GUEST INFORMANT: Justin Pickard

May 16th, 2012 | guest informant

I asked designer, writer and researcher Justin Pickard to write to you about whatever was interesting him currently… a few months ago.  Today, he came back to me with an entire document, entitled A GONZO FUTURIST MANIFESTO.  You will find the link to that document, a free PDF, at the end of what follows.  But he called out the following section as being a nice central piece to run, and I agree.  So Justin Pickard presents to you:

ACTION AND DECISION-MAKING FOR THE PROFESSIONAL WEIRDO

 

In 1991, Bruce Sterling gave a speech in San Jose. Extolling the strengths and virtues of the power weirdo, he urged the audience to avoid the spring-loaded bear-trap of mediocrity:

You don’t get there by acculturating. Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a puffer fish.

(Sterling, 1991)

With an idiosyncratic outlook and skill set, the power weirdo — and its subset, the gonzo futurist — is particularly well-placed to deal with a turbulent decade. With an eye on the road ahead, she can meet or dodge situations as they arise, charting a clear course through the VUCA battlefields of a turboparalytic world. One thing we can say: in 5-10 years time, ours will be a world of ubiquitous computing (in some form). When sensors are everyone, and the ‘big data’ of the post-normal threatens to bury us all in a torrent of noise, finely tuned sense-making capabilities may prove to be your greatest asset. For futurist Scott Smith, ‘warehousing massive amounts of data is simply an exercise in hoarding if we can’t see, contextualize, and use the patterns in the noise.’ (Smith, 2011) The pattern analyst is less likely to find her job outsourced or automated, but, to effectively lever the patterns in the noise, we have to be able distinguish between real patterns and the faces in the clouds.

We need pattern recognition. Pattern Recognition. The protagonist of William Gibson’s 2003 novel of the same name, Cayce Pollard, though something of a ‘self-facilitating media node’, provides a model for the gonzo futurist. For Cayce, the lived experience of 9/11 flipped a switch somewhere, hyper-sensitising her to the aesthetics of corporate branding. By the time the story begins, she’s found a niche as a coolhunter and creative consultant, exploiting her body’s physical, pre-cognitive reaction to logos (the bad ones induce nausea and panic).

Dorotea removes an eleven-inch square of art board from the envelope. Holding it at the upper corners, between the tips of perfectly manicured forefingers, she displays it to Cayce. (…) There is a drawing there, a sort of scribble in thick black Japanese brush, a medium she knows to be the in-house hallmark of Herr Heinzi himself. To Cayce, it most resembles a syncopated sperm, as rendered by the American underground cartoonist Rick Griffin, circa 1967. She knows almost immediately that it does not, by the opaque standards of her inner radar, work. She has no way of knowing how she knows.

(Gibson, 2003)

Though Cayce’s ‘base’ of domain-specific knowledge is both wide and deep — note the reference to Rick Griffin — she has no way of knowing how she knows. She’s aware of an ‘inner radar,’ but, as something separate from her conscious mind, has no idea how it works. Though Cayce leverages her capacities as a source of income, her role of sensitive-slash-coolhunter is more bodily disposition than career. Unpicking the details and implications of Gibson’s novel, literary theorist Lauren Berlant describes how Cayce’s disposition allows her ‘to ride the wave of the moment, to make her situation what it is, a thing to live through, be embedded in, and feel out’. Sounds a bit gonzo, doesn’t it?

Lacking Cayce’s near-supernatural capabilities, our gonzo futurist needs a prosthetic substitute; some kind of cognitive aikido. This would be a general framework that would allow her to easily grok the dynamics of the post-normal world, and identify the key sites and tipping points for action. To my knowledge, the closest currently existing equivalent is the OODA loop. Originally devised by US military strategist John Boyd, the OODA loop is a rolling heuristic cycle, a structure for those who need to make quick decisions under pressure. OODA. Observe, orient, decide, act.

The gonzo futurist is a super-empowered hopeful individual. She may have been a ‘graduate with no future’ (Mason, 2011), or the victim of public sector cuts, but has since grieved and moved on. She plays, tests, and play tests; making the best of the tools and technologies at her disposal. Comfortable calling on (and being called on by) her friends, peers, and tribe, her sense-making skills are social and connected. Her thinking may, occasionally, ‘be located inside the brains of other people.’ (Wheeler, 2011)

The gonzo futurist is a ‘deep generalist’ (Cascio, 2011) and ‘analytical polyglot’ (Smith, 2011). She has an ‘almost supernatural awareness of impacts and implications … [is] ready to adapt when necessary, building long-lasting systems when possible.’ (Cascio, 2011) Like Cayce Pollard, she is a ‘woman of affect, not of feeling (…) [an] empress of the amygdala.’ (Berlant)

The gonzo futurist is resilient. She works smart, not hard. She has one eye on the ‘adjacent possible’, switches codes, and contributes to the commons. She may be privileged, but has no time for competition, alpha male dick-waving, or beggar-thy-neighbour. Her success does not come at your expense.

Bombarded by stimuli, the gonzo futurist is an OODA cyborg. Observe, orient, decide, act.

 

Justin Pickard is a self-described ‘gonzo futurist’, freelance researcher, and associate at London-based design practice Superflux.  You can find him on Twitter @justinpickard.

And this is the direct link to A GONZO FUTURIST MANIFESTO.


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  1. You can find Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis