Focusing on focusing (alone) isn't working any more. It's time for Big Ideas!
This is the inaugural, and foundational introduction to the series. I share my POV that the world is in unprecedented jeopardy, and suggest a framework solution to mobilize those who want to make possible a new Age of Wonder.
Hello, I’m Bob Westrope.
I believe these things to be true.
We live in an Age of Abundance, where, for the first time we have the means to eradicate human suffering, want and need.
Our world is in unprecedented danger. Too many issues that must be dealt with simultaneously, from climate change to an all-out assault on democracy itself.
We have years – not decades - to prevail. To make possible a new Age of Wonder.
The root problem is a systemic, global leadership insufficiency.
We can’t rely alone on current systems and structures to address this insufficiency. It’s time for big ideas.
It’s on us to fix it - the BoomXers born from 1946-1980. We have the experience, networks, power, money, time and most importantly the motivation. It’s our children’s world. It’s our legacy.
Join me as I explore the big ideas needed to inspire our generation to action – ideas offered by leading thinkers, doers and activists united by the understanding that we all share one very small and very fragile planet.
Let's get started.
Thank you for joining me for our inaugural - indeed foundational - podcast of a series called BOOM! We Broke It, Let’s Fix It: Challenging BoomXer’s to Deliver on The Big Ideas Needed to Save The World by 2035
This is going to be the only monologue podcast I’m likely to deliver. So please bear with me.
You’ll see that I think the world is in serious jeopardy, that despite millions of well-intentioned people doing great things, it seems clear that all our aggregate efforts are not enough to deal with all things existential. Certainly not enough to bet our future, and our children’s future on it. I will argue that we need more than incremental solutions, that it’s time for great big, bold, audacious ideas AND vitally, the movement to connect, empower and mobilize them. Those of you who know me won't be surprised to hear that I think we have the blueprint for that movement.
And big ideas can’t always be expressed in 240 characters. Certainly - and famously – not by me. Sometimes one must listen/read and think. I’m going to ask you to do that today, for the next 30 minutes or so. I’ll never ask you to do that again. Just now at the beginning of our journey together. If you’re still with me at the end, I think this could be the beginning of something important!
Our world is very close to breaking. A long-anticipated pandemic emerged from Asia that still managed to catch the worlds leadership by surprise, spreading to virtually every country in just 15 weeks – providing a grim reminder that we do indeed share one very small and fragile planet. As I speak, over 200 million people around the world have contracted the disease, with almost 5 million dying from it. Economically, the cost is staggering, certainly in the scores of trillions of dollars past and future. Though the unprecedented cooperation of state and non-state actors around the world produced not one, but several ground-breaking vaccines, it has also become clear that a second and more dangerous pandemic of ignorance and inequity has been unleashed. Fault lines in the fabric of society with long historical tails have been revealed and amplified to shocking effect, no-where more clearly than the United States where too often an acceptance of science is ridiculed as elitist and snake oil ‘beliefs’ instead inform public policy.
It’s easy to forget the world that COVID hides, where again, just this summer the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comprised of nearly every country on the planet, has declared the climate catastrophe as real and irrefutable – a code red for humanity according to the UN Secretary General. Likewise, we have witnessed the anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-reality protests in every democracy, the odd and awkward denouement of Brexit, the pernicious creep of China’s militarization of the Indo Pacific and the darkly Orwellian claims of stolen and rigged elections by nearly half of the United States political elite. Of course, there is that and much, much, much more - the overwhelming deluge of news we each process every day.
It’s easy too to forget that we still – COVID notwithstanding - live in an Age of Abundance where, since the Industrial Revolution there have been exponential advances in science and technology that are now accelerating at a pace that is all but incomprehensible.
These gains mean that in the last 10-20 years we have crossed from one historic period to another – from the Age of Scarcity that defined the human experience since the dawn of time, to this new Age of Abundance. Until recently, it was the case that there was too little food, not enough doctors or teachers, not enough resource or infrastructure, not enough money for every human – that is simply no longer true. Where all the economic orders – Mercantilism, Communism, Capitalism – existed to ration scarce resources, today we can feed everyone, house everyone, educate everyone and provide healthcare to everyone. In fact, thought leaders such as Steven Pinker tell us that there has never been a better time to be a human – to be alive. By any measure – diet, education, mortality, income – more humans are leading materially better lives than was even the case 20 years ago.
