A host of complex social problems, ranging from environmental concerns and poverty to drug abuse and suicide, plague modern society. Despite the efforts of government agencies, corporations and nonprofit organizations, authorities admit that these problems persist and even grow. Positive progress remains limited to small quantitative improvements. We believe that this inability to achieve significant qualitative progress stems from the shortcomings of our symptomatic “quick-fix” approach, which views problems in an isolated fashion. This narrowly-focused, reactive approach fails to address the fundamental root causes and core belief systems that underlie the problems and our stagnation in implementing solutions.
We believe that the root solutions can be found within the rubrics of two concepts: sustainability and diversity. We believe that these concepts must be applied to our artistic, cultural, economic, educational, environmental, medical and other social endeavors in order to achieve significant progress. This belief, as well as the interconnectedness of these two concepts, is corroborated by a diverse slate of individuals and organizations, including the United Nations. Many world governments and organizations, including the World Health Organization, have already recognized that widespread application of these concepts is essential for the mental and physical health of individuals and communities.
However, the level of understanding and application of these concepts has varied greatly in different arenas. For instance, while environmentalists and scientists have successfully increased recognition of the importance of sustaining our biodiversity, the similar importance of sustaining cultural and social diversity remains lacking. Furthermore, a gap exists between the growing understanding of these concepts in the academic and business worlds and their relative unfamiliarity among the public at large.
An emerging discipline called Systems Thinking, originated and popularized by two current MIT professors, provides an exceptional tool by which to increase the public's understanding of the importance of sustainability and diversity, and our failure to boldly pursue them. This discipline explains how the components of our family, corporate, governmental, and economic systems interact with patterns of behavior and belief systems to create feedback cycles that often counterintuitively resist our attempts at progress. It also offers us insight into the “leverage points” where we can most effectively intervene to improve the systems' efficiency. However, to date, Systems Thinking has also remained predominantly inaccessible or uninteresting to the general public, and been confined mostly to the business and educational communities.
Over the past twelve years, the work of author Daniel Quinn has made great strides in overcoming these limitations, introducing Systems Thinking, sustainability, and diversity to the layman in an intriguing and entertaining fashion. In 1991, Quinn's novel, Ishmael, was selected by a celebrity panel, including famed science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, for the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship. Created by CNN and TNT Founder Ted Turner, Time Magazine's 1991 Man of the Year, it recognized a book offering creative solutions to global problems, and was the largest amount ever awarded for a single literary work.
Along with Quinn's subsequent works, such as The Story of B, My Ishmael, and Beyond Civilization, Ishmael has become a phenomenon. It has inspired local discussion groups and conferences around the world, been taught in an incredible array of disciplines in thousands of high schools and universities, and informed the work of artists including the Grammy-winning band Pearl Jam, Doug Yule (former guitarist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members The Velvet Underground), and the film “Instinct” starring Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Quinn has been featured throughout cyberspace and in the media, including an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show and received rave reviews from a plethora of important figures in the worlds of sustainability, diversity, and Systems Thinking.
Quinn's work explains the need for systemic change in an inspirational, pragmatic manner that is accessible to everyone from high school students to CEO's and academics. Because of this, it has helped many budding humanitarians to transcend limiting cultural mythology and apathy, to bridge the gap between the personal and the social, and to become more effective or active in areas such as business, education, health care, and social justice. One particularly powerful individual inspired by Quinn's work is Ray C. Anderson, CEO of Interface, Inc., the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world. Anderson, winner of Forbes and Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year awards, and co-chairman of President Clinton's Sustainable Development Council, credits Ishmael as a life-changing experience that inspired him to commit his multi-billion dollar company to a course of sustainability that has served as a model for countless others.
In order to replicate and amplify the cascade of positive changes that flow from those who, like Ray Anderson, are touched by Quinn's work, The Friends of Ishmael Society has been established. It was founded by and is directed by motivated readers who were themselves inspired by his work. Our mission is to: