Smart Thoughts

About Designing the Future

Poke and Prod the Corners of the Creativity You Craft

Written by: Barry Bozeman

If you could create a box for us to dream in, what would it be like?

Such a wonderful question.  Suggestive but oblique. Seemingly infinite, but actually quite structured. 

Let’s begin stipulating the rules.  We are creating a box.  What kind of box?  A literal, physical box, like a safe house or man/woman cave?  A conceptual box?  Or – my favorite – a self-limiting trap box, based on one’s own boxiness? 

Stipulated Rule 1: a box containing all aggregate experience and imagination, in other words a paltry little box, one characterized by overweening box-pride.

This paltry little box has a function.  We are not using it to haul potatoes or to return our malfunctioning not-so-smart speaker to Amazon.  No, we are using it to dream.  But why do we want to dream?  Some psychologists believe that dreams are little more than a cathartic mental exercise having no function other than allowing us to emote in peace.

Stipulated Rule 2: the dreams we dream in our paltry little box serve as mental gymnastics and, perhaps, as grist for the world’s few remaining Freudian clinicians, almost all of whom reside in Argentina.

Now that we have the stipulations out of the way, let us proceed to the task at hand, building the dream box. I considered several alternatives, all rejected.  Not virtual reality.  Not Vulcan mind meld.  Not chemically-induced Learyisms. Then I realized: We already have a paltry little dream box.  I am using it right now!  My computer and, specifically, the internet. While it is not quite true you can find everything on the internet, nothing exists if it is not on the internet. It is our means of existential validation.

The internet is incredibly vexing, so why is it a worthy dreambox?  Dreams and creativity come from association.   What if “remote associators” really are the most creative among us? What better tool for remote association?  You put “Leopold” into the Google text box and out pops Leopold II, Aldo Leopold, a scatology from the urban dictionary, not to mention leopold mechanical keyboards.  What in the heck is a leopold mechanical keyboard?????  And then on page three we find the SS Leopoldville, a passenger liner converted to a troopship in the Second Word War. Sunk by the U-486. Oh yes, the passenger liner was named for Leopoldville – now Kinshasa – the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Let us dream not of the body electric but of mechanical keyboards, manufactured in Kinshasa, designed to enhance Leopodian conservation, but sunk to the bottom of the Congo River, surely by Leopold and Loeb.

Paltry little remote associating box.  Upon which our existence now depends.

How does my conceptual dream box pertain to the design of the future? It beats a path away from linear and incremental thinking, away from artificial distinctions between rationality and emotion, order and chaos, and between bio and cyber.  Perhaps it has already erased the line between conventional notions of truth and omnipresent fake news, with a rabid-dog dialectic replacing civil discourse.  Is the future dystopian? Or liberating?  Can we design the future or is it designing us, both literally and figuratively?  Was the sage David Lynch right, that too much is never enough?  My bet: thinking out of the box will take on a whole new and highly valued meaning: hand-crafted simplification. But maybe that is just an old fart’s kids-these-days speculative nostalgia. We’ll see.  Maybe.


About Barry Bozeman  

Barry is Regents’ Professor and Arizona Centennial Professor of Science and Technology Policy and Public Management at Arizona State University and founding Director of the Center for Organization Research and Design.  His research focuses on public management, organization theory and science and technology policy. Among his numerous books, All Organizations Are Public helped establish a new research and theory approach to “publicness.”  Bozeman’s research articles have appeared in every major U.S. journal in the fields of public policy and public management and his research has been summarized in science publications such as Nature, Nature Medicine, Science, and Issues in Science and Technology.  His Public Values and Public Interest won the American Political Science Association’s Herbert Simon Award for best book published in public administration and public affairs. Bozeman’s most recent book (written with Jan Youtie) is Strength in Numbers: The New Science of Team Science. Bozeman is an elected fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Public Administration.