I’ve been experiencing an increasing frustration with the state of the world and the lack of my ability to get involved. Too many disconcerting discussions, documentaries, reflections and observations went by without me altering my lifestyle or leaving my comfort zone. Like most people I’ve noticed trends and developments – social, environmental, political – that left me aghast, but I stayed inactive.
In line with my conviction that also small steps matter, I’ve started this blog.
In contrast to the general concept of angry youth and disillusioned adulthood, I feel that my believes and convictions (see my other post about that) have only grown more firm in recent years. While they haven’t changed fundamentally, I grew more and more aware of why I believe certain things and that I’m really convinced of them (see first paragraph of article referenced above).
Since leaving my corporate job in 2009, followed by a 6 month Asia trip and 7 years in the startup and entrepreneurial environment, I’ve been able to collect a multitude of insights into different work- and life-styles, into patterns and believes that diverge from mainstream standards. And I’ve experienced a number of times, that taking risks, changing paths, stepping out into the unknown is beneficial to personal development and generally leads you to a better place.
I’m going to try to outline parts of my journey and describe my most relevant conclusions. I’m also going to reference some sources of inspiration that I collected on the way. My intention is not to convince anyone by saying “this is the only right way”. It is also not to be taken as a final work of any sort, but rather as an insight into my current, evolving understanding. For me it is an attempt of laying it out, for anyone to pick up something and make it their own. Since I personally came to be convinced of these thoughts, I would be happy if it inspired one or the other to some new perspective or even trigger some positive actions.
Some general postulations
The time we live in is a difficult one. It’s not necessarily harder or more desperate than other times. But there are certain factors which might make it the most complex and challenging one to handle in human history.
- The time is difficult because the world has become more and more complex, segregated, fast-moving, interconnected and yet individualistic… as a human individual, it is hard to grasp and to find its personal role in it.
- The time is difficult because there are major shifts happening in the distribution of wealth and dominance of world-politics and economics – mainly from west to east. These developments are not to be seen as an isolated event, but as a consequence of the developments of the past centuries. (I can highly recommend this book as inspiration regarding this topic.)
- The time is difficult because of the accumulated knowledge and information, which is available and spread as never before. This transparency makes us realize problems of a larger magnitude and experience incidents on a global scale. At the same time we experience a saturation and a helplessness towards the complexity and number of incidents.
- The time is difficult because there are less and less guidelines and guidance. Where tradition, faith, authorities have been replaced by total freedom, flexibility and individuality, a vacuum of orientation is created.
- At the same time, there is a lack of perspective. There is no common hope for what the ideal world should look like, no theory to believe in, to unite people under one purpose, which is worth to strive and fight for.
In this post, I want to focus mostly on the last point.
Some political statements
In my view, recent political trends in the United States and Europe towards more nationalistic and populist governments and parties are a sign of a growing existential fear. In some cases it is a very real, tangible fear of losing a job or not being able to make a living despite having a job. Often times it is enough to see your current status of living under threat, for fears to materialize. Immigration, economical fluctuations, unpredictable technological developments or social inequalities will drive humans into a self-protection mode: “Me and and my family first, everyone else after”, says our survival instinct. I’m convinced that marking out outsiders because of (unconscious) fear is very wrong, but the underlying causes are real and have to be looked at.
Since the fall of the main socialistic regime of the Soviet Union, the whole world de facto follows one single philosophy: one of free and self-regulating markets, capitalism. In the large majority this system is paired with some sort of a democratic government. This model has been the sole framework, most of us grew up in. And it has been practiced in an increasingly dominant way. After several centuries of experience, I believe it’s fair to say, the system is not suitable to provide happiness and prosperity for the majority of people. It has failed as a general philosophy.
The underlying social economic principle, of specialization and trade to increase ones personal prosperity, has not proven to be functioning. In combination with monetary rewards, paired with the human tendency towards accumulation of goods (rather than being satisfied with the essential), has led to a competitive system, where a few get everything and a lot are left with nothing.
The current economical mindset taps into a very simple human trait: instant gratification. It’s very easy to experience, that if I do better than my peers, I get more rewards. As a result we see all kinds of “pyramids”, in economy, sports, culture, with some idols on top, who serve as role models for the next generation.
I believe that we forgot how to think wholistic and act in solidarity. And more importantly, that each one of us would be better off personally, if he or she would strive for the prosperity of others first, instead of focussing on personal success. Only: we lack examples, stories and role-models that show us how it’s done.
