In the Chinese and Japanese languages the word for crisis (C. weiji, J. kiki 危機) is written with the combined characters for danger and opportunity. The unfolding tragedy of Fukushima presents not only Japan but also the rest of the world with a unique historical chance to embark on a bold new approach to innovation. Its driving force must be a spirit of free, fearless, and compassionate inquiry and exploration.
Problem Statement--Denial and Consensus Trance
What is impeding the implementation of an effective response?
The Harvard trained psychiatrist Dr. Carol Wolman describes the phenomenon of the public's "numbness" around the nuclear industry. The root cause appears to be fear and denial: the senses are so overtaxed and confused, our consciousness simply closes down. But there is a related process also at work. It is called "consensus trance."
Consensus trance occurs when an entire community becomes unconscious and, figuratively, goes to sleep. The trance is consensual because each person bargains in this way: One says, "I will accept your version of reality, if you will accept mine." The other counters with her or his story. And so they conspire. When both parties are numb, the trance becomes viral. In consensus trance we sacrifice our creative powers, including our ability to imagine future possibilities, to invent effective remedies and to plan wisely.
The situation at Fukushima is further complicated by another process which the writer Rebecca Solnit describes in A Paradise Built in Hell. She calls it "elitist panic." Under this scenario the public authorities panic by perceiving the endangered public as the adversary. TEPCO's senior management and the Japanese regulatory authorities appear to believe that full disclosure of the facts--including the fact that the situation is out of control and they do not have a solution-- will cause pandemonium. But the historical record confirms the exact opposite: in every case-- the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Halifax explosion of 1917, Katrina, and 9/11-- the dominant behavior of an informed public is generosity, compassion, and selflessness.
Thus, disempowerment is reciprocal. The public is kept ignorant; but TEPCO and the Japanese government's position is also tenuous. By isolating themselves, they are deprived of their best potential ally--an imaginative, engaged, and innovative public. This insight may point the way to a solution.
A Blueprint for Action--On August 10, 2013 TEPCO and the responsible Japanese government authorities admitted that Fukushima is a true international emergency: over 270,000 tons of radioactive waste have been discharged since the day of the accident and on the average 300 tons continue to be discharged daily into the Pacific Ocean. Their announcement represents a cri de coeur, an admission that the situation is out of control and a call to the international community for intelligent, compassionate, and effective assistance. If ever there was a time and a need for disruptive innovations at every level, Fukushima is creating this opportunity. Here are the elements of an Action Plan.
* Changing the Paradigm--The Existing Paradigm is based on the premise that Fukushima is an urgent technical and scientific problem that is best addressed primarily by bureaucrats and experts. A New Paradigm would recognize the essential role of experts but would also build a bridge to citizen scientists and social entrepreneurs who throughout history have been the source of breakthroughs in many fields. A New Paradigm would rapidly gather, assimilate, and apply knowledge derived from social media, crowd sourcing, and smart technology--capabilities that were not possible even a few years ago.
* Safecast--Joi Ito's Global Open Source Initiative for Radiation Monitoring-- Safecast is a successful example of an open source initiative in the field of global radiation monitoring. It has generated over 3 million data points in 12 months. The Initiative has become a seedbed to test the next generation of 3-D printing technologies and is already serving as a catalyst for new products and inventions. Safecast is an important building block for a more comprehensive open innovation model.
* Fukushima Explorers' & Innovators' Wheel (www.explorerswheel.com)--One of the central problems in a crisis like Fukushima is the fragmentation of vital knowledge and experience. An Explorers' Wheel will solve this problem by becoming the epicenter of ideas, resources, new skills, alerts, and contacts. It will make available to its members a "Discovery Engine" which incorporates the most advanced techniques of creative problem solving, invention engineering, and collaborative innovation. Its participants will learn a new way of "intertidal thinking"--to see the interconnections among many fields--which itself will enhance their mental capacities. It will deploy the best of social media, crowd sourcing, and search technologies. In an Explorers' Wheel concerned citizens will not only learn from each other; the platform itself becomes increasingly intelligent, providing personalized feedback to its members. The secret is story telling. Each person has a story to tell and the Wheel automatically records, parses, and analyzes these stories extracting the most important ideas, lessons, and insights. The Wheel itself becomes a powerful ally helping its participants to solve problems.
* Application # 1--Predicting the Next Earthquake(s) at Fukushima--One practical application of the Explorers' Wheel could be the prediction of the next earthquakes at Fukushima. The consensus of most professional seismologists is that earthquakes are inherently unpredictable. But what if this premise is unsound? What if there is an effective way to predict the next earthquake or at least different approaches for solving the complex problem of earthquake prediction? The Wheel will help to create a climate of openness to new ideas and options such as the methodology of the International Earthquake and Volcano Prediction Center in Orlando Florida which has not yet been considered. (http://www.ievpc.org/)
* Application # 2--Predicting Cascading Effects and Mobilizing Effective Emergency Management--The greatest strength of professional emergency managers is their laser focus. However, this strength is also their greatest weakness. Japanese emergency managers like their foreign counterparts are so preoccupied in putting out immediate fires they have no time to address cascading effects which are often far more serious than the original accident. For example, what is the present plan to deal with the repercussions of a second explosion at Fukushima? Another example. Recent oceanographic samples of fish in the Western Pacific confirm high levels of radiation contamination. What are the implications if these fish produce millions of fry which themselves become radioactive and then pass this radiation onto their offspring? The sea is a vast spawning creature. Given the rapid reproductive cycles of most marine life, the cascading effects may arrive far sooner than we can dare to imagine. A separate Explorers' Wheel could be dedicated to addressing this single question.
* Innovation Summit-- TEPCO and the Japanese government authorities have a unique opportunity to mobilize the good will of the international community by organizing and helping to finance an "International Innovators' Summit." The Summit would invite some of the most creative minds in the world from industry, science, business, government, and academia to produce an Innovation Roadmap. Russian scientists can make a particularly significant contribution based on their experience with Chernobyl. One suitable venue might be the UN University in Tokyo with a target date of November/December 2013.
Fukushima involves a fundamental breakdown at multiple levels of the integrity of systems--technical, ecological, financial, political, even psychological. If negative causes can precipitate negative consequences, surely actions which help to restore integrity, at any level, may reverse the process. The problems presented by Fukushima appear so complex the vast majority of people in Japan and around the world assume they are powerless to make a difference. But this may not be so. The situation at Fukushima is dynamic, volatile, and increasingly desperate. These are ideal conditions for disruptive innovation. If this Blueprint can help to convey a sense of hope and to create a means for explorers everywhere to join the conversation, its purpose will have been well served.