A call to action

November 29, 2009 — 10 Comments


It did not go unnoticed that there was some irony in having several hundred people assemble in Dubai last week (see my previous post) to discuss how to make global institutions and systems more sustainable, especially given this week’s announcement of delayed debt repayments by Dubai World.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there was plenty of robust conversation about how a shift in values within our economies was called for. I was moderating a great discussion on values with several of the Global Agenda Councils and one of the attendees suggested that a shift in focus was called for from “having more to being more”.

This seems a great call to action to me and one that resonates with my own views about design’s role changing from encouraging consumption to enabling participation. My question is whether this sentiment can be globally relevant or whether it applies only to those of us who already have lots?

Tim Brown


10 responses to A call to action

  1. It seems that a participation based economy is even more relevant when physical ownership of an asset is not an option.

    If you can’t afford a cell phone then renting one to make a call is even more important.

    And still just as relevant to an affluent consumer who wants to lease a direct from Lexus so that they can always have the newest model and so that Lexus has an incentive to make the car as durable as possible because they retain ownership.

  2. I suspect this is on track. Last year I was on a team that conducted a three-nation exploration, on behalf of a corporate client, of the hypothesis: “we are seeing the leading edge of a values shift from ‘I’ to ‘We’ and from ‘Give me more stuff’ to ‘Give me better quality of life.'” I can’t say we built a compelling case that this is so. But I personally came away from that work with a strong sense that there is a great deal of openness to thinking differently about growth, consumption, having vs. owning, quality of life and well-being. Different cultures could tip different ways, depending on what happens next. I think it’s possible to do things that “push” — increasing the likelihood and direction of the tip.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, a note about “those of us who already have lots”: material and financial wealth might be said to work against some measures of well-being (and what I think you might mean by “being more”). A read through the reports at neweconomics.org — to cite just one source — tells part of that story.

    “Being more” opens up a tremendously rich conversation for business and policy. We lack working definitions, means of measurement, and connections between well-being and other kinds of value.

    You’ve touched on a topic that, for me, is one key reason these times we live in are so thrilling. Thanks for the post.

    I’m very interested in digging actively and deeply into the question Tim raises, and welcome contact from any who share that interest.

  3. I guess you have seen this, but I found it quite important; understanding the moment in evolution (economic and social) each region and country is in. Is not about fairness, is about social desires and aspirations and what to do with that when everybody sees on TV what you should own, be or buy to become, take a look:




  4. Maslow’s hierarchy of wants is still relevant and only when the basics of “want” are crossed can a society think of ‘being more”. The thresholds of what is sufficient of course will vary by culture, but given the interconnected world and the power of American media, expectations of basics are converging at least at the aspiration level. It’s like wanting to be sure of 3 square meals a day before the desire to have a 3-star michelin dining experience.

  5. Dubai: a strange choice of destination to debate sustainability. Sheikh Mohammed visited London Business School last week trailed by an entourage (including his son) and welcomed by eager MBA students wanting to know how a country built a new financial centre in the desert. Just 12 hours later Dubai decided to default on its huge debt repayments. Irony indeed. Check out the story here: http://www.businessbecause.com/dubai/solvent-sheikh%E2%80%99s-last-visit

  6. “My question is whether this sentiment can be globally relevant or whether it applies only to those of us who already have lots?”

    In my experience from two years in India, it is often those who have less that are better at being more. The journey towards finding meaning can happen both when ‘having’ is discovered as being empty, and when ‘being’ is discovered a most important possession.

    However, businesses will usually operate to exploit maximum efficiency within their constraints, so it would appear incentives are needed to shift the focus towards more sustainable forms of growth. A thriving carbon market is one such interesting incentive.

  7. Social Media: Tear Down the Walls

    Social Media has reconnected me with friends going as far back as five years of age. It is reconnecting me with family going back to birth. It is connecting me with anyone on Earth who accepts my invitation to be their friend. It has enabled me to enjoy Freedom of Association.

    Social Media has enabled me to share all forms of digital media with this network both my own and others. It has enabled me to enjoy Freedom of Expression.

    Social Media has enabled me to share everything I know with my network. Everything. It has enabled me to enjoy Freedom of Religion.

    Social Media and the Internet are tearing down every barrier between every human being. This is the objective of the Charter of the United Nations.

  8. How to Study

    We are starved for seven things:

    1. Adequate Good Water. Drink a lot.
    2. Adequate Good Food. Eat a lot.
    3. Adequate Good Information. Speed Read lots of Books.
    4. Adequate Good Knowledge. Your God says you and the universe are Very Good.
    5. Adequate Good Expression. Share your ideas.
    6. Adequate Good Association. Make lots of friends.
    7. Adequate Good Sleep. Sleep all you want. This is when your brain processes everything.

    In business, when someone says they are offering a “Derivative”, they are offering you a Calculus business formula instead of a Statistical business formula. The Post Baby Boom has advanced Business Mathematics 400 years. We still have work to do. Business Mathematics is still 200 years behind Einstein and 100 years behind the present.

    I know this because I read 4,000 pages of Mathematics texts in one day.

    Your brain is very powerful and you have been trained to read all your life.

    Books and Libraries are still the best designed storage medium in the world. Natural light, no electricity and a lifetime of thousands of years.

    Teat books like large magazines and leaf through them looking at EVERY page.

    Drink lots. Eat lots. Whenever you feel tired or stressed.

    Get lots of sleep.

    Your brain will process the information and you will have new answers in the morning.

    100 Best Books of 2009: http://tinyurl.com/y9llytg

  9. “My question is whether this sentiment can be globally relevant or whether it applies only to those of us who already have lots?”

    In answer to your question I’d recommend reading economist Richard Layard’s book “Happiness”. One of the premises is this: basic material needs are a precondition to happiness, yet happiness plateaus after a certain level of material wealth is attained.

    For those who don’t have much, it would follow that “being more” still necessitates having material needs met first, but perhaps those needs can be met by enabling participation rather than encouraging consumption (as Peter Thomson has commented).

  10. …a shift in focus was called for from “having more to being more”.

    I think the fatal flaw in this line of thinking is that having and being are somehow meaningfully correlated. I do not subscribe to the implied assumption that you cannot both “have more” and “be more” (or conversely “have less” and “be less”).

    If pushing the world towards the Western definition of “having more” proves to be ultimately unsustainable for the planet or our species, we need not arrive at that point as a bunch of self-centered barbarians.

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