Guidepost One is the first step on the journey from chaos to building Strategic Harmony in the world around us.
Mind the Gap… Our Broken World
Most people see the world as it is and get frustrated. We need people
who see the world as it could be and decide to change it!
Our world is broken!
Yes, greed and corruption and unprecedented disruption dominate. We are not living our proclaimed values. Our institutions are dysfunctional,
Our leaders have failed to address the challenges, and we mistrust them. As a planet, we are facing five interrelated pandemics- health, fear/social isolation, economy, environment and misinformation. Our world is broken…Yes, you probably agree!
EMPOWER US! is the call to action. We must change the way we make decisions. We need to listen to each other, respecting and focusing on our shared values. We have to develop and harmonize collective strategies for our mutual benefit. The outcome is Strategic Harmony—the theme of this book.
The Rising Voices (Next Generation, Women, Marginalized) demand to be heard and scream for change. They see a careless, unthinking monster like the reptilian Godzilla standing over us, with a footprint large enough to trample the whole planet. More and more, people challenge injustice and protest the mismanagement of our shared planetary resources. Organizations admired for their technology and disruption are increasingly filled with these voices—questioning the values of those in leadership.
These Rising Voices cannot be bought with company perks, questionable leadership, or even good intentions. They want action, accountability, and outcomes that solve problems and impact people’s lives. But they need to collaborate with more experienced leaders to develop a common plan, a way to bring Strategic Harmony to this broken world.
A wide gap in perception separates world leaders and those demanding accountability. The former are content with the status quo; the latter are intensely frustrated. Rising Voices channel their frustration and effort into making the world a better place, calling for action now. They cry: “Let us in; let us collaborate; let us work with you. We want to solve the world’s problems if you would only let us.” A broken world needs bridge builders. Those we see as Rising Voices are more than capable of doing this. But the question remains whether today’s leaders will let them participate. And give them the power to transform.
However, before we continue, the word “broken” must be fully understood when it comes to the world in which we live. When something physical is broken, it is damaged, impaired, or destroyed. It is inoperative. Stress points have reached or surpassed critical levels. But “broken” applies not only to physical things, but also to the state of human affairs and our values. Brokenness reflects that leaders are not listening to the voices of their constituencies or building trust in the authority and direction of our institutions. There are gaps between what leaders say and what they do.
This takes many forms. Rather than working together in harmony to solve shared problems, we are polarized and divided into partisan factions. We become tribal in our many battles for personal gain. Our governing values are marred by money and politics. A broken world is characterized by political instability, troubled economies, poverty, injustice, international terrorism, global warming, and epidemic levels of depression and other mental illnesses.
Today, we live in a world where norms, habits, and traditions are in a state of flux. Traditional and modern values, habits, and norms are in conflict. However, paradoxically, they may also be fused or coexist in some manner, as “power and love” or “yin and yang.” In today’s media climate, a speech or a tweet may signal a sudden change of norms that sends shockwaves through our global nervous system. It can also shift behavior at an unprecedented level. This shifting, chaotic environment makes it difficult if not impossible for leaders at all levels to strategize and operate effectively.
At the same time, NextGen is attracted to an environment of collaboration and sharing. They are driven by the opportunity to replace traditional goals of shareholder financial success with mutual benefit and equitable generation of stakeholder resources. They feel the need to address deteriorated values and demand action that preserves the planet for future generations. They are motivated to innovate, collaborate, and build a sustainable future for everyone. Not surprisingly, they insist on a moral philosophy as an intrinsic part of economic theory. In a study of Americans aged 18 to 29, Harvard University’s Polling Director John Della Volpe concluded: “Millennials… are becoming more motivated – and I believe the fear that exists today about our future will soon be turned into the fuel that will reform our government. The only question is whether this comes from inside or outside the traditional party structure.”
