David Price: Unleashing the 'Power of Us'
Join David Price OBE and I as we discuss his latest book, The Power of Us: How We Connect, Act, And Innovate Together. David draws on his 30+ year career as a thought-leader advising a wide range of organizations in education and business in the development of cultures of innovation. He weaves the main themes of his book into our narrative, but in a very personal and quite moving fashion. In an uncertain world, you are certainly going to be inspired by my conversation with David.
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.
Before we start, the BOOM! series of podcasts will be brought to you by several sponsors. Since BOOM! is intended to promote actionable, measurable and meaningful impact, I wanted to make a statement in the acceptance of our first sponsor. That's why I invited Storyminers to be the first to support us.
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Ten years ago, on this precise date, I had finally made it. I was chairman of the company I had founded 12 years earlier, that company hailed as the “next market maker” by the likes of IBM and KPMG. We had just recruited a new CEO to take the company to the ‘next level’. We had a committed investor and strategic partners. We had operations in three countries. I was making, finally, more than decent money. For the first time, I felt that my future was secure – that my sacrifice of time and money was finally about to pay off. Silly me.
What a difference just a few months can make.
After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, John F. Kennedy noted that “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.”, a spin on a proverb going back to the historian Tacitus 2,000 years ago. I can tell you that the same is true of business failures. Within just weeks, the creaks, strains and stresses of our rapidly scaling new enterprise instead revealed themselves to be fatal fractures, not unlike the structural failure an aircraft experiences when the tail falls off.
As the designated orphan, at the age of 55, I found myself suddenly contemplating the future in a harsh new light. And as can happen from the detritus of disaster, it was the beginning of a transformation that I am most grateful for. Still though, not an easy one.
One year later, I was Principal - in truth the one and only employee of - Westrope Leadership Inc. I was a self-described strategic advisor, Innovator provocateur and a newly certified executive coach. My mission was to “provoke the actionable from the intractable”. I was looking to form my first ‘SenseGiver’ CEO Advisory Group for “leaders who are impassioned by the prospects and challenges of the ‘Pre-Singularity’ - for their businesses, their communities, their societies, themselves and their families. For leaders who know in their hearts that a new model of leadership is required to seize ‘our’ collective moment and are looking for a community of like-minded peers that will bias their exploration and execution of new ideas, strategies, tactics and actions for unequalled professional and personal success.”
As I started to recruit for this first group, I jotted down some notes that reflected my evolving world view – that being the single beneficiary of the one year of enforced unencumbered time I had had to think about the world, and my life in it. This is what I wrote in 2013;
the world is rapidly transitioning to a singularity type inflection point before we boomers expire
technology will exacerbate the positive and negatives, but the negatives have the potential to retard human evolution or end it
technological advance has potential to polarize have and have-nots
it can be argued that a global war is underway between orthodoxy and secularism – between those who see the past as our destiny vs. those that see the potential of the future
capitalism is still the best bet, but it’s discredited, ragged, less and less relevant
the discussion re technology and all the derivative issues is in the hands of technocrats
there is no values-based platform that facilitates process for new decision making/leadership
education systems are not churning out leaders
governments not doing their job
opportunity - to ‘seed’ a leadership cohort with a common approach and basic values – to provide an informed capacity for business to drive change-for-good > to empower the total citizen - NOT to provide answers, but rather an enlightened process for ‘making sense of the world’ and acting in an enlightened fashion
I recall coming at this as something of an epiphany. For most of my business career - or all of it I truthfully - even though I considered myself pretty well informed, I had assumed that the world would keep on keeping on. Just like the sunrise, there would always be tomorrow. Literally and figuratively. But my thinking was starting to reflect the growing realization that though I now quite unexpectedly lived in an age of abundance, there was rough sailing ahead for humanity.
Then I met Don Simpson. If you want to have your faith in humanity restored, then you need to know about Don. A force of nature still at the age of 80 when I met him in 2014 (and still more now at the age of 88!), Don is a Canadian icon that not enough people have heard about. In the late 1950’s, as the soon-to-be founder of Crossroads Canada, he was one of the team responsible for bringing Barack Obama’s father to the US for university studies. He was instrumental in shaping Canada’s development efforts in West Africa, becoming the first regional director there for Canadian University Services Overseas, or CUSO as it was known, and then was one of the founders of the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. In turn, Don would help to establish the first western-style business school in China, at Tsingua University.
These are just a few of Don’s many accomplishments over a 60 year career that hasn’t ended yet. But Don’s greatest achievement was the catalyzing of a global network of remarkably accomplished people who came together under the banner of the Renaissance Expedition, with the unspoken but passionately shared belief that there was a better way to lead, to be makers of a better world. It was in this capacity that we connected.
