Christian Kromme: The world needs a reset. Nature shows us the way.
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.
This might not come as a surprise, but I’m an unapologetic trekkie. Not the kind dressed up as Worf, standing in line at the next Trekonderoga Convention in Vegas – though I’m not judging, but one who has embraced the central tenets of the Federation since the first episode aired on NBC on September 8, 1966. From the original Star Trek to the newest and quite exceptional instance, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the enlightened principles of liberty, equality, justice, progress, and peaceful co-existence have shaped my view of humanity’s possible and wanted future.
To be clear, early experiences as a jail guard, a cold war army reservist and 50+ years of life in general did much to temper any excess naiveté I may have been inclined towards, but I can’t escape the reality that my faith in humanity – in life really – always traces back to the human, courageous, hopeful and always optimistic examples of my favourite protagonists, from Jim Kirk to Kathryn Janeway. Through the Cold War, the collapse of communism, both Gulf wars, 9/11 and the clumsily tragic war on terror, and of course so much more, I always retained my interest in scientific and technological developments, as we inched towards the wonder that we saw when the first Enterprise launched in 2245.
As I came to appreciate the work of Ray Kurzweil and his law of accelerating returns, that is the inevitability of exponential advances in science and technology, I concluded that if we didn’t kill ourselves first, the reality of Star Trek might very well be realized much sooner than that. From replicators to warp speed travel, virtually nothing in our time seems beyond the realm of possibility, with the inventors of smart phones, tablets, virtual reality, invisibility cloaks, 3D printing and artificial skin all admitting that it was Star Trek that inspired them.
If the technology of the Federation has so clearly inspired now generations of inventors, it’s less clear that it has likewise inspired our socio-political leadership. At least perhaps, not as effectively. Critics argue that the Federation is socialist, and that it’s one-earth government is somehow anti-democratic. Personally, I always found those criticisms dim-witted. It’s always been clear to me at a very intuitive level that life in the Federation reflected a post-capitalist and innately democratic world, one based on an age of abundance, where the material wants and needs of every human can be addressed. It’s also been clear that there’s a systemic collapse that we need to avoid as the precondition to the safety, security and affluence enjoyed by the citizens of earth in 2245. Trek lore tells us that WW3, running from 2026 to 2053 cost humanity 600 million lives, a scrap of fiction that now does not seem preposterous at all. And the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, never ever conceived of the threat of climate change, nor the societal consequences of the corruption and consequent erosion of capitalism as the foundation of democracy.
In the fictional rubble of that WW3, earths leaders admitted the obvious truth that we all inhabit one world. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, share the same atoms. I don’t know if nation states were eliminated – they seem to exist as far as I can tell – but I’ve never understood the fear of democratic one world governance. In such a world one can still be a proud Manchester United fan, or New Yorker, or German. What the critics don’t get is that true globalism provides for greater fragmentation, that in a hyper-connected world smaller and smaller hyper-localized social and political structures are feasible, giving towns, cities and states or provinces greater autonomy and greater importance. Not less.
As I worked on Leaders Expedition from 2015 to 2019, I realized that there was a very high correlation between being a trekkie and having the imagination to see a future of peace and prosperity for all. Of looking to a future Age of Wonder for inspiration and guidance, rather than to a better future impossibly defined by one’s imagined past.
At the root of so much of our division, is a lack of imagination. Exponential change is now a fact of living. But the safest bet for too many is to never leave one’s metaphorical house. To view the outside world, and most importantly our neighbours, as threats to be avoided or better yet countered. But most of us know that is silly, dangerous – I would argue even evil. Human growth has always been to explore, to press outward and inward. Most of us know that nurturing and following through on one’s native curiosity bears the richest of life’s rewards. It follows that from the exercise of curiosity, one needs to adapt to one’s environment. To thrive rather than just survive, one needs to imagine and anticipate the needed adaptation – otherwise one is caught in the hamster-wheel of reacting to the pressures bearing on you, inevitably succumbing to the law of diminishing returns. If you can anticipate and create the context in which you avoid the negative stimuli, and thus promote positive outcomes – you win.
The problem is that our leaders, and the institutional eco-systems they both drive and are products of, lack the capacity, even the mandate to imagine. Their job is to first assure the survival of the institution or institutions from which they came. It is only then to promote the stability of the system, and certainly not to change it. In an age of exponential change, something bordering on chaos, the result is that both our notion of leadership and the underlying structures of leadership can’t adapt to the howling winds of change. And just like the trees that won’t yield to these winds, they very likely will break.