As almost half of humanity comes online, a drastic restructuring of our collective behavior takes place. The planet-wide digital nervous system brings new challenges to the perennial drivers of change —human needs, politics, ecology, culture, and finance. We need a new framework to build a leadership model that supports the new reality, based on sustainability.
The EmPower Us transformation journey must begin inside ourselves by rediscovering and empowering the core that we call TEST Values: building Trust, propelling Empathy; igniting Sustainability, and living Transparency. We also strongly believe that the basic forces that define relationships are Power and Love. These forces combined with our TEST Values are drivers of action and change. They also serve as foundations of this book, Strategic Harmony.
What is Strategic Harmony? Poetically speaking, it’s a balance between what we think (Head), what we do (Hands), what we feel (Heart), and what we Hope (Purpose and Intent). Pragmatically, it bridges the gaps! It’s a transforming framework necessary to realign our ethical compass and redesign the broken world by bridging the gap between generations, cultures, nations, leaders and the people they represent. It outlines a set of values, models, and best practices to build a sustainable future. We need to look at the challenging conditions in the world through new lenses and mobilize radical, yet collaborative solutions to assess and evaluate our impacts.
However, we need to remember the future is already here in the form of the Rising Voices and catalytic leaders. They Empower Us, sometimes in the streets, sharing their concerns and willingness to sacrifice status and titles to solve the challenges facing humanity. Let’s take a closer look at the current state of affairs.
Lebanese-American scholar, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, once noted that “humanity has never faced such deep social and economic problems, and, at the same time, was equipped with such a low level of understanding of the scope and reach of these problems.” Here are some striking examples of these interrelated, conflicting realities:
Managerial economics, as proposed by Milton Friedman in 1970, is built on maximizing shareholder value. From 1980 to 2013, the global economy, driven by that goal of maximizing profits, tripled in size. However, one result has been the rise of income inequality and a rise in poverty. The most opulent 1% of the population control 90% of private wealth. However, the definition of value may be changing. In the past five years, the long-term value of a company has been redefined by digital technologies and eco-innovation. Eco-innovative companies are growing at a rate of 15% per year, while their respective markets have remained flat. Such a transformative, stakeholder-centric economy, built upon core values, will drive greater inclusivity, equality, and opportunities for sustainable prosperity. Despite the current stock market recovery, economic problems are deep-seated in many regions of the world. This has resulted in the collapse of social programs, higher unemployment, and the impoverishment of millions of people. We need a global strategy and programs to address these issues and bridge the fundamental gaps.
Global System Change provides a holistic approach to achieving sustainability and transformation. It is based on Einstein’s idea that we must think at a higher level to solve our most complex challenges. All major aspects of human society are interconnected parts of the whole Earth system. We cannot effectively address them in isolation. However, considering all parts of society at once can be highly complex. To simplify the processes, we often break society into parts and study them without adequate reference to the larger system that contains them. This reductionism ignores relevant factors and produces often unintended consequences, such as widespread environmental and social degradation. And some of the damage is, unfortunately, not unintentional because many companies and governments are aware of the damage caused by some of their practices, but they may opt instead to cover it up, or perhaps they don’t care. The solution is to think at a higher, whole-system level. Global System Change integrates all major aspects of society and provides effective, systemic solutions to the major challenges facing humanity.
Political gridlock also inhibits innovative collaborative action. Many of the world’s most influential politicians are rightly seen as untrustworthy, corrupt, and unethical. Even though they keep talking about change, they are nothing but bureaucrats fighting for power. To displace these influencers, we need a critical mass of hero-innovators—trustworthy and ethical leaders dedicated to sustainable change. We need persistent idealists ready and able to transform the world into a better place.
Global nutrition or the lack thereof, is a major concern. Many people either starve or practice unhealthy lifestyles. One-fifth of the world population faces obesity while one-fifth suffers from malnutrition. Conversely, a third of all food produced for human consumption—about 1.3 billion tons annually, at a value of more than $1 trillion—is thrown away. Living our core values more consistently, including prioritizing a healthy, less wasteful lifestyle, could potentially allow us to feed all people.
