Big Data and Big Thinking - Richard Saul Wurman

PHOTO: Richard Saul Wurman, Founder of TED and Urban Observatory Project

Op-Ed by Bruce Hawkins - Committee Member, NZPI Conference 2015

A man of great humility and great credentials; a rare combination. The founder of Ted Talks, started out as a highly qualified architect, and has evolved into a polymath with honorary professorships from numerous universities a true luminary in the international academic universe.

He has diverse interests which include urban planning, public health, how we learn, and among a myriad of other things he is a pioneering futurist striving with the conundrum of how best to anticipate our rapidly approaching and always evolving future.

At 85 juggling new books and new projects like a much younger man. (One of his latest projects, the Urban Observatory; a web based comparative analysis of key statistics of 50 great international cities)

Watching him live via skype feed from his study in New York, beamed into the conference venue, the man was in appearance and in the expansive nature of the subject matter more than a little disconcerting. But at the same time inspiring; not the usual kind of speaker you would expect to find on the planning conference circuit; it felt like a feed from a space ship or a message in a bottle from a time traveller reporting back from some larger dimension than the rest of us sitting back in the Aotea centre, were enjoying, or have ever enjoyed. Shades of the back to the future theme; of that other time travelling professor; (think Back to the Future the movie) evoking that off kilter sense of intrigue, of possibility, from those he encountered.

For a frustrated big picture person like me the Futurist thread running through the NZ planning scene is I feel a tenuous one. And not surprising, I suppose, when you consider the bricks and mortar outcomes that most of us to a lesser or greater extent spend our working lives on.

But as Richard pointedly and frequently reminded us throughout his musings, building a sufficiently diverse and all-embracing context and the development of a shared language (talking with and not past each other) are central to the development of a full understanding of anything we wish to turn our minds to. Environmental sustainability and the extended time horizons that this necessarily implies is no exception.

All power to the big picture; a necessary part of a robust planning system; the expansive language of part 2 of the RMA draws us continually back to the larger temporal and substantive picture within which all planning decision making should be sited; providing a large enough context to tackle the sustainable future that is our prime raison d’ etre

Take a walk into the future with Richard let him equip you with some new conceptual tools for the task and to inspire you to a renewed commitment to the big picture…

Click here to listen to Richards presentation for free

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