June 11th, 2012

Abundance of Disaster?: What’s Missing in the Dialogue?

By Ron Nakamoto

This TED video of Paul Gilding’s recent talk “The Earth is Full” provides a stark contrast to Peter Diamandis’ talk on “Abundance” at the same TED conference. Gilding’s talk provides sobering, even frightening scenarios of crisis, civil unrest, and potential global chaos before human creativity and technology provide solutions (perhaps just in time, as Buckminster Fuller often said).

And here is Peter Diamandis’ talk, which I commented on in a prior blog post “What If Our Future Really is Abundance?”, March 20, 2012.

Interestingly, TED staged a short debate between Gilding and Diamandis. At one point, the moderator Chris Anderson says jokingly to Diamandis “Your hope is undermining his (Gilding’s) fear, which means that nothing’s going to get done.”

To me, Gilding expressed a cautionary, practical message to be conscious and not in denial about the major obstacles ahead. Diamandis avoided answering questions and instead, continued to preach his message of hope and belief in innovators and innovation. I think that Diamandis can be criticized, rightly or wrongly, for appearing to be blindly optimistic. Both messages were ultimately hopeful.

I had two main responses to this series of videos. First, I was reminded of Dan Sullivan’s entrepreneurial notion that the obstacles that we face are actually the raw material for the solutions. Applying Sullivan’s theory to Gilding’s talk suggests to me that we will need to deal with entrenched self-interested individuals, families, governments, and businesses in a way that shifts the way they think. We need to embrace the notion that there will be crises, chaos, and disruptions and use those obstacles as the fuel to generate solutions. This approach is different than Diamandis’, which seems to ignore and by-pass any focused, intentional thinking about the obstacles that we face.

Second, in response to Paul Gilding’s question about what the path will look like to get to a world that can sustain itself, Peter Diamandis made the statement. “I have very little confidence in governments and large corporations. I do have extraordinary confidence in the innovators that are out there…I don’t know where they are (or) who they are. But I do know that the more empowered individuals that we have on this planet, (and) the better connected they are, …that gives me confidence.” Later in the debate, Gilding uses the oil industry as an example of how moving governments and big corporations “out of the way” isn’t going to be easy and how, while solutions are possible, the entrenched self-interests of governments and large businesses make the possibilities of crises much more likely. This juxtaposition of empowered individuals with the large number of entrenched, self-interested entities and their constituents reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago in New Orleans.

Because of business dealings I was involved in at the time, I had a dinner meeting with a wealthy, influential man in the offshore oil business. His business had suffered as a result of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and he was adamant about cutting through any government red tape in order to return quickly to maximum production. When I asked him about the concerns that many had for the environmental damage to the Gulf and about the long term when there’s no more oil, his response was something to the effect that “there’s plenty of oil, enough for another 100 years, and then it’s my great, great, great grandchildren’s problem.” He went on to talk about how he was talking to his “friends in high places” about getting around regulations and getting his business going again.

Stewardship responsibility was completely absent in this conversation. Lee Brower began this company Empowered Wealth by asking the question, “What is my stewardship responsibility to wealth?” From that question emerged the Brower Quadrant, the Pillars of Sustainable Prosperity, the principles, concepts, and tools of Empowered Wealth, and the focus on empowering families. The commonality between Gilding’s message of caution and fear and Diamandis’ almost evangelical belief in innovators and innovation, to me, is the underlying idea of stewardship and the lack of it in public dialogue. Furthermore, the lack of stewardship in conversations about wealth, parallels this void in thinking and the conceptualization of stewardship generally. I agree with Diamandis that empowering individuals (i.e., entrepreneurs) holds a key to the solutions, to sustainability. And I agree with Gilding that a practical, problem-solving approach is necessary as we face the crises of the future. More than ever, these ideas point to necessary shifts in mindsets. One of the primary areas where shifts are necessary is in thinking about wealth. What does wealth really mean? What will it mean in the future? Here is where, I believe, the Empowered Wealth concepts of “True Wealth” and “Sustainable Prosperity” can add much to the collective dialogue and wisdom.

Ron Nakamoto

Leave a Reply