Don’s global network of hundreds of what he called Explorers and Pathfinders, were each in their own way exemplars, changing their part of their world, in their way, as they could. Sometimes in very small ways, sometimes very big. Always impactful. Don pushed, encouraged, mentored, connected, cajoled, and too often funded these initiatives himself. And for this he was loved and respected.
Knowing Don’s example challenged me profoundly. For the first time close and upfront, I watched an activist, a believer in humanity, walk the walk and talk the talk. I watched him nurture scores of initiatives, too many of which would fail, with few deserving to. I learned that the progressive-ish centre/centre-right POV I had held for years in business was really just self-serving hypocrisy and intellectual laziness. Don showed me the power of people.
What would become Leaders Expedition was inspired not so much by Don’s work, as it was his his example – that is his gregarious enthusiasm for the human project, and his unwavering conviction that people are good.
I was ruminating on a lot of things. My unchecked belief in business and capitalism was definitively checked by my coaching and mentoring of my peer colleagues in business. Not that they weren’t as a group remarkably successful and for the most part good people, it was simply that not enough of the financial or intrinsic reward generated was shared with society. Around that time Russia annexed Crimea, ISIS was ascendant, and Trump started his – and democracy’s - decent on that cursed escalator.
Don Simpson had shown me what real leaders looked like, and it was clear to me that there were nowhere near enough of those leaders in the places and positions they needed to be in our societies. I came to believe that the scaffolding to scale the kind of leadership exemplified by Don was needed to change what I saw as a leadership insufficiency, one that was systemic and global. It followed that the solution therefore needed to be systemic and global.
I also concluded that it needed to be done NOW, that humanity was running out of time. This I think was the point at which I lost Don. Always the optimist, his great faith in people held him to his core belief that only organic, bottom-up activism was effective. The admittedly very, very, VERY big picture lens I brought to the table was perceived as counter to that approach. That I believe now we were both right and both wrong will be a matter that I return to.
In the end, the four-year project of Leaders Expedition provided ample opportunity to test, reject and refine the founding theses and to prototype that scaffolding with almost 1,000 people in 35+ countries participating. I have reported elsewhere that history, our trajectory, and our fate.
I thought of Don as I considered my next guest. UK-based David Price OBE, is likewise an exemplar of leadership and an inspiring, good person who walks the walk and talks the talk.
His first book, OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live & Learn In The Future was an Amazon best seller. His most recent book, The Power Of Us: How We Connect, Act, And Innovate Together was published in 2020, and is an unashamed celebration of ingenuity around the world. At the forefront of innovation in organisational learning for over 30 years, David is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer and masterclass leader. His work spans the worlds of education and business as his expertise lies in how individuals and groups learn and develop cultures of innovation. He has advised a wide range of organisations - including corporations, tech start-ups and government departments.
In 2009, he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
We are most fortunate indeed to be joined today by David.
Hello, David. What is your big idea? What brings you here today?
My big idea is around the ideas I formulated in my current book, called The Power of Us. I think what we're seeing in the current Ukraine conflict is yet again, evidence of the power of ‘us’ in terms of the grassroots responses to the crisis we saw, and also during COVID. I guess my question, and I certainly don't have the answer to this, is “how can we tap into this incredible power of our networks and collaborative capacities, when there isn't a crisis?” Though these days it kind of feels like that's the new normal. But for me, that is the really significant challenge. And as a follow up, it is, “to what extent can that power of us challenge the other shift which has been going on in the world, which is more towards authoritarianism?” It feels to me as though the two things are heading towards a conflict.
I certainly agree. In our discussions leading up to this, you wanted to introduce an optimistic tone to these discussions, and so I could use a dose of optimism. Talk to me about the power of us. And hopefully, that'll lay some context here.
Sure. Well, first of all, before I get into that, I sometimes am accused of being a naive idealist. Right now, what's the alternative? Let's just not go there. But I wrote the book, because it is relatively easy to see the past decade, maybe even longer, as being one of an increasing sense of learned helplessness. Donald Trump didn't say “only I can fix” this by accident, you know. That was intentional. In one way, the rise of authoritarianism around the world, could be seen as kind of subjugating people's innate creativity and desire to do the right thing. On the other hand, what the book tries to chart are numerous examples where communities are outperforming bureaucracies. Whether it's Tim Omer, who I mentioned in the book, who created, and is on the point of delivering, an artificial pancreas. He's ‘just’ an IT consultant, but he’s created this, and built the concept of glucose monitoring in real time, as a free resource for parents of kids with type-one diabetes, and that's a global movement. On the other hand, he has pharmaceuticals who are saying, “this isn't your space, we're the experts, you shouldn't be getting into that.” It's intentional that that group of people, it's called Nightscout, their hashtag is #WeAreNotWaiting. And I think that that's quite instructive. There is a sense in which, and COVID brought this to a head, that people realize that they weren't willing anymore, to seek permission to be engaged in a whole series of processes, whether it's the development of new products or services, whether it's in participatory democracy, people are now fueled with a sense “we can do this” and we've seen on umpteen examples during the current Ukraine crisis of communities outperforming bureaucracies. So that's kind of what gives me hope. But as I referred to earlier, nobody's who's got power is going to hand it over willingly. So, I guess the challenge is going to be, are there administrations or places of authority that can realize that this is an incredible power of good, and it needs to worked with, rather than competed against.
