January 11, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The other day I came across a powerful metaphor. Capitalism is like an experimental aircraft launched from a very tall cliff. We assumed our model was aerodynamic and our flight controlled only because the ground was so far distant. We couldn’t see we were actually in free fall. Now the ground is rising rapidly and the truth is self-evident. It never was sustainable. It never did fly.
November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There’s something wrong with the game we’ve chosen to play, the economic engine we’ve built that now drives us. It doesn’t give us satisfaction, a sense of community, or hope. A few profit exorbitantly but I suspect even their lives are lacking in the same fundamental ways as those of us with less. And the vast majority are struggling to find food, water, shelter and warmth. There’s something wrong with such inequality.
There’s something wrong with the values we’ve adopted. Maybe it was an inevitable evolutionary outcome. I certainly don’t want to impose another moral imperative on our overburdened conscience, another thing we should or shouldn’t do for the greater good. Maybe it was unavoidable. We’re here because we had to be here but maybe we’re outgrowing our immaturity. Maybe a new order of complexity is emerging that will embrace and transcend our history. Maybe we will become something something new, something different, something better.
Denying the possibility of transcendence denies the possibility of change. Far to much is changing these days to deny. Our core values are changing, what we hold close to our hearts. Even acknowledgement of the need for heart and humanity in the workplace is changing, that place were the metaphor of the machine is still venerated.
It’s time we surrendered the machine as the image of God. It doesn’t work for humanity any more than it works for the universe. Our lives aren’t toothed gears turning in a clockwork mechanism. The places we work shouldn’t grind our spirit between metal teeth.
Work should express our common humanity, our community, our selves. It isn’t ultimately about profit. That’s just the way we keep score. There are better ways.
There’s something deeply important about work that we’ve perverted. I feel it even if I don’t have the words to explain. It feels powerful.
Work is far more than just making a living. It’s meaning, community, purpose but the purpose most of us serve is pitiful. It isn’t worth our loyalty or our lives. We only have this one life and to squander it seems shameful.
Can we rebuild our economy upon shared values that reflect our common humanity and the diversity of life on the planet? It seems possible to me, not through an effort of will but through the emergence of a new paradigm, a new democracy, new values that benefit the whole rather the the few. Impossibly idealistic? Perhaps if you believe the future can only duplicate the past but who would have thought the Arab Spring possible?
October 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve adopted a new motto (with acknowledgement to Lori Kane): Do more of what you like, less of what you don’t. It may seem simplistic, even solipsistic, but it has profound implications.
People tend to take responsibility for what they’re passionate about. Conversely, they’ll ignore what disinterests them even if they’re responsible for it. That’s as certain as water flowing downhill. Ignoring that simple fact is like ignoring gravity.
Do more of what you like, less of what you don’t. That works personally, professionally, it even works for managers. It aligns passion with purpose. It engages the imagination. It precipitates flow—that magical focus that defies time and fatigue and even the sense of self as you’re completely absorbed in the work.
Do more of what you like, less of what you don’t. It may seem silly, even selfish, but it’s more productive to align a worker’s passion with their work than their disinterest. Over 75% of the American workforce is disengaged from their work, more or less. That’s a statistic that’s going to bite American companies like a pit bull. Maybe if American companies knew more about their employees they could harness the power of passion rather than merely parading it like a political slogan at a national convention.
And what about the work no one is passionate about? There may be less of that than expected; for the work that’s truly orphaned, maybe we should take another look whether it’s really necessary.
October 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I believe we’ve entered the vortex of a paradigm shift. We’ll emerge with a new order of complexity, a new understanding of our place in the world, or not at all.
Whatever the result, it’s the end of business as usual. It’s the end of a privileged few profiting at the expense of many. It’s the end of rapacious policies to benefit stockholders, one country despoiling another or companies without loyalty to any country despoiling all.
The paradigm shift that is upon us isn’t about adoption of lofty principles and worthy goals. It’s about evolutionary necessity. Survival, pure and simple. And hope.
We’ve come to the end of the capitalist dream of wealth earned on the backs of others and hoarded by a few. That economy prompted us to go far but it will take us no further. The birth of every paradigm contains the seeds of it’s self-destruction. We’ve come to the end of the old paradigm but we don’t yet clearly see the next, the new level of complexity that will incorporate and transcend it.
The most recent surveys I’ve seen estimate that over 75% of the American workforce is disengaged from their work, more or less. Some so much more that they’re actively sabotaging their company to justify their disengagement. That, I think, is symptomatic of massive forces at play like the breaking of the northern ice at the end of winter. Our entire horizon is heaving and cracking and reshaping itself into a new terrain. No one can predict what it will look like. It’s not that we currently lack sufficient knowledge or computing power to calculate the topography of that landscape. It’s simply not predictable. Period.
We’ve exhausted the value of capitalism as practiced during the last few centuries. In a cost/benefit analysis the trend line of benefit has been steadily declining while costs have been rising. The streams have crossed with disastrous results. Despair is epidemic, disengagement the result. What’s needed is hope to replace our despair, passion to replace our disengagement, meaning to replace the soulless grind of making more for fewer. What’s needed is a new religion if you also understand religion as a passionate belief in something more meaningful than our own advantage, something more transcendent, inspiring, encompassing.
There is no ring-master, only the evolving circus, each act simultaneously influencing and influenced by all the others.
What’s needed isn’t something we can architect, manufacture, market and sell. It’s not something we can proselytize or legislate. Ironically, what’s needed most is something we least control.
