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Context Institute is devoted to helping you – and others like you – birth a brighter future for yourself, for humanity and for the earth.

We do this by focusing on positive cultural change toward a humane and sustainable world, all based on our 35 years of experience doing this work.

If this positive, even joyous, approach to the future appeals to you, we welcome you.

Next steps:

“Human Operating System Literacy” and “Systems Literacy” presentations – Jan 21 and 28 in Seattle

The “Tools For The Journey” set of Foundation Stones presentations will be on the last two Wednesdays in January. If you are (or will be) in the Seattle area, save the dates — 6:30 pm on Jan 21 and Jan 28, 2015. If you know people in the area, please encourage them to come.

These presentations will be videoed and made available for free here on context.org, just like the What Time Is It? videos.

Human Operating System Literacy

We begin on the 21st with a deep look at the ways our minds (including our emotions) work, so we can becoming better Planetary Era catalysts. Some of the questions we’ll explore are:

  • What are the practical consequences of our minds being pattern processors?
  • What’s the dance between your conscious and subconscious, among various parts of your brain and body, and among your various sub-personalities?
  • What is your optimal consciousness zone, how can you spend more time there and how can you help groups spend more time there?

Lots of great stuff about how we humans really work.

Systems Literacy

Then, building on the Human Operating System, on the 28th we will get to see “systems” in a whole new psychologically-grounded light as we explore the role of systems literacy in the Planetary Era.:

  • We’ll pull back the curtain of confusion and mystique around “systems” to discover that “systems thinking” is fundamentally just a consciousness of relationships.
  • We’ll explore how system models can provide a wonderful blend of the best of our visual, linguistic and kinesthetic capabilities – perhaps as important for the Planetary Era as literacy was for the Empire Era.
  • We’ll get to see “maps” and “stories” and their relationship with fresh eyes.
  • We’ll get familiar with tipping-points, time-lags, shifting constraints, strategic leverage points and other helpful tools and concepts from the world of systems.
  • We’ll explore how these tools can be applied in easy but potent ways in daily life.

I’m really looking forward to sharing these two great liberating literacies through this pair of presentations. For more on these topics, please look at Two Essential Literacies.

The event will be in Hildebrand Hall at the Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle. The church has a great lounge if you need a place to hang out between work and the event.

¿Qué hora es?

I’m delighted and grateful to announce that the “What Time Is It?” videos have been translated into Spanish! Rafa Giménez has created both subtitles and voice-over dubs for the whole series. Take a look at Vídeos de ¿Qué hora es? to see what he has made possible – and then let all of your Spanish-speaking friends know! Muchas gracias, Rafa!

Now that we’ve learned how to do it through this first translation, we are ready for more languages. If you are interested in being involved in translating to another language, to whatever degree, please contact me.

Systems Thinking In Action
Online Conference

I’ll be one of the keynote presenters in the first online Systems Thinking In Action Conference. The conference runs for five weeks – from August 5th to September 4th – with a fresh keynote presentation each week and lots of ways to engage – Plenary :: World Cafe :: Open Space :: Podcasts :: Forums. It’s being recorded so you can choose your own pace and timing from any timezone. And you can even choose your own price!

My keynote on August 19th is called New Tools for the Journey: The Human Side of Sustainability. It’s just one small piece in a rich feast of content and interaction. The other keynotes deal with topics like:

  • The habits and skills essential for 21st leadership
  • How to thrive in a hyper-connected, socially-driven world
  • Making systems visible in a complex world
  • A paradigm of plenty

Add to this all that will emerge from the World Cafes, Open Space sessions and Forums and it should be quite a five weeks. I encourage you to check it out.

PS – You can listen here to a podcast interview that Chris Clark (the conference host) did with me as a preview of my presentation.

