Mark Stevenson: Innovations to transform the way we organize our societies for a better future
On an immensely inspiring journey across the globe, Futurist Mark Stevenson, has discovered extraordinary pioneers of cutting edge innovations that can solve the world’s most pressing dilemmas and transform the way we organize our societies. Stevenson is one of the world’s most respected thinkers on future technological and societal trends, the bestselling author of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future (2011) and a top advisor to organizations on adapting to the trends and complexities we will face in an ever-transforming world.
In his new book, We Do Things Differently (2017), Mark Stevenson takes “impossible” off the table and proves that bold changes can be achieved, whether it’s with regards to rebooting our energy system, radically changing our governance system or getting patients involved in healthcare. Using transformative examples of innovation he has discovered, he provides us with a detailed roadmap to the possibilities of a better future and “a more equitable, humane and sustainable world”.
What is preventing our societal systems from innovating and adapting to modern challenges?
They suffer from inertia essentially. Today, when alternative systems are proposed, which are better for society or the planet, they are dismissed because change and innovation often call into question people’s salaries and skill sets.
The other reason is that everyone is “doing a good job”. In other words, everyone can point to a positive influence to justify the way they do their job, rather than admitting if they changed the way the system worked, then they would have a much bigger positive impact. The energy system can say they are fueling society, while simultaneously ignoring climate change. The agribusiness and agrochemical industries can say they are feeding the world, but ignore the fact that intensive farming is highly unsustainable.
The world we have was built on economies of scale but the world of the future will most likely be built on economies of distribution – using technology and new decentralized methods of organization, such as urban farming and community power.
Where did your journey to discover innovative system models for the future take you?
In Brazil, I found a system of participatory governance, where citizens work together on projects and spend the government’s money, rather than the government spending it for them. I also travelled to the “failed city” of Detroit, which is successfully transforming its communities through collective farming and gardening. In England, I spent time with a man who has invented an amazing, sustainable refrigeration technology that runs on liquid air. In India, I met the pioneers behind an open-sourced and crowd-sourced system for discovering new types of drugs. Instead of spending US$2.6 billion to create a drug (which means the poor die), they spend less than US$20 million (which means the poor can now afford it). I also visited a school in Lincoln which, through radical collaboration, transformed itself in two years from the worst school in the country to the best school in the country, without changing a single member of staff.
In northern India, I looked at sustainable methods of farming that help to raise poor farmers out of poverty and give the same yields as large scale agricultural methods, without the need for expensive and unsustainable inputs or irrigation. I met energy-internet software developers who are creating cheap and stable energy systems. I also travelled to a small town in Austria that powers itself entirely from renewable energy, cutting their carbon emissions by two-thirds, halving the price of their energy and transforming their local economy. I met many other amazing pioneers and it took me all over the world.
What makes these pioneers different? What motivates them?
They are people who are not from within the field in which they are innovating. As a result, they look at things differently and approach problems freshly. Overall, I think their guiding motivation is justice.
Book launch of Futurist Mark Stevenson: We Do Things Differently
What do we need to do to drive the changes to our systems worldwide?
We need a shift in culture. We need collaborative, creative spaces and co-inspiration networks. We need to show people that there are innovative solutions to our modern challenges and that the future can be better.
We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World
Our systems are failing. Old models – for education, healthcare, government, food production, energy supply – are creaking under the weight of modern challenges. As the world’s population heads towards 10 billion, it is clear we need new approaches. Here, acclaimed writer and futurist Mark Stevenson sets out to find them, across four continents.
From Brazilian favelas and rural India to one of the toughest housing estates in Britain, Stevenson travels the world to find remarkable innovators who are pioneering new ways to make our world more sustainable and democratize access to resources and knowledge.
In Boston, he learns how patients are helping each other find the best treatments by using the medical equivalent of a dating website; in Jharkhand, he meets rural farmers who are exceeding the yields of the Green Revolution with techniques inspired by a Jesuit priest; in the small Austrian town of Güssing, he finds a community that made itself completely independent from the big energy suppliers by turning bark that used to just rot on the forest floor into electricity; in Detroit, he sees how urban farming and a community-run food system has turned a city on the brink of collapse into a food capital; and in Lincoln, he finds a school – the Hartsholme Academy – that an ex night-club manager turned into a beacon of educational excellence by asking the students to mark each other’s work.
Populated by extraordinary characters and inspiring ideas across all fields, from participatory budgeting to the Enernet, We Do Things Differently paints an enthralling picture of what can be done to address the world’s most pressing dilemmas and offers a much-needed dose of down-to-earth optimism. It is a window on (and a roadmap to) a different and better future.