“We have exactly enough time – starting now.”
I read Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded for an MBA course and with it expanded my foresight cross-over through its focus on managing the unavoidable instead of avoiding the unmanageable. The book’s economic framework for addressing complex global problems strengthened the bridge I am fashioning between business and futures studies.
Donella Meadows’ saying, “We have exactly enough time – starting now,” cited in Hot, Flat, and Crowded reflects the books’ pairing of urgency and optimism. We read Meadows’ book Thinking in Systems in our Foresight graduate program. It also reminds me of the Stockdale Paradox as explained in Collins’ Good to Great and generally read as ‘retain faith that you can prevail in the end no matter the difficulties, while confronting the brutal facts of your current reality with discipline.’
I reached out to the professor of this MBA course, “The Political, Social, and Legal Environment of Business,” which explores the purpose and responsibilities of the corporation in society and for stakeholders, for reading recommendations to help me to prepare for engaging the topic as a manager. Friedman’s book, among his suggestions, is a practical exploration parallel to foresight in asking where are we headed and what are the alternatives, preferred and possible? It melds economics understanding and geo-politics in seeking solutions among diverse perspectives asking what strategic changes bring us closer to ideal futures, what gains/losses await each future?
I will not provide a full review of the book here, my intention is to point out the value of this text in the context of designing organizations going forward and how strongly that requires careful analysis of the facts and evaluations of the system structure as they existed and as they change.
Our inability to tackle multi-generational problems slowly erodes our strengths & assets.
The central thrust of this book is that we project a weakened ability to take on the growing instability from climate change’s “global weirding,” a flattening from globalization, and growing population. Friedman posits that America can emerge in this new “Energy-Climate Era” as a global leader and that we can revive and retool our more resilient economy by taking the entrepreneurial (innovation and inspiration) lead to seize the moment through investing in the clean technologies with the maximum economic growth.
Friedman uses this proverb, “when the wind changes direction, there are those who build walls and those who build windmills.” Windmills that we can build and export.
Foresight elements see futures and their implications and design solution frameworks that minimize costs and maximize spread of benefits that reveal the international competitive advantages of leading the green economy. Global economic players can see the indicators, measure the risks, and make corrections, all of which foresight is a set of methods to optimize. Leading for the future in this case is necessary to avert global disaster and civil strife, but it is also to realign business with next profits and economies with next growth.
With macro-economic frameworks, Friedman argues for American led innovations in the business of and investment in clean energy systems by restructuring markets and for allowing “ecological truths” into formulations just as economics allows human truths and time sinks into productivity calculations.
Systems approaches reveal current structures, investigate inefficiencies, and measure strengths of feedback loops projecting probabilities. Friedman points out that revolutions are changes of systems and outlines what variables and relationships in the current system are being shifted and need to be allowed to be recalibrated and how these represent strategic opportunities.
Reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded allowed me to apply and expand my education at the crux of futures studies and business. Learning widely to leverage systems thinking (seeing and managing structures), foresight (where the data says we are headed and where we want to go that is more beneficial within new contexts), and business (the interactions of economic systems and players). This book seeks a framework for economic solutions to global socio-political problems. And it seeks solutions grounded in structure.
Hindsight, insight, foresight:
Friedman’s framing of the issues also aligns with the hindsight – insight – foresight futures studies model.
- Hindsight – Friedman took a critical look at how we got to where we are economically and culturally.
- Insight – prodded exactly what the structure and relationships of our current landscape are.
- Foresight – extrapolate and decipher the directions and trend breaks that describe where we could be going.
The major takeaway for me was to strategically (inclusive of current and likely stakeholders) to mitigate what we can, adapt to what we cannot, and innovate our way to new possibilities.
– Joe Murphy, Librarian, MBA and Foresight student
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and author of The World is Flat.
Friedman, T. L. (2008). Hot, flat, and crowded: Why we need a green revolution– and how it can renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.