It is a fact that our modern view of the world, of what is sustainable development, and of the underlying environmental issues, feel as something relatively recent. For many centuries we theorized about almost everything that surrounds us. And as a human society, we have even searched for universal truths forever. In fact, we still do.
Social and technological evolution has gathered speed, and we have gone way beyond what is close -our towns, counties, countries and continents-, to more holistic views of life and the planet. As we search for the meaning and survival of our own evolutionary development, we look at the Universe and beyond, even theorizing on the existence of multiverses, or perhaps an omniverse filled with “island universes” like ours (these new descriptions came to be as the theories of multiple realities advanced). As a result, the common account of what is “universal” came into question.
After all, multiplicity attempts against a common belief of just one shared reality (the word universe literally means “turned into one”, or even “transformed into one”-from the Latin unus – one- and versus, which does not mean “against” as in the modern usage, but to turn or to transform). And as we question what we know, and as incredible or farfetched the concepts may seem to many today, we advance and grow as a civilization.
Clearly, as we search for understanding, we look further and further for feedback and for answers. Looking everywhere for clues and searching for new sources of information is a method as old as humanity. But this hyper amplification of our data bases, and of information sourcing, which is at the center of our current rate of progress, is something novel.
Only 50 years ago, our daily life today would have easily qualified as science fiction. And we do not need to look at cellphones, nanotechnology, AI or the internet to assert this. It is enough to look at something more simple and geographical in nature.
People then, as it had happened throughout history with few exceptions, generally moved very little from the area where they had been born. Or if they did so for any reason, the chances of changing again from the place in which they had made a new home, or a new life, were very low.
Many centuries, and even decades ago, most scientists would present their findings -just like today- to other members of the scientific communities of the time. The difference is that they were mostly real communities in the traditional sense. Unless something was planned years in advance, most of the scientists turning up would basically be your neighbors, as there were few means to extend communication and travel beyond what was nearby.
Thus, they all lived quite close to each other. That way they would take advantage of the feedback from other scientific minds. But that would result in a restricted span of enquiries -as would be the opinions-, since they would also generally share a “school” of thought (the local school). Still, that did not mean that there was any lack of brilliance. In fact, we have seen enormous comparative advances arising from the greatest minds and schools of thought from our distant past.
One of the great things -and comparative advantages- about our lives today clearly center around the fact that people – and therefore ideas – are moving around the world with much more fluency and speed. In fact, and as a partial example of our love of travel, figures show that there are more than a million people floating up in the air every second of the day and night, moving from one place to another just by flight (and without counting those who are living and travelling in space throughout the year).
Advancement in the sciences, education, technology, and quality of life has as much to do with discovery as with the fact that this constant interchange has viralised cultural and scientific information, opened societies, deepened our understanding at a global scale, and as a result, increased the speed of progress.
In other words, the exponential increase in the virtual and physical transmission of data of all types throughout the world, highlights the fact that, it may be in that peculiarity of our time, where lies one of the logical precursor to the explosion of worldwide change since the late 20th Century.
A simple example would be that, seeing how others live, has made people, particularly those far from the central economies, to want to improve their standards of living, and no longer accept what others tell them should be adequate. The same could be said of other accelerated developments.
Today, people will move everywhere, while communication is constant. As a result, ideas tend to spread like memes – expressed as a unit of information that spreads from person to person – and are then gradually adopted by most. Information becomes much more widespread and as a result, it seeds change everywhere, though concepts can easily be misunderstood in the early stages of interaction since discernment -which requires deeper information and some experience- always lags the first contact.
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. I still remember how one day, as I was chatting during recess with one of my school friends at CBC St. Kilda, the Christian Brothers College I attended, I was surprised -enough to still remember the anecdote- by the fact that he confessed he had only travelled only as far as Ballarat until then (we may have been 16 years of age and for those who do not know, Ballarat is a beautiful gold rush town that lies about 70 miles from Melbourne).
By then my family and I had travelled from Argentina to Australia by Peru, Tahiti, New Zealand and Sidney. Years before, while still in Argentina, we had toured Europe extensively, and regionally in South America. What I had lived already may have been a little out of the ordinary for a kid then -and in many places even now-, but his lack of movement and contact with outside influences was also already quite unusual.
I would tell him stories about what I had seen in my family´s trips and for him, it was both an eye opener and quite foreign and difficult to relate to his own life experiences at the time. Now fast forward from my own childhood to these days, and things have dramatically changed.
