Photo Credit: NASA
By Yonatan Gordon
In this article, we hope to develop the “great marketer” theme into something more broad. Instead of relegating this discussion to the field of marketing, we thought it important to venture off into the great beyond. So instead of great marketers, we are now ready to warp speed ahead to futurists and visionaries. What’s not clear at first is how a futurist can change the present world. Before you begin reading further, it’s first worth reading Adam Weigold’s article “Can Futurists Change the Future?” While the article was published only a few days ago, it’s probably one of the better treatments available on the subject.
THE FUTURIST FIRST CLAIMS TO BE A MARKETER
Ideally, we’d all like to be futurists with our Phasers (as mentioned in the article) or Tractor Beams. What is remarkable–as Weigold notes–is that many of these once fictional technologies are starting to reach a state of realism.
What allowed us to transition from the world of marketers to futurists for this article? It was in merit of the most important quality a great marketer needs: truthfulness. In the past, it was doubtful whether a futurist was truthful. But now at least we see the potential for this. What does it take to make a great futurist? The short answer is that their predictions should come true. The longer answer is that their futurism should also change our present world for the better. Or as Weigold puts in, “What is now needed is a connection between academic work…and commercial reality…”.
Similar to a great marketer, a futurist needs to be clear-headed. He needs to be able to imagine things clearly without being muddled by the effects of his own ego. When a marketer sees himself as a product to be branded, he ceases being a marketer worth listening to. So too when a futurist sees himself as the harbinger of unfolding events, then his visions no longer seem so clear. The role models, the true innovators among us, are those that view themselves as a work in progress.
FINDING A FUTURIST THROUGH SILENCE
In our social media age of Facebook, Twitter, and so on, we tend to emphasize consistency in communication. If a public figure isn’t readily available both by sharing his thoughts, and responding to the comments of others, then we think that maybe he is disconnected from the public. But the truth is that talking does not alone form a connection. While consistency is important, if the tweets or Facebook posts lack substance, then this will also turn people away.
The greater shift that social media has brought about is the ability to discover and find truthful experts. Prior to the social era of connectedness, there was this dividing line between authors and the books they published. Now the moment something is written and made available for public consumption, the public has the ability to immediately weigh in. Not only does this give a great ability for authors and other personalities to grow followings, but it also helps the public decide on which books and content is worth reading to begin with. If the author is disconnected, then the teachings don’t seem as appealing. While in the halls of academia, personalities may not be a prima facie quality, these walls are speedily tumbling down. In today’s social age, while content is king, no one wants to be ruled by the wrong figures.
To relate this topic back to our present discussion about what makes a good futurist. For one, they need to be personable and openly approachable. Namely, they shouldn’t be isolated and distant from the world they are attempting to improve. While there are appropriate moments for intellectual contemplation in quietude, the ultimate goal should be to reconnect with people by sharing new thoughts and insights. To be a good futurist then takes both a willingness to connect with others, and also a silent resolve that precedes those messages, posts, articles and books to the public. When words come from a state of silent contemplation, then they have a greater chance of being sweet.
THE “SINGULARITY” OF CREATIVE POTENTIAL
We mentioned that even the greatest of marketers need to view themselves as a work in progress. That even if the whole world praises them for their insights and thoughts, they should view themselves as the worst. Without this mindset, they may turn themselves into another product; another thing to be branded. What comes out of this idea then is that marketers need to maintain their role as messengers of concepts (e.g. an iPad represents thinness, speed, portability of knowledge, etc…). That to be complacent and enamored by one’s own success is like boxing and packaging a product. A person should never package themselves for sale on the shelf.
This idea completes our move from speaking about the world of marketers to futurists. We started by saying that the first transition occurred when we realized that a futurist can be truthful. That their progressive notions about some future state can be actualized in the here and now. The second shift occurred when we realized that to envision a world beyond products, both marketers and futurists need to be a content activists. Obviously, the futurist is the greatest activist as he is not content with products as they are in existence today. The test for a futurist then is not whether they can envision the progression of concepts (e.g. smaller, faster things), but whether this progression will eventually lead to another product or not.
