Sustainable Lens
Resilience on Radio
Synthesis through design thinking

A collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives.

Shane: So, our guest tonight is Ray Maher and he’s from the University of Queensland with the School of Earth and Environmental Science, and the Global Change Institute and its space in Australia. He is a Masters in Architecture and a Bachelor of Design. So Ray is a researcher in sustainability strategies, a building designer, a teacher of sustainable design and an active member of various NGOs and research groups. And he’s undertaking his PhD at the University of Queensland on Integrated Sustainability Strategies, which seeks to synthesise the complex and interdependent fields of sustainability and present them simply via visuals.

 

  The reason why he’s here in Otago is because Sam is one of his supervisors. He has recently begun Project Habitation with his wife and Ray’s main expertise is in drawing together the many diverse aspects of sustainability and synthesising them into mutually supportive design responses. Welcome to our show, Ray. How’s it going?

 

Ray: Good, good.

 

Shane: Were you born in Australia?

 

Ray: I was. I was born in far north Queensland, actually, so up in the jungle and beaches north of Cairns.

 

Shane: Oh, lovely. And what was it like growing up in that environment?

 

Ray: I don’t remember it well. I left pretty young. It was a beautiful place, though. And from there, after my sister came along, we travelled south and my parents found a new home in Northern Rivers, New South Wales, which is sort of another very beautiful place of subtropical forest and a pretty lovely place to grow up, actually.

 

Shane: What was it like growing up in Australia as a kid? Did you wander around the forests every night or chasing koalas or-

 

Ray: I suppose I spent a lot of time outside in the bush and every weekend we would be either going camping or going to local national parks, or going to the beach nearby. So it’s pretty glorious, and just one of those things you take for granted, I suppose. Also, dad’s a builder so he built us a beautiful house and we got a block of land there. Five acres, two and a half hectares, and mum started regenerating the forest that used to be there. So I’ve got to see that kind of grow and develop over time. And it’s, yeah, a pretty wonderful spot, actually.

 

Shane: I was going to ask you what got you involved in design and sustainability, but I’m beginning to think that was your parents that inspired that? Or was it something you watched and …

 

Ray: Well, I began with design and architecture so when I finished high school, moved to Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland and study architecture there. And that was a real shift, I suppose, in the way that I thought. Design brings with it a pretty incredible way of thinking, way of seeing the world, I suppose. You learn to see things not just as they are but how they could be. And that becomes really the focus of how I perceive things.

 

  It took a while, living in Brisbane, especially when you start uni. It’s all pretty social and sort of being in a new place and everything. But then after a while, maybe a couple of years, I suppose, I started to miss something without recognising what it was. And it took a while to realise that it’s sort of the natural environments. It’s being in the wilderness a lot, which I’d stopped doing. And all of a sudden it seemed really strange to me why all of these people lived in a place that was so lacking in natural diversity. And from my perspective, it was certainly not as dynamic and beautiful an environment as I was used to.

 

  Then I suppose I started to realise from that the scale of it all. That, you know, what I had taken for granted and had been a norm for my life up until then was the exception to the rule, and that most people lived in pretty urban environments. And around the world, the rate of change of natural environments to human uses has just been so rapid and so all-encompassing around the world that those kind of places are pretty special, and we’ve got to work pretty hard to keep what we’ve got.

 

Sam: What were you hoping to achieve going off to do architecture?

 

Ray: Mostly it was just purely a field of interest. I wanted to do something where every day would be different. Where I could approach problems from different angles, and architecture certainly is that. I think I got that bit right and I do love the whole field for that reason. But then within architecture I had some fantastic teachers, actually, and learnt from them, I suppose, more about sustainability and some of the issues that we’re facing. And the significance of the built environment within potential solutions to those problems.

 

  We invest a huge amount of our time and our money and effort and resources in building the places that we live in around us. And the way we do that can either be a massive force for destruction of the environment and people’s lives, or it can be a massive force for regeneration. There is just such a vast difference between the two that I suppose I really grew to love architecture both because of its way of perceiving the world and thinking about things, and also because of the significance of the built environment in addressing these major problems that we’re facing.

 

Sam: But isn’t architecture all about enabling development? And by development, I mean bulldozers.

 

Ray: It certainly can be. I mean, as within any field or discipline, there’s a very broad range of perspectives within it. And that’s something that interests me about it too, I suppose. It can be about enabling that but because architects are shaping the world around them to some degree, they have a lot of influence over the experience that people have when living in buildings and in the built environment. And over the sorts of materials that we use and the types of industries that happen. Energy sources, the way we consume water, all of these sorts of things which have these incredible ripple effects out into society and into the natural environment.

 

  It’s pretty empowering, I suppose, and certainly students that I’ve monitored, that I speak to. I think it can be really empowering to recognise the significance of that, of the responsibility and the influence that comes with it in making these decisions about shaping the world around us.

 

Sam: So if you have a big influence over how we live – and, as you say, the ripple effects and that’s empowering – is the duty of care that’s implicit in that. In your education, was that made explicit?

 

Ray: Well, yes and no. Again, there’s this huge diversity so many people including practitioners and at university overlook it. Architecture is very diverse. There is just so much going on. There’s so many different forces that you’re considering and trying to not only avoid conflicts between them, but to bring them into some sort of harmonious resolution. It’s complex and different people typically focus on different aspects of it.

 

  And that’s fair enough. We should expect that and it’s good for education, for people who have different levels of expertise. But it does mean that some people tend to overlook these aspects of architecture that I’m interested in, that I think are particularly important. And others are it’s front and centre and they do an incredible job. They’re making strides in changing the way that we build.

 

Sam: Just quickly before we leave off your architectural education, was the sustainable part of it explicit, implicit? How was it embedded?

 

Ray: I keep repeating this, but it varied enormously. So with some lecturers, which of course are researchers and practitioners themselves, it was all of the above. It was embedded in the core of their work and the way that they perceived the world, and the focus of their actions when designing and when teaching about architecture. And in others it was just kind of off the radar or, if not that, it was secondary to other interests.

 

Sam: Yep. But there’s something about that way of thinking which has been important for you. You said at some stage, I’ve forgotten the exact line that you said, but it was something like we could eat wicked problems for breakfast.

 

Ray: Yes, I think something I’ve come to realise is more recently, actually, during my PhD. After I finished my Masters of Architecture I did some research on a range of things, but then I began my PhD with the School of Earth and Environmental Science. So working with a lot of landscape ecologists and conservation biologists, et cetera, and looking at … It became really clear to me, all of a sudden, that the quite a different perspective that designers and scientists have, for example. And each of these perspectives are critical in understanding the world and responding to problems and et cetera.

 

  But I became really aware of the power of design in addressing the kinds of problems that we face in sustainability. So the way science has worked traditionally, especially in the early days, is one of reduction. One of looking at the world through a magnifying glass or a telescope. Pulling the world apart and looking at the elements that make it up. And that’s been an incredibly powerful force.

 

  But its’ not very good for solving complex problems. It’s certainly not very good for solving wicked problems. It’s an essential part of providing us a rigorous understanding of how the world works and of outcomes of some of our decisions. But I think much more suited to solving the sorts of problems that we face in sustainability is perspective-like design, where you’re not just balancing and compromising on different goals but you’re trying to find strategies for solving multiple goals simultaneously.

 

  When you look at, certainly in sustainable design but many other different problems, even our food systems, our water systems, et cetera, there’s just so many different issues embedded with them. Every time we make a new policy, every time we make a new decision or have a new development project, there’s so many implications of that. Across the natural environment, across the built environment, across society. And design is, I think, a pretty powerful way of understanding that bigger picture and developing a response where you get synergy, where the parts are working together to give you multiple benefits.

 

Sam: So if you were to liken designing a solution for sustainability to designing a house, what’s the process that you would go through in designing a house that we can borrow for how to solve problems in sustainability?

 

Ray: Okay. First of all, when you’re designing a house you’ve got to approach it from a number of different directions. And each new perspective that you take, when considering the challenge, sheds new light on the problem and brings forward new potential solutions.

 

  So you might consider you’ve got a new client, a new design that you’re going to undertake, and you might consider it firstly from the perspective of the clients. You know, what are these people looking for? What do they really want, underlying what they’re telling you? What are they really seeking to achieve? What would make their lives better?

