“Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work.”

Aisha S. Ahmad

 

As I type, to the crackle of a Swedish Radio report describing protests here in Stockholm following the killing of George Floyd, we must confront the fact that African Americans have died from COVID-19 at almost three times the rate of white people. (In Kansas, black residents are dying at seven times the rate of whites.) In the UK, Black, Asian and Ethnic minority groups are twice as likely to die from COVID-19, compared to the general population. Of the first 15 people to die from the coronavirus in Stockholm, six were Somali immigrants. Beyond race, those with respiratory illnesses, from living next to poor air quality, or with other chronic illnesses due to other forms of structural inequality in our systems, also seem to suffer disproportionately in ‘corona times’.

These crises of climate, health, and social justice are intrinsically entwined. COVID-19 has shone a flashlight on the fissures in our patterns of living and working and caring for each other, revealing the deeper fractures beneath, just as the protests on city streets all over the world seem to exemplify all crises simultaneously. 

 

Yet our ability to approach them systematically, to see them as complex assemblages, is framed by the dominant mental models they fit within. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson put it in ‘Metaphors We Live By’: 

Dan Hill – Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, Swedish Government’s innovation agency; Visiting prof UCL Bartlett IIPP and Design Academy Eindhoven

“The concepts that govern our thought (also) govern our everyday functioning ... In the area of politics and economics, metaphors matter more, because they constrain our lives.”

Our range of possible action is articulated by the extent of our mental models. They are either springboards or cages. As a metaphor about mental models, the Overton Window seems relevant here, framing ideas that are deemed “acceptable” or “popular” at any given time. Smoking on airplanes used to be acceptable; now it is anathema. Wearing a seatbelt used to be an option at best; now it seems unthinkably risky not to do so. (Watch any episode of ‘Mad Men’ for a handy reminder of how much the Overton Window can move, and within one generation.) Politicians tend to stay inside the window, for obvious reasons. Yet the window does move. Indeed it can be forced to move, in the words of Rutger Bregman, by “pushing on the edges. By being unreasonable, insufferable, and unrealistic.

Redrawn by the CfC

Our range of possible action is constrained by the extent of our mental models. Such models
are either springboards
or cages.

To some extent the window is a container for ideology. In his 'Capital and Ideology’ Thomas Piketty explains, “I use “ideology’ in a positive and constructive sense to refer to a set of a priori plausible ideas and discourses describing how society should be structured.”(my emphasis). 

That sense of “a priori plausible” also applies to orthodoxies around techniques for decision-making. Yet in a general context of complexity, and particularly in an unprecedented global lockdown/slowdown as protests over social justice grip cities worldwide, almost any sense of “a priori plausible” may smell a little fishy.

Imagine a set of such apparent certainties about practice: the centrality of economics; of user-centred design; of data-driven organisations; evidence-based policymaking; the importance of efficiency and value-for-money; of following the science; deploying systems thinking; investing in tech; pursuing growth itself. The amount of Harvard Business Review articles that have been written about these apparent virtues does not bear thinking about. Yet all can be hugely problematic in the way they are being interpreted or exerted, as is increasingly clear. We may need to be “unreasonable, insufferable, and unrealistic” about all of them.


It’s actually easy to pick some of them off, once you get into the habit. What do you do when you cannot use evidence, because something hasn’t been tried yet, and yet you still need to make policy? How can you ‘drive’ an organisation from merely the things you can capture data about? Why focus on systems thinking, trapped as it is with its cybernetic allusions to rational control and steering—noting, for instance, Tega Brain’s assertion that “the environment is not a system”.

As for ‘following the science’, as David Runciman noted early on in the pandemic, “There’s no such thing as simply doing what the science says. This is partly because the science itself is political—how could it not be, when so much of it is the science of human behaviour?”

 

Or turn to the utter centrality of economics to policy making, to politics, and apparently almost all decision-making in contemporary life. How economics managed to achieve this position may well be debated furiously in decades subsequent to ours, perhaps as much as it is largely unchallenged now. Broader perspectives—a wider environment, a range of identities, multiple species, the true complexity of culture, the values beyond financial metrics—are lost once we approach a complex field with the blunt axe of contemporary economics. In response to COVID-19, the French sociologist Bruno Latour helpfully reminds us, “We should remember that this idea of framing everything in terms of the economy is a new thing in human history. The pandemic has shown us the economy is a very narrow and limited way of organising life and deciding who is important and who is not important. If I could change one thing, it would be to get out of the system of production and instead build a political ecology”. In other words, it’s not just the economy, stupid.

