GFB Update

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Michael Marien, Director

1:6, June 2011

In This Issue
Book of the Month: The Techno-Human Condition by Allenby & Sarevitz
Methods to Shape the Future: Introduction
Methods: Complexity, Systems, and Scenarios
Methods: Leadership
Methods: Organization Change
Methods: Changing The World and Communities
Methods: Innovation
Climate Change: Recent Recommended Books
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Book of the Month 

The Techno-Human Condition. Braden R. Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz (both at Arizona State U). Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, May 2011, 222p, $24.95. 


Techno-Human Condition

An important, provocative, and wide-ranging volume on the role of technology in our rapidly changing Anthropocene-era world. It begins with an extensive critique of the simplistic thinking of the transhumanist movement to enhance individual capabilities, illustrative of the need to look at three levels of technological function to understand complex systems in which technologies are used (Level II) and the even broader realm of Earth systems (Level III). National security is then described as a Level III system that must deal with four major revolutionary realms of coupled change, as regards military technologies, the nature of conflict, civilian systems, and military operations and culture. "Muddling through" is the best we can do, along with avoiding simplistic thinking in a world of "wicked complexity."

A society that can address "ever-complexifying turbulence" must have the "courage and wisdom to embrace contradiction, celebrate ignorance, and muddle forward". Basic principles for engaging with the Level III world involve playing with scenarios, focusing on option spaces, encouraging pluralism and many voices, making many small decisions, ensuring continual learning and "ignorance-based reflection," evaluating technologies before making major commitments, and nourishing productive conflict.

Perhaps more than any other book to date, this volume exemplifies the underlying philosophy of Global Foresight Books, especially as concerns continuing learning, pluralism, and many scenarios and options. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Methods to Shape the Future because the recommended methods are placed in the context of complexity, uncertainty, and global systems that are being created. It is also valuable for understanding world futures, security, sustainability, science/technology, and the limits of transhumanism. 


More on Complexity and Creating Change


MethodsThe Techno-Human Condition is an excellent introduction and overview to the "wicked complexity," turbulence, and uncertainty that we are creating, and the need to think broadly about systems and to consider alternative scenarios of what is possible and preferable. These themes, in various degrees and combinations, are reflected in the recent literature on "Methods to Shape the Future." 

As of June 2011, Global Foresight Books has identified more than 130 books on futures-relevant methods published since early 2009 (see Browse by Category  or Methods). Roughly half are mentioned here, in five major categories: 1) Complexity, Systems, and Scenarios; 2) Leadership; 3) Organization Change; 4) Changing the World and Communities; and 5) Innovation. These books all offer good and often passionate advice for thinking about our turbulent world and acting to change organizations, communities, and the world itself with new and innovative ideas.

The many books on methods overlap to a considerable degree, but all of them offer some mix of systems thinking, scenario planning to get out of the box, strategy, leadership and vision, sustainability, and innovation. No single book stands out above the others; leaders, staffers, consultants, change agents, and social entrepreneurs would be well-advised to search around here to find the books that best fit their needs, rather than grab the first book that comes to their attention. Unfortunately, there is no detailed "travel guide" to this ever-growing body of literature, but this mini-guide offers a rough appreciation of what is available.

For those who seek a broad overview of futures methodology, see Futures Research Methodology: Version 3.0  edited by Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon (Millennium Project, 8-09), a CD with 39 chapters on such topics as scanning, real-time Delphi, wild cards, systems perspectives, scenario planning, intuition and vision, and multiple perspectives. For an earlier survey of methods literature, see Many Methods and Mentors: Thinking About Change and Shaping Futures assembled by Michael Marien (World Future Society, Future Survey Mini-Guide #4, Aug 2008, 40p), with abstracts of 98 books and articles on forecasting, scenarios, change strategy for preferred futures, innovation, leadership, systems, and critiques. The 2008 guide has somewhat more emphasis on forecasting and prediction; this 2011 round-up has greater emphasis on complexity and uncertainty. Otherwise, many of the methods books from 2008 and earlier are still of great value.

Methods: Complexity, Systems, and Scenarios 

GFB Titles


Complexity-A Guided Tour

Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell(Oxford UP, 3-09) describes the ideas underlying complex systems science and the relationship between complexity and evolution.  Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity and Policy by Sandra Mitchell (U of Chicago, 12-09) critiques the long-standing scientific deference to reductive explanations and advocates "integrative pluralism."  Uncertainty in Policy Making: Values and Evidence in Complex Decisions by Michael Heazle (Earthscan, 12-10) recommends a hedging approach to manage rather than eliminate uncertainty. Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination  edited by Valerie A. Brown et al. provides a framework for open-ended inquiries that emphasizes the inevitability of uncertainty. Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display by Howard Wainer (Princeton UP, 6-09) proposes maps to guide us when information is ambiguous or incomplete.

