Convergence Conversation: Creating World-altering Impacts with Daniel Kinzer
I met Daniel Kinzer in December 2018 aboard the National Geographic Explorer, headed to Antarctica. Daniel is a 2018 recipient of The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, founded by Sven-Olof Lindblad in honor of Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman emeritus of the National Geographic Society, for his decades of support for pre-K–12 educators and geography education in North America. The award rewards exemplary educators with a life-changing, field-based professional development experience traveling with National Geographic aboard Lindblad Expeditions’ voyages. Daniel used his experience to bring new geographic awareness to his students and colleagues.
Three years later, in February 2021, Daniel and I had the opportunity to reconnect in a Convergence Conversation. These discussions are dedicated to surfacing real-world examples of the many ways that business, technology, and humanity are intersecting to accelerate change, shift mental models, and drive new imperatives for leaders.
Deb: I'm fascinated by how active you are in education, the future of Hawaii, and the future of the planet. In the last chapter of Future Shock, Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘anticipatory democracy’ to describe the process for combining citizen participation with future consciousness. Am I right in observing that you and your colleagues are doing exactly this?
Daniel: I don't think I've ever thought to tie my endeavors to Toffler’s work. As I have revisited his works over the last couple of days, I think the anticipatory democracy framing does describe a lot of the work that I'm doing both in education and more broadly in Hawaii. I think that’s because I maintain a lot of hope and optimism for this place.
Deb: The last couple of years have been extraordinary. People are frustrated with their governments, they're concerned about the environment, and they're worried about the future. When I look at the list of activities you are involved with, they all seem to be about having dialogues related to looking for and understanding innovations for the future. Am I reading this correctly?
Daniel: Absolutely. This has been an invitation for me to dig into Toffler’s work again and place it in the current moment and its historical context. It’s one of the great things about Hawaii and the work being done here. Thanks to the Hawaiian people and the Hawaiian Renaissance, there's an important indigenous perspective that I'm just learning about. I'm fascinated by indigenous cultures in general. There is a long history of anticipatory democracy here in the islands. A lot of how I view my own role here is trying to be as much of a nutrient to this network across the islands and many different domains.
The nice thing about the indigenous perspective is that it's not just human-centered, it's very life-centered. We look at the health of the ecosystems around us that we rely on. Much of my work is oriented around returning to the place and having people understand their neighbors, understand their connection to the specific land and water that they're connected to and impacted by. I'm learning all of this from the Hawaiian people; They have been doing this for a long time.
Shifting Perspectives on Convergence
Deb: Since moving to Hawaii have you gone through a personal transformation?
Daniel: I think Hawaii has brought about a significant shift in my perspective. It’s deepening. I recognize that part of our human story is that we've sort of just dissociated from our places. I think the real gift Hawaii has given me is this sort of recentering to the value of place, and that has shaped my perspective on education and politics. So much of the national political conversation seems to be creating separation between people and their communities.
So yes, my work can be described as an attempt to reorient people to their place, support hyper-local politics, and find ways we can decentralize our existing institutions to push agency indecision-making, resources, and power to the edges rather than holding them at the center. This way people who have typically been disengaged and left out of the process are given back the reins to make decisions about what they want and need for the future. For example, where do you want your energy to come from? What kinds of technologies do you want to use?
It’s critical to understand the Hawaiian landscape didn't revolve around ownership. It revolved around stewardship and its demands. Anticipatory democracy, right?
Anticipatory democracy requires that we have most, if not all of our neighbors and our community, actually thinking about questions about what we want for our future.
- Daniel Kinzer
Every year we celebrate Makahiki, which is a four-month season of rest and renewal. It is a time to allow the fields to recuperate from being very productive for the other eight months of the year. It is also time to check-in and say, how healthy are we? What changes do we need to make? Are we ensuring that our children and our grandchildren, and our communities are being considered for the future? We want to know that what we’re doing now is going to produce abundance a hundred years from now, not just the next quarter.
It’s a really remarkable frame of mind. I'm trying to figure out what that means in our contemporary context and how we can invite teachers, farmers, and our community members to rethink our future. So many of the current structures and system that we’re living in, whether it's economic, political, social, or cultural really doesn't allow for people to make choices about the future. They're almost exclusively incentivized to make decisions about this week and this month. Thinking a year ahead is usually a privilege that comes with some level of resource that many people don't have. Then it becomes exclusive to relatively few people. This imbalance becomes difficult for democracy, right?
An Enduring Example of Anticipatory Democracy at Work
Deb: Seems like the battle over the Thirty Meter Telescope development on Mauna Kea is a good example of how the process works in Hawaii.
