Waves, Coherence, & the Origins of Inspiration

So I’ve taken a few months off from writing – not because I’ve been out of thoughts and ideas but because I’ve just wanted to take some time to reflect on my thoughts and ideas to date. I’ve wanted to somehow soak it all in and envision a larger realm of thoughts and ideas emerging in my life. I’ve wanted to ride a different psyche wave for a bit – one of absorption and reflection rather than construction and emission.

Waves, phases, and cycles are a major part of our lives. Some are natural, some controlled, and some just plain impossible to understand. Some can be calculated and predicted while others come completely unexpected. What drives these waves and cycles, and how does the combination (or interference) of multiple waves in our lives affect our overall well-being and happiness?

In the physical world, the relation (or correlation) between multiple waves can be described or denoted by something called coherence – how much their phases differ and, when combined, what the resulting wave might look like. Let’s think of coherence for our psyche wave as our level of well-being and happiness that results from the combination of all the waves in our life.

To look at this idea in more detail, we can identify several waves and cycles in our lives: seasons, weeks, days, running and working out, our diet, relationships, playing sports, volunteering and giving, sleep cycles, dreaming big, acting small, being social, feeling courageous, extreme happiness, comfort and security, professional experience, travel, spending and saving, learning and teaching, new thought, and well, on to infinity with this list.

Well, this is where it gets tough. Given the complexity and often complete unpredictability of these waves and cycles, how can we ever determine what our resulting psyche wave will look like, or at least what it should look like? How can we identify the properties of these waves – that is, how frequently they come around, how high they take us, how low they take us, how they change in time, what interactions they make with other waves, and what really drives them from the get go?

These may be questions for many millennia, but I want to look at the most general driver that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: inspiration. The source of true inspiration is seemingly quite unpredictable yet it is the major driver of a peaking (or cresting) psyche wave of well-being and happiness.

From where does one find inspiration? Is it something to be harnessed and propagated, or is its movement about society entirely beyond our control? From where do we find the courage to venture and the fuel for adventure, the motivation to take on the world and the drive to motivate the world around us? Is inspiration in itself a natural cycle of crests and troughs or can we deconstruct it into its own understandable DNA? What drives the waves of inspiration?

In my search for the end of the internet, I found an interesting post on inspiration by “Duff McDuffee” on Precision Change, a personal development blog. Thank all Gods, earthlings, and minerals for the internet! Duff spends most of the time summarizing several unique realms of thought surrounding the origins of inspiration but most notably concludes with some very compelling ideas:

“Inspiration is the natural and automatic drawing in of spirited experience, just as inhalation is the natural drawing in of breath. You cannot force inspiration any more than you can force an inhale. Just as inhalation happens naturally as long as you don’t try to control it, inspiration also happens naturally and is just as near and easily available.

Inspiration comes from the same place that dreams come from. It is a place beyond understanding, knowing, and controlling. Inspiration is born of naturalness, of being, of attunement to spirit. When you stop controlling and start listening, inspiration naturally arises.

Inspiration is also wild, mysterious, and unknowable. Inspiration is the stuff of pure creativity. It cannot be measured, predicted, or controlled.”

So inspiration is natural like breathing, mysterious like dreams, and immeasurable like pure creativity? But what about sunsets, hymns, good naps, lasagna, beaches, speeches, births, deaths, memories, wins, losses, and the moments that take our breath away? What about the performances, trips, meetings, phone calls, churches, hikes, and wonders of the world?

To me, inspiration just comes in many forms, expected and unexpected, natural and brought forth by our own acts. Sometimes we can find it easily, and sometimes we can’t. But the key is that we can learn about it, and learn about it we do. As we grow older, see the world, and interact as a society, we can learn about the origins of inspiration. As we learn about it, we can harness it, maintain some coherence between multiple waves, maximize our collective peaks, and maintain the highest level of well-being and happiness. To me, that’s pretty inspiring.