Currently Australians travel on average 15,500 miles per year, while the average number of miles driven by Americans per year is about 13,500. Meantime, it is estimated that commercial airlines carried just over 4.3 billion passengers worldwide on scheduled flights in 2018. That is not only people, it is close cultural, scientific, and intellectual contacts that just spread across the face of the planet slowly changing the whole human climate.
There may be still kids -and grown-ups- who may take their time before travelling – or getting the opportunity to travel- somewhere far from home, but all of them have traveled the virtual domain enough to have had a much deeper knowledge and contact of the “outside world” than my friend ever had at 16 years of age. And they have also been openly – and sometimes unconsciously- influenced by ideas, philosophies and technology which arrived to them from very far away.
All of this has had a great deal with the strengthening of what some have come to describe as the “Universal Mind”. Jazz pianist Bill Evans recorded in 1966 a famous interview/documentary with his brother called exactly “The universal mind of Bill Evans”, referring to this from a musical perspective (recommended viewing and freely available on YouTube @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwXAqIaUahI).
This notion is not new, and it definitely predates the wonderful Bill Evans by a few thousand years. In fact, the first recorded concepts around the idea of a universal mind may come to us from a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher called Anaxagoras, who arrived in Athens around 480 BC and who was later quoted by Plato and others. The Buddhist school of thought also talks about the universal mind from long ago. And the whole concept has been passed on by philosophers and religions through the centuries.
It could even be submitted that, if our universal mind exists, then it may have been evolving as much as our individual intelligence. So, it would not be surprising that it could be ventured that this process may have evolved to partially mirror our individual brain synapses as well, which can be chemical or electrical. In the universal mode we would also have the virtual spread of ideas by electric transfer (in the sense that it involves technology based modern communications, internet, and all audiovisual modes but no physical interchange), and a chemical transmission, in that it requires a physical interchange of ideas (mostly face to face, or in groups, interchanging chemicals -like hormones-, and other more physical, man created tools).
The importance of this hypothesis is that, even as late as Evans´ times (mid 1960s), it still predates globalization and the present global acceleration of processes and sharing of ideas. Furthermore, in general terms, it did predict that information would be shared globally (the “How” may be the point of discussion amongst each position) and explained how the whole world tends to adopt concepts and points of view, as if each person was part of a common consciousness. In this case size matters, as the more people become associated with an idea, the better the chances that idea will be redeployed and even adopted by others.
In the realm of inventions this is commonly known. Inventors throughout history tend to come up with similar concepts, very close to each other in time (sometimes at exactly the same time), separated by a street or sometimes by oceans, and generally not aware of the existence of the other. It could even be said that innovations tend to “mature” at a global rate and it is only timing, means, and the individual will what separates those who will ultimately become famous (and sometimes very wealthy), from those history will probably forget.
In the specific area of sustainable development and the environment, the whole idea is not new. It goes back to 17th Century Europe – particularly in Great Britain – and concepts related to forest management. It is in this realm that the whole process developed. The evolving notion of the wise use of resources can be traced, at least in its formal approach, to Gilford Pinchot, first head of the US Forestry Service.
In the early 1960s, the then embryonic environmental movement started highlighting what was the relationship between the environment and economic development. That hit a type of milestone with the MIT influenced 1972 Club of Rome report on the Limits to Growth, which described the desirable “state of global equilibrium”.
The contents were way ahead of their time. In fact, the paragraph that has been most quoted basically says: “We are searching for a model output that represents a world system that is sustainable without sudden and uncontrolled collapse and capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of all of its people”. Enough said.
There were no Sustainability Managers or Directors in Corporations -or in public life for that matter- at the time, and nobody had even thought of the task or the position. Then everything changed.
From the 1800s until the1960s spread was hampered by limited scope and little contact with outside forces. In the early 1960s it opened up. By 1972 it was clear that it could address issues of general development, and in the early 2000s it was already a concept in the universal mindset. That is how long it took for the idea to finally mature as an accepted concept and finally catch on. There is obviously much more to say about sustainable development from before and after the 1972 milestone, but I believe the point is made.
It is not, then, that we are slow to understand the importance of a notion as a result of it being novel. This timetable shows that the process can be slow, but once it acquires some basic critical mass, it has a fairly predictable -and fast- universal “speed of synaptic activity”. This human (and with apologies to Mr. Spock, not Vulcan) “mind meld” is then accelerated as we now move with a perpetually incremental speed in the exchange of communication as well.
The result is that a new beginning for the meme is set at the global mindset at some point. A magical transformation, from the thoughts and inspirations of the few to the motivations of the many, is subsequently produced.