 

  But that perspective alone isn’t enough. You also take on the perspective of the engineer, so how can we make sure these structures stand up? How can it actually be built? And each new perspective brings new information. Then it’s once you start to find a strategy, an approach to designing a building that starts to give you benefits across multiples of these perspectives, then you’re probably on the right track.

 

  If you can find, for example, a strategy that’s beginning to achieve the client’s ambitions, structural challenges, economic challenges, environmental issues, et cetera, then that’s at least a seed of a good design. And from there you can go and test it. I think that holds up very true for pretty much all the sustainability challenges that we face. That they’re so embedded in the environment and society that, if we’re facing a problem about sustainable farming in Otago, then we need the perspective of the farmer but we also need the perspective of the ecologist and the water systems engineer and the local council and the economist and everyone else.

 

  And each new perspective gives us a richer understanding of the problem and expands the potential solutions we’ve got to work with.

 

Sam: In architecture, if I was, as a client, describing what might on the surface seem to be an intractable problem.

 

Ray: They always are.

 

Sam: That I’m describing something, that I’m saying I want fantastic views but I also want no windows. I just made that up. How does that not just do your head in?

 

Ray: Sometimes it does, temporarily, but you’ve always got to look deeper. You’ve got to look below the surface. There’s another saying that you’ll often hear from designers is “first idea, worst idea”. You know, you’ll have a brainwave. You’ll be hearing these designs of a client and see all the challenges underlying it. “Oh, I know what the answer is. It’ll be X.” And you start sketching it out on paper.

 

  Almost invariably, it’s not a good approach to the problem. It seemed like it at the time. You know, you were working with what you had. You begin the process and, okay, there’s issues with this. But just through going through that process, you can start to see where the problems are and where new opportunities begin to arise.

 

  So each time you go through that process of testing an idea or having an idea, putting it out on paper, testing it from different perspectives, learning about what worked and what didn’t, and then taking that back to the next layer of thinking, it certainly develops your understanding of the problem and it broadens your number of different approaches that you could take to solving it.

 

Sam: One of the challenges of sustainability is that notion of think global, act local. And I think that in building a house – We haven’t talked about this but it’s just popped into my head – is that you’ve almost got the solution to that problem because at the same time you’re having to think about the overall house, but also where the doors go.

 

Shane: I was just about to ask that.

 

Sam: But if you were to start with the design of the doors and then separately do the design of the windows, you’re going to end up with a higgledy-piggledy mismatch.

 

Ray: Yeah, I suppose that’s how society typically works. We’ll go big scale for a minute. Sort of post-industrial revolution, the scale of humanity’s total endeavour is going through the roof. We’re getting enormous specialisations, different fields. So you’ve got to somehow organise that.

 

  The scientific approach, which had been so valuable so far and continues to be, partly resulted in dividing up people working in different fields into different disciplines. And, I mean, that goes back to Plato and before, but that really got accentuated. So now when we approach a problem, then that’s a typical way to do it. Who works out the solution to the water infrastructure problem? Well, that must be the water system engineers. Who works out the problem with farming? Well, that must be the farmers.

 

  But if you took that approach with a building, let’s just think what would happen. So imaging a client comes along. “I want this building to house my family and live on this piece of land and have a lovely life.” Imagine if you did that by going, “Okay, well first of all we’ll get the engineer to design some footings. We’ll get someone else to design some windows and openings. We’ll get someone else to design a roof and someone else to design some walls and someone else to design a kitchen and a bathroom.”

 

  And everyone else goes away and does their parts. You bring them all back together and what do you get? It’s a complete mess. It’s a Frankenstein. Nothing works together. Even if each part could have worked well in isolation. But that’s not how the world works. And it’s not how a building works. Everything is working together, or should be, and it’s not how society and the environment work. Everything is completely integrated. There is no way of isolating something, except in theory.

 

  Because of that, I think this design approach, and this collaborative approach as essential of that, of bringing together different minds and different perspectives, is really the only way that we can solve the most challenging problems that we’ve got. We’ve solved a lot of the easy problems. That’s why so many things are going so wonderfully. We’ve got to not forget that. But the ones we’re left with are the really challenging ones that we can’t solve from our typical institutional arrangements and the way we typically think by dividing up the world.

