By now, it is common sense that people–both young and experienced–need to be equipped differently in order to succeed in this accelerated and complex time we live in. Skills and competences such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, improvisation and cooperation become more important. Many leading thinkers promote a new approach to leadership that embraces authenticity, curiosity, invention and collaboration. Organizations–and the large ones often struggle with this–need to constantly innovate to survive and need to look for sustainable ways to execute their missions. While all of those are noble endeavors, they are targeted mainly at maintaining the status quo and making sure we further advance in science and grow the economy. But what is the price of exclusively focusing on advancement and growth?
Clearly, something bigger is at stake. The world is full of major challenges and problems to be solved, and while many hoped–even predicted or promised–that most of them would be gone by now, they are more present than ever. The evening news is full of conflicts, catastrophes and crises. Since the Enlightenment, science and the economy have become the two main pillars on which societies are built around the globe and more certainly in the Western world. Advancement and growth are the two most important mandates for the modern world and are big business. Yet neither has led to solutions for the most urgent problems. Many believe some of the problems are likely to grow worse:
- Technological advancements have led to great things but also to an overabundance of options, resulting in acceleration that overwhelms many, directly causing fatigue and burnout.
Studies show people in developed countries have not become happier on average since the fifties, despite increased wealth for a great number of people.
- Wealth is again at risk as the dominating financial system creates an unequal distribution of resources and exponential growth–not of value but of debt–by offering a few the
opportunities to get rich without creating any value whatsoever. That condition is questioned by too few who actually have the power to change it.
- The growth dogma has reached its limits with “peak everything,” resulting in scarcity of natural resources, destruction of nature and climate change due to human intervention.
- Many people feel a lack of meaning and purpose, leading to a collective crisis of identity. Their identity is also at risk as freedom grows precious again in a fully digitalized
world wherein everything is transparent and nothing can be kept in private.
It would be shortsighted to blame abstract systems such as science or the economy and all the people within them. Most people have no bad intentions and also wonder where this is all going and what they can do to support a positive future. So, not every scientist or business person represents evil. The opposite is the case. Most scientists think hard about how to solve problems in all fields of life, and more and more managers do care about sustainability and social responsibility on top of securing revenue. This brings us to a key question: If most people would like to see the core problems resolved and think now is time, why is there so little progress? Maybe it is because we understand what is wrong—sometimes with clarity, sometimes not so much–but we don’t understand what attitude, what perspective is required to get started and how to act with the right means and priorities once we are in progress. This is where an artistic mindset and approach can help. Competences for a better future can be found in the arts. It is certainly not a “silver bullet,” but it has the potential to make a unique contribution–in combination with other approaches–to re-establish a desperately needed balance. We believe such an approach can help in three major areas and we will discuss them thorough the next couple of weeks on our blog.
Picture Source: , “Woman Holding a Balance”, 1664, oil on canvas, size 39.7 x 35.5 cm (15 5/8 x 14 in.) Widener Collection, National Gallery of Art