And this is just the dawn of this new age.
But there is that ‘but’. Those same exponential advances in science and technology are also driving – directly and consequentially – the advent of profound stresses - environmental, socio-political, cultural, and economic, from the climate emergency to nuclear proliferation, to healthcare, education, law and social justice issues and income inequality to name just a few.
Humanity is at a pivot point – a convergence of many complex existential issues – where failure to successfully address any one of them is simply inconceivable. The societal turbulence resulting from these issues is being amplified by profound disruptions to labour markets caused by Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and healthcare – each in their own way challenging what it means to be a human being. This aggregate of issues is unprecedented. Our own eyes, and the warnings of many organizations – most notably the United Nations - tells us that we don’t have much time to address them.
It is increasingly clear that the world we live in today is being defined by a desperate competition between those that believe in the infinite possibilities of our future and the glory of human potential, versus those who instead seek comfort and security in the things they believe to be true from their perceived past. For all their contempt for each other, the radicalized ISIS recruit and the radicalized white nationalist have a great deal in common – the unknown future is to be feared and avoided, whereas the seduction of a highly curated, but known past, is to be embraced.
Though the latter are the smaller cohort in almost every democracy, we are seeing these numbers grow as we collectively realize that we are only just at the base of an exponential curve of increasing societal volatility. The post-modernist questioning of the truth that emanated from left-wing intellectuals in the 60’s has been co-opted instead by those cynically manipulating social discourse to exacerbate division in a way that is anything but intellectual. At all levels, the technologies that seek to enrich and simplify our lives, paradoxically and bewilderingly make them vastly more complex. The consequence of 240-character mass communication shows this to be so.
While it is tempting to point to iconic individuals in the moment as causal agents of the cancer of populism, we must (more helpfully) admit that they are in fact ‘just’ metastasized examples of the same disease. And, just as a life-threatening illness can cause depression in an individual, it seems clear that way-of-life challenges – real and perceived – are doing the same to our societies. As this malaise deepens to a generalized ennui amongst too many, we see the question raised ‘what can I as an individual do?’ not as a question, but rather a declaration that they intend to do nothing at all.
It is the social credit experiment of the People’s Republic of China that perhaps best illustrates the potential to retard or reverse the development of civil society – to not inconceivably ‘dead-end’ humanity. First announced in 2014, the objective of the program is to cement the belief that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful”, where ‘good’ behaviour (as defined by the state) is rewarded and ‘bad’ behaviour punished, by a co-opted and corrupted citizenry. The program requires that each new cell phone purchase triggers the mandatory registration of the owner’s face, and the subsequent gathering and processing of state and non-state data sources on them - from their primary school marks to their real-time social media activity - to establish that individual’s unique social credit score. In turn, the school your children can get into, the doctor they can see, the job you can apply to, the price you pay for car insurance, even where you can travel – is now all determined by your social credit rating.
This is not some theoretical Orwellian future. This system exists today, rendering the Uighur people as the first digitally imprisoned population in history. It is increasingly the exemplar for many around the world that see it as the foundation for not only autocratic governance, but of ‘illiberal’ democracies as purposefully defined by Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Moreover, in the techno-driven disruption of the near future, it is possible to imagine liberal democracies accepting similar controls if stressed by extreme economic distress or civil unrest. Especially when such distress and unrest is amplified and leveraged by bad actors both foreign and domestic.
For the first time in human history – in our near future - we can contemplate a state where effective organized opposition is simply no longer feasible (witness the Uighurs). In such a ‘dead-end’ state it is impossible to imagine that the pressing existential issues of our day can and will be addressed in a manner that secures the best possible future for humanity.
