Rebecca Costa is an engaging and deeply knowledgeable trendist and thought leader whose first book, The Watchman’s Rattle, reveals a game-changing message regarding our ability to thrive in the complex world we have created. In a fascinating and accessible read, Costa clearly posits that the escalating complexity of our personal lives, technological capabilities, and government policies have led to conditions—worldwide recession, global warming, pandemic viruses—that have outpaced our ability to manage them. After indentifying and articulating this dynamic, Costa offers an opportunity to address it. She reveals scientific evidence that the human brain can be retrained to comprehend, analyze, and resolve massively complex problems. We can give ourselves brain tune-ups, cultivate “insight-on-demand,” and make a significant impact on the seemingly intractable challenges we face today.
A futurist in the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Meade, Thomas Friedman, and Alvin Toffler, Rebecca Costa is by training and experience part sociologist, economist, psychologist and successful entrepreneur. Her acclaimed career identifying important global trends on behalf of industry giants such as Apple Computer, Applied Materials, Oracle Corporation, 3M, Amdahl, United TeleCom and General Electric Corporation, combined with her education in sociobiology and her keen ability to perceive the unifying concept within diverse and interrelated fields, uniquely qualify her to present a multi-disciplinarian approach to complex, systemic issues.
Rebecca Costa and The Watchman’s Rattle will explode archaic ways of thinking and forever change the way we perceive ourselves and our potential as human beings in relationship to the world around us. Like Rachel Carson with Silent Spring, Al Gore with An Inconvenient Truth, Nassim Nicholas Taleb with Black Swan, and W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne with Blue Ocean Strategy, Costa presents a fresh view of realities we thought we understood so well. In The Watchman’s Rattle, she discusses human behavior, evolutionary science, educational models, global commerce and competition, and reinvigorating our daily interactions and lives.
According to Costa, “We now stand at the crossroads of the fourth pivotal evolutionary event in human history following becoming multi-cellular, our crucial climb to land and finally on to two feet.” In her new book, she lays out proof that we are under the “spell” of four supermemes—overarching learned thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are not necessarily true or viable, but passed on as unassailable from generation to generation. (An example of a meme would be “Wait an hour before swimming.” In contrast, supermemes, which Costa explains for the first time, are complex, ingrained, deeply embedded cultural beliefs that prevent complex problem-solving from evolving at the same pace as social complexity.) Trapped by supermemes that narrow the breadth of our ideas and by our limited means of problem-solving—step-by-step analytical thinking—we are unable to solve and free ourselves from the social challenges, international divisions, and technical advances (nuclear arms, for example), that will doom us as a species. Cunning, curious, and relentlessly in need of change, we have devised more sophisticated methods for destroying our environment and social structure than we have developed the capacity to creatively address.
The answer lies in Costa’s “fourth step” in evolution—our ability to transform our brains into a new kind of thinking machine.
We are all as gifted as Newton, Einstein, and Hawking with intuitive thinking—the ability to solve complex problems through a flash of insight. Costa writes, “Insight is a spontaneous, effortless organization of chaos. There may be millions of facts and possibilities, but the left and right sides of the brain working together are capable of producing a single, and often the only, correct answer.” Insight is unpredictable, non-linear thinking that breaks the mold and solves the problem. (An example from the social/financial sector is Muhammad Yunus’ microloan, a sound and profitable means of loaning money to poverty stricken individuals considered to be unreliable, high-risk prospects by traditional banks and lenders.) Further, Costa explains, research and reality have shown that we can give ourselves brain tune-ups. Our brains can be trained to develop and sharpen this skill—insight on demand—the next evolutionary “tool” we need to assure our survival on planet Earth. The social, scientific, educational, and economic ramifications of insight-on-demand are far reaching.
Two excerpts from Costa’s working manuscript illustrate the core concepts of the first and second halves of The Watchman’s Rattle:
“The size and type of a problem a society faces is not the issue. The ability to develop advanced problem-solving techniques to address mounting complexity is. The key to survival is whether the way a culture ‘thinks’ evolves at the same rate as its technological and organizational complexity.”
“In an instant, the brain discovers every possible solution, finds a hyper-efficient ‘shortcut,’ and zeroes in on the right answer. We now know that complex problems are solved very differently and very quickly when the right side of the brain works in conjunction with the left. Scientists now call this type of thinking ‘insight.’”
We are at the gateway, we have the skill set, and Rebecca Costa, in The Watchman’s Rattle, is sounding the clarion call and unfolding the map for our next bold steps in the ongoing human journey.