Making Sense of Our Non-linear World

How can we shift from being locked in simplistic, linear, industrial-era mindsets to an approach that is more suited to the ambiguity and complexity of today’s world? Last week 6-Heads was posed this question by the inspirational Alan Moore at the first of ourImage new series of ‘salon-style’ conversations with thinkers that are forging new ground in sustainability and breakthrough innovation.  Alan is the author of No Straight Lines: Making Sense of Our Non-linear World, in which he sets out both the problem of humanity having reached the edge of the adaptive range of our industrial society and six clear principles for how we can flourish in the new reality we face.

While some people may see the recent financial crisis as a distraction for governments and people from dealing with growing social inequality and accelerating environmental degradation, Alan argued that this systemic breakdown actually started to wake people up from the delusion of unlimited, linear, exponential growth.   He sees not just a material crisis, but also a psychological and spiritual crisis for humanity.  This is characterised by an individualistic, atomised and reductionist approach to life where the only measurement of value is monetary.  But instead of just complaining about the ills of society, Alan sees these crises as a design challenge.  In the same way that you wouldn’t try to run the latest laptop computer with an out-of-date operating system, we need a ‘system reboot’ and an ‘upgrade of the human O.S.’

Here are the principles that Alan sets out as being vital to driving this shift:

1. Acknowledge the ambiguities of an uncertain world; deal with them through systems thinking and creativity.

2. Adaptiveness is key – become literate in pattern recognition and be ready to respond to change.

3. Openness is resilience – resilient systems are not monocultures – embrace diversity.

4. Use the power of participatory cultures and tools – embed sociability into our thinking, design and everything we create.

5. The artistry of craftsmanship is needed – knowledge, skill, creativity and passion all at once.

6. Seek Epic Wins – transformational change is needed so have the vision, courage and conviction to create real breakthroughs.

ImageAfter the talk it was great to be able to debate and discuss  the issues raised. We suggested resources and ideas that might be useful in the Transformation Lab methodology that Alan is developing to help businesses deal with our non-linear world.  Much of the discussion centered on the need for new language and vocabulary to underpin a shift to a new paradigm; while we use the vocabulary of the industrial paradigm we end up stuck in old ways of thinking.  The concept of ‘Cyberspace’ didn’t exist until Sci-fi author William Gibson coined it.  If we can’t describe a new destination we can’t get there.

We also discussed the importance of finding engaging and clear ways to communicate complex issues.  My favourite recent example of a clever approach to doing this is economist Mike Konczal’s explanation of the failure of US monetary policy using GIFs – who knew that complex monetary policy could be so amusing, engaging and understandable?!?  This is exactly the kind of mentality needed to clearly and effectively communicate the complex challenges we face in our non-linear world.

Click here for a free Browserbook of No Straight Lines or purchase online from Amazon.

If you are interested in participating at our salons as a presenter looking for collaborative dialogue/answers or as an active participant, please contact Nicola at


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