 

As we can see, events can change primary mental models, and rapidly. But equally, events spring from the soil available, and the way the ground has been prepared. William H. Sewell, scholar of the French Revolution, wrote:

“Lumpiness, rather than smoothness, is the normal texture of historical temporality … While the events are sometimes the culmination of processes long underway, events typically do more than carry out a rearrangement of practices made necessary by gradual and cumulative social change. Historical events tend to transform social relations in ways that could not be fully predicted from the gradual changes that may have made them possible.” (Sewell, 1996) 

Events and mental models are symbiotic: each changes the other, in a somewhat “lumpy” ballet, occasionally with a sudden crescendo. Both COVID-19 and the protests in Minneapolis are responses to 400 years of human activity—in the former case, globalised environmental degradation; in the latter, systematic racism—yet it is the sharp pointy end of these recent events that are accelerants for changing mental models, and thus the world around us.

 

But as the injustice in these two examples should make clear, we cannot simply sit on our hands and wait for events to occur. What about deeper patterns, which may only occasionally get rent asunder by such explosive events? These patterns are rather more mundane, and are so “a priori plausible” that they are rarely questioned, despite the many ways in which they have degraded the soil.

 

Chief amongst these may be the mental model of ‘growth’ itself. Trump promised to grow the US economy by 6%. Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson’s first chancellor (now gone), promised 2.8% growth in GDP per year, clinging to a relatively low bar of the average for 50 years after the second world war. (Not sure how these figures are going, guys? Someone should check.) Growth underpins almost all (over)developed and developing nations.

 

And to be clear, this is a particular form of growth, ideally predicated on speed, on scale, and endlessly replenishing, apparently irrespective of finite environmental and social limits and so it is increasingly propped up on debt. This is in turn is predicated on the mental model of the Great Acceleration, a growth pattern running from the mid-20th century and assumed to be continuing today, against which that debt is offset. 

 

Even the WWF’s well-intentioned Living Planet report starts with this context, and its many familiar themes: rising population growth, the rise of mega cities, rapid technological innovation, increased life expectancy, growth in GDP per person, and so on.

 

Yet Oxford University professor Danny Dorling’s recent book ‘Slowdown: The end of the Great Acceleration takes that puzzle apart piece by piece. Instead, Dorling claims that the Great Acceleration ended some time ago, with the true patterns of our age characterised by slowdown rather than acceleration. 

 

If you have not checked your assumptions for a while, encountering Dorling’s book may be akin to stepping into the ring with a peak-years Mike Tyson, but having never worn a boxing glove. Graph after graph, datapoint after datapoint, story after story—each clobbers you around the head, repeatedly battering home a core message: that despite what we tell ourselves, the world is slowing down, and has been for a while, across almost every single measure that we think is moving in the opposite manner. It’s a far more enjoyable book than the Tyson analogy suggests, but the effect is the same; a startling wake-up call, after which you see the world through very different eyes, and assess your ‘a priori plausible’ plans.

 

Actually, as Mike Tyson memorably said, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” So if your plan was to thrive in the conditions of the Great Acceleration by pursuing GDP growth, Dorling just punched you in the mouth. Metaphorically, that is.

 

Dorling uses intriguing ‘phase portrait’ graphs to plot both absolute values, and crucially the rate of change, conveying both at the same time. Global population, GDP per capita, life expectancy, fertility rates, house prices, productivity, megacity growth, technological development, even the growth in average heights—each is in its deceleration phase, with ‘the change in the change’ the key variable. Even American student debt, an element we thought as apparently boundless as carbon dioxide, is slowing down.

 

Phase Portrait Diagrams from ‘Slowdown’ by Danny Dorling

Unfortunately, Dorling also points out that the only key outliers are CO2 emissions and global temperature, both of which continue to rise, and rapidly. Yet in a sense that too fits into the broader message, as even in the allegedly progressive European countries, researchers are unable to find a way of reconciling economic growth with declining emissions, at least at the rate we need them to decline.

