Posted by & filed under Open Letters.

Dear Jon.

Thank you for your analogy of FASST as a “wonderful rocket ship”  – with related concerns and questions regarding its practicality. They are all perfectly valid and most helpful. In fact they are similar to the questions Sally asked me in her role as FASST facilitator in our Skype call earlier this week. Your questions included “What is FASST for? What will it DO? Who will it serve?” I feel that I do know the answers, but the answers are inside me. I have yet to articulate them effectively. Trying to explain to Sally helped. I hope that trying to explain to you will also make things clearer.

Returning to the rocket ship analogy: you expressed a concern that I was building the rocket ship “but there’s no moon”.  You questioned its  purpose and wondered if there is in fact “a job to be done” by FASST. 

You finished your response to me by writing  “…. the danger is that there is some Nirvana – a ‘this is what heaven looks like, let’s take you there’ offering. Its a great vision of how the world could work, but what will stop it from floating out there in the void? Where would you like it to land?

I’m confident that I can reassure you of its practicality, and I appreciate the structure you’ve given me to do so.

I’ll start by discussing the analogy, and building on it. Once the scene is set through the analogy it may be easier to address the practical questions.

The analogy

I like the fact that you see FASST as a vehicle for a journey. I see it as a vehicle too, a vehicle for exploration in what I call the Landscape of Change (more on that in What’s the Good of Landscape of Change? )

I like that you question FASST’s sense of direction and final arrival point. It’s a reasonable area of questioning, but this is an exploration, so despite knowing my general direction it is inevitable that some details will only emerge en route. An exploration, by its very nature will have a sense of direction (such as “finding the source of the Nile” or even simply heading towards some unknown terrain to find out what is there) and the details only become clear on arrival. I do have a clear sense of direction, so from that point of view regarding your analogy and concern that “there’s no moon” I can assure you that there definitely is one.

In the name “FASST” the last two letters stand for Systemic Transformation. FASST is heading into the future – but as William Gibson commented back in 2003   “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” FASST is going to explore that unevenly distributed future.

In your analogy FASST is a rocket ship. To me FASST is more like a time machine than a rocket ship, and a very practical “short haul” kind of a time machine at that.  A FASST trip is not going to be anything like a sci-fi, long-haul, time-travelling expedition far into the distant future. It will be completely different.  Given the unevenly distributed future that is already here, time travelling in FASST will be comparatively local, rather like getting into a time-travelling camper van that visits easy-to-reach landmarks of the future.

Later on FASST will also do some longer treks into unfamiliar future landscapes. This won’t happen until the fellow travellers in FASST have got to know each other. Even then we won’t be going beyond the bounds of reality. I can still your fears about FASST heading off to some NIrvana and floating out in the void. We will be very practical. Early on we will establish effective ways of working together. That’s where the importance of being a holacracy comes in. The second and third letters of FASST stand for Accountability and Structure. All the travellers in FASST will have to be committed to working according to the FASST holacracy constitution. That will give us the accountability and structures that we need for our explorations of Systemic Trasformations. Our holacracy constitution will guide the development of the shared, cultural “ways of being” that we’ll need as we travel around exploring the future.

The first letter of FASST stands for Freedom. The discipline of Holacracy, and our awareness of being a Teal organisation will give us the freedom we need to express ourselves and our interests within FASST. (Freedom, Accountability and Structure for Systemic Transformation).

Back to reality and T4S

So, back to reality, here and now, in 2015. There are more easy-to-reach landmarks of the future than there were back in 2004 when William Gibson made the “unevenly distributed future” comment. For example you and I connect through the Teal for Startups group  (T4S). Many of the T4S “cultural norms” would not have been possible a few years ago. Many of the tools we use routinely now in T4S to share information, to organise work and to meet online weren’t easily available until recently.

It might be interesting to time-travel back to 2004 with members of T4S to discover our individual journeys from 2004 to the present. Imagine mapping those journeys in terms of evidence of “unevenly distributed futures”. Back in 2004 what bits of the emerging future were people  exploring? What kind of collaborations were we involved in? Who were the early adopters of various digital platforms? Where did we think we were going? Back in 2004 would any of us have expected to find ourselves together in T4S in 2015?

