Glimworks Hero's Journey
The Ordinary World
The Hero's starting point.
Example: Dorothy Gale living on her farm (The Wizard of Oz)
Look Out the Window
On planet Earth, in northern Europe, at Ideon Science Park, there is a diverse group of people who convene at the office space just above of the local restaurant.
At the Glimworks office there are windows that overview the Science Park and its surroundings, including a big parking lot. At times one can catch a beautiful sunset under great, open skies – during fall and winter already in the afternoon at this northern latitude. The people at Glimworks like to look out the windows, seeing a bigger world around them. They share thoughts about the times we all live in. Can a company within the IT sector make a difference? How?
These discussions carry the folks at Glimworks far away from the usual concerns of conventional companies, back to the fundamental ideas that drive information society and what its next stage can and should look like. They reflect, they consider, trying to understand these new times and its landscapes of technology. They begin to draw a map of the world and to see Glimworks' place in it.
Here's a sketch of the map these are people seeing – the new "ordinary world", according to Glimworks.
The New Ordinary
Todays global society is seeing itself transformed. Change and acceleration are constants. The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa (who somebody at the office had been reading) diagnoses the world thus: an acceleration of all aspects of life – and an increasing difficulty to coordinate, to find resonance within and between human beings.
Strange as it may sound, this is the "ordinary world" of today, our point of departure:
- The economic system is being transformed into a globalized, postindustrial and digitized state of affairs.
- Culture is being transformed, as is everyday life.
- People are being both fractured and transformed by information, developing new kinds of personalities and ways of seeing the world.
- The demands on each of us, individually and collectively, are being transformed.
These four categories are closely interlinked; they are different sides of the same overarching transformation of the late modern world, and they define one another.
Economy: We are entering what has been called The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is a large step beyond the digital revolution.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing, fully autonomous vehicles, preventive medical technology and applied genetics, decentralized sustainable energy and cradle-to-cradle recycling of resources.
Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum has argued that these technologies are disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
Culture: Professional, civic/political and private/personal identities were differentiated and separated in "modern" mainstream society. You were a professional at work, a private person at home and could make up your own mind on political issues. This was very useful but it also created some splits and separations within and between people. Today we are seeing that the most innovative companies and workplaces find ways of reintegrating the three spheres, so that coworkers can show up as whole human beings. Companies that manage to successfully align these three sources of creative drives – the personal, professional and civic – spur innovation and knowledge growth.
People: Our psychologies change in this new technological landscape. The "self" changes. We are overloaded with information, distracted, stressed out and subtly hurt. We are polarized. And we begin to change as human beings, taking up new values and new ways of cultivating relationships.
We require new forms of support for these emerging ways of life, not least in terms of the infrastructure for information and communication. Personal, inner growth must be spurred and supported – and this requires a better technological framework for understanding, caring for and cooperating with one another.
Demands: We are facing more global, abstract and long-term issues such as ecological, social and economic sustainability. All this change brings with it great potentials and risks, great disruptions in the economy and people's lives as well as habits and ways of thinking. New ethical dilemmas and challenges to governance emerge as our institutions are still unequipped to govern and coordinate in this emerging landscape.
Is AI, blockchain or IoT enough?
By far the most people in the tech world get stuck on one of the technologies: "the blockchain will change everything!" shouts one, "no, robotics and AI, or IoT, will" shouts another – and so forth.
We see it differently. We ask, what is the larger context these emerging technologies are part of? Can we see a larger meaning to all of them?
Yes, blockchain and AI are examples of technologies that can and will change the game, as will many other revolutionary advances in technology. But HOW will they change the world? It depends upon the context and structure within which they function. How will they be organized and coordinated? What is the informational infrastructure that will shape, guide and coordinate all of these radical changes? How will they interact with human beings and our psychologies?
We need to see the whole, the entirety of these manifold revolutions – and build an informational architecture suitable for times of acceleration and change. Can these revolutions and changes be brought to resonate with one another? Can human beings resonate with one another and gain a shared sense of direction?
Information brings us together, but it also keeps us distanced via screens, apart from our shared humanity. As a global community, we must learn to adapt to these new realities and to make the best of them.
The Call to Adventure
The Hero realizes that there is a larger world that she can be a part of
Example: Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
What to Do?
We are called to partake in a deep reorganization of information and communication. What underlying structures of information and communication are needed for these ongoing evolutions?
We notice that, even as the IT sector is booming across the world, our ways of using information are just not up to speed when it comes to tackling the four great transformations (economy, culture, psychology and demands).