This is the greatest issue we find with the singularity. Not that the thought that we will somehow reach a “singularity” point in history isn’t valid. The problem occurs when this thought just becomes another product. As we spoke about in our article “Reclaiming the ‘Technological Singularity’ Concept (Apple Turnaround Series, Part 2)”, the product development sessions under Steve Jobs at Apple seemed a closer approximation of this “singularity” concept. Instead of a race of robots bent on taking over the world, a clearer vision of the future seems be when human potential reaches its own creative “singularity” point.
The ultimate test for the futurist is greater than the test we place on marketers. For a marketer, if they are not swayed that this latest product is something final and complete, then they are already leaning towards the more conceptual aspects of the product. They think to themselves, “while this is fast, it could still get faster,” and so forth… The test of the marketer then is more a test of the present. That they are not content with things as they are in the present. This includes their sentiments about themselves.
But a futurist is lifted to a higher standard. Not only do their visions need to be valid (i.e. be able to be applied in our present world), and be beneficial, but they can also turn into their very own futuristic product. A futurist shouldn’t spend their time contemplating what the iPad 30 will look like, or be content with the “Human Plus” talk being made today. Instead augmented of reality glasses, and nanochip implants, the greatest accomplishment a futurist can do is stay conceptual. What would it be like if we reached a “singularity” point of human creativity? Or a “human plus” period of human potential?
Eventually any futurist who focuses on products (even hundreds of years in the future) will not be seen as a true futurist. What is the public looking for? A futurist who stays true to the progression of concepts instead of the furtherance of products and technology. Once the public find a futurist like this, then they will stick to him like honey.
There are some that content themselves with great marketers, and there are others that are only happy with seeking out a futurist. The difference is in how real they see this world. Whereas a futurist is separated from the world, the marketer is working to move forward with what’s available. This is why the futurist can be seen to be speaking fiction whereas the marketer is seen as an innovator. The futurist sees this present world as “fictional” (i.e. not the way it should be) whereas his vision is something true to him.
The greatest difficulty then is not with finding marketers, but with finding a futuristic mentor. It is much easier to find a marketer that we rationally agree with, then a futurist who isn’t supposed to make sense. In short, there are two ways to ascertain whether this person should be your futurist or not.
FIRST SIGN: INTERACTION
The most simplest test is to see how he behaves with his students. As we mentioned above, now with social media, we can easily see how futurists interact with the public. This is especially so if we ourselves had some personal interaction with this person. Personal contact generally gives the greatest insight into the true nature of a person.
SECOND SIGN: SPONTANEOUSLY SWEET WORDS
The second more thorough test is to ascertain whether he helped you progress forward in life. If this is the case, then maybe he is the futurist for you. But if at any point he ultimately turns you into just another product (e.g. makes you feel complacent, self-assured, etc…), then this is not your futurist. While self-importance can have a good aspect, many times this is not the case. Especially if your futurist happens to be famous and thinks too highly of his own accomplishments.
There is a famous marketer who promoted the use of the term “tribes” instead of circles or groups. While it is accurate to say that a futurist is also the leader of a tribe, a person should be very careful who they choose to lead them. If everyone around him is happy, then maybe it is good that they put him in the center. But if this is a just a tribe of false heights and expectations, then this is not good. The question is not whether people are listening to the person in the center of the circle. Our concern is with how the people around the center respond. It all depends on the response. If the circle is happy, and truly inspired to progress forward, then this is a good start.
We also learn from this that a marketer who places himself at the center of the tribe, is trying to transition to become a futurist. This is beneficial only if the students are properly inspired to become futurists with their own circles or tribes.