Postulating Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures

With regards to futurology and future studies, I’ve recently posted on the principles of forecasting as well as the origins of opportunity – two distant yet related topics that exemplify the breadth and depth of the field.

As my own futures research has progressed, I’ve found various sources that have proven to be quite valuable in guiding my curiosity and conjecturing. I think some of these are worth passing along:

  • Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) – ASF is an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit engaged in outreach, education, research, and selective advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change.
  • Futurology (Wikipedia)
  • Institute for Alternative Futures – The Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) is a nonprofit research and educational organization founded in 1977. IAF and its for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates (AFA), specialize in aiding organizations and individuals to more wisely choose and create their preferred futures. IAF works with clients to create forecasts, scenarios, goals and strategies that are the essential tools for transforming organizations to succeed in times of rapid change.
  • Institute For The Future (IFTF)
  • Principles of Forecasting (ForPrin)
  • Shaping Tomorrow – Online community of futurists and futures research
  • Shaping Tomorrow (Ning Network)
  • “The Time Lords” (Financial Times, 1/30/2007)
  • World Future Society (WFS) – The World Future Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific and educational association of people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. The Society was founded in 1966 and is chartered as a nonprofit educational and scientific organization in Washington, D.C.
  • World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) – The World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) is a global NGO that was founded in the 1960s to encourage and promote the development of futures studies as a transdisciplinary academic and professional field in all parts of the world. WFSF operates as a global network of practicing futurists – researchers, teachers, scholars, policy analysts, activists and others from approximately 60 countries.

In a nutshell, futures studies is exactly that – studies of the future. It’s about the determining the total set of possibilities for tomorrow, finding the most probable of outcomes for tomorrow, and leveraging advanced knowledge to even shape the future.

Wikipedia, as spread across the spectrum of credibility as it may be, provides a pretty decent explanation of the mindset needed to be truly forward-looking. What qualities are required of a futurist, within any organization or for any requirement or need, to fully anticipate the unknown using the set of resources at his/her disposal (data, intuition, logic, technology, vision, science, etc.)?

  • Trend Assessment – The competency to understand trend directions, weak signals and wildcards, assess their likely impact and effect on one another and respond in a timely and appropriate manner
  • Pattern Recognition – The ability to see patterns rather than individual factors
  • System Perspective: The capability to envision the entire system rather than the isolated components
  • Anticipation: To anticipate short and long term consequences over time, novel situations and geography
  • Instinct & Logic: To rely on a combination of instincts and logic rather than purely rational analysis

Yes, there is a plethora of philosophical, political, religious, scientific, and even incomprehensible factors that may give shape to the future (or take that shape away). But that should not deter us from facing it head on. We all need to work smarter not harder, avoid surprises, exploit new opportunities, plug weaknesses, and (where possible) influence the future.

The Origins of Opportunity

I’ve been deep into future studies / futurology over the past few weeks. It’s an intriguing field for me at both a professional/academic level and a personal level. How can we better understand the future? Are there core methodologies that we can employ to optimize our current positioning and decision-making? How can we be better prepared for the future? What’s inevitable and what’s not? Where lies the line between info-driven forecasting and innate intuition?

Although the netweb has helped to grow and organize both the futurological information and the community through which that information is developed and shared, it seems as though the field itself remains cloudy. I must hope that at some level I can build upon the existing thoughts of others and contribute new thoughts of my own so that at least the window to the future becomes more clear.

One cornerstone of future studies is in how to evaluate, filter though, and create opportunity from statements about the future. And so I wonder: from where does opportunity arise, and how can this recognition be leveraged to inform (and in some cases, influence) the future? In general, how can we characterize the origins of opportunity?

