Q&A with the finalists of the Evolutionary Future Challenge

The Evolutionary Future Challenge is an annual event that brings together leaders whose work is helping create a more just, sustainable, and flourishing future. The leaders, selected from a global pool of applicants, used a protocol called "#WorldShift" to communicate about their initiatives both on social and at in-person events. After two months of preparation — with support from their peers and organizers — they presented their ideas to a panel of judges and received prizes to further their work.

This year Shareable contributed to the pool of prizes with the opportunity for one initiative to be featured on the site. The judges awarded this prize to Tomorrow Makers, an initiative that focuses on collaborative approaches to tackle social and environmental challenges. More specifically, they work on designing collaborative games that allow people to experience desirable futures and prompt them to rethink their habits to instigate large-scale systemic change. Unlike conventional games that are modeled after past or current social realities, games of the future are, by definition, grounded in mental models, cultural norms, and institutional structures that do not yet exist as a foundation for human interactions in today's world. To address this challenge, Tomorrow Makers formed a core team with world-class expertise in three fields:

As finalists, Taylor, Sahtouris, and Haupt raised funds to travel to San Francisco, California, and presented their work on Oct. 18, to a panel of six judges. The judges decided that the trio were a perfect match for the Shareable prize, to raise awareness of their global initiative, find co-conspirators, and attract more resources to move their work forward. Here are more details about their work:

Fyodor Ovchinnikov, co-founder of the Institute for Evolutionary Leadership: What is the change you are working on? How do you define the creative tension that calls for your work at this moment in time?

Haupt: There are so many issues happening on the planet right now and they are beautifully summarized in the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. However, each of those Sustainable Development Goals is merely a symptom of a system that does not serve us well anymore, so our core question is about how can we address that underlying system.

Taylor: I looked at the exponential rate of change as early as in 1976 and said, "Oh my goodness. What are we going to do about this?" Then in 2005, I read an article, "The Second SuperPower Raises Its Beautiful Head," and realized that it is we, the people, who must be the creators of the future we want.

There are so many good solutions out there. Every day I was waking up to learn news about people doing good work, but it was often fragmented and torn and in competition with everything else going on, and I thought we cannot have the scarcity mode as "we the people" or we will not be able to create this new reality.

Sahtouris: The operating system humanity is currently using has served us well and parallels the youthful phase of nature's maturation cycle. Species, when they are young, are very acquisitive, feisty, and competitive as they establish themselves. Such species aggregated in one ecosystem are dubbed 'pioneer' and precede another kind of ecosystem, dubbed 'climax' in which every specie is highly cooperative, sharing their resources and helping each other. Maturation from the youthful to the mature mode is clearly what humanity is going through now as we navigate our way through a perfect storm of crises that is literally driving us to get into this more cooperative sharing mode.

Taylor: And now we have both tools and processes, capacities for worldwide collaboration that we did have in place just a few years ago. Even ten years ago the conversations we are having right now would not have made any sense, and in ten years, it will be too late. So the timing seems perfect for this kind of work that we talk about even though for many people it may still seem completely impossible, implausible, illogical, or difficult to achieve. Change happens at the edges, not the center and we believe we are creating a container for all to come and play, if not this year, then in the years to come.

Ovchinnikov: What is your initiative about? What are the key elements of your design?

Haupt: We use games to come up with a way of tackling what is a very challenging situation in a fun, playful, and engaging manner. We want to help people imagine a future we all know we want to be in and then play together in that future. We call it, "creating a new operating system for humanity."

Our design idea brings together the characteristics of the Infinite Game, by Carse. Annual events called DesignShops will bring together hundreds of participants to coordinate and evolve a game or several games using the collective intelligence of a diverse group. Gail has a strong track record in designing and hosting such processes. As new tools and processes such as complementary currencies and blockchain develop, they will be incorporated into the game. In this way technology will be used to support and scale the new operating system.  

Taylor: Design Shops are not about finding answers or solving all the problems in a five-day process — it is about building a DNA that will make a new operating system unfold in ways we do not know yet. We want participants to walk out of a design session with a game or games and different ways to go forward rather than the ultimate solution. The transition will not be immediate but will take years of unfolding, getting richer and richer with understanding and mind shift.

