“It is pure utopian abstraction to say that nothing prevents the existence of individual needs. On the contrary, human nature does.”

Jacque Ellul


“If today industrial civilization seems to us something less than Utopian—if it appears, in fact, to be oppressive, dreary, ecologically precarious, war-prone, and psychologically repressive—we need to

understand why.”

Alvin Toffler, third wave, 1980


Today I will argue that an increasingly complex dynamic world is a good argument for revisiting Utopian thinking. Complexity, and its close cousin uncertainty, tend to encourage some rational, more conservative, thinking. In other words, you will hear “we need to be pragmatic” a shitload more often the more dynamic and complex a business environment may be. But here is the truth. Connectivity and interdependence have possibly made things a bit more complex, yet, it has also opened up opportunities to, well, possibilities. The interdependence, from a pragmatic view, makes almost any utopian thinking somewhere within several degrees of a grasp. Yes. I just said Utopian thinking and pragmatism together (wrap your head around that contradiction). Personally, I believe Utopian thinking is an underrated aspect of humanity – a hopeful belief for not just better, but some best version of something.  And I say that as a clearly pragmatic person. And when I bring up Utopia, I remind everyone the word “utopia” means “no place” so utopias are not necessarily meant to design specific paths to a desired space, they are meant to show us what’s wrong with the present state and strive toward possibilities. Now. The danger of the possibilities of Utopia, of course, are the false choices found within spectacular abundance of possibilities found within an everchanging dynamic environment. But recognizing that danger shouldn’t translate into acceptance of limitations, but rather see limitations as dynamic themselves.

Which leads me to suggest any utopian thinking, even when grounded in reality, are utopian insofar as they ignore the perceived gravity of history and its struggles. What I mean by that is if you look a little too closely at history, the past appears to have an inevitable arc dotted with failures deemed inevitable (in hindsight). This taints future thinking in application. So, while utopian thinking, and Utopia, actually demands some pragmatism and certainly some real actions it also demands the ability to see new arcs, new patterns and new possibilities within new contexts (a failure in the past is a failure n a context and utopia is found within new contexts).

I say this not to suggest your Utopia fate is tied to the destiny designs of contexts, but rather that contexts are meant to be actively engaged. A “laissez faire” business is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; it’s a lazy idea which the strong or the lucky will exploit to establish unquestioned authority over others. Or, as Jaron Lanier suggests, “power will exploit flaws/gaps even in Utopia.”


“I await with patience a catastrophe that is slow in coming.”

Albert Camus

Prying apart dystopia.

One of the arguments for thinking about a Utopia is that you need to pry apart dystopia to get there. Pragmatically speaking the current system is made-up of three distinct parts that are connected: there is the machine of production, the distribution of that production to the people including transportation, and finally humans themselves. Today, distribution is not of the machine, but for the machine. This becomes important as more and more humans become part of the machine itself. What this means is that distribution, simultaneously, becomes in service to a machine-human world looping inextricably survival of both to both. Obviously, that doesn’t sound utopian even if it is not dystopian. As a consequence of this Borg-like system where humans gathered around machines was it actually forced humans to come to the machine – what I mean by this is an outcome was big cities. That continued to close the system thereby only emphasizing the dystopian features even while the machine encouraged everyone to think it was the path to Utopia. I could go on and on about other characteristics of what has become a dystopian, even if somewhat effective, world. here is where I circle back to the beginning of this segment – the three components. If we seek to not only envision, but create, a Utopia we must pry apart what appears to be inextricably linked and create a new world. Hopefully a better world.

Utopian thinking is all about hope.

It used to be science fiction was filled with Utopian adventures using the imagination to wonder of the possibilities for humankind. Now, even science fiction, has veered into the bitter, pessimistic, universe of dystopia. In many of these scenarios technology, instead of being portrayed as the engine of progress, increasingly appeared as an unstoppable force of destruction – of human freedom, human joy and human sense of meaning. These mental scenarios have bled into the psyche of society, and business, and has convinced a lot of people hoping is useless. In fact, today you can be trapped in between a futuristic world view of dystopian nature fed from an uncontrolled growth attitude and a present in which a number of loud voices are decrying growth (degrowth, Limits to Growth, etc.). it creates a sense everything is going wrong and the dystopian future, and catastrophe, is a fait accompli so why hope, let alone work, for something better.