Is the prospect of a dystopian future certain? Certainly not. There is far more evidence in the wonder that is humanity to suggest that we will together find that best possible future. But still, the odds that our newly connected species will take a tragically errant step are uncomfortably high and getting higher. The possibility that that dystopian future might be even remotely possible means that all exertions must be made to guarantee that it is not.
I submit that the human species has 10 to 20 years to organize the conduct of its nations, cultures, economies, religions, ideologies, and people in such a way so as to be able to shape a positive future - all the while avoiding the daily catastrophes that have always dogged our path.
In a very short period of time, we need to connect, empower, and mobilize a global community of people who accept the possibility of both futures - and are united in their determination to transform community and domain leadership - from the classroom to the boardroom, to the legislature. To create a world marked by the pursuit of wonder as opposed to one of squalid mediocrity, to consider bold new ideas as inspiration to act.
In a world that is ever more tribal, we must acknowledge a new tribe, one that is inescapably and unapologetically global – one bound by a common humanist value system. However, unlike other tribes that seek to insulate and distance themselves from those around them, this tribe must seek to engage with all the people within those tribes who share a commitment to the future. From villages, towns, cities, and nations; from cultures, classes, religions, and ideologies; to the grand domains that are impacting us all, we must prevail in our pursuit of a future that can realize the full potential of our remarkable species.
This challenge would be audacious enough if we had a century to achieve our objective. But clearly, we don’t. Which begs the question, are we going to trust only the Darwinian marketplace of ideas to assure that enlightened humanity prevails by 2035? That is, that the millions of charities, non-profit organizations, NGO’s, social enterprises, governments, and other good actors all acting in good faith will somehow independently and in concert, avoid the dead-ending of humanity and our consequent ability to appropriately address all the noted issues in the time we have left?
Or do we bias for success humanity’s efforts by launching a purposeful, systemic, and global civic effort that connects, empowers, and mobilizes a community that is powerful enough to transform the world by 2035. A global scale initiative targeting the root cause of all existential issues – an insufficiency of leadership – just as the scientific community came together in 2020 to combat the COVID19 virus, and likewise predicated on the assumption that failure is not an option.
If then, we accept that humanity has many existential issues that must be dealt with simultaneously in a vitally short period of time, and that existing actors addressing these issues (no matter how well-intentioned they may be) are quite likely insufficient to the challenge, then very clearly, we need to look elsewhere for inspiration – and action. I believe that it’s time for Big Ideas. Big, gordian challenges (and opportunities) demand of our species nothing less.
Since the dawn of the information age, society has responded to exponential increases in data and network communications-driven complexity by breaking issue definition and consequent problem solving down into smaller and smaller so-called ‘workable’ elements. Our management lexicon speaks to this - the ‘skinny’, the ‘low-down’, the ‘one-pager’, the ‘executive summary’.
Historic initiatives that fomented inspiration, motivation, and support for grand projects – the New Deal, the Moonshot, the Human Genome Project – all risk based, `have been replaced by safe, incremental solutions that are too often in the end simply transactional, technical, and invisible to all, satisfying no one. While iteratively advancing the objectives sought, this strategy has resulted in the siloing and tunnel vision that underlies much of the duplication of scarce effort and resources we are witnessing today, and our consequent inability to tackle the great many pressing issues of the day.
Focusing on focusing isn’t working. It’s time for big picture thinking. And who better to challenge us to action than some of the leading thinkers – and doers - of our time?
At BOOM: We Broke It, Let’s Fix It, I will be inviting leading subject matter experts, thinkers, and doers to challenge all of us to action on a subject that they consider to be of vital, if not existential importance – from Arts & Culture to Sustainability & Energy Disruption. We will commit to seeking the greatest diversity of guests as possible, many of whom hopefully you will recognize as established thought leaders or subject matter experts - with several next-generation thinkers and activists introduced to you likely for the first time.
Each contributor will be asked to identify and define an issue within their domain of expertise that they believe must be addressed by 2035, and to then to offer their ‘big idea’ for the resolution to that problem. And most importantly, the guest will then be asked to issue a consequent challenge to a targeted cohort - one that is actionable and must be acted on by a specific date, no later than 2035.
