As I sat through another remarkable week where more national governments throw almost unimaginably sized lumps of money at so called ‘crises’ (e.g. 10 May 2010 -European Central Banks create a 962 billion Euros to fix the ‘sovereign debt’ problem), I began to wonder what is it that is going on at the level of Present Need that these remarkable examples of Pathway Thinking are being employed?

One way we can stop ourselves falling into our traditional patterns of thought and hence missing emerging opportunities (and risks) is to not always start out by trying to work out what the ‘problem’ is. Once we think we understand a problem then we often simultaneously create the pathways where we will find the solutions. Instead we can look at the pathways that people are employing in order to find the problem they are seeing; using a medical metaphor instead of diagnosing from symptoms (Present Need) and then choosing the best treatment (Pathways Thinking) we could  look at treatments chosen to establish the probably diagnosis reached and to then think about that.

So back to my ruminations. Clearly it is a widely accepted pathway of thinking that the value of sovereign debt securities should not be allowed to go down in value. Likewise it is also clearly accepted that the value of bank stocks, housing prices, (name your asset here) should also not go down and so the accepted pathway of thought is to find ways to make them go back up again.

Why? Surely lots of things go down … don’t they? Or is down thought bad and is up thought good? Maybe we are happier with up and down makes us sad? I started to think about this some more and tried to look for examples of pathways that chose actions to promote down as good or at least not bad. And my results? Well there are lots of examples of down in the physical world – gravity is a good example – no point choosing pathways that want to fight gravity is there? (Note: Ignore flight and skyscrapers here). And friction which makes speed reduce – there is no point trying to find pathways towards increasing speed is there? (Note: ignore the boys on Top Gear here). I mean friction is not a problem is it? And heat which goes one way – well a pathway to make thermonuclear dynamics go the other way is about as silly as well – printing money out of nothing to replace the value of something that has gone down in value isn’t it (note: ignore quantitative easing here).  No, it’s quite clear that the physical world is full of down and that is perfectly natural (sic) thing and down isn’t thought bad there or doesn’t make us unhappy – does it?

Next I looked in the natural world, of living matter and down is everywhere there too. True things in the natural world do go up but then they tend to come back down again and then the pattern repeats. Organic matter tends to increase in complexity for a while (goes up) and then eventually it breaks down, decays, dies and returns to its simple organic form again only to rinse and repeat. And that process isn’t one that we feel necessary to choose pathways of thought to prevent is it? We are not bothered by down in the natural world are we (note: ignore Botox and Extropians here)? I quickly moved on.

Finally I got to our manufactured world, the world that we create from our dreams, plans and actions. Surely down is an accepted part of that world isn’t it? History teaches us that empires rise and fall so we down is clearly accepted as a normal part of cultural processes – isn’t it? And economic systems go up and down and so we don’t only choose pathways that promote up and refuse to admit down – do we (note: don’t go there)? My observation of technology was that it does seem to like up a lot (e.g. Moores Law) and whenever something went down (size) then it lets something else go up faster (e.g. enjoyment, functionality).

And then I remembered what Lewis Mumford wrote back in 1970 in his magisterial book “The Myth of the Machine”. His view was that our view of the world and our part in it were based upon some unchallenged beliefs.

“There is only one efficient speed: faster; only one attractive destination: farther away; only one desirable size: bigger; only one rational quantitative goal: bigger.” (p170)

There it was, as reiterated by the magisterial music combo Yazz – the Only way is Up.

If our Present Need is suggesting down then we must choose pathways that get us going back up again.  Now 982 Billion Euros made sense as a Pathway choice. Yazz must be on the playlist all the world’s politicians.