Alex Steffen meets Ellen MacArthur

Posted in: News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

To the RGS on Thursday night for a talk by Seattle futurist guru Alex Steffen, and a conversation between him and Ellen MacArthur.

According to a NY Times blog, Steffen is a "designing optimist, [who] lays out the blueprint for a successful century", and I see that Steffen himself billed the event on his website as a "brand new talk", although one TED-familiar colleague said that 'longer talk' might have been a better description.  However, he was new to me as I tend to be guru-deficient.  But his ideas didn't seem all that new: more repackaged, maybe, and I missed a sense of agency in the talk about what we [all] can do.   I felt a little better informed, but not much the wiser.

The subsequent conversation with Ellen was better.  I felt this at the time, and my notes confirm it as I read them now.  She was able to drag him (nicely) onto more solid real-world ground, but the agency focus came and went.  I wrote down a few of Steffen's aphorisms: "put the future back in the room" which I won't be using (ever), and "recycling as a gateway drug", which I just might, if I ever work out what it means.  I'd have liked more of this conversation, and less guru-speak, and then more time for points from the audience – tricky though this is at nine at night.

The event was billed in the UK as An evening with Alex Steffen and Ellen MacArthur

[The] Ellen MacArthur Foundation and [the] University of Bradford are happy to welcome Alex Steffen, editor of the best selling book  World Changing and leading futurist, to an evening lecture around innovative business practice and positive 21st century perspectives

... although this is not quite how Steffen himself described it, announcing, (via Twitter):

Londoners - I'm speaking on carbon zero cities at the RGS, next Thurs (20th).

Oddly, no mention of the Foundation.  Is this why his talk had only an oblique focus (and that is probably being kind) on the Foundation's interest in the circular economy.   This, and his going on at great length through his powerpoint(less) slides is why I felt rather short-changed.  This could have been so much better had he focused less on himself and more on the idea the Foundation is championing.

Ah, well, next time ...

Posted in: News and Updates, Talks and Presentations


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  • I have known Alex's work for some years, and enjoyed much of it, yet seeing and hearing him live left me pretty much unmoved. It could have been so much more, as you suggest, if he had taken some time to engage with the notion of a circular economy. He seemed to saying very little as I think about it now. No it wasn't even zero carbon cities - if that was what he imagined he was talking about. Zero carbon is silly anyway. No problem with carbon if it has a good onward destination. He did mention biochar... Well, I'm pretty keen to reflect on what I spend an evening on, and two days later I have hardly a memory of the evening - from a content perspective- not a good feeling. Maybe it will emerge later.