That is, the contributors will be provided the following mandate:
Assume the following. Humanity has no longer than 2035 to fundamentally address the pressing issues of our time and the status quo ante interaction of government and business can’t/won’t deliver in time, and/or alone.
What do you believe to be the pressing issue in your domain?
What is your big idea? What do you propose ‘we’ do? How do these actions connect/relate to pressing issues in other areas?
Who needs to do what by when - government, business, NGO, other?? What happens if we don’t? Be specific.
A key unanswered question is – who is the ‘we’?
While it goes without saying that everyone has a role to play in assuring the survival of our species, this podcast series is targeted at what I call BoomXer’s, that is the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964, accounting for 53% of US wealth) and Generation X’ers (born 1965-1980 and accounting for 25%) that in the West at least, have the experience, power, money, connections, and time needed to transform the world. Almost all exhortations for transformational change are directed at the Millennials (born 1981-1995), who account for just 4% of US national wealth, despite making up the largest portion of the workforce – and since 2019 outnumbering Baby Boomers.
A foundational – and intentionally provocative - theme is based on the “you break it, you own it” principle. In other words, given that many of the world’s issues were at least exacerbated by BoomXer’s, I submit it’s on ‘us’ to ‘fix’ it. With Boomers being an average of 65 years old (my age in fact) and Xers’ 52, it suggests that we have something like 10-20 years of productive time left to do what we can as the generations that ‘own’ the problem to ‘fix’ the world – and to leave our children a far better legacy than is currently the stark reality.
In turn, in almost every country, those who consider themselves as not ideologically driven are the majority - often by a wide margin. And yet increasingly, the narratives defining our societies are being seized by extremists at the peripheries that are united by a common derision of the assumptions and values that follow. They are blinded by deeply held 'beliefs' that any genuine level of open-minded curiosity and diligence would instantly abandon.
With the global trauma of COVID-19 threatening to make worse already stressed social fissures, how humanity deals with the many existential challenges is increasingly in doubt.
So now is the time to state clearly, unambiguously, and unapologetically - it is an imperative that centrists prevail systemically and globally, within an historically short period of time.
To be a centrist does NOT mean one is neutral, it means that actionable solutions must be sought from across today’s ideological/political spectrum. Indeed, if we are to achieve the impact that we must, it means that such solutions will soon be helping to frame human-centered narratives in classrooms, police precincts, boardrooms, laboratories, and legislatures - with many political colours represented.
I have used the pronoun “I” thus far, which truly is a misnomer. This effort is the culmination of a five-year project involving nearly 1,000 people from 35+ nations who invested over 20,000 hours of their time and over $400,000 to devise, prototype and refine the model for a global coalition that has the capacity and means to effect systemic transformation at both the community and domain level to change the way leaders lead – from the classroom to the boardroom, to the legislature – by 2035.
Critically, a foundational product of that effort was a set of core assumptions and values which informed all aspects of our work, and notably, the selection of the guests we intend to present. They are:
We live in an Age of Abundance.
There has NEVER been a better time to be alive.
However, exponential advances in science and technology – and their impact on civil society - are creating a divide between those excited by the future and those who are afraid of it.
The same technologies that promise to liberate humanity threaten to constrain it.
The next 10-20 years marks an unprecedented pivot point for humanity, one path an ascent to limitless human possibility, the other to the evil of autocratic mediocrity.
The nexus problem is an insufficiency of leadership and the institutions they lead, that is systemic and global.
Given the constraint of time and legacy issues, neither government nor the private sector alone has the mandate or the resources to provide this solution. New ways must be found to assure transformational change.
The meta need is to connect, empower and mobilize a new cohort of leader-creators that is purposefully prepared and supported to assume the mantle of leadership – to systemically and globally change the way leaders lead and thus transform the world by 2035.
This existential challenge requires an exponential solution, a New Deal/Manhattan Project/Human Genome/Moonshot scale initiative – in turn comprised of a global ecology of systemic, local and domain efforts.