 

Shane: So what are you doing about it?

 

Ray: You said earlier that there was a rare moment of optimism in your numbers this morning. I think there’s a lot of great moments for optimism. They’re not always at the forefront of your mind. I mean, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of problems. But there are just so many people from so many backgrounds doing so many great things, you can actually be overwhelmed by that aspect of it as well. It is pretty full-on how seriously and how successfully so many people have approached these problems.

 

  The momentum we’ve had since the 70s and 80s has actually worked. It has actually built up. We’ve got institutions around the world with teams of researchers analysing every part of the problem. We’ve got thousands of new businesses working at different aspects of providing solutions. We’ve got different types of professionals we didn’t have before. We’d got, as you said, different policies. Et cetera.

 

  I find that very optimistic but most of the time these groups are still working in isolation. So I really want to try and do what I can to bring together these different perspectives and reconnect between different people working on different parts of the problem. So to do that, that’s what my PhD is all about, is developing a new way of thinking, in part, that brings together these isolated perspectives that different disciplines have, and to embed that in a website for collaboration so that we can have a technical way of communicating more effectively and bringing together people from all different backgrounds.

 

Sam: How might we go about doing that? I mean, if you had an ecologist and an economist talking about something, they just talk past each other. There’s no overlap in the things they’re talking about.

 

Ray: It would seem not. I suppose upon further investigation, you can discover there is. But it doesn’t happen often enough. Okay, well the way that architecture and design deal with that problem is through visual communication. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to design anything, especially not something as complex as a building, without having a way of communicating that and describing it visually. That visual way of working becomes a visual way of thinking for an architect, and I think that’s partly what’s lacking.

 

  There’s been some success here too, but there’s a lot of opportunities in sustainability for visualising the perspectives of different people and visualising different pieces of important information, and that can provide a common platform. You know, a common language and a common platform for people to share ideas. So I think, partly via the right systems of visual communication, you can get the ecologist and the economist on the same page, appreciating each other’s perspectives and even finding common links between what they’re working on and their different perspectives.

 

  Once you can find that point of commonality, or at least two different perspectives on the same thing, then that gives you a great opportunity for collaboration where you can start to develop solutions which actually encompass multiple perspectives.

 

Sam: We always ask people if they’ve got a go-to definition of sustainability. I’m not going to ask that. At least I might ask it later.

 

Ray: You’re welcome to.

 

Sam: But now I’m going to ask if you’ve got a go-to diagram of sustainability.

 

Ray: I do. One I’ve been developing. A part of my research has been looking at different diagrams of sustainability. To look at how different people understand the challenges that we face, and the relationships between parts. You know, where the emphasis is in our thinking and in our actions. So I’ve been developing a diagram that synthesises these different perspectives as a way to help synthesise the actual thinking behind it. The thinking is the important part but visuals and diagrams can help us to do that, just like in architecture.

 

Sam: And?

 

Ray: And, okay, so this particular diagram, words certainly don’t do it justice. But they never do. That’s another part of our research, is the communication that’s needed is verbal can’t solve all our problems. We like to talk a lot better. So this particular diagram and the thinking behind it brings together different aspects of our natural environment and the built environment and society, and begins to show links between different parts of that.

 

  So if we’re unpacking a problem about water systems, we can see how water consumption, for example, which might be happening at a personal level, the decision that you or I make about how we consume water, are impacted upon by the infrastructure that we have in the built environment and by different government policy. And they have impacts going out into the natural environment in terms of waste systems or the need for new dams and the effects that has on ecosystems, et cetera. Again, this is very complex to communicate with words but some of these things become incredibly vivid when you see them on paper or on a screen.

 

Shane: And you’re imagining that people would use it. How?

 

Ray: Well, again like a building … keep using the metaphor. A building does a lot of things, doesn’t it? You don’t ask someone about their home, you know, what does your home do? What is the answer? Well, it’s everything. It’s a part of our identity, it’s a place to live, et cetera. So this diagram and this way of structuring thinking on sustainability, we want to form the basis of a digital platform for collaboration.

