Global Pushback

Pushback: Environmentalists push back on wasteful commercialization, some quietly and some noisily, but when personally pushed, others squawk too. Almost anyone whose property or mode of living is degraded by grubbing for resources is apt to affiliate with a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) movement, even if a project has a purpose like alternative fuels. Most of us like the benefits of an industrial society. Few of us like to absorb its costs in our pocketbooks. Some of us don’t like its costs to nature either.

Much pushback is an exacerbation of age-old resentments fueled to flash point by shortages. For example, “Arab Spring” uprisings began where food costs were high and water short. Tunisian and Algerian unrest began with food riots. If shortages are long-term, not temporary price spikes, whether new governments can deal with this is questionable. (Food riots factored into the French Revolution. Louis XVI could not repress hungry peasants for decades, but some governments do; North Korea is a case in point.)

When doomsday possibilities remain abstract concepts, they are hard to concentrate on. If they begin to affect us personally, human reactions shift rapidly, but then we have little time to grasp Compression in a holistic way. Doing that easily meanders off into economics, business, philosophy, psychology, and a few other topics. Trying to do this while people are still civil is a noble objective, if a bit of a stretch. For most action-oriented executives the first challenge is just taking breaks to personally give thought to a long-term future.

Complexity: Almost everything in business is more complex than 50 years ago: taxes, regulations, international competition, financial systems, software… An all-mechanical car became a rolling network of computers. Anyone using all the burgeoning social networking channels available has no time to do anything else. Add the earth’s problems to this mix, and complexity overwhelms us.

What we have done is concoct a great deal of human system complexity in addition to that which nature serves up to us. Uncertainty about the future is probably the most confounding aspect of this complexity. Executives keep looking for the “new normal,” meaning a different stable state from which they can resume conduct of business in a predictable way. But suppose that never happens? Worse, suppose that, given our mindsets today, the business world will never again be simpler than it is right now. Then the only way to find a “new normal” is to create it ourselves by looking at our situation differently.