R. Buckminster Fuller


Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary. The whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab.
R. Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller, World Game & collaborative intelligence

Buckminster Fuller conceived the idea of “World Game” (1961), “design science” (1951) and “Spaceship Earth” (1963). Fuller’s vision was “to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone” (motto of the Buckminster Fuller Institute). World Game was a powerful idea to harness game methods to environmental sustainability challenges. But the internet, ubiquitous mobile computing, and social networks were needed to implement this vision.


Jon Taplin wrote, “Fuller wanted a tool that would be accessible to everyone, whose findings would be widely disseminated to the masses through a free press, and which would, through this ground-swell of public vetting and acceptance of solutions to society’s problems, ultimately force the political process to move in the direction that the values, imagination and problem solving skills of those playing the democratically open world game dictated. It was a view of the political process that some might think naive, if they only saw the world for what it was when Fuller was proposing his idea (the 1960s) –minus personal computers and the Internet.” A revival of interest in Fuller’s ideas is timely – we finally have the technology to explore how World Game might be implemented.

World Game – first proposed in 1961
When Buckminster Fuller proposed World Game in 1961, the technology did not exist to implement his vision. Only now can a World Game be implemented using geo-aware technologies, internet-supported collaboration, ubiquitous computing, and increasingly sophisticated social networks to support coordinated decision-making, innovation, responsible entrepreneurship, and collaboration across the globe.
buckminster-fullerOf World Game Buckminster Fuller wrote: “I review planetary resources in terms of today’s gained know-how, to see whether there’s any way we might be able to do much more with much less, to be able to take care of everybody. All political systems and wars based on scarcity would become obsolete. World Gaming is played, not like checkers against an enemy but against ignorance, inertia, and fear. The World Game proves that John Von Neumann’s theory of war gaming, which holds that one side or the other must ultimately die, either by war or starvation, is invalid and offers a heretofore unconsidered alternative way to play the war game in which, as in mountain climbing, the object is to find all the moves by which the whole field of climbers would win as each helped the other so that everyone reached the mountaintop successfully. I think of my World Game as a way to bypass politics, human ignorance, prejudice, and war and put the facts before man and the whole world to try to deal with them coherently. We have never so far made the attempt to take our collective destiny into our own hands, and shape it.”

How did he propose to implement a vision so ambitious? Buckminster Fuller’s 1961 proposal for World Game was a vehicle to stimulate collective brainstorming about how to address global sustainability. In the decades of the 1960s and 1970s large groups met in school gymnasia with butcher paper and colored markers to develop strategies to match world resources to world needs. These sessions raised awareness about the challenges of resource distribution, population growth, and the interconnectedness of global sustainability challenges.Fuller coined the concepts of Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (1951), “World Game” (1961) and “Spaceship Earth” (1963).

Considered together, these three concepts call for greater emphasis on synthesis (design science), gaming, and ecosystems. Design Science challenges us to bridge C.P. Snow’s two cultures (1959), so that design and science can collaborate to shape environmentally sustainable futures on Spaceship Earth.Buckminster Fuller’s concept of Design Science focused on the principles of synergetics, and their proof of concept, initially on a small scale. 2011 marked the fiftieth anniversary of R. Buckminster Fuller’s first publication of the idea of World Game (1961). His ideas were ahead of their time, resisted when first proposed, but are increasingly being accepted as society embraces the urgency of environmental sustainability. While there is much emphasis on developing new, sustainable technologies, insufficient emphasis is placed on the larger challenge of decision support.

Fuller’s ideas have had impact at all scales. The C60 molecule was first generated in 1985 by Harold Kroto, James R. Heath, Sean O’Brien, Robert Curl, and Richard Smalley at Rice University. Kroto, Curl and Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in the discovery of C60 which they named after Buckminster Fuller the buckminsterfullerene and the related class of molecules, the fullerenes. A buckminsterfullerene (or bucky-ball) is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C60, a cage-like fused-ring structure (truncated icosahedron) that resembles a soccer ball, made of twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons, with a carbon atom at each vertex of each polygon and a bond along each polygon edge and resembles Buckminster Fuller’s famed geodesic domes. Buckminsterfullerene is the most common naturally occurring fullerene molecule, and has been detected in deep space. The buckminsterfullerene is also one of the largest objects shown to exhibit wave-particle duality. Its discovery played a key role in launching the new field of molecular nanotechnology.


Fuller’s Metaphors
Buckminster Fuller carved powerful metaphors to convey foundational ideas. Five well-known position statements of Buckminster Fuller introduce five critical principles of collaborative intelligence.

First, in “the origins of specialization” Fuller links specialization to the “divide and conquer” philosophy of the power elite for control and exploitation, putting forward the provocative insight that through specialization we lost our abilities as designers and our power to anticipate the impacts of design decisions on humanity. Design was relegated to a cubbyhole to be yet another specialized profession.

Second, in “I seem to be a verb” Fuller invokes ordinary life experience, with its constant lessons and opportunities for design thinking. He turned himself into “Guinea Pig B” (“B” for Bucky), testing his ideas in the design of his own life. He viewed his own creative life trajectory, and its documentation, as a vehicle to inspire others.

Third, in “We are all astronauts” Fuller suggests that the human aspiration to send missions to space can now look back on our “pale blue dot” – our Earth. He refers to “Spaceship Earth” — our spaceship as a self-repairing, recycling system of systems.

Fourth, citing Leonardo da Vinci as an outstanding exemplar for future “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientists,” Fuller challenges us to revisit, not only Leonardo’s immense oeuvre, but to imagine what Leonardo’s design process must have been to achieve that level of innovation.

Finally, through synergetics, the integrated behaviors of nature whereby whole system behaviors cannot be predicted from the behaviors of their component parts, Fuller offers the core concept of design science. Synergetics is the process that leads to synergy. Fuller clearly articulated a process-focused design philosophy, aligned with the dynamics scientists have hypothesized must have occurred in the origin and evolution of life itself. These dynamics provide a foundation for sustainable systems in the future.