 

In broader social and environmental terms, as Dorling makes clear, that period of Acceleration was not so Great, producing widespread warfare, divided societies, massive inequality, denuded biodiversity, climate crisis, and fundamentally reduced resilience—as COVID-19 continues to reveal.

 

Yet slowing down, by taking our foot off the gas—a handy metaphor in many ways, in this context—undercuts the entire enterprise. Dorling suggests that this does not mean the end of capitalism; just that particularly virulent strain with the sensibility of a Rottweiler straining at the leash in pursuit of endless growth: 

“Without both population growth and material economic growth, capitalism—the economic system we have become so used to that we cannot imagine it ending—transforms into something else. Something far more stable and sensible.”

Last weekend, the CEO of Kone, one of Finland’s biggest corporations and world number two in elevators, suggested that it was effectively pointless pursuing economic growth now that we have a climate crisis, if we can’t keep the planet viable. (In terms of metaphors, it’s almost too delicious to note that this is from the boss of a company almost entirely predicated on upwards growth.)

 

Yet beyond the possibility of finally addressing the climate crisis, the slowdown could also unlock genuine social progress. In fact, it is hugely driven by various forms of social progress, not least “the choices that women first made once they had won just a little of the freedom to work, vote, and plan the size of their families.” This indicates the slowdown’s true positive potential—for Dorling is optimistic about the slowdown. Dorling states that a “well-ordered affluent society slows down”, and the wealthier countries slowing down first will enable poorer countries to catch up, ultimately levelling out across the board. Dorling points to income inequality “now falling in more countries than it is rising”.

Interestingly, the flurry of research in and around COVID-19 indicates a consonance between slowdown messaging and emerging consensus. There are now numerous surveys indicating that, at this point at least, many do not wish to “return” to what was there before, to “go back to normal”, just as work by Data for Progress indicates that American voters actually want a green/clean new deal.

 

An event like COVID-19, alongside others, is a forcing function for assessing mental models. They can provoke awkward questions in the unlikeliest of places.

 

The Financial Times Editorial Board produced the following passage recently. It would have been entirely impossible to imagine this only a few months ago:

“Radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”

This, in a paper that has been one of the leading voices of neoliberal financialization since, oh 1888, and literally has a glossy supplement called ‘How To Spend It’. (And they are not talking about how to spend universal basic income.) In recent years, the rate of questions over GDP growth appear to have grown faster than GDP itself. In 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from over 150 countries published an article stating that "Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality." Yet perhaps more extraordinarily, on May 22nd, the Chinese government, for the first time in decades, did not set a target for GDP growth, with the government instead giving “priority to stabilising employment and ensuring living standards”. 

 

“We have not set a specific target for economic growth this year. This is because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment”— Chinese premier Li Keqiang, opening the National People’s Congress. 

 

In 2019, New Zealand repositioned their budget around wellbeing rather than GDP, with the governments of Scotland and Iceland indicating they would follow suit. But with all due respect, the combined population of those fine countries is less than that of Wuhan. For China to make this step, its hand forced by “uncertainty,” is interesting, to say the least.

Each day seems to bring a fresh challenge to those ‘a priori’ mental models. A couple of weeks ago, videos started circulating of thousands of Uber/Jump shared bikes being destroyed en masse at a recycling plant. They were not surplus to requirements, but surplus to Uber’s ‘blitzscaling’ growth model, which values constant upgrades over resilience. (Only a culture as crass as that of ‘Silicon Valley’ would appropriate the word ‘blitz’ for a business strategy.) It was hard to watch, particularly at a time when the New York Times reported that the US is facing “a severe bike shortage” due to the disruption in global supply chains, and with key workers all over the country needing bikes to get to work whilst public transit is down. A few days before, a Bloomberg CityLab headline read “In a Global Health Emergency, the Bicycle Shines”. Yet these Jump bikes shone only through the tangle of metal and plastic at the dump, their pristine red livery indicating how young and reusable they were.

