There is a classic game played at funfairs called ‘whac-a-mole’. The aim is to try and hit moles that keep popping up from different holes. The more you hit, the more pop up in different areas, more quickly. Setting aside the implied cruelty to moles, this strikes me as an apt analogy for problem-solving in our complex world.
Taking a linear approach to solve the complex problems facing the planet often creates new problems. A good example is the development of early biofuels which, although they looked to solve energy problems, created others problems in shifting land use and resulted in escalating food prices. A reductionist approach may also shift the problem to others areas instead of solving it. For example, burning small-holed fishing nets to prevent over-fishing, shifts the problem to income generation for dependant fishing communities. Moles popping up all over!
Yet, most of our institutional and social structures are organised to view or break problems down into constituent parts and deal with them through silos labelled ‘government’ or ‘human resources’ or ‘operations’ or ‘financial services’.
How then, do we address these large, intractable problems – or even view them in all their complex detail?
Last night a small group of sustainability and innovation practitioners’ trialled a game invented by the International Futures Forum, which aims to do just that. The purpose of the World Game is to harness collective intelligence to address complex issues.
The game is based on generating thinking from 12 different dimensions of a viable eco-social system. These are: climate, well-being, governance, food, community, habitat, water, energy, trade, biosphere, wealth and world-view.
We chose the challenge “What needs to happen for us to live within Earth’s limits?”
Across the different dimensions, a hearty discussion roamed around:
- Decoupling habitat, ownership and wealth
- Internalising externalities in pricing
- Encouraging social enterprise
- Supporting a mind-set shift towards true happiness
- New governance structures to promote long termism
- The value and practicality of localism
- Regulating the earnings differential between top and bottom earners
- Relatedness to Gaia theory
- Building truly ecologically integrated homes
Many of the points were contentious and discussion was heated and entertaining. Although there is no clear answer, the themes touched on included:
- Diverting human effort
- Revealing the inter-connectivity of things
- Reprogramming and empowering society around ‘public service’ and its relatedness to happiness
- Normalising new corporate models which truly serve society
The IFF game forced us to broaden our thinking across multiple areas and through combining initial solutions, to take a more interconnected view.
A good tool to encourage systemic thinking and therefore, towards constructive complex problem-solving.
No moles were injured in the playing of this game.
Thank you to the creative and fun-spirited game participants:
Patrick Andrews, Julia Bindman, Louise Carver, John Gilbert and Rachel Millson.
For more information and to download the IFF World Game game see: http://www.internationalfuturesforum.com/world-game
For a bit of harmless fun, try: