June 9, 2016

Book Review: Communities of the Future Could Flourish amid Technological Change. Here’s How.

Media headlines devote an increasing amount of  attention to how governments and large corporations can plan for the future. We know change is coming: in climate, in demography, in the availability of natural resources, in the structure of economies.

Yet little attention—until now— has been given those who must live the effects of those changes: the community leaders and their constituents who battle floods and heat, deal with aging neighbors and their needs, find ways to educate children who were born digital, and not least match the newly jobless to new work, in a shifting economy that is likely to be further disrupted by automation in coming years.

Rick Smyre and Neil Richardson propose a new vision for the future of local communities
Rick Smyre and Neil Richardson propose a new vision for the future of local communities

In their new book, Preparing for a World that Doesn’t Exist—Yet: Framing a Second Enlightenment for Communities of the Future, Rick Smyre and Neil Richardson address that lacuna. They fill it with worthy insights for community leaders who want to think and plan now for a world being overturned by technology and its effects.  The authors are persuasive in their reminder that since communities are where change is implemented and felt, it is in communities where a transformation in leadership and planning must take place. As they point out, reforms do not actually change systems, only transformations do.

A New World Requires a New Language

The book is not an easy read. It is overflowing with neologisms: Master Capacity builder, the Creative Molecular Economy, and Polycentric Democracy are just a few of many terms the authors use to describe their new concepts.  But stick with them, and a method behind this lexical riot begins to come clear.

If we are in fact at the edge of a wholly new world, visible to us only through the weakest of signals on the horizon, we will need a new language to describe it.  Smyre and Richardson call  this a‘different kind of different’ understanding. The authors describe this new world through a set of discrete principles that repeatedly stress how we will shortly live in environments that are interconnected, interdependent and in which non-linear effects unfold.

What this means is that we need a new community strategic narrative: a way of talking about and living in communities in a way that we are not used to. Everyday life in a thriving future community may feel at its best like a constantly unfolding set of connections, opportunities and solutions. This is a far cry from a daily routine that, if it is routine, satisfies us with its orderliness and lack of surprise. We will all need to learn anew how to live in this kind of future. What Smyre and Richardson propose is that we can learn, and that our community leaders can help us to do so.

An Exhilarating Vision, A New Story for Local Communities

Preparing for a World that Doesn’t Exist Yet is ultimately exhilarating — it swings from provocative abstractions to  concrete recommendations and ideas, including worksheets, to address communities’ educational, governance, economic and healthcare needs in the emergent future.

Take, for example,the future economic framework they envision.

The “Creative Molecular Economy,” as distinct from the industrial and knowledge economies before it, will be characterized by a constant state of disruption (thus it is ‘creative’) and by individual entrepreneurs who will co-create “products, service and ideas” through “interlocking networks” (thus, molecular).

After working through this idea, the authors turn to the concrete ways that communities can plan for and leverage this state of affairs. Does a community need, for example, concept papers to begin thinking about how to get more start-up capital for entrepreneurs in the door?  Could a Futures Economy Council in the local chamber of commerce seed a network of future-minded citizens? What about pilot programs and events that begin to introduce citizens to this new economic structure? Yes, yes and yes, of course.

In these narrative swerves, Smyre and Richardson have created a book seems to resemble the future they envision: It overflows with connections and interconnections, big ideas and micro-plans, leaps and deep observations. The book isn’t linear, so you don’t have to read it in order to appreciate the authors’ vision of future communities that embrace technological change, while helping all of their citizens realize their best potential.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

**Disclaimer. I know the authors and am mentioned in the book’s preface.

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