“An amazing COVID e-bike program could've done so much good and instead we have horrific images of bikes being eaten by the Claw at the dump. It's a shameful nightmare.”— A former JUMP employee. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, judged purely through the reductive lens of traditional user-centred design processes, systems such as Uber and Jump appear to be well-designed. One cannot blame an interaction designer working on refining the user experience of the Jump app for this wider breakdown. She is only following orders, as it were. Yet if design more generally, almost half a century after Papanek’s shattering intervention in ‘Design for the Real World,’ still has little grip on the growth dynamics that surround and value that user experience, we have failed as a discipline, just as economics has. Watching metal jaws crush those perfectly good bikes brings that home in the most visceral of terms. Uber’s stock market value is not tied intrinsically to the movements of those jaws. Nor is design’s alleged value. Nor is GDP, which in fact benefits from each transaction implied in this sorry episode.

 

That single short video has all these mental models in play: valuing growth-obsessed startups and ‘market cap’ over real world outcomes; practices aimed at market domination; a design practice centered on individualistic user experience rather than broader resilience; implicitly valuing obsolescence and ‘creative destruction’ over repair and re-use, the tone-deaf ignorance by the tech sector of the wider social context and needs, and so on.

So what if we slow down? What then? Ecological economists tend towards some consistent answers here: shorten the working week (which New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just field-tested with a casual aside); create a job guarantee; re-train workers for clean industries; deploy some form of universal basic income, as is currently being trialled worldwide, albeit inadvertently. All of these ‘previously impossible’ ideas are now at least within sight, visible through the smudged glass of the Overton Window. Wellbeing increases as people work less, reducing spiralling healthcare costs. Actually implementing an effective tax would cover much of the financial requirement (the 400 richest US Americans pay a lower tax rate than every single other income group, from plumbers to cleaners to nurses to retirees, just as an average member of the richest 1% now receives more than eighty times as much income, and owns 950 times as much wealth, as the average member of the bottom 50%). There are other forms of structural inequality too, preventing change: the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that redirecting only 10-30% of the world’s existing fossil fuel subsidies could entirely pay for a global transition to clean energy. Slowing down, as I wrote elsewhere, could enable a far more equitable and resilient distribution of work and value, across spaces, times, and cultures.

 

Yet the World Bank can only see a COVID-fuelled reduction in GDP as melt-down rather than slowdown, throwing 60 million people into poverty. Noting the vast wealth disparities above, there is no objective reason that a reduction in the rate of growth need lead to poverty at all—unless your mental model is only predicated on endless growth.

 

The embedded nature of those mental models mean that the idea of a purposeful slowdown will have to prove itself many times over, whereas the inequality baked into current systems remains effectively unchallenged. We do not just get to implement these things, no matter how apparently rational they may seem. My “rationale” may be another’s “dangerously radical” (or vice versa). Geoff Mann notes that the phrase “common sense” is really a definition of “ideology …. (Or) the relationships or institutions that are taken as given, natural or necessary. Every time someone says ‘of course’ or ‘realistically’ they touch on it.”

As we can see this week, this month, this year, it’s the lightning rod of events, and thus changed behaviours, that tend to change attitudes, rather than the other way around. It is hard to motivate people to take a rational planned approach to an apparently radical alternative, given their ‘a priori plausibles’. The rapid progress being made in Minneapolis, Bristol, on retrofitted streets all over the world, is wonderful. But it took awful events to make them happen, rather than the careful deliberation of design and policy. As Mann continues, “ideology is too sedimented to be susceptible to design.” This should give us significant pause for thought.

 

However, the Overton Window has been prised open nonetheless, albeit by what Solzhenitsyn called “the pitiless crowbar of events,”and a flock of alternative ideas have flown straight in. Many of them will be thrown back out, as the window closes again soon. In the midst of the first wave, the UK briefly followed Finland’s lauded Housing First strategy for homelessness, just as the conservative Australian government implemented free childcare. Both were only temporary adjustments. Yet some ideas may have made it through permanently, whilst those that were on the books even briefly—giving homeless people a home; giving children childcare—will have left a few marks on the furniture either way. 

Sorting through them consciously involves the difference between strategy versus tactics. Tarkatower describes tactics as what you do when you know what to do, whereas strategy is what you do when you don’t know what to do. Many of those things bundled through the half-open window were tactical—of course we ground airplanes, work from home, shop more carefully, revalue public health systems. The choice as to what remains, though, what becomes new ‘sedimented ideology’, is strategic.

