Despite having a wealth of knowledge and skills, we keep collectively creating results nobody wants. To me, that reality is the biggest problem of our era. Whether it’s governmental systems that impose austerity while unemployment is high, or corporations that force employees to choose between work and family, sacrificing one or the other, or nonprofit organizations that seem to invest huge resources into fundraising rather than service, or schools designed to turn out industrial age employees when we need information age employees, our institutions are structured to meet yesterday’s challenges and are failing to meet today’s challenges.
Our problem isn’t a lack of knowledge. It’s not a lack of skill. It’s not even a lack of resources. We have sufficient knowledge, we just don’t use it. We have sufficient skill, we just misemploye it. We have sufficient resources, we reoutinely misallocate them.
Our public discussion is trapped in yesterday’s rhetoric – regularly dragged into an either-or dichotomy of free markets versus socialism as if our current corporate capitalism in any way resembles the idealized small enterprise version of capitalism that so many people hold dear. I recognize, for example, that my basic liberal instinct to use government to constrain and restrain corporate power is part of the old dialogue, while the conservative call for deregulation is also part of the dialogue. The tendency of corporations to use their wealth to influence government is also part of the old frame of reference. When oil companies lobby to preserve the status quo, they are working from the old way of being in the world – and while protecting today’s profits, doing so at a vast cost to the world.
Otto Scharmer argues the source of our age’s problems is between our ears – how we think about the world is our problem and our collective inability to shift to new ways of thinking creates a feedback loop in which the outcomes we want remain out of reach and the outcomes we don’t want keep coming back.