Three Horizon Action Dialogue with Anthony Hodgson

Hilary: Hey Tony. What’s holding your attention these days in Scotland?

AnthonyH: The genesis of 3HUni is pretty much top of our agenda. We’re a small group of experienced practitioners in facilitating strategic and futures processes mainly with industry. We’ve been at this for five years. I could pretty much reframe it as a kind of action research.

Hilary: I experienced a 3 H process with you at Dundee Transformations 2018. We were working with the issue of how conventional education is stuck. In many ways it’s become a serious obstacle for the transition in society that many of us sense is needed. I loved the 3 Horizons learning process. So let me ask, what is your experience of education & learning that informs your work?

AnthonyH: I was brought up in the old school of education as “educare.” I did a first degree in chemistry at Imperial College and then after a gap did the postgraduate certificate of education at the University of London Institute of Education. I was bubbling with ideas but saw I would need a huge number of years to get a PhD. By good fortune I got offered a full time research fellowship with the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences working on my ideas. I realize what an incredible privilege that was.

AnthonyH: My research director, a very wise man, John Bennett, said computers are coming; there’s a risk that we’ll use them in a way that kills off dialogue, independent judgment and creativity. We were asking how can we computers to support deeper learning rather than conditioning. We applied this in designing learning for companies, designing management development, doing organization development, then strategy and then scenario planning for companies like Shell, Statoil, Boots and British telecom among others.

Hilary: You’ve been innovating over these many decades and now you bring creativity back to knowledge creation with 3H Uni.

AnthonyH: Yes. And there is a personal spiritual thread in this work over the years. It became very clear to me that most education was about conditioning and not about enlightenment. Fortunately the interesting people on the fringe inside corporations were very aware of learning and so I got drawn in to the organizational learning field for example helping the formation of the European Society for Organizational Learning.

Hilary: All these threads are coming together very strongly now. So tell me, what is your vision 3H Uni your vision for transformed education for enlightenment?

AnthonyH: We can choose to transform but if we don’t, we’ll be forced to transform anyway. So the whole notion that there are those who have the answers to our challenges today is a total nonsense. Claims to comprehensive expertise is misguided. That leads to the observation that the methods of learning which are predominant in the fragmented specialized world of academia and its rules and culture are not fit for purpose We risk future generations who find themselves lonely, distressed, and unable to think about the future. We won’t fight the system; we’ll create a better one that will eventually take it over.

Hilary: Beautiful. Our vision of transformed education and learning may seem completely ridiculous, hopeless and crazy. But what else are we going to do? And let’s have fun while we’re doing it!

AnthonyH: That rings a bell with you?

Hilary: Yeah, it sure does. You mentioned Society for Organizational Learning. So I think of Peter Senge who was part of my dissertation committee in the 90’s. He said to me one day, “Oh, I get it. You want to transform academia.” And I laughed thinking, “who me? wouldn’t that be a bit much.” And now, bizarrely enough, 25 years later, here we are. I’ve come to understand that he was right though I couldn’t see that big a picture back then. I still see Academia as one of the oldest institutions we have, and so it’s foolish to try to change it. But I now understand that transformation is about connecting up the inside transformations. The ones already happening in some places, some schools, some universities and connect them with outside transformations that innovators are incubating. For me the umbrella term for much of this is Action Research which has its roots in Pragmatism and whole persons learning. So our Gathering at Chalmers is an invitation to community for people who are really serious about doing something transformative and leveraging each other’s efforts.

AnthonyH: We’ve had invitations to cooperate before. Now we have reached the point where we know what we bring. And in a networked world, the value is generated in relationship.

Hilary: Nice, yes, independence. Maybe better to say inter-independence. It requires a strong sense of what one has to offer.

AnthonyH: We especially we value running into other like-minded people but we don’t have a campus of campuses for our growing community of interest. We’re trying out on-line, just figuring out ways of hosting conversations where people have a trigger theme then they feel they can open up and begin to share what really matters to them. We’re coming across initiatives where people want direct help. Bill Sharpe is leading such an initiative with a group of groups called Future Stewards. But in the longer term the University of the Future needs to rediscover and develop the Universal Idea of University. For me this is a cosmic question. This kind of understanding is much wider and deeper than the current preoccupations of most of academia. It is the worldview issue that, if not addressed, leads to all the distortions that are causing the blight on humanity and the planetary environment.

It’s about integrating all the human functions of thinking, feeling, sensory motor, sensual and higher functions. It is about having the capacity to learn continuously through dynamic thinking as compared to static thinking. We live in a culture which prefers statis and comfort; the norm is becoming dynamic whether we like it or not. I think that’s the world that we’re moving into. Our emphasis on three horizons (3 H) gives us a way of framing the needed transformation: past, present and future horizons.

The future we are living into is Horizon Three. What can we do now can be referred to as Horizon Two. And what we do can be a plus or minus, seeing which way might an innovation might be going in what is a transformation.

Hilary: In this context of possibility, we might have technology that either reinforces the status quo or opens to genuine transformation. Lots of us are interested in blockchain as we’re hoping for real decentralization. Otherwise I fear that technology makes for a kind of Silicon Valley brotopia which seems to progress by selling private data, in a new kind of surveillance capitalism. Let’s hope that is not the future, or Horizon Three in your terms. So I wonder what could we accomplish together, AR+ and 3HUni that we can’t accomplish alone?

AnthonyH: Well, I guess the best way to find that out is to do something together, which is more congruent; applied wisdom with action learning. I’m thinking of three things. , First, at the Gathering. We’re pretty good at taking a lot of complex stuff, making sense of it as emerging patterns of shared understanding. That kind of work may add to the Gathering. Secondly it may be that some of the methods that we have developed (including the three horizons) mIght be congruent with what you and your group would want to do, so we could perhaps provide some facilitation coaching, even online, before or after the event to sort of get people, help get people in the same space, share further their ideas. Thirdly, possibly H3Uni could become a lab for you to do action research in and, and that way we learn more about action research which we can then promote in our network.

Hilary: Cool! And I believe we are aligned in saying, not only do we want to bring more of a whole persons learning into the mainstream, we want to totally bring community interests around sustainability, into the heart of how we do research and learning. We are not bringing a new way to do learning with more efficiency, what I call project management. Though it has its place. To speak of transformation of learning, means taking relations seriously. As a feminist, I’ve been aware that the academy has no language for, and no use for relationship. This old power structure has been so mechanical, so Newtonian. I love the saying, we are a communion of subjects who act as a collection of objects. Action research gives space to first person, or personal inquiry so we are growing in terms of self development too which then extends to interpersonal, second person learning which is really about experiments in transformation that brings about new institutional forms, be it in education or in healthcare or international development. What do you think.

I’m thinking if we want to grow a new model we need a spirit of open exploration and then we become more structured through dilemma navigation because our transformation challenge is riddled with them. Then we are prepared to ask how are we going to discover who needs us.

And we also need rigorous work. I find a lot of students, or practitioners have truly great ideas for a transformed world, but they don’t always seem so concerned with a rigorous systematic learning process that will move them through action cycles, that include real experiments beyond great ideas. And then to see transformation in the world we’ll need to knit experiments together. Shared templates seem to me to be necessary so that the students in say The Philippines can sync up in a meaningful way with the students in say Canada. It might help to all be on the same page with sustainability goals. If we can germinate an experiment across say 100 universities or knowledge creation institutions, then we will have planted something in the, in the world that might take roots. You know?

AnthonyH: A good outcome for H3Uni as well as AR+ would be that we helped to contribute to growing the ecology of alternative higher education that you’ve just described. So anything that, interacts with other initiatives to look after people and get them on board would be great. As that gets more recognized, I think it will begin to crack open the funding.

I love proceeding without plans. Although I spend a lot of time as a consultant in strategic planning, I see planning as a way that you necessarily occasionally have to rationalize what’s actually emerged.

You say we need rigor, we need to be clear. We need to, as far as possible not get too confused by what’s going on.

Hilary: Yes, I agree. Because it’s been so much about map making. Systems thinking has often been systems mapping. That’s useful of course. But the map is not the the territory, which is where it’s alive. It’s juicy and, and we need both. Walking on two feet.

AnthonyH: The key thing is the rehabilitation of the observer, the participant as co-subject. I call it second order cybernetics, a kind of smuggling in so it’s okay to show up as a person and still call it science. This is my language, my equivalent of your action research.

Hilary: Second order cybernetics. Makes sense. I like it. Being reflexive is one of the hallmarks of good action research. It’s the one that is most exciting to people I believe. It’s also the biggest, scariest thing to academics. But the old guard is changing.

AnthonyH: They are increasingly having to notice that they can’t cope with the world within their Newtonian silo.

Hilary: Ahem, Anthony. I’m officially inviting you to represent 3H Uni and I ask that you and perhaps Bill come to our Gathering. We like it when two people come together, like Noah’s Ark. Our Gathering will be at Chalmers in Gothenburg, Sweden. Just up the road from you there in Scotland.

AnthonyH: As they say in America, USA. I’m deeply honored.

Hilary: And maybe you can you wear your tartan kilt? Even better bring some Single Malt?

AnthonyH: I’ll probably go for a tartan waistcoat. We’ll see. I’ll be in touch.

Hilary: Wonderful Anthony. Looking forward to it. Thank you!