It's about bureaucratic insufficiency. As we think about the next 10 years, it's clear that the existing bureaucracies need to be involved or engaged with. I mean, they're there - they have great legacies, which are increasingly anchors, but we have to deal with them. Have you seen any reason, any signs of innovation coming from the bureaucracies? Or do you see it, as, at the end of the day, almost an alternative? That is that democracies, or rather, bureaucracies or institutions are the problem and have to be worked around?
Sure. Well, let's take a positive example. And then maybe a more negative one. In Manchester, which is as you know, a pretty big conurbation. Like lots of big inner-city areas, they've had consistent problems with homelessness, and an inability to engage the homeless in finding solutions that are going to work for them. We saw during COVID that people were for their own protection, put up in hotels, and there was this great outpouring of people saying “you can't sleep on the streets, let's look after you.” And then after that, there was this debate about “what do we do? do we just kick them back out on the street?” So, the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham said, “we've really got to stop trying to solve these problems for these people. We've got to work with them so that they can be the architects of their own futures.” It's early days, this has now been going for maybe two, three years, this notion of participatory problem solving. And obviously, with a group like the homeless, it's not easy. But they have stuck to it. And they are now starting to see the benefits. Rates of homelessness are going down. And we're now starting to get long term solutions.
On the other hand, there are a growing number of young people - it depends which side of the fence you sit on whether you view this as a good thing or a bad thing - who just can't see how we boomers can give them access to the means of changing the world. They want to be in control of that themselves. For me, the catalyst moment on that, came during COP 26 in Glasgow, when there was a TV crew out on the streets, and a big crowd of young people out protesting. At the helm was Greta Thunberg, and they said, “Greta, shouldn't you be in the conference hall?” and she said, “what's the point, this is where change is going to come - on the streets, not talking to those guys.” I watched that, I think it was on Friday, and thought, “Greta, we're going to have to find a way to work with these people.” Then I watched on the Saturday, the final day, when one by one, nations just basically caved in, and reneged on a lot of the kind of opportunities that that conference had strived to present. When there’s Alok Sharma, who was the convener of the conference, in tears at the inability of these political leaders to come to a solution, you start to think maybe Greta has got a point. I don't know a way around that because that's obviously been the kind of tension that's led to revolutions in the past. I don't think we're ever going to see anything on that scale. But I think it's very, very dangerous if we see a generation – and now successive generations - who simply can't see the point of the current democratic system. I don't think they've got the answers as to what the alternative might be. But it does seem to me that if that isn't a wakeup call for all of us, then I don't know what it is.
It's something I've commented on frequently in the podcasts we've done so far. The ennui of young people - they're not excited by the future, they see the future as something to be feared more than as an opportunity. Like you, my great concern is the talk of revolution. When you go to the streets, as the French found, there's lots of revolutionary experiences which show that when you start a revolution, you have no idea how it's going to end up, and who profits from it. To me, the whole point to all these discussions, is what middle ground behavior change can happen to avoid that. There's no doubt that bureaucratic insufficiency is, as far as the COP 26 experience illustrates, part of that.
You have spent a lot of time thinking about community mobilization, and you come at that as a future-thinking educator, focusing, a lot of your time in the past on education. I try to frame it, to get people to think, that we have a reasonably finite period of time to get our shit together. I use the 10-year frame. And my optimism beyond that frame is lessening over the course of time. It used to be the case that quite a few people would challenge me on that 10-year time frame and say, “no, no, we have much more time than that. We always figure our way through these things. There's always been people like you that say, we're in trouble.” Now, it's way more common for people to say, “I think you're dead wrong. We don't have 10 years. We’re done.” How do you reconcile the truism that community activation or mobilization works, with the other perspective that it might not work fast enough?
Let's call it what it is. A lot of this is about power, and people are not going to willingly give power away unless they can see that there's going to be a benefit to it. If you look specifically at the example of young people, we can't address the kind of timescale that you're talking about - and I'd share your alarm on that, Bob - but we can't address that without giving some of that power away. When it comes to young people, we have constantly said to them, “okay, let's get you involved, what ideas do you have, but you have to fit into our framework, you have to fit into the hierarchies that we've created.” And increasingly, they just say, “no, we're not going to do that.” So how can we genuinely tap into that incredible sense of ethics and high moral values?
