Response to George Will’s column of March 27, 2016
Fictional News Anchor Howard Beal in the 1976 Movie Network
George, do you remember the fictional television anchor, Howard Beal, from the 1976 movie Network? Erie timing, no? Writer Paddy Chayefsky was prescient in catching this early wave of “discontent” in the American public just a few years after you began to write for the Washington Post? You recommended Gordon’s, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, in your last Sunday’s opinion piece as an antidote to the two extreme visions of America during this Presidential Election: “A present grimmer that it is and a future grander than it can be.”
I was disappointed and somewhat shocked. You essentially used this book as an expert reference (“widely recognized”) in an intellectual exercise aimed at blaming, and then burying, the anger and disappointment of the dying middle class in 762 pages book (“relevant to America’s current discontents”) of ready-made excuses for “unrealistic expectations” of these discontents—all deified as a one-off series of life-changing inventions produced by the “unprecedented and unrepeatable ‘special century’” from 1870 to 1970. Really?
First, what this attitude says to the discontents and other voters is this:
Sorry pals, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t complain, deal with it; Shit happens.
The discontents answer:
It’s not our shit! We have nothing to be sorry for; we have been doing our part! We are just mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. We, as co-owners of America, want authentic leaders who don’t lie to us, who know what the hell is really going in the world, and who use this knowledge and expertise to do their jobs like we do ours. We are prepared to replace leadership with anyone not tied to past leadership, even with mad men and mad women that might blow up the whole place. If we must, we must; maybe we will rebuild it ourselves.
Second, representing the “special century” as a unique never-to-be-repeated period either ignores or grossly misunderstands the exponential drivers of natural growth, including that of America. These growth drivers have appeared throughout the universe from the atomic and sub-atomic to the galactic nature of things since time immemorial (Network Chairman’s “come-to-Jesus” speech to errant TV anchor, Mr. Beal.) The “special century” cited in Gordon’s book was just the start of the latest epoch of technological growth from energy to information (intangibles) following the earlier epoch from fire power to nuclear power (tangibles). We are destined to have an unlimited series of “special centuries of growth” if we don’t destroy our selves first.
Third, a note to historians: The use of “rise” and “fall” for the title of any book before the subject is dead and cold is a clue that the author is scheming to place him or her at the head of the some class by murdering a living provisional truth with a premeditated lie; seems like there ought to be a literary jail sentence of some kind for this sort of crime. Blame the influence of Shakespeare’s catchy line, past is prologue for the future, if you must; however, Gibson’s line is more relevant these days: the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
Here, I offer the missing “techno-optimist’s” counter point that I was hoping to see a glimpse of in your piece. It turns out that we are, indeed, approaching the peak growth of innovative possibilities ever for the future of humanity. We are amassing a huge stock of “digital firewood” piled up to the heavens for us to burn through in future centuries as we figure out how to make the transformative leap from our current tangible (“material”) epoch to a new intangible (“virtual”) epoch of civilization.
According to my colleague, natural growth expert Dr. Theodore Modis of Learning Dynamics in Geneva, Switzerland, we are approaching the peak year (2028) of our highest innovation rate in the history of earth, and are perhaps poised for the leap to a new trans-human reality that the current generation is just learning how to design; They and their children will be the foundational architects—the next da Vinci’s—of this new epoch; The future will not disappoint, unless we allow it to do so. We just have to understand the big picture of growth and choose to see and harvest solutions from the infinite possibilities before us to create a grander future. I offer this concluding thought as a friendly reminder that the continuous train of “rise and fall” cycles of growth is the universal hall mark of life and learning in all of its forms, even existence in the abstract, many would argue:
Stability only exists in motion, like a boat sailing in a fresh ocean breeze moving forward in dynamic balance between the conflicting forces of “what is” and “what can be.” I believe the goal of living is to maintain a balanced existence while we “empty what’s full, fill what’s empty, and scratch where it itches,” as we sail on present moments into future.
