“No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside.
We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.” Marilyn Ferguson
“Paradigm shifts entail an entire restructuring of our understanding of reality. Initially, nothing will make sense.
But by opening ourselves to understanding and to unlearning to relearn, we will be able to co create the new culture for the new paradigm.” Betty Lim
Beyond our being money making machines, the “Age of Me” culture does not truly recognize our worth. Nonetheless, have you ever wondered why so many people globally today are willing to be virtually “unpaid employees” for social media and other platforms?
For that matter, doesn’t Facebook have the largest and mostly “unpaid” workforce in the world today?
Fast backward to March 2010.
Recently relocated back to Singapore, I had shared a broad fledging “Age of We” approach with someone I was hoping to get on board as a co-founder. Even though I had proposed that we share net profits and equity with the crowd, her incredulous response was: “So, you want people to pay for your service as well as to create it?”
She had just summarized the business model of companies like Alibaba, Airbnb, Uber, Kickstarter, Indiegogo and elance – us creating the value and buying their services and products while leaving out that they retain all the key benefits.
Like fish, most people are not even aware this is the “water” we live in. If you try to explain it, like I did, their response maybe, “What water?” They are so surrounded by it, they cannot see the world is changing before their very eyes. That it’s not been business as usual for quite awhile.
Yes, we may live in the most disruptive and exciting phase of change humanity has ever known but we still have basic needs like food, air, water, energy, shelter and healthcare. Because just about everything we need comes with a (hefty) price tag, we do not see that as extracting our value as “money making machines” for the financial benefit of a few corporations, their investors and stakeholders.
The Panama papers aside, is it any wonder 62 people in the world today have as much wealth as half of the world’s population combined? Or if we own US$3210, we already belong to the wealthier half of the world?
Does that make any sense?
Alas, the more things change, the more many try to defend a system that is no longer relevant for this age. One that keeps extracting our most important essence (from each other) without our even realizing it. How else to explain why people are willing to be “unpaid employees” even as the cost of basic necessities escalate north?
For residents living under a cloud of heavy smog in north China, clean air has become a valuable commodity. Last winter, entrepreneurs from Canada and the UK started selling bottled air primarily to China. Once he found the market, an Edmonton resident began hand bottling air in canisters in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. The first shipment of 500 bottles to China sold out in four days and a crate of 4,000 more bottles was also mostly sold. Depending on the canister size, the air sold for US$14 to US$20. A family in the UK has also been marketing the “the Gucci of air” for the person who has everything. They sell a jar for £80 and there is a choice of fresh air collected from the hillsides in various parts of the UK. More than 100 jars have been sold to China.
At the 2000 World Water Forum, a transnational corporation had successfully lobbied to stop water from being declared a universal right. Was what Nestlé did a harbinger of what’s coming our way if the secret trade deals are passed? Won’t this mean such corporations can eventually control our clean water supply? For Nestlé, it’s billions of dollars in profits. For us, it means paying up to 2,000 times more for drinking water because it comes out of a plastic bottle.
Wikipedia defines “a transnational corporation” as “a multinational corporation or worldwide enterprise that owns or controls production of goods or services in one or more countries other than their home country.” It is also known as an international corporation or a stateless corporation.
During the twentieth century, the expected duration of a company was more than sixty years. People also tended to stay with larger firms their entire life. Large corporations were able to survive a longer time because they appeared to last longer than nation states.
But before Cisco Systems’ former CEO retired, John Chamber had alluded that “40% of today’s businesses will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years”. CNBC had proclaimed firms in the top league by size (the so-called SP500) will face mass extinction within 10 years.
“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” R. Buckminster Fuller
Innovation guru, Clayton M. Christensen, opines: “A successful company with established products WILL get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices” and this applies across all industries.”
Until digital photography and smartphones disrupted film and cameras, Kodak was the Google of its day. Based on a business model of selling cheap hardware and making money on consumables, Kodak had employed more than 140,000 people at the height of its power. Today, it is bankrupt and when Facebook bought the new face of digital photography startup, Instagram had employed exactly 13 people.
According to Business Insider, in less than nine years, “Uber’s autonomous cars will destroy 10 million jobs … by 2025.”
In such an exponentially changing “super chicken” environment, why are international secret trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement still being negotiated? Will they keep enabling transnational corporations to get rich at the expense of ordinary people or are they really about trade?
The most controversial provision is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section which will strengthen existing ISDS procedures. According to The Economist, ISDS which first appeared in a bilateral trade agreement in 1959, gives foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes a law to do things that hurt corporate profits. In “the expectation of gain or profit,” global corporations will be able to destroy food safety, labor laws, human rights, internet freedom, financial regulation, medicine costs, job off-shoring, environmental protection or to allow a nuclear catastrophe.
Allegedly, ISDS is necessary to increase foreign investment. But as The Economist noted, investors can protect themselves by purchasing political-risk insurance. In any case, despite its long-standing refusal to sign any treaty with an ISDS mechanism, Brazil continues to receive sizable foreign investment. Will more countries begin to follow Brazil’s lead?
To date, the highest ISDS award has been for US$2.3 billion to Occidental Oil Company against the government of Ecuador for terminating an (apparently legal) oil-concession contract. Still in arbitration is a demand by Vattenfall, a Swedish utility that operates two nuclear plants in Germany, after the German government decided to shut down its nuclear power industry following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Under the ISDS clause of a treaty on energy investments, Vattenfall seeks compensation of €3.7 billion (US$4.7 billion).