There are a bunch of people right now, Bob, who are all young people. I didn't know any of them a week ago, and now I'm kind of their unofficial fundraiser, an international humanitarian support group. You mentioned my involvement in Ukraine. I simply said to my wife, February 24, when this happened, we're watching the news like everybody else, horrified. I said, “we cannot look away from this, we can't back down.” It's been really interesting, because my experience has been, whether it's government, or whether it's well to do, but perhaps slightly out of touch, well-meaning NGOs, I've found a high degree of frustration. Yet this group of young people, made up of people from Yorkshire, from the US, Zambia, Romania, they just got on a plane and went across to the Polish border. And they just said “we're going to fix the problem of how you resettle these Ukrainian refugees into the UK” because frankly, Bob, our government created a scheme, called ‘Homes for Ukraine’, but they made no attempt to match up the people who need it. So, this group of young people have gone out and done that. And as we speak, they're driving through Ukraine, at great personal risk, to deliver medicine. So, I don't entirely share your view that, there's a sense of ennui. I think, yes, there are some young people who have become so disenfranchised and so disenchanted that they've given up. But I think there are others who are just getting on with it. And it's fascinating Bob, to see the reaction of people who thought, “that's what we do, that's our own.” Because these young people had taken action into their own hands, and got out there and started talking to refugees, over the past week, we've matched up about 10 or 12 desperate people with families. I heard them described as potential people smugglers. Now that's just ridiculous. I think it's just, that they're looking at this and saying, “well, we're a local organization, we've been kind of in this space for some time.”
The conventional way of doing things is just being turned on its head. I find it thrilling, I have to say. Just as thrilling as when the Mercedes Formula One team collaborated with University College London hospital to create an alternative breathing machine, and they did it in 100 hours. They were highly unlikely collaborations. The demand of the situation forced them to forget about the conventional way of doing things, just like conventionally, we always thought it took 10 years to do clinical trials for any new vaccine. Low and behold, it turns out we can do it in 10 months. Are we going to learn those lessons? Are we going to apply it to times when there isn't a crisis? How do we do that?
One of the interesting questions is, who's we? Do you consider yourself to be English, or British, or Human? What's the identity that you...
I still consider myself to be European. I don't care what happened with Brexit. They can’t take that away from me, that's in my head. I think that's why this humanitarian crisis has affected people in this country so deeply, because we look at those people, and we think that they're just like us, they listen to the same kind of music as us. So, I consider myself human first and European second, and it's somewhere down the line before I get to being British.
I was looking at your LinkedIn posts. There was a young woman from Australia, who challenged you and said, “why is it that we're interfering in other countries, why don't we stick to our own knitting?” I thought that was a great illustration of the problem, or the challenge - that there are those that think the world is a great big place, and those who think it's a small place, and the people that are inclined to do what you're talking about are the ones who think of the world as one world, a small planet with shared and common problems. It's that competition between the Viktor Orban view of the nation and the perspective that you and I are taking.
That woman indicated where she was getting ideas from, which is Telegram and all the other crackpot kind conspiracy theories. She said some pretty extraordinary things. It was that thing that Obama said when he said, “if people are basically saying black is white,” I don't know where the ground is for any kind of debate or discussion. And that is a real problem. The media have got a huge responsibility in all of this. The whole point about those conspiracy theories is that they flourished to keep people on those platforms for longer, therefore buying stuff.
Whether we like it or not, it seems to me that capitalism is a kind of busted flush right now. If we can't accept that, and if we still keep trying to perpetuate that model, then we will get these kinds of divisions. I was thankful that tons of other people jumped in and said, “this is crazy, don't try and pretend that this is all a hoax, what's going on in Ukraine.” You do think that polarization has never been greater. And I don't know where we start to have that kind of rational debate, because the only way we're going to get young people feeling positive, is if we can bridge that divide.
You're contemplating a new book? What has not been said that you want to say?
The book has a working title of Lessons in Adversity, and looks at, what has hit us in the past three, four years, what’s the effect been upon us, and, frankly, how the hell do we move forward? How do we, particularly when it comes to young people, how do we find a way of feeling hopeful in a hopeless world? As you've already seen, I still tried to say that the glass is half full and not half empty, but I also think, that we don't have the tools for making sense of all of this. It seems to me that if we're going to move forward, we need to rethink education, we need to rethink the concept of leadership - you and I've talked about this before - and we need to somehow create the tools where we can see the past three to four years as being the incredible learning curve that it has been. Or we can see it as the early days of the fall of civilization. I don't even like to think about that.