It is for the BoomXer’s to be the facilitators, incubators, and accelerators of this movement.
We believe we are each held to be responsible for, and accountable to, ourselves and each other. Thus empowered, we are obligated to conduct ourselves to better enable a future where in spirit and practice:
All persons are equal.
There is no basis for discrimination, prejudice, or violence against any person.
All persons have access to and enjoy the same voting rights.
All persons are free to express themselves as they wish, without threat, harm, or other negative repercussions.
All persons have the right to, and enjoyment of, personal security and property protection.
All persons have access to and enjoy the same right to privacy.
All persons have access to nutritious and affordable food, clean water, and clean air.
All persons have access to such education as is necessary to realize one’s needs and desires.
All persons have access to healthcare that provides for a long and well-lived life.
All persons can pursue a livelihood that provides for a productive, accomplished, and rewarding life, lived with dignity.
Those who cannot provide for themselves can access such means as allows for a life that is productive, accomplished and rewarding, and lived with dignity.
The natural world, including species and eco-systems, is precious and fragile and demands our protection.
This founding project was known as Leaders Expedition, and as the name suggests we concluded that the nexus problem in dealing with all the pressing issues of our time - is a lack of leadership. This is not to say from any arrogance or special insight that leaders today are failing, but rather to make the simple observation that current leadership cultures, narratives and practices are not working.
Indeed, we determined that the very concept of leadership needed to be substantively redefined – rejecting the very male, western, hierarchical command and control structures of the post-war world, for a to-be-defined state in which the leadership skills in each of us are developed and nurtured so that all of us are contributing citizens, and those who excel at leading are principled, informed, and agile enough to deal with the unprecedented complexity of our time.
Drawing on the best practices of mass movements, civic and business organizations, political parties and more, we determined that a nuanced eco-system needed to be created that had the purposeful capacity and resources to test, refine and nurture a great many theses and prospective solutions. Of vital importance, this organization needed the structure to be able to rapidly assess and share all learnings across an infinity of silos, and then materially support its members in the deployment of a myriad of initiatives – be they non-profit, charitable, governmental, for profit or hybrid. And given that the challenges that must be addressed are systemic and global, so too must be the scale, scope and reach of this venture.
In short, given the lack of time and the overwhelming challenges we face, we concluded that a Manhattan Project scale civic effort is required. To this end, the noted five years, and something like 20,000 hours were invested by almost 1,000 members from 35+ countries in the iterative development, testing and refining of an eco-system comprised of charitable, not-for-profit and social enterprise ‘legs’ that we believed had the very real potential to scale and thus transform leadership at both the local and domain levels – systemically and globally. We were in the process of fundraising to scale up this work when COVID 19 hit, which effectively forced our effort into hiatus.
This podcast addresses a key learning from that experience. We had looked to the many local and domain groups we created to define the specific challenge that they sought to address relevant to them, and to then be the authors of the consequent solutions. While this remains a core belief, it became apparent that we needed to prime the pump with inspiring ideas to kick-start and exponentially amplify and accelerate this process. BOOM! We broke it, let’s fix it serves that purpose, that is to inspire and ignite a global community that has all the attributes to make a world consistent with the spirit and substance of the values noted above.
Importantly, the ideas we will profile are NOT ‘the’ solutions to anything. Instead, they are exemplars of the great many competitive ideas that all warrant rapid, purposeful testing, refinement, sharing and where appropriate, implemented with a powerful bias to succeed.
Allow me then to posit the first, and foundational Big Idea.
I believe that existing structures and systems – governmental, for profit and non - are insufficient to the challenge of addressing alone the weight of issues we face today. Moreover, I believe that humanity’s operating assumption must be that we have just years left to substantively start to address these issues, and that first amongst these is the assault on democracy. To contemplate the defeat of just, equitable and robust governance mechanisms with an acceptance of knowledge and science at their core is to contemplate the failure of our species, for none of the other existential issues can thus be addressed.