My thoughts turned to the wonder and hopefulness I felt as a child watching Captain Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise, as I considered my next guest. One with great imagination and the courage to act on it, compelled by the conviction that humanity has no other choice but to do likewise. Futurist Christian Kromme was an innovative tech entrepreneur for 15 years before he discovered the DNA behind disruptive innovation and how to use this to predict the next big wave of technological dislocation. A TEDx speaker and bestselling author, Christian shares his concept of Humanification by giving lectures, keynotes and inspiration sessions for companies and organisations around the world. We are most fortunate to have him here today.
Okay, Christian, what is your big idea?
My big idea in a few short lines is that we should realign with nature. I think we have evolved into a society that is misaligned with nature on many aspects, how we live, how we heal ourselves, how we collaborate - all these things. And I think we have to start to look at how nature solves problems and realign with that way of working. If we do that, if we can do that in the next 5 to 10 years, then we have a bright future ahead. If we don't, we have some issues to solve, global issues, on energy on sustainability - all these things. So basically, its alignment with nature and realignment. We are nature, human beings are biological beings, but we have separated ourselves from nature, and we have started to act as something that is above nature. I think that's a big mistake. And if we see nature for what it is, and see ourselves for what we are, we can realign, and solve I think the biggest issues that we have had.
If you were to break that down into discrete blocks or issues that we could look at, what would you think exemplifies what you're talking about?
I think the use of resources is one of the biggest things. Nature never wasted resources. Nature is like a big 3D printer; it uses waste from the environment and creates new products from it. From dust, you're born, and you go to dust again, plants and animals are built from that. We can learn a lot how nature is solving that problem. Second, I think is energy. Nature gets energy from the sunlight, from photons, not from big energy networks or industries that generate energy. And the third one is collaboration. If you look at nature, cells in our body for example, we are a community of trillions of cells working together in harmony. We can learn so many things from it. Those are the three biggest issues at this moment that we must solve. Collaboration in a harmonious and natural way, solving our energy issue, how we generate energy to sustain our societies, sustain or build products, or build homes, and be more regenerative. So, to use the waste products of previous products to create new products, in a completely closed loop, just like nature does. We also must look at our history, how we have evolved as a species. I think we can learn a lot from that. We are, for the first time, at this moment of global crisis, which is a real danger, I think, for the existence of human beings - that has never happened before. We made a pretty mess of it, and now we have the challenge. I think we can do it, but we have to collaborate to do that - to solve that issue.
That would be the $64,000 question – “how to collaborate?” If you were to imagine the world that you imagine in your head, and that we need to make in the next five to ten years - describe the world that you want your kids to inhabit?
Let's start with education. If you talk about my kids today, they are struggling, they don't fit into the system. I think the system should fit around a person. I’m currently involved in a startup that builds a swarm organization. It's a new kind of organization, that puts you at the center of the whole journey of your learning journey, or personal development journey. We start to look at - what is your purpose, what is your passion, what are your values? Based on that, we start to coach you and help you to grow as a person, That's the way we should start to transform. I think if we have organizations that work like that, that put you in the center of your own ecosystem so that you can focus on the things that you like, and other people with other skills are making you whole, to help you to fill in the gaps, then we have a completely different society.
A decentralized society, where human beings are at the center of almost everything; education, health care, the way we live, the way we generate some kind of economic value. I think that the society of the future will be completely decentralized, decentralized governance system, a decentralized financial system, decentralized educational and healthcare system. Just like nature, solve problems on a local scale, and share information on a global scale. Everything that we discover should be shared using the web, but we solve problems on a local scale. Generate our own food in a local hub, create our own products in a local hub with a 3D printing unit or something like that. Education should be solved within a small hub. And these hubs are interlinked with each other, and they communicate with each other with the speed of light, almost. That's how nature works. If you look inside your body for example, or how plants and animals work, their cells replicate each other, they communicate with each other, they have the same kind of language, they use the same kind of DNA, just like the cells in our body. It can grow exponentially fast without misusing all kinds of resources.
