Futures and metaphors

Posted in books, future by thenextwavefutures on 31 October, 2015

CLA2I reviewed CLA 2.0, the second causal layered analysis reader, for the APF’s newsletter, Compass, and the full review is attached as a PDF below. To declare an interest: I have a co-written chapter (with Wendy Schultz) in the reader, based on our article [opens pdf] on comparative scenarios methods in the Journal of Futures Studies.

The layers of Causal Layered Analysis are litanies, systems, worldviews and metaphors. One of the things reading CLA 2.0 for the review made me realise was the importance of metaphors in influencing the impact of futures work. So I’m sharing that part of the review here, below the fold.


Wars, hegemony, and long waves

Posted in books, long waves, warfare by thenextwavefutures on 3 July, 2015

The Battle of Waterloo,
by Clément-Auguste Andrieux (1852)
Public domain via Wikipedia

In an earlier post in my “long waves” series I wrote briefly about the war school and the different theories that existed within it. After this post, I plan mostly to move on from Joshua Goldstein’s 1988 book, Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. In summary, there are three “war” theories: The leadership cycle school, based on the work of Modelski; the world-system school, led by Wallerstein; and the power transition school, which has emerged from the research of Organski. Goldstein summarises these differences well:

The leadership cycle school focuses on the role of global war in establishing a new international order under a world leader roughly every century. The neo-Marxist world-system school focuses on hegemony and rivalry in the core of the world economy, linking hegemonic cycles to pairs of long waves. The power transition school focuses on changes in national power and their effects on war and hegemony.


Disturbing the future: my ‘Five Books’ interview

Posted in books, future by thenextwavefutures on 28 June, 2015

WP_20150529_003 (1)The website Five Books has a simple proposition: it asks people to nominate five books on a subject and then it interviews them about their choices. Anyway, I was privileged to talk to Bea Wilford of Five Books about futures and futures books recently, and the interview has now appeared on the site.

The books I chose are in the picture:


Long waves and the innovation question

Posted in books, future, innovation, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 20 June, 2015
Image by Caroline Neld

Stephenson’s Rocket: an abundance of speed.
Image from Caroline’s Miscellany

In my last post summarising some of the key ideas in Joshua Goldstein’s book on long waves, I looked at the different schools and some of the evidence. In this one, I’m going to look at the model he constructs on the dynamics of a long wave, and its link to innovation. (Discussion of the war school(s) will follow in another post). But I also realise that I haven’t spent enough time on his work on whether long waves or long cycles exist at all. So I’m going to start there.

Collecting evidence

In Chapter 4, Goldstein brings together the long wave dates going back to 1485 from 33 different scholars (I added a 34th from a book published more recently). These are data sets that operate at different scales (e.g. national, regional or continental) with different data (e.g. prices, production) and with very differently levels of granularity. The full dataset included 55 series, as follows:

  • Prices: 28 series
  • Production: 10 series
  • Innovation and invention: 9 series
  • Capital investment: 2 series
  • Trade: 4 series
  • Real wages: 2 series

I’ve reassembled the dates he derives from these into a spreadsheet, which still needs some work to extract the dates as charts. But it does suggest that there is reasonable consistency between the dates of different scholars working in different schools, and that there are reasonable regular cycles of downswing and upswing.

Which isn’t to say that cycles are exactly the same length, or would need to be for the theory to hold. Goldstein quotes Kondratiev, who argued repetition is more important than periodicity.

The “regularity “of long waves should refer not to periodicity but to “the regularity of their repetition in time” and to the international synchrony of different economic series.


Long waves: discussing the evidence

Posted in books, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 30 May, 2015

Image: Wikipedia

The second post in my series on long wave theories

The idea of long waves is associated with the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who was eventually shot by Stalin for his troubles. But the first versions of the theory came from two Dutch scholars a decade earlier, van Gelderen and de Wolff. Kondratiev studied price data (and therefore effectively was looking at long swings in economic investment activity), but other long wave theorists have developed their theories based on different drivers of change, from innovation, to capitalist restructuring, to long-run capital investment, to war.

My plan in these posts was to review the different theories by re-reading the various theorists, but the American academic Joshua Goldstein has done a lot of this work in some detail in his 1988 book Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, and has also posted the whole of the book online. I’d say his book is essential reading if you’re interested in the idea of long wave theory.

This post will draw on some of my wider reading, but will mostly synthesise the painstaking work that Goldstein has done.

The battle with bullshit

Posted in books, economics, finance, politics by thenextwavefutures on 4 January, 2015

IMG Andrew Curry CC BY-NC-SANo Future For You, edited by John Summers, Chris Lehmann and Thomas Frank. MIT Press, 2014.