Just as the prospective threat of an ‘extinction level’ asteroid impact in 2035 would be met with an unprecedented global effort to assure humanity’s future, so too must be our response to the very real threat we face today – an existential leadership insufficiency. The Leaders Expedition blueprint demonstrated that a scalable model for a global civic movement exists and that there is a great diversity of motivated citizens at all levels eager to join and fuel such a grand enterprise. We did the work; we have the plan. We know our message resonates. All we need is the money.
So, my challenge to the listeners of this podcast series will be twofold.
First, to my BoomXer peers inspired by the Big Ideas that will follow, and are likewise fearful of the consequences of inaction, of allowing the voices of those at the edge of our societies to determine our destiny - are you ready to commit your passion, experience, and time to help ignite a global civic movement? To transform the way leaders lead by 2035?
Second, to the capital class of every nationality, those ultra-high-net-worth individuals who are inspired by the possibilities presented herein but acknowledge too that those possibilities – and much, much more - can only be made real by the judicious and sustained employment of their private capital. Sadly, there are too many of your peers who self-interestedly incubate and promote the nationalist populist agenda that clearly has the momentum worldwide, and even the metastasizing terrorism that threatens us all from society’s edges.
Are you the heroic citizen prepared to join with your peers to make real a new global, leadership community, one powerful enough to transform leadership cultures, practices, and narratives – from the classroom to the boardroom, to the legislature?
The powerful and provocative call-to-actions we will be presenting are just the first step. The next is to make real a powerful community that possesses all the attributes necessary to assure that our children and grandchildren thrive in a world of abundance.
Finally, the logical question to ask is – who am I to be hosting this podcast? The answer in part, is that this moment is the moment in which I must act. Beyond that, I am pretty much everyone.
I am 65 years old, a new and delightfully happy grandfather and have the great good fortune to be sharing life with my lovely partner. Born and raised in the Toronto area to working class parents, I had what can only be described as an eccentric work history. From army reservist in high school, and then jail guard (to earn money for university), to co-founder of a Big Five e-commerce practice to raising – and then losing - tens of millions of dollars in a venture to provide a more consumer centric way for people to shop online.
What had the potential to be a defining failure at 55 years of age, instead occasioned the redefining of me. And though this process was not without pain to me and those closest to me, it did lead me to conclude that almost all of us have moments of time, where our actions can have amplified – sometimes dramatically so – impact.
I was fortunate to be mentored through this process by someone who inspired me to see that in that moment, at that time, I had the capacity to affect – to catalyze – transformative change. I had the experience, the resources and most importantly, the time to make something happen that at the moment was not. That led to the founding of Leaders Expedition by a great many founding members, but with me as the catalyst.
During the short life of Leaders Expedition, I witnessed how succeeding waves of members leveraged and advanced the work of those before them to rapidly move initiatives from concept to prototype to execution. Each generation, standing on the shoulders of those before them. Each in their moment, in their time, affecting change in their way.
My role – my moment in time - is to catalyze a purposeful, global, systemic response by my BoomXer peers to an existential leadership insufficiency. It will remain for others far more qualified and certainly much younger than me to step forward to help frame and lead this effort. Beyond that however, heroic citizens from all walks of life and every corner of the world must come together and, inspired by the powerful challenges to be presented in this podcast series, connect, and empower the community that can deliver on these – and an infinity more – by 2035. Each standing on the shoulders of their peers.
As you are inspired by these podcasts, ask yourself the question: “is this my moment in time” to make a difference? If the answer is yes, then let’s DO something about it."
So, that’s the end of the monologue - you made it! With my sincere thanks! If our message resonates, there is something you can do for us right now. As needs be done these days, please ‘Follow’ and/or ‘Like’ this podcast wherever you find it. The reality is that Follows and Likes are the new currency of power. Then I’d ask you to share the link to this and our subsequent podcasts with as many family, friends, peers and colleagues as you can.
I hope that this is the start of something impactful, a mission of missions. We have a North Star – our core values – and a rough map (the learnings from the LEx project). But like all great explorations, I have no idea what the destination will look like when we get there. Please join us as we discover and share the big ideas to transform our world, and together lay the foundation for the community that can – and must - deliver on them.