Systems Shakers: Magical and Moral Imaginations With Scientist Phoebe Tickell

Systems Shakers: Magical and Moral Imaginations With Scientist Phoebe Tickell


Phoebe Tickell trained as a Natural Scientist: exploring the world through a lens that detects patterns, interconnection, and seeks truth.


Guided by the creativity required to appreciate complexity, she has gone on to formulate meta-curricula based on ‘magical’ or ‘systems thinking’. Here you can find hints of moral initiative, as well as insights into a world of being a self-professed “wonder-junkie” – inspired by what it really means to tap into one of the most valuable resources we posses: human ingenuity, innovation, and imagination. As the founder of Moral Imaginations, Phoebe recently presented her work at the Systems Shakers conference which combines vision, science and art with action and activism. Here are some of my key takeaways inspired by her key note speech.


Finding Practical Solutions To Complex Problems With Imagination

The ways in which we organise our lives, learning and work – and thereby the ways in which we organise society – are facing increasing existential pressure for change. Outdated models often inhibit the integration of innovation, leading to a state of impasse. Creating a new reality means daring to use our imaginations, which is really a superpower that’s available to anyone, any time, anywhere.


The Rise Of ‘Imagination Activism’

Phoebe uses playful methods to help people see the world in different ways, demonstrating that a different world is possible. Only when someone dares to look beyond what they already know, will they be able to change their perspectives and therefore, outcomes.

However, many of us have lost the art of thinking outside the box, for fear of doing something wrong – or something  that’s not according to the ‘imposed norm’. Industrialisation has arguably had a devastating effect on creativity, in that we have become obsessed with efficiency and replicability, which affects craft and creation from the heart.

A rigid education system geared towards quantifying grades, also kicks the creativity out of children. And there are many parallels between the mental health problems we face today, and a colonial ‘one size fits all’ model that excludes those who don’t fit the prevailing mould.


Nature And Nurture: Environment And Creativity

As a child, Phoebe grew up in an austere region of Hungary, but spent the next half of her life within the well-developed walls of London. She experienced a striking difference in imagination between their inhabitants.

Memories of a childhood in Hungary felt much more warm, cohesive and creative. She felt that when people have less, they share more with each other and look for ways to make their lives easier. They also automatically use their hands more, developing physical and not just cognitive skills more broadly.



Lateral Thinking And Approaches To Growth

In the era of the internet, it has become the norm to see business models that aim for exponential global growth. Growth in and of itself is not bad, but extractive models that focus heavily on quantitative bottom-lines are unsustainable, narrow and irresponsible.

This has lead to the rise of the term ‘de-growth’, which is linguistically misleading in that it inherently assumes a negative definition of growth. Many alternative approaches to development are those that bring balance to a triple bottom-line, by highlighting an equal weighting in intangible, qualitative metrics.


The Role Of Government In Fostering More Creative Solutions To Complex Problems

An avid traveller, Phoebe was inspired by the deep cultural interconnections between politics and art in South America. By contrast, she found creativity in Europe to be relegated to those directly paid to work in fantasy, such as filmmakers and authors.

This means that those within the industry suffer from the narrow limitations imposed by financial incentives, while the tools to develop and express more innovative solutions to complex problems are not accessible to many outside it. It is human to collaborate through courage, creativity and imagination. But not many are in a position to have the time, space and resources needed to foster this.


Phoebe’s Work With The Moral Imaginations Lab

In their group sessions at the Moral Imaginations Lab, Phoebe and her team use multimedia experiences full of sound and live artwork – leveraging inspiration and imagination. Last year they did a four day journey with residents from Watchet in the UK, who came with a diverse array of things that they wanted to work on.

When Phoebe followed-up with the group down the line, many of the participants expressed evidence of genuine engagement and change. The workshops didn’t tell them what to do to solve their concerns, but it did open the doors to their imagination – and therefore to possibility. It helped them to help themselves.

When we’re children, we fill our days with the conviction that we can be and do anything. And as we age, nurturing instead of rejecting this naturally curious, creative, untamed, raw spirit can have fantastic consequences for all of us: physically, mentally and existentially.