Context Institute’s Long-term Strategy

CI exists to help birth the Planetary Era. That’s its heart-song. It sings to me each day and lifts my spirits when the work gets hard. It connects me to all the previous generations who would have loved to have had our opportunities to make a difference and to all the generations yet to come who will live with the consequences of our choices. It is a wonderful sweet longing – but how does it translate into meaningful action and how can I share it so you can hear this heart-song too?

Those questions have inspired me to create a 9-minute video about CI’s long-term strategy. I encourage you to watch it and discover how, as the pieces of the strategy are put in place, Context Institute will be able to help you and others worldwide become effective Planetary Era change agents – all for the sake of moving into a brighter future as quickly and gracefully as we can.

“What Time Is It? Part 5″ is online

Just in time for Earth Day, this 16-minute video completes the main presentation by exploring how we can work with the momentum of history to move as gracefully as possible into the Planetary Era. (We still have the video of the Q&A time after the presentation to complete but this will need to wait while I attend to other tasks.)

You will find it and all the previous videos on the “What Time Is It?” Videos page.

Now that all of the videos from the main presentation are complete, I’d like to ask for your questions and reflections on the series. What thoughts have they stirred up in you? What other effects have they had on you? Do you have any “yes, but what about …” questions?

I look forward to writing an article with responses to your questions and another article with your reflections. Your comments and questions will also help me to “upgrade” the content in the transcription-based articles.

Your response, short or long, means a lot to me and really helps to move this work forward. Please send it to me via the comment form.

“What Time Is It? Part 4″ video is online

This latest 18-minute video looks towards the future of the Planetary Era as well as the challenges in the remaining Empire-to-Planetary transition. It completes the arc of exploring Tribal to Empire to Planetary.

You will find it and the previous videos on the “What Time Is It?” Videos page. This page also has links to PDF versions of the slides used in each video. As always, your reflections and/or questions are welcome. You can use the comment form on the the video page.

We have two more to go: one for the last section of the presentation on “Working with the momentum of history” and one for the Q&A time after the presentation.

“What Time Is It? Part 3″ video is online

The next one is up. In this 19-minute video we start to identify the key characteristics of the Planetary Era. It begins with a brief look at the changes during the Empire Era and then takes a closer look at the Empire-to-Planetary transition. We peek into the future by looking with fresh eyes at what is already happening around us.

If you haven’t yet seen the previous videos, you will find them all on the “What Time Is It?” Videos page. We’ve been getting lots of good feedback, such as:

  • “I thoroughly enjoyed this history lesson and the notion of discerning the future by looking at the previous shift in domain.”
  • “Eager to see the rest of the story unfold!”

“What Time Is It? Part 2″ video is online

We’ve gotten a lot of thumbs-up on the first two videos (Introductions and What Time Is It? Part 1). Here’s John Graham commenting on the CI Facebook page:

“Well, I wasn’t at the live presentation, but I’ve seen the video edition and it is brilliant. I don’t mean ‘brilliant’ in that Robert is a genius, which he is. I mean ‘brilliant’ in that he has found the words and the technology to get across some very important but highly complex concepts in a way that will make anyone say, ‘Why, heck, why didn’t I think of that?’ Carl Sagan never did it better. Well done all around.”

The next in the series – What Time Is It? Part 2 – is now online. This 23-minute video introduces what I call the Outline of History: a way of understanding the flow of history in terms of three cultural system domains – Tribal/Empire/Planetary – and the transitions between them. It then uses this core framework to explore the first big transition, Tribal To Empire. It’s a powerful start to a journey that, in subsequent videos, will move all the way into the Planetary Era – and how we can be part of creating a thriving sustainable future.

First “What Time Is It?” videos are online

How’d the Feb 12 presentation go?  The best answer comes from those who were there:

  • “I attended ‘What Time is It?’ last week in Seattle, and over the several days since I have been humming with excitement about Context Institute’s work and purpose.”
  • “Wow. Amazing stuff. I work in sustainability, and Robert’s synthesis was profoundly insightful.”

