| 5 min
The Larger Conversation (I): Where We Are Today
At the end of the decade sustainable business models and a new approach to our economic system will be part of the „next normal“.
Why? Because if not, we will be suffering ourselves out of existence.
All of this can easily be missed when stuck in the rat race. It is impossible to miss when pressing the pause button and opening up to some uncomfortable truth. — me
The magnitude and speed of change we are currently living through cannot be overstated. It’s a severe shift in the human story and it tests us to the limit.
The old is fading away and the new can barely be imagined. We are in between stories. The systems and institutions we have relied on to make sense and to manage the world around us are unravelling at an ever faster rate. Sovereign nation states acting on their own for their own are not equipped to address 21st century’s mounting challenges. International systems aren‘t either.
Accelerated by a virus, the cracks are becoming more and more obvious: Excessive bureaucracy, missed opportunities in digitalization, education systems failing to teach skills relevant in times of accelerated change, and political and economic systems stagnating, stuck in old paradigms and increasingly associated with ever larger and more outrageous scandals.
Still, we have come a long way and a lot has been achieved. The reduction of extreme poverty and infant mortality or the increase in life expectancy are examples of that. Now, however, we are up against a totally new set of existential threats. Our countermeasures to issues like degradation, mass extinction or inequality remind at best of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
In search of quick fixes, our institutional responses mainly rely on habitual reflexes without really taking the magnitude, inter-connectedness and global nature of the challenges into account. We double down on ever more prescriptive and complicated laws and regulations, narrow down on civil rights, and allow big tech, fake-news and polarization to spread as if it was nothing to be too worried about. In short: Our institutions are trying to solve 21st century challenges based on 20th century mind-sets and values, missing the fact that the primary cause of today’s threats is our very own behavior based on these very mind-sets and values.
At the same time – mostly outside the institutional sphere – there are signs of a new awakening, and norms and values are changing rapidly. The Climate Change-, #MeToo- and Black Lives Matter-movements are expressions of that. It is simply becoming a fact that at this rate we won’t be able to limit global warming to 1.5% degrees, that sexual harassment is painfully widespread and that we live in a world that was at large created by brutal European colonialism and supremacy not too long ago.
This is a big step from having all of these phenomena just utterly ignored, and it’s a long way from having appropriate responses generated and integrated into the big machine of our systems and institutions. The good news is that „new software“ is co-developed in a de-centralized fashion on the cultural edges with more and more people realizing the urgent need for a fundamental shift. At the cultural center, however, the vast majority is still occupied with business as usual, head in the sand or vigorously insisting that nothing of proven value exists to even consider larger changes to the status quo. And yes, a lot of the new is just emerging and far from complete, let alone sufficiently tested to allow for a system upgrade without complications. We truly are between stories and without an instruction manual.
What’s next? It seems likely that if we continue with business as usual and head in the sand, we will eventually reach a tipping point and end up in one of our historical default modes: “Oppression” or „Chaos“. We can watch the news or consult our history books to remind ourselves how tragically both of these strategies usually end. Even more so, as with fake-news, exponential tech and overpowered AI their toxic nature may well reach new heights. Looking at it this way, it seems obvious that now is the time to collectively wake up and get serious about exploring third way solutions!
But how? What does it take to exit well-established, deeply rooted default modes and do something that no one has ever done before? The areas requiring attention and action seem almost limitless. Many initiatives, projects, and experiments in many different fields are already underway, and many more are needed. It will take the sharpest minds, a lot of optimism, courage, creativity, and people willing to step up. And even though it seems somewhat daunting, what if it turns out to be much more fun than being afraid of change, weighed down by institutional inertia or overwhelmed by the social bias towards protecting the status quo at all cost?
The one system uniquely positioned to facilitate rapid change is the world of business. It’s amazing what business can accomplish once it sets sail. And yes, it will be challenging and not for everyone. It requires an open mind and the willingness to look more deeply into and address the systemic flaws of our current economic and corporate model. For the brave ones, it may well turn out to be the most rewarding and worthwhile mission they have ever been part of.
Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air or drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. –Carl Sagan