Companies, markets and public institutions unfortunately have quite limited uses and understandings of information. Our currently prevailing IT systems are simply not developed to help us and guide us through the four great transformations. Social media serves us in many ways. At the same time, they contribute to information bubbles and social disintegration.
Who will take part to define and create solutions to actively and deliberately support us through these transformations? Which not-yet-imagined skill sets are required to do this?
Even public sector governance and democracy are ultimately forms of information processing. Can we really expect a good future without a host of solutions in information processing systems that correspond to these new realities? Can we truly coordinate the economic activities of such complex societies without a new informational architecture?
A Call to Cocreators
A clarion call echoes: to the cocreators of the infrastructure of the digital world; to the idealistic and hardworking hacker; to those committed to developing culture, information and psychology – to meeting the demands of our time.
How can we build a more caring and human form of information technology? This is the principal question we keep returning to. We need you to help us to understand the very question – and, if you are a coworker, to define and design your own job description. Will you work on the product level, on the intra-level (developing the company and our internal processes) or on the deep-code level (developing the underlying information architecture) – or some combination of the three?
May the right people answer our call. May we weld swords to keyboards and recode the underlying structure of information and communication.
Refusal of the Call
What it is about: In a moment of doubt, the Hero decides not to undertake the quest
Example: Luke Skywalker tells Obi-Wan Kenobi that he can't go to Alderaan (Star Wars)
Stay with the Ordinary
The great temptation for Glimworks and its coworkers is to give up any larger and deeper goals. If we make profit, pay our salaries, make the customers happy, and pay our taxes – shouldn't this be more than enough? Is it really up to a small company to try to help resolving the informational crisis of the world?
And you, cocreators who read this page, may be refusing the call to adventure in your own ways: "Yes, the world needs heroic innovations and scientific discovery and radically changed forms of human connection. But all of this is far removed from the dry, technical details of IT infrastructure, right?"
Wrong. We may make small individual contributions, but in the right context these small steps can make a great difference. The crux is to find and create these contexts for each other.
The Development of Information Technology
Together, we can make a mark on a bigger map. The information technology of the world has developed in stages throughout history:
- from speech,
- to drawing/painting,
- to writing,
- to printing,
- to mass media and telecom,
- to the Internet
- and now we are approaching post-Internet solutions.
Seven stages – and the world is at the doorstep to the last one: the solutions that rewire and redefine the Internet, that go beyond the web as we know it. At each of these steps the human condition has changed and new heroic journeys have ensued. Nothing is more human and more embodied than information.
And yet we find ourselves refusing the call.
Meeting with the Mentor
What it is about: Either the first encounter with the Mentor figure, or the moment when the Mentor encourages the Hero to take on the Quest
Example: Daniel LaRusso meets Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
Glimworks itself, the people behind it, of course have had many mentors: professors, entrepreneurs, writers, developers, organizational experts, and thinkers of our time. The central insights that have guided the company's development – our ideas about the next stage of the internet and software – were first had in 2005. We have learned from many sources since and our perspectives have changed part by part.
For the coworker, we have developed an internal mentorship: each one is encouraged and supported in finding what you wish to work on, how, under which conditions, and where your learning journey takes you. If the challenges of an evolving world seem daunting, at least you may find some purpose, direction and sense of autonomy working with Glimworks. Hopefully, you will be able to feel a bit more whole as a person in the process.
Sometimes you take lead, sometimes you follow. Both are arts to be learned and mastered – and the most difficult part is to know when to switch between them. Mentorship and followership follow a fractal pattern: nobody can be a good mentor if they never know when and how to follow. This requires good dialogue and mutual understanding at the company.
It would be nice if there was a mentor, an Obi Wan or Mr. Miyagi, who already knew all about the landscape of this accelerating age of information. But unfortunately there isn't: nobody knows the future.
Should we give up? We can't find anyone to tell us which path to take.
No. Rather, then, we must continuously generate our own mentor. We need many voices that help and teach one another. We must be the meeting place of thinkers and agents of this emergent informational landscape. The meeting place itself is the mentor – we're creating the possibility for the mentor to exist in the first place. Glimworks must be the space for cross-pollinating shared mentorship.
Naturally, each of us finds different mentors. But a strongly supportive company culture can be part of the solution. Our job is to connect the right people and create a shared socially sustainable work life within which learning and personal growth can occur.
Crossing the First Threshold
What it is about: The Hero moves from the Ordinary World to the Special World, and sees the difference between the two
Example: The Narrator walks into Tyler Durden's house for the first time (Fight Club)
Cultivating a New Kind of Company
Together, then, we take steps towards making our workdays and ordinary lives revolve around the informational and communications problems of our day and age.
