It’s Time for a Giant Leap in Society
Not another limp towards the line
In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 there was widespread agreement that major change was required to how financial markets, institutions and companies operated and were governed. For the most part, that change never materialised.
Despite some more stringent regulatory frameworks, the basic principles of operation of banks and capital markets remain unchanged. There’s been no radical innovation, transformation or rethinking of capitalism. Okay, so technology and brave branding have given rise to some disruptive new players, such as Monzo or Revolut, but that’s about as far as change has happened. If in 2009 you’d been given a glimpse into the future that is today, you might well have considered this a disappointing outcome, given the strength of feeling that existed at the time.
In 2019, we faced a wider and more diverse set of crises. The climate emergency, social injustice and inequalities, the rise of technology and the use of data, physical and mental health, political systems and the legitimacy of the techniques deployed to win elections, the accuracy of news and, still, responsible capitalism, are all sources of uncertainty and anxiety on a global scale. If you were angry a decade ago, you’re probably fuming with rage by now.
RAPID TRANSFORMATION IS ACHIEVABLE
So, what should we expect by way of solution this time? Is now the time for a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of society, or are we to continue to creep along a path of slow, gradual change? Does meaningful progress require fundamental disruption or measured evolution?
I think there is pressing urgency to decide on where we hang our expectations for this, not only for the sake of the solutions themselves but in order that the expectations of society can be aligned to the likely reality.
Until we are universally clear about the macro-level principles around how solutions can be constructed to major world issues, I don’t think we’re going to be able to make progress on them. We need to spend time in society — that means in government, in the media, in business, in schools and universities — discussing and agreeing on the nature of problem-solving, the skills that are required for it, how we measure success, and above all, where we set our ambitions so that we can realise them, fast.
But what I am clearly NOT advocating for here is a drawn-out academic process that replaces positive action. The opposition is true. My argument is that rapid transformation is eminently achievable, so long as we set ourselves up correctly to achieve it.
THREE STEPS TO SPEEDY CHANGE
For me, that means three things.
Firstly, we need to remove ambiguity around our descriptions of problems. We need to be clear what it is that we need to solve, imbuing focus and urgency to the language we use. There is no finer example of this than from the most inspiring and effective political movement of 2019: Extinction Rebellion. Climate protests are not new (and all are worthy) but the harsh imperative of this name gives profound impetus to the cause. While choosing to be Green feels like a lifestyle, choosing to rebel against the extinction of humans is a fundamental necessity. I also applaud Guardian’s stance in the U.K., changing how it refers to climate change to use words such as emergency and crisis, that better reflect the truth.
Secondly, we need creativity at the top decision-making table. If we are to avoid the slow drag towards tiny increments of change then we cannot rely on people whose systems and processes are set in the ways of the status quo. It’s not that conventional thinking is necessarily wrong, it’s just that it has run out of space in which to manoeuvre. The knowledge economy bureaucrats and management consultants relied on for so long has now peaked and gone. Now is the time for disruptors and radical innovators and people who see things differently to the established norms.
“Society now needs to experience the pace of innovation that businesses like Apple, Google and Tesla have demonstrated in the last decade or so. This is about much more than charismatic leadership, it’s about vast teams of people that are motivated and incentivised by invention, imagination and intelligent risk-taking.”
And it’s important here not to confuse the creative qualities that give rise to fast-growth massively-scaled companies with the inherent problems that emerge once they’ve hit those heights. Not liking Facebook today is certainly not a case for arguing that the creativity that went into its development is bad.
Thirdly, we need commitment. This needs to come from leaders, for sure, but perhaps even more importantly it needs to come from the people of society. We need to start viewing our choices through a more purposeful lens. The change we want to see in the world cannot possibly happen if we don’t act on the opportunities that are presented to us. It’s commendable to see food companies responding to calls for plant-based diets — KFC of all companies has just added a vegan chicken burger to its menu. But now those choices have been presented, they need to sell well and that is up to the market, not the company, to achieve. Many people say they want ethically-sourced clothing, but if this was truly a mass movement, then surely Patagonia should be as big as Nike as a clothing brand?
Come on people, it’s time to act.
Originally published in Forbes.