It's a completely different society than we have today. Today, we have a centralized, hierarchical society. Everything that we have is structured in pyramids, in hierarchical structures. If you look at healthcare, education, governments, or the financial world, almost everything; that's one of the biggest problems that we have. All the other things are, I think symptoms of the root cause, and the root cause is centralized mindsets, hierarchical mindsets, that result in poor people versus very, very rich people, people that have and people that don't have. If you are in a more inclusive environment, like the swarm, where everyone is valued for who he is, because you are the center of your ecosystem, then we have a completely different kind of society, which is fully inclusive, which is regenerative, sustainable, which is all about personal development.
There have been many studies done about when people become happy. It's not about buying a new car, a new home, because if you have this car, you're already looking at the next one, or the next yacht. Long term happiness is about personal development, to become who you can become, follow your purpose, follow your passion. If we have a society that is focused on that goal, on human relations and strengthening those relations, then we have the society of the future. I think in the next five to ten years, we are at a tipping point, moving towards that kind of society. As you can imagine, it's a very rough turning, it's almost a U turn - we go from one end to the other end. And I think we are in for some quite some struggle in the next few years. We already see with COVID, with resource scarcity, economic problems, inflation, all these things are adding up. It's incrementing. I think that until the fabric of our society starts to change, that we start to create a new kind of society, which is created bottom up, not top down, but bottom up. I think in the current environment, the ‘top’ is a part of the problem, because it's a hierarchical system. So, I think we have some challenges ahead, especially in the next five, to ten, to twenty years.
For some time, I've described it as a leadership insufficiency. I hate to say that leadership is incompetent or corrupt or anything like that. But I think it's fair to say that leadership models aren't working, and those leadership models in turn are based on the institutions that we've built from church, to government, to unions to whatever, and we have these, increasingly, institutional insufficiencies - that our institutions are less and less relevant to this new world that you're describing. The tension or the friction you talk about is something that resonates with me. Clearly COVID is one example, I would even include the war in Ukraine. There's a contest between those that broadly would agree with your vision of the future, would be excited by that, and would see in it the world that they would like to bring their kids up in. But it also seems that there are a lot of defenders of those existing leadership models and there's a lot of defenders of those institutional models. When people like you and I talk about transforming institutions, those people say the institutions are just fine. We need to return to that.
Something about your vision I find interesting is that it's hyperlocal - local manufacturing, the focus on the individual at the local level etc. But I'm somebody, and I think you are too, that I consider myself a globalist. I see my citizenship as human, more than Canadian, in my case. I mean, I'm proud of being Canadian, but identifying as human is to me more important. How do you reconcile those things? How do you reconcile the local versus global perspective, especially within the context of, as you say, all these social frictions that we're seeing?
Well, I think we are all astronauts on the spaceship Earth, we are all humans - that is what we have in common. I think geographical separation in countries or tribes is something from the past. One of the goals that you see today from the World Economic Forum and large institutions that are pushing towards this globalism, is to erase those borders, to make everything a level playing field. We need to create a new kind of society where we are one big society, instead of all kinds of small tribes fighting each other, and having different opinions and different religions. I think we need to become one big family, and to realize that we are all human beings, that we are part of one bigger system, that the earth is also a living system. It's letting go of old habits, old values, of being part of a community, being part of a tribe of a country - and being proud of that. There's nothing wrong with it. But I think it's something from the past. We now have a global nervous system we call the Internet. If something happens on one side of the world, we will know it on the other side, within minutes or seconds. So, we start to become one big organism where the infrastructure is organized to act like one big system. We should start to act like the cells within that organism, but by keeping our own identity, our own self-identity, so that each cell is doing its own thing with its own values, focusing on its own purpose. By doing that, it's serving the bigger whole. I think that we should move towards a society that is doing exactly the same. People should be aligned with their purpose. And if you are really aligned with your purpose, then you do something which is beneficial for your environment, and for the ecosystem that you're in. Today, we are not doing that, because we are working to pay the mortgage, and to pay the bills, and the gas bills which are going exponentially higher. If you can transform to that kind of organization, organism as you will, global organism, then we solve a lot of the symptoms that we have today, the struggles between religions, between countries, scarcity of resources, all these things.
Technology will be able to help us to do that. Ten years from now you can have a holographic version of yourself, where you can have a call with someone in Canada, for example, and it feels like that person is in the same room. Your brain will instantly get it and say “okay, this person is here, we have a conversation,” and it will be without any delays. With holographic technology, we will be able to communicate like one big system with the speed of light, and I think that will solve so many problems that we have.