We spoke about how important it is that marketers see themselves as a work in progress instead of products. As we explained, this criteria becomes even more rigorous for futurists. The fact that this famous marketer made an action figure of himself is an indication of what not to do as either a marketer or futurist.
In total there are four signs for finding the right futurist or visionary to be your mentor:
FIRST SIGN: VISION IS NOT JUST ANOTHER PRODUCT
The first is that his visions not turn into another product. We explained that this is a higher expectation than what we place on marketers. For a marketer, as long as they emphasize the concepts behind present day offerings, maybe this is good enough. But for a futurist, even some vision years in the future needs to be clean of commercialism. This relates both to being a messenger for concepts, and also that this person silently deliberates before they speak.
SECOND AND THIRD SIGN: BLACK HOLE TEACHER AND EVENT HORIZON STUDENTS
The next two signs are like the teacher that conveys his mindfulness to his students in the hopes of expanding their horizons. This comes from a teacher that is other-centric. Using the analogy of a circle or tribe forming around the center, the futurist in the center should make himself like a “black hole” in relation to his “event horizon” students. Until Hawking, it was unclear that a black hole could emit light. So too, while society finds it surprising that a lowly person could a successful of leader, this is the realization that we now come to. That in order to let his students shine, the teacher or futurist needs to be able to focus entirely on their well-being. To be the nothing in order that they be the everything. In lieu of not making himself into a product, the futurist also becomes the greatest messenger for novel concepts and ideas; great insights that bring the greatest joy to his students.
FOURTH SIGN: TRACTOR BEAM OF JOY
The fourth sign is that these novel insights bring out true joy and inspiration among his followers. Because he has made himself into a black hole, he has enabled his students to be lifted out of their own gravitational holdups. While the most futuristic person makes people happy with his insights, he is also lifting people out of some false notion of what reality is all about. In some ways, the students become even more inspired than the teacher (as we explained in our Apple Turnaround Series).
A FUTURE WITH NO COMMERCIALS
Why do visions of the future most often turn into just another product? The answer rests on the character of the futurist himself. If he has fully become other-centered, then his visions will be free and clean of commercials. But to the extent that he thinks of himself while conveying the futuristic concept, then the acceleration of the concept slows and stalls over time. Let’s place this explanation within Einstein’s famous E = MC2 whereby we are saying that a healthy concept or idea is one that is travelling at the speed of light. Without going into the specifics, its easy to see how even a small amount of self-interest (M or mass in our analogy) requires a much greater amount of energy (i.e. willpower) to push the concept along. This is why most ideas sputter and become stationary products over time. The energy required to keep them moving forward as energy become too great.
Now that we’ve treated the subject of how to find a futurist, we can go back to Weigold’s article. We explained that futurists should make people happy with their visions. But the hardest thing (the main difference between a marketer and a futurist) is to fully recognize that present-day reality is not cutting it. That in order to experience life more fully, we need to enter into some futuristic state. In this sense, Weigold is correct in his statement that science fiction inspires science to move forward.
But according to what we explained, we need to put futurists on a sliding scale depending on how “massless” their ideas are. While anyone that claims to be a futurist is presumably not satisfied with the present day, the test then how is to manifest these futuristic ideas here into the present.
What’s the secret then to make science fiction real? The first is that the visions not be clouded by the futurist’s self interest. The second is that they be so selfless in their desire to spread the message, that they be able to travel at the speed of light. The secret of bringing the future into the present is when the futurist conveys messages at the speed of light.
The sweetest result is when the world realizes that this futurist is actually the greatest realist. This causes each of his students the greatest delight. While the speech of a futurist can be very sweet, the greatest sweetness is when a futurist provides real solutions to our problems and sweeten reality.
Our road to the future begins with the marketers who see themselves as messengers of concepts instead of products. Then we continue on our lightspeed adventure to make good visions that seem fictional, real. While the dividing line between fact and fiction, science and science fiction, may seem blurred at times, the good futurist takes their students over the partition. The futurist is also open to feedback, he listens to his students and responds to them accordingly. Part of being open to good stories and ideas to relate (mentioned in Part One), is listening and responding to those stories that the students feel worth telling.
