Last week, Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a move that has many wondering what this means for the direction of the economy. In my view, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods does to organics what Uber did to the sharing economy: it takes something that was born out of a different economic logic (a grocery store dedicated to healthy food) and then molds and morphs it to fit into an economic operating system that is firmly based in the old paradigm—i.e. in a paradigm that aims for world domination rather than serving a goal of shared prosperity and well-being for all.
In this post, inspired by a number of gatherings with change makers across sectors in China, Europe, and the Americas during the past few weeks, I outline a framework for understanding how the current limits of capitalism we are bumping up against in sectors such as food, finance, health, education and business are all related to the same outdated economic logic or “operating system” (OS). We need a new economic operating system, one that reinvents how we work together as neighbors, as businesses, as cities and as larger systems. Below I describe briefly the evolution of these five sectors from OS 1.0 to where we are today, which in most cases is OS 2.0 or 3.0.
The pressing challenges of our time, i.e. the challenge of losing our environment (ecological divide), our societal whole (social divide), and our humanity (spiritual divide) calls for reinventing our systems of food, health, education, finance and management towards 4.0. This essay lays out the rationale for OS 4.0 and a possible way to get us there through an Asian-American-European initiative called 4.0 Lab.
Five Sectors, One Problem
As the labels of the new economy have gone mainstream (green, organic, sharing economies) the underlying economic reality stays the same. That is to say, the immense buying power of giants like Amazon squeeze the supply chain, workers, farmers, and the planet through the same patterns of exploitation and structural violence that gave rise to the movement for a new economy in the first place.
On one level you could describe the problem by saying that companies like Amazon and Uber misperceive the new economy as just another app that runs on their old corporate operating system (i.e. world domination through economies of scale). In reality, though, the new economy is not just another app—it’s a radical upgrade of their entire operating system. The difference between the old and the new paradigms can be summarized in three words: ego vs. eco. Ego-system awareness means “me first”, while eco-system awareness means an awareness that focuses on the well-being of all.
There is a profound systemic barrier that exists in all major sectors today. It’s not only the mainstream players like Amazon and Uber that are stuck in their current economic operating systems; many of the innovators who once broke through that model are now also stuck. The global food system is still profoundly destructive. The health system is still sick. The educational system is unable to learn. The global financial system is heading full throttle into the next crash—as if 2008 never happened. Foundations and philanthropists still place their assets in the old economy, thereby harming people and planet, in order to use some of the profits to fund projects that alleviate symptoms but don’t deal with root causes. The innovators in all these spaces are stuck in the niches that first gave them space to develop something new. But now these niches are increasingly crowded, and mainstream players adopt the new labels and sound bites while often perpetuating the old models.
After a year of disheartening setbacks, many activists and change-makers may feel that the critical goal of transforming capitalism is slipping out of reach. Yet, having just returned from a four-week trip to many sites and gatherings working on social, economic, and spiritual renewal, I feel that the opposite is true. There are more fascinating and eye-opening examples of this transformation emerging worldwide than ever before. But something is missing, something that contributes significantly to the sense that we’re heading in the wrong direction. Simply put, what’s missing is a systemic connection between all these initiatives—an enabling mechanism that allows us to not only connect the dots, but also to see ourselves, and the significance of our work, from the whole. Below, I take you on a tour through the landscape of some current initiatives, and at the end of this journey I propose how we might link up and support the larger landscape of economic transformation.
In previous columns I have described our current moment of crisis—specifically the rise of Trump, the far right, and populist strongmen—as the result of two factors: (1) the increasing rate of disruption and (2) the lack of a capacity to lean into these moments by letting go of the old and letting come new patterns and possibilities (a capacity I call presencing).
We have entered a watershed moment not only here in America, but also globally. It’s a moment that could help us wake up to a deeper level of collective awareness and renewal—or a moment when we could spiral down into chaos, violence, and fascism-like conditions. Whether it’s one or the other depends on our capacity to become aware of our collective blind spot.
Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States has sent shock waves across the planet. In a replay of Brexit, a coalition of white, working- (and middle-) class men (and women) from mostly rural areas swept an anti-establishment candidate into office. But the election of Trump is hardly an outlier: just look at the global rise of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan, Viktor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte and the surge of other right-wing populists.
Why has the richest and most prosperous country in the world now elected a climate denier who used racist, sexist, misogynistic, and xenophobic language throughout his campaign? What makes us put someone like him in the White House? Why did we create a presidential election between two of the most disliked candidates of all time, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Why did Trump, who lied and attacked minorities, journalists, women, and the disabled, only become stronger and stronger throughout his campaign? What is the blind spot that has kept us from seeing and shifting the deeper forces at play? Why, again and again, do wecollectively create results that most people don’t want?
Dallas, Ferguson, Nice. Turkey, Trump & Brexit. The simultaneous rise of global terrorism, of authoritarian strongmen and the far-right are the twin faces of our current moment. Even though Trump-type politicians and terrorism pretend to fight each other, on a deeper level they feed off each other. The more terrorist attacks occur in the US, Turkey, France, or Germany, the greater the chances that Trump, Le Pen, and their allies will be elected. But what’s more interesting is the intertwined connection on a deeper spiritual level: both movements, to various degrees, thrive on activating a social-emotional field that is characterized by prejudice, anger, and fear.
This post is a bit longer than usual. But if you are interested in the invisible dimension of leading profound social change — and in a blend of action science and consciousness to illuminate that blind spot — it may be worth the read.
My father is a farmer. As one of the pioneers of bio-dynamic farming in Germany, he devotes all his attention to cultivating the quality of the soil in his fields. That’s exactly what I find myself doing today, though in a very different type of field. My colleagues and I, along with countless change makers, leaders, action researchers and facilitators, are cultivating the quality of the social field. By social field I mean the structure of the relationship among individuals, groups, organizations and systems that gives rise to collective behaviors and outcomes.
When people experience a transformational social shift, they notice a profound change in the atmosphere, in the texture of the social field. But in trying to explain it, they tend to fall back on vague language; and even though people can agree on a surface description of what happened, they don’t usually know why it happened or what words to use to describe it.
Today, in most social systems, we collectively produce results that no one wants. These results show up in the form of environmental, social, and cultural destruction. The ecological divide (which disconnects self from nature), the social divide (which disconnects self from other), and the spiritual divide (which disconnects self from self) shape the larger context in every large system change today.
The intention of this paper is to uncover the grammar of the social field — the key variables that make it possible for the operating logics and modes (states and stages) of a social field to shift.