Tag Archives: futures thinking

The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Society – Post #2

Over the last two years I became enthusiastic about the possibility to apply knowledge from physics, especially theoretical physics on the social life. In this post I am trying to compress all the knowledge I am familiar with, and expose you to those extremely promising fields of interest. Please note that this is the second introductory post for the topic. In the next posts on this series I will discuss real-life examples related to social deviance (crime) and economy (unemployment, stock prices), and the like.

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My previous post about the topic, dealt with systems thinking and its application on management. On this post, I will dive into a more specific field for knowledge, principally connected to geophysics and information. In the last decade, there is a group of scientist that are interested in applying mathematical models on social phenomena. The basic assumption is that social complex systems may exhibit similar behaviour to natural complex systems; and indeed Miller and Page (2009) found similarities between behaviour of animals, human beings, economy, politics, and physical systems.

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Melanie Mitchell, in her free online course “Introduction to Complexity“, touches many aspects of complex systems and shows stunning similarities between systems of birds, molecules, and other objects. She defines complex system as a system that consists of three elements: (1) components/agents; (2) nonlinear interactions between components; (3) no central control. Additionally, complex systems present an emergent behavior, and featured by: hierarchical organization; information processing – components do not make decisions, it is made collectively; complex dynamics – patterns in space and time – continually changing structure and behaviour; and evolution and learning.  Systems improve themselves to perform better, and computation helps to represent how it works.

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Additional important concept is Entropy. Entropy (firstly discovered by Boltzmann) is a measure of disorder / randomness. This degree of disorder cannot be 100% decreased, even when an intervention is performed to slow down molecules moving. On the contrary, entropy ALMOST always increases, however Newton’s second law of motion says motion is reversible. entropy can also be viewed as  hidden information, because the structure is too small and too numerous to keep track of it, but the info is never lost. You always know where you came from. The most striking element of entropy that cought my attention is its recurrence.  According to Boltzmann, fluctuations, recurrence are general property of a finite system, they will happen over and over again because of the finite number of options, and because of the fact the system cycle itself. Even though we are not living in a “finite system”, we can still keep recurrence in mind, when considering social complex systems. (for Shannonian information theory and more in-depth review – short online free course- please click here).

The last concept I would like to introduce today is Chaos. Chaos is one particular type of the dynamics of a system, and it has sensitive dependence on initial condition. It also holds the attribute of repeating behaviour – which is “universality“, things are repeating in chaotic systems. Additionally, a very helpful view of chaos is done by using bifurcation (the point it gets divided, and again and again) and roughness: The density of self-similarity. How much detail we can see when digging in more and more. Fractal-like dimensions exist everywhere in nature (such as tree. When we cut a small part and then a small prat from it, and repeatedly- we find the same structure). Therefore, iterations of simple rules can explain complex systems.

 

futures thinking

Applying the above into a general thinking about social-human complex systems leads us very fast to a feeling that those physical concepts may be relevant to human behaviour as well.

It is clear that social systems are complex. Hence, we can identify them by the Chaos theory, where we witness seemingly random behaviour. We can think of infinite variations in social life, where people tend to act in an unpredictable way. Is it?! The chaos theory makes some order in the entropy.

As said above, Chaos theory is looking into phenomenon which are dependent on a specific state at the start point. This theory argues that objects in the system will act with sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

In other words, social behaviour start point is when a healthy baby gets born. From this point, this baby interacts with others on the system. We can think about significant others for emotional and immediate needs, but we can also scale up and see other parts of the system. The larger family, the neighborhood, the political and economic situation at that time. We can even scale higher – global warming phase, earth and its relationship with the sun system, and so on.

This person will have a life full of interaction with enormous number of parts in the big system, and also affect and influence others who present some sort of relationship with him or her. However, given that we are trying to explain social behaviour by the Chaos theory, we assume that the initial condition has a life-long effect. Psychological as well as biological, and recently neurobiological theories are dealing with the question of “nature vs. nurture”, and nowadays the assumption is that the nature and nurture are working hand in hand to facilitate a regulated adaptive behavior (Spiegel et al., 2014). Hence, our biological systems cooperate with the social environment to create a dynamic and responsive behaviour.

We can continue thinking in this direction, and find that the above concepts actually make some order and make sense. In the next posts I will review recent scientific developments in respect to physical models on social-human behaviour; and their stunning ability to explain complex relationship between macro socio-economic variables.

 

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Miller, J. H., & Page, S. E. (2009). Complex adaptive systems: An introduction to computational models of social life. Princeton university press.

Spiegel, Ivo, Mardinly, A.R., Gabel, H.W., Bazinet, J.E., Couch, C.H., Tzeng, C.P., Harmin, D.A, Greenberg, M.E. (2014). Npas4 Regulates Excitatory-Inhibitory Balance within Neural Circuits through Cell-Type-Specific Gene Programs.  Cell , 157 (5), 1216 – 1229.