Each of us can be a futurist. More than being a teacher or leader of a group is the ability to be a conveyor of concepts. To the extent we cheat ourselves into making ourselves products, is the degree to which our ideas will sputter and become commercialized. The main thing is to know that even if I am great, I need to consider myself the worst. Then with the proper mindset, we can start by separating ourselves from the present reality in order to eventually sweeten it with our futuristic insights. The main result should be to bring joy into this present reality, even to the extent that we need to view the present as fictional in order to better it. The main thing is that we ourselves should be inspired, and live an inspired life and to bring this inspiration into the present-day.
FIVE TYPES OF FUTURISTS
These four signs of a futurist can also be used as the basis of a futurist academy. As Weigold notes, once we realize the importance of futurists, we should then enable futuristic forms of creative expression. For the moment we will simply list these types without explanation. Hopefully another time we can explain the full model of how to construct a Futurist Academy:
FIRST: Art (relates to the important at the first stage of not knowing one’s own place)
SECOND: Mathematics (desire to impart specific/precise teachings to students)
THIRD: Natural Sciences (teacher’s motivation to broaden their students’ horizons and increase their understanding of the natural world)
FOURTH: Social Sciences, Law, Medicine, Education, Economics, Communication Sciences
(opening up the creative outlets for all students)
FIFTH: Political Science (making the world a better place)
JEWISH SOURCES RELATED TO THE DISCUSSION:
The general convention we used for this article was to translate a beinoni (the intermediate person of Tanya) as the marketer, and the tzaddik as the futurist. There are several reasons for this, but the basic is that the beinoni is a person of the present, a “work in progress,” whereas the tzaddik is a person of the future. This places a rasha (wicked person) as someone bound by the past.
“THE FUTURIST FIRST CLAIMS TO BE A MARKETER” SECTION:
Tzadikim claim they are beinonim
Before we start with parshat Terumah, this week’s parashah we will continue with something from last week. We talked about staying distant from deceit and that this is the essence of the Tanya. The Tanya begins with the sages’ statement that even if the entire world tell you that you are a tzadik, you should see yourself as a Rasha, a wicked person.
The Tanya then brings Raba’s statement about himself. Raba claims that he is a beinoni, an intermediate. His student Abayei asks him, if this is so, that you are but a beinoni, then what are the rest of us? You’ve left us no life, because we must all be resha’im [wicked] individuals. It is known that the Alter Rebbe said of himself that he is a beinoni. That is why we had many times an occasion to compare the Alter Rebbe with Raba, the Talmudic sage.
Can the Rebbe be a beinoni?
Now actually, if Raba, the greatest sage of his generation (and the Alter Rebbe) both say they are only beinonim, then we have to ask ourselves, how can we identify them as the tzadik of their generation, the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation. By explaining that he is just a beinoni, he is teaching all of us not to cheat ourselves. But, being that I am his chassid, it may weaken me to think that my Rebbe is just a beinoni.
“FINDING A FUTURIST THROUGH SILENCE” SECTION:
Chashmal as a sign for recognizing the true tzadik
If I see that my teacher is silent, and he first circumcises his own heart through submission in his own soul…if I see that my teacher has this ability to be silent before speaking, then that is the sign that he should be my teacher.
This is the secret of the word chashmal (חשמל) according to the Ba’al Shem Tov, chash (silent) before mal (speaking). If the teacher performs these two stages first, then, whatever he speaks afterwards is all sweetened (meaning the sense of self, the ego in it has been annulled).
This three stage process gives the teacher the ability to speak all the Divine sweetness.
This is one of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s most foundational teachings. It is also known by the name of the three stages, which the Ba’al Shem Tov himself called submission, separation, and sweetening ( הכנעה הבדלה המתקה).
