James Greyson, Reinventing Global Security

In our recent podcast episode, we aired our interview with global security thought leader, keynote speaker, and founder and CEO of BlindSpot Think Tank, James Greyson. We were fortunate to receive an introduction to James on Twitter after reaching out to some of our past guests. Michele Battle-Fisher, who we consider to be a natural “connector”, eagerly answered our request for an introduction to someone who could talk with us about the complexity of the environment. Enter James Greyson, an interviewee we would never forget.

James is an impressively intelligent and lovely human being who is as humble as he is brilliant. He has “over 20 years professional experience with international sustainability and security challenges. His work ranges from designing advanced cookstoves enabling people in developing countries to make rather than burn charcoal, to publishing the world’s first economic instrument to enable circular flows of all resources, to providing NATO with a renewed global security vision and new policy levers to implement it”.

During our interview with James, we discussed the research he conducted for the NATO Science Programme, which is documented in a paper titled, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security. As the title suggests, his paper presents seven policy switches, which “each offers an expanded vision of people’s role on Earth and a whole-system change to implement it”.

When we read James’ paper, prior to our interview with him, we were captivated by his big, tangible ideas and we soon realized he had completely shifted the way we thought about global issues. The strategy he presented was practical and brilliant in its simplicity, because he had synthesized several major problems into one global issue of security, and he did this by pinpointing patterns within the global system. James looked beyond all of the separate symptoms and refrained from leaning on reductionist thinking to conduct his extensive research. The result was an inspiring and uplifting resource for fast planet-scale change.  

Throughout his interview, James assured us that just because we are encountering planet-scale complex problems, doesn’t mean we should feel defeated. He encouraged us to believe we can use the size of global problems to our advantage by looking at patterns and by intervening in the system at leverage points. James referred to these leverage points as “policy switches” which hold the power to change global system behavior.  

It seemed crazy to us to think that just seven global-scale policy switches could provide rapid and effective solutions to all of our major economic, social, and ecological challenges. But, the research spoke for itself. James stated, “this ‘global security’ ambition can be sought with a new era of policy-making that encompasses the indivisibility, scale and urgency of all planet crunch issues.” And if you are wondering, what is a planet crunch? The planet crunch is a term James uses to describe an apex to the plethora of global issues which threaten our global security. Issues like, unequal access to energy, water, food, natural resources, funds, co-operation, as well as world-wide susceptibility to infectious diseases, climate instability, and ecological collapses. The convergence of all of these symptoms is the polar opposite of global security, it is global insecurity across all scales. But, the strategy presented by James to integrate complexity awareness and applied systems thinking in order to reach a new era of policy-making is an exciting concept, one which we welcomed with open arms. The tangibility of his action plan was very refreshing. It gave us a sense of calming optimism. At the same time, we appreciated that James did not sugarcoat the reality of our impending planet crunch.  

Often, when we think about global-scale problems, feelings of defeat can creep in on us. The scale and scope of the problems we face as a human race can feel very intimidating and it is easy to want to break each issue down into parts so they are more digestible and less overwhelming for us to tackle. The problem is that this reductionist approach does more harm than good because each problem is so intertwined with the next. We soon start to encounter unintended consequences from our actions because we are operating within a limited viewpoint and understanding of what is happening and therefore we miss out on what is necessary. James described a tactic he uses to think bigger, called blindspotting. Blindspotting is the driving force behind all of his work and it is essentially an approach he uses to find what has been overlooked because of reductionist thinking. James said, "ultimately, blindspotting can address the neglected gap between the scale of our our responses and the scale of the interconnected challenges".

At the HumanCurrent it is our mission to share the exciting possibilities that are available to us if we just learn to think bigger. And, our conversations with people like James continue to verify and validate the importance of our mission. His story along with many others, are case studies for the power of what could happen when we explore and embrace complexity. If we don't retreat from complexity, if we learn where to intervene when necessary, we can change the world!

You can listen to the HumanCurrent podcast here and don't forget to subscribe in iTunes. Be sure to check out our interview with researcher & thought leader on global security, James Greyson. Let's work happy!