07/24/2012 12:03 pm ET | Updated Sep 23, 2012

Who Is Buckminster Fuller and Why Is His Message So Important Now? - A Manifesto of Possibility


Even in the 1970s when he was a renowned, respected futurist, architect and global thinker, Buckminster Fuller constantly asserted that he was an ordinary person doing what he saw needed to be done to benefit the most people as efficiently and effectively as possible. His mission statement (below) says it all and might just be the perfect guide for global citizens, environmentalists, architects of the future and all of us wannabes.

"To make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone."

Check out this short video to hear Bucky himself talk about his commitment.

Buckminster Fuller is no longer the well-known luminary he was when walked the planet he labeled Spaceship Earth in the form he often labeled "yesterday's breakfast" (his physical body). He is dead, but so are Preston Tucker, Howard Hughes, Ed Wood and Steve Prefontaine.

Although these men achieved greatness, none have come close to making the contribution Bucky Fuller did. None have positively influenced millions of others lives as Bucky did. And none of them consciously acted unselfishly as Bucky did during his "56 Year Experiment" on behalf of all humankind. Still, bestsellers and feature films of these other people have made them even more famous posthumously. For some reason, this is not true for Buckminster Fuller, and this is a real loss for us all because Bucky was a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist" solving problems that he knew would be important 50 - 100 years into the future.


When Bucky died in 1983, I was certain that his legacy was essential to humankind surviving and thriving. So, I devoted several years to producing and presenting Bucky Fuller workshops using recorded material from his massive archive.

However, nearly 30 years after the death of the man that Marshall McLuhan labeled "the 20th century Leonardo da Vinci," Bucky's legacy and the solutions he posed for all our problems -- both global and personal -- generally go unnoticed and ignored. There has been no Bucky Fuller feature film or bestselling book. I had hopes that my latest book A Fuller View: Buckminster Fuller's Vision of Hope and Abundance for All might move Bucky's wisdom and genius back into the public spotlight, and perhaps it will at some point in the near future.

While waiting, however, we continue to experience what Bucky called the gestation period for ideas. He said that ideas were like seeds, which first needed to be planted and nurtured. Then, during their gestation period, they sprouted and grew before finally appearing as fully developed ideas that seemingly appeared spontaneously as an important cultural phenomenon. Bucky Fuller's vision and wisdom has yet to appear like that.

In considering this issue, I did what I often do -- return to the master teachings to see what Bucky had to say. The following quote from Bucky exemplifies the essence of the answer I found.

I sought to develop my artifacts... so that they would be ready for use by society when society discovered through evolutionary emergencies that they needed just what I had developed.

This quote represents Bucky's strategy of using emergence through emergency in making an effective efficient contribution. He would create an artifact (invention, book, etc.) that solved a problem he knew would arise in the future. From past experience and studying history, Bucky was certain that when the emergency happened people would turn to the most visible, accessible solution.

And this is the case with Bucky's "56 Year Experiment" to determine and document the difference that one person can make. What he learned during that life experiment provides amazing solutions, and their time has come.

When I tell audiences that I'm not taking about "your father's Buckminster Fuller," I'm saying that I don't discuss Synergetic Math, Geodesic Structures or the complicated science that Bucky so loved. I look at Bucky's life and the strategies that made it such as success, allowing him to contribute much more than most people can even imaging.

So, what did Bucky Fuller accomplish that allowed him to inspire so many people? His most recognized achievements are ...

  • Being granted 25 U.S. patents.
  • Writing 28 published books and thousands of articles.
  • Receiving 47 honorary doctorates.
  • Being presented with hundreds of major awards.
  • Having the longest listing in "Who's Who in America."
  • Circling the globe 57 times working on projects and lecturing.
  • Presenting an average of 150 "thinking out loud" sessions per year, even when he was in his eighties.

Then there are the tens of thousands of people Bucky inspired to greatness. The list of those people is long, and it includes many celebrities. It also includes me. Like so many, I first experienced Bucky live in the 1970s.

The venue was a global peace symposium in Toronto with about 8,000 anxious participants in the audience. With only a brief introduction, the short, elderly man walked on stage and stood silently scanning the crowd for what seemed like an eternity. Then, he sat on the lone chair and began his "thinking out loud" oratory that was scheduled as a 90-minute talk.

Six hours later, the building manager ended Bucky's presentation because he wanted to lock up. During that marathon, many people had walked out exhausted or overwhelmed. Bucky simply continued on. As long as someone was interested in what he had to share, he would maintain his effort to make his detailed message as complete as possible for anyone willing to listen.

And, when it was over, I had the same reaction that I've heard from hundreds of other people over the years. "The experience changed my life forever, and I had no idea what he said."

Bucky's presence was life-changing, and his messages were -- and remain -- transformational beyond words. He was, however, not a great communicator. Even today, reading Bucky's writing or watching a video of him can be challenging. This is particularly true of his speaking because he was not trying to communicate anything. Rather, he described his speaking as "thinking out loud." Today, we might call that channeling, but whatever the label it was fast, furious and filled with wisdom.

That's one reason I spent years transcribing dozens of his talks. I finally got much of his content by focusing on one sentence or phrase at a time and slowly linking everything I was hearing and learning. The result of that effort was the 1988 book Buckminster Fuller's Universe, which has served as a gateway into a new vision of possibility and hope for many people.

And that vision is critical today as we strive to succeed in stewarding our tiny, fragile Spaceship Earth into an era of success for all beings. That is the message Bucky shared over and over, and I'm hopeful that it will finally become commonplace in the near future so that we can all live in Bucky's vision of a world that works for everyone.