Practical implications of chashmal
Who can say about himself that he can recognize a person whose silence is indeed an act allowing him to circumcise his heart? But, even so, even though it is difficult to apply the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teaching to finding a Rebbe, a real teacher, we often explain that what we get out of this Torah (teaching) is that the service of submission‐separation‐sweetening is relevant to each one of us in many ways. We have many different lessons on this foundation from the Ba’al Shem Tov. But, again, originally by the Ba’al Shem Tov, this was meant to be a way to recognize and identify the greatest teacher of the generation. So who can be sure of himself that he can identify this trait in a teacher?
Becoming a maven in chashmal
In Chabad, the one who can say this about himself, that he can recognize the real
tzadik of the generation, for instance when he has to decide between two tzadikim (like
between the Mittler Rebbe and Rebbe Aharon of Streshela), this was Rebbe Isaac of
Homil. Once Rebbe Isaac sat and talked with Rebbe Hillel and Rebbe Isaac began to
explain different things about the different Rebbe’s. Rebbe Hillel got angry at him for
doing this. Rebbe Isaac explained that each of the first 3 Rebbe’s had a different levels of
holy spirit (ru’ach hakodesh). The Alter Rebbe, he said, had it all day long; the Mittler
Rebbe whenever he liked; and, the Tzemach Tzedek, a few times a day. Rebbe Hillel
asked Rebbe Isaac, do you too have ru’ach hakodesh that you know these things? Rebbe
Isaac replied, “No. I don’t have ru’ach hakodesh, but I understand (I’m a maven) in ru’ach
hakodesh.” What this says for us is that the submission‐separation‐sweetening as a
test for the chassid to connect with his Rebbe. The student has to be at a level where he understands how this works internally.
Chashmal is difficult to identify for others, but conscious to the Rebbe
…Even if we cannot recognize this sense of circumcising his heart before speaking, the tzadik who performs it inwardly certainly recognizes it in himself, because without recognizing it for what it is, the BST would not have stated that this is a reality that is needed. In himself, whenever he feels that the circumcision has created a proper separation between himself and the evil inside, that is when he begins speaking, so he certainly recognizes this level. But, from someone from the outside, this remains difficult to recognize.
“FIRST SIGN: THE ‘SINGULARITY’ OF CREATIVE POTENTIAL” SECTION:
But, says Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, it is much simpler [to tell if this person is a consummate tzadik by] looking at what the Rebbe does to me. Not how he is himself, but how he affects me. It is like the way I look at Hashem. I can’t know Hashem’s essence, but I experience his Divine Providence and the way He acts with me, and through this I know Him.
Likewise, says Rebbe Nachman, the way to identify the true consummate tzadik, the true teacher is that if you come out of the shiur, out of the lecture, with a strong feeling of embarrassment and lowliness, then he is your Rebbe. That is a good teacher for you. But, if what he gives you is a feeling of haughtiness and self‐aggrandizement, then it may very well be that, to use Rebbe Nachman’s language, he is one of those famous individuals that are entirely deceitful (מפרסמימ של שקר). Such a person gives everybody a feeling of self, a feeling of self‐importance and greatness. So this is a very good sign. If I choose my Rebbe based on what he does to me, that is applicable easily to everyone.
“SECOND SIGN: SPONTANEOUSLY SWEET WORDS” SECTION:
Rebbe Nachman’s second sign for the tzadik: makes you clap and dance
In another place (Torah 10 in the first part of Likutei Moharan), Rebbe Nachman says
something else. He says that the true Rebbe is the breath of life in the heart (רוח שבלב) of his congregation. And the moment the breath of life is received from him and begins to
beat in the heart, the sign then is that I begin to dance and clap my hands. This is written
in Rebbe Nachman’s famous Torah about how by dancing and clapping hands all the harsh judgments are sweetened. This is the true example of reaching spiritual heights,
when it happens spontaneously. The Rav causes people to jump.
Should we come out of shiur, a class, with great lowliness, or with clapping and dancing? Apparently both are true.
“FIRST SIGN: VISION IS NOT JUST ANOTHER PRODUCT” SECTION:
The first sign, recognizing the consummate tzadik, corresponds to Radla (the unknowable head).
What we have so far, is that we have four different signs for identifying the tzadik.The first, we recall, is a perfect tzadik—something no one can tell, even the person himself. This as we said is the beginning of the Tanya and corresponds to the Radla, the unknowable head (ר’שא דלא אתידע [identified with the first 3 sefirot of Atik, the higher partzuf in the keter, see below]. The head is the generation’s Rebbe, and if he is rectified, then the entire generation is rectified. But, Radla means that he himself doesn’t know he’s a consummate tzadik, certainly others don’t know. This whole topic in the Tanya corresponds to Radla, and it is interesting that this is the topic the Alter Rebbe opens his book with.
“SECOND AND THIRD SIGN: BLACK HOLE TEACHER AND EVENT HORIZON STUDENTS” SECTION:
The second sign, being like an angel, corresponds to the 7 tikunei galgalta
The angel of God as explained by the Ba’al Shem Tov that it means that he is silent before he speaks, that corresponds with the seven lower sefirot of Atik that are enclothed within the wisdom of Arich Anpin, to create the 7 tikunei galgalta. Using Chassidic terminology, we identify this as pleasure within will. So this is what happens when a person is able to properly perform the Ba’al Shem Tov’s three stages of submission‐separation‐sweetening. But, to get this, to be able to identify someone who has done this, you have to have a sense, and understanding in the crown, where this happens.
The third sign, receiving lowliness and embarrassment from the tzadik, corresponds to
In the next two signs, the Rav here is someone who gives you mochin—mindfulness. There is a Rav who gives you mochin of Abba, the mindfulness that comes from the father principle. In Rebbe Nachman, what this translates is as he says embarrassment, a feeling of lowliness.
In Chassidut the mochin of Abba are described as nullification of one’s existence (בטול במציאות), the inner quality of wisdom. So this is the influence of the mochin of Abba, to give you lowliness and embarrassment.
“FOURTH SIGN: TRACTOR BEAM OF JOY” SECTION:
The fourth sign, making you clap and dance corresponds to mochin de’ima
But, the second sign that Rebbe Nachman gives us for identifying the consummate
tzadik, that he causes me to clap and dance (to clap is like to eradicate the memory of Amalek, as we mentioned earlier that Mordechai corresponds to clapping), this is binah or understanding, the mochin, the mindfulness that comes from the mother principle. This is simchah or joy. The Rav is giving a spirit of life, but in me it manifests as great joy, the inner quality of understanding (binah).
“A FUTURE WITH NO COMMERCIALS” SECTION:
What does the tzadik give you? He gives you himself. What Moshe gives you is lowliness and selflessness.
Let’s return for a moment to the angel of God as explained by the Ba’al Shem Tov, which we said relates to the unification of pleasure and will in the soul. Among the submission‐ separation‐sweetening, what is the main thing? The most difficult is the beginning, that is why submission requires a lot of effort.
The will that every Jew has to publicize the Divine in reality, is given life by the pleasure inside. Like we said that there is a great deal of pleasure in speech, and we thus reveal that the Torah contains all the sweetness for reality, it has the real solutions for our problems and the ability to sweeten our reality.
Just as the person hearing the Rav can know how the Rav is affecting him, likewise the Rav (each of us) should always be receiving feedback. A Rav who is wise, we spoke about being a pike’ach last week, he looks at the students’ faces and knows where they’re at. Each of us should strive to all four levels in ourselves, to each be a tzadik.
Excerpted and adapted from the weekly shiur given 4 Adar 5773 from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.