As an individual, we stick to the existing pattern as long as it’s beneficial to us. If our status quo is challenged, we turn to those (populists) who promise solutions to maintain it, rather than checking our behavior. Many others, politicians and leaders, try to offer an alternative perspective to people. But a general, it is patchwork, not touching on people’s emotions or simply a helpless attempt, not capable of tackling these complex problems in their entirety. An all-encompassing, wholistic, compelling and unifying solution is missing. Or is it?
New World Theory
Back in 2010, towards the end of my 7 months of traveling across Asia, I was toying with the idea of creating a crowdsourced “new world theory” for the first time.
This is what I wrote back then:
Create a new world theory which considers all the accumulated experience and knowledge of the present and the mistakes of the past by letting all people of the world collaborate in a free and democratic way. […]
There are and have been different systems and models to run the world. Each comes with more or less advantages and disadvantages. Taking all these together, objectively, without discharging different ideas as wrong per se but keeping the discussion on a factual, objective level, it should be possible to create something new, something bigger, something better, something that nobody else has thought of or has been capable of thinking of. The amount of information and thinking is so large, that no single person has the ability to digest everything. The total of the world’s population, united through the borderless, non-governed nature of the internet, moderated only by the masses of different people and automatically diverting towards a commonly acceptable majority.
The outcome is not defined. Maybe it’s a new manifesto. But better, it’s something that automatically merges into peoples hearts and minds and thus creates a world which is to the benefit all people. […]
It remained at that, an ambitious idea, that went on collecting dust on my hard drive for the coming years.
Influencers on the way
One of the thinkers that had a big influence on my views, was Jeremy Rifkin. Listening to this one philosophy talk some time in 2014 captivated me very much and his book of The Third Industrial Revolution and the underlying theory of economical, environmental and energy crisis became a cornerstone in my understanding of the world.
Meanwhile, on my professional path, I had moved away from the hierarchical, specialized, command-and-control-minded work ethic towards self-motivated, self-organized and self-driven models. After some years as entrepreneur and co-founder of startups, I’ve been able to apply these experiences, on how to work differently and drive innovation, in advising small and large companies and organizations (read my blog post for Panter on the Factory here).
The theories that find application here, be it Lean Startup, Teal Organizations or Design Thinking gave structure to what I had believed to be true already. Without going into much more detail at this point, it is all about collaboration, about delegation of authority to the individual, trust and transparency, creativity and learning through iterations – a lot of thought processes that I found to be valid in a working environment. But I am convinced that they are transferable to many other aspects of life as well.
In the eloquent words of somebody else, this is a really inspiring TED talk by Don Tapscott, called “Four principles for the open world“. He conveys beautifully, what I believe in too and how the time is right for changes.
When I first left my corporate job, I was confronted with opposing feedback. About half of my peers reacted positively to my step into independence and shared their feelings of support or envy. The other half could not comprehend my priorities and felt that I was “wasting my potential”. For me personally, I never felt any regrets and my choices (there were further career-meanders ahead). Quite contrary, looking back I realize how much I learned and benefitted from these changes. Those who were jealous of my step or felt too certain in their current role, I want to encourage: change is good, risk taking gets rewarded. (I’m working on a post that goes more in depth here).
Tackling the solution
In the spirit of these experiences, I took another step into the unknown this year and went on a 6 months sabbatical, which is currently nearing its end. Traveling the United States, I’ve been spending my time reflecting on my personal goals, my potential contributions to my ideals mentioned beforehand and I also reinstated my search for a “new world theory”.
The trigger experience happened about 2 months into my trip: I watched the fabulous documentary “Tomorrow”, which is valuable for a number of reasons and I think everyone should watch it. For me, it brought the keyword “Permaculture” (see my post about Permaculture) into consciousness. The movie presents positive and exciting examples on how current problems of economy, agriculture, money, energy and education are tackled. The part about agriculture in which a Permaculture farm in France (Le Bec Hellouin farm) triggered my particular interest. “This is what I want to do!”, went through my mind.
A little research later, it seemed like I found an answer to both my search for a comprehensive world theory and my desire to do something meaningful. I concluded that I had to explore it more and one month later signed up at Compass Rose Farms as a volunteer and my conversion into a “farmer” took its way. See my post My trip to the US and what I’m bringing back in my baggage for how that happened in detail and What’s Permaculture and why do I like it so much for some background on what I found out in the mean time.