 

We can create vehicles that allow us to open up to uncertainty, ambiguity, focusing our efforts on learning by doing and working through that sorting, shifting from tactical to strategic responses. This would be tilling the soil, effectively, such that, after Milton Friedman’s famous phrase on crises, the ideas that spring forth and burst in through the window are those “lying around” on the ground. This may be the biggest mental model challenge of all. How do we tune our cultures of decision-making such that they benefit from actively incorporating uncertainty about fundamental assumptions, and prepare the ground for systemic change?


A month ago, the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte remarked that in a crisis, “you have to make 100 percent of the decisions with 50 percent of the knowledge.” This is not only the case in a crisis, of course. It is only in the last few decades that we have been broadly aware that it is our actions that have created the climate crisis (awkwardly, those decades being the ones in which the damage was truly done.)

Anna Tsing writes about this in the context of multi-species landscapes, which she sees as “products of unintentional design, that is, the overlapping world-making activities of many agents, human, and not human. The design is clear in the landscape’s ecosystem. But none of the agents have planned this effect. Humans join others in making landscapes of unintentional design.”

 

We did not plan for the various outcomes from COVID, for clearer streets and skies to increased social interaction and a deeper valuing of public healthcare systems. This is also an unintentional design, in which we have played a part. But we did prepare the ground for it.

 

Milica Begovic, of UNDP Innovation, described how their activities are designed to incorporate this sense of uncertainty, building learning through exploration and experimentation:

“In this optic, a development intervention that wants to bring about change, say, in agricultural systems is better seen as a mechanism that gradually resolves/explores uncertainties about system dynamics through learning and adaptation and ongoing sense-making, rather than a series of “fixes” to a well identified set of problems. This might reveal that an agricultural system is a symptom of a larger set of dynamics playing out in the economic system thereby opening up a wider set of entry points and policy options to ‘play’ with.” (Begovic, 2020)

This is the approach we’re taking in with some of our innovation practices in Sweden, building such vehicles within ‘place-based missions,’ through which we can explore new forms of collaboration and experimentation, to uncover and articulate the interdependencies between people and place, value and values.

 

The architect Lori Brown recently wrote about her own experience of the COVID- instigated lockdown/slowdown in the context of her work with feminist geography and border politics. She suggests a broader ethics of care, for people, place, and environment, rejecting the false separations of humans and non-humans, as well as the artificial structures and models it has led to; most obviously in the case of national borders which, after all, mean as little to a bird as they do to a virus. She concludes:

“My hope is that during this time of slowness we presently inhabit, within the quarantined-being-in-the-world selves we maintain in order to reduce the virus’s spread and protect others, this relational existence provides a way to more fully recognize our inherent inter-dependency and co-existence. This inter-dependency must become central to what actions will follow.” (Brown, 2020

The nature of the transition from lockdown to slowdown may be key. Compared to the fossil-fuel powered winner-takes-all model of late capitalism, with its endlessly divisive politics, a broad appreciation that we are in slowdown, whether we like it or not, takes the pressure off. 

 

Dorling suggests we are working against the grain otherwise. It is as if some greater force, some invisible hand, is guiding not markets but dynamics themselves. We have tried to resist this, or at least not woken up to this worldview and recalibrated our machinery. But that change has actually been driven by the hard work of social progress, not least in women’s rights, as discussed earlier. There is also clearly increasing awareness that we are reaching the limits of our finite resources, whether biodiversity or debt. We are implicitly slowing down as ‘there is no alternative’, to play back Margaret Thatcher’s awful phrase against her. Perhaps if we explicitly slowed down, we might enable forward movement on the things that matter.

 

In that regard, Dorling speculates that what could be left is something akin to Japan, “the first large country in the world to slow down,” or perhaps other ageing countries like Sweden and Finland, which are also arguably in what Dorling calls their ‘settling’ phase. Dorling notes with relish that ‘Japanification’ scares the pants off people like the Financial Times editorial board, but also how there has been steady movement in social progress in Japan: around women’s rights, migration, race, and other social matters, such as the daughter of a modest academic marrying into the royal family. Again, unthinkable a few decades ago. Japan clearly has a long way to go on these issues—don’t we all, relatively speaking?—but that social progress happened precisely in the years that Japanification started occurring, whilst its economy and population were rapidly slowing.