Although much of running and expanding a company is familiar, serving customers and so forth, we are entering something new: in the new economy, with the new emerging culture, with new kinds of people and new challenges, we must find novel ways of working, playing, thinking and creating together. We must find ways of caring and healing within the workplace – a space of authentic encounters.
We must reach across disciplinary and professional boundaries. We must engage with one another on a more personal and authentic level, and we must dare to speak of the civic values and goals that underpin what we do and why. We try to find other rewards and motivations than the purely monetary ones, and we try to reinforce intrinsic and more personal rewards.
And we must create a culture of healing, one that is suitable both for women and men, for people with different backgrounds, with liberal and conservative personality types.
This is a strange and unfamiliar territory we're entering. This kind of company naturally engages with other fields, not only companies, but also artists, thinkers, academics, activists and public officials. We are jumping off one cliff – the safety of a conventional form of company – and partaking, best we can, in creating a kind of company suited to play a vital role in The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Tests, Allies and Enemies
The Hero begins to undertake tasks that will help her prepare for the road ahead; she also meets friends who will aid her, and foes who will try to stop her
Example: Frodo leaves Rivendell with the Fellowship of the Ring, and has to learn how to be on the road as he goes (The Lord of the Rings)
So Many Challenges
Oh, the tests on our journey!
Can we handle the complexity of our task and the multitude of differing perspectives – or do we bow down in confusion under these pressures? Do we lose sight of our goals and values as everyday life and the demands of running business operations take our time and attention? Do we get lost in translation when we work across such different fields of knowledge and understanding? Do we get stuck on our own wounds and limitations and fail to contribute to healing the hurt of our coworkers and the world around us?
And more practically speaking: Do we find ways to break down our ideas and ideals into sustainable business models and transfer this between industries – while expanding towards our overarching goals? Do we find the right people?
Allies and Fellow Travellers
Allies show up along the way: coworkers, business partners, customers, teachers from other fields. You, the reader, may be one such friend. Ally with us, join the network, nurture and support us, or use our services!
And then there are some more scholarly and abstract allies who guide us on our journey: theories that study human-technology interaction, complexity theory, developmental psychology and adult development – and what is called "metamodern philosophy".
There are also practices of the body and the mind that help us getting back into the body when we've been doing too much thinking, to stay mentally and physically healthy, to keep the stress at bay, and to cultivate friendly and productive coworker relationships. These are all important in creating a Culture of Care at the company and beyond.
Of course, not every coworker has to be acquainted with each of these bodies of knowledge in order to participate productively. But according to interests and inclinations, these understandings can be cultivated. Each of these ideas are allies that have proven to be loyal and strong friends in times of need.
Even as a company, we can't go at it alone. We have to be a node in a larger network of forward-thinking companies, organizations and institutions. Each of these can dock into our project and overlap in their own ways. We must always be looking for organizational allies. If our solutions are applicable enough to your contexts, you will find that we are useful to you.
Enemies on the Way
Enemies? Yes, we meet those too – such as the strong gravitational pull of the modern business-as-usual way of doing things. Or failing to care for ourselves and one another. Time and again we notice how these tendencies get the best of us. We live and learn. We heal and try to come out stronger.
What it is about: Internal and external preparation; usually includes an imposing destination
Example: Neo and Trinity gather an arsenal before heading off to rescue Morpheus (The Matrix)
Seeing the Task At Hand
Take a deep breath. Time to equip ourselves.
As we find more ways of using our ideas and perspectives to be competitive on the market, we begin to approach our main goals: to define the informational architecture of the emerging economy. As we approach, together with our allies, we begin to see how great a task looms before us.
Our evolving society requires new solutions on no less than seven levels, each of which we must equip ourselves to understand and master:
- Individuals need tailored and adaptive interfaces for managing the complexities and relations of everyday life.
- Individuals and companies need new ways of communicating with one another.
- Companies require entirely new informational infrastructure in order to successfully manage their operations and cooperate with others.
- Companies and public institutions (states) must acquire new frameworks for communicating with one another and coordinating. Those regions best at cooperating will also prove to be the highly competitive ones.
- States need new information and communication systems for organizing society, for governance and for renewing democracy.
- States need new ways of communicating towards a larger transnational, even global, level in order to resolve shared issues and problems.
- The emerging global/transnational layer of governance needs to be consolidated with intelligent and adaptive information and communication systems.
Phew, that's a tall order. So far away the world is from such solutions, so fractured and polarized!