Within our various T4S working groups some of us struggle with “new-to-us” tools or concepts.. When we use them we are entering areas of an unfamiliar world. We are playing catch-up. To put it in FASST time-travel terms we are recent arrivals at this point in time. What individual routes have we taken from our pasts to what was then the future and is now the present? Where will we go next? Who is “ahead of us” on that journey? What can we learn by visiting other people at their locations in the unevenly distributed future? What are the benefits of going on journeys together?

Your questions

At the start of this open letter I said I’d discuss the analogy first because “Once the scene is set through the analogy it will be easier to address the practical questions.”

I’ve discussed the analogy, and built on it. Now I’ll take a quick look at the questions, so you’ll know I do have answers, but I may need to answer more thoroughly in a later post.

Your first three questions were: What is FASST for? What will it DO? Who will it serve?

From a time-travel point of view FASST is a bridge between the present and the future. That may sound vague, so I’ll make it more concrete with a specific example of something that I have been working on with Nikki Fishman. Nikki may bring this initiative herself when she joins FASST, or I may bring it for her. Other people who come to FASST will bring their own changemaking projects, some are already lined up.

FASST will serve the people who join its community. By serving them it will help the people and projects they serve. The other steps of how the community will generate an information commons, and how that will lead to other steps that in turn help with systemic transformation, have been described in detail elsewhere.

An example

The FASST community (i.e. the fellow travellers in the metaphorical time-travelling camper van) will act as a peer-to-peer support group on their journeying around the unevenly distributed future. I will help others with their initiatives and they will help me. As we travel along others will join us. These will be people who don’t already have initiatives of their own but do want to be involved in changemaking.

Regarding background information for my own example, with Nikki, I have written elsewhere about my 15 years of UK-Africa collaborative work (including in The long version of : “My Why” and FASST ) An outcome of that work is a prototype of a new approach to International Development. This approach tackles the wasteful allocation of funding that I describe as the “development disconnect” (see It’s time to end this development disconnect ).

The current UK-Africa collaborative work that can be seen at will only have a “systemic transition” level of impact on International Development when it has expanded considerably. There are two ways to achieve this expansion. One is to continue with small steps and gradual growth. The other is to set up a new organisational entity, so that growth can be more rapid. Such as entity would be ready to act as a holding and enabling space for new people as they arrive. Organisationally you can think of it as one circle within a holacracy. One of the purposes that FASST may fulfil when it is well established, is to have such a circle.

I can see the steps to get there, and why being a Holacracy will support what I have in mind, but I can’t go into the details here.

Wider applicability of this example

Providing a mechanism for growth, in the way that is needed for the Africa changemakers group at would provide a valuable protoyype of a service that is needed by other organisations as well. Developing the prototype service would be beneficial to other organisations that are not trying to grow, but do rely on volunteers. This is because of the way that roles and accountabilities are emphasised in a Holacracy, which in turn makes it comparatively easy for roles to be energised by different people at different times.

Anyone who uses volunteers knows about the problems that can arise with a changing pool of workers. One week someone has time on their hands and wants to be busy, The next week a full-time paid job has come along and the volunteer disappears (perhaps to return a few months later if the paid post was temporary). One of the expected features of our future world is a changing, more precarious world of work. FASST has a part to play in that scenario, both for paid and unpaid work.

To be continued?

The personal example I’ve described is no more than an example. My vision of FASST has been influenced by many aspects of my work with the Changemakers in Africa. This means that I do know problems that need solving and I do see how FASST could be a solution to those problems and to others like them.

I’ll send this open letter to you and see if it sufficiently answers your concerns or if I need to go further with the practical questions in a later post. Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile I’ve copied your comments below in full for future reference.

You wrote:

You are singing a song that I have been singing for a long time. I should be whooping and hollering my excitement. The need for systems intelligence and for new ways of going about things is indeed urgent and you are combining many powerful tools in service of that. Great that you are using them yourselves so that you have authenticity. Great that you have Sally McCutchion to support you.

So why no whooping from me yet? At the moment it feels as if you are building the most wonderful rocket ship, but there’s no moon. I don’t hear an answer yet to George’s question. What is FASST for? What will it DO? Who will it serve?

None of these tools are of use until there is somewhere for them to be applied, and a job to be done. If there is a job, which tool would you use first, and why? Assuming for the moment that FASST might serve an organisation, how does it discover what’s next for that organisation? How does it meet it where it is? Without a sense of that, the danger is that there is some Nirvana – a “this is what heaven looks like, let’s take you there” offering. Its a great vision of how the world could work, but what will stop it from floating out there in the void? Where would you like it to land?