Futures, systems and limits to thinking


Here in California, where I currently visit, incredible drought has attacked this otherwise flourishing state. Everywhere you drive you see visible signs of it: dusty plains, brown lawns, trees and bushes that do not look so good. Governor Jerry Brown called a month ago 25% consumption reduction for all the counties. It might be just the beginning. Sources have told me available resources last for another 10 moths, not more. Robert Lempert, senior officer at Think Tank RAND in Santa Monica who has investigated Califronia infrastructures, told me already some years back that California hasn’t done much anything to its water systems ever since 1950’s. Yet, the population has exploded from 15 million to 40 million today. With 32 million vehicles on the road and average income more than 60 000 dollar a year, it is now growing beyond its natural limits. For 10 000 years, there was mostly only 400 000 people around.

It means this is a totally different California it was 50 years ago. The system is different but do people realize it? Of course they understand that you are not allowed to water your lawn, but do they understand what’s wrong?

On the systems level, you might say there has been a systematic ignorance on water as a limited resource. Much the same with land. My local friend here Larry Kopald tries to wake people with his Carbon Underground project to realize that if you just pull life out of the soil with current mainstream practices, you end up with dead soil. Much the same with climate: how much there has been real efforts here to mitigate the climate change by reducing emissions?

Everywhere you look, you see the lack of systems thinking. Up to this point in human history, we have been able to bear the consequences. Not so in the future. What we are observing right in the front of our eyes are resource scarcity. But what is behind that is the real problem: the scarcity of thinking.

Ever since we started Human Being and Value in the Sixth Wave project, I have to come to think we cannot expect much understanding on the role of human being in the organizations unless we see the larger ramifications of our current thinking models. Nature is now teaching us the limits of our thinking. It says: c’mon guys, take a step back and think what produces your behavior? But of course, this not only applies to natural resources, but to human resources as well.

So does the limits of thinking show in the organizations in the same manner? Unfortunately it does. The majority of our organizations struggle with the fact that people are not feeling very happy working there. There are some notable exceptions: Companies like Patagonia have done everything to make it possible for its employees that they would be part of solution for resource scarcity rather than part of the problem. This means radical shake-out of industrial form or organization.

Tomorrow me and my colleague Sofi Kurki are meeting people from Morningstar company here in Northern California (tomato paste company, not to be mixed with financial services!). Evidence are there that they have been also seriously working on what is the the company of the future. With companies like these, what they really do is that they help people to learn to take up responsibility and freedom, the two most important facets of being human. Being human in our times means thinking in systems.

Unless our learning curve shoots up and fast, our current limits to thinking are going to take us to dead end, I am afraid.