World Building: Why build worlds?

In my last post I said I had been inspired to explore World Building in more detail.  I’ve been building worlds throughout my career but not by that name.  This post will try to explain why I am so (re)energised by the idea.

We live in a world of complex problems and ideas and many of us are seeking new tools and ways of addressing them.  How do we get people thinking about the climate crisis, changing behaviours during a pandemic, building remote or hybrid teams and how do we transform old analog businesses into new digital ones?

A big part of my life has been about helping individuals and companies address a subset of these problems and make sense of the impact of digital technologies but today digital is so pervasive that every problem has either a digital component or a potential digital solution. 

I co-founded Hyper Island as a place where learners could explore such problems and make possible futures through tackling interesting challenges and working in teams to construct (or at least prototype) solutions. 

This makers’ view of learning is transdisciplinary (a big strength) and relies less on teaching or instruction and more on facilitation and guiding.  Our focus needs creativity and critical thinking and a bravery to experiment, and often fail, before transferable skills and knowledge are revealed.

Transdisciplinary thinking, problem solving teams and devising multiple solutions come together really well in World Building.  We need to copy the writers, games designers, film makers and some systems thinkers who have already seen the possibilities and are building worlds as part of their creative processes.

World building is about bringing to life the richness and complexity of a real or imaginary world while considering how the different facets of that world interact. Instead of constructing a linear story (a set of events), the author constructs a world in which thousands of stories could potentially take place.  

Here then are 10 reasons I think we should be including World Building in our Hyper Island curriculum and in similar learning environments around the world:

  1. We maximise the creative opportunities of both individuals and teams allowing people with different interests and knowledge to bring their perspectives into a shared world.
  2. We encourage detailed research to support these perspectives.  Of course worlds can be magical or work to a different set of rules but these decisions must be conscious and deliberate (rather than wishful thinking).
  3. We genuinely explore and incorporate diversity in a safer less confrontational context.  Building worlds together will illuminate our different values, beliefs and ideas and allow us to see things from very different viewpoints.
  4. We help people explore systems and the relationships between systems.  What happens if this happens? What will be the effect if we don’t make that decision?.
  5. We allow people to work outside the constraints of their own version of the real world.  This is going to be particularly important if we are working with companies or organisations.  We must spend time however capturing the lessons that can be applied back at work.
  6. We build storytelling skills in participants including making skills in bringing these stories to life.  These might be short films, magazine, games or models.
  7. We prepare leaners for likely futures.  I’m excited by (only) a few of the ideas of a metaverse: an example of a hyped up version of world building. By teaching others world building we make our learners creators rather than just consumers (of what every Mark Zuckerberg and others have in mind).
  8. We stress test our ideas about technology, relationships and change.  Using “what if” questions to challenge our thinking and imagine what is currently impossible or unlikely helps us see the impact of what others may already be building. 
  9. We create artefacts that others can explore and comment upon before they become fully realised.  This lets the consumer or the customer into the innovation process.
  10. It’s amazingly fun and all learning should be fun.

In future parts of this series, I look at some of my own first experiments in building worlds and some of the amazing books and stories that are helping me practice my skills and hone my thinking.

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