Integral for the Masses: The future is bright!

Keith Bellamy

Keith BellamyFor some reason that completely escapes me, our minds here in the west seem to do anything other than focus on the present at this time of the year. Perhaps it is the watery sunshine, which is in very short supply due to the tilting of the earth’s angle, kicking off some deep-seated part of our ancient brain. But without fail, for the two weeks before New Year and for a couple of weeks following the completely artificial accounting for the change in the Gregorian Calendar, one cannot pick up a newspaper, magazine or watch a TV programme without experiencing this phenomenon.

It has its own, well-defined ritual. First comes a review of the 12 months that have just passed in a montage of quotes, pictures and clips often culminating in some loveable pet saving the lives of a family living in a tenement in some God forsaken place like Walsall. Then comes the opportunity for the “experts” to start predicting not only what the next 12 months will bring but to map out the future of mankind in the image of their own little, and often warped, minds. The one thing that is not allowed any space in this ritual is the need to reflect on what is happening at this very moment.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to thinking about either the past or the present. What really irks me (mental note – add to list of shadow activities to be worked on in 2007) is the fact that such thinking falls into collective consciousness at this time of the year and then is completely ignored for another 11 months. As a futurist by trade, reviewing the past and postulating the future are activities that I contemplate to some degree or other most days of the week. The collective pathology of resigning such thinking to fill newspaper columns during the dog days of late December and early January does us all a major disservice.

Even the UK government has gotten in the act recently. Some bright spark in the “ministry of ideas” (actually the Office of Science and Innovation, but I much prefer the oxymoronic concept of the ministry) commissioned a study, which synthesized the ideas and thoughts of thousands of forward thinkers into a library of over 270 papers describing what the world will be like in 2050. Two scans were undertaken one focussing on science and technology and a broader scan looking at social, political, economical and environmental issues that will emerge in the next 43 years (

And what did these researchers, at not inconsiderable expense to the UK taxpayer, come up with? Some of their highlights included the insights that:

  • Solar energy is the wild card with the potential to deliver all of our future energy needs!
  • Chinese nationalism and space tourism will revitalise a new space race;
  • The human brain is the next frontier to be tamed (like a lion-tame with whip and chair?);
  • Robots will have evolved to a state of “consciousness” that they will have their own charter of rights making it politically incorrect to insult, harm or abuse them;
  • We will have completely mastered the human genome (yawn) with the ability to rewrite DNA on the fly to create the ultimate master race;
  • The world’s currency systems will have collapsed leading a new exchange rate architecture comprising competing currency blocs; and finally
  • Armies will have become institutions of the past because citizens will no longer be interested in going to some far-distant dessert to be attacked by frenzied locals who object to intruders in their home-lands.

Sadly, I do not have time or space in this column to discuss the merits or otherwise of these projections. I am sure that my précis of the thoughts contained in the 270 documents is probably a little unfair and even a little biased. The one thing I do know is that as race, we have been absolutely abysmal in projecting the future in this way in the past and I see no reason why these projections have any greater chance of being correct.

I am sure that when Thomas Watson Junior pronounced in 1948 that IBM saw no need for more than 6 computers in the world, that had access to many of the progenitors who have contributed to this study for the UK government. If Watson had been correct you and I, dear reader, would be in possession of one third of the world’s total computing power. Love them or loathe them, others in IBM had a different view and they started us on a world where the average living room in the West has more than 6 computers in it these days.

Whilst these projections are often amusing, sometimes a little scary and are food and drink to science fiction writers and Hollywood filmmakers, our propensity to get things wrong defies belief. To understand why our consistency to predict wrongly shows no sign of abating, I urge you reconsider the list above but do so through an Integral lens. What leaps out, to my mind at least, is the fact that predictions of this nature all emerge from a Flatland perspective. They are built upon an examination of what is in respect of technology and systems and totally ignore intentions and cultural influences on developments. They fail to take into account either the stage of development of the Holon that is under consideration or the number stages of evolution necessary to arrive at their projection.

Long before I discovered Wilber and Integral Theory I had arrived at the conclusion that understanding the future (from a technological perspective, which is what I was being paid to do) was 10% technology, 20% systems, 30% psychological and 40% cultural. How pleased was I when I discovered the four quadrants and how they mapped onto my original breakdown in how to understand the future?

When you are attempting to predict the future as these long range forecasters are and are only working with 30% of the necessary understanding to make your projections the probability of being wrong rapidly approaches 100%. To be blunt attempting to forecast the future without taking an Integral perspective is pretty much doomed from the outset. Of course taking an Integral perspective doesn’t guarantee that you will be successful, but it removes some of the impediments and barriers that block the paths of traditional forecasters.

Now this has got me thinking and I would like to launch for the New Year a new exercise here at the Integral Leadership Review. I’d like to encourage the readership to start thinking “integrally” about the future. I’d like to turn the ILR into a hub where leaders from across the planet can gain access into future insights, which have been developed using all the facets and dimensions of Integral Theory. Now it might be that what we come up with is not necessarily as exciting and headline grabbing as Robot’s Rights, but what the heck, a lot of life isn’t that exciting anyway.

What, I hope, we will be able to do is develop a number of scenarios across a wide range of topics that map how the future will unfold taking into account all four quadrants and the evolution of the pertinent lines that affect the topic in question. I would encourage you to take a subject in which you have a depth of understanding and expertise and develop a starting paper as to what we might expect to see in respect of the topic in the year 2050. With, I hope, Russ’s blessing we will publish these papers in future issues of ILR.

More importantly, these papers can form the basis of a starter for a “Wiki” type environment where the ILR community can contribute to the discussion and debate on these futures keeping them up to date and adapting them as events unfold. I feel a prediction coming on: In the year 2050 ILR will be the major source of integral thinking in respect of predicting the future…

…that, of course, depends upon you joining with us on this wonderful voyage of discovery in 2007. I will look to publish some guidelines on the ILR website in the next few weeks. However, if you feel as excited about this as I do, don’t let that stop you and start writing.

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself and running the risk of falling into the same trap that I was complaining about at the start of this column. Whilst building a knowledge base of futures projections is an admirable objective, it is important that we remember the critical purpose that these projections would serve. To do this, I am reminded of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt when she wrote:

  • Yesterday is history,
  • Tomorrow is a mystery,
  • Today is a gift,
  • Which is why we call it the present.

Studying the past or the future for their sake alone is futile. These studies are only of value if we use them to inform the present and allow their information to influence the decisions that today’s leaders make. If the projections that we establish in the proposed project above are Integral in nature, then we run the risk of influencing modern leaders and helping them to make integrally informed decisions in the future, and that surely is all that we can ask isn’t it?