Solving Big Problems with a Technology of Abundance

Wakanda Forever

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

IGods by Craig Detweiler

We need a theology of abundance to deal with the outcomes of our technology, the massive fruitfulness that the Creator God baked into us. We need a theology of abundance equal to the grace and generosity found in the blood of Jesus poured out for many. We need a theology of abundance commensurate with the superabundant presence of the Holy Spirit that can flood our senses, short-circuit our rationale. Unfortunately, our economics is built on a model of scarcity, and our theology feels equally impoverished.

Power comes from faith

Discussing his book David and Goliath, in an interview, Malcolm Gladwell states:
Power comes from faith.
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.
Matthew 21:21

Go Make Something Happen ~ Seth Godin

In a review of David and Goliath, Seth Godin states:
The point [of Malcolm Gladwell’s book] is that we are ALL capable of doing great work, ALL capable of doing work that matters, ALL capable of heroism. Why then, do some succeed and others never even try?
Silicon Valley works for the very reason that a broken inner-city fails. Because of cultural expectations. People become heroes when they’re surrounded by a culture that allows them to dream it’s possible.
Surrounding our young people in a culture that allows them to dream to become heroes.

What happened to the future?

What Happened to the Future? is the title of the manifesto of the Founders Fund. The subtitle is “We Wanted Flying Cars, Instead We Got 140 Characters.” Jason Pontin in the MIT Technology Review wrote an article entitled “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems:”
[B]ig problems that people had imagined technology would solve, such as hunger, poverty, malaria, climate change, cancer, and the diseases of old age, have come to seem intractably hard….
Max Levchin, [a] cofounder of PayPal, says, “I feel like we should be aiming higher. The founders of a number of startups I encounter have no real intent of getting anywhere huge … There’s an awful lot of effort being expended that is just never going to result in meaningful, disruptive innovation.”

Juicero

The idea that “there’s an awful lot of effort being expended that is just never going to result in meaningful, disruptive innovation” is brought to life in a Guardian article by Ben Tarnoff, “America has become so anti-innovation – it’s economic suicide:”
Juicero made the perfect punchline: a celebrated startup that had received a fawning profile from the New York Times and $120m in funding from blue-chip VCs such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures was selling an expensive way to automate something you could do faster for free. It was, in any meaningful sense of the word, a scam.
Juicero is hilarious. But it also reflects a deeply unfunny truth about Silicon Valley, and our economy more broadly. Juicero is not, as its apologists at Voxclaim, an anomaly in an otherwise innovative investment climate. On the contrary: it’s yet another example of how profoundly anti-innovation America has become.

Thomas Edison on failure

Solving big problems requires constant innovation. While most people equate innovation with creativity, innovation is not the same thing as creativity. Creativity is about coming up with ideas that have value. Innovation is about executing ideas — converting ideas into a workable solutions.
Ideas will only get you so far. Consider companies that struggled even after a competitor entered the market and made the great idea transparent to all. Did Xerox stumble because nobody there noticed that Canon had introduced personal copiers? Did Kodak fall behind because they were blind to the rise of digital photography? Did Sears suffer a decline because they had no awareness of Wal-Mart’s new every-day-low-price discount retailing format? In every case, the ideas were there. It was the follow-through that was lacking. In fact, innovation initiatives face their stiffest resistance after they show hints of success, begin to consume significant resources, and clash with the existing organization at multiple levels — that is, long after the idea generation stage.
Managers and politicians seem to be enamored with the Big Idea Hunt for three reasons. First, coming up with an idea does not create tension with the status quo. Second, ideation is sexy, while execution is long, drawn out, and boring. Third, companies and governments think they are good at execution. But generally they’re good at execution in their core competencies; the capabilities making that possible are poisonous for innovation.

