Week in review: Week 3-Month 4-2004

The entries for this week were inspired by my part in a small conference held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The conference was organized by Sterling Rice.

This was a pretty remarkable group and it included Bruce Grieve, Claudia Probart, David Pescovitz, Gary Hart, Mark Miller, Maureen O’Hara, and Omar Wascow (marketing guru, nutritionist, Wired journalist, former US senator, chef, university president and website founder, respectively.)

The entries for the week attempt to figure out how a group like this can work. After all, this group came from a variety of occupational, educational, ideological, and perspectival backgrounds. Somehow communication was not just possible but profuse and fecund. This is for Sterling Rice founder, Rick Sterling to say, but I think he got his money’s worth. We glimpsed the future, at least parts of it, and we rendered it a little more intelligible.

The chief problem here turns the notion of dynamism. The group is dynamic, the problem solving activity is dynamic, and the topic in question is nothing if not dynamic. The challenge was to bring together smart people who can bring together a body of propositions about the future which can be assembled into a body of “view corridors” that are more or less useful. It worked…and this is a mystery.

Two first two entries offer evidence of dynamism. In the entry for the 13th, I recount a conversation with Mark Miller. Mark was regaling me about developments in Spanish cuisine. He sees Spain as one of the hotbeds of culinary innovation. We fell to talking about food in North America and its clear that remarkable changes have taken place in the last 40 years. The swing generation here may be boomers who grew up on 50s cuisine, with wedges of iceberg lettuce covered in Kraft dressing and now routinely eat out at restaurants that draw inspiration and innovation from every corner of the globe. Dynamism has come to food.

The second entry, the one for the 14th, is about ghost hunters at my hotel. I went up to my room at lunch time and there were 3 people looking in all the wrong places, under stair wells and into laundry rooms. The hotel has been the set for the filming of the Shining and it often gets visited by ghost hunters.

I take these people to be evidence of the ongoing “reenchantment” of our culture, where we throw off the evidence and the methods of science and rationalism, and quite happily entertain the existence of a great variety of extraterrestrial, otherworldly, and supernatural creatures. Our culture has added vast tracts of imaginative possibility to the world enscribed by science and conventional religion. This makes for dynamism, too.

The entry for the 15th is a reflection on how smart people work together in a conversation. When you are, as we were, talking about the future, and in this case blogging, any number of things can be true and the trick is to herd smart ideas together into constellations that create plausible scenarios. Omar, Mark and I were building a dynamic set and the best model for the set is probably improv.

The entry for the 16th is a reflection of the larger process of idea generation and problem solving established by the conference. The mystery here is how perfect strangers can be productive…but we were. Complexity theory with its presumption of the order that comes of messiness would seem to be our best guide here.

Anthropology has to learn to think about dynamism if its wants to think about first world cultures.


My favorite reading for improv is
Sweet, Jeffrey. 1978. Something Wonderful Right Away: an oral history of the Second City and the Compass players. New York: Avon Books.

My favorite reading for dynamism is:
Postrel, Virginia. 1998. The Future and Its Enemies: The growing conflict over creativity, enterprise and progress. New York: The Free Press.

My favorite reading for complexity theory is
Clippinger, John Henry. 1999. The biology of business: Decoding the natural laws of enterprise. Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.