There is so much discouragement and misunderstanding in the world today – at a time when we can ill-afford it. In this context I’m grateful that the Foundation Stones are proving to be a practical, grounded, constructive alternative – providing encouragement, new understandings, new tools and a purposeful way forward.

If you’d like to see for yourself, go to “What Time Is It?” Videos, where you’ll find the first two of what we expect to be a total of six videos to come from the Feb 12 presentation:

  • a 10-minute video that introduces the whole Foundation Stones project, including an introduction of yours truly
  • an 18-minute video that starts the main talk with a look at the dramatic changes in behavior that systems can go through – and how humanity likely went through such a change in the late 20th century

We’re working hard to get the rest of the videos finished. We’ll upload each as it’s ready and use CI News, Facebook and Twitter to announce the new arrival. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to connect with us through at least one of these. We’re excited by this start and hope these videos will serve you, and the world, well.

This work needs your backing

As we launch these videos, we’re at a crucial time in the life of the Foundation Stones project. Our impact is about to grow … and our costs already have. The time has come when we need your backing. If you’re ready to help, please accept our gratitude and use our easy Donation Form to give what you can.

If you’d like to hear more before offering your support, please take a look at A Message From Ann Medlock.


Thank you

Over the past few months we’ve gotten a fair bit of supportive feedback on the Findhorn presentation and more generally on the Foundation Stones project.

A wonderful example comes from my long-term friend David Spangler who used his monthly column in September to talk about the work he used to do in relationship to the “Big Picture” and his sense of what CI is now doing. Among other things, he was kind enough to say:

“Among the many ‘Big Picture’ thinkers of whom I’m aware, Robert stands out for his optimism about our future as a species. It’s not a Pollyanna, wishful-thinking, in-denial kind of optimism either. His positive vision is informed by a wealth of information and insight. … In painting this picture with hope and promise, no one does it better than Robert Gilman and his Context Institute. I encourage you to explore what he has to offer.”

Getting this kind of supportive feedback is deeply nourishing and I want to thank David and everyone else who has offered such encouragement. It touches our hearts and fuels our next steps.

Thank you.

Welcome Eldan

Eldan GoldenbergOne of the most significant milestones in the past few months came at the start of October when Eldan Goldenberg started working with CI as a part-time consultant and thereby converted what had essentially been a one-man-band into a team.

Eldan is currently helping with organizing the Foundation Stones presentation series because that’s our next step and Eldan understands the quiet aspects of service. Yet Eldan brings more than his helpful operational experience. He comes with a deep commitment to acting for a sustainable future and a wonderful alignment with the CI approach.

Let me tell you just a few things about him and then send you to a link where Eldan says it much more beautifully.

Eldan went from a psychology degree from the University of Sussex in England to work at Case Western Reserve University on a PhD involving dynamical systems models of lower animal nervous systems. The more he learned about dynamical systems, the more worried he became about climate change and the risks of passing tipping points in the climate system. Eventually he became convinced that the problems of human society and their environmental manifestations were more urgent than the work he had been focussed on, and left academia to become a full-time sustainability activist.

On this path he has worked at the NW Environmental Training Council and Sustainable Seattle. He co-founded the Happiness Initiative and continues to assist it along with a number of other worthy project. I’m delighted that CI is now one of the places where he is putting his good energy — and delighted to introduce him to you.

So those are the outer contours of his story. I encourage you to look here for Eldan’s own more inner telling of this good story.

“What Time Is It?” – Lessons from history for a sustainable future – Feb 12 in Seattle

Event image

If you are (or will be) in the Seattle area, save the date — 6:30 pm on Feb 12, 2014 — for the first of the Foundation Stones presentation series. You can register for the event at contextinst.brownpapertickets.com or just come. At the door, tickets are $10 for individuals, $7.50 per person for two or more, and $6 for students, unemployed people or those over 65. Scroll down for “Advice for attendees”.

We start the series with Foundation Stone 1. Here’s the event description:

What Time Is It? — Lessons from history for a sustainable future.

