In this interesting TED video, Tim Jackson discusses prosperity and sets out to re-imagine economics to serve the full potential of humanity.
He notes that we spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that don't last on people don't care about. Yet if we stop hunker down and stop spending this is disastrous for the economy. Tim asks: Why do we act this way?
What sort of creature are we?
What sort of creature are we? Are we merely novelty seeking hedonistic selfish individuals? Or are altruistic selfless individuals who care for others and try to do the right thing?
Tim’s interesting answer is that we are both. We are both self-regarding at times and other-regarding at other times. From an evolutionary viewpoint, this makes sense. Selfish behavior is adaptive in certain circumstances. Fight or flight is not a bad approach to a threat to one’s life.
But other-regarding behaviors are also essential to our evolution as social beings. Other-regarding behaviors are important to create families and social groups.
Other-regarding behaviors are particularly important for today’s organizations which depend on delighting customers for their survival and collaboration within the organization to create innovation that will delight customers.
A map of the human heart
All of a sudden, as Tim points out, we are looking at a map of the human heart.
We have created systems and economies that systematically privilege self-regarding behaviors over other-regarding behaviors. We have privileged one narrow quadrant of the human soul. We have left the other parts of the human heart unregarded. What we need is an economics that reflects both aspects of our human nature.
The good news here is that reinventing economics doesn’t require changing human nature. It isn’t about curtailing possibilities. It’s about opening the possibility of becoming fully human. It’s about recognizing the depth and the breadth of the human psyche. It’s about building institutions that protect and nourish the fragile altruist within all of us.
Economics that captures our full humanity
What would economics look like if we took that vision of the human heart and stretched them along the dimensions of the human psyche? We would be investing in a meaningful prosperity, providing capabilities for people to flourish, while recognizing the importance of family, friendship, commitment, society and participating in the life of this society.
We would be investing in places where we can connect, where we can participate, shared spaces, concert halls, gardens, public parks, libraries, museums, quiet centers, places of joy and celebration, places of tranquility and contemplation, a common citizenship, a shared present and a common future.
Prosperity is a shared endeavor. It’s not about changing human nature. It’s about adopting an economics that is fit for purpose. At the heart of that economics Is the idea of something more credible, more realistic, more robust, about what it means to be human.
Organizations that generate delight
It would also mean reinventing the way we run organizations, built not on the sole basis of self-regarding profit-seeking motives, but rather organizations that are focused on providing thick value and delighting their customers. These organizations depend on other-regarding behaviors: collaboration within the organization to create innovation that will generate that client delight.
The new way of managing is sketched by Umair Haque in his book, The New Capitalist Manifesto (2011). It is also discussed by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in his Harvard Business Review article, The Age of Customer Capitalism, by Harvard professor Ranjay Gulati in his book, Reorganize for Resilience (2010), by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison in their book, The Power of Pull (2010), by Carol Sanford in The Responsible Business (2011) and my web article, The Reinvention of Management.
For a comprehensive review of the principles and practices involved in reinventing management to elicit continuous innovation, read my book: The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century.