You refer to the leadership issue, but I think it's more of a systemic issue. I refer to the evolutionary waves of biological organisms. In my model, we have seven waves, and every fourth wave (the half way point), there's a tipping point, if you will. In the last seven waves, the turning point was with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are a big, institutionalized group of cells, which are hardwired to hunt and eat and grow and become bigger. That's basically the same as the organizations of today. They are dinosaurs and they are hardwired. The people in them are nice people, but if they operate in the system, they behave like people with the wrong intentions - banks or the financial system. In evolutionary terms, if there's no free will, if a system is hardwired, then it's a dead end for evolution, and I think now we have reached a dead end for the evolution of organizations. Look at the big corporates, governments, all are institutionalized, they are systems which are hardwired to only do one thing, “let's control, grow bigger and have more profits” - so eat and grow like dinosaurs. That's a dead end. Therefore, we need to evolve that structure into more mammal-like, or ape-like, or human-like organizations, which have much more empathy and emotion, and are not hardwired, but are able to adapt their own wiring. If you look at a dinosaur or reptile, they're hardwired, all of their behavior is fixed. A mammal, an ape, or human being, is able to restructure the neural parts in his brain by learning new habits. Organizations should do the same.
We are, I think, moving towards a bright future, but the tipping point will be quite hard, especially for the people who are used to the old world. If you ask people to solve a problem in a different way, the first thing they start drawing on the on the wall is a hierarchy, who is the boss, who will who will be in charge? That's so ingrained in our brain - our parents, the priest, the teacher, everything in our life has hierarchy. We should now leave that and let go that model.
It’s interesting. I agree with so much of what you say, not everything of course, but so much of what you say resonates with an initiative I call the DEMOS Project. Our value system, our tenets, our core assumptions - they're very resonant with sort of the vision you're talking about. But to so many people, the language you're using, is almost alien. You talk about autonomous vehicles and AI, but even in those cases, most people aren't aware of the impacts of the exponential advances that have been made. Never mind talking about man-machine integration, and holograms in ten years. It strikes me that only a tiny fraction of the world's population actually understands the language you're using. And the next question is who’s listening? Of the institutions, the companies, that you have spoken to, who “get’s it?”
In the last, I think, six or seven years, I've keynoted in front of, I think, 500,000 people in total. And what I do is I communicate in images. I'm a dyslexic person, I hate language. But my strong point is making things visual. So, when I talk in my keynote, it's almost like watching a documentary with very nice animations and illustrations and videos. My voice is like a ‘voice over’ explaining the images, and most of the images are pictures from nature. The pictures are so simple to understand that people get it instantly. But the big problem is, I only speak in front of the executives and management teams of large companies like Microsoft, Shell, these big old companies. People in charge of these companies want to change, but they have a big issue, changing the institutional systems because there are good leaders, they know what to do. But it's very hard to change an organization like that. They get my language, they get the urgency, they get the message. But it's very hard problem for them to change the organization, the structure of it, because they are only one tiny cell in a very large organism. I think that's the biggest issue - I'm currently working on a movie, which makes the message very easy to consume for a much larger audience. I'm working at the online Future Proof Academy, that's also speaking in a very visual, easy to understand language, I don't use jargon, and use simple examples, most of them from nature, as I tried to do my best to make the message as simple as possible.
But the biggest problem that I come across with all these organizations is they cannot imagine the future. They're so stuck in their current mindset, in the current way of thinking that they cannot think out of the status quo, they cannot think outside the hierarchical system. My challenge is to create some kind of experience where people have some kind of anchor in the future, that you start to feel how it could be. If you can start to imagine it, then you can start to create it, and you can start to manifest it. That's the biggest role here - to help people to visualize the future, to make it tangible, to make it logical for them. If people start to belong to it, or start to want to go there, then they found their own way towards it. But that's a very hard job because people are so stuck in the current system. It's thinking in hierarchies, rich versus poor, CEO’s versus working people, that's so deeply ingrained in all the institutions that we had in the past centuries, that it's very hard to switch. I think that the biggest challenge that we have is to inspire people to create a different kind of society, different kinds of government, a different kind of healthcare system. So, yes, some challenges ahead for us.