The Global cultural ecosystem has turned into bad taste, mass consumerism, a marketing-driven swamp, instead of promoting values-driven purposeful products and services that increase the quality of life and sustainability of our planet. Digital technologies and shared value for all stakeholders can serve as a bridge to diffuse a more sustainable global culture.
Education as a global standard is still engaged in regurgitation of content and striving for grades instead of cherishing creativity and breakthrough transformative learning. Education must go back to its roots as stimulating learning and discovery. Lifelong learning and digital collaboration ignite opportunities to address the challenges faced by humanity.
Global media are easy access sources of real-time information, but can they be trusted? Often our daily feed is biased or sometimes fake, and thus does not provide access to trusted, dependable sources. We have the technology and resources to provide authentic news that will rebuild the trust in our media.
Anthropocene era is it the current historical epoch which human activities (technology, governance, business, climate change), became the primary driver of many existential threats on our planet. Our business and political leaders are challenged to live their proclaimed values and transform their decisions and investments to support the achievement of Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Rising Voices are echoing globally their demand to be heard and included. Following the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, the Next Generation is taking to the streets protesting the unwillingness of politicians, businesses, and global organizations to take control of global climate change. Women are outspoken as both elected representatives and directing initiatives that tackle the challenges of humanity. While the Marginalized, those who live on the fringe of a country (e.g., America) and are excluded from the “American dream”, demand equal opportunity, rights, and universal access.
Why are we still pursuing questionable goals, trusting the same unsustainable pathways and accepting the old excuses that block purposeful action?
The problem lies in our deteriorating values and unwillingness to empower them. Because of these conflicting realities or Gaps, we allow the health and direction of our planet to deteriorate, even though we have the potential to reverse this process.
The Solution… Address the Gaps
EmPower Us with Strategic Harmony looks through new lenses at the challenging conditions and mobilizes radical, yet collaborative solutions, to assess and evaluate our impact on the future.
(1) we live our core values,
(2) we use/misuse our resources,
(3) we engage our communities, and
(4) our leaders direct our institutions.
Change begins with transforming our mindset. Let’s take a closer look at the Gaps.
We are and do what we believe. Our core values drive mindset which leads to action and creates outcomes. If we reject the outcomes, we must question the values, beliefs, and mindset. As Albert Einstein noted: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” It is obvious that the values we preach are not the values we live by. John Steinbeck defined the gap as “…the things we admire in men [indeed all of humanity], kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding, and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men [indeed everyone]] admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.”
We have vast resources including capital, technologies, knowledge and expertise. These resources are focused on ourselves, our businesses, and our personal success, and not serving others, our communities, or the sustainability of our planet. Herein lies the gap: we must transform these resources into assets and optimize them for all stakeholders, empowering innovation and synergy to create sustainable outcomes and harmony for our failed systems.
We are networked to local and global communities of resources and people. Thousands, even millions, of people may know and interact and share our interests. The gap is how are we leveraging these connections to foster trust and real collaboration for scalable sustainable impact? In reality, most networks are not relationship-focused, or built upon the principles of sharing and scaling global solutions that benefit all.
The majority of executives, businesspeople, administrators, and managers don’t interact with or listen to the stories of their constituencies. They do not have the courage and flexibility to act upon what they see, hear, and feel. It’s also a common perception among many workers or constituents that executives, managers, chairpersons, and the like, do not care about those under their direction, and that not caring leads to not listening. This one-way, top-down communication has created a gap in trust between elected leaders and citizens, and between executives and their stakeholders and employees. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 supports these conclusions as it reveals reduced trust across the institutions of government, business, media, and NGOs. The credibility of leaders dropped to an all-time low of 37%, plummeting in every country studied. Trust in media is at an all-time low in 17 countries, while the government is the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed. There is a steep decline in the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain. The gap is the discrepancy between public trust and trust in Chinese brands abroad. These statistics reveal a growing polarization between citizens and market economy.
