Youthful thought 

 

  Ian Wharton  believes the secret of true creativity is what he calls youthful thought. There are three principles that are key to this idea.

First, unpoliced thought – is the key to real creativity.

Ideas not based on precedent are the most valuable.  Instinct and gut feel beat rationality in this model – “Ridiculous ideas beat rational ideas when it comes to creativity.”

Creativity is transferable. There is a fear of doing something new in case it undermines the successes we have had before in our careers. This stifles creativity, he says. We need instead to explore creative depth and keep on learning. And stop getting so hung up on what we are good at – “Fuck Malcolm Gladwell” (of the 10,000 hours argument).

 

Empathy is more important than prediction There are two important concepts here, he says: state and influence. “State is the context of any individual. Influence related to how we can affect people at that moment.”

We rely too much on prediction, he says. “Avoiding the beaten path and seeking unexplored terrain – this is how we make things which are worthy of people’s time.”

Standards in Government 

  Ade Adewunmi from GDS (Government Digital Services) said that early assumptions that universal search would be the best way in changed as they discovered a new user group – those people who need to know how government works.  

Open standards were key to getting adoption across the whole federation of government departments. They gives flexibility but also control which stops fragmentation as once a standard has been agree by the standards board that it is what will be used. 

We reuse by default. Where they have set standards they are made clear and responsive and then support and enforce them. “It’s important to hold the line.”

The future is the government as a platform and that makes standards even more important, she says. 

It’s not complicated it’s just hard

  Russell Davies, who works for Government Digital Services says the most important decision was that they determined there would be no innovation until everything works. “Digital organisation s can fix problems that non-digital organisations can’t.” The goal isn’t to make things digital but to use digital technology to make things simpler and make them work, he says. 

Should we fear AI?

  No, says Luciano Floridi. “Being worried about the singularity is being worried about ghosts not sharks.” 

This worry is a distraction from some of the challenges that are real. For example we have “replaceable agency”.  Automation is going to remove jobs and that will provide real challenges. 

Big data and powerful computers will mean we become more predictable – and that impacts our freedom as we are increasingly pushed into behaving in particular ways. 

We are also delegating more and more to computers are robots, the more so as we move increasingly into cities. 

The big question is: What human project do we want to build on top of this technology What infosphere do we want?

His plea: think deeper, design better and be mindful. 

The happiness industry

  The current obsession with attempting to quantify happiness is having a detrimental effect on society said Will Davis speaking at the RSA today in a talk entitled: how Government and big business sold us wellbeing. 

There are myriad examples of the kind of quantification he is talking about :

  • The rise of happiness statistics 
  • The rise of wearable technology and mood quantification 
  • The rise of new methodologies in fields like Neuroeconomics which seek to show that dopamine, for example, has a direct impact on economics
  • The rise of face and voice scanning technologies collecting data on moods
  • And the notorious Facebook experiment on whether mood can be influenced by manipulating what people see in their news feeds

So why is this happening particularly now? For three reasons he says:

1. The rising importantance of psychological engagement in workforce. 

2. The dramatic rise of depression and anxiety increasingly framed as illnesses rooted in physical causes

3. The fact that we now live in a society where experiments can be run in everyday life. 

His belief is that we need to challenge the argument that it is self-evident that happiness can and should be measured.  

The roots of this trend go back to Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism at the end of the 19th Century. 

Bentham was concerned about the danger of abstract language which he felt could be used to manipulate- terms like the “devine right of Kings” or the “rights of Man”. But Davis believes there are philosophical contradictions with Bentham’s approach. 

Happiness was being simulataneously being asked to fill two roles; in one the ethical status of happiness is of being good in itself, in the other it is also measurable and empirical. Davis says the concept constantly flips between the two.

Mindfulness is a good example. The current trend for mindfulness bolts together the metaphysical and the supposedly empirical and scientific.

The risk is that the capacity to explain what we feel is undermined and unhappiness is increasingly seen as being capable of remedy by medial intervention.
We therefore end up granting external authorities power over us – such as the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which defines quite specially things like depression.  

What is needed he says is a reauthorisation of people to describe how they feel in terms which transcend the purely empirical. We need to be free to be the “authorised narrators of our own happiness.”

“Settling ethical questions by resorting to matters of fact is dangerous,” he says, as is locating sources of unhappiness in individual bodies and brains rather than in the world around them (inequality, for instance).

“Sometimes its important for people to have something to be unhappy about.”

Towards an economy that works for us

We are now living in an age of total bureaucracy says David Graeber, anthropologist and leading figure in the Occupy movement, speaking at the RSA last week. There is now a web of planetary organisations including global corporations, NGOs, institutions like the IMF and Workd Bank which has merged into a single web-like bureaucracy.  

Bureaucratic institutions are really about limiting imagination, implying that there is simply no alternative to the global capitalism system.

This has profound consequences, he believes. Take the Liberal Democrats volte face in 2010. Graeber points out the LibDems promised free education before they ended up in the coalition government, but subsequently backed tuition fees. The argument was that we had to raise the money because we owed money and the bond-holders wouldn’t trust us if we defaulted on our loans. So rather than break a promise to international financiers which might mean they wouldn’t lend in the future, the LibDems broke a promise to the electorate which might mean they wouldn’t vote in the future. “They would rather break democracy than break the financial system.” 

So what’s to be done?

Graeber believes there are three things that need to happen.

First, develop true democracy. His time with the Occupy movement taught him just how threatened the global bureaucracy is with groups congregating, discussing and making decision. Very challenged. Changed laws anything to stop free association.

Second, return to valuing real work, rather than “bullshit jobs“. Capitalism is supposed to remove non-productive jobs, but this simply hasn’t happened, Graeber argues. What has happened is a redefining of work as good in and of itself. “The more pointless and unrewarding your job, the more like a ‘real’ job it is.”

People are complaining that robots will replace work, he says. “If ever there was a sign that an economy is stupidly organised.”

Third, start forgiving debt. Debt has achieved a sanctity which puts it above democracy and humanity. 

He also spoke about what he called the “war on imagination”. 

Old fashioned bureaucracies were good at creating eccentrics, he said – the Manhattan Project was full of them. “Modern bureaucracies can’t tolerate them” he says, and that’s the reason our rate of invention of genuinely significant innovations has fallen so dramatically and hence why economic growth is so lacklustre.