The following is today’s update from my *ahem* Kickstarter to raise funds for my national tour. It’s about how I came to be in the unusual position of traveling around from town to town, spewing revolutionary ideas about the future of the economy and buying people shots.
I cannot tell you how awesome it has been to have such amazing community response for this tour. People have emerged from seemingly nowhere to offer support, good wishes, and CASH. I am humbled.
Some of the backers are known to me, some are new friends. For those of you who are new – and even to those who are not – I wonder if you are up to date on what the past year – culminating in the crazy tour – means to me personally. It has been quite a trip.
2012 was the year I stopped trying to impress sclerotic, dysfunctional bureaucracies. This was a big deal, since they had been my primary customers for more than ten years. I started my own consultancy in 2002 aiming to provide foresight for corporations and governments, the people who had been my clients as I worked for other firms. That part was a success. This is just a partial list of my clients over those years: Cardinal Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Energizer/Schick, the Principality of Monaco, the National Lottery of France (La Française des Jeux), Cummins Diesel, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Office of Personnel Management. Not Mom and Pop corner stores – the type of big ol’ companies that are supposed to be the dream of any consultant.
Of course as the years went on, and especially as we went chugging toward the insanity of the Very Predictable Crash of 2008, I became more and more dyspeptic. Despite the throngs of futurists and strategists that infested the conference halls and board rooms of modern business, we seemed to heading blindly into one catastrophe after another. Foresight, to put it mildly, wasn’t really working. But when you’re in business, you don’t want to spook potential clients who wouldn’t like anybody too “controversial,” so you self-edit – a lot.
The Crash of 2008 happened, right on time according to my predictions. I hoped that this would be the catalyst required to give executives a taste for real, fearless analysis. Instead, things got worse. Much worse. The stench of fear hung in the air of every sterile office complex, of every ritualistic annual conference. Instead of trying to think deeper and more broadly, people had to tow the line more than ever. At least the Europeans were still open-minded, looking worriedly across the Atlantic. And that is where most of my business resided after The Crash.
But then Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland started showing intractable (and predictable) problems, resulting in Europe experiencing its own traumatic psychological seizures. Foresight became superfluous there in a hurry as well.
For my part, I tried to work within the system, committing an entire book – HOW TO PREDICT THE FUTURE…AND WIN!!! – to the subject of where foresight was going wrong. It seemed that it would be a useful subject of inquiry given the 50 years of history in the field and its apparent recent failures. But to my chagrin, the intelligence community – which breaks its arm patting itself on the back for being society’s Fearless Thinkers – had no interest in the subject, much less my treatment of it. I would have been quite pleased to get into arguments about the matter, which is what the field requires – but people didn’t even understand what I meant. “What do you mean foresight isn’t working? Everything is fine, that thing in 2008 was a one time thing.” The shallowness of thought was stunning, and this from the people who were supposed to be the intellectual braintrust.
So by 2012, I found myself spiritually ready to do the unthinkable – actually tell people what I thought of corporations, government agencies, futurists, intelligence analysts, rhesus monkeys, viruses – whatever. I wrote a piece for The Atlantic entitled “Peak Intel: How So-Called Strategic Intelligence Actually Makes Us Dumber.” It was my J’accuse toward the whole industry, made possible by the fact that I not only wasn’t looking for consulting work – I was refusing it and sending it to my colleagues. It caused quite a stir, causing many practitioners to clutch their pearls in horror, but not, sadly, causing them to actually deal with my argument. Which is, of course, why I left the field – the thinking is pretty weak these days.
I spent most of last year writing freelance pieces and topics that inspired me, all the while draining away the last vestiges of self-censorship. By November, I was so loose that I even forgot to give a damn about the taboo of speaking about partisan politics. I had fun throwing out a riff entitled, “Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people,” which got about 1,000,000 readers in six days. Whoa. So I guess the public demand for straight talk is larger than the demand for mealy-mouthed consultant-speak. Who knew?
The response to that piece is what sends me out in 2013 to create a grassroots movement. When I accidentally touched that nerve back in November, I discovered something utterly amazing – people are hungry to solve problems, whether or not their organizations can come with them. Almost all the people I meet while planning this tour are incredible, brilliant, successful people in their own right – many of them occupying pretty fancy, important jobs. Those individuals are ready and willing to break out, think differently and make things better – even if their bureaucracy will be playing catchup for a decade.
That’s the takeaway for me after more than 15 years of work, ten years of small business, and a year in a fascinating intellectual wilderness – elite populism, if you will. The really cool people of the world need to come together. The old systems aren’t doing a sufficient job of putting talent and capital together in the way they promise. We can do better ourselves outside of the system. But first we need to get in the same room, see each other face-to-face, smile, have a glass of something and forge some new social bonds.
I guess this is what has evolved for me in the last year – my role as a catalyst in this. It has been a big psychological and spiritual transition – and it is deeply satisfying.
The next step is to get you in on the scheme.
Thanks for indulging me and I’ll see you in your town in 2013.