Connecting Kimon Onuma's BIMStorm and Connections by James Burke
Connecting Kimon Onuma’s BIMStorm to “Connections” by James Burke
In 1979, the British Broadcasting Corporation produced a seminal television series that was fully titled
“Connections: An Alternative View of Change by James Burke.” Most people just call it ““Connections”.”
In bell bottoms, I watched the original airing of the series with great fascination as Burke walked a well
choreographed path through the history of technological invention as it lead to the creation of the
modern world’s Telecommunications, Computers, Rockets, Televisions, Plastics, Jet Engines, Atomic
Bombs and Production Lines.
It made a big impression on me and had the largest Public Television audience up to that time. For ten
episodes it was like the Technology History Channel before there was a History Channel.
This cold January of 2014, I have bundled up and watched the entire series in rapid succession. It was
not surprising to notice all ways that BIMStorm connects to “Connections.” More importantly, it is clear
how BIMStorm answers the question Burke asks at the end of the series as he walks through the British
Airways computer control center and says in his smart, clipped, English manner –
“Never mind the machinery.
“What about the stuff this lot uses.
“The raw material that will change our world like you would never believe - Information.
“Not the facts. It is too late for that.
“What you do with the facts.
“Because there, you are into Probability Theory, choosing one of the alternate futures and actually
making it happen.
“And how does the man in the street get involved in that game?
Well he didn’t, not until BIMStorm and other gaming processes were developed to explore alternative
futures in very accurate scenarios.
Now it is possible for those with information about buildings and society to visually share that
information with masses of people in a clear way. With BIMStorm, people can make decisions that
otherwise would have been far too complex to comprehend.
BIMStorm makes a game of this complex process of sharing information in a way that most people were
slow to warm up to, but is now becoming standard in some places, such as the U.S. Department of
Defense Military Health System.
California Community Colleges is also showing how sharing information about spaces creates
knowledge about how to schedule classes in an effective manner. If the room on the map is color coded
red, you can’t use it. Simple knowledge, but when applied across a campus or 112 campuses, very
important knowledge if accessed in real time.
It was enlightening seeing all the direct connections between what James Burke was saying 35 years ago
and what has come to be standard operating procedures in BIMStorms.
You almost can’t have a BIMStorm without making an analogy to the travel industry. And it was in the
British Airways computer control center where Burke concluded his series.
Burke keeps mentioning that innovation comes when inventions are used in ways they weren’t
anticipated or when accidently stumbled upon while looking for something else. Kimon Onuma, FAIA
has been encouraging people to “fail forward” through all of the BIMStorms. He has created an
environment were the man on the street can make mistakes – and learn from them to choose the best
path into the future.
“Connections” had a strong focus on home building, city building and the stuff that allows us to live
together in a prosperous, interrelated way. So does BIMStorm.
“Connections” looked at politics in a humorous way because it enjoyed the luxury of distance. BIMStorm
allows a clear view of political decision making, but in a less whimsical way because we are trying to
influence our current conditions and our near future.
“Connections” acknowledged that people all over the world can influence developments when their
expertise and knowledge come together. BIMStorm specifically asks for “Mash Ups” of knowledge,
experience and information from all over the world.
Burke uses entertaining, understandable dramatic visions of historic settings to clarify complex ideas.
BIMStorm is entertaining in format and results in understandable, dramatic visions of any setting on
Earth . . . or on the moon or on Mars.
Oh yeah, “Connections” talked about NASA getting to the moon. NASA uses and supports BIMStorms on
Earth, the moon and on Mars. So there’s that too.
After Burke asked the question of “how do you get the man in the street involved?” he concluded with
a “maybe” of his own. Burke asks what to do with the knowledge of technology.
“Maybe a good start would be to recognize with in yourself the ability to understand anything. Because
that ability is there, as long as it is explained clearly enough,” Burke states.
So Happy Anniversary BIMStorm and thank you for making it possible to clearly explain anything.
And Thank You Kimon, Susan, the whole Onuma team and all the BIMStorm supporters – can’t wait to
see what you do next.
All my best,
BIM Education Co-op
A partial transcript of James Burke’s concluding lines in ““Connections”” follows:
“The key to why things change is the key to everything. How easy is it for knowledge to spread? In the
past, the people who made change happen were the people who had that knowledge whether they
were craftsmen or kings. Today, the people who makes things change, the people who have that
knowledge, are the scientist and technologists who are the true driving force of humanity.
“…Thanks to science and technology, they have begun to know that they don’t know so much. And if
they are to have more say in what happens in their lives, more freedom to develop their abilities to the
full, they have to be helped towards that knowledge they know exists and they don’t possess.
“…Find ways to translate the knowledge to teach us to ask the right questions. See we’re on the edge of
a technology revolution that is going to make that more possible than ever before.
“…So what do we do about it?
“…Maybe a good start would be to recognize with in yourself the ability to understand anything.
Because that ability is there, as long as it is explained clearly enough. And then go and ask for
explanations. And if you are thinking right now, “What do I ask for?” Ask yourself if there is anything in
your life you want changed. That is where to start.”
Sounds like the start of a lot of BIMStorms.
For those interested in an overview of the series, I recommend starting with Episode 10: