Where do we go from here?


Wonder if we look, inside our hearts, exactly what
We’d find
Or Maybe we could take a lot of pain away
Yeah
Or maybe we could heal the world today
Yeah
Or maybe, you know, something, I don’t, if you do then

Tell me    
Where do we go from here
Where do we go from here
Where do we go from here

                                                   Chris Rene, American Singer

A few weeks back I had watched the limited coverage of the national convention of the Chinese Communist Party. Rows and rows of party leaders listening and taking notes as a new leader Mr. Xi Jinping took over China’s leadership. With China’s flagging growth, Mr. Jinping is widely expected to provide his vision of the Chinese economic and living standards growth going forward.

The current UPA Government in India seems to be on its last legs and is frantically trying to reverse the ominous dip in GDP growth rates through desperate reform measures. While the jury is still out on the short-term impact of these “big ticket” reforms, it is obvious that no coalition or party can come back to power without a proven record of economic and consumption growth.

This story repeats in country after country in the developing world. Per capita growth, higher standards of living, endless availability of goods and services seems to be the universal mantra. The flickering images on the LCD panels, the endless sitcoms on myriad channels instigate us to go for that I phone 5. Or a fine dining experience. Or hanker for that newly launched car or luxury home. Our ability to consume, to pander to whims and fancies is seen as our success and growth.

But what happens when the two and a half billion folks from China and India come onto the field and want to play ball? What happens when the Chinese and Indians turn around to ask, “Hey you guys in the west, you followed your own American dream for more than a century. Now it’s our turn.”

Thomas Friedman did allude to this in his best seller ‘The World is Flat” but  said it in the context of Globalisation and a world view of a level playing field allowing everyone  an equal opportunity. Methinks however that the far more critical issue is the emerging stress on sustainability. The strain on our planet to continue to produce in pace with the exponentially rising consumption. To put it bluntly, mankind is well on course to strip this planet dry. Do see my earlier post We need a second planet by 2030” in which consequences of mindless growth and consumption have been discussed.

So where do we go from here?

We need a shift in perspective and mindset. The twentieth century dream of conspicuous consumption cannot remain a role model any longer. This needs to be revisited, reviewed, redefined. We need to be able to answer the following.

“What really is personal prosperity, what constitutes our success?”

“Does success necessarily have to come from ownership and self-aggrandizement?”

“Could our hunger for access to better products and services be satiated, not necessarily by owning, but by sharing?”

This of course is easier said than done. We remain conditioned to acquire and own for our psychological security and comfort. This harks back to days of yore when scarcity and competing for scarce resources was the norm. This mindset continues even though access and availability is on a different plane. In our mind, Owning signifies upward mobility and prestige, of having arrived in a brave new world of capitalism. While Sharing is looked down upon as the vestige of a failed experiment called socialism.

Clearly a tectonic shift in perspective is called for. In a different context in “Age of Discontinuity and the Chinese Shi”, I had brought up the aspect of the Shi mindset which eschews the heaviness of resource ownership. Could this be a perspective that may be needed today?

I think of this and wonder who could play a catalysing role. Political leaders? Opinion makers? Media? What could be the trigger for them to buy-in and play such a role?

The good news is that technology and engineering acumen exists to achieve the above shift. Through better public transportation, better residential spaces with higher density, superior services delivery and energy efficiency, better use of public spaces, better reuse of stuff which we tend to throw away etc.The other great opportunity is of more and more “have not” folks gaining access to products and services which till now have been out of their reach.

Could this be the moment when the best tenets of Capitalism and Socialism coalesce and synergise to open up the path to sustainability?

In Learning………                                        Shakti Ghosal

 Acknowledgement: The World is flat A brief history of the twenty-first century: Thomas Friedman, 2005.

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The Oxymoron of our times


From the heart of all matter
Comes the anguished cry
Wake, wake, great Siva,
Our body grows weary
Of its law-fixed path,
Give us new form
Sing our destruction,
That we gain new life…

                                                                                             Rabindranath Tagore

               (Translated from the Bengali original)

The media remains flush with dire tidings. About persisitent US unemployment. About the Euro zone crisis. About faltering growths in the BRIC economies. On screen debates and coffee table discussions waft around how to get back to the old ways of Capitalism fuelled growth.

We remain witness to cycles. The boom and bust. The shortening of product and business cycles. The rapid changes of technology and society. As I muse, I visualise the ebb and flow of human endeavour. Of our  knowledge and  creativity. Of our  follies and emotions. I see the movement, at once intuitive and playful, of the flowing curves and trends. I see economic and social aspirations as energy, unfolding and folding within itself. I see oscillations between  active and dormant states. I start to see Creation and Destruction….

I think of Creative Destruction, a concept by Joseph Schumpeter that has often resonated with me. Schumpeter saw human advance as a “perennial gale of creative destruction”. He likened it to the Darwinian natural selection to secure the “survival of the fittest”. What Schumpeter envisioned was the economy and society constantly regenerating from within by shedding old and failing businesses and social structures as it reallocates resources to newer, more productive ones.

I do see the path that Creative Destruction has taken in times gone by. As steam powered factories and looms closed down to give way to those with electric power. As did the horse drawn carriage give way to the automobile on the roads. And more recently, how the digital revolution squeezed out the traditional photography and music industries.