I want to write a book which parents can read, without having a university degree, and can get good advice. I've got a close friend who recently accepted a Ukrainian family - it was a heartbreaking conversation. This woman is a journalist, and she needs she needs a lot of support. God knows what she's seen. But this friend of ours is a therapist who specializes in trauma. And, you know, we've all been traumatized in one way or another. Someone needs to be able to give people who perhaps wouldn't look at academic books, they need to have some sort of tools for dealing with this. I interviewed Gary Rich, who is the CEO of WD 40, towards the end of the last lockdown. And I said to him, “how's it been when people have started to come back?” And he said, “I've had to keep reminding our leaders of the organization that the people who we said goodbye to in March 2020, and are just now coming back to the office, they're different people, and we've got to accept that they are no longer the same people.” I guess he's referring to that trauma. And he had some great tools and ways to discuss this.
If you look toward our government, the UK Government, it has not, if you take education for example, it talks about how we have to make up for the ‘lost learning’ and how we have to get standards high again - I mean, bloody hell Bob, these young people are on the verge of mental breakdowns. There was a gap between the two lockdowns, the two big lockdowns that we had in the UK. My wife and I, it was my birthday, we decided we go up to a beautiful town in North Yorkshire, and we had a lovely dinner. It was really interesting, we talked about a loss of purpose that we'd felt during the lockdown and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. The next morning, we were out having a walk around this beautiful church yard, it was a gorgeous June, early June day, and we came across a young girl trying to hang herself. It was just a shocking thing. But the really shocking thing Bob, was that after we talked her down, and gave her endless cups of tea, and then got the school to come and collect her, we checked and made sure that she was she was going to be alright. But we got home, and that's when the shock hit us. I was telling my friends, and every single one of them said they'd seen something similar. One guy talked a young man out of jumping off a bridge, another one actually saw a young woman throw herself off a freeway pedestrian bridge. This is another kind of pandemic which is going on, and we're not even talking about it.
You can call it a lot of things, a loss of faith or belief in, current systems, and we're talking about bureaucracies. On the authoritarian or the illiberal side, there seem to be visions that captivate and engage people and mobilize them, whether it's driven by fake information or not. But we don't seem to have a corresponding vision. I think that part of the toolset you're talking about, is that there's a lack of anything even close to a unifying vision, or a sense of purpose. And, again, if we've agreed that it's a fairly small world that we inhabit, one world, then we need to have a unifying sense of purpose that is shared across borders. I think that's one of the principal pieces of that toolset you're talking about.
Yes, absolutely. Like you, I've spent a good chunk of my life trying, whether it's in education or community activism, I've tried to get liberal groups - small ‘l’ - to come together around a common message, to shelter under the same umbrella and say, “yes, okay, we've all got our single-issue messages. But for goodness sakes, if we're ever going to get rid of the Conservative government that is trashing the UK right now, then we've got to get our shit together.” And it never seems to happen. There always seems to be a sense in which, the extreme right beats us time and time again, in terms of the propaganda wars, in terms of getting those messages out, in terms of going for the cheap shot, which we know will get a knee jerk response. But we've never found a way to do that.
The guy who came closest to that was Tony Blair, in the UK. Some great things happened in this country under that Labour government, but now a wing of politics will never ever forgive Tony Blair and has dismissed all the good stuff that happened because of what he did in Iraq. And yes, of course, it was a terrible thing. There was a working-class musical written in the 1980s, and one of the songs summed up the liberal dilemma – As Soon As This Pub Closes, The Revolution Starts. That is, that we just want to talk about it endlessly. It seems to me that if we want to shift the dial of politics, and the push for proportional representation, and all the things that a lot of European friends have already done, then we've got to have a coalition, a broadly leftish coalition. No one seems capable of pulling that together. Is it any wonder that young people get disenchanted?
One of the great frustrations that I have increasingly, is the number of people that I follow and respect - let's call it the pundit class - across Canada, the United States, the UK, English speaking, because that's what I can read and follow. There's a tremendous number of people from the great institutions, the great universities, the great think tanks representing a fairly broad sprectrum, what one would consider from conservative, or right of center, to reasonably far left. So it's a pretty broad group. But the thing that increasingly drives me crazy is that they all seem in ready agreement that we're in real jeopardy, that current systems and institutions are, I don't like the word failing, but it's a simple observation to say they're not working. Almost everybody agrees, “yes, they're not working,” even if they are pro those institutions. Yet the pundit who will tell you that there is systemic failure, and if that we don't address it in the next five to 10 years, there's that or else always left hanging. The answer is to go buy my book or subscribe to my podcast. I'm guilty of that, too. But there comes a point when it's not about another book, and it's not about another TED talk, it's about actually doing something.
I believe that there needs to be a purposeful, broadly centrist, globalist effort that is unapologetically globalist. We're all taking it on the chin, we're letting the nationalists frame the narrative. It depends how you define globalism, but I think we need new language whether humanist or globalist, or Universalist. It strikes me that most of the people in the world are ones where your argument would broadly resonate. Or mine. So the question is, how do we get that cohort not reacting to problems, but to mitigating and eliminating them ultimately? And so, you and I are both...
