A crucial challenge for any project is project management: keeping track of different components and stages, delegated responsibilities, coordination of complicated workflows. For humanity to successfully undergo the Great Turning—the transition from our devastating Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society—there is ultimately the requirement for the completion of a set number of tasks. This article is a thought experiment proposing an organization focused on defining, tracking and supporting the progress of all the changes that must happen for a successful Great Turning.
The prevailing mode of project management is known as “waterfall style.” Waterfall style project management gets its name from the reliance of Gantt charts to represent the serial completion of distinct project phases. Useful for the massive infrastructure, construction, and manufacturing projects of the 19th and 20th centuries, waterfall management is now considered to be particularly ill-suited for the successful accomplishment of uncertain objectives in dynamic environments.
In waterfall management, interaction with the management framework only occurs at the culmination of a major phase, or the entire project itself. There are several problems with this. Often times the ground circumstances have evolved to a point where the value that has been developed is no longer relevant. Other times the beneficiaries of the value realize that their intention was completely different than what has been created, but it is too late. In other situations, critical flaws in the original design are unearthed only at the very end, resulting in an unsalvageable project.
The time delay of the idea-implementation-learning cycle is so long that while the present moment drives on, those using waterfall management often find themselves living in the past, working towards an objective that is no longer relevant, or on behalf of a stakeholder who no longer exists.
The technology industry has been a hotbed of project management innovation given the high stakes and large sums involved. Teams that are more effective in planning and resource allocation create an "unfair" advantage that is often the difference between life and death in harsh, capital-scarce competitive environments. Through the painful destruction of untold billions of dollars of investment value, a new generation of "agile" project management paradigms have emerged, including customer development, scrum, lean, and kanban. Some of the pioneers of this movement include Steve Blank (customer development), Jeff Sutherland (scrum), Eric Reis (lean), Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda (just-in-time-production).
At the heart of agile systems lies a radical humility that recognizes the cognitive limitations of the project team. An agile team is able to continuously integrate contemporary information that is uncovered on the unknown frontier found at the other side of the drawing board. Such teams have a greater access to "truth" as what they know and what they have learned can be integrated at a previously unattainable level.
Activism comes from a very deep and personal place. People are moved to struggle against incumbent forces, often at great personal risk, in order to support of a more equitable world. Activist teams are usually poorly staffed and under-resourced, and yet must take on some of the best-capitalized institutions in the world. One way to re-balance the scales is to allow distributed activist to unite under a commonly agreed project management framework to, in essence, allow the thousands of Lilliputians to take on the Industrial Growth goliath.
One promising framework that may hold relevance for the Great Turning is called Scrum. Although Scrum was pioneered in software development teams, it has since swept into a variety of fields such as government, education and fashion. Scrum has proven so successful at enabling teams to accomplish ambitious goals that many venture capital firms prefer companies that already have Scrum-related processes in place. Scrum focuses on improving the effectiveness of teams rather than individuals by leveraging a few key concepts.
The first is that work must organized into a two-week (or some gated time period) burst of activity called a sprint. This provides a sense of momentum and progress that the team can feed off as compared to the smothering administration of a multi-year program. At the end of each sprint, teams actively search for ways to improve coordination and effectiveness, leading to a consistent stream of tiny improvement that compound into a large multiple over time.
Also, teams focus on presenting usable value to the end user at frequent intervals to get real-world feedback on the effectiveness of the designs, and whether the activities defined for the upcoming sprints should be reprioritized. This reprioritization of work based on real-world information means that the team is able to leverage the Pareto Principle and persistently hone in on the 20% of activities that is driving 80% of results.
Reprioritization of work is only possible because of the fundamental approach Scrum takes towards describing work activities. Rather than creating a highly specific instruction guide for how the work is to be done, Scrum describes work through user stories. User stories are empathetic descriptions of a future state of reality as seen from the perspective of the individual or group that will be consuming the output of the work.
A user story is written in plain English and consists of who the end user of the activity is, what is the reality they would like to see, and why they want that to be the case. Story writing is an art that is best learned through practice, and the most effective stories are written in a way that allows them to be accomplished by a focused team in a couple of days without waiting for any external dependencies. Each story is then assigned a number of points by the team based on collaborative discussion in an attempt to capture the qualitative difficulty of realizing the story. Once teams have determined how many points they are able to complete per sprint, and they compare that rate with the tally of points affiliated with every user story in version one of the system release, they have a fairly robust appreciation for how long it will take for them to accomplish their goals.