Genius is one percent inspiration

Thomas Edison, the greatest innovator of all time, put it well: “Genius [great innovation] is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Reflect on how much time your organization spends on inspiration versus perspiration. What are the barriers to execution? How are you attempting to overcome them?
In The Case for God, Karen Armstrong explains that until the modern period, the major Western monotheisms all concerned themselves primarily with practice, the doing of religion, rather than doctrine. A good Muslim was one who stood alongside and supported the Pillars; a good Jew observed Sabbath and remained committed to the Law and the ritual year; and a good Christian embodied the Sermon on the Mount by caring for the marginalized, promoting compassion and peace, and sharing God’s love. This is what it meant to be religious, Armstrong explains:
Religion as defined by the great sages of India, China, and the Middle East was not a notional activity but a practical one; it did not require belief in a set of doctrines but rather hard, disciplined work, without which any religious teaching remained opaque and incredible.
For most of Western history, religion has been primarily a matter of orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. In fact, no doctrine made any sense without participation in the community of faith and in its rituals. No doubt, there were certain thoughts or “beliefs” that mattered and were of extreme importance; however, unlike today, these convictions were never understood as either the core or the purpose of the religious life.
In fact, for most of Western history “belief” has meant nothing like what it means today. Today, when someone asks me if I believe in God, for example, they are asking if I assent to the proposed verity or the factual existence of God—and usually it is in reference to a very specific understanding of that God. Similarly, if I’m asked if I have “faith in Christ”, the question is whether I agree with the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth was divine, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead, or some form of that story. In both cases, questions of “belief” and questions of “faith” require answers of thought.
Yet, as surprising as it may seem, these understandings are relatively recent. “Faith” has its etymological roots in the Greek pistis, “trust; commitment; loyalty; engagement.” Jerome translated pistis into the Latin fides (“loyalty”) and credo (which was from cor do, “I give my heart”). The translators of the first King James Bible translated credo into the English “belief,” which came from the Middle English bileven (“to prize; to value; to hold dear”). Faith in God, therefore, was a trust in and loyal commitment to God. Belief in Christ was an engaged commitment to the call and ministry of Jesus; it was a commitment to do the gospel, to be a follower of Christ. In neither case were “belief” or “faith” a matter of intellectual assent.

Great achievers of history

From a video essay about creativity we learn:
All of history’s greatest figures achieved success in almost exactly the same way. But rather than celebrating this part of the creative process we ignore it.
This missing chapter in the story of success reveals the secret to doing meaningful work. But in the modern world, full of distraction, do we have what it takes to do great things.
All of history’s greatest figures achieved success by having pistis, “trust; commitment; loyalty; engagement.”
Is there a business parallel suggested by a paper by Peter Denning where innovation is not ideas generated, but practices adopted? What if entrepreneurs, rather than inventors, are the real innovators? Should we worry less about stimulating creativity and imagination, and more about developing our skills at getting our communities to adopt new practices. We would approach design not as an expression of ideas but as the framework for new practices?
In addition, Peter Denning, co-author of The Innovator’s Wayhas been puzzling over why it seems that our innovation adoption rates are low even though our idea production rates are high. The overall success rate of innovation initiatives in business is around 4%. Yet many businesses report that they have too many ideas and waste precious time and resources struggling to select the ones most likely to succeed and then work them through to adoption. We are idea rich, selection baffled, and adoption poor.
From a Forbes article by Steve Denning we learn that a magisterial study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge shows the rates of return on assets and on invested capital for 20,000 US firms from 1965 to 2011. It shows that “managerialism” has been steadily failing for the last half century.

Economy-wide Return on Invested Capital

The above graphic shows that something has gone so terribly wrong with the US private sector—the supposed engine of economic growth and the supposed creators of jobs. When the best firms have rates of return on assets or on invested capital of, on average, just over one percent, we have a management catastrophe on our hands. An ROA of just over one percent means that firms are dying faster and faster: the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 is now less than fifteen years and declining rapidly.
Fifty years ago, big firms were in charge of the marketplace. Then globalization, the internet and finally social media changed everything. Customers have choices, reliable information and an ability to connect with each other. The result for hierarchical bureaucracies is devastating: game over. Now the power in the marketplace had shifted from seller to buyer. And in this new ecosystem, big lumbering hierarchical bureaucracies of the 20th Century just aren’t agile enough to compete.
As Robert J. Pera, Chairman and CEO of Ubiquiti Networks writes in his blog:
Traditional company business models aren’t built to empower customers and pass on value to them.  They are built to extract profitability from them.  And information asymmetry gives them the perfect cover.  But, with an increasingly connected world paving the way for more and more information transparency to the customer, all of this is about to change. No longer are “Insiders” able to control the flow of information.  If a product is great, soon customers will tell other customers on the Web and rave reviews spread like wild fire.  Similarly, if a product is bad or customers realize they are being ripped-off, relationships will provide little recourse to contain that information from being widely disseminated.

Old Model vs. Future Model

Solving big problems as Roman Krznaric suggests also requires empathy:
I believe that empathy – the imaginative act of stepping into another person’s shoes and viewing the world from their perspective – is a radical tool for social change and should be a guiding light for the art of living. Over the past decade, I have become convinced that it has the power not only to transform individual lives, but to help tackle some of the great problems of our age, from wealth inequality to violent conflicts and climate change.

It is important to understand what empathy is and is not. If you see a homeless person living under a bridge you may feel sorry for him and give him some money as you pass by. That is pity or sympathy, not empathy. If, on the other hand, you make an effort to look at the world through his eyes, to consider what life is really like for him, and perhaps have a conversation that transforms him from a faceless stranger into a unique individual, then you are empathising.