What we're looking at is a another version of what the internet sociologist Benjamin Bratton has called The Stack. We see seven interconnected layers of increasing complexity, together forming a great self-organizing stack. Each of these layers require their own autonomy, their own interface and information architecture – so that they may self-organize smoothly and efficiently together.
Forgotten Dimensions of Development
The aim is to update and replace some layers of The Stack while helping new layers to emerge – while interconnecting the whole. We have to develop information and communication across the stack in four dimensions:
First we have the forgotten part: Human Beings.
Second, we have the part mostly in focus: The IT System, which is the medium.
Third, we have the taken for granted part: The Content.
Fourth, we have the unseen part: The Structure.
We need to make information supportive of human needs and relations. We need to design new IT Systems. We need to create new Content and functions of these systems. And, most importantly, we need to rethink and change the Structure within which IT Systems are invented and updated, so that they can be designed according to more universal goals. It is only if this underlying structure of IT system design is restructured that we can successfully adapt information technology to suit our accelerating age.
So we must think deeply and clearly about the very nature of information and communication – or else we won't succeed.
To be able to tackle such fundamental rethinking of the structure of information, we must in turn organize our own company in innovative ways.
Equipping Ourselves with the Right Structure
The complexity scientist Chuck Pezeshki has argued that the social structure of the company steers the structure of knowledge and thinking, and that this in turn steers the design of the products. Hence, we must equip ourselves with the right social structure at the company – we must reinvent the methods of design, often departing from industry standards such as the "waterfall method" and AGILE. We need to create a deeper structure that specifies when and how to use such tools. We must be inventive in terms of process, of social psychology – of structure.
Thus, the field we have defined for ourselves is the 7 level stack and the 4 parts of communication.
Our aim is to develop the entirety of the stack across these four dimensions – focusing especially on the unseen part: the Structure of information and communication.
To do this we need to discipline our hearts, minds and caring intentions. We must equip ourselves with carefully selected knowledge about information – both of technical as well as of a more philosophical and human nature.
What it is about: The central conflict in the story, the big boss fight, where the possibility of death is imminent
Example: Dorothy and her friends battle the Wicked Witch in her castle (The Wizard of Oz)
Two Big Bosses
We just cannot expect to significantly contribute to healing the fractured, polarized world without going through a difficult and risky ordeal.
One big boss to fight is complexity. And ironically, the only way to win is by embracing the complexity of the world, rather than resisting or denying it.
The other big boss is our own wounds as an increasingly polarized world, where people attack and denigrate one another rather than reaching shared ground and seeing common goals.
The ordeal is the struggle of what it means to grow – as a company, as human beings – in the face of such a large and complex task. The ordeal is that we must leave the certainties and expectations of the modern status quo behind, and make up a new kind of company as we go along.
There are simply so many unknowns that we now plunge into, so many risks – and yet, we must try to improve upon the world before the time runs out and problems abound.
Together we must gather the strength to face uncertainty, to sometimes grasp for clarity without finding it. We must get used to never fully understanding the work and ideas of our highly competent colleagues who work in different fields and who have different roles to play than our own.
It's the Methods that Matter
Failure is always part of the journey. But the point is to develop a method, or set of methods and tools, for rising up after each failure – losing some sprints, but winning the marathon. These are methods for containing the failures, for learning and for continuing to maintain motivation and good spirits, which we must consciously and deliberately evolve in order to face uncertainty.
Those who can pay the mental price of such uncertainty, and those who can learn to thrive in it and to heal and rest as we go along, are the ones who will be able to define the informational infrastructure of the future.
With a good roadmap – and sound, carefully nurtured relations – we can find certainty in a shifting landscape.
Seizing the Reward
What it is about: Having slain the enemy, the Hero is free to take the treasure; sometimes this is an item of great value, like the Holy Grail, or a person, but very often it's something more abstract, like the end to a war
Example: After the death of the dragon Smaug, Bilbo and the dwarves are free to help themselves to his treasure (The Hobbit)
Keys to the Future
As we step by step manage this struggle – and it's going to be a long and hard walk – then after each step we can begin to use the rewards of our efforts to pick up the pace.
And oh what rewards: Imagine being early on the stage of those who have seen and understood some of the solutions to the deep challenges to our world's informational architecture and who can be part of defining the frameworks of society's different layers of self-organization.
This can and will be a great creative potential, with plenty of opportunities to share among ourselves and our allies: How will people and societies be supported in this brave new world of information? Which problems of communication can now be resolved – individually, collectively and globally?
This is the treasure we seek, our great "why" which makes it worth the struggle: The golden keys to tomorrow's global informational architecture. Only those brave in the face of uncertainty and complexity will endure and win the prize.