Ten Things to Do in a Conceptual Emergency by Graham Leicester and Maureen O'Hara (Triarchy Press, 2009) argues that the scale of interconnectivity has led to a step change in the complexity of the operating environment, raising basic questions about our competence.  Thinking in Systems: A Primer by the late Donella Meadows of "Limits to Growth" fame (Chelsea Green, 12-08) shows how to develop systems-thinking skills that are critical for 21st-century life.  The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows (Chelsea Green, 1-10) is a companion to the systems primer.  Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner's Toolkit by Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner (Stanford UP, 11-10) explores applications of systems ideas to evaluate and intervene in complex and messy situations. [NOTE: Most of the nine books mentioned above are authored or co-authored by women, suggesting that women may be more prone to dealing with uncertainty and complexity!]

Business Planning for Turbulent Times: New Methods for Applying Scenarios (Earthscan, 2/E, 4-10) explains how to deal with turbulence, complexity, and uncertainty. Chaotics: The Business of Managing in the Age of Turbulence, by marketing expert Philip Kotler (AMACOM, 5-09), urges a new mindset to deal with "an entirely new age of increasingly frequent and intense turbulence in the global economy."  The Art of Quantum Planning: Lessons from Quantum Physics for Innovation and Leadership (Berrett-Koehler, 8-09) shows how to improve scenario analysis and make the planning process far more effective by breaking groupthink and either-or thinking.  Scenario Planning in Organizations: How to Create, Use, and Assess Scenarios, by Thomas Chermack of the Scenario Planning Institute (Berrett-Koehler, 2-11) stresses that linear approaches to planning have had their day and that uncertainty is now a basic feature of organizational environments, thus requiring scenarios to widen the scope of what might be true about the future.

Facing the Fold: Essays on Scenario Planning by veteran scenariomeister James A. Ogilvy of the Global Business Network (Triarchy Press, 3-11) notes that we live in a "tragic-comic time of multiple scenarios, as the future flies at us both faster and less predictably than ever."  Foresight in Action: Developing Policy-Oriented Scenarios (Earthscan, 10-10) describes how experts assess the future and how scenarios are made.  Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision-Making in a World of Extreme Volatility (Columbia Business School, 2-10) focuses on the very-wild-card "Black Swans" that too frequently rock the markets.

Contrary to dealing with uncertainty and complexity with scenarios, as advocated by most serious futurists and many others, there are still some in many fields who make predictions with various degrees of authority and certitude.  Much of this can be laid to rest by Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless by Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen (Dutton, 3-11), who explains why the experts are inaccurate, even as we yearn for certainty in an uncertain world.

Methods: Leadership

GFB Titles



The Powers to Lead (with An Updated Preface), by Joseph S. Nye, former Dean of Harvard's JFK School (Oxford UP, 9-10 pb edition) considers the nature of leadership in today's world, and the need for "smart power" (mixing hard and soft power effectively) and contextual intelligence (understanding changing environments).  Leading in Turbulent Times (Berrett-Koehler, 2-10) shows what every leader must to cope with perpetual change-the key trait of 21st century business.  Development as Leadership-Led Change: A Report for the Global Leadership Initiative (World Bank, 6-10) explains how leaders make change happen by building change space, fostering acceptance of change, etc.  Trans-Cultural Leadership for Transformation (Palgrave Macmillan, 12-10) explores leadership development on many different levels in an era of internationalization, when societies and organizations are undergoing many changes and are increasingly multicultural.  Ethical Leadership: Global Challenges and Perspectives (Palgrave Macmillan, 11-10) focuses on dilemmas of international business life in all their complexity.

The ASTD Leadership Handbook (Berrett-Koehler and American Society for Training & Development, 8-10) provides a 500-page compilation of insights, ideas, and tools for contemporary leaders.  The AMA Book of Leadership (AMACOM, 1-10) promises insights from the "best-of-the-best leaders."  How the Best Leaders Lead (AMACOM, 2-10) shows how to find the ideal leadership style for any situation, how to motivate people in turbulent times, and how to plan for the future.  Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, by leadership expert Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith (Basic Books, 4th edition, 5-10), shows how to communicate vision to others.  Leadership: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP, 10-10) encourages a rethinking of assumptions about leadership.  Thinking About Leadership by Nannerl O. Keohane, former president of Duke U (Princeton UP, 12-10) describes traits of a good leader, pitfalls and challenges, and ethics. 