Wired to Care

“Wired to Care will convince you that businesses succeed with their hearts as much as their heads. Dev Patnaik has given us just what we need for the lean years ahead.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and The Tipping Point

Dev Patnaik, author of Wired to Care:

At Jump Associates, my colleagues and I have had the chance to collaborate with some of the world’s most amazing companies. And if there’s one thing that we’ve learned in all that time, it’s that companies prosper when they’re able to create widespread empathy for the world around them. That’s why I ended up writing Wired to Care, which shows how great companies around the world, from Nike to IBM, benefit from building a culture of widespread empathy for the people they serve.

The Corporation

The evidence is overwhelming on the need of empathy to drive innovation, yet as the documentary The Corporation argues, most corporations have the characteristics of a psychopath. And as Russell Mokhiber in an article in The Corporate Crime Reporter tells us:
Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.
Whether in bodies or injuries or dollars lost, corporate crime and violence wins by a landslide.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 7:12

America’s Changing Religious Landscape (graph)

The U.S is home to the most Christians in the world, but the number of Americans who identify as Christian is declining, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.

36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated

In a NPR interview The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the retired dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., points out that to counter this decline it is time to talk about God in a grown-up way:
I’ve always felt that it’s important for religious people to have the same kind of philosophical stance they use in their religious life as they do in the rest of their life. And a lot of times I think religion — religions — ask people to sort of turn off the scientific part of their lives and just go and kind of think about God kind of pre-scientifically.
I don’t think we can do that. We’ve got to have a faith that is, in some sense, consonant with the way we think about the world scientifically. And again, I think one of the things the Pew study suggests to us is that if the church can get over its anxiety about talking about God in a grown-up way, we would actually reach out to and speak to more people than we do right now.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, stands outside the church in Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Talking about God is a grown-up way, starts with stop defending the Bible as a history or science book. As Peter Enns writes in The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It:
What makes the Bible God’s Word isn’t its uncanny historical accuracy, as some insist, but the sacred experiences these stories point to, beyond the words themselves. Watching these ancient pilgrims work through their faith, even wrestling with how they did that, models for us our own journeys of seeking to know God better and commune with Him more deeply….
Both sides—the “now we know the Bible is a pack of lies” side and the “Bible has to be historically accurate to be the Word of God” side—are wrong because they start from the same wrongheaded premise: any book worthy of being called “scripture” has to if anything, get history “right.”
The passionate defense of the Bible as a “history book” among the more conservative wings of Christianity, despite intentions, isn’t really an act of submission to God; it is making God submit to us.
Solving big problems and developing a Technology of Abundance requires thinking about God in a grown-up way
Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson

Most religion in the world doesn’t have theology. Theology is something very peculiar to Christianity. It didn’t even come from Jesus. It was an accident. The Greek world was heavily philosophical at the time Christianity was developing, and so the Christians adopted all this jargon from Greek philosophy and incorporated it into their religion; that became theology. I’ve never found it essential to my religion or to other religions. Judaism has practically no theology, and Islam has very little – Buddhism, even less.
The medieval philosopher and physician Moses Maimonides insisted and we agree that conflicts between science and the Bible arise from either a lack of scientific knowledge or a defective understanding of the Bible. Many great scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, George Washington Carver, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday and Louis Pasteur were deeply religious men.

Maimonides

In the Sixteenth Century, mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus formulated a heliocentric model, that is a model that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center, of the universe. In 1616, the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be formally heretical.
MIT-trained physicist and former member of United States Atomic Energy Commission Gerald Schroeder:
What does the position of the Earth have to do with belief in a creator of the universe or the validity of the Bible? Nowhere does the Bible claim that Earth is central to anything. In fact, the very first sentence of the Bible we read — ” … God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The heavens precede the Earth. As scientific data demonstrating the Sun’s centrality accumulated, the Church was forced into embarrassed retreat. So today, the popular perception is that science had proven the Bible wrong. In reality, the claim of Earth’s centrality had nothing to do with the Bible.
Similarly, Kepler’s discovery of the elliptical orbit of the planets did not sit well with the religious establishment. Circles were perfect geometric shapes, ellipses are defective. An infinitely powerful God would be expected to produce perfect orbits. Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach that a circle is better than an ellipse! Yet the Church condemned Kepler’s discovery.
Telsa - Time magazine

July 20, 1931; Celebrating Tesla’s 75th Birthday

Nikola Tesla’s father was an Orthodox priest and in his autobiography, Nikola wrote:
The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. My Mother had taught me to seek all truth in the Bible; therefore I devoted the next few months to the study of this work.

Tesla gives full credit to God for his ability to discover some amazing new ideas in the Bible. Microwave comes from the fourth chapter of Revelations. His idea of the alternating current comes from the book of Matthew. In other words from the Trinity. Again from his autobiography:
At this time I made a further careful study of the Bible, and discovered the key in Revelation. The first gratifying result was obtained in the spring of the succeeding year, when I reaching a tension of about 100,000,000 volts—one hundred million volts — with my conical coil, which I figured was the voltage of a flash of lightening.