 

  Different people would use it in different way. A researcher might use it to explore and communicate the different aspects of their research and to help them understand how that fits in, how what they do relates to the big sustainability issues. I mean, this is something that a lot of researchers have a lot of trouble doing, and one of the reasons why there’s this sort of divide between. A lot of common perceptions of research is that it’s so inaccessible. It’s this alien thing that people do in these ivory towers.

 

  That certainly happens, but if you can communicate effectively what you’re doing and how this new piece of technology you’re working on is actually helping to solve climate change, or how this new way of approaching management problems is actually going to help us alleviate policy in the third world. I mean, this is a big deal. And that can help to, I think, give a lot more weight and value out of all this great research that’s already happening.

 

  So I suppose that’s from a researcher’s perspective. But if you’re a business and have a new piece of technology or a service that you’re providing, people need to know what it does and people need to be able to see the relationships between the things that they care about – whether that’s biodiversity or climate change or other issues – and some of the solutions that are already being developed to achieve that.

 

Sam: I was talking about an ecologist and an economist before. If those two people were employed to work on a problem, how might they go about using it to communicate?

 

Ray: Back to the big picture. A core part of the way that people are now thinking about sustainability is through systems. It’s through understanding. You mentioned at the beginning of the show that it’s through understanding how different things relate to each other. And, of course, diagrams are a key part of communicating that. So through this system, it’s possible for an ecologist to create a systems model, a diagram that shows how different issues relate to each other.

 

  Which is as simple as talking a bubble or an icon representing the health of the local river and an arrow leading to it from the local water infrastructure, like dams and things. You can build up these models visually that show how different elements of our social, ecological system relate to each other. So an ecologist might build up elements of their way of viewing the problem, and an economist could come in and add in elements that they think the ecologist has overlooked.

 

  Well, you know, you’re not seeing these market mechanisms which are an important part of the solution here. They can be added incrementally to the system and once you get a few minds on the job, this system can help to sort of synthesise these different perspectives until you get this collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives. Like in architecture, then you can get a more holistic view of the problem and of potential solutions.

 

Sam: It could be because we’re referring to the diagram here, but you’re seeing a much bigger system. Sort of a crowd-sourcing, pulling together of ideas?

 

Ray: Yeah, that’s right. I suppose if you look at the enormous global movement into online networks and the kind of revolutions that we’ve seen in how we communicate with each other. Things like Facebook, other knowledge sharing platforms like Wikipedia. You know, now the largest encyclopaedia that we’ve ever had has just been crowd-sourced for free. The Uber. Do you have Uber in New Zealand? Yeah, like a beginning? It’s very big in Australia –  Ride sharing. And these things are really transforming elements of society and how we do things.

 

  We haven’t seen that same kind of transformative networking platform for sustainability yet. We’ve seen a lot of seeds of that. There’s a lot of great collaborative platforms and knowledge-sharing platforms in existence but nothing that really brings together a comprehensive set of issues and communicates it in a way that’s accessible to everyone, from an interested member of the public to a policy-maker to a researcher. That’s the aspirations that we’ve got for this thing and we’ll take it as far along that path as we possibly can.

 

Sam: And what are you doing here? Talking with me, obviously.

 

Ray: Talking with you.

 

Sam: But you’re working with some research groups to map out their-

 

Ray: Yeah, it’s been a fantastic process, actually. To test this system and develop the ideas, critical feedback is essential. In the same way that you test other kinds of design, it’s important to develop ideas and then test them. At the University of Queensland, we’ve run a number of workshops with students from very different disciplines to use this system to try and explore the ideas and the problems that they face.

 

  Whether that be architecture students looking at a sustainable eco-village and understanding the issues there. We’ve spoken with and worked with ecologists and landscape ecologists and used it to unpack a problem from their perspective. And now in Dunedin we’re at Otago Polytechnic and, this Friday actually, we’re working with a group of Masters students doing a Masters of Geography.

