Back to top

CSIopinion: SIE Interviews Alan Moore, author of ‘No Straight Lines’

No Straight Lines, by Alan Moore, begins as follows:

“The purpose of this book is to highlight the corrosive effect that an industrial mindset and free market economy has ultimately inflicted upon humanity. My hypothesis is that we have got to the point where our industrial economy, projected onto society, can no longer support humanity. As a consequence, we need to explore what makes us human and give this insight context by examining new ways of recreating our world.”

Extrapolating from the phrase “There are no straight lines in nature” the book argues that, seeing our industrial society overwhelmed, we now have the opportunity to return to a more human-centred mode of operation, and create a better society, in social, organizational and economic terms.

The project looks at organisations that have created transformational change or transformational businesses that also serve the collective good, and have been designed around the needs of humanity.

Alan Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organisations.

What are some of the more dramatic instances of the corrosive effect of an industrial mindset?

The dramatic instances of the corrosive effect of an industrial mindset are material cultural and spiritual. A trilemma.

Materially we see institutions built in the 19th Century struggling with a 21th Century world, for example our healthcare systems are unsustainable, education in many places is battery farming our children, our agricultural systems based on large scale oil based economy are unsustainable and we see our natural world dying around us due to how we take from nature and give nothing back.

Materially there is a growing gap between rich and poor and this is proven to bring great damage to society – a growing underclass given a life sentence to poverty, yet constantly reminded they have no future as our culture celebrates only material culture as symbols of success.

Our political institutions are found wanting their obsession with ideology and their relationship with the media not humanity and the future of a sustainable economy is worrisome.

We run our world in which we place a slide rule over every aspect of human life, and apply an economic value to every aspect of human life – we have become more machine like than we care to imagine.

Culturally – an industrial mindset has evolved into an extreme form of capitalism that has pervaded all our cultural and civic institutions.

It OK to hack into the voice mails of murdered school girls as a tax paying member of society to sell tabloid newspapers and as the owner of a media corporation expect the government of the day will waive through a merger of media companies to make you the most powerful media player in Britain.

The press and the media in their quest to make their quarterly numbers are complicit in framing key issues of society in destructive ways: race, religion, immigration, homosexuality, education, the war on terror, abortion and not encouraging honest debate, whilst celebrating a vacuous celebrity culture.

Its OK as a banking institution to ask the us the people of Britain and the rest of Europe to bail out the banks for which we will forever paying, whilst laundering billions of drug cartel money, to fix the libor rate to conduct massive tax fraud and pay themselves extortionate bonuses. Yet in Thamesmead a place in London of some 40,000 homes there is not one bank as the banks deem these people too poor, where the nearest bank is a 45 min bus ride away and where in Britain 10% of the UK population does not have access to any form of conventional credit where 4m people every week borrow from pay day lenders locking them into spiralling debt, poverty and at times lost limbs.

This market fundamentalism does not recognise that markets can only function properly through well designed social, political and cultural contexts – the industrialised mindset has pulled these apart.

Work for many people is soul destroying and highly stressful, the most prescribed drugs in the world are antidepressants, as finance over took management. In fact between 1993 to 2002 the number of anti depressants proscribed rose from 10.8 to 26.6m. Whilst shareholders are monarch, their managers MBA slide rule educated manage deals and numbers, not people, not humanity – cost has overtaken value. And we have paid the price. There is a reason The Office the TV ‘comedy’ was so universal successful it pointed to the crisis of work for many people.

Culturally the industrial world gave up the idea of an open civic society in which we are all actors

Spiritually – In the worship of all things material we have turned away from the spiritual in a fast moving world in which many people are forced to improvise their lives, without a life sat nav – their suffer severe psychological damage and either become fundamental in their views to protect themselves from an alien world, or become a part of a growing ghost army for which our health service has no adequate response.

The industrial machine cannot deal with the idea that humanity is multidimensional and part of that multidimensionality is our spiritual need as Charles Handy wrote we have all become hungry spirits.

In this work, you conceive of the future as a design challenge. What does this mean? What design tools do we need to bring to bear to create a future worth living?

There are six principles in No Straight Lines that addresses this philosophically and practically these are:

[1] Ambiguity: How do organisations of all creeds deal with a more complex and increasingly ambiguous world?

There is a need for a skill set to be acquired so that people in organisations can start to become competent at pattern recognition and systems thinking. So they can start to see new models and ways of organising and creating revenue if that is required.

From pattern recognition we can start to develop a new literacy that enables us to describe new possibilities and destinations

[2] Adaptiveness: How do those organisations push through from living in an ambiguous world to one in which they can begin to design for adaptation?

Adaptiveness is a mindset of being prepared to upgrade constantly, hardware, software, organisational structures and business models. To constantly; create, critique, collaborate and communicate – which becomes a cognitive learning culture, which evolves into an ability of identifying key emerging technology, or process and how to use it properly. It requires constant iteration.

[3] Openness, Openness is resilience: How do organisations learn to design for a more open world – which will be necessary for survival?

The concept of being open facilitates a new organisational / social – civic / commercial capability.

It is inclusive by design based upon mutuality: sharing knowledge, information, data, and resources – which redistributive and regenerative. This takes us beyond how an industrial world works and enables people to come together to create for the collective good.

We can think about open api’s, open to new ideas, open innovation, open source, open legal frameworks, open networked eco-systems, open business models, open data and even an open society.

[4] Particiaptory tools and cultures: How do organisations learn to design for a more participatory world?

Collaborative effort demonstrates new organisational capability it is as MIT professor Otto Scharmer writes an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving networks of relationships, and is created out of social and intellectual capital.

This is a topic that needs working at as participatory cultures can be manifest in the physical world as well as in evolved into organisational platforms, large scale and small.

It has the potential to be more lightweight, more effective, deliver accelerated innovation and learning and can be used at any point within the process of an organisation, internally or externally.

So we need to think about the company as a community, or the collaborative enterprise, or even how an NGO might operate.

[5] Craftsmanship: How do organisations develop a methodology for craftsmanship at a personal and more organisational level?
Craftsmanship is about asking is what I create for the collective good?

They are open to new ideas and techniques, and prepared to explore alternative futures as practical possibilities – the craftsman is always in beta.

They are good pattern builders and have the ability to see whole systems as well as having the ability to localise and investigate detail.

They are inherently curious and constantly work on expression and technique. In this way when they come to execute they are committed in a creative act. The knowledge and technique enabled by play (experimentation) is innate, the systems thinking enables clarity and context.

The engaged craftsman is a committed craftsman, ergo the engaged organisation is a committed organisation.

The craftsman is self confident as the architect of their future and happy to be so – the craftsman is defined by the actions they take.
In this process is a personal requirement to always think and act ethically as well as creatively and entrepreneurially. Craftsmanship also manifests itself as an organisational culture that is richer and more meaningful.

[6] Epic: How do organisations prepare for and design for transformation?

Epic comes from a gaming terminology – as the gamer always seeks an epic win.

Designing for transformation is seeking multiple outcomes: better socially, better organisationally, better economically.

It requires real capability to expertly describe a new reality to see, connect to a create a best possible future – it requires persistency, entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity to connect to new and novel ideas and turn those ideas into a tangible reality.

You propose that, instead of continuing to design along industrial lines, we begin designing around the needs of humanity. Are the human needs you propose to address continuous with, or fundamentally different from, the needs addressed by industrial production?

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, the outcomes created universally benefitted humanity – today our industrial mindset fails in that endeavour.

So no longer industrial production and an extreme form of capitalism are beneficial for humanity. This upgrading to a human centric OS must deliver for the collective good and it must empower us, give us more autonomy, more efficiency, more freedom, greater efficiency, be more mutual and allow for greater diversity.

Which organizations have you highlighted in your book, and how have they been designed around the needs of humanity?

In the book for example I point to healthcare: Nova Scotia is undergoing a systemic change in how it operates to deliver better policy and action on the ground through a process called participatory leadership. Patients Know Best is a platform that enables clinicians and patients to co-create better diagnostics around common illness in unique circumstances, reducing wrong diagnosis, over prescription of drugs and reducing the pressure on the waiting rooms in hospitals.

Finance: Crowd funding is another example of how a once closed and vertical industry is slowly being transformed by allowing a greater swathe of humanity to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship. Fair Finance is a business that lends to the 10% of the UK population that the banks will not lend to, which has resulted in the funding of 150+ businesses and the saving of some £12.5 million for rent associations from pay day loan sharks.

Entrepreneurship: Springboard in the UK is working with young startups through a process of intensive mentorship – the mentors are unpaid, their only benefit collectively pooling their intellectual capital to enable those start ups succeed faster.

Agriculture: In India we look at how mobile technologies and a service called echoupal is enabling farmers to climb out of the economic cycle of poverty and also how Yeo Valley Farms which has the largest organic diary farm in the UK turned from an oil based economy to an organic one which as well as economic benefits environmental ones as well.

Education: here the investigation also looks at an mobile technologies and the use of ebooks and kindles in Africa bringing the possibility of education to many millions of children, and a school in London which won a RIBA award for being designed to encourage learning in new a creative ways that has also increased attendance, and reduced truancy and petty crime in the area.

There are also other examples including commerce, and manufacturing. In which the six design principles have all been applied with great success. Interestingly enough none of them has cost the earth.


No Straight Lines is available for download or purchase here.