Beginning with the comment that “for all of human history, societies that endured appreciated that their economies could be no healthier than the larger natural and societal systems upon which they depended”, Peter Senge reminded us of how unprecedented our interdependence has become. We belong to one inescapable network of mutuality. We are tied, indeed, in a single fabric of destiny on Planet Earth. “Policies and actions that attempt to tear a nation from this cloth will inevitably fail”.
Senge throughout this article calls for the change to the globalization, which first need us to wake up------ waking up to the fact that industrial growth as we have known it is now encountering severe social and environmental limits, whose costs are getting harder and harder to ignore. He cited example of the hardship of stabilizing C02 in the atmosphere, which requires cuts in emissions of 75 percent or more, far beyond what the Kyoto protocols or any other current plan call for and the simple fact that supporting the average American's lifestyle cause over one ton of waste to be generated per person per day.
As these costs become recognized and their sources understood, they are starting to be allocated back to the businesses and industries where they originate. These regulations are part of historic steps in the direction of making "extended producer responsibility" the norm for industry. Similarly, the idea of "circular economy", an economy that works like natural systems, where there is no "waste" and all materials move in continuing cycles of reuse, was raised by President Hu of China. “These costs are growing and they can no longer be regarded as somebody else's problems at some indefinite time in the future. For more and more the future is now.”
The business stakeholders, traditionally conservative insurers, consumers, and investors at leading the charge in coping with privatized environmental costs. “All businesses sit within much larger commercial systems, and it is these systems that must change, not just individual company policies and practices”, Senge emphasized, large-scale change must be taken place in areas including supply chain, regulatory and consumer awareness.
Despite little public recognition in rich northern countries, the global food system is arguably the greatest generator of poverty, and consequently social and political instability, in the world today. Prices for agricultural commodities have fallen 30 percent to 90 percent over the past 50 years, making cheap food readily accessible for the rich northern societies and simultaneously making living incomes increasingly inaccessible in poorer food-producing countries.
Imagine going to the grocery store and seeing two bins of green beans, one 30 percent more expensive than the other. Atop each bin is a picture showing where the money goes in each supply chain, along with an assessment (verified by an independent body) of the extent to which each provides a living income to all the players, including the farmers. Which would you purchase?
Frances Hesselbein asked Senge a critical question:"are the basic fundamentals for sound leadership the same and we are just responding to a different world, or are the fundamentals shifting?" His response is an unequivocal "yes”, the fundamental of which starts with a set of deep capacities which few in leadership positions today could claim to have developed: “systems intelligence, building partnership across boundaries, and openness of mind, heart, and will”.
Senge stressed that to develop such capacities requires a lifelong commitment to grow as a human being in ways not well understood in contemporary culture. Yet in other ways these foundations for leadership have been understood for a very long time. Unfortunately, this ancient knowledge has been largely lost in the modern era.
He illustrated the three capacities, firstly the systems intelligence. "The inability of leaders to see the systems and patterns of interdependency within and surrounding our organizations threatens our future," says Ford's CIO and head of strategy, Marv Adams. "Many big problems that could be solved are sitting there unsolved because of this failure." Senge then proposed two vital systems-thinking skills: seeing patterns of interdependency and seeing into the future. Once people start to see systemic patterns and understand the forces driving a system, they also start to see where the system is headed if nothing changes. “The inability or unwillingness to see where we are headed is a massive failure of leadership foresight.”
In reference to building Partnerships with "the other", Senge cited from what Edgar Schein says "organizations are coercive systems," so that "doing something sustainable will require bringing parties together that normally do not cooperate. Inspiringly as we can see from the long collaborative work in a process that fostered deep reflection and candor before participants, participants in the Food Lab found themselves developing real connections, trust, and respect for one another, gradually recognizing that their strength as a team came from their differences.
Last but not least, Senge’s definition of openness to me sounds more like deep humility. He calls for a humble heart, “open to not having all the answers” for leaders who can build partnerships for seeing larger systems”. The criterion by which they must be judged is usefulness, not absolute accuracy. This means that effective leaders must cultivate open-mindedness in order to challenge continually their own favored views and to learn how to embrace multiple points of view in the service of building shared understanding and commitment.
This opening has been described by countless poets and mystics--indeed it is one of the oldest and most universal aspects of diverse spiritual traditions. It is what George Bernard Shaw called, "The true joy in life, the being used for a purpose you regard as a mighty one." Or as one of the Food Lab team members said, "We had come to a profound place of connection, with one another and with what we are here to do."
Speaking in ways like this, as Senge himself recalls, may seem romantic for today's times, but the subtle developmental processes behind these three openings have been understood for a very long while--and the loss of them may be a major reason we now struggle. In the end, he summarized the essence: “if we regard the human as a great mystery, if we understand humanness as being connected to the universe in ways that we can barely imagine, if we believe that the journey to discover and actualize who we actually are is the journey of our lifetimes, then there may be some chance that the leadership required for this new millennium will come forward”.