I first heard of R. Buckminster Fuller when I attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2018 (look up #GES2018 on Twitter) in Brisbane. Part of the weekend’s events was the launching of what they called the World Game, which was basically an en masse mobilisation of entrepreneurs from all over the world towards making impacts towards achieving the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. It’s really hard to sum it up in a few words, but it was a pretty inspiring concept. And actually, the World Game was originally the brain-child of R. Buckminster Fuller, who has been dubbed “one of the finest minds and most significant thinkers of the Modern Age.” Quite an accolade to hold!
So I went away excited for the concept of the World Game, and did a little research into the man. Most people who have heard of him think of him as the “geodesic dome” guy. But his World Game was basically a blueprint for global cooperation to no longer be constrained by the economic mental concept of scarcity and a lack mindset. Ultimately, we live in a universe where neither matter nor energy is created or destroyed, right? So its ultimately more about flow and transformation. Phew, mind-blowing stuff! Well, I really wanted to do a review of his book. (This will most likely end up as several posts, as it really is such an immensely deep book!) I thought the best place to start was at the beginning and understanding the critical path – what that actually means.
So What is the Critical Path?
I could imagine your thoughts would be the same as mine when you read the book title – “So what is the Critical Path?”
So I looked it up before I even set about reading, and found that it is a term used in project planning and management. To be able to accurately estimate the completion date of a major project, planners draw up a chart that breaks the project down into all of its sub-tasks.
There is usually a final task that requires that all the others are done – the ultimate conclusion to the project. So then you trace your way back – what tasks are required right before I can complete the final task and be finished? Then what sub-tasks are needed for me to commence those penultimate tasks – and so forth, until you have it all laid down.
So then each task is allocated a duration of time required. There are usually many different paths that could be drawn between the various sub-tasks in terms of what order you could do things in.
So the “critical path” then is the longest path drawn from the very beginning of the project, step-by-step through all the sub-tasks until you read the end! This determines the time that a project would be allocated for total completion.
“Critical path planning” was first used in a big way for the project planning with the Apollo missions, and Fuller actually talks some about this, and then draws from this a grand metaphor for how humanity could achieve the grand project of what he called the “world-embracing design science revolution”!
So How Does A Project Management Concept Apply to Humanity as a Whole?
Well, Fuller, drawing on the analogy of the Apollo mission saw that even if the Apollo project had 1000 sub-tasks to completion, how many sub-tasks would there have been for humanity to have arrived with all the necessary technology to even begin the Apollo project?
How far do you want to go back? Agriculture, mining and metallurgy, robotics and mass production – all technologies developed over time as a part of the various “revolutions” down through the centuries that radically shifted the future of the world from that point on.
Where Did Fuller’s Ideas Flow From?
So before I get into discussing the contents and concepts of the Critical Path, I’ll just share a little of Fuller’s story, because (as he himself makes clear in the introduction of his book) there is a clear relationship between the experiences of his life and his subsequent ideas.
At a very young age, Fuller decided that his life was going to be an experiment of sorts – “Guinea Pig B”, he called himself. He started a journal where he’d record things he was doing and learning. Eventually when he reached adulthood, he reflected back over the accumulation of personal data he’d gathered. He called it his “Chronofile”.
In time, he was married. Sadly, he lost his first child, but it was around the time that his second child – another daughter – was born, in 1927, that he pinpoints a radical shift in his perspective, a blossoming of his developing thinking over the years from when he started thinking differently at seven years old!
He realised that humanity was designed to perform an important function in Universe. He set about to spend the rest of his life determining what the best thing was for a young man to do to help steer the world into a path to a state where war was obselete, because there was no more need to fight over limited resources. A big dream!
Before You Look to the Future, You Must Consider Your Past
So now that you’ve got a picture of what Fuller was attempting through his life, we can now turn back to look at what has been dubbed his “Masterwork”. He penned the Critical Path with the help of Kiyoshi Kuromiya in the last years of his life, and it was ultimately left to his companion to finally get the book published posthumously.
Now in the first third of the volume, which really is quite sizeable while still being amazingly readable, Fuller takes us back into prehistory of earth and traces humanity’s steps in a really radical way! He calls it his “Speculative Prehistory of Humanity”! It is definitely pretty radical some of the things he has to say, but everything he says is logical, and can actually be a legitimate take on the evidence before us.
That’s one of the best things about Fuller’s book is how he doesn’t just accept the orthodox view as if it is the only way to look at things. It’s not that he pushes his speculations as the truth, but like Socrates and other philosphers of old, he grounds all his speculations and musings in logic and just looking at the evidence from a different angle.
Two of the most radical concepts that he forwarded would be:
- That the Phonecians were actually not limited in their maritime travels to the West, but actually Eratosthenes’ map from 200BC could be interpreted to actually chart a trip that included travelling coasts from almost every continent!
- That the Bronze Age could have actually started in the East (near modern-day Thailand to be exact) as a source where both copper and tin existed side-by-side – logically, would man have “discovered” an alloy like bronze AFTER they went to a lot of effort to transport tin from Britain and copper from Cyprus – OR would they have considered that effort worthwhile AFTER that amazingly useful alloy was previously discovered in a part of the world where those metals already existed together, and then that knowledge diffused from there?
Anyway, there is so much more in this prehistory section that I could share, and maybe in my subsequent posts, I’ll dig into a bit more of the detail. That’s enough to whet your tastebuds for now?
I Seriously Recommend You Check Out This Book
Honestly, you should seriously consider acquiring this “Masterwork of one of the finest minds and most significant thinkers of the Modern Age.” It is a sizeable volume, as I mentioned above, but it is in quite readable language, and definitely once you get into it, you’ll be carried along with excitement to what Fuller is going to say next!
Currently the book is marked at 56% off at Book Depository! And that is with free postage worldwide. So honestly, if you have $20 AUD and a book full of profoundly life-changing ideas, I would get it in a heartbeat.
I’m going to be writing a whole series of posts, reviewing slowly the different ideas in this book. Eventually I’ll get to the actual Critical Path, but first, there is a lot of foundational understanding about history, and then a bit of biographical story of Fuller himself, the insights that changed his perspective on his individual life forever and the disciples that he applied in his life as a consequence. So as I said, a very rich book! High recommended!