A machine perennially ON, creating that which is ‘new’ as it destroys what is ‘old.’ Like Lord Siva’s Rudra Tandava ( Dance of destruction) in Hindu mythology. Like the proverbial phoenix, rising from the ashes of that which no longer serves. And as it rises, it creates new Capital, new Thought, new Man. I see unstoppable movement. To stop would mean stopping change, evolution, progress. To stop would mean the inevitable decline.

But as I muse, I start seeing how Creative Destruction is failing today, just as it succeeded in centuries gone past.

As the old “debris” is destroyed, the ground needs to be cleared for the new to arise in a sweeping upward motion. This of course presupposes that both creation and destruction take place within the same society, winners and losers standing close and people gaining in other ways as they lose in some.

The grandeur of those great American auto towns in Detroit and the tens of thousands who worked in and around have surely gone with the wind, not to return. But as these jobs got destroyed in that area, many other value added and differentiated opportunities did arise, if not within the state, at least within the US itself. So Creative Destruction did work…….but this was last century.

Cut forward to our era of Globalisation and we see the Information and Technology outsourcing leading to near elimination of that industry in many parts of the world. Jobs destroyed in fact get created somewhere half way round the world, never to return. And with this we have been witness to the near destruction of the very communities from which they emanated

Whole countries and regions are becoming long term losers through destruction versus others becoming winners through creation. In this globalised age, the integrity of the oxymoron ‘Creative Destruction’ is being torn apart, way beyond what Schumpeter could have visualised.

And so I come back to the aspect of how the current global crisis looks through the lens of Creative Destruction. Are governments the world over in fact doing all the wrong things through politics? As they bail out top-heavy banks. As they subsidise inefficient businesses. As they prevent natural job losses. By doing these, has the world willy nilly shortchanged creation itself? And sowed the seeds of Capitalism’s own destruction?

In learning…..

Acknowledgement: Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction    by Thomas K. McCraw, 2007.

Wall Street protests and beyond: winter of our discontent?


 

 

Now is the winter of our  discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

                                                                                                                                         Richard the Third, Act 1, Scene 1


 

The Wall Street protests have now  gone viral to more than eighty locations globally. Different places, contrasting  paradigms but same underlying issues. The protests are focused on corporate greed, on rocketing wealth and income inequality, against booming bank profits  post Government bailouts, about average folks struggling to keep their heads  above water in a tanking economy. Banners read: “We are not merchandise in  bankers’ hands!” in Lisbon, “Why am I not  economically represented?” in Dublin. A mix of anger, frustration and disconnect are palpably on display.

As I watch the flickering images  on the news screen, my mind’s eye goes back to John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent”. It tells the story  of Ethan Allen, a former aristocrat, now fallen on hard times. As he struggles  to make two ends meet, he maintains high integrity and honesty. But family and  peer pressure makes him resent his lowly position, forces him to give up his  long cherished values and embark on a dangerous and corrupt path……

I ponder. Is the society at large similarly headed? Is this the twenty first century denouement of Capitalism? Or a clarion call for a deeper change inside each one of us?

To the detractors, Capitalism is a fundamentally flawed model with the sole focus on profiteering. Numbers take over from morality; we get obsessed with what is monetarily productive but socially destructive.

As Aristotle had said, “Man by nature is a social animal…………… and anyone who does not need to partake of society is either a beast or a God.” We have been genetically wired to share, care and give away but this runs counter to the capitalist theory of economic progress. We are thus getting re-wired to reward selfishness but punish altruism. So what are we morphing into- Aristotle’s Beast or his God?

Our sense of purpose and values get subsumed and even contradicted by those of our organisation. We get hijacked into believing that our life’s purpose is to be successful within the corporate world, achieve that beautiful house on the lakeside or aggrandize a stable of top end cars. Such externally imposed beliefs take centre stage and drown out our true values. Our thoughts and behaviour become hostage to these underlying beliefs and as we wallow in our self created materialistic cocoon, we can no longer “hear” our true inner self. We may have once held dear the value of “environmental sustainability” but may now have become reconciled with our organisation’s growth plans of iron ore mining requiring degradation of a virgin environment. In our youth, we may have believed in “equitability of society” but as CEOs, may be perfectly willing to maximize stakeholder returns by retrenching employees through automation and out-sourcing.

While a knee jerk reaction may suggest increasing taxes on Corporates and individuals, excessive taxation endangers initiatives and aspirations, the fountainheads of progress. Clearly a shift in our perspective is needed. Could we reward and support a culture of direct benefit flows to the immediate society and the environment? Can we create a great corporate culture with Purpose over Profit? Can we re-align corporate values more with our own individual ones? Can we light up the corporate sector with glorious values as under?

  • Express love and care
  • Service to others
  • Pursuit of truth
  • Quest for excellence and perfection
  • Improve the World

In the October 2011 McKinsey Quarterly report on “The second economy”, author W. Brian Arthur speaks of how the emerging digital economy is causing large sections of human jobs to disappear, never to reappear. How the future economic challenge would be to shift from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity, how it would become increasingly difficult to apportion future wealth through jobs.

As stakeholders, could we shift our perspective to accept corporate valuation based on non-profit values as above apart from profits? Do we have the conviction to change winter of our discontent to the glorious summer, upholding our core values of universal inclusiveness and fairness? Or would we choose to go along the path taken by John Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen?

“There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it……………. 

And this morning, I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution.”

Martin Luther King, Jr
.

 In learning…………                    Shakti Ghosal