As corporates continue their relentless growth without limit mantra and even as pollution become more rampant, will air, sun and other renewal energies nature provides us be packaged to be sold back to people who can afford them?
In any case, if automation and robotics take over most of our jobs, how can most of us afford what nature readily provides all of us? More importantly, won’t the wealth gap widen even MUCH further?
Countries like Finland, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Scotland and the Netherlands have announced their interest to roll out universal basic income experiments. In March 2016, Finland shared a preliminary review done by a research working group which recommends running a trial focused on randomly selecting individuals aged 25 to 63 with low incomes. The working group believes such people will provide the best data to find out whether basic income increases employment. The Finnish government will present its proposals in mid November 2016 for the trial implementation in 2017-2018.
However, did the proposal completely overlook the fact that automation may replace most jobs in the future? Or is that because all the news coverage about automation, robotics and artificial intelligence replacing humans is pure hype? That infrastructure will cost a lot of money to implement and if corporates have their way with the secret trade deals, hiring humans may work out to be so much cheaper.
Or are the powers that be not aware that “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all?” Peter Drucker
While only a few people have benefited financially in the “Age of Me” silo, we all face systemic (cloud) challenges like poverty, broken people and climate change.
“All problems are either clocks or clouds.” Karl Popper
To fix a clock, you take it apart. Examine the parts before putting it back together. With a cloud, you can only observe it as a dynamic, shifting, morphing whole. But since taking things apart and “breaking them down” gives us a sense of power and control, too many still use clock thinking to address cloud (systemic) problems. Then they wonder why the problems remain or worsen.
Steve Denning writing for Forbes about The origin of ‘The world’s dumbest idea’: Milton Friedman
“An organization is a mere legal fiction
But in the magical world conjured up in this article, an organization is a mere “legal fiction”, which the article simply ignores in order to prove the pre-determined conclusion. The executive “has direct responsibility to his employers.” i.e. the shareholders. “That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.“
What’s interesting is that while the article jettisons one legal reality—the corporation—as a mere legal fiction, it rests its entire argument on another legal reality—the law of agency—as the foundation for the conclusions. The article thus picks and chooses which parts of legal reality are mere “legal fictions” to be ignored and which parts are “rock-solid foundations” for public policy. The choice depends on the predetermined conclusion that is sought to be proved.
A corporate executive who devotes any money for any general social interest would, the article argues, “be spending someone else’s money… Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsibility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money.”
How did the corporation’s money somehow become the shareholder’s money? Simple. That is the article’s starting assumption. By assuming away the existence of the corporation as a mere “legal fiction”, hey presto! the corporation’s money magically becomes the stockholders’ money.
But the conceptual sleight of hand doesn’t stop there. The article goes on: “Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money.” One moment ago, the organization’s money was the stockholder’s money. But suddenly in this phantasmagorical world, the organization’s money has become the customer’s money. With another wave of Professor Friedman’s conceptual wand, the customers have acquired a notional “right” to a product at a certain price and any money over and above that price has magically become “theirs”.
But even then the intellectual fantasy isn’t finished. The article continued: “Insofar as [the executives’] actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.” Now suddenly, the organization’s money has become, not the stockholder’s money or the customers’ money, but the employees’ money.
Is the money the stockholders’, the customers’ or the employees’? Apparently, it can be any of those possibilities, depending on which argument the article is trying to make. In Professor Friedman’s wondrous world, the money is anyone’s except that of the real legal owner of the money: the organization.
One might think that intellectual nonsense of this sort would have been quickly spotted and denounced as absurd. And perhaps if the article had been written by someone other than the leader of the Chicago school of economics and a front-runner for the Nobel Prize in Economics that was to come in 1976, that would have been the article’s fate. But instead this wild fantasy obtained widespread support as the new gospel of business.
People just wanted to believe…
The success of the article was not because the arguments were sound or powerful, but rather because people desperately wanted to believe. At the time, private sector firms (in the US) were starting to feel the first pressures of global competition and executives were looking around for ways to increase their returns. The idea of focusing totally on making money, and forgetting about any concerns for employees, customers or society seemed like a promising avenue worth exploring, regardless of the argumentation.”
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them?” Albert Einstein
We’re living in potentially, the most fascinating phase of transformation humanity has ever known. To be able to truly become the best we can be – not for ourselves or our families but for everyone (including your future generations).
For true change to occur, we need to come together as human beings. To discover that life’s not about ourselves and our loved ones but about investing in everyone. That if we don’t move others forward as we move forward, we haven’t quite done our job as human beings. That no matter how different we are, all of us have something meaningful to contribute to society. When we can do that, we will be able to truly cherish diversity in one another.
To get to the “Age of We”, having knowledge is not enough. We have to learn to apply it collectively, openly and by doing. It will certainly take rebooting the “Age of Me” culture which is “how a person with money hires a person without for the lowest possible wage to make as much profit as possible for the one with money.”
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Toffler
Instead of madly competing against another, the only person we try to be better than is the person we were yesterday and we need to collectively build a culture based on understanding and trust.
There is no magic formula because everyone can do something in our own unique ways. To unlearn to relearn by creating opportunities for strangers ANYWHERE to build trust with each other. To show by doing. Not just talking.
When anyone can be a producer, isn’t the future of work about empowering users to co create for and with each other and that includes sharing the key benefits?
“For us” maximization is truly about a new way of thinking, doing and sharing.
Watch out for the final cut of our video on the Future of Work due out this month and for an update about our social experiment.