(The quote in bold is from Alice Roosevelt Longworth.)
Robert Joseph Harris, PhD
CEO and Founder of Paradigm Research International, LLC
 Background of Robert Joseph Harris, PhD
I went from high school to the College of William and Mary on a basketball scholarship (my first job) and stayed for nine years getting a BS, MS, and PhD degree in physics. I started work full time in my first real job as a freshly minted PhD at 26 managing a small nuclear research laboratory for a large company (General Atomic) in Southern California.
There, I increased my computer skills, learned how to make a profit from science, and how to market and manage others, as well as interact with clients. I left after two years to join my boss and a small group of other founders at an exciting new La Jolla startup company in its first year as an employee co-owner (Science Applications, Inc. – SAI for its first three years, then renamed and re-registered in Delaware as Science Applications International Corporation – SAIC).
My interest was to create new ways for non-scientific individuals to use computers to generate, manage and analyze scientific knowledge using algorithms and early online computer technology; laptops and Internet were not available at the time. I succeeded by inventing an algorithm that could produce a practical solution for a class of commercially important complex scientific equations in fractions of seconds for dollars per solution that previously required hours of computer mainframe time grinding through the laws of physics at a cost of $100k per solution.
This program launched a decade of sponsored research at SAIC. My original algorithm would be burned into a silicon chip years later, and put into a handheld computer device by a startup company (Horizons Technology, Inc. – HTI) owned by my best friend; HTI would later become a client of my own company. I helped SAIC reach a billion dollars in sales in its tenth year, profitable every year. This put extra money in my pocket from stock I owned and allowed me to fund and follow my own dreams.
I then left SAIC to start my own business to help other companies grow, and SAIC became my first client. I wanted to share my knowledge of how growth happens. My plan was to own, fund, and manage three separate startup firms in parallel based on “intangible ideas” alone (new concepts for analytics, communications, and learning). Thus began a ten-year live business experiment to explore first-hand the dynamics of an emerging new paradigm of growth that I sensed was beginning to taking place for organizations throughout society.
This decade positioned me perfectly for the unfolding digital future that was beginning to grow rapidly; shortly after this idea began to succeed I would say jokingly, when asked, that “this was my brilliant plan all along” to cover my ego and ass because everyone I had asked for advice told me not to do it; Truth be told, I was lucky in timing and direction from just following the muse of my curiosity.
In the early 1990’s I began to fold what I had learned into a new company I founded, Paradigm Research International, LLC (PRI-Global, later). PRI focused on what I thought was the single most important idea I had learned so far about the dynamics of natural growth: the power of paradigm shifts. My essential insight was that all “work” seemed to boil down to the competition between opposing paradigms, or world views—the constant conflict between what is and what can be.
During the next 25 years, I became a paradigm guru advising Fortune 500 profit and non-profit organizations, as well as mid-sized firms and startups; they were all dealing with rapid changes of paradigms at many levels of their organizations. I had an inside seat during this time to watch as society hurtled toward becoming the frictionless digital society it is clearly becoming today.
During this long period I also engaged with academic institutions in America and Europe teaching entrepreneurship and giving invited public lectures and private talks on the philosophy of growth, paradigm shifts, and processes of natural growth applied to quality, health care, energy, business, climate change, religion, transportation, digital economy, community development, and politics. At the end of this period a few years ago, I got both knees replaced, and while I rehabbed, I organized what I had learned through my life’s interesting journey to date. I then decided to move from the DC area to Baltimore’s growing community-based culture for my continued work, and also for personal reasons.
I now split my work time between writing and advising from my Baltimore office, located in the heart of the city’s creative district blocks from Druid Lake Park, a region where Baltimore’s surging renaissance is being seeded by the innovative fusion of science, art, education, and culture at the Maryland Institute of Creative Art (MICA). On a personal note, I moved to Baltimore to be near my famous Jazz musician son, Michael, and his dazzling young daughter, Lotus; and to be with the love of my life, Maria.