Large corporations today employ between 200 to 400 times more people than what populated any of Europe’s most prominent medieval cities. It’s predicted that by 2020, the size of the global middle class will have almost tripled to 4.9 billion, from 1.8 billion in 2009.
At last count, the number of unique mobile connections operating across the internet outnumbered humans by1.2 billion. This dense interconnectivity removes the effect of the physical barriers (like oceans and mountains) that forced separation between nations. It also means that more machines than humans are communicating with one another to share information about and make decisions on behalf of humans in real time.
As citizens, we have instant access to all of human knowledge and history via the super-computers casually commuting our pockets and handbags in daily life. Such power could not even have been imagined by the leaders of vast empires of eras past.
An unprecedented public relations paradox exists for the governments and corporations that once monopolised the communication channels now democratised by the internet. Those with authority over these civil, corporate and electronic populations have far greater socio-economic reach, influence and political power than any of the conquests the invasions of monarchs and moguls could ever have delivered. Simultaneously and somewhat conversely, the same technologies affecting the democratisation of the planet’s airwaves, information flows and broadcast resources afford a single country’s military the detonation power capable of inflicting summary ruin upon the earth.
The simultaneous presence of wide-distribution (democratic) and high-concentration (autocratic) forces of power presented by these scenarios has not been possible in all of living history. That both phenomena concurrently dominate our lived experience of the personal and public is of pivotal consequence to life as we know it. Given these compounding trends, the idea of human prosperity continuing to be driven by ‘consumerism’ - the premise that spending money and consuming goods is good for economies - is a daunting and wholly annihilistic prospect which poses an existential risk as formidable as atomic fallout.
Conservative estimates from The Global Footprint Network hypothesise that servicing of Earth’s 7.1 billion humans by current American middle-class expectations will require four more earths (5.4, if we go by the equivalent income standards norms in the UAE). Because these calculations exclude the analysis of potential eco-system collapse, carbon emission effects or sustainability of cropland (i.e. the package effect of consumption), these numbers are criticized as being a drastic underestimation of actual impacts.
By such estimations, it can be argued that the only thing more detrimental to ‘the future’ than global fallout is global prosperity.
But ‘commerce’ need not be synonymous with ‘consumption’. To relegate ‘the effects of commerce’ on humanity’s history as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ would be to ignore the wisdom we can tap from the hard lessons and stunning achievements of past experience. It can be argued, for example, that little has achieved more for world peace than supply chain management.
Ultimately, commerce is a tool, employed by humanity to transformational ends. Applied consciously to support a co-creative, generative vision of the future, business could rapidly become the greatest force for good on the planet. The opportunity is here now for every business and individual to direct and shape commercial dynamics to the superlative advantage of the planet, our species and all future generations.
Undoubtedly, old guards will suffer fear and challenge the change. The tenets of venerated economic theory and practices will break down and attract revision, remedy and even redress. The schizophrenic scenarios created by the analogue world from which enterprise-era conventions sprung will be challenged even more vehemently as the digital age develops roots.
But when well-worn cynicism, righteous indignation and skeptical debate extinguish themselves, the question will remain as to how humanity’s implosive trajectory is averted and converted to one that could leverage the skills, capital, minds, collective will, distribution lines and other latent means we have in ‘commerce’ toward profitably (yes - profitably!) serving our greatest expectations.
How we answer the question will define the outlook and philosophy business architects will be digitizing for artificial intelligence and machine learning to deduct. It is these decision points that will be algorised. We have this moment to dream and design how technology serves a sovereign or enslaved humanity - a self-enhancing or self-consuming world.
Arriving at a point of achieving a more conscious expression of commerce is about each of us, as individuals, interrogating the undercurrents fuelling our conduct and decisions. What predicates our values, character, perceptions, decisions and convictions? What and who is ultimately served by their perpetuation?
Recognising that any one person’s sphere of influence wields resonance and consequence - by every thought, decision, pursuit, investment, purchase, commitment and conviction - is the point of reckoning we need to reach and breach for our collective consciousness to shift from scarcity mind to commercial creations of thriving abundance.
More so now than ever, the future is limited only to what we fear, fail to see as ‘wholly possible’, or believe we are unable to actively influence (whether as CEO or server). Each of us is a well point from which abundance flows and flourishes. To settle for the title of ‘consumers’ or constant ‘customers’ over ‘creators’, ‘citizens’ and ‘earth children’ is to deny the essence of our being and interconnection with all.
Recognising, respecting and curating the unprecedented power wielded from within our individual sphere of influence is our present calling. Your work beyond this?
Read. Ask. Listen. Design. Desist. Activate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Maria Kostelac is the founder and owner of Contrapposto Consulting. IT governance can no longer be considered separate from the world of business governance, and business leaders
are challenged to incorporate the requisite people, practices and inputs necessary for informed oversight over IT to be empowered across complex organisations. It is Contrapposto’s mission to provide and grow the means to support and reinforce the necessary corporate thinking and conversations among these accountable role players in exercising good governance over the businesses, supporting environments and communities reliant upon their duty of care. For more information or to get in touch,
visit www.contrapposto.co.za or e-mail [email protected]