Have you ever felt that there was something just out of reach of your fingers, your pen or your mind – an idea just waiting to be born? That if you could just reach out to it and nail it to a piece of paper, it could take flight and become real? Somehow amongst all the confusion and change going on I keep getting glimpses of dots joining up which offer hope of a better future.
I really think despite every indicator to the contrary that there’s something really exciting going on in the world at the moment. Something that you aren’t likely to see on the evening news or written up in your average newspaper. But nevertheless, it’s there. It has taken me two years to dig it out and join the dots in my own mind but the more I dig, the more I see and the more people on the same wavelength I connect with. It sometimes seems slow and organic, but every time I take another peek I get more and more excited that it is going to give rise to a new way of living and working on the planet – even if we can’t see what that will look like today.
What are the dots?
1. The Broken System
The ‘system’ is broken. At last we are saying the unthinkable. Constant consumption, constant growth, fuelled by a financial system based on greed and wealth for the 1% not only isn’t working any more, it isn’t going to save us if we go over 2C warming, it isn’t just and it isn’t fair.
We’re already seeing a complete breakdown in the future of work – a job for life has gone, the explosive rise of entrepreneurialism is evidence that no-one wants to work the way my generation has done (hard, all day, weekends, for a house). We’re seeing massive shifts of population out of war zones into Europe, and explosive population growth on other continents without the promise of work in the future. We just about survived the crash of 2008 by stitching together what was left of a banking system that’s proven completely inept and corrupt. We cannot continue to generate the kind of growth seen in the 20th century because we don’t have the natural resources to support it any longer. We need more planets and we’ve only got one.
All over the world, there are discussion groups and organisations popping up trying hard to bring the ‘systemic’ discussion out in the open. Initiatives like The Next System, Forum for the Future, are springing up all over the place. Prominent thinkers, movers and shakers who want to change the prevailing system before its too late. Harvard/MIT has an entire project – ULab – dedicated to creating change through Otto Sharmer’s U Theory work at the Presencing Institute. The recent MOOC course in which I participated Transforming Business, Society & Self had 45,000 participants from around the world – all creating change initiatives.
2.Sustainability is Unsustainable
Organisations have been working incredibly hard towards embedding sustainability into business. Anyone who’s directly involved in sustainability knows how hard that road has been. And yet, the discussion is finally taking place. Who wants to live in a world that’s just sustainable? Don’t we want to live on a planet where all life is thriving? As the dial creeps inexorably up towards +2c warming, we’re beginning to talk about sustainability as a ‘better than bad’ strategy, not a good enough strategy to make a difference to the real issues we are confronted with. It’s a bit like shutting the door after the horse has bolted, trying got put the brakes on a runaway car that’s careering downhill leaking break fluid. New models are gaining traction – ideas like biomimicry, net-positive business, are asking us to step up from sustainable to regenerative to restorative to whatever comes after that.
3.We are searching for Connection
As organised religion continues to fail to connect with younger generations, (and that’s anyone below 55 I think) we are searching for something new to connect with and to believe in. It’s part of our spiritual DNA to seek for growth, to reach for the stars and find meaning in our Universe. Where are we going? Why are we here? In case you hadn’t noticed there’s a yogi on every street corner these days. Yoga has been the new Starbucks for a long time, closely followed by Tai-Chi, Mindfulness Meditation, alternative therapies, Buddhism, spiritual retreats and discussion groups.
There’s an explosion of heart-centred micro businesses – predominantly led by women – and although the phrase might put my teeth on edge a bit, they’re coming from a place where they’ve learned enough about quantum mechanics to be fascinated by energy, flow and vibration to try to create enterprise that’s grounded in something more real than money. Mindfulness Self Compassion is set to be the next big thing in 2016.
4. Reconnection with Nature and the Gaia-sphere
Although it may be happening in silos that are as yet unconnected, the rise of organic farming and food, the Transition Movement which builds small sustainable communities and cities, the emergence of educational establishments such as Schumacher College, the development of the eco-tourism, the popularity of resilience training for children through forest schools, the alternative treatment and medicine industry, growth of interest in pagan culture and religion, the improvements we are slowly making to animal welfare recognising animal sentience. All of these different things point the way to a developing interest in reconnecting humans to the nature we are part of.