One of my pleasures over the holiday period has been reading The Baffler‘s third book-length collection of articles, No Future For You. (I read the first one, Commodify Your Dissent in the early 2000s, but missed the second one.) For those new to The Baffler: it is a radical American magazine, published three times a year, that has mostly been going since 1988. The list of authors in this latest collection is impressive, from Baffler founder Thomas Frank to Susan Faludi, Evgeny Morozov, Rick Perlstein, Barbara Ehrenreich, and David Graeber. The collection of subjects ranges wide across the sociopathies of our late Potemkin-capitalism, from gentrification to LinkedIn, to Vice, NewsCorp and the Washington Post, to Sheryl Sandberg and the Waltons, to Fifty Shades of Grey and Prometheus to all of the President’s biographers. I bought the book to have a print copy of David Graeber’s magisterial essay “Of Flying Cars And The Declining Rate of Profit” on the failure of innovation in the digital age.


If there is a theme that binds these different authors and their disparate subjects, it is that The Baffler has a sharp eye for hucksters and hucksterism. And more: that in our present era of late capitalism, with its “morbid symptoms” manifested by a failed order desperately trying to keep itself and its privileges afloat, hucksterism is the latest, or last, symptom of therentier economy.


The end of the future

Posted in books, culture, future, innovation, long waves, technology by thenextwavefutures on 29 November, 2014

Mark-Fisher-Ghosts-Of-My-Life-Zero-Books-hauntology-A-Year-In-The-Country-442x575One of the most tiresome tropes on the futures circuit is the idea that the world is speeding up, often accompanied by a dodgy video with dodgier data. It’s one of those things that almost every generation in history has believed, along with the notions that young people are less respectful than they used to be and that society is going to the dogs. It also helps to sell books and consultancy projects. And broadly speaking, it is just plain wrong. To borrow Sohail Inayatullah’s terminology, it is a “used future”, borrowed from someone else.


Seven notes on the #IndyRef and its aftermath

Posted in books, politics by thenextwavefutures on 20 September, 2014

ballot-paper-scottish-independence-referendum1We know the referendum result but the impact of the campaign is going to be reverberating for a long time to come.

American sports commentators have a saying, that “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” It’s a Wagnerian opera reference, apparently, but the meaning is obvious: this game is going right to the end. On the day after the Referendum in Scotland it was easy to think it was over – especially for disconsolate ‘Yes’ voters, and flag-waving (and Nazi-saluting) Scottish ‘loyalists.’  But there are good reasons to think that the Referendum itself is only half-time in this particular game. I know that it’s probably not a good idea to mix metaphors about sport and politics, but this particular game has a long way to go. Here’s seven quick notes on why, below the fold.


Good and bad strategy

Posted in books, business, strategy by thenextwavefutures on 15 December, 2013

I read earlier this year Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy Bad Strategy, much acclaimed when it was published in 2011. And you can see why: it is lucid, well-writtem, and largely free of jargon, which already marks it out from the average business book. It also has a clear view of what strategy is (and what it is not), which is welcome, given how much the word is abused. And the business stories he tells illuminate his argument.

Rumelt is entertaining on the differences between bad strategy and good strategy – and I’ll come back to the bad strategy later. Good strategy, he says, is composed of a kernel of three elements (p77):

  • A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the complexity by identifying the critical aspects of the situations.
  • A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge.
  • A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy.

In particular, I found his advice on diagnosis valuable. A good diagnosis “should replace the overwhelming complexity of reality with a simpler story, a story that calls attention to its crucial aspects.” This is, in effect, a sense making exercise. And a good strategic diagnosis does a second critical thing: “it also defines a domain of action.” Good strategy can then be built on a diagnosis that points to areas of leverage over outcomes. (more…)

The New North

Posted in books, climate change, economics, global by thenextwavefutures on 2 December, 2012

The New NorthI’ve just had a review of The New North published in the APF’s quarterly newsletter, Compass. I’m sharing it here.

As the Arctic ice cover shrinks ever smaller, it seems a good time to review Laurence Smith‘s book The New North, which was well-received when it was published in hardback and has just been published in paperback. It tells four stories about the way in which climate change will re-shape the north of the planet (generously defined as the world north of 45*N) in the decades to 2050.

Smith, a geographer at UCLA, describes the book as “a 2050 thought experiment”, and any futurist would have been pleased to have written it. His building blocks are four long-term global trends – demographics, natural resource demand, globalisation, and climate change. Along the way a fifth intrudes, of “enduring legal frameworks”, that he sees as an outcome but I would regard as a further long-term trend driven by value shifts towards increasingly rights-based political frameworks.