All contentious issues have one thing in common: opposing sides love to drown the rest of us in information. Why? Because, as most of them like to say, ‘the public just needs to be better informed and once they see the logic of my argument, they’ll support my cause.’
But that, in fact, isn’t what happens. Rather than giving us a clear winner, we end up with a logjam. The end result is the rest of us, unsure who to believe, press pause. Uncertainty breeds conflict, and as our conflicts multiply, so does our level of anger.
We are living in very angry times, brought about by the rise of new communications technologies. By lowering the barriers for people to connect with each other, power is shifting away from traditional hierarchical models of authority – governments, corporations and even large non-profits – towards flat, interconnected networks. Hierarchies contain conflict: networks release them.
It’s tempting to look around at all the big problems we need to address and tell whoever is in charge to wake us when it’s over. Problem is, we’d be talking to ourselves. Communications technologies have handed power to the people, and we’re not quite ready to bear the weight of responsibility that comes with the crown.
Just as Reconstruction and Confederation saw the emergence of new political, economic and social structures to support people’s changing values, so too do we face a similar task. The railway and telegraph were that era’s technological innovations; the Internet and World Wide Web are ours.
Today, it is almost impossible to determine precisely how much information exists on the Internet. A commonly repeated statement made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt states that we create as much information every two days online as we did from the dawn of human civilization up to 2003.
All that personalization works great when we know what we are searching for, but what happens when we don’t? How can we use this world-changing access to information to solve our greatest challenges? There is an old business school adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, but in a world awash with data, how do we choose what to measure?
To develop answers for society’s wicked problems, we need to know if we’re asking the right questions. Right now, most of us don’t know if we are. It’s why we need to embrace difficult conversations and purposefully wade into sometimes angry, chaotic debates.
Why? Because somewhere in that chaos lies the clues we need to identify where opposing positions connect. That connection point is where change begins – and where wicked ideas take flight.
Want to learn more? Got a big problem that needs solving? Contact us, we’d love to help.