  1. Is it through early recognition? This is not beating others to the finish line, but rather beating others to the starting line. Can we identify gaps sooner than others?
  2. Is it through resourceful timing? Often opportunity arises in not being first, not being last, but somewhere in between. The earliest adopter may have his/her vision obscured through too many details, the latest adopter may be left with the crumbs. And often we find much opportunity in the failure of others – developing the right trials from the errors of others.
  3. Is it through pure knowledge and intelligence? Can brute force brainpower create the most opportunity? Or is it more dependent on the ability to apply one’s knowledge, no matter how limited it may be? Is it about having the right skill sets and tools, tactics and strategies?
  4. Is it though pure luck? Can being in the right place at the right time govern our ability to find and harness opportunity? Is pure luck within our beyond our control?

It’s simplest to think that opportunity may arise as a result of any combination of these factors. Therefore, to maximize our opportunities, we should focus on being in the right places, having the right tools, being with the right people, understanding timing as an approach, building the right knowledge base, and building an overall recognition for the many faces of opportunity.

If we can learn to recognize opportunity and better understand where it may arise, we can begin to gain a better picture of the future. Then, we can work to inform that picture with data and models to ensure that we take full advantage of those opportunities to better our self, our communities, our world, and that of tomorrow.

Principles of Forecasting

I just finished reading a couple books about future studies and the nature of predictions and forecasts: (1) Future Savvy, by Adam Gordon and (2) The Future of Everything, by David Orrell. From the former of the two, I wanted to pull a good portion of the content from Chapter 11 and structure it here for use in future posts and projects. In Chapter 11 of his book, Gordon outlines the important questions to ask of any forecast. As decision makers and leaders, analysts and synthesizers, and organizations and citizens, it’s critical that we learn to properly evaluate and filter statements about the future so that we can optimize our decisions and, ultimately, our positioning for the future.

With that as a quick intro, here are the questions we should ask of any prediction or forecast. As Gordon states of forecasts: “they are not in themselves valuable, they are only valuable alongside a clear way to separate the wheat from the chaff”.

Purpose

  • What is the purpose of the forecast? Is the forecast upfront about its purpose?
  • Is the forecast future-aligning or future-influencing?
    • Is the forecast widely publicized?
    • Does it specify action to take in the external world?
    • Is it a forecast of extremes?

Specificity

  • Is he forecast mode predictive – spelling out what will happen – or speculative, illuminating possible alternatives?
  • Is there too much certainty?
  • Is there enough certainty? Is the forecast hedging?
  • Is the forecast clear about the pace of change? Does it specify timelines or does it leave the question hazy?

Information Quality

  • How extensive and how good is the base data?
    • Is the data up to date?
    • Does the forecast use secondary data?
    • Is the data real or a projection?

Interpretation and Bias

  • Are the forecast’s biases natural or intentional?
  • What is the reputation of the forecaster and forecast organization? Does the forecaster have anything to lose by being wrong?
  • Are bias-prone contexts at hand?
    • Is the forecast sponsored?
    • Is self-interest prominent?
    • Are ideology and idealism prominent?
    • Does the forecast focus on a “single issue” future?
    • Is editorial oversight bypassed?

Methods and Models

  • Does the forecast specify its methods?
  • Does the forecaster imply the method is too complex, too arcane, or too proprietary to share?
  • Do forecast proponents trumpet their unique or “new and improved” methods?

Quantitative Limits

  • Is the use of quantitative methods appropriate?
  • Is a machine doing the thinking?

Managing Complexity

  • Does the forecast oversimplify the world?
  • Does the forecast acknowledge systemic feedback?
  • Does the forecast anticipate things that could speed up the future, or push it off track? Does it account for triggers and tipping points?
  • Does the forecast expect exponential change?

Assumptions and Paradigm Paralysis

  • Has adequate horizon scanning been done?
  • Are the assumptions stated? Is the forecaster aware of his or her own assumptions? Is the forecaster willing to entertain alternative assumptions?
  • Do the forecaster’s assumptions appear valid and reasonable?

Zeitgeist and Groupthink

  • Is the zeitgeist speaking through the forecaster?
  • Is the forecast jumping on the bandwagon?
  • Does the forecast rely on “experts”?
  • Does the forecast do stretch thinking? Does it allow us to break free from the “official future”?

