Exactly one week ago, I was setting up my computer on a high table at Laatbloeien, our office in Rotterdam. I needed everything to be ready for the Zoom call we were about to have with transport entrepreneur Robin Chase, who was connecting with us from Boston, United States. She was about to speak to the 15 participants of Beyond Flying Cars, our first Masterclass on the future of urban mobility.
Lunch break ended, everyone came back into the room, Robin spoke for thirty minutes about why electric cars are everything but a paradigm shift in the mobility transition. But it was something that was said during the conversation following right after that stayed with me. At some point, Robin was asked about the future. This is what she said:
"A couple years back my daughter asked me: 'will there be humans in 50 years time?' I never lie, so I said 'well, there's a 50-50 chance.' We both stayed silent, did not look at each other. That evening my older daughter yelled at me: 'mum, what were you thinking?! How can you say that to your daughter?!'. But, you know, the point is – I think we're at a pivotal time."
We are. Denying this, sugar-coating it, looking away, covering it up, are all nonsensical actions. Everyone knows – or, rather, should know. But then the question that boils inside me is this: does accepting the fact that we absolutely need to change the way we do things, because the world is changing around us and it has become a life-or-death matter, change at all how we act? Does accepting chaos make us more resilient, more fit to think and do differently?
According to Derk Loorbach, Director at DRIFT and Professor of Socio-economic Transitions at the Faculty of Social Science of Erasmus University Rotterdam, chaos is also the moment of emergence, and profound situations of destabilisation and accelerated experimentation are what lead to this breaking point. This is what transition management theory argues.
What this means, in practice, right now, to us, is that this is the moment for "radical thinking and diplomatic action", again quoting professor Loorbach. When he said this last week, at Het Nieuwe Instituut, I glanced at my colleague Mario Raimondi, Humankind Academy Director. He nodded. I quickly scanned the room. Our participants were nodding. It was Wednesday, March 29th. The first day, and the very first lecture of Beyond Flying Cars. I smiled. "I think this is a good start", I thought to myself.
For months, when we were talking about the content of this Masterclass, this was our intention. To try to shake up schemes, methods, and mental maps. To be able to smash doors and windows, to blow up minds. A modest objective, you could say, ironically. I don't blame you. But when we think about the society that we live in, when so much information is so available all the time, it is very, very easy to become numb. And we simply cannot afford to become numb.
"We have an absolute, extreme need to stimulate imagination and creativity, even more so in a world that praises and aims for rapid, productive and efficient solutions. This idea is too simple for problems that are no longer complicated –within one system– but that have become complex instead –that is, several systems interconnected come at play. This demands creativity, imagination. How can we imagine something that does not exist, that we do not know of?"
These were the closing remarks of my esteemed colleague Mario. When he was saying these sentences, I was again glancing at the room, and again, I saw people nodding.
One week after, when reflecting on everything that happened last week, Mario and I discussed how indeed there are many things to learn to do better. But overall, for a first time, I think we can confidently say that we managed to open up a different mindset –about urban mobility, but also beyond–, and present concrete tools for its implementation in real life, in any working context, right now.
Nuria Ribas Costa – Communications Officer and Researcher ; Mario Raimondi – Academy Director
All Images: Benjamin Schot