 

  And what I know of it is that each student’s got quite a different and very interesting project in their Masters, all with some relation to sustainability. We’re going to sit down together, map out each of their different problems and each of the different aspects of research that they’re doing, and to see how they relate to each other. And to see how the understanding that each has can help to enrich the projects of the others.

 

Sam And you’ve got international interest?

 

Ray: Yeah, we’ve actually-

 

Sam: I’m not saying Australia being international from here, of course.

 

Ray: [crosstalk 00:32:40]. Yeah, we’ve just had some very big international interest, actually. The Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden is a very major research institution on sustainability and they are working with a number of other institutions including Future Earth, which is a great collaboration platform online. They’re running a programme of sustainable development goal labs. So these are, they call them social innovation labs. Ways of developing innovative ideas collaboratively and bringing out some great new solutions, in this case for the purpose of achieving sustainable development goals.

 

  They had an invitation to people from all around the world to present different ideas on how they would use collaborative thinking to develop an innovation that would help to achieve sustainability goals. We were successful against phenomenal odds and so …

 

Sam: Ninety four percent rejection rate!

 

Ray: Ninety four percent rejection rate. Yes, so now we’re developing these ideas and we’ll be presenting them in Stockholm in August. And with their support, continuing to develop them from there.

 

sam: Okay. I’ve let time rattle away on me so we’re going to have to hurry through these questions. So here’s your chance. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Ray: Just the dictionary definition, which is sustainability is the ability to maintain a process or a state indefinitely. So any process or state that we’re considering that could not be maintained indefinitely is fundamentally unsustainable and won’t be continued indefinitely. So whether that’s our rate of our extraction of resources or anything else that we might do.

 

  And I think it’s kind of a knife edge definition, but it gives us a pretty clear understanding of the inevitability of change in an unsustainable society or an unsustainable system. Things will change one way or another because things are not sustainable, and it’s up to us to determine which way they go.

 

Sam: It’s a real challenge, isn’t it, that necessary juxtaposition of things staying the same but in order to do that they have to change?

 

Ray: Absolutely, yeah. I suppose that’s where the resilience perspective also comes in, that there’s a certain amount of change that a system or a society or environment can cope with. And if we’re gentle enough with ourselves or the place we live, then we can deal with certain changes and still maintain a functioning system. But if we push things too far beyond certain limits, we get systems collapse. We’ve seen ecosystems and even societies around the world that have collapsed because they’ve pushed their systems too far.

 

Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years? I’ll let you have one free hit about a five month old.

 

Ray: Yeah, certainly. I’ve just become a dad and it’s an exciting time of your life. There’s a lot going on there. It makes the challenges with work et cetera. But he’s an incredible human and it’s just, I suppose, the thought that the change that my kid is going to see within his life is just going to be absolutely phenomenal. I spend my life thinking about these future changes and where we can shift it in a good direction, and I am totally confident that I have no idea of the scale of change that he’s going to see.

 

  Now, if I think of my grandfather, died not too many years ago, but he went to school in a horse and cart and wrote on board with charcoal. That’s my grandad. There’s people alive, of course, who around the world are still doing that. But even in our modern, wealthy societies, they did that as children and here we are now with everything that we’ve got. The change has been phenomenal. The next generation of change is going to continue at the exponential growth and it will be vastly more so.

 

Shane: Are you optimistic? Do you think he’s going to have a better life?

 

Ray: I think anyone born at this point of time, into a society like Australia or New Zealand … I won’t say anyone, but as a whole we are incredibly lucky. Again as a whole, we’ve got one of the highest standards of living around the world, and certainly the highest standard of living that’s ever been achieved throughout human history. So that’s part of what he’s born into.

 

  But he’s also born into the mammoth challenges that we’re facing. When teams of the best scientists around the world are telling you that we’re facing a system collapse, or that with climate change we’re facing the largest migration in human history, bigger than all the world wars combined, that is a big deal. There is no underestimating the scale of the problem.

 

  So, I suppose, he’s going to live through all of that and I don’t know which way it’s going to go. We just push it as far as we can in the best direction we think.

 

Sam: Okay, well we only have done two of these questions. We really are going to have to rattle. It’s my fault for distracting you. We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So what’s your super power?

