For the Strategic Creativity Book Club, we read How to Thrive in the Next Economy by John Thackara. The former director of the Netherlands Design Institute and the Doors of Perception events of the 1990s is a foundational thinker who has helped designers understand that design could – must – do more than only support narcissistic consumption. In this book, he tackles the question of whether and how we can reform to stop the ecocide of our planet.
The book is full of examples of transformative practices which might bring this about. Is some better way possible? We try to imagine what it might be, but can’t, because we can only think in terms of what we know. Another paradox: we must think much more broadly and systemically than ever before, while acting in mainly local, small-scale ways.
We emerge with mixed feelings. On the one hand, eliminating 95% of our energy consumption means living in poverty. That is hardly realistic or attractive. (Would a guaranteed basic income help?) None of us can really imagine living or working like some of the people in the examples in the book. Yet. On the other hand, Thackara’s analysis helps you recognize myths and think beyond them, so if a chance arrives to “escape from an economy that devours nature”, we’re more likely to recognize and support it. So while we still can’t predict the future, we may be better able to read signs of transformative change and help it along.
The first idea we took home is that systems feeling is needed next to systems thinking. This implies that we are part of the systems that we design and that we must also try to experience how it feels to be part of the changes that we design for, but also, much more radically, it advocates that we must approach systems not just rationally (e.g. scientifically) but also emotionally (e.g. consider everything to be alive).
The second is that when designing for the future, we should not think in terms of one extreme or the other, but be ready for new combinations of both (for example, a scientific and traditional approach to healthcare).
The main takeaway is a new idea of how transformation might happen. To quote Thackara: “It’s like the picture in a jigsaw puzzle that slowly emerges as we add each piece.”