“I’ve never been more encouraged about the future than I am today.”
That’s Dr. Robert Gilman, former astrophysicist and long-time sustainability thought-leader, drawing a surprising conclusion from his study of 16,000 years of human history. On February 12 he’ll talk in Seattle about the reasons he’s so encouraged and what they mean to you personally, to the way you see the future and what you can do to create a thriving future for yourself, your community and the world.

Come and discover what you can do to work with the momentum of history.

You can download a PDF flyer for the event here and email it to friends.

The presentation will cover much that was in the Findhorn presentation but will also add important new material.

The event will be in Hildebrand Hall at the Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle. The church has a great lounge if you need a place to hang out between work and the event.

If you know people in the Seattle area, please encourage them to come.

If you can’t come, there will be freely-available videos of the event — not quite the same as being there, but still a good reason for you to cheer us on.

Advice for attendees:

  • Arrive early:
    We have a full evening and need to start on time. Sign-in for the event will start at 6 pm. The Church lounge will be available from 5 pm. If you would like to bring food to eat before the event, you can do so in the lounge.
  • Getting there – Public Transit:
    Your eventual destination is Sixth and Seneca. If you don’t already have a route, Google Transit or Metro’s Trip Planner can help. Every bus that runs through downtown stops within 2-4 blocks of the venue, as does Link light rail. Simply get off at University Street station or the stop closest to University Street / Benaroya Hall / the Downtown Post Office.

    Finding the hall – Walk uphill on University Street. Turn right at Sixth Ave and enter the Church through the second door, closer to Seneca Street, which will take you directly to the hall we will be using.

  • Getting there – Biking and Walking:
    Head toward the intersection of Sixth and Seneca. Enter the Church through the door on Sixth closer to Seneca Street, which will take you directly to the hall we will be using. Bikes can be stowed inside the hall.
  • Getting there – Driving:
    Getting from I-5 to the church is quick and easy. You will find a helpful map and directions here.

    Coming from the north – Take the Union St exit off of I5. Go a few blocks on Union to 5th and turn left. Go one block to University, turn left but get in the right lane. Parking is about half-way up the block on the right.

    Coming from the south – Take the Seneca St exit off of I5. Go a few blocks on Seneca to 4th. Turn right and go a block on 4th. Turn right on to University and get in the right lane. Go up the hill past 5th. Parking is about half-way up the block on the right.

    Coming from I-90 – Exit I-90 heading north on I-5 and take the Madison St. exit. At light, turn left and go down to 4th. Turn right and go three blocks on 4th. Turn right on to University and get in the right lane. Go up the hill past 5th. Parking is about half-way up the block on the right.

    Parking – There are two parking garages used by the church. You don’t want the first one, which has an open-air ramp and is run by IBM. The second one that goes under the church building is what you want. Tell the parking attendant that you are there for a “Plymouth Event” and you won’t be charged (presuming you arrive after 4 pm). There is no attendant in the garage after 6:30 pm, so don’t leave valuables in the car.

    Finding the hall – Take the elevator from the parking garage up to the 2nd floor and you will be right at the entrance to the hall.

  • Seat cushions:
    The seating is on standard metal folding chairs. If you would like some padding, please bring whatever you like.
  • Mugs:
    If you prefer to bring your own reusable mug for tea, please feel free to do so. Otherwise, feel free to use the compostables we provide.
  • Video:
    The event will be video recorded and eventually put up on the web. If you have personal issues with appearing in publicly-available video, you should get in touch with us directly.

Updated 7 Feb 2014

Foundation Stones presentation series

The success of my presentation in June 2013 at Findhorn inspired me to look at doing more presentations covering all of the Foundation Stones. Since then we have been hard at work laying the groundwork for such a series.

If you aren’t yet familiar with the Foundation Stones project, it is Context Institute’s response to the core challenge of our times: to bring our cultures into sync with the 21st century reality around us. You can find out more about the project here.

