Worlds in Worlds in Worlds

Fall 2006

Worlds in Worlds in Worlds


If you think about the hierarchy of worlds within which we live, you might begin with the “projects” we do. Cumulatively, those projects fall within a “market” we serve. Cumulatively, markets fluctuate with “Megatrends” – such as global economics, sustainability, population shifts, migratory patterns, automation, etc.

The smallest “world,” the projects we do, commands most of our time and attention. We came into the profession to do excellent work – for our clients and, to a degree, as stewards of the environment. Projects command more attention because they are concrete. They have measurable, tangible results we can see. And – we’re rewarded for our project contributions in concrete ways, as well.

The next world, “markets,” is less concrete and rarely demands immediate attention. As long as a flow of clients and projects continues, markets are of little daily concern. Therefore, every one to five years, firms may spend a little energy to do market research and strategic planning, to be sure their markets are looking healthy. When the planning retreats end, immediate project demands resume and the big picture thinking and strategizing takes a back seat. Only if a primary market dries up do we give high priority and immediate action to this more abstract “world.”

The biggest “world” – Megatrends that are least concrete and immediate, but are so expansive and pervasive they may reshape our existence. We may be coming to the end of one “age” and entering into what could either be a higher level in our evolution…or a disaster. And all this may happen within about six years – a lot more immediate than “by 2050” or “the end of the century.” Some explanation…

Helping firms in strategic planning obliges us to read a lot of trends literature. In the early 1990s, the word “sustainability” began surfacing with increasing frequency. At first, it seemed to be another term invented by environmentalists who were searching for greater notoriety and impact. Eventually, it’s actually come to mean what it says…our ability to sustain on this planet. Conceptually, the notion that our actual sustainability might be in doubt is (for us) virtually unimaginable.

It’s mind-boggling.

If you’ve traveled the world and seen the huge expanses of forests and jungles and plains and oceans…and widely different climate conditions, you may wonder…

“How can that possibly be…really?”

Well, it can be. In fact, we’re already at the start of a measurable bell curve…

  • We’re living in the warmest years in recorded history.
  • We have growing global water shortages even in the U.S.
  • Each year, land the size of Rhode Island becomes non-arable desert.
  • And…food shortages and starvation have already begun and are growing.

We mourn the 2700 or so lives that were tragically lost on 9/11. Yet, Africa is already losing over half a million a month just to starvation. That’s over a holocaust a year – more than 2200 times the 9/11 losses, year after year…and growing. Not much fanfare or media coverage, though…“It’s somewhere else; not here.”

About eight years ago, China announced (via many newspapers) that it was importing food for the first time in its history. One of the trends publications indicated that China had a 25-year straight-line decline in food production that had simply crossed from diminishing exports to the start of imports. The problem: because of China’s size, if that line were to continue – which it has for 8 years – the rest of the world will not have sufficient surplus to sell them, best case, by…2016! Last year, China’s import tonnage was greater than Canada’s entire harvest. And…

With the money they’ve made making widgets for our consumption, China has sufficient cash to buy all three of our largest food producing corporations.

Is this feeling more immediate yet?

Where do we look for help?

If you read John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” you’ll get a clear picture of how multinational corporations essentially control the world. (It’s depressing, but it’s a very detailed reality that jibes with all the facts we know about recent historic events in the U.S. and world.) Greg Palast’s “Armed Madhouse” adds detail to the mechanisms. If corporations control political leaders (in any party or country,) and as corporations are an outgrowth of an industrial age that created the dilemma, solutions aren’t likely to come from our “leaders.”

Two books have more recently had big picture impact. The first, Whitley Strieber’s, “The Key,” will, as they say, “rock your socks.” It’s the world. The second, Ervin Laszlo’s “The Chaos Point,” scientifically details what’s happening…including with holistic sine waves that illustrate how short a window we have. The problem…

Other than statistics – which can be held suspect, anyway – megatrends are less concrete, and less prone to gain our attention. In the years of market research done for firms, we’ve found that when the “story” of a market’s future behavior becomes consistent, it tends to happen in exactly that way. However, in this case, if we wait to see if the projections are accurate, we’ll have concrete experience – but – it may be too late to do anything about it. Remember … if you put a frog in tepid water, then heat it slowly, the frog will just sit there until it boils to death. Riddip!

Where does that leave us?

We’re way past “LEED certification” here, at any level. And, as a profession, we’re not the biggest risk takers or large-scale change agents in the world. So…

Read these books. Form your own conclusions. Then ask yourself what you can do, personally and comfortably…on your projects, with your clients, and in your personal and civic life. The literature is consistent in one way: it won’t be up to “them” to make a difference. It’ll be up to you. It is personal.

Most of us tune out when people begin preaching at us. (It’s subtle, but you may sense that our passion in this area is fairly high.) “Dissonance Theory” suggests that we use one of four “standard” ways to tune out information with which we either disagree or which we just don’t want to know. However …

The type and scale of change that’s needed is likely to have to “grow” in a grassroots way. One person creates something that’s totally sustainable and supportive of a fine quality of life. (“Quality of Life” as defined by users.) Others see it…and copy what they like. Diffusion of innovation has taken less and less time. (See Ray Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near.”) Cell phones reached a critical mass in the entire world in less than five years! That’s about what we have…if we make this largest and most abstract “world” immediate, and initiate concrete action…now. Quoting from Laszlo’s work, following ten history-based, pattern-setting graphics…

“At a decision window, individuals can consciously create the small but potentially powerful fluctuations that could ‘blow up’ and decide the evolutionary path their society will adopt. They can tip the system toward the evolution that is line with their hopes and expectations. Thus the Chaos Point need not be the harbinger of global breakdown. It could be the herald of a leap to a new civilization.”

A time management course once defined daily activities with letters…

“C” was for activities that do need to be on our list.

“B” was for activities that are truly “important.”

And, “A” was for activities we define as truly “life sustaining.”


The problem they cited was that we tend to confuse “urgency” with “importance.” We can have a day packed with “C” activities, in which we get a lot done…but none of it of any great importance to our life goals. Instead, they had us place an asterisk next to any activity that had to be done that day – urgency. But they also challenged us to be sure we included at least one or two “A” activities, each day. It provides a means by which we can each act on truly essential items, such as these.

As many of you know, we’ve been working to create and market totally sustainable (Net Zero) houses, to compete with traditional. (See It’s a “sideline” to our usual consulting services that we hope will make – with a ripple effect – a larger scale difference. What effort – large or small – feels “right” for you? And…what effort can you begin very soon? (That’s called: “The gauntlet just fell.”)