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  • Writer's pictureJohn Favaro

APPEARING - DISAPPEARING A Knowledge Huddle about the near future

On the 18th of October 2018, the Grasp Network launched a new format called the “Knowledge Huddle”, a sort of collective encounter that takes only a few hours of time. It’s an embrace of brains, where people come together to reflect, feel, create and gain knowledge about a specific topic, in a workshop where contemporary artworks are used to stimulate the reflection process of the participants. I had the pleasure of facilitating this event with my colleague Executive Business Coach (and passionate contemporary art lover) Cristina Nava. The Huddle was kindly hosted by Gallery aA29 Project Room in Milan.

We had some 15 people participating in the huddle, coming from different countries and very different (professional) environments, including a creative mathematician, an HR director of a multinational construction company, a sound artist, a hacker, an environmental engineer, an art curator, an executive business coach, a famous Italian YouTuber, a high level consultant of a large international consultancy company, a university professor in new media art, a software engineer, and others.

In this first prototype event, we decided to reflect on the phenomenon of Appearing - Disappearing in our time. In a world of constant change, things appear and disappear. Just as plants have a lifecycle, so do objects, services, companies, and behaviors. The telephone cabin, so common in many streets only 20 years ago, practically doesn’t exist anymore. A hundred years ago, traveling from Helsinki to Milan took weeks or even months; today we cross Europe in two hours and fifty minutes. Flying has become almost as familiar as taking a bus or riding a horse used to be. As society, culture, and technology evolve, new things appear while others become obsolete and disappear. This was our starting point.

So what kind of knowledge did this Huddle create? Here I will share some of the thoughts that emerged in the common co-thinking process.

Change was the keyword for reflection this time. Regarding business, some big companies will grow and become even bigger in the near future. They will be very powerful, probably more powerful than some small states. This will also have an effect on world politics and economies. The presence of more articulated digital communication channels will enable new political initiatives that will make possible a significant level of participation, but also create more political instability.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will definitely open up new scenarios in our near future. In music the concept of authorship will diminish because of AI. In fact, new ways of producing music through machine creativity will take place at least for one part of the music production scene. The same thing just happened in the contemporary art market last week when Christie’s sold for the first time for $432,500 a work of art completely created by an algorithm. While a lot of attention is being paid to what AI will do, and especially the fear it creates for the loss of jobs in the near future, very little attention is given to the concept of artificial stupidity.

The journey toward the near future contains also an issue of transformation of old patterns into new ones. There is a theory in anthropology that claims that when an object changes (thanks to the ability of man to make a more evolved version of the same object), we need some of the elements of the previous stages of evolution of the object in order to understand it. In design this is called a skeuomorph. This means that for many things in our current environment it could be technically possible to make them very different from what they are today. Some features are nevertheless preserved, not because they have a direct technical functionality, but because they are better accepted when we find them familiar. So even disruptive evolution always has a trace of what came before. This helps us when we try to imagine how the future will be.

Regarding business and organizations, the concept of only one job title over an entire lifetime will surely disappear while new jobs, new roles, and a less authoritative style of management will emerge. Production chains will change, and so will the way that products and goods are distributed. Emotional intelligence will acquire a role as a key competence for top performers in the knowledge economy.

Office space in the form we currently perceive it will change. Future work spaces will be more digital with less “real life” physical meetings and a growing quantity of new forms of virtual reality that will be developed for the needs of distant working. In contemporary business there is a growing trend of multicultural teams that work in different countries and time zones. How to keep the energy and the “team spirit” up in these new contexts will be a challenge for management.

Even in the “digital future”, we will still be “physical” people with physical bodies. In this sense the trend of biohacking will grow. We will have more specific data about our bodies and there will be new, more integrated ways to create knowledge and regulate our everyday behavior in order to live longer and better. We will also develop new types of plants in order to better confront the challenge of nurturing the almost 7 billion people of Planet Earth.

Quantum physics will radically change our perception of the world.

The school system will change and the role of teachers will be different, less frontal, less based on sharing only “hard knowledge”. The teacher will become a kind of tutor, a mentor, or a coach who helps the students to understand what kind of knowledge they need and what the criteria are to find the right data so that the information they gain is trustworthy. Here, too, emotional intelligence will play a great role. Teaching will not be about transferring data, but about being there as a support in order to help the students grow.

There are some good questions about the near future worth asking:

What will the future human be like?

What sort of ethics do we need for the future?

How will we realize that we have changed?

How can we become “better” with the help of technological evolution?

In conclusion, an interesting thought emerged: our ability to imagine the future maybe has gotten worse than in the past. Perhaps this capacity or the will of thinking what will come is disappearing? We can see this as a trend in cultural production. Compared today to four decades ago, when writers and movie makers were fascinated with the future and actively imagining how it might be our cultural production today tends to create products that tell stories placed in the past.

The process of creating knowledge and awareness in the Huddle

As a synthesis, the participants observed that knowledge was created inside the Huddle in an open process where randomness has its role. In order to make it work, participants have to have an open attitude to welcome the thoughts and ideas of others and accept the chaotic nature of the process. As one participant said: “Let the randomness be”.

The role of art in the reflection process was important. Art helped the emotions appear and bias to disappear.

In the end, the knowledge needs time to be digested and elaborated. Further reflections will probably take form in time.

A big thanks to all the participants for participating and to aA29 Projects Space for hosting the huddle.


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