Coming to America was a profound journey. America is an exceptionally resilient place and was founded around a very unique premise. The land of Israel saw the greatest waves of immigration of the ancient world while America inspired the greatest immigration to the new world. People journeyed to the Holy Land in the ancient world because of events that had taken place there as it became the birthplace of three religions. In the new world people came to America with an impulse towards the future. Hope about the future was always the central character of the American story. America was shaped by the "aspiration business" and the "future business." But many in the US and around the world now question the future of America. In this KEY I propose the three propulsions that will regenerate America and shape the powers that will gain ascendency in the coming decades.
As always, we'll be glad to hear from you with your comments, strategy and organizational transformation needs.
The American Regeneration
The 21st century's unfolding story is being written simultaneously in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin and Boston. In fact, it is being written in many other places, too - places you and I haven't heard of yet. This does not imply an end for America's role in the world, but it suggests that leadership in the 21st century will be expressed differently. Anyone composing an American Requiem is likely to be disappointed. Betting on an American Regeneration is a smarter choice. But before we look ahead, let's reflect on the rise of America.
The 3-Legged Base of America's Rise
The Roman Empire ruled the world by conquering land. It came undone not by an external enemy, but by over-extension, which accelerated its crumbling from the inside. The British Empire did not need to conquer land to rule the world. It controlled the sea with its navy. The Royal Navy controlled the routes of commerce and thereby the globe. The decline of the British Empire was made inventible with the innovative breakthrough of aviation. Aviation made naval power less important and helped unleash America's power. How did America gain an empire-like hegemony in the 20th century? Here is the 3-legged base that supported America's rise:
1. American high moral ground originated with the constitution, progressed by American idealism and demonstrated by America's role in WWII and the Marshal Plan to rebuild Europe.
2. American innovation and entrepreneurial edge was demonstrated by its productive drive and the thrill of scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs, supported and enabled by the free capital system.
3. The unique universal reserve currency status of the American dollar began in the 20th century when control of land and sea was replaced with control of the universal currency, established at the time of the Bretton Woods Agreements.
With the complete destruction of Western Europe and Japan in WWII, this 3-legged base came into prominence. Upon examination, all three legs have now been challenged:
- Assertive foreign policy and Wall Street shenanigans in recent decades encouraged doubts about America's high moral ground.
- Globalization, outsourcing and the rise of China, India, Brazil and new middle powers emulating American productive engines presented increasing competition to America's economic prowess.
- The dollar believed to be as good as gold (and backed by gold until 1971) was tarnished and lost much of its value through decades of debt-driven prosperity.
With the three legs of the American hegemony challenged, the economic reset and the turmoil of 2008-2010 were experienced as a Monday morning hangover after a drunken late-night party. But America is a place of immense resilience, where greatness and opportunity find new pathways.
The American Regeneration
Leadership in the 21st century will be distributed. Models of distributed leadership will emerge globally as well as organizationally. In this sense the China - America rivalry narrative is misguided, driven by Old World paradigms ignorantly extrapolated into the future. To perceive the new design that is emerging we've got to overcome our obsession with sports metaphors and a bi-polar view of the world. This is not implying the end of competition. In fact, the 21st century is shaping up to be highly competitive and will give rise to new rules of engagement and a new design replacing the polarities of the 20th century.
The 21st century is about fantastic breakthroughs in science, innovation and the emergence of sustainable prosperity, facilitating a new age of enlightenment. These breakthroughs will help the world as we enter an age of global scarcity in 2020 and 2030. America's role in this transformation is different, but its regeneration is vital for global progress, prosperity and peace.Here are three propulsions for the regeneration of America and for leadership in the coming decades:
1. The ascendency of collaboration: Regenerating a hub of global collaboration expressed by:
- Solutions created by individuals collaborating in response to urgent needs
- Global and local collaborations of the three sectors: business, non-profit and government (think the Chilean rescue).
- Proliferation of multi-generational learning collaborations in the work place and in society addressing head on complex problems (think of the passion and intensity exampled on campuses of leading universities and in the work of pioneering NGOs).
- Inclusive culture of collaboration that brings together ethnic, religious and educational diversities and political adversaries in response to emergent change.
2. The ascendency of innovation: Transformative and regenerative innovation in science, technology and the arts expressed by:
- Breakthroughs in material sciences and nanotechnology.
- New solutions for scarcity of water and food, and new energy solutions (think safe nuclear everywhere, and ubiquitous, elegant, and affordable energy-harvesting solutions, such as: solar, ocean, algae, ammonia, thermal, wind, vibration and kinetic harvesting, and more).
- Breakthroughs in life sciences and in medicine and in the way we engage with our planetary, solar and galactic environment.
- Innovative developments in business and the evolution of a more intelligent, elegant, and sustainable democratic capitalism.
3. The ascendency of purpose: Regenerative renewal of idealism and purpose expressed by:
- Pragmatic idealism of getting things done locally and globally (think Silicon Valley and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
- New opportunity hubs that attract talent and catalyze social, spiritual and cultural renewal and a global and integral approach to well being.
- America's new ways of engagement in a shape-shifting world paradigm.
- The purpose expressed in the ascendency of collaboration and innovation and the frontiers these will help discover. Think of these propulsions as the currencies of the future:
- The currency of Collaboration
- The currency of Innovation
- The currency of Purpose
Curiously, despite the bad rap in this populist season, multinational corporations are some of the best places to observe this vortex of regeneration. They are laboratories of inclusivity and engagement, where collaboration and innovation ascend in purpose. Profit is the byproduct, not the reason for being. Still, the capital system, with all its imperfections, offers better opportunities for this evolutionary process than traditional religious and political institutions. In business, innovative collaboration that serves a purpose is the winning formula.
Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Find renewal in collaboration and innovation. Renew your sense of purpose. Become part of the ascendency of global regeneration and transformation as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.
© Aviv Shahar