 

The phrase “settling down” in English is of course partly pejorative; as if all the gloriously romantic and heroic ‘raging against the dying of the light’ associated with idealistic youth has been discarded, in favour of a meek and conservative retirement. Yet as we can see, events like COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter are not about ‘settling down’ in that sense at all. They are not really about vicarious ‘engagement’ on Twitter or cloistered academic debate. Instead, as Timothy Snyder writes in ‘On Tyranny, “Protest can be organised through social media, but nothing is real that does not end on the streets.” In slowdown states like Japan, Sweden, and Finland, we end up on the streets too, from time to time, and the social progress there is absolutely necessary, more so than outsiders to those countries realise. Yet given the context, the slowdown may generally be a rather more careful, deliberate process, as many are beginning to realise that the slowdown is what we are in. In the USA, the battle is fiercer because the place is more fundamentally broken, more obviously in crisis.

 

We started with mental models and metaphors. Gary Younge, in the New York Review of Books, writes that, “The killing of George Floyd stands not just as a murder but as a metaphor... it exemplifies a democracy in crisis.

 

And so this is where we do not slow down. There is immense social and environmental progress to make, and a need to do so rapidly. That killing, and many others, makes this horrifically clear, set as it is against a backdrop of the largest number of COVID-19 deaths by far, and an attempt to go backwards on environmental standards whilst producing amongst the largest total and per capita carbon emissions ever put on record. The endless pursuit of rapid GDP growth can be seen as an utterly false goal in this light, a mental model so inappropriate that it is akin to trying to strap a Harley Davidson engine to a sparrow. (This crisis can be seen in other aspects too, as the USA achieves high GDP per capita numbers, yet performs far worse on the indices that matter—education, healthcare, life expectancy, childhood mortality—than many countries with less than half the GDP per capita.)

If being the world’s wealthiest nation means this utter breakdown—in fact, if it means actually creating those conditions of systematic racism and dysfunctional public health—shouldn’t we at least consider slowing down to discuss what the hell is going on, in a slightly calmer mode? Use rage to bring inequality to our collective attention in ways that can no longer be ignored. But unless we finally cool the economic and political engines that produce that inequality, our protests will struggle to engender meaningful system change, just as we will continue to trigger pandemics and extreme weather.

“Slowing down is a very good thing—and the alternative is unimaginably bad. If we do not slow down, there is no escape from imminent disaster. We would wreck our very home, the planet we live on. We need to slow down because we have nowhere else to speed to without catastrophic consequences.” (Dorling, 2020

But perhaps this will be the most challenging of narratives to develop, in a world generally attuned to value the exact opposite. Can we imagine a president stating they want the economy to slow down? To extol the more complex relational virtues of care over simplistic but measurable efficiency and market cap? Or promote living standards higher than GDP growth? Or to pin their decision-making on ‘mechanisms that explore uncertainty’ rather than maintaining a pretence at certainty?

 

Right now, halfway through 2020, a year which seems determined to check off every one of our more dystopian predictions in one go, it’s hard to imagine the current POTUS saying anything of value, never mind getting behind the concept of Slowdown, and suggesting that we might “Make America Slow Again, Make America Care Again, Make America Fair Again …”

 

No matter how we reach that understanding we must do so, whether prompted by the relentless arrays of data, graphs, and anecdote, or the fierce and righteous battles on the streets in Minneapolis, or by the deep reflective quiet to be found in the momentary darkness at midnight outside my window. The darkness, yes, and the ambiguity and the uncertainty—but do so knowing that it is more likely to lead us into the daylight, tilling the soil for ways of thinking and practice that are actually more in tune with our time, and the better times to come.

 

“Month by month the roads smelt more strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty, breathed less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature withdrew: the leaves were falling by mid-summer; the sun shone through dirt with an admired obscurity.”

E.M. Forster, Howards End (1910)

 

“A silver lining, if there has to be one, is that only a few days after lockdown, I could see the stars again for the first time in years. My city is at a standstill and the smog has cleared. The sky at night is a revelation.”

Wang Xiuying in Wuhan, 2020 

We can create vehicles that allow us to open up to uncertainty, ambiguity, focusing our efforts on learning by doing. This may be the biggest mental model challenge of all.