Written by on July 10, 2015 in Future with 1 Comment


This is the first of weekly thoughts from Rick Smyre, President of the Center for Communities of the Future. The Communities of the Future Network was conceived by twelve colleagues from North and South Carolina in 1989 at a weekend retreat in Wilmington, NC hosted by Dr. Bob Tyndall, Dean of Education at UNC Wilmington. The original objective for this weekend dialogue was to develop a way to inspire local leaders to want to become familiar with emerging trends that were in the early stages of transforming the way our economy and society would be structured and operative.

Over the last twenty-six years the COTF Network has grown in a self-organizing way to include colleagues and organizations in forty-seven states and eleven other countries. The present and future focus of COTF is to introduce and coach leaders and citizens in local areas in the ideas and methods of “comprehensive community transformation.” All of the work of COTF is reserach and development for community transformation in collaboration with colleagues and organzations interested in preparing for a society that will be increasingly fast-paced, interconnected, interdependent,  complex and constantly changing.

This initial blog is the start of a new concept to help local leaders build their individual capacities in order to help prepare their communities for an “accelerating future.” This and subsequent observations by Smyre will connect the ideas of a newly emerging “futures context,” new leadership knowledge and skills, and creative approaches to build “capacities for transformation” in local communities. These first thoughts connect the original intent of COTF with three key principles that have emerged over 26 years.

In 1989, the weak signals of the Web, the rise of China, the advent of Ebola and nanotechnology were still hidden in the smokescreen of tradition, and, in some cases such as the Web, were nonexistent in fact,  residing only in the early musing of Tim Berners-Lar at Cern in Switzerland…as he thought about how to connect people from throughout the world for the good of humanity (it is a little known fact that Berners-Lar intentionally did not copyright the Web, and, instead saw this major jump forward in communications technology as his gift to humanity). Was this a weak signal for a shift in values from the idea of monitizing personal identity with a focus on “maximum me?”

In 1993, the decision was made to create a virtual Center for Communities of the Future that was not incorporated and had no budget in a traditional sense, but, instead, would be organized around the idea of a self-organizing, emerging network of colleagues and organization who would collaborate with each other to seed and grow ideas and methods that would help local communities build “capacities for transformation.” It was at this stage that a distinction was made between reforming change (making an existing idea, process, product or service more efficient) and transforming change (challenging the underlying assumption of how we lead, how economic development is done, how we educate/learn, how we provide healthcare, and how we think….especially how we think). Although done on pursose to model a world in histocial transformatioin, there was only uncertainty about whether this was appropriate or not….a shift from the principles of physics and strategic planning to an emerging idea that is now called “adaptive planning.” The values of becoming comfortable with amiguity and uncertainty combined with the need to understand and take additional and varied risks was at the heart of this decision and led to the idea of the need to consider emerging issues as best possible within a “futures context”….a context not fully formed at any time and always transforming.

As a result the idea of the need for a Master Capacity Builder and a new philosophical context for a different kind of future evolved in the thinking of COTF.  The concept of a Transformational Leader capable of seeding transformational thinking and action evolved as a part of the work in Norfolk, NE from 1994 – 2005. I will never forget the many trips over a decade from Omaha to Norfolk, arriving at the sign of Johnny Carson yelling to new arrivals, “Here’s Norfolk.” In 1999, I was asked to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to spend the week meeting with various groups to introduce our COTF ideas and methods. It was in Edinburgh during a meeting with Chris Thomson and Harry McMillian (President of BP Scotland) that I encountered a profound shift in my thinking about how to prepare for the future.  As a part of the conversation, Harry mentioned that BP had a new logo and had decided not to strategically plan anymore. This caught my attention and I asked the question, “Harry, wasn’t it BP, Shell, Gulf and Aramco that developed the idea of strategic planning?” He agreed and then asked me a question, “Rick, what are the two assumptions for strategic planning?” I thought a minute, replied that one was knowing the specific outcome that was the objective. When I was not able to come up with the second, Harry then said, “that you can control the processes from where you start to where you want to go.” He then offered a profound statement that changed how I thought about the future and why I have title this blog “Accelerating the Future, Rethinking with Rick.” Harry said, “Rick the future is going to be so fast and changing so quickly that we cannot possibly expect to know exact outcomes that will be needed for the future. In the future, we will need to learn how to identify weak signals and new patterns when they first appear; we will need to learn how to collaborate with each other at a deeper level to be able to adapt quickly; and we will need to understand what new capacities will be needed that are aligned with a different kind of future that is emerging.”

As we age and build more experiences, things change in our lives that are both helpful and difficult. The past twenty-six years have been anything but easy, yet I would not trade them for any other experiences now that I have come to see how important transformational thinking and acting will be for the future of our grandchildren. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have our health in our ’70s have a great opportunity to collaborate with younger generations to rethink the future and to develop “capacities for transformation” that will help our communities and society be able to reconceptualize all our institutions, organize new structures of interlocking networks, and build resiliency and the abilty to adapt quickly to changing situations and conditions.

It is a new world in which we have been  born over the last thirty years, no matter what our age…it is nothing less than a historical shift, a transformation of history. All ages are special for those who are alive. Yet, few are as privileged as we to be able to help co-create a new culture that will, in time, be seen as moving from the Industrial Civilization to an Organic Civilization…capable of preparing for an economy and society that does not exist.

It is with this in mind that this blog will focus on a newly emerging “futures context,” what new ideas and methods are needed to adapt quickly to transformational change, and how Master Capacity Builder concepts and techniques will be needed to prepare our communities for a society and economy in constant change.

New words and phrases are needed or otherwise there is no true transformation when new concepts and methods emerge. When “rethinking the accelerating future with Rick” you will become familiar with new words and ideas such as:

(Weak Signal)    (Adaptive Planning)   (Second Enlightenment)  (Parallel Processes)   (Creative Molecular Economy)   (Mobile Collaborative Governance)   (Master Capacity Builder)   (pH Ecosystem for Preventive Medicine)   (Complex Adaptive Systems) (Transformatonal Learning/Future Forward College)   (DICE)

Ah…do I detect a sense of hesitation and a feeling that these ideas are unknnown and you need something for the moment that is practical? Well, welcome to the future. What will be practical for a constantly changing future is not considered practical today. We will be the co-creators of a new society and new economy. It will require a new philosophical framework of thinking what is true…because what is considered true today, will, in most cases, be different within ten years.

And most of all, the future will require a set of values that are aligned with a constantly changing society…maxime me will shift to collaborative we; the one best answer will change to what connectioins of ideas, people and processes will be effective? and, how we see ourselves, how our personal identity if formed will transform from achieving great wealth, controlling others, and competing to win at all costs to a “connected individuality” that honors and values deep collaboration with others in the dance of creativity to resolve the great issues of the age.

It is within this framework of thinking and acting that I invite you to become a part of our international Communities of the Future Network….colleagues dedicated to rethinking how to prepare for an accelerating future that will insure a vital and sustainable society and economy for our grandchildren. We live on the spirit, commitment and sacrifices of the founders of past great societies of humanity.  Many of those ideas and methods that have worked so well for over two hundred and fifty years are increasing obsolete. We need a new 21st century narrative that will be aligned with the needs of a society and economy that will be constantly morphing. Come join us on this exciting journey as we look to collaborate to build sustainable, adaptable and increasingly equitable and fair Communities of the Future


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