“This year, everyone is reimagining something,” wrote Andrew Keith Walker in his blog. What is particularly surprising, however, is that this line was written way back in the year 2019, before the world was stopped by a global pandemic and millions of us started actually reimagining.
Today, examples of reimagining are everywhere. To quote Walker again:
If you Google the word reimagine, you will enter a world of pure imagination. Not the kind of imagination you want, a sort of crappy version. Academic research, cities, culture, design, education, football, funerals, HR, passwords, public policy, services, venture capital and zoo — to name but a few — every noun and verb from A to Z has been reimagined. Even the alphabet has been reimagined.
So I did a bit of Googling myself in an attempt to uncover evidence of future thinking taking place in other industries and professions beyond education. Within a few clicks, I found myself reading about the “next normal” for work and the workplace, healthcare, industry, hospitality, human resources, even city planning and architecture.
What struck me almost immediately was that the lexicon of reimagining was almost exactly the same as many of us are now all-too-familiar with when it comes to thinking about the future of school. In fact, four themes were coming up so frequently that I had to check that my randomly selected articles hadn’t all been written by the same individual: the need for organisational agility; greater focus on user-experience; digital acceleration; and the opportunities of remote working.
I have to say that, after just one hour, I was left a little disappointed by what I had read. After more than a year of reimagining, I guess I had hoped to find a few more tangible, nuanced, and industry-specific reconfigurations.
It appears that reimagining - at least in terms of real and sustained progress - is harder than many of us might have imagined.
So I decided to turn my attention to another question: how does society learn? By which I mean, when dramatic global events occur such as we have experienced with Covid-19, how does human society, along with all of its component parts, react and progress?
And this is when I stumbled upon the work of Daniel Yankelovich and his almost Hegelian idea that societies progress only insofar as they “lurch and learn”.
Society lurches, mindlessly, in some opposite direction - often in the way you see adolescents grow. There is a sudden lurch, then after the lurch the learning takes place. It is a very dangerous form of adaptation because you leap before you look, and then you learn.
What Yankelovich is perhaps suggesting here is important for two reasons.
First, it is a reminder to all of us that the future that we are busy reimagining right now is less something that we can predict and navigate our way towards by means of a straight line, but more a constant lurching from one temporary-fixed position to another.
Second, it is also a reminder of Kierkegaard’s axiom that whilst life is lived forwards, it can only be understood backwards. So, as much as we think we can know everything in advance, the likelihood is that we are going to spend much more time leaping into the unknown over the next few years and, only after the fact, learning if we have progressed in a tangible way or not.