As I write millions of young people from around the world have taken to the streets in the Global Strike for Climate inspired by Greta Thunberg. From Melbourne to Manchester, Bangkok to Boston young people are rising up to demand governments take action on climate change.
These are Generation Z. Doesn’t quite trip off the tongue like ‘Millennials’ but they’re as potent a force. This is a generation of young people who are now profoundly concerned about having their future stolen from them. Who are following in Greta Thunberg’s footsteps and asking questions like “Why should I study for a future I can’t see?’ ‘Why don’t you adults act?”.
Whether governments and adults act or not, these young people will probably grow up into a profoundly different world to previous generations like mine. If I reflect back in time I know that I had deep underlying assumptions of security about the future, and an unacknowledged but accepted pattern of how my future could unfold. I would go to school, University (the first generation in my family to do so), I would build a career, probably marry and have children, I would accrue reasonable wealth and a pension, I would retire and probably set out to travel again as a pensioner as I did as a young backpacker.
In the last 15 years most of that has unravelled for me. Young people don’t even have that sense of security. If they are rebelling against their academic curriculum, what then might not only tempt them, but be the right kind of curriculum for their future and how can we adapt school and University experiences to reflect the need?
I’ve made an attempt at pulling out a few categories of learning I think might be both useful and important.
is the branch of anthropology that’s concerned with the study of human societies and their cultural development. In times of cultural disruption and change, it could be very valuable to develop a real undestanding of how cultures have formed and changed historically, in order to draw critical learning on what to do, and what not to do.
The kind of topics I would include here are the history and impact of colonialism; the history of indigenous peoples, their cultural repression and renaissance; the history of movements, activism and resistance; racial justice & privilege; a history of minority movements & culture, and the collapse of civilisations.
I will probably be roasted by academics but I would also put history of economic models from Descartes to Neoliberalism in here; the development of capitalism, and the history of innovation & technology. I would also include a study of the different kind of hidden economies that have more recently emerged such as the attention & information economy, the entertainment & distraction economy, the sharing and circular economies and post-truth digital communications strategies. And probably also the history of ownership, finance and the stock markets, plus a deep understanding of The Commons.
People who can communicate and influence across the widest possible range of cultures, worldviews and environments have always been important. Yet historically great communications has been considered the domain of advertising professionals and political spindoctors. That’s not the kind of communications skills young people bent on delivering a regenerative future will need.
They will need deep listening, empathy, intercultural communication, facilitation and constructive feedback skills. They will need to know deep inquiry methods and models like Theory U, The Art of Hosting, and appreciative inquiry. They will also benefit from conflict awareness, resilience and resolution skills, and in particular non -violent communication patterns.
They will also need to know how to build collaborative effort. How to get past the cultural tendencies of individuals to want to protect what is theirs, their ownership of an idea, a region, a project, a name and build collaborative effort to solve complex problems. They will need to learn how to turn competition into collaborative advantage.
Personal Resilience Practice
To cope in times of uncertainty and complexity, a personal resilience practice becomes a vital prop. I would love to see subjects like meditation and martial arts introduced in schools and Universities, alongside body consciousness and somatic practices to reconnect individuals to a sense of self esteem, courage and confidence. Self-sovereignty practices such as knowing how to create healthy boundaries, and understanding self-care through good nutrition, fitness and health seem to be as important if not more important, than competitive sport.
Additionally studying the importance of Rites of Passage, incorporating reflection and journaling — athough this is becoming much more coming at under-graduate level in the UK — and incorporate specific programmes for climate resilience such as Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects would be enormously beneficial in light of growing climate and future anxiety.
There is wide acknowledgement that humanity has designed a society that is largely disconnected from nature and the principles which create the conditions conducive to life. A foundational understanding of life’s principles through emergent scientific practices like biomimicry, ecology and evolutionary biology could be useful. An introduction to developmental psychology would help create a better understanding of how and why individuals young people meet operate from different models of thinking and have different value sets.
Having just spent a brilliant weekend at How The Light Gets In, I couldn’t leave the basics of philosophy off the agenda. Understanding the Stoics, the origins of philosophy, the use of power as a dynamic, a study of ethics and morality would give a brilliant grounding in thinking and behaviour in a complex world.