Before we move on, could I just make a point about that, which I think is, we certainly seem incapable of learning from history. At the end of the Second World War, we got the Marshall Plan, and there were great, ambitious visionary actions taken. ln the UK, we brought out in 1944 a National Education Act, prior to that, education wasn't the right for every young person. We created the National Health Service, which was free on the point of delivery, and still is - all the things that we really respect and value now were created in that period after World War II. So, we need a Marshall Plan coming out of this. I have to say, yes, I'm as concerned as you are. The kind of tears of frustration that I cried, every time I looked at the news, around Ukraine, personally, I've now got different kinds of tears. It's the goodness of people who've reached out and opened their hearts and arms. For me personally, it's kind of selfish to say it, but it's true that getting off my sofa and doing something has helped me get through what otherwise will be an incredibly depressing period.
And I have to say, what if Putin didn't win? What if he ends up in the Hague, as he surely deserves to? Could that be the start of a set of dominoes falling? Could Donald Trump for example, win in 2024 when he's so closely aligned with Putin? I could see a scenario - and I want dearly want to see it happen - where there is that global mobilization that you talk about, and it wakes people up, and we get a visionary plan. If we take just one of those examples, Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster, we have a minister in the government whose job is to present the Brexit opportunities - he hasn't found a single one. It's cost us billions, no one wants to admit that it was a mistake, because everybody has to be right. If we recognize, if somehow there's this splash of cold water globally, and we realize just how close to the edge we've come, maybe it's the start of a different way of seeing the world.
It has to be. At some point soon, one just knows that Elon Musk, who today just became the largest shareholder of Twitter, is going to announce his Mars shot. He's going to do it at an event attended by celebrities and the leading people of the world, and there's going to be great music, probably written for the event, and there's going to be lots of steam and smoke. He's going to talk about it being a five, to ten, to fifteen-year project, that's going to cost between 100 billion and a trillion dollars. He's going to talk about our destiny being Mars and space beyond. To which I have to say, I agree, I am somebody that believes in those things. But I don't believe in those things at the expense of Earth. Earth comes first. The question is, who is the leader, or leaders, that are going to come out and do the same thing, not to go to Mars, but to assure that there's an Earth to come back to? It requires that Marshall Plan you're talking about. That's the kind of community exercises you're talking about, and the toolset you're talking about as being absent now, that must be provided, there needs to be a new layer of foundation. It's not coming from the existing institutions that ultimately need to be part of it. But right now, it's not coming from them, and to your point, it's not the NGO’s, who are doing great work. There are B Corporations, there are good minded business leaders out there. But it's not enough, and it's not going to work in time. The BoomXer’s are the wealthiest cohort in human history. We're the ones with the power, still. We have the connections, we have the experience. If there's a message to BoomXer’s, what might it be?
Wow, that is such a big question. First of all, we've got to accept, and not all of the friends of my age would accept this, but I think we've got to accept that, we had the party, and these young people have got the hangover. If we don't recognize that we owe them, then we're not even going to make a start. It's been a really strange time for me, because I always talk about young people's ingenuity, and that they've only got to be given a chance. Then a while back, I thought to myself, “well, what are you doing? You're not actually doing anything.” We've got this scheme now in the UK, it's coming to an end. But it was to address the youth unemployment situation, and it's called Kickstarter. The idea is that the government will, co-pay to give a young person a job, and I've done that, and it's been fascinating to see this young person start to grow. And I thought, “why didn't I do this, like, 20 or 30 years ago?” Somehow, we've got to see this as a duty. We live in a, it's not a huge house, it's a relatively modest house, but we've got two spare bedrooms, and I said to Claire, “we have to let these Ukrainians have these, because we've had a bloody good life, and we cannot just keep taking.”
What we've seen now is a cost-of-living crisis, which, frankly, Bob, I have to own up to, and accept that I have no idea what it's like to be going to food banks, and to have to make that decision whether to put your heating on, or whether you eat something. It's not part of a world I inhabit anymore. When I was younger, we grew up in very, very impoverished circumstances. But that isn't enough. That doesn't excuse me from needing to do something about it. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, we've done really well, probably the generation that has benefited the most socially and economically. We owe these young people, and we must stop thinking in the terms, “how can I protect myself and my family? How can I protect my pension?” If it means that we have to make a few cost savings, because we're not going to buy Russian gas and Russian oil anymore, then so be it, it's a small price to pay compared to what these Ukrainians are having to endure. We've got to find a way to mobilize and for me this has been something of a kind of watershed in my life. I'm not far off the end of my life if I’m being realistic about it. But whatever time I've got now, I want to be more active and I want to help more young people, because we've got to give them hope Bob, we have to give them hope.