Daniel: Doesn't it? There are people who have technical arguments against the placement of a telescope. Others have spiritual and cultural arguments against it. What I’m hearing from my conversations with people is that they feel they have stripped the native Hawaiian community of any agency, autonomy, or resource to decide what their relationship with their sacred mountain is going to be. And all they're doing is asking for that agency back. If you want to build a massive telescope on top of Mauna Kea all you have to do is to get permission from the state of Hawaii but not from the people. This is their issue. It’s an issue of agency.
They are saying you can't treat this land like that. The land is our family, and we don't consent. Anticipatory democracy doesn't necessarily exist in a lot of other contexts where people are simultaneously benefiting from current structures and infrastructures. You see anticipatory democracy flourishing is in those communities that have been held in oppression. They're like, ‘no, we're still fighting.’ We don't actually agree with any of what's going on. We don't think anything here really has merit. We really want to resist it and we want to overthrow it. We want to reshape it and an image that at least includes us.
Deb: Talk about the kids. You're teaching these kids and you're trying to influence them. What do you see in them?
Daniel: I mean, it starts with them really. Greta came to a place of significance and reclaiming power by stepping out of school on Fridays. The whole thing started by just deciding she wasn’t going to go to school on Fridays. Instead, she decided to spend her time doing something else. And there's actually profound insight in that. Greta is just a representative of a generation that feels frustrated at an older generation's inability to address some of the problems that they see. In my opinion, they have only got to half right. They are focused on how they can get the grownups to take responsibility and accountability for fixing some of these problems? I don't think that's going to be effective. Solutions need to include all of us. We can’t leave anybody out. We can’t fix anything without all of us.
The thing I'm most hopeful for is that young people will be willing to give up and step away from some of the stories that they've been told. That school is somehow an answer to a problem. When in fact, it's actually a perpetuating force, right? Most of our forms of schooling are designed to maintain centralized institutions and status quo economics and politics. So while I maintain a lot of hope for young people, I think the way that we're asking them to spend time isn't allowing them to properly prepare for the future.
I tell the young people I work with that the jobs 20 years from now don't even exist yet.
- Daniel Kinzer
It’s a likely reality that there will not be such a thing as jobs, at least not in the way that we currently conceive them. There’s a real possibility that you're going to actually need to be prepared for a life where you're going to have to wake up every day, maybe every week, maybe every month and have to figure out what to do to live well, you're not just going to be able to go through the routine your parents and grandparents did.
The Acceleration of Time
Deb: It is interesting to see how different my mom’s perspective is from my son’s perspective on what it is going to take to be successful in the future. I kind of straddle between the two worlds.
Daniel: It’s the degree to which we are going to increasingly feel future shocked, right? I love Buckminster Fuller. He’s like, 25 years ago, everybody thought I was crazy. Now everybody thinks, I'm behind the times. I think the next step for anticipatory democracy will have to focus on how we heal intergenerational divides. How do we really bring your mother, your son, and you together on what the future demands and the decisions that need to be made today. What do we want for our family? There's this generational divide that is not sustainable. We can't have kids who expect grownups to solve the problems. We cannot have grownups expect the kids to do something that would have been relevant 50 years ago but is no longer relevant.
We can't just have people get out of the way for a younger generation either. How do we engage our youngest and our oldest when we’re making decisions for the future? The Hawaiian landscape makes it easy to follow the water, to pay attention to your neighbors, to know who your grandparents are, and to ask questions about your ancestors. There is this beautiful Hawaiian practice in the voyaging community where, before sailing on a voyage, you get permission to go from the ancestors and the youngest generation. So we'd actually have to sail 15 to 20 days to Tahiti, because that is where our ancestors came from, to ask permission from the ancestors to take this voyage. And then we must sail through our own islands to get permission from the children. It's not something you can skip. There’s no anticipatory democracy without taking the necessary steps. There's no creating a better future without doing what needs to be done. It's part of every protocol.
Deb: It's a beautiful representation.
Daniel: It's very symbolic. The amazing thing about indigenous, Hawaiian perspectives is there's nothing more real than our symbology and our mythology. The act of doing is a literal act. It's not just a metaphor. Through intention and thoughts, they bring together the land and people across the past, present, and future.
Hyper-connectivity is disrupting our institutional structures and erasing communication barriers. The layers and silos that once provided tidy categories limiting individual agency for the future are coming down. Governments must respond, engage and represent this proliferation and diversity of voices. They must concern themselves increasingly not just with the needs of today, but also with decisions that influence the needs of tomorrow. The shift won’t be easy. There is no single architect capable of its design nor one small group that knows the answers to how to do it. To make it work, we need to take advantage of millions of brains. Organizations of all sizes and types taking a human-centered position are capable of creating positive world-altering impacts. The people of Hawaii have valuable lessons to learn from.