Here's a motto: Whoever has mastered the most perspectives when they die, wins. The information architecture of the future must be able to harmonize and coordinate as many perspectives as possible – the perspectives of lived and felt human interests.
What it is about: A moment of enlightenment called "apotheosis"; this realization is the death blow to the old self and beliefs, and the embracing of a new self.
Example: The Narrator realizes that in order for him to stop Tyler Durden, he must kill himself — by making peace with his own death he accepts mortality, and is, for a moment, truly at peace; he shoots himself and lives, though Tyler is dead (Fight Club)
Deeper Learning from the Work
It is only by understanding the informational architecture of future society that we can truly understand its emerging culture and psychology.
As we gain the golden keys we can learn new things not only about technology and information, but also about ourselves and the times we live in – what, we don't yet know. But this will certainly be a learning that is not reducible to technological competence and business know-how. It is likely to be broader, to reflect relationships, culture and our changing inner lives.
We travel the path of information and innovation, yes, but it takes us on a deeper journey of knowing ourselves and one another. If there was something that didn't feel quite right with Internet society, we will have gleaned important clues on how to balance it and make it resonate better with our human wants and needs.
We gather many small but related streams of creative efforts – the streams join into rivers and the rivers eventually flow back into the sea of mainstream society, bit by bit changing its content and composition. In time, oceans shift.
The Road Back
What it is about: The Special World, with all of its lessons and adventures, may have become more comfortable than the Ordinary World, and for some Heroes, returning can be harder than the initial departure.
Example: After the One Ring is destroyed, Frodo has a hard time adapting to life as a normal Hobbit in the Shire (Return of the King)
A New Silk Road
In the years to come so many insights and inventions will need to be made as we venture on.
A silk road of sorts needs to be built and maintained by countless of alliances: a silk road not between the East and the West, but one between the many layers of society and the emerging future.
Each of our coworkers and allies will continuously travel their way back on the silk road to what is after all still our own rather normal everyday life, bringing something new each time.
As we complete the road back we will have begun to change the mainstream of modern society.
The ordinary world, the world that is not imbued with the strange landscapes of changing information technology, will in steps manifest itself not only for us at Glimworks but for many members of society.
As the mainstream begins to think differently, to act differently, new potentials will open and new paths on the road back will be walked.
So you see you have to return: that's where we find many of the applications of our inventions. After visiting the future, please walk with us on the road back.
Return with the Elixir and the Master of Two Worlds
What it is about: The Hero returns home changed, and uses the gifts she received and lessons she learned on the journey to better others; at the same time, the Hero must come to terms with all of the personal changes she's undergone; she must reconcile who she was with who she has become
Example: Luke, now a Jedi, restores balance to the Force, helping bring peace to the galaxy; concurrently, he is able to resolve his relationship with his father and move on (Return of the Jedi)
Make a Dent in the Universe
Each of us will learn many and interesting things on this journey into the depth of information. And on each road back, when theory meets reality and manifests into what is needed, new kinds of skills and tools will be developed.
At this point we must stop for a moment to contemplate what new careers, interests and projects have become possible out there in the world. As the world becomes more sustainable we buy more time – and this affords us a longer perspective of future potential.
Your Hero's and/or Heroine's Journey will set its unique and perhaps crucial mark on how information technology redefines and improves upon everyday life in the times to come. This can help us in healing today's polarized and unbalanced world of information and communication in many ways yet to be discovered.
Thank you for taking this journey with us – a drama in twelve parts. But this was all symbolically speaking. Shall we try for real as well?
Think it through. We are looking for complex, idealistic and innovative co-creators. Do you think you can play a part in defining tomorrow's solutions? Can you balance and heal today's informational polarization? How? Do get back to us as an ally, coworker or customer.
Looking forward to co-creating with you.
All the best, Glimworks' team of cocreators.
Thanks to the following contributors and sources
Concept by Glimworks.
Script by Glimworks.
Design by Glimworks.
For hero's journey myth:
Joseph Campbell's 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Christopher Vogler's 2007 book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers (the twelve steps were taken from here).
For heroine's journey myth:
Janet Vanedeen's homepage.
Valerie Estelle Frankel's homepage.
Houman Sadri's academic paper.
More inspiration and information:
Casey Rush's schematic illustration of the journey
Lisa A. Paltz Spindler's schematic illustration of the journey
Vince Cahero's 2017 article on Medium
Brendan Dempsey's 2014 article on Notes on Metamodernism.
Descriptions and examples of the twelve steps were borrowed and tweaked from this page.
More on the Hero's Journey on Wikipedia