 

Ray: Super power? It would be the ability to take on the perspective of someone else who I met and fully see the world from their view. You know, everyone’s got so much to contribute, I’d love to be able to get their take on things.

 

Sam: What have you got now? What’s your super power that you have now? What are you bringing to this?

 

Ray: I suppose design thinking to sustainability problems and ways of synthesising all different sorts of perspectives. I think there’s a huge amount of potential in that.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Ray: I’ve never used that word to describe myself but I’m certain that we need large scale, systemic change to have a wonderful future instead of a terrible one. So I suppose if I’m seeking systemic change, then that to a degree does make me an activist, I guess, doesn’t it?

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Ray: The gap. The gap between how things are and how things could be is just so vast. The potential futures that lay out in front of us are so widely different that there is just so much at stake in choosing the best path over the worst one. And we really could go any way right now. There’s so much pushing us towards horrific outcomes and there is so much pushing us towards fantastic outcomes that it’s a big pendulum to swing. So swinging it as far as I can towards a good future is, I suppose, all anyone can do.

 

Sam: What challenge are you looking forward to in the next year or so?

 

Ray: Bringing this platform to fruition. It’s got to happen. Everything is lining up. You never know when you begin something, a big challenge, how it’s going to go. But you’ve just kind of got to go with it. And then sometimes things don’t go in the right direction. Okay, I’ll approach some new challenge. But other times, things start to line up. And with this one, everything is beginning to line up really nicely.

 

  We’re bringing together some very diverse thinking into a cohesive system. We’ve got a lot of the right people on board and we’re having the right conversations. And we’ve got the right support from some big institutions. So I think there’s a lot of hope for this.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Ray: I suppose everyone’s got different things that they’ve got to think about and devote their time to but, just for a single moment, if everyone in the world could get a glimpse into the different futures that are possible, vividly, I think that would just … I couldn’t imagine a greater force for change. When people can see how things could be, one direction or another. So there, I’d click my fingers and we’d all see into the future 50 years.

 

Sam: A follow-up question to that one is what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact towards that? I’m not sure how possible that is but what could we do that would do that?

 

Ray: Well, we can see the future. We do it all the time. You know, we look both ways before we cross the road. We can track the path of a ball through the air when we play sports. We vote for someone who will do things in the future which we hope it’s happening in a good direction. And we’ve got incredible science at our back.

 

  I think we can do a lot in predicting futures. We’ve just go to start looking at the information we’ve got, which means it has to be accessible. We’ve got to see what’s there. And you can feel the trajectory, can’t you? Like, we can all think of an institution, anything, and get some direction of, well, where is this headed? And if that’s not a good direction, how can we steer it?

 

Sam: I like that idea of glimpsing into the future and we do it anyway. How can we formalise that?

 

Ray: Well, I’m hoping that’s part of this platform that we’re developing. But how can we formalise that? There are different-

 

Sam: I mean, in architecture you draw the picture of the house and you put a picture of the house surrounded by trees, looking like it’s been there for a long time and everyone’s enjoying it.

 

Ray: Right.

 

Sam: So we explicitly visualise it.

 

Ray: We do explicit … yeah. That’s, I suppose, one of the great things about architecture. The ability to imagine a future state that doesn’t yet exist and bring it to life in our minds first so that we can then bring it to life in real life. It’s a powerful thing, I suppose. Again, that’s where the power of visual communication behind design comes in so powerfully. And there’s lots of people looking at developing scenarios. I mean, some of this is sort of complex systems modelling and economic scenarios, et cetera.

 

  But whatever we can do to get a glimpse at that future and share that knowledge amongst people, I think is a very powerful tool.

 

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Ray: Which listeners?

 

Sam: All of them.

 

Ray: I suppose if you’re going through life and you’re seeing something that you think needs to happen, you’ve just got to start taking steps in that direction. If you’ve got doubts about how it might turn out, then all that means is that you’re doing something of value. Something that isn’t the default option for you.

 

  So just take a chance. Just step forward and do that thing that you’ve been thinking about doing that you think is something that someone needs to do. Start doing it. Talk to people about it. Take the steps to do that, whether that’s through a business or education or collaboration. Anything. Just push forward.

 

Shane: Thank you very much.

 

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