So, as much as It is difficult to wrap our brains around the idea that corporate areas specialized on sustainability, for example, did not exist almost anywhere for so long, it is understandable that there is still certain superficiality in the analysis, and a misunderstanding as to the real nature of the massive cultural and business shift that is advancing worldwide. Even if concepts may become more easily recognizable, and spread in the common conversation, enlightenment will tend to take a little longer still, and flourish in the last stretch of connectivity.
To do that, we obviously need the freedom to communicate and express new ideas, a leveled playing field (or at least one with clear rules), enforcement that is real and present, and within those sets of parameters, creativity and innovation that can envisage to have long term effects may finally occur and flourish in the best possible sense.
In any case, and no matter what we do, it is not possible any longer to do our jobs detached from sustainability, ecological parameters, a deeper understanding of universal laws, ethics and integrity, and from our responsibility to the community in general. Our role must be seen within a holistic approach to solutions that are systemic in nature, and rarely individual. That implies that no one in particular, but the conjunction between the different actors in society, should produce the desired results.
On the business side, sustainability is slowly being understood by the major corporations. We have come from the mere use of “sustainable referencing language” (doing it because it is trendy), to slowly attempting to introduce sustainability into the DNA of each business.
Most organizations are finally working for today while preparing for a very different tomorrow. They have come to realize the real economic impact, and the financial benefits, of sustainable growth and the potential of adding to that mixture, the benefits of innovation and creativity (regarding organizational change, products, services, methods, and so on).
I believe there are numerous opportunities around the world yet to be explored. And I also believe that this may be a great time to discover them.
Conservation history teaches us that, at the genesis of any movement to save a place around the world, there has always been one emotionally and ethically inspired citizen who has mobilized the rest. One person who has taken on the task of organizing communities, who has created engagement, and who has generated the long-term constituency that will preserve change.
And that is why we need honest brokers. Individuals and organizations that can present innovative solutions that are systemic and full of counterbalances (Government, Venture Capital, Multilaterals and NGOs, Technology, and obviously Business), and which can produce results that engage and with wide ranging benefits in mind.
Sustainable strategies can produce real environmental, community based positive long-term results, that in the case of business, can also be very profitable, while in the case of nations, help them achieve the next level of long-term sustainable growth. And we know that sustainable and long-term growth, is the key to building strong communities and large middle classes. It is also one of the main paths towards the elimination of poverty, and a major tool in the inclusion, into a wider and more inclusive society, of those who were left out of the system along the way.
It is time to convince the political leaders, corporations and cultural influencers that have yet to come onboard, and to help them aspire to become that “one person” in their impact zone that will go down in history as a promoter of responsible development, and at the center of that change.
At the heart of it lies the power to move hearts and minds. In my lectures I always say that passion and sentiment must never be discarded. The force of sheer scientific numbers will always impress, but it is necessary to engage people at their emotional intelligence level. There is no question either that the globalization of (good) ideas acts as an innovation accelerator.
Nevertheless, beyond the global perspective, the difference obviously starts at the individual level and within our own areas of influence. We cannot make a few enlightened groups responsible for our future. Change is already here, and it is the new society with a new and growing economy, that is flowing rapidly towards us.
The viral nature of information and the free availability of ideas, knowledge and new concepts is the fuel that is making our jobs much simpler. Our constant hunger to advance is the engine, while our aspirations could be a large factor behind the push for change. And it is not something that will happen at some point, that paradigmatic transformation is already moving the ground from underneath our own feet.
Let go then of what is old and of little use (thank you Marie Kondo for viralizing another valuable idea!) and embrace all that is good in this shift of major boundaries. And remember, that you should find the way to make it to the other side is not what is behind this shift. Instead, it is a recognition that either we try to succeed together, or there is a big chance that we will not make it at all.
Originally published as an article on LiknkedIn Pulse, 2019.
© 2019 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera
(S) Ignacio Alperin nació en Argentina, creció en Australia y vivió temporariamente en varios países alrededor del mundo. Posee una experiencia internacional extensa, y diversa, obtenida en una carrera profesional alejada de lo lineal. Hoy en día es Profesor de Entrepreneurship en los MBAs de la Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA), Profesor de Creatividad e Innovación (Grado) en UCA Internacional, es un Emprendedor serial, consultor, orador en eventos nacionales e internacionales, evangelista secular, y artista plástico.
(E) Ignacio Alperin was born in Argentina, grew up in Australia and lived temporarily in several countries around the world. He has extensive and diverse international experience, obtained in a professional career far from the linear. Nowadays he is Professor of Entrepreneurship in the MBAs of the Argentine Catholic University (UCA), Professor of Creativity and Innovation (Degree) in UCA International, a serial Entrepreneur, consultant, speaker in national and international events, secular evangelist, and an artist.