And then there is work itself. Prior to the industrial revolution work wasn’t particularly great, but at least there was a sense of self extension, i.e., ‘I produced with my own hands’.  From there industrialization created the machine/human system leading to unemployment, to grinding monotony on the job, to overspecialization, to the indifferent, if not unempathetic, treatment of the individual, to low wages. All of which appear to be unresolvable within the framework of the current system. What I mean is that if those problems have remained for 200 years, under capitalist/socialist/communist constructs, there is cause to think they may be inherent in the mode of production. This breeds hopelessness and a sense of futility. I say all of that to circle back to the first sentence in this segment – this truly can all be resolved with imagination of possibilities. Yeah. Imagine Utopia. Yeah. It is as simple, and complex, as that.

“In order to create a smoothly running society, we need to both protect the here and now, and problem-solve and look effectively into the future. So it’s a good idea to have that in balance across society.”
Hannah Critchlow

Pragmatically addressing the possibilities within Utopia.

It really is this simple:

  • What is your utopia? What is the utopia?
  • What is keeping us from that utopia?
  • What are the probabilities of these things changing?
  • What could change each probability?
  • What are your fears and hopes with regard to those probabilities?
  • What can we do to impact our specific fears and hopes?

Where can you poke the world to increase the chances of creating the utopia you envision?

I like this “Time Machine” idea from Tom Kerwin, the creator of Pivot Triggers:

  • Take a trip to the great future

    • Set the scene: “We get in a time machine. When the door opens, it’s <date> (whenever you’d see the results of your initiative) and it’s gone better than we ever dreamed! What’s it like?”

    • Ask people to write down what it’s like on stickies.

    • Together, cluster similarly themed descriptions and add a green sticky to summarize each cluster.

Or try this example. Maybe in some additive manufacturing conference room the largest obstacle, with a low probability of changing in the short and medium term, is sunk traditional machinery costs in manufacturing plants. Maybe they create a division that buys machines. It’s a not-for-profit division created solely to remove an obstacle, it becomes a business (and I imagine there is some accounting voodoo that comes along with purchasing depreciated machinery) and they go into business as a parts reseller, or use the metals for something, or lease the machines to smaller businesses, or whatever not-for-profit business model necessary to make their business utopia a bit closer, and feed a positive loop with purchases within the business world.


If the choice is between dystopian and utopian, we would be fools to not choose Utopia.

“There are only so many ways one can be told that the future is going to be dark. At some point, there has to be concrete imaginaries readily available for anyone who wishes to cancel the apocalypse.”

Joey Ayoub

As we move beyond the present and seek some future Utopia, we are doing more than shifting from one digital transformation to the next, but rather revolutionizing the space within which we exist – decision by decision, choice by choice and step by step. If our assumptions are even partially correct, individuals will vary more tomorrow than they do today, and business will vary more tomorrow than they do today. Why wouldn’t we seek to place individuals and businesses in a Utopia in that tomorrow if there was even a sliver of a chance?

In the end, there are pessimists and optimists. There are cynics and idealists. There are believers and non-believers. There are heroes and cowards. There are truth tellers and liars. There are resistors and collaborators. They come in all shapes and sizes. But if we sincerely seek Utopia maybe, just maybe, we will find a space in which the Utopia for our business resides within a space which both the business and humans thrive.

Think about this when you ponder Utopian thinking. Not to get too wonky, but, try this: quantum business. There are multiple planes of reality, you just choose one. And maybe that is why seeking Utopia is more important, and possible, than ever. The more complexity, the more dynamism, the more interconnectedness, the more quantum features business portrays, the more likely Utopia is attainable if you are savvy, show some agility (in action and thinking) and not get stuck on a “plan.” Utopian thinking should be undergirded by Amara’s three laws of futures:

  • (1) the future is not predetermined
  • (2) the future is not predictable
  • (3) the future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present

What I will say is that there is no hope for a Utopian outcome, nor hope for a safe transition to a decent space is possible until we address the need for institutional transformation. This is a big ask, is terrifying, is exhilarating, and is the way beyond both entropy and dystopia. The attitude of the future must be matched by a changed attitude for what the business of the future could be. Which leads me to end with James Carse: “Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.” We play to continue the play. That is the way to Utopia. Ponder.

Written by Bruce