Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

WEBINAR | Shaping a New Narrative for a New Economy

This week saw our participation in a webinar with two leading thinkers in systems thinking and living economies, Otto Scharmer and David Korten, who engaged a discussion about Shaping a New Narrative for a New Economy. Both speakers addressed the flawed intellectual foundations of the current capitalist economic system and insisted that a new story and new thinking was needed that better reflected the realities of multiple crises, including climate change and social inequality. Economies are distributive and exchange systems, not just accumulation and growth systems.

The themes of this discussion linked to those of a recent conference in Brisbane hosted by the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise conference (APCSE), ‘Economic Growth, Climate Change and the G20′, in which international speakers shared their concerns and visions for a dynamic and sustainable future. Public opinion in Australia is changing with increasing numbers of people concerned about inadequate action on climate change – we’ve seen the natural disasters, we’ve seen the job losses, we’ve seen the price fluctuations. In a general sense, communities are feeling the impacts of climate change and it’s getting uncomfortable in the slow boiling cauldron.

For Korten, there is a need to address this as a ‘new story’, a foundational and sweeping metanarrative that respects ideas of living economies and living beings, that recognises the planetary condition and reframes the human story. Economies are our creation, yet they are often referred to as entities in their own right rather than a subsystem of interconnected flows and relationships that both influence and are influenced by other socio-ecological systems. As Korten says “When we get our story wrong, we get our future wrong”. His descriptions of the current situation are not particularly attractive and he characterises the current drive to accelerate economic growth as destructive, inequitable, resource intensive, and politically self-interested. In his view it amounts to a corrupt system; one that ultimately expedites entropy.

Korten’s attention to the ‘livingness’ of society, ecology and economy, provides a counter to this overwhelming dynamic of destruction, decay and depletion. He calls it ‘global suicide’. This ‘livingness’ – a word I am using to summarise Korten’s ideas about humans as living beings on a living planet – needs to be captured in a new ‘sacred’ story. In saying this, he is not evoking religion but rather a kind of authentic and foundational story of a ‘living economy’. Perhaps the story of economy is a fruitless enterprise. Perhaps it’s not economy, but some other idea that better captures the integrated and integrative nature of the transformation that Korten proposes. He believes that if we change the story, we can change the system. Consequently, we change ourselves and what it means to be human.

Scharmer points to the emergence and self-organisation of local initiatives that address this need for transformative responses. At the local level, in neighbourhoods and communities, people are living disruption in their daily lives. He also observes that at the local level, the crisis in the commons is more visible and very experiential, with many people are organising around the commons. Scharmer describes a need to build an eco-consciousness, from ego2eco. In his writing, he describes an as yet unrealised stage of capitalism, Capitalism 3.0, which is an “intentional, inclusive, ecosystem economy that upgrades the capacity for collaboration and innovation throughout all sectors of society (focus on ecosystem innovation)”.

Where Korten emphasises ‘story’, Scharmer emphasises ‘thinking’ (or perhaps there is a link here to his work on ‘presencing’). The two are obviously related and caught in an iterative and generative loop. The more we think and imagine sustainability and transition, the more compelling and ‘real’ the story becomes; the more the story become real, then more able we are to think in these ever-adaptive, transformative and generative ways. In conversation, Scharmer also talked about how embodiment – the lived and experiential – also came into play. There is a trace here of Scharmer’s Theory U, in which an emerging future can be supported and facilitated through awareness, attention, or consciousness.

Scharmer and Korten offer a hopeful message, seeking to engage a global community in conversations about a new story. In a survey, sent to participants after the webinar, we were asked what we could bring to the making of this new story. I then realised that the Long Time, No See? project with its emphasis on questions, dialogues, being and relation is a platform for encouraging the development of a new story. It alone cannot generate the new story, but it can encourage the kind of reflective thinking, local organisation and shared experience that are part of the process.

You can easily participate in Long TIme, No See? by visiting the website, downloading the app and other booklets, and setting out on a guided walk in your neighbourhood. Your contributions will be shared to an online artwork. Long Time, No See? is currently screening at The Cube, QUT as part of a rotating program. Please check the screening program for times.


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