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Community of the Future

by Mark Peres

November 4,2005

Quietly, throughout the world, a new intellectual network is evolving. Groups of eight to fifteen people are meeting in living rooms, hotel conference rooms and coffee shops. They are meeting on Monday nights and Saturday morning and anytime the will of the group is so moved. They are meeting in Austin and Lexington, in Norfolk and Glasgow, and here in Charlotte. Those in the group are involved in the work of transformative thinking, collaborating to develop new concepts of governance, economic development and learning to increase our capacity to sculpt the increasingly fast-paced and complex world we live in.


The network is not interested in making existing ideas and present assumptions more efficient, what is often called reformational change. Reform begins by studying past and existing frameworks, framing an ideal, and establishing predictable, repeatable processes with reduced error rates in order to achieve desired outcomes. Instead, the network emphasizes research and development to create breakthrough assumptions and methods, what is often called transformational change. Transformation begins by studying the future and framing ideas that undergird and shape emerging realities.

The groups have a name. They are called ‘Second Enlightenment Clubs.’ The premise of the network is that we are living in a time of change that is no longer supported by established operating principles. Those who dialog in the groups introduce each other to major organizing ideas that are very different from existing ‘truths,’ yet are naturally evolving from traditionally accepted ideas. This ‘reset’ of our operating framework is similar to the work that occurred during the ‘Enlightenment’ of the mid 18th and early 19th centuries when such ‘thought leaders’ of the time – Adam Smith, David Hume and Patrick Geddes – observed seismic societal change and rethought core assumptions of what was happening and why.

Those who dialog within the current groups are entirely self-selected. People come and go at will, drawn to ‘thought leadership’ as they might be to woodworking, travel and musical exploration. They are business people and academics, trade persons and curious citizens. The work is done by observing mega trends and weak signals first, understanding the historical context of present principles second, and developing concepts that seem consistent with what will more likely ensure a vital and sustainable society that is as just and fair as possible within a ‘futures context.’

Here are some of the mega trends under discussion: the intersection of the digital revolution with a break in the demographic age wave and the resulting divide between the ‘Net Generation’ and their boomer parents; the breakdown of traditional pre-digital representative democracy; the peaking of an economy based on fossil fuels; an emerging conflict between the aging in the developed world and increasing numbers of youth in the developing world; the rapid drop-off in biodiversity; an increasing clash of civilizations and the rise of terrorism; the global flattening of economies; and the advent of creative knowledge entrepreneurs as a critical community asset class.

These trends and signals are studied against the context of existing and emerging operating principles. Existing principles that found their intellectual voice during the First Enlightenment include independence, self-interest, competition, materialism and rationalism. They are as familiar to us as the flag to which we salute. However, these ‘bedrock’ principles are no longer giving support to what is occurring. The historic confluence of trends underway are requiring voice to a new set of principles that are unfamiliar: interdependence, mutual interest, collaboration, non-linear and ambiguity. These principles will likely evolve again over the nest 30 years as First and Second Enlightenment concepts integrate into such new operating ideas as: systemic, generative and parallel.

Many of the ideas that seed the network come from Rick Smyre, President of the Center for Communities of the Future, located in Gastonia, NC. Rick is a futurist specializing in building ‘capacities for transformation’ in local communities, and considers himself an architect in the new field of ‘molecular leadership.’ He is a leading figure within the World Future Society, and has led hundreds of seminars and retreats internationally introducing “2nd Enlightenment” ideas. He is a graduate of Davidson College and North Carolina State University.

To learn more about Second Enlightenment Clubs that are in 45 states and across six nations, visit www.communitiesofthefuture.org

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