As nature is my greatest source of inspiration and interest, this is the area in which I am most interested which I see least taken into business as yet, but I think it’s coming. For such a long time we have plundered the earth only because we have seen it as separate from ourselves – a resource to support human development only. I genuinely believe that until we can reverse that unconscious belief and assumption, that we won’t stop harming the little blue island in space on which we live. The seminal moment in human development of being able to see this little island from space for the first time in seems finally to have accelerated the development of the human consciousness in the way we might have hoped.
That plastic bag you dropped in the ocean off a humungous cruise ship? It’s still on my island. The toxic waste your dumped in the ocean on the other side of the world? It’s still here.
5. Indigenous Wisdom
We’re looking backwards in time with learning for the future in mind instead of nostalgia. We’ve started to understand that indigenous peoples might have something to teach us about living well, and living in harmony with the world around us. It’s an attitude of mind, a belief set and a worldview, but the connection that tribes and elders once had with the living planet is once more becoming respected as a source for inspiration, leadership and change.
The very excellent Elmhurst programmes at Schumacher College in Devon, England are a sell-out every time. Where once we despised the engineered breakdown of native american indian society, we’re now seeking out those that have preserved the wisdom and trying to understand what it has to help us in the future.
6.Exponential Abundance is Here
Exponential technology such as robotics, AI, networks and sensors, synthetic biology, are almost at a stage where they can make the human race redundant. We will soon be able to grow meat in petri dishes, have multi-talented robots at home to care for the elderly, grow vegetables in space, driverless cars are here (byebye Uber), and the price of computing power is shrinking faster than an ice-cream in sunshine. The entrepreneurial opportunities in exponential tech are huge, as are the benefits to humankind – particularly in harnessing energy. If Elon Musk can find a way to really harness and distribute the solar power that hits the Equator, we could stop drilling for oil tomorrow. Peter Diamandis’s Singularity University and X Prize are among the world’s best hotbeds of creative talent taking on the grand challenges of humanity (although I wish they could include ALL life as well as human in their manifesto). If you haven’t read Abundance and Bold, put them on your Christmas list!
But alongside the potential come some important decisions to make about how the application of technology will impact the role of the human race and what 9 billion humans will do for occupation.
7. The Rise of Purpose-led Enterprise
Alongside our personal search for meaning, we have seen an inexorable rise in purpose-led enterprise. From the introduction of corporate social responsibility in the late 70s, the explosion of social enterprise in the past 15 years, the success of purpose aligned brands like Patagonia, Timberland, Seventh Generation, Chipotle, recent results from Unilever showing the brands that are most advanced in their Sustainable Living Plan are outperforming others by as much as 20% – all these indicators underline that we really are getting behind the idea that purpose matters as much as profits.
Social enterprise is stabilising as a viable business model, and with more and more experience around, organisations are now being created by people with real business expertise as well as passion and purpose. Organisations like UnLtd, The Happy Start-Up School, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Escape the City – which were started by enthusiastic entrepreneurs wanting to create change – are growing rapidly into established organisations that are having real impact.
8. Humanity comes to Economics
Perhaps the last bastion of disconnection from caring and compassion, economics is finally agreeing that well-being is an important measurement of success as much as growth. There are only pockets as yet but the advent of the triple-bottom-line, concepts the Circular Economy, the Sharing economy, and just about ever other variant, is finally breaking down the cold hearts of the seasoned 20th century economist. If we can change economic thought, perhaps we really can address the triple challenge of separation from ecology/nature, society and each other.
Alone, perhaps none of these trends is remarkable. Put them together and maybe, just maybe we are on the cusp of a real transformative shift in the world. It doesn’t seem so when you switch on the tv and see more war, desperation and disaster. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re out of a job or have just completed your degree and are without prospects. It certainly won’t feel like it if you just washed ashore with 1000s of other refugees fleeing war in Europe right not. At times of great shifts in human culture there have always been corresponding amounts of conflict.
We need more forums where those dots are joined, more places where conversations take place between people who would never otherwise have come together. The activists and the entrepreneurs. The scientists and the spiritualists. The academics and the believers. Despite the upheavals going on in the world, the daily pain of humans, animals, the environment and earth, when I contemplate these unconnected yet connected events, I feel ridiculously optimistic for the future.
Share with me what you are noticing, what dots are starting to join up for you? I would love to hear your stories.