And so we applied principles of indirect normativity, albeit in significantly more elementary fashion, as our next step in constructing the membership. Conducting an audit of the existing members recruited from the prior “horizontal” focus, we took stock of which “fields” already happened to be represented.
Two parallel processes were then initiated. The first was a deep consultation with the members, asking them which trends, problems, and domains they would suggest focusing on during the next 50 years. These conversations make up a continuous process, which we call “Helena Meetings,” taking place around the world and throughout the year. In some cases meetings happen individually, between ourselves and a single Helena member. In most cases, the members meet each other in small combinations, usually just two or three at a time. And in some cases we bring larger numbers of the membership together, of course constrained by logistics and cost. We are obsessive about this process, writing down every insight from every communication we set up in service of better understanding which areas of knowledge we continue to lack, which “fields” we still don’t represent in the membership, and which potential projects we should consider taking on.
The second is our internal process of attempting to become as educated as possible about the world, and to make our own strategic considerations as individuals. Even though the strategic abilities that can be ascertained from reading, conversational knowledge accumulation, and the gaining of experience from project operations pales in comparison to the collective intelligence of the membership, it is still invaluable. More importantly, it is essential for myself and our team in our pursuit to best lead the organization as it grows larger and more complex.
The best insights from the first process of indirect normativity, supplemented by the insights of the individualistic internal process, yields the strategy we employ to construct the “vertical” elements of the Helena membership. So far, (as of early 2019) this process has led us to the educated guesses that certain “fields” are worth including more heavily in Helena’s membership than they were previously. They include artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, the future of clean energy technology, climate policy, criminal justice, misinformation, blindspots of America’s governance system, democratic elections, complexity science, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, healthcare systems, natural resources, rare earth metals, rapid prototyping. We only know two things for sure; one — this list is not nearly correct or complete, and two — it will constantly iterate.
Our model is not nearly perfect. In fact, it can’t be, because it is built from, run by, and structured to interact with, an imperfect medium — humans. But our process does represent the result of trying to formulate a more intelligent system of membership to support projects to address societal problems. The thinker Sam Harris wrote that “we need systems wiser than we are.” Hopefully our imperfect system, iterating and iterating as it continues to grow, proves able to honor that idea.