Future Reflection: Economic Ecologic

Here’s the third part of a reflection on historian Yuval Noah Harari’s work for individuals, professionals, leaders, consultants, teams, and organizations. This series is based on Harari’s books “21 lessons for the 21st century” and “Homo Deus, a brief history of the future”. What’s happening in the global system around organizations? What influences might there be for you and your team?

Around the year 1100, there was stagnation as there were no banks and, thus, no scientific technology to improve food production, for instance. If you had an idea that needed dedication and experimentation to develop – who would feed you in the meantime? Before there were bankers, you had to keep plowing your land or you’d have nothing to eat. Too bad that you didn’t have the time and energy for that great idea…
The pre-modern economy was stagnant. Most natural systems exist in equilibrium and most survival struggles are a zero-sum game. If I have more to eat, than you have less as the yields from one piece of land are more or less the same over the years. The pie is fixed and we must divide it.
That’s why the notion of growth was against our experiences and gut-feeling. No one believed that inventions could double your harvest – because no one had ever seen it. The first bankers took a leap of faith. They lent you money and hoped you would invent something useful and pay them back.
The invention of credit was a real break-through!

The economics story

Why does Harari explain this? Because it shows how scientific progress fuels economic growth and vice versa. It shows how Capitalism created a new story: we can create a win-win game by enlarging the pie. Let’s double the yields of one piece of land, and use labor distribution for more efficiency.

Harari states: Capitalism made one important contribution to global harmony when it encouraged people to stop viewing the economy as a zero-sum game where your profit is my loss and vice versa. This idea of a win-win situation has helped global harmony maybe more than centuries of preaching about loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek.

Growth is needed for more comfort and to feed more people. If there is no growth, you can only feed the poor by taking from the rich. That’s how we ended up with the more paradigm: more consuming, more producing, and doing more!

Today, we believe in the future thanks to technology. Everyone loans and invests – and everyone earns their return on investment if we keep making money and growing the economy and funding new scientific research. It’s mutually stimulating.

The ecological story

But there’s a price. Ecology is the boundary. We cannot offer the world population the level of comfort that affluent Americans have. We would need more planets. Every stride that brings the Delhi slum-dwellers closer to the American dream, brings the planet closer to the brink – says Harari.

For this challenge, we trust science and technology to come up with solutions to let the economy grow while saving our ecology. However, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the current economic model with the ecology.
What’s more, the belief in this “hi-tech Ark” that can save us is one of the biggest threats to the future of humankind and of the entire ecosystem.
Harari concludes that we (as a global system) are currently unwilling to make serious sacrifices to stop the catastrophe. That looks discouraging…

  • What is your contribution to solving the challenge?
  • What different story and purpose can you and your team create – that is ecologically sustainable? Can you reframe the story and make recycling the hero instead of growth?

Capitalism kept its promise and overcame (most of the) war, famine, and plagues. Bankers, industrialists, and investors did just that in a little over 200 years. That’s a great achievement.
But are we willing to pay the price? We’re all living in this story, from the day that we were born. We’re supposed to be useful so we go to school, work hard to pay the mortgage, and pay taxes to our governments. We feel pressure to always do more and are exhausted.

  • How are you “forced” to grow and comply with this story? What is holding you back and what would help?
  • What small things could you do differently – on the individual or team or organizational level? How can you raise awareness for the global system level?

The new story of human solutions

Humanism developed alongside science, technology, and capitalism. As science proved that humankind was not the center of the universe, that the existence of God could not be shown, and that we were living in a cold, expanding, random, indifferent universe devoid of meaning – we felt lost. That’s another price we paid: we were no longer at the center and guided by God, we no longer played the lead part in this story – we lost our place and our meaning.
That’s why we needed humanism as our new religion. In humanism, we are the ultimate source of meaning, and our free will is the highest authority of all. We all know the mottos: “Follow your heart. Every vote counts and the citizen is always right. Every dollar counts, and the customer is always right”.
In ethics, the humanist motto is: “If it feels good, do it (if it doesn’t harm anyone else).” In aesthetics, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
So, this gives you freedom and responsibility. It’s up to you!

Humanism sees life as a gradual process of inner change, from ignorance to enlightenment. Every human experience contributes something unique and adds meaning to the world. You might see how positive leadership is based on this same idea: you must develop yourself and help others develop to unleash their potential. When we do as a team or organization, we can achieve “positive deviance” or high performance.

  • How can a positive perspective help you and your team find meaning?
  • How can positive thinking help with finding sustainable or out-of-the-box solutions?
  • Could we find a positive frame for doing more with less, for recycling, sharing things, living simpler? Can we redefine success? Re-appreciate being present and having time for relationships, growing vegetables, and biking? Could you let go of international flights, cruises, a new wardrobe for every season, exquisite meals, big cars, and houses?
  • How would you like your children and grandchildren to live?
  • What would your clients need? What story could win them over?
  • How can you make enough money – while we transition?

Just to be clear: I don’t want to make anyone feel depressed and discouraged. That’s not useful as we’re not as smart, creative, and resilient in these states of mind. I’d like all of us to be aware of the ecological challenge and to come up with solutions. Your team members and employees and clients watch the news, too. What’s your answer? What’s your story? What’s your purpose? Are you part of the new story or not?
This conversation can strengthen your organization, team, and brand.

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

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