That's for sure. Let's switch gears and start talking about how to actualize on the vision you're talking about, how to make it real. This was the point I was starting to make and then lost my thought - the words, your vision resonates, but I hear that we have 5, 10,15, 20 years, it doesn't really matter, that's not a lot of time. That's a that's a blip on any historical or evolutionary scale. So, we have very little time, we're agreed on that. You talked about a digital asteroid, a metaphorical asteroid coming. I wonder what humanity would do if it was a real asteroid. It would pull out all the stops to assure that we do everything we can to avoid being wiped out. A challenge I see is that there are a great many actors like you saying we have 5,10,15 or 20 years - or else? The ‘answer’ is the sort of self-forming organic solutions that you talk about, which I agree with, but on the other hand, I don't see that happening unless there is a Manhattan Project scale initiative, or the kind of collaboration that happened around the COVID vaccine or around Kennedy's moonshot - examples of grand projects. I wonder how realistic is that that sort of organic, self-forming, self-realizing evolution that you're talking about happens? You're basically standing there looking at your watch and saying, “this must happen in the next five to 10 years.” It strikes me that it’s not going to happen unless there's an extraordinarily purposeful effort behind that. As you're thinking about how to actualize this big idea, what is your call to action, within that context of doing it organically as opposed to purposefully?
Well, I think that Manhattan Project is already on its way. We just don't see it. I think as you look at the totalitarian and autocratic movements that are currently happening - that's a movement in one direction. In nature, you always have a direction of force and a counter force. What you see today is that there's an enormous amount of people starting to gather in self organizing groups, that don't yet have the tools to organize in a very efficient way like the cells do. That Manhattan Project is already happening, but it's not coming from our governments, it will not come from governments, they're already doing their thing. They see that society is becoming more chaotic, and what they do as a result is seek more control, more power, more force. That force will be the initial force to create a counter force, which is bottom up, which is self-organizing. In the crisis in 2008, the credit crisis, we saw that the centralized systems almost collapsed the financial systems. As a result, we saw the crypto markets emerging. Decentralized, autonomous systems that can do transactions, mortgages, all these things, using a decent price system. I think that the force that we saw coming from governments and the failing banking system, produced a counter force, which is now becoming mature as we see today. That is the force, which will evoke a reaction, a counter force, which is bottom up - from the people. I have joined many of these small groups, which are think tanks and not activist groups, but groups that want to create a different kind of decentralized society. They all have good purposes, good intentions, but fall apart because they don't know how to self-organize.
This is the biggest issue that we must solve, because if we can do that, that counter movement can grow exponentially fast. Just like a cell, you put the cell in a petri dish, and it starts to duplicate. If the core is right, the DNA is right and pure, then it starts to duplicate and then you can create a bigger organism. The same will happen if you have system algorithms and technology that help people to organize in a more fluid way, like nature does. If we can solve that single issue, then we can solve our centralized energy issue, we can solve our centralized healthcare system, we can solve our centralized education system, we can solve our centralized government system, centralized financial system. The only way to solve the problems that we have is to rebuild those systems, but with a decentralized technology. Therefore, we need to learn to work decentralized. I'm currently involved in a startup, it's called symbiosis, symbiotic systems. And this startup is developing a platform for people to self-organize. It's inspired by how our universe organizes itself, from the smallest atoms to the largest galaxies, it’s all about self-organization. Our universe creates ecosystems, ecosystems of atoms, ecosystems of molecules, ecosystems of cells, ecosystems of organisms, and now ecosystems of organizations. These ecosystems enable each individual within a system to focus on its purpose. What we currently should do to help nature a little bit is to create technology that helps human beings act like the cells in our body, to collaborate. If we solve that problem, then all the other things will be solved as a result, because they are symptoms of our centralized hierarchical system. It sounds very small, but it's actually a very big challenge to let people collaborate in a natural way and keep them together based on that purpose. That's quite a challenge.
Your word tools. My last guest was David Price OBE, internationally known educator, and he was talking about the challenge that he saw in the education space. We were talking about that organic, bottom-up approach of doing what governments seem unable to do, what other actors seem unable to do. We ultimately determined that it was a lack of tools - that there's lots of people willing to work on the challenge, but the tools to do so are absent. I'm intrigued that you use the term tools as well. Your powerful metaphor of nature as the model that we should be replicating, for example as in a petri dish, there's normally some sort of media or scaffolding that allows for the assembly of molecules on top of that. It's that scaffolding that seems to be missing, an organic set of tools, a foundation that seems to be missing. You're saying that this is what is required? Is that right?