America's Four Gods

[D]espite living in the most modernized and technologically advanced country, Americans report one of the world’s highest levels of belief in God. Americans’ faith in God appears constant even as we have come to embrace twenty-first-century technology and the benefits of modern science….
While Americans tend to be religiously devout, we paradoxically tend to know very little about religion, our own or others’. Religion scholar Stephen Prothero has shown that America is composed of “Protestants who can’t name the four Gospels, Catholics who can’t name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can’t name the five books of Moses.” Religious illiteracy increases the odds of misunderstanding and conflict….
[T]he simple fact that nearly 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God undermines any notion that we are engaged in a holy war over the existence of God.
We might, however, be in a war over who God is….
Knowing a person’s image of God, therefore, provides us with an opportunity to understand the most intimate moral and introspective conversations they have. Simply put, our picture of God is worth a thousand queries into the substance of our moral and philosophical beliefs…
Our image of God is never simply a reflection of the beliefs of our religious community. The traditional method of classifying people as Catholics or Baptists or Jews tells us little of consequence about what they believe.
~ American’s Four Gods
By Paul Froese
& Christopher Bader
George Washington Carver

In 1941, Time magazine dubbed George Washington Carver a “Black Leonardo”

George Washington Carver is known for saying, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God… I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
Isaac Newton was, as considered by others within his own lifetime, an insightful and erudite theologian, but he was foremost an alchemist. He wrote over a million words on alchemy and his laws of light and theory of gravity came from his alchemical work. After purchasing and studying Newton’s alchemical works in 1942, economist John Maynard Keyes opined that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.”
Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton surrounded by symbols of some of his greatest findings.

The Science of God

In 1959, a survey was taken of leading American scientists. Among the many questions asked was, “What is your estimate of the age of the universe?” The response to that survey was recently republished in Scientific American – the most widely read science journal in the world. Two-thirds of the scientists gave the same answer. The answer that two-thirds – an overwhelming majority – of the scientists gave was, “Beginning? There was no beginning. Aristotle and Plato taught us 2400 years ago that the universe is eternal. Oh, we know the Bible says ‘In the beginning.’ That’s a nice story; it helps kids go to bed at night. But we sophisticates know better. There was no beginning.”
That was 1959. In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the echo of the Big Bang in the black of the sky at night, and the world paradigm changed from a universe that was eternal to a universe that had a beginning. Science had made an enormous paradigm change in its understanding of the world. Understand the impact. Science said that our universe had a beginning. I can’t overestimate the import of that scientific “discovery.” Evolution, cave men, these are all trivial problems compared to the fact that we now understand that we had a beginning. Exactly as the Bible had claimed for three millennia. ~ Gerald Schroeder
Science Set FreeThe Science Delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality in principle, leaving only the details to be filled in. This is a very widespread belief in our society. It’s the kind of belief system of people who say “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” It’s a belief system which has now been spread to the entire world. But there is a conflict in the heart of science between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis, and collective investigation, and science as a belief system or a worldview. And unfortunately the worldview aspect of science has come to inhibit and restrict the free inquiry which is the very lifeblood of the scientific endeavor.
Since the late 19th, science has been conducted under the aspect of a belief system or worldview which is essentially that of materialism, philosophical materialism. And the sciences are now wholly-owned subsidiaries of the materialist worldview. And I think as we break out of it, the sciences will be regenerated. ~ Rupert Sheldrake

The good news of the gospel, as John understands it, is not that you–a wretched, miserable, fallen sinner–have been rescued from your fate and saved from your deserved punishment by the invasive power of a supernatural, heroic God who came to your aid. Nowhere does John give credibility to the dreadful, guilt-producing and guilt-filled mantra that “Jesus died for my sins.” There is rather an incredible new insight into the meaning of life. We are not fallen; we are simply incomplete. We do not need to be rescued, but to experience the power of an all-embracing love. Our call is not to be forgiven or even to be redeemed; it is to step beyond our limits into a new understanding of what it means to be human. It is to move from a status of self-consciousness to a realization that we share in a universal consciousness. John’s rendition of Jesus’ message is that the essence of life is discovered when one is free to give life away, that love is known in the act of loving and that the call of human life is to be all that each of us can be and then to be an agent of empowering other to be all they can be.

John Shelby Sprong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark for twenty-four years. Since then he has taught at Harvard, Drew, The University of the Pacific, and the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union. Selling over a million copies, his books include Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, Eternal Life: A New Vision, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. He lives with his wife, Christine, in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
Advertisements

One thought on “Solving Big Problems with a Technology of Abundance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s