Systems & Patterns
Perhaps it goes without saying understanding patterns of thinking, and being able to apply those in the workplace is critical to the future curriculum. Subjects like systems thinking, pattern identification, complexity theory, creative & lateral thinking, and shifting from forecasting to scenario planning are even top of World Economic Forum’s listas being essential for future-fit businesses. I would probably add ecological design thinking to their list.
Although not everyone is a natural polymath, being able to see the inter-connectedness between multiple issues is essential to being able intervene successfully in the kind of complex systems we need to change.
Emotional & Spiritual Intelligence
Since Daniel Goldman first hit the headlines with Emotional Intelligene in 1996, we have seen a gradual shift towards organisations becoming more values centric. The leaders that are succeeding are those with deep emotional intelligence which allows them to communicate well and act in ways that model the kind of leadership that people will follow and emulate.
“We need leaders who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego. The digital revolution needs a different, more human kind of leadership”. Professor Klaus Schwab
There is also a resurgence in respect for spiritual intelligence. It may not yet meet the list of economic powerhouses like WEF but the ability to sense into the future, to activate intuition and imagination are getting much more respect. The ability to harness collective intelligence in the service of designing a regenerative future is a valuable way to overcome employment inertia and cultural entropy.
Innovation & The Future of Work
It’s probably not quite right to put these in one group, but to me they seem inter-related. Many of the most vibrant working models that underpin the ability to deliver creativity, autonomy and self-responsibility and reliance, are not old hierarchical business models. They include models like sociocracy, holacracy, and Laloux-inspired teal design. They may not be for every industry or organisation, but they are useful to study to understand how personal agency can be delivered in an oganisational model.
It’s also vital to understand the role of innovation in change. Are we designing innovations that deliver incremental change or transformational change? How do we know when different kinds of innovation are appropriate? Models such as Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons would be a great addition to any learning programme.
The Role of Technology
I already mentioned technology in cultural anthropology. There are a million articles out there about technology skill sets that young people need to acquire. Many of them, they acquire naturally. It’s only old buffalos like me that need to actually ‘learn’ digital tech. Where I think we need to introduce critical thinking to the technological landscape however is around the rewards but also risk of artifical intelligence, exponential computing, biotechnology, bioengineering and genetic engineering. Personal data and privacy management are also important.
Regenerative Culture Design
Schools and universities could do worse than hand all students a copy of Daniel Christian Wahl’s Designing Regenerative Cultures to read!
But failing that, the kind of subject matter that should be on their minds should be permaculture design, regenerative agriculture systems, community design and building, immersive and experiential learning of indigenous culture, scale-linking salutogenic design, symbiosis for social innovation, green chemistry, biomimetic design, the circular economy, net-postive business models, collective living models, and panarchy.
Practical & Creative Skills
Less you think I’m without a practical bone in my body, I must also include a number of important practical skills. These include bringing back things into the curriculum like home economics, woodwork and gardening. They include creative skills like scribing and visual sense-making. They include project management and negotiation — because who is going to have a job for life in the next few decades? We’re going to become a cohort of social and environmental project-based designers for change.
Leadership and Learning
Do we need more leadership development? Well, yes we probably do. But leadership of a different kind. Leadership that is focused on creating a future that is conducive to life for all. Collective leadership where groups and cohorts learn from each other in peer learning processes like emerging London-based She Leads Change and Rebel Wisdom. And people who are able to design their own learning programmes.
That’s perhaps the most important part of this ‘curriculum’. That it should be designed to allow self-directed learning, and encourage personal autonomy for any individual to respond to the needs they see in the world with a programme of learning that they personally design and direct.
In the last 5 years I have designed my own informal PhD. I couldn’t even name what I wanted to look at so had no opportunity to align with any University. It’s been a journey through exponential tech, biomimicry, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology — ah wait, it looks like everything I’ve just listed! It wasn’t a single course I could take, but maybe it could become a Baccalaurate for the Future. Who knows.
I am a creative strategist working with organisations who want to be part of a regenerative future for people and planet, and a trusted advisor for their CEOs and leadership teams. I use collective learning processes and change programmes to help organisations develop their sustainability strategies and strategic narratives, and activate them through co-creativel processes. I call on 30 years of experience advising global purpose-led brands and scale-ups to deliver world-class facilitated interventions which deliver results. I am a trained facilitator in Theory U, Art of Hosting, and more recently is training in biomimicry for social innovation. You can find me:-