Yes, that's absolutely right. And this foundation is the same in education, in health care, in all these things, the foundation for self-organization. And self-organization is quite hard to do. We can do it within groups of six or seven people, but above that, we need some kind of structure. Then the next level is 50 people. In nature, we don't see groups larger than 50 individuals in hierarchies. We see that with apes, the wolf pack with the alpha wolf, and we see it with human beings. But human beings are smart enough to build multiples of 50 individuals on top of each other, we call them departments. Then we build a larger structure, which is slow and not agile enough.
We need to reimagine how we collaborate, and we should look at nature, at how nature solves things. I am inspired by Nikola Tesla, a very wise man who solved many of the problems that we have today with his energy systems. He said that if you want to understand the universe, you only have to understand three things - frequency, resonance and energy. What we are doing with our platform, we are measuring people with all kinds of self-tests - what is your frequency, what is your unique tone, what is the tone of your instrument that you're playing? We can do this with all kinds of self-tests, because most of the tones in your grey area you don't know yourself, your talents, you're not aware of your own talents, because they are natural to yourself. Then we start to match people with the same frequency, and if there is the same frequency, there's resonance, and when there's resonance, energy is transformed. And energy in the form of transactions, starting startups, collaboration, all these kind of things can be measured as energy. So basically, what we're building is a resonance agent that helps people to identify their own frequency using all kinds of self-development tools and the self-test. When your frequency is known, we put you in a database. Then the algorithm starts to match people that are beneficial for each other, that can help each other out. Then we start to create ecosystems where everyone is the center of their own ecosystem. Each octave on a piano keyboard consists of eight tones, and the eighth tone is the first tone of the next seven, so each tone is unique, and all the others complement that tone within the octave. That is what we're trying to do. We try to create octaves within spheres of peoples that complement the other spheres, together to create a larger whole. It's quite abstract as I say it, but with an orchestra for example, you have a conductor, which is not the boss, but you have all kinds of individuals who are playing their own instruments and playing the instrument with passion. By doing so you create a greater bigger whole, you can play a symphony, you can play all kinds of symphonies. That's what we try to recreate within four organizations. So, a symphony of human beings, if you will, but it's quite a hard challenge, because it's all about personal development, about discovering your own pitfalls, your own strengths, your own value. It's basically the way to discover who you really are, and what kind of people you need around you. That algorithm helps to do that at a faster pace than that, then that is happening naturally. As you can understand, it's quite a challenge because people have to learn new habits, they have to change themselves. In order to work in these kinds of organizations you have to be flexible, you have to be emotional, vulnerable, creative, all these kinds of things. Emotional Intelligence is very important because you have to stay connected with people in good times and also in bad times. So it's focusing on the soft human skills that we start to develop. That's quite a hard thing to do for many people, including myself.
You are a self-described optimist, that's clear. I hear you arguing that we really don't have a choice - that we have to substantively transform ourselves and do that in a very short period of time. That's at the root of this polarization that we're witnessing. There's a coming - I don't like the word - revolution, because I'm actually fearful of revolutions, which is a reflection I think, of my age versus yours, but your vision to me, substantively needs to prevail, we have to do everything we can to assure that something like your vision prevails in the next 5,10 or 20 years. You keep referring to that as a ‘challenge’. I think that's being polite, a Dutch or English response - we're both the same way. It's more than a challenge - it's an existential pivot that we have to get through, and “our” side has to prevail. How do you imagine that happening?