We are surrounded by conflicting realities and linked dualisms, e.g. polarized citizens protecting their turf vs electors striving for harmonious/sustainable solutions; egotistical leaders vs empathic “servant leaders;” concentrated wealth vs efforts to reduce poverty; escalating unemployment vs expanding high tech jobs; radicalized alienated youth vs inspired millennials; exploding technologies healing the planet vs destroying the world order. By connecting and linking these opposite forces, we accept their divisive nature as the norm that continues to influence our thoughts and our actions. These less than value-neutral dualities and polarities accentuate the gap in our minds, hearts, actions and intents widening the fissure in our society between leaders’ promises and people-action.
In each case, the different situations are outcomes of conflicting values and mindsets that drive behavior.
• If we want new outcomes, we need to transform our mindset.
• If we want organizational transformation, we must acknowledge and challenge the Gaps between our words and actions.
• If we want to build the systemic change, we need to challenge the linked polarities in society that have become the norm and myths they have created that underpin our thinking.
The importance of a mindset shift is reflected in the following story.
This classic study demonstrates the empowering of a false narrative as the basis for myths.
Imagine a cage with five monkeys .You hang a bunch of bananas at the cage top and place a ladder nearby. Soon, a monkey climbs the ladder, trying to get some bananas. The moment the monkey touches the ladder, you sprinkle all the animals with ice-cold water and they quickly back off. Soon, another monkey goes for the ladder, just to find out that the ice-cold-water situation is still there. From that moment on, you don’t need the sprinkler anymore. If a monkey even tries to get close to the ladder, other monkeys are sure to knock him or her flat.
Now, you remove one monkey from the cage and replace him or her with a newcomer. Seeing the bananas, he or she tries to reach for the ladder, only to find his or her ass kicked by all others. You replace another monkey with a new one. If that monkey tries to reach for the ladder, he or she is severely beaten by all, including the former newcomer. Repeat the procedure until the initial five are removed from the cage. Regardless of the fact that none of the remaining monkeys has ever been sprinkled with ice-cold water, none of them ever tries to get the bananas because, if he did, he would immediately be stopped by all the others. Why? They have learned the way things are done here. And who are they to question the common practice?
The monkey cage metaphor explains how values and beliefs lead to behavior. Also, it perfectly describes nations, tribes, employees, politicians, or citizens who accept the prevailing norms and values without questioning them. Remember the Germans under Hitler? The Soviets under Stalin? The Founding Fathers of the USA, many of whom were slave owners? And the tale of the Emperor who had no clothes? We know what happens when people just accept the existing values and don’t question the inherent contradictions, limitations, and shortcomings of a simple story.
Isn’t the world broken because we are trapped in the monkey cage of the old economic, social and political values? Strange, crazy, even outrageous things are constantly taking place around us, and we are treating them as normal. Expanding polarization and feelings of hopelessness have translated into a world suffering from epidemic depression and growing numbers of people turning to false narratives, conspiracy theories, opioids, and even violent acts of opposition as a response. At the same time, NextGen screams to have their voices heard. They want to work for and purchase products and services from companies that respect and live their values.
Most politicians try to persuade us (the world) is not broken. With 60% of the global population relying on social media as the only source of news, many cannot determine the difference between real and fake news. It is this gap in critical thinking that politicians exploit. We must be patient and learn to live with all the discrepancies while vigilantly taking action to remove their root causes. Like in a joke about a guy, falling from a twenty- story building. As he passes by the tenth floor, his phone rings, and a friend asks him: How are you doing today? So far, so good, replies the guy.
So what is the result? We have adjusted to the myths that reinforced our broken world and misaligned our ethical compass. We have engendered a mindset where billions of humans and our leaders are trapped in what we believe to be a global cage of myths—a web of interconnected half-truths, misinformation that remains unquestioned and supported by a false narrative that elicits strong polarized emotions in people. Myths may seem unconvincing and harmless; however, when we think of them as emerging from a bombardment of images and news, the effect of their impact heightens creating strong emotions that linger in our mind for a long time. Myths add color to false narratives that become solidified into commonly accepted truths, based on the body of untrue statements that become absolute truths.