Methods: Organization Change 

GFB Titles


Life-Sustaining-OrganizationsLife-Sustaining Organizations: A Design Guide, by futurists Michael Sales and Anika Ellison Savage (Art of the Future, 1-11) articulates the Structural Dynamics strategic leadership process to "create the future you want in an uncertain world," defining leadership roles as futurist, strategist, and integrator using a whole systems approach.  Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment, and Action, by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff (Berrett-Koehler,  3rd edition, 10-10) offers a well-established method for strategic planning, product innovation, organization restructuring, etc. 


The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change (Berrett-Koehler, 3-10) features a change approach that engages people to discuss and build on what's working.  Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane (Berrett-Koehler, 1-10) shows how groups that manage to solve complex collective problems have the ability to balance power to pursue certain purposes with love that unites with others.  Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations (Berrett-Koehler, 3rd edition, 10-10) shows how to involve everyone in an organization.  Leading Culture Change   (Stanford Business Books, 5-10) is a practical guide for leaders shaping organization culture to create long-term sustainable value.  Managing Conflict in Organizations (Transaction, 10-10) argues that, within certain limits, conflict is essential to productivity; little or no conflict may lead to stagnation and poor decisions. 


The Barefoot Manual to Working with Organizations and Social Change by the Barefoot Collective (Practical Action Publishing/Stylus, 8-10) aims to help organizations function in more healthy, human, and effective ways, and describes how to build learning organization.  It Takes More Than Courage: Guidelines for Strategic Policy Reform (Bertelsmann/Brookings, 2-11) explains government planning reforms, creating and expanding options for implementation, and evaluation. Leading Change in a Web 2.1 World: How ChangeCasting Builds Trust, Creates Understanding, and Accelerates Organizational Change (Brookings Institution, 9-10) describes web-based video communications as key to organization change, with case studies from Fortune 100 firms and the Obama campaign.

Methods: Changing The World and Communities

GFB Titles


Social Change 2.0Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing the World (Chelsea Green, 9-09) offers three strategies to empower change agents to effect transformation change to tackle pressing social problems or unmet social needs.  Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford UP, 2-10) is a follow-on to How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and The Power of New Ideas (Oxford UP, 2007).  Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict(Columbia UP, 8-11) argues that campaigns of nonviolent resistance are more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in overthrowing regimes and ushering in durable democracies. 


Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World (Prometheus, 4-10) offers cases worldwide of women with an iron will and the gentle touch of a butterfly, as well as a holistic perspective and relational skills. Similarly, Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World(Berrett-Koehler, 10-09) offers steps for women to bring their passion, brains, and background to make like better for their organization and global society.  The Positive Deviant: Sustainability Leadership in a Perverse World (Earthscan/Stylus, 9-10) argues that thousands of leaders and change-makers are needed to "do" sustainability and establish a low-carbon economy.


Creative Community Planning: Transformative Engagement Methods (Earthscan/Stylus, 5-10) offers meaningful ways to practice with communities in all forms of planning, participatory action research, and culturaldevelopment.  Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice (Berrett-Koehler, 2-10) encourages organizers to question and assess established principles.  Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing (Rutgers UP, 6-10) compares efforts in the US, UK, and Canada to focus on community as a strategy for social change.  Resolving Community Conflicts and Problems: Public Deliberation and Sustained Dialogue (Columbia UP, 2-11) studies dialogue that sustains public deliberation and group discussion. 


Methods: Innovation 

GFB Titles


The Innovator's WayThe Innovator's Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation (MIT Press, 9-10) views innovation as a skill that can be learned, developed through practice, and extended into organizations and getting people to adapt change. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead/Penguin, 10-10) discusses the role of serendipity and error, inventive borrowing, and environments that breed ideas. The Evolution of Revolutions: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change (Prometheus Books, 2-11) shows how to identify and foster innovations that lead to revolutions. The Innovation for Development Report 2010-2011: Innovation as a Driver of Productivity and Economic Growth by the World Economic Forum (Palgrave Macmillan, 11-10) looks at the future role of technological innovation in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Innovation and the Development Agenda, a component of the OECD Innovation Stategy(OECD Publishing, 9-10), looks at innovation systems and the key role of knowledge and innovation in development, with a focus on transforming agriculture and Africa. Eco-Innovation in Industry: Enabling Green Growth (OECD, 1-10) calls for faster introduction of breakthrough technologies and more systemic application of available solutions. Innovative Workplaces: Making Better Use of Skills Within Organizations (OECD, 11-10) considers challenges for innovation within organizations and promoting high levels of learning. SMEs, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation (OECD, 2010) notes that small and medium enterprises play a growing role in innovation, but most don't capitalize on their advantages.

Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others (Yale UP, 8-11) notes that the best ideas are often passed over by groups, and discusses the complex factors involved in selling an idea. Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change (Stanford Business Books, 12-10) views resistance as a healthy part of the change process when engaged properly, and details how change proponents can work effectively with hesitant colleagues. Street-Smart Sustainability: Greening Your Organization's DNA (Berrett-Koehler, 11-10) explains why sustainability makes economic sense and how to get employee buy-ion. Last but by no means least, Playing the Fool: Subversive Laughter in Troubled Times (U of Chicago Press, 1-09) views the time-honored role of the fool to provoke the powerful to question their convictions, preferably while avoiding a beating, relying on humor to promote a more reasoned understanding of the world.

Recent Recommended Books on Climate Change 


Climate ChangeNotable new additions to the GFB Recommended Books listing, as concerns the our most important long-term global issue:


  • The Fate of Greenland: Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change by Philip Conkling, Richard Alley, Wallace Broecker, and George Denton (MIT Press, April 2011) looks at the geological evidence showing two dramatic climate changes in the past thousand years, and current evidence of the rapidly melting ice sheet, which could be lost within a few decades. If so, sea level would rise 7 meters worldwide, with an additional 5 meter rise if the West Antarctic ice sheet melts. Continued loading of CO2 into the atmosphere only increases the uncertainty and instability. "It is in all of our interests to pay attention to Greenland, because in the fate of Greenland lie clues to the fate of the world."
  • Earth: The Operator's Manual (W.W. Norton, April 2011) by Richard Alley, co-author of the Greenland book above, is a companion to the PBS television documentary on the history of energy use by humans, how high levels of CO2 are causing damaging global warming, and alternative energy options.
  • Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet by David G. Victor (Cambridge U Press, April 2011) notes that the harm that CO2 does is slow and cumulative, and the benefits for cutting emissions will be delayed and uncertain, whereas remedial costs are all up front. Current approaches to climate change are mostly ineffective, and the two-degree recommended limit on global warming will likely be exceeded.
  • The Biggest Wake-up Call in History by futurist Richard A. Slaughter (Foresight International, Dec 2010) argues that humanity has outgrown its world in the Anthropocene Era and we are now in a "Planetary Emergency" with no simple solutions or easy exits. Considers reality avoidance, overshoot and collapse, downsides of globalization, criminality, etc. and considers transition strategies, enhancing awareness, and post-collapse futures. Also see The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Bring the Birth of a New World by Paul Gilding (Bloomsbury, April 2011) on "the biggest crisis our species has ever faced" which will "push humanity to its next stage of development."
  • The Inquisition of Climate Change (Columbia U Press, July 2011), by James Lawrence Powell, director of the National Physical Science Consortium, critiques the climate change denial movement and their use of deceptive techniques. Public acceptance of climate change has declined, even as the evidence for global warming has increased. "We cannot afford to get global warming wrong." Also see Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand by Hadyn Washington and John Cook of (Earthscan, June 2011).
  • Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change by the National Research Council (National Academies Press, Nov 2010), the first of four congressionally requested studies in the America's Climate Choices Series, warns that even if GHG emissions are substantially reduced, "climate change and its resulting impacts will continue for some time." Calls for a new paradigm to consider a range of possible future climate conditions and a national adaptation strategy. The three other studies are Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, and Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change.
  • Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenge of a Changing Ocean by the National Research Council (National Adademies Press, Sept 2010) states that the ocean has absorbed a significant part of all human-made CO2 emissions, which moderates the rate of climate change, but also causes unprecedented changes in ocean chemistry, expected to result in changes to many ecosystems.
  • Cities and Climate Change: Global Report on Human Settlements 2011 by the United Nations Settlement Program (Earthscan, May 2011) analyzes the contributions that cities make to climate change, impacts of climate change on cities, and possible responses from different perspectives.

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