Well, I think it's a force of nature. If you put a couple of bacteria in a petri dish, they start to grow until they reach the end of the petri dish, and then in an instant moment they stop. They say, “this is the largest that we can grow, we’ve used all of our resources – we need to stop growing.” Then they go back, not to the to the edges, but then they stop growing. I think the same will happen within our societies, we will have some kind of trigger, quite intensive, which helps us to realize that it’s now or never. I think it's evolutionary, it's inevitable, it's going to happen. The biggest question is, are you going to be part of it or not? If you look at the transformation from the caterpillar to the butterfly, within the cocoon, it's a very harsh process. The caterpillar eats 200 times its own weight, then it starts to transform into a cocoon, where the outside becomes very hard and strong and solid, like governments and other institutions, and the inside becomes chaotic, it becomes a soup of cells, nutritious cells, not a caterpillar, nor butterfly - they are somewhere in between. And then what happens is that the small cells, imaginal cells, start to emerge, and they have the blueprint, the DNA of the butterfly. At first, they are attacked by the old soup of cells, which are mainly still in the caterpillar mindset. The immune system starts to destroy these strange cells, because it's a strange, it doesn't belong here. As a result, more of these imaginal cells start to appear and they start to connect in bigger systems. Then there is a trigger moment within that cocoon. That trigger moment is a very dense, intense moment where a lot of cells die, they cannot make the jump from the caterpillar to the butterfly. The cells that are left over are attaching to those imaginal cells. They start to build the main structure of the butterfly. And then the butterfly tries to break out of the cocoon, if you try to help the butterfly, then it will die. It needs to build the strength to do it itself, so that it can fly afterwards. I think we are exactly in that point - just before that intense trigger point. I don't know what exactly it will be, but I think there will be a very intense event that will have a trigger effect, and people will then need to choose which side they are on. I think that will happen in the five next 5 or 10 years. The tipping point will happen – after that things will become easier, but we are not yet there. So yes, long term I'm very positive, but in the short term, I see quite some challenges and challenges is an understatement. A harsh time, I think.
Then the question is who prevails? Listening to you reinforces a POV that I’ve developed that it's not about convincing people that your vision or something like it is the ‘right’ one, I think it's about showing by example, I think the way ‘we’ succeed is by leading by example, walking the walk, talking the talk and showing a better way. One of the things that frustrates me is my observation that if you look at the people who believe as you do, at those CEOs that hire you because they agree with you, these are the most successful people on the planet. It’s ironic to me that the innovators, the most accomplished individuals, tend to skew towards a vision such as yours. At the same time, the institutions - those hierarchical dinosaurs to use your language – they are just simply less successful. Their lack of resilience is increasingly obvious. So one would think in that environment, it would be easier to attract people as opposed to convince them to show them a better way. Any thoughts on that?
Yes, myself, I was talking for 5,6,7 years, and tried to inspire people. That worked for a while, but I think the next step is to build that startup that helps people, to give people the tools to do it themselves. That's the thing that we have to do. And that's the hardest way, it's very easy to talk about it and say, that's the way that we should go, but walking that that route yourself is quite hard and challenging. I'm currently trying to learn all kinds of new habits for myself to see. Try to suppress your ego. Last year we sold our house, our cars, everything we owned. We now rent a house. It's about doing it ourselves, to be those imaginal cells, we have to build that basic structure of the butterfly. There comes a point when the rest of society starts thinking, “okay, which side do I choose” the side that is collapsing, or the new promising side, which is starting to look like a butterfly, it's not yet there, but it starts to look pretty promising. And they start to choose that one. And more and more people start to choose for the alternative. We already see the reduction of the number of crypto wallets as following the same curve as the adoption of the internet. At the beginning, people like Bill Gates said of the Internet, “that's nothing, it's not going to be successful.” People today are saying the same about Krypto and decentralized systems. But it's happening, people are building it. I think the most important thing that you can do, even if you are not an activist, is every time, every minute of your day, every dollar that you spend is a vote towards the old system or the new system. I choose to vote for the new system every minute, with every dollar, every euro I spend. So yes, that's the advice that I give people. Even if you have the feeling, “I cannot do anything,” you can do something – then it’s a question of numbers. If many people start to do that, then the new system starts to grow exponentially fast, and it starts to become harder for the old system to contain itself. That's the job that we all can help with, and it will go faster than we think - in a blink.
I'm a Boomer. I'm right in the sweet spot, the average age of a Boomer is 65, that's how old I am. I've tailored this podcast to what I call BoomXer’s, the people born from 1946 to 1980. If you look at that generation, which collectively are the wealthiest, by far the most powerful by far, what's your message to us?
Well, I think a dinosaur cannot reinvent itself and make itself a mammal or an ape. I think most of the Boomers are dinosaur cells, having been part of large corporations or governments during the post-war boom. My message to those people is start to help to create offspring. A dinosaur cannot change his own DNA, but it's going to help. It's going to create offspring that are much more mammal like, are much more agile and adaptive to the environment. If you have capital, if you have connections or money, help the young entrepreneurs who are building their butterfly, help them with coaching, help them with finance, financial guarantees or mentoring. It looks like a small gesture, but for a lot of startups, it makes a big difference. These new guys, these new startups, will lead the way. Baby boomers have the money, have the power and have the knowledge to support those new startups. Help them to create offspring. It's fun, and it's very beneficial in evolutionary terms. That's my message to the BoomXer generations.
