also requires us to become truly community centric and becoming more self-sustaining whether we like it or not. It provides us with a great opportunity to give real agency to this design challenge. So councils, and all civic institutions I would suggest need to urgently ensure that they understand community as a human technology and how to release it – in so doing we can think and act differently describing new destinations of how to build resilient local economies and regions weaving wellness and a more purposeful society into its living DNA.

The regenerative society

The regenerative society 6 principles of No Straight Lines

This can be applied to I believe to food systems, jobs, poverty, finance, healthcare, to our towns and cities. And it would enable our civic institutions to become more adaptive and purpose built for the world that is unfolding in front of us. The choices we must make can no longer be made in silos but must be communal in context and narrative. We must seek prevention not cure. This could be a great opportunity to upgrade and release ourselves from the cul-de-sac of our linear monoculture world. Civic institutions responsible for society and all its needs could become rather than a set of ever increasing budget constrained “professional services” that are delivered to the needy but dynamic life-enhancing institutions that are the humus for diversity, sentience, beauty and structure.

The No Straight Lines Challenge: The 7 years of research undertaken with No Straight Lines demonstrates that we now have the means to truly transform our world, to be more resilient, to be more relevant to us both personally and collectively, socially cohesive, sustainable, economically vibrant and humane, through the tools, capabilities, language and processes at our fingertips. We can and must create more value than we extract from our current system. The No Straight Lines project has collected numerous examples and stories of how this works in practice, it can then show how these can be built as an evolving networked solution. Are you prepared for the transition from a linear world to thrive in a non-linear one?

Further reading



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