In a somber way, I'm very encouraged by that. I do view it as sort of a metaphorical asteroid coming. You and I have implicitly struggled a little bit in this short conversation, with the tension between trying to be optimistic, and realistic. In identifying the problems, it's easy to conclude that one is being a pessimist, one is being negative. You know, I believe in the glory of humanity. I don't believe we need deities, there's enough goodness in humans and people, there's enough evidence of that, to inspire us to eternity. I believe we're on the cusp of an Age of Wonder where there's really no need that can't be addressed. We do have enough of everything. When I started my transformation six or seven years ago, I used to say at the time, “what if there's a 15% chance of being hit by that asteroid?” You can have all the faith in the world, but if there's a 15% chance, or a 5% chance of humanity being wiped out, wouldn't you do something about it? I'm at the stage now, it's a coin toss, it's a real thing coming towards us. You don't need to be much of a historian to see it as a systemic collapse. Do I believe it's inevitable? No. I have faith, I have faith in people. I have the same faith as others that “yeah, we’ll figure it out, we always do.” But what if we don't?
I think to your point, it's one of the things that all generations have done - passed the torch mentally, saying, “I'm at the end of my life, it's on the next generation.” I think that in a generation of firsts, we're the first generation, that must acknowledge that the next generation isn't going to be anywhere near as affluent, unless we pass the money to them. I don't think there's going to be a lot of money to be passed, because I think our BoomXer’s are going to spend every last penny before we go. I think the challenge is, we have to get our generation to take agency.
Let me just give you an example of that, Bob, to finish with. I'll probably get emotional talking about this. One of the one of the things that's happened in the past week, in fact yesterday, I think I mentioned, we've had a lot of requests from people in various stages of desperation. But one of the really striking ones came from a Ukrainian journalist, and she has clearly seen some terrible things. We happen to have a friend who's a therapist, and we hooked the two of them up together. They met yesterday for the first time, two total strangers in completely different circumstances, sounding one another out. Then at some point, this journalist said, “do you mind me asking, would you be willing to sponsor me?” and my friend said, “I will sponsor you; I will let you share my house. And I will keep you safe.” The woman burst into tears, as I'm about to - people are just so good, if you give them a chance, they are so good. It seems to be that we must be in a position of real adversity before we realize that's what it takes. We probably need another 1968 to happen, Bob. We're too old, but maybe that's one of the things we should be doing.
Half of me agrees. But 1968, or 1848, or 1791, or 1917 – they were all very unpredictable. I actually believe that's where we're going, and to your point, may well be necessary. I am desperate to explore the steps that can achieve the same objective without the pain of real revolution. What resonated with me, about what you just said is, that if people have support, if they have the chance, and the chance is that toolset you're talking about, some mechanisms that can support these initiatives, so they don't have to go begging. So I guess that's a challenge that you and I'll both make them to BoomXer’s!
More power to you Bob for recognizing this and doing your best to try and bring it about.
Well, this is the beginning of hopefully a set of longer conversations, David, so thank you very, very much. This has been really a delight.
What a great, even moving conversation. To be blunt though, my take is that while inspired by my conversation with David, I am also, deeply, deeply frustrated - even angry. Not at David of course, but that I am absolutely convinced that I know what the David Price’s of our world, across so many countries and generations need, in fact must have, to actualize our aggregate vision of the future.
With respect, the ‘power of us’ that David talks about needs a push. A big push. And this is where I think Don Simpson and I were both right and both wrong. Both Don and David argue that a movement must be self-organizing, organic, even chaordic – that is “a system, organization or natural process governed by, or combining elements of, both chaos and order,” to grow and thrive. It must be an intensely collaborative, bottom-up process that reflects the co-ownership and co-authorship that the participants invest in the venture they seek to undertake. I believe both would argue that a pre-requisite then is setting yourself ‘realistic’ goals that reflect the resources at hand, to allow for the achieving of minimum viable product type goals. In other words, by focusing on a locally achievable goal.
My apologies in advance, to both Don and David for presuming to represent their POV’s or assumptions, but focusing on focusing only works if you have time. Otherwise, I agree completely with them. The implicit assumption is that in the fullness of time, the millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of ‘good’ people in the world, all acting to make the world better, will devise the gordian solutions necessary to deal with our gordian challenges, and not unimportantly, opportunities. The logic of Darwin will once again rule in the fullness of time.
But clearly, we don’t have time. Not only is the planet in physical, and very immediate jeopardy, but we humans that threaten it, are now likewise threatening each other in ways that were incomprehensible just ten years ago. Intra and inter-state violence, even systemic collapse is not inevitable or certain, but it is surely increasingly likely. There is a pent-up rage, fuelled and amplified by powerful, purposeful bad actors, that threatens to ignite and fracture our societies – our world.