Certainly, there are things we can do individually and collectively to midwife the birth of the new paradigm, to keep faith with our own conscience, but what’s coming is out of our control. It has always been out of our control. We are the participants, the performers in this three-ring circus, not the ring-master. There is no ring-master, only the evolving circus, each act simultaneously influencing and influenced by all the others. It’s an endlessly entertaining show but it’s not our show exclusively. We may not even be top billing on the next paradigm’s billboard.
I’m actually more hopeful than I have been, ever. (Raised in an evangelical family, the apocalypse was rather the point of my parent’s faith or the justification, at least.) I see a way forward that might include us despite the horrendous challenges confronting humanity, most of our own making. I don’t know the path but I’ve become a believer in Ken Wilbur’s vision that evolution is the creation of increasingly complex systems that transcend but embrace what went before. Where we find ourselves—on the edge of enormous change—is less the result of moral lapse that inevitability. We are here because we had to be here. And where we go from here isn’t in our control.
Robinson Jeffers was a dour poet but a clear-sighted man. He wrote, “At the end of an age there must be sacrifice to renew beauty.” There will be much that’s lost in the transition but hopefully, more that’s gained.
June 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve been reading Albert-Lazlo Barabasi’s book Linked and was surprised by the ending. More exactly, I was surprised that it ended.
I’d been led to the book by a convoluted path and a sincere, if ambitious, desire to save the world. My assumption is that things aren’t going well for the planet or ourselves. Something obviously need be done.
Capitalism in the single most powerful engine for change we’ve ever invented, besides religion, but it’s helped get us into our current crisis—the one where social and ecological apocalypse looms. To rephrase Einstein, we can’t solve our problems by using the same institutions we used when we created them. Looking for tools to help reinvent capitalism led me to Barabasi and Linked by way of complexity theory.
Be patient for a moment for an extended aside. This is a game changer. Not everything in human experience is complex but it may be. Human involvement may ensure complexity. The really interesting thing about complex adaptive systems is they’re unpredictable. You can’t reduce the system to its component parts and predict their trajectory like billiard balls. There are too many variables continually interacting—coevolving—to permit predictability. You simply can’t get there from here.
Magic has been loosed upon the world by science. Magic is ultimately unknowable, unpredictable, uncontrollable. If we can’t predict the future, we can’t control it. This may not be the scientific explanation of complexity but I think it may be what impacts us most. We don’t own the future but we have a responsibility for participating, for showing up.
That responsibility led me to Barabasi’s book. Network theory may be a way of understanding complexity and a tool for leveraging complex systems such as capitalism. More specifically in my case, leveraging Microsoft.
Microsoft may be among the most enlightened global corporations, most involved in corporate social responsibility, and most experienced in changing the world but it needs to change its corporate DNA—the fundamental way it defines its own success—in order to contribute to the change needed in the world. That’s an ambition worth embracing.
Barabasi’s book gave me some intriguing clues if not a roadmap but the ending surprised me. Reading the electronic version of Linked on Kindle, I knew I was about half way through. In fact, 67% of the way. The Kindle provides an exact ratio of what you’ve read to what there is to read. At 67% I ran smack into the notes. Frankly I would have preferred the notes incorporated into the body of the book, especially since they comprised a third of the content, rather than exiled to the appendix. They would have made for some interesting digressions.
This is only a footnote In my quest to reinvent capitalism. It won’t appear in the appendix.
June 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In previous generations work life and personal life were strictly segregated. One domain wasn’t allowed to intrude into another. It was considered a tasteless faux pas to bring your personality to work. Now work has intruded into the home. We’re all connected to our jobs wherever, whenever. There’s a corollary to the loss of boundaries that’s becoming obvious—we’re bringing our personal goals and aspirations into the workplace. We’re requiring that our work align with our Work—our calling, our contribution to the larger community, the greater good. We’re demanding that our companies contribute rather than merely profit.
As one in a series of interviews titled Walking Up the Workplace Dr. Otto Scharmer talks about the future of capitalism, the profound interdependence of systemic change in the way we do business and personal transformation, and the critical importance of personal purpose to a company’s success. Dr. Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and the author of Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges.
Others in the series include Barret Brown on “Conscious Leadership in Action: Research from the Trenches,” Rand Stagen “Leaders Get the Organizations They Deserve,” and Brian Johnson speaking about “Consciousness is our Greatest Asset.”
Highly recommended and especially pertinent to the goals of Net Impact.
January 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The return on assets for US companies has steadily declined to less than a quarter that of 1965 levels while worker productivity has increased.
by Charles Thrasher
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited is the largest private professional services organization in the world—not your typical bunch of red-eyed radicals brandishing copies of Das Kapital—and yet their 2010 Shift Index, a report on macroeconomic trends, suggests that Capitalism as practiced in the last 40 years isn’t working as expected. The most powerful engine for change ever invented may be broken.
Deloitte’s Center for the Edge reports a precipitous decline in Return on Assets (ROA) for American companies during the period 1965-2010. During the same time worker productivity has increased, the value of a worker’s pay has remained flat. But not for everyone. Between 1965 and 2007 the ratio of employee to executive compensation has increased from 1:24 to 1:275. Something is decidedly wrong.
As well, the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company is now fifteen years, declining toward five. There is a widening gap between winners and losers but even winners are barely maintaining their previous performance levels. Losers are falling out of the sky trailing a plume of smoke. They even have a name for it: topple rate, the rate at which big companies lose their market leadership. The topple rate has more than doubled. It’s getting increasingly precarious at the top.
What does it all mean? The dust hasn’t settled sufficiently to provide a definitive answer but it’s apparent that we’re in crisis. Where there’s crisis, there’s also opportunity. This may be the opportunity to reinvent the way we do business, to reinvent our entire economy, to serve the welfare of the whole rather than just the few.