Great Turning Co.
Writing all the user stories involved in making the Great Turning from industrial growth to life-affirming society is a time consuming task. The only feasible way of addressing this hurdle in a timely manner is by crowdsourcing the support from communities of activists all over the world. Maintaining and sharing the real-time rate of progress Earth is making towards successive versions of the Great Turning is in of itself a consciousness transforming experience. Users may feel more hopeful and driven to meaningful activity once they have visibility into how they can help and where their actions fit into the bigger picture. In addition, this resource could provide greater coordination amongst unrelated activists who may be deploying redundant assets on one part of the challenge while another more crucial or emergent area goes unsupported.
One proven way of binding unrelated communities into a cooperative whole is currency. Great Turning Co. could conceivably issue its own currency—GreatCoin—to support teams who successfully complete points towards the great turning. Thanks to technology being pioneered at San Francisco-based startup Blockstream (raised $21M in 2014 led by Khosla Ventures, Real Ventures, and Reid Hoffman), this currency can be launched on top of the existing Bitcoin protocol in a cost-effective manner rather than having to be reinvented from scratch, thus providing liquidity as well as convertibility into fiat. Individuals and communities who were going to take positive steps anyways, such as converting to renewables or enacting an Earth-friendly law, could by additionally incentivized by receiving GreatCoin.
Just as governments issue currency and bonds to finance their ideologically-driven war campaigns, so too is it now possible for an ideologically-driven private organization take a similar step. Individual citizens may choose to acquire some GreatCoin as a way of boosting the exchange rate value and incentivizing more teams to solve for points. As points are assigned user stories about the Great Turning, so too might they be assigned to user stories about the Great Unraveling. Organizations that are advancing the disintegration of society can also be tracked and assigned GreatCoin debts, that can be paid off for promotional or CSR reasons. Large private and corporate donors may choose to place money into raising the value of GreatCoin, which would have an instantaneous, system-wide effect on incentivizing transformation as opposed to addressing one of the niche areas.
The only way to get such as currency to operate as an effective organizing mechanism would be for early investors to expect a reasonable reward for the risk they have taken on in jumpstarting the system. For this to happen, a concrete social and financial benefit of acquiring GreatCoin would need to be nurtured. This could be addressed using marketing (non-profit donation), messaging (articulation as a luxury item with public leader board), business development (use as credit card/airline/hotel points), or other approaches.
Perhaps the final value of GreatCoin would reside not solely in its financial value, but in the cultural value it carries of signifying an individual who has sacrificed on behalf of the greater good. In this way GreatCoin acts like a piece of ownership in the life-affirming planetary economy we are working to birth.
A Priceless Task
The values and concepts of the financial industry provide the logic for today’s Industrial Growth Society. It is worth noting that all profits in the financial world that are paid out in the future are discounted to a reduced amount when an analyst is trying to determine the present day valuation of a company. That is because money paid today is worth at least the principle amount multiplied by the rate of risk-free interest as defined by US government treasure bills when compared to the value of that same amount of money being paid a year from now. The inverse is true for debt—in that paying a debt today is worth more than paying it a year from now, because the principle will be compounded by the rate of interest as defined by the contract.
Through this lens, nearly all of the activities that must occur for a successful Great Turning will have some sort of very real, financial cost associated with them. If we consider these costs as an inevitable expense if we are to avoid catastrophe, then by the logic of Wall Street, paying those expenses today is worth substantially more than paying them in the future. In addition, by paying them today, a multiplicity of positive externalities that have very positive financial benefits for the Earth community are realized including unforeseen R&D breakthroughs based on organic life, and the avoidance of mass trauma and instability associated with natural calamities.
Not every action required for the Great Turning can be captured as a user story. However, by dredging some percentage of the task at hand out of the unconscious unknown and expressing it in hopeful, solution-driven terms, there may be an opportunity to radically increase planetary engagement and accelerate positive transformation. The North won against the South in the American Civil War for economic reasons, as was the case with the Allies against the Axis in World War II. With extremely well capitalized big interests standing in the way of global change, it would be a meaningful step to continue to integrate a financial perspective into revolutionary efforts as is being done with impact investing and planet positive businesses such as Elon Musk's Tesla Motors.