First describing the international response to COVID, the term ‘one world, two systems’ today is increasingly used to describe the world that came into being the moment Russian forces moved into Ukraine, with the support – tepid or otherwise – of China. The recent vote in the UN to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council produced chilling – and telling - results. To be sure, of the 193 countries that constitute the United Nations, 93 voted to expel the unapologetic aggressor – already accused of war crimes and genocide. But 24 nations voted against the resolution, with 58 abstaining. So, in fact, just 48% of member states supported the resolution.
I suggest that the line demarcating the two worlds does not divide the western eco-system from the emergent new order offered by China and Russia, but rather that the line runs though, to lesser or greater degrees, every country. It is the line between those that believe in a shared human future vs, those who look to their language, their ethnicity, their religion, their people for their destiny.
In the democracies, it seems reasonable to argue that it’s a 75/25 to 60/40 split, with the majority falling – of course to varying degrees – in the first camp, certainly rejecting autocratic neo-fascism. But the margin is narrowing. It is a truism that Donald Trump may yet again credibly be President, that, as David Price points out, not a single achievement can be discerned from the tragic farce of Brexit other than nationalist spite, and Marie La Pen again presented a real and present danger to French democracy, and hence to democracy itself. But it’s also a truism that at least 14,000 brave Russians have been arrested for resisting the war, hundreds of thousands have fled Russia, most for reasons of principle, and likewise we know that China’s surveillance society still does not yet have absolute control of its people. So, some good news.
But everywhere, on either side of that line, those who are inclined to centrism, democracy, humanism, globalism and a future unbound from our past, are reacting to the events purposefully set before them. Despite likely being in the majority, and almost certainly the best educated, and the most affluent global community in the aggregate, this cohort lacks the capacity to effect agency – that is the scaffolding of power that is the foundation of any society, small or large.
If it’s true as many argue that humans are inescapably tribal, then I believe that the fate of humanity rests with making a tribe of this global community. Not one that rejects tribalism, but rather one that learns from the requisites of anthropological community. There is a language and culture of compassion, confidence and optimism that I believe to exist within this cohort that is not yet a community. A community must be made of this cohort.
From the inception of this podcast series, I have been clear that I thought a purposeful initiative inspired by the Manhattan Project, the Marshall Plan or Kennedy’s Moonshot, and informed by the learnings of Leaders Expedition, was needed. The objective is to connect, empower and mobilize the community – indeed a civic movement - that possesses the agency and resources to address the systemic, global leadership and institutional insufficiency that impedes humanity’s progress. In a world awash with non-productive capital, a lack of money cannot be the reason for failing. Besides, the rewards of incubating, nurturing, and amplifying the entrepreneurial energy of this by-definition innovative and creative cohort, would more than pay for this grand project.
The raison d'état of this effort is to provide the foundation to hyper-accelerate the chaordic, Darwinian marketplace of actions that both Don Simpson and David Price speak to, but on a timescale measured in years, not decades or even centuries. To provide the systems, methodologies, processes, infrastructure and funding, what I call the scaffolding, to assure that this community, through its example – not force - prevails in an Age of Wonder.
That’s why I believe that both Don and I are right in our convictions. He, that bottom-up, self-organizing initiatives are “the answer”, and I, that the means to push them – and more - at scale in a measurable, accountable fashion, by 2035, is an existential imperative.
Let’s imagine a world where such a movement exists, one that has the numbers, the infrastructure and the funding to address the points David raises. A civic movement illuminated by North Star humanist values, that places each member at the centre of concentric circles of peers committed to their personal success. This sense of empowered agency would do much to undo the “learned helplessness” insinuating itself into our society’s that David spoke to, or the ennui that I referred to.
I have argued that the cohort best paced to take on the challenge of mobilizing such a movement are we BoomXer’s, that is those born between 1946 and 1980. We have the numbers, the connections, the experience and most importantly, the time. Imagine the purposeful, measurable and accountable support of not just Greta Thurnberg, but scores, hundreds or even thousands like her. As David noted, our generations have had the party, leaving our successors with the hangover.
This community must have the capacity to hold itself accountable for the resolution of these gordian and grand issues – transforming democracy, capitalism, society – in a just, equitable and sustainable fashion by 2035. Driven by a shared vision of the future, we must break the pattern of reactive behaviour we have fallen into and seize the initiative in the making of our fragile one world.
We continue to chip away at the consequences of our leadership and institutional insufficiencies at our peril. It is time to proactively focus on the root causes of our dysfunction. It is time to give our children hope and the capacity to act on that hope. It is time for the making of the Marshall Plan effort that David speaks to, knowing that it’s ours to make – for surely no government is going to, or can, do it. It’s time to make the kind of world that David Price wants to make.
It’s time for the DEMOS Project.