Drivers and Blockers

  • Are change drivers and enablers identified? Or are trends simply projected?
  • Are blocking forces identified and fully accounted for? Is friction factored in?
    • Have utility questions been asked and adequately answered?
    • Are there proposing or opposing stakeholders, particularly powerful individuals and powerful organizations?
    • Does the forecast challenge social, cultural, or moral norms?
    • Whose side is the law on?
    • Is the forecaster in love with the technology?
    • Does the forecast underestimate the time to product emergence? Does it overestimate the pace at which people’s habits change?
    • Does the forecaster assume change? Does the forecast underestimate the full hump change must overcome? Does the forecaster recognize what doesn’t change?

2010 MLB Baseball Season Predictions

Okay okay I know I’m very late with this, but it’s time for my baseball season predictions. I had these in a file on my desktop for a couple weeks now and unfortunately I’ve been very slow to post. So, here goes…

AL East Standings
New York Yankees 101-61
Tampa Bay Rays 94-68
Boston Red Sox 92-70
Toronto Blue Jays 78-84
Baltimore Orioles 76-86

Playoff Bound
AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
AL West: Seattle Mariners
AL Wildcard: Tampa Bay Rays
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Colorado Rockies
NL Wildcard: San Francisco Giants

Most Valuable Players
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay

World Series will be the Cardinals and the Yankees and will stretch to 7 games, being won by the Yankees. 28th world championship.

The Power of Anticipation

In today’s society, gaining an inch can be like gaining a mile.

Soccer takes a lot of skill and athleticism. You need to be able to dribble, pass, shoot, tackle, communicate, see, sprint, etc. But as I’ve stated before (“mind bend it like beckham” – 2/11/2009) it’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. You need to think like your opponent and play somewhat of a guessing game, connecting dots before there’s any visible relationship between them. You need to forecast outcomes, intellectually seeing into the future guided by the data that’s available.

This sort of anticipation is an imperative ability for success in the future – within any endeavor. In business, anticipation means a gaining a leading edge on the competition. For defense, it means preparation and contingency plans for what might be likely to occur. In decision-making its gaining threshold confidence in your decision – using as much relevant information to guide a range of actions, opinion,s and ultimately, outcomes. And not to mention, it helps us grab our umbrella when running out the door.

Predictive analytics, although a seemingly new, hot topic today, has been around forever. Prophets, Mayans, Nostradamus, Pythia, lunar calendars, and the Akashwani – in a historical sense the predictions were informed by a variety of sensory stimuli coupled with intuition and a variety of other external factors. Nowadays, it’s really not that different. Today, we have data and semi-sophisticated mathematical processes that parallel conscious perception and intuition. We can quantify much of what could not have been quantified in the past.

“Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of techniques from statistics, data mining and game theory that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future events.

In business, predictive models exploit patterns found in historical and transactional data to identify risks and opportunities. Models capture relationships among many factors to allow assessment of risk or potential associated with a particular set of conditions, guiding decision making for candidate transactions.” (Wikipedia)

It’s imperative that people embrace predictive analytics to inform decision-making. Math doesn’t have to make the decision – that’s mostly for humans – but the math can give a comprehensive picture that outlines components of the decision and also tells us what the decision may lead to (or may have led to in the past) in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary outcomes. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a great example of this, using computer algorithms to predict world events of the future – war, proliferation, conflict, etc. Decisions are not made by computer models, but humans are briefed of probable scenarios in order to make better-informed decisions.

I’ve said this before – math can be simple when it’s made to be simple. It’s a toolbox of problem-solving techniques and thought processes to help guide real-world decisions and understanding. It’s important to not be afraid of the math – start small and grow your mathematical toolbox over time. Take it head on and don’t be overwhelmed. We all have something to learn and we all have something to gain by embracing prediction and anticipation.

So whether it’s sport, meteorology, national security, or adding garlic to the pan, find a way to anticipate. In doing so, my prediction is that you’ll be better off…

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