The plan is to video record each presentation, edit the video well, and then make those videos freely available on the web. The goal is to get the basic concepts of each Foundation Stone out to the public in an easily digestible form.

We will begin in early 2014, in Seattle, starting with Stone 1: What Time Is It?, and then over the coming months move through all of the Stones. Please see the “save-the-date post for the details on the first event.

Organizing these presentations on our own (rather than doing them at conferences) gives us the opportunity to create a comfortable pace. Our current plan is to build the presentations out of 10 to 20 minute chunks with time for Q&A in between.

I’m really looking forward to what we can do with this series and the videos that will come out if it! I expect this to be my major focus for 2014.

Dynamic Planetary Context video is up

I’ve just posted the video of my well-received keynote presentation for the International Communal Studies Association 2013 conference. I invite you to take a look.

Update July 27, 2013: I’ve added a 3-minute trailer and a PDF of the slides to provide options for a quick overview.

Dynamic Planetary Context live on 6/26/2013

I’ll be giving the opening keynote for the International Communal Studies Association’s 2013 conference being held this year at the Findhorn community. My presentation (on 26 June) and all of the plenary sessions will be streamed live over the internet and then be available for streaming over the next 28 days — click here for details including times.

The keynote is called The Dynamic Planetary Context for Intentional Communities and will provide my latest thinking on Foundation Stone 1: What Time Is It? I’m delighted to be able to share this with those at the conference and everyone around the world who watches the video stream. I invite you to take a look!

Introducing the FS Main Thread

The central story of the Foundation Stones is starting to emerge. As I’ve been writing articles and posts for the Foundations Stones, it has become clear that some of these are part of that central story, with each one building on what has gone before. Others play a supporting role. I think of the central articles and posts as the Foundation Stones’ Main Thread.

To make it easier for you to follow this Main Thread, I’ve put in place a system that makes it explicit:

  • There is a listing in the sidebar with links to each Main Thread item.
  • There is a Foundation Stones’ Main Thread page that provides a graphic table of contents, listing published material and upcoming material — so that you can see where the process is headed.
  • Each article or post in the Main Tread is identified as such within it and has previous and next links along the thread.

If you want to get the full benefit from the Foundation Stones project, I encourage you to look at the Foundation Stones’ Main Thread page and then read any of the Main Thread items you haven’t read yet.

hOS and the Burden/Gift of Culture

I’ve posted two additional articles in the Tools For The Journey section:

The Human Operating System (hOS) uses an analogy with smart phones to identify the part of innate human nature that is most important to understand so that we can be effective cultural change agents.

The Burden And The Gift Of Culture goes deeper into what culture is and how it functions — and why it is so essential to what it means to be human.

I invite you to take a look and use the comment form to let me know what you think.

Introducing “culture as interface”


Today I posted a video and an article that introduce a simple, powerful, big-picture framework for understanding how culture fits into its context. The framework is called culture as interface. It’s important groundwork on which the Foundation Stones rest.

The 8-minute animated video, created in Motion, is an experimental first for this site. I’ll be interested in your feedback on it.

I’ve also posted a companion article, Culture-As-Interface In Its Historical Context, that connects the culture-as-interface framework to a rich history of related ideas.

I invite you to take a look and use the comment form to let me know what you think.

Five working hypotheses

(This post follows Who Are The Foundation Stones For? in the FS Main Thread.)

The material on this website is written within the framework of five basic assumptions about humanity and the Earth at this time in history:

  • Business-as-usual is not sustainable
  • The culture is not changing fast enough
  • A thriving sustainable society is possible
  • A pathway to get there is possible
  • These four are all reflections of the major cultural transition that humanity is in the midst of now, a transition as profound as the shift out of hunting and gathering and into agriculture and cities that happened 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.

In this post I want to make these working hypotheses explicit and provide a brief introduction to each, so that together they can provide a meaningful context for the more detailed material in other posts and articles. Continue reading “Five working hypotheses”