The real threat here is that such “myths” are the stories and ideas that lead our behavior, and create (both undesirable and desirable) outcomes that influence our actions in three ways: positive, negative and neutral (even neutral carries a value as in chemistry).
When myths are used by leaders as truths, they become trust breakers. Myths create a Trust Gap in society between the original false narrative and the lesser audience that carries the voice of the legitimate news. In this context, we generated 20 myths that guide our broken world, related to leadership and organizational transformation. They are by no means exhaustive:
1. Successful leaders must control information and decisions in their interest.
2. We are happy and secure only with people we are familiar with in terms of religion, culture, ethnicity, and gender.
3. Nobody is unbiased, and everyone has an agenda; so don’t trust anyone.
4. Asking forgiveness is a weakness; empathetic people are lame.
5. Sustainability is just focused on our environment. Our resources are constantly growing and being replenished; there’s no need to be restrained.
6. You can lie about anything; as everyone does it and as long as you don’t get caught.
7. Admitting you’re wrong or made a mistake or don’t have complete knowledge is not acceptable and needs to be covered up.
8. Taking a risk and failing is bad; it’s not a learning experience.
9. Strive to win, be right and in control; compromise is a sign of weakness.
10. A successful product is based on sales revenue only.
11. It’s a waste of resources to collect data that you don’t have any use for.
12. The experience of senior executives is the key to success in the complex world.
13. Efficient, profit-centered departments increase business innovation in digital age.
14. We have done things for many years quite successfully; there is no need to change.
15. Customer satisfaction is a very good intention, but shouldn’t be expected.
16. You are what you “possess”; money opens all doors and is the key to success.
17. Sharing of ideas and collaborating is dangerous; it’s better to exploit ideas by yourself.
18. A university degree prepares you for future jobs in the growingly complex world.
19. Innovation is determined by the capacity of the current team.
20. Return on Investment (ROI) is the best tool to measure success of businesses and organizations.
Now you’ve considered these 20 myths. Take a moment to think of which of these myths you have adopted in your daily life, and a few more we haven’t listed here.
Behind each of these myths, there is a belief that underpins a resulting action to bridge the gap between acting with purpose and acting only with financial progress. The climate crisis is caused by the gap between siloed, traditional decision-making leaders vs. holistic sustainable impact driven decision-making leadership that is at the foundation of transformative solutions.
The GAP exists between the ambiguity and the tension between action and inaction; between promises and real performance; between inclusion and exclusion; and between the culture of control and a culture of change. It is Strategic Harmony that is required to bridge these GAPS.
Throughout the book, we share how these myths are associated with solutions or values from our Strategic Harmony five-stage model to align purpose and progress with the sustainability goals.
Of course, in order to realize a more sustainable world, we must replace these and similar myths. But, first, we must transform ourselves, our mindset, and values. We must strive for Strategic Harmony. Is it possible? How does it work?
EmPower Us! provides a road map for transformation. It proposes a breakthrough in thinking about institutions and the false “truths” we accept, take for granted, and live by. It offers a resilient approach to managing and innovating.
We believe that the journey toward transformation must begin internally with rediscovering the TEST Values – Trust, Empathy; Sustainability, and Transparency. Also, we strongly believe that the basic forces that define relationships, once again, are to be Power and Love. These forces combined with our values are drivers of action and change serving as the foundations for Strategic Harmony.
From Crisis to Strategic Harmony
“EmPower Us! is a template for sharing the authors’ values-based framework for
holistic societal growth. It gives readers the perspective needed to interact with the
status quo and facilitate sustainable changes.”
—Emad Davis, Full Stack Software Engineer, FOSTM Agency