Sahtouris: Nature is so on our side in this process because so many species before us, as well as indigenous human cultures went through this maturation process. The way it works in nature is that the feisty youthful phase gets too energy expensive in fighting off enemies, and species discover that energy expenditure is far less in making friends than in maintaining hostilities. That is what our globalized humanity is learning and just what we want to project with this game. We do not have to stay in current adolescent crisis. We can co-create a peaceful, cooperative future together.

Ovchinnikov: How does your evolutionary work fit into the larger context of initiatives supported by Shareable?

Haupt: One of Shareable's key ethos is that no one person, no one organization, no one government agency has the answer. What we are doing is tapping into collective wisdom and building a bridge between the activist world and the technology world as well as tapping into divers domains of expertise. Our entire approach is acknowledging upfront that we do not have the answers, but we do have one possible way of bringing people together at scale, getting them excited to be involved in co-creating how humanity comes together. We know that something will come out of that process that none of us can predict, and we are comfortable embracing the unknown, rather than being prescriptive of how this thing should be done. 

Sahtouris: Until now the governance of humanity as nations has been pretty much contained within very strict rules of hierarchies and their ways of managing things. Exploring what happens if you just open up to possibilities role-modeled, for example, by slime molds and social insects, by earlier non-coercive human societies, and then find other possibilities as yet unexplored, is what we intend our co-created games to do. It is not up to us three or to any one organization or set of individuals. It is up to all of us to reflect, dialogue and share until the best ideas and strategies emerge.

Ovchinnikov: What were you looking for in the Evolutionary Future Challenge, and how did it work for you?

Haupt: Over the years we have come across many similar challenges and competitions and we have been particularly frustrated because although they call for systemic solutions, the way they are structured and the questions they ask in their applications do not really welcome systemic approaches. When we stumbled across the Evolutionary Future Challenge, it was incredibly refreshing to us to see that you were looking for a systemic initiative and actually using language that implies you are interested in exactly that. So we loved your approach.

Applying for this challenge also helped us come up with a message about our work that is totally real and is aligned with the conversations we had among ourselves. Taking our internal conversations, packaging them together, and presenting them in front of a panel of judges in a way that is both genuine and makes sense was very valuable.

Taylor: It was a tipping point for me when I saw your call for applications on Facebook. I copied it and sent it to Michael and Elisabet. It was late at night but when I woke up the next morning I saw that Michael had taken the challenge and put it all together, ready for our iterations and thoughts. Then I thought, "yes, this is the way this works, with fast iterations enabling a rich co-creation." This is so critically important to a team's creative process: It was just like, "yes, we can do this." It was a real high for me at that moment, and I think we have been playing like that ever since, and I love the fact that we have other people wanting to play with us now.

Ovchinnikov: Are there any invitations, announcements, or requests you would like to share with the readers of this interview?

Haupt: If you are ready to add your skills, experience, and energy to building a new human operating system, there are a number of ways to get involved, and you can find all of them, as well as our email addresses, at: tomorrowmakers.org/connect.

There, you will find an extensive library of thought-provoking material by other parties who also believe that a new human operating system is required. You can also apply or nominate someone you respect to our invitation-only design shops. You can help us build the game in our open-source community of game developers and operating system builders, you can join an early access waitlist to be one of the first to play the game (or games), or share the journey with your networks or friends.

We welcome feedback. You are also welcome to partner your important initiative with us. We welcome contributions of your passion and commitment to our advisory board, and, finally, you can assist us in raising the required seed funding for the first DesignShop that is planned for early 2019 in Turin, Italy.

Sahtouris: As a parting thought, I helped design a big event at the Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland where we brought together hundreds of people including 50 indigenous people and 50 young people to share their stories for a better world. Once we put it on a gifting basis (not charging people for it) we got so many donations we could pay for the 50 youth and the 50 elders to come. That is the spirit we would like to engender in this project.

Haupt: So thank you in advance for your help with taking a bold playful leap forward for humanity.

All images provided by Fyodor Ovchinnikov

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