Here’s my take on my thoroughly fascinating discussion with Christian. Fascinating AND frustrating, but let’s start with the fascinating bits.
Christian’s foundational premise is that humanity, as a child of nature, is out of balance with nature, and that so long as we see ourselves above nature, we are doomed to fail as a species. I agree, but likely not in the fashion that would satisfy Christian. To the extent that as the apex species, we are the custodians of our planet, of our planet to be sure, we are obligated to do everything we can to assure our collective survival. However, the nature of nature is continuous adaption, so I don’t see our job being to assure statis, to pick say pre-industrial, pre-colonial 1500 as the point at which everything was perfect or ideal, and thus the model for our way of living on today.
Instead, the unprecedented technological advances that Christian repeatedly refers to, do enable us to set a zero-impact goal, that is the objective of living with nature and to the greatest extent possible, allowing for the re-wilding of an earth who’s population is expected to start declining after 2050. So, I think I wind up at more or less the same point as Christian.
I viscerally agree with Christian that our centralized, command and control systems, structures and leadership, all legacies of societies first grounded millennia ago, are now increasingly, and dangerously irrelevant. I agree too that a massively decentralized transformation is required to avert catastrophe – this when said systems, structures and leadership can’t or won’t transform fast enough.
But the swarm that Christian is relying on won’t happen on its own, and certainly will not happen when we need it to. Or rather, it seems to me that the swarm that Christian refers to is meant to be a peaceful and constructive force, if so, we simply don’t have time for that to happen in 10 years, in the polarized world we currently inhabit. Admittedly, a global inter, and intra-state war on the awful scale envisioned by the writers of Star Trek, might well result in the creation of violently competing revolutionary swarms that rise out of the detritus of that war, that may over a very long time – generations certainly – effect the desired transformation in our world. At a terrible cost, with none of us around to profit from that new age.
Christian notes that “we are all astronauts on the spaceship earth,” where “we need to create a new kind of society, where we are one big society, part of a bigger system”. I could not agree more. But the swarm response that Christian is counting on, that must happen peacefully, constructively, and now, is by his own admission failing to ignite, noting that “They all have good purposes, good intentions, but they fall apart because they don’t know how to self organize”. They don’t have the tools to do so – plaintively repeating the observation of past guest David Price. Christian concludes that a technology driven, organizational platform needs to be developed to allow for the self-activation of these swarms in a decentralized fashion. In other words, a single system that promotes decentralization.
With respect, that’s what I and nearly 1,000 people, from 35+ countries conceived of, designed and prototyped over a four-year period with Leaders Expedition. We invested over 20,000 hours in an effort that succumbed when COVID shut down the world – and with it the scarce capital needed to make such an undertaking real. The core of our DNA were the tenets that we developed, the values and assumptions that defined our admittedly Trekian North Star. In turn, the highly nuanced eco-system that we developed, putting the self-actualized individual at the centre of it all, drove the swarm transformation – the movement – need to effect global transformation in years, not decades. Because I, just like Christian, don’t believe we can count on having decades left, before civil society, and/or the climate breaks and we are overwhelmed.
Conditionally, I take issue with Christian’s observation that most BoomXer’s are “dinosaurs” incapable of reinvention. Conditionally because I don’t believe he is right, by also too, because I fear he may be. We are the most powerful cohort on the planet, and in so many ways are the agents of the confusing, confounding and ever-more dangerous reality we find ourselves in, but we also have the agency - and all the resources necessary - to make the world right.
There are too many red lights, red flags to count. These are not normal times. Humanity is at a historic pivot, or inflection point. Humanity has always assumed a forgiving future that will address and undo all sins. But, what if there isn’t a tomorrow, or at least the tomorrow we want our children and their childen, to inhabit? Only a purposeful, very deliberate, global-scale eco-system, inspired by a shared North Star, has any chance of biasing our species for success in the next few years.
The world needs a DEMOS Project, demos meaning “the people” or “of the people”, that draws on the work of the Leaders Expedition. BoomXer’s can and must lay the foundation to provide the infrastructure and scaffolding to support our children and grandchildren in their making of a new Age of Wonder. To continue to trust alone or only, existing leaders and the institutions they lead, to not only adapt to change, but to get out in front and manage beneficially the change, is foolhardy. We need a Plan B. We need a movement of the people. We need a DEMOS Project.