 

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They Are Practically Thinking Futures, And You?!

Future. A single word with crucial meaning. Futures is even more compelling, because its name reveals a secret… a tiny true… there are several futures; not just one, nothing is determined yet. You may plan the future, and if you do it wisely, you can positively change the future, and this is what we all want.

Let’s start with a short introduction, futures thinking is a systematic way to deal with wicked questions, face challenges, and also provide with a set of possible solutions, or suggested routes to take. The method is fascinating and out of ordinary, because it requires to adapt and adjust different practices of dealing with problems. Futures thinking is focusing on four types of futures: possible, probable, preferable, and “wildcards”. I tend to like two types and pursuing my analyses based on them – probable (70% probability that your foresight is correct – you may plan 15 years in advance, i.e. foresee 2030 today), and preferable (the one you create with your team). Whereas the first one does not require you to work in teams, the last will not work without involving a large scale of experts. As a consequence the foresight you do alone is the possible, but still shed light on the unknown; and give you a taste of what preferable futures thinking may result.
The process holds four elements: question, gathering of data, analysis, and interpretation (which leads to another question and so on). At a first glance it seems like any other problem solving process. However, the difference lies in the methodology, and the results are surprising.
In addition, you may want to choose a method to gather and interpret your data. I found the General System Theory as a very useful framework, especially for social issues (so take a look at the link, and learn the materials before you jump to the analysis).

Ready to Think - Futures Thinking

In order to make your life easier I have collected several global trends, that you may use as the basic assumptions for every analysis:

  • According to Strauss and Howe’s generations theory, we are getting into the forth turning, when millennials are the societal focus;
  • The millennials are more connected to friends, less connected to institutions;
  • The millennials are worried of their uncertain future, unlike the boomers;
  • The millennials are highly educated, and hold various credentials, however their chances to get decent employment opportunities are lower;
  • Demography: the world population is getting older. Shrinking young population and more elderly. As a result, less young people are going to bear the burden for many elderly.
  • More migration, more urbanization.
  • Technology will continue to be developed, and influence life. Changes will occur often and rapidly.

When you done setting your basic global trends, you may start the second layer of assumptions – the local and industry specific ones. In order to retrieve these data, you can find the following sources useful: governmental sources, UN, local foundations, local universities, and any other information bodies, that may publish relevant data. Gather the data, and articulate the assumptions.

The third step is to look at the data, try to find connections to your questions, and interpret it WITH CAUTION.

I hope you find this content useful – feel free to contact me for commenting or any other request. If you would like to start a future thinking process in your business or organization – I will be happy to consult you with that.

Warning! this content is a very short introduction for futures thinking, and I suggest to use it as a tool for strategic thinking and planning. I do not suggest you to use it as a formal foresight, because you need an expert to help you in this process.

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The day after tomorrow – why do we need futures thinking?

 

Couple of years ago I have encountered, quite incidentally with prof. David Passig‘s work. David deals with futures thinking, and how it may benefit businesses and communities. His books re the future of Israel, and futurism in general caught my eyes, and spoke to me in a language I am very familiar with – methodology, the systematic way in which things work.

Before I start flooding your screen with information and thoughts, please feel yourself at home, grab a coffee and watch The Day After Tomorrow. You will see the trailer below, but you must watch in order to FEEL it. Craziness of unexpected things, or maybe unrealistic? forgotten? unattractive? unplanned?! Watch and keep reading afterwards.

I watched this movie in a cinema. I was young, freshly graduated from university and worked in market research as a research assistant while pursuing my master degree is Sociology. I liked it, I liked it because it was so fictive, so crazy, so impossible, but still mother nature in all its glory. Wow!
Yet, I must admit – there was something else pretty amazing in this movie – its message. Besides the regular drama of father and son, there was a strong claim re earth, global warming, mutual responsibility, and above all – the extreme power of planning and facing reality.

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Yes, unfortunately we have to. I say unfortunately because most of us like the idea of doing we we are doing, without the need to expect the future or plan, it is pretty normal and obvious, I believe. But, hey! I am here to awake you my friends – we have to plan, we have to face the future ready enough, we have to put ourselves together. How? there are many ways to do it, the first one is to KNOW what your organization do, the second in this line is to IMPROVE what you are doing, and last but not least is to PLAN the future. Face it, take action before it starts happening and you find yourself in a middle of a huge storm, and all you can do is to press the “safe mode” button.  It is much harder to fix, and much easy to plan and be safe in advance.
I will elaborate more on futurism and particularly futures thinking in business and organizations in my coming posts, so you can be familiar with the methodology, which is, in my opinion, very impressive and pretty out of ordinary.
Stay tuned as I soon plan to publish a strategic future forecast, I made for the Jewish community in Toronto, Canada.

…And here you go – read here what is expected for the Jewish community in the GTA within 20 years from today

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