There was, for very long, a time when people believed that the Earth was flat. Not only was it flat, but it was God’s masterpiece at the centre of a well ordered creation. And humankind was at the pinnacle of the created order. Fearful of looking outward and into the abyss, we fixed our eyes heavenward, averting them from the terrors of the hell we imagined lurking beneath us. On this flat Earth we built civilizations and went about life forever fearful of falling off the edge. Yet, despite this circumscribed,hierarchal worldview, we made progress. We built cities and empires and produced great art and inventions. This was the world in which we did business, a world with well-defined, absolute boundaries.
Then, not so long ago, the more inquisitive and observant among us, with the aid of some simple technology, a crude telescope, discovered that we were wrong. The Earth was in fact round. It was in orbit around the sun and not the other way round. We learnt that we were part of a greater system. This new knowledge was not immediately popularly received but we eventually came round to accepting that this was the way things were. No longer fearing that ‘there be dragons’ awaiting us at the end of the Earth, we ventured out on voyages of circumnavigation and great discovery. And so began a time of unbridled inventiveness and progress.
We expanded our empires, claiming distant lands and their inhabitants, returning with exotic wealth upon which we developed and grew our civilizations. We grew in our number. We moved off the land into cities, build machines and factories and harnassed our mass labour so as to more speedily and profitably meet our ever-growing consumption. Growth and development became the great spurs of nations, each seeking to outdo the other in wealth and strength. We figured out the laws of nature that stop us from falling off the planet and we propelled ourselves into the skies. We put a man on the moon and a robot on Mars. In a fraction of the time it had taken us to get from flat Earth to deep space, our technological knowledge exploded in a big bang of ever-expanding inventiveness. Our businesses flourished. We expanded them from our towns to our cities. from our cities to our lands, from our lands to the lands of others. The world of business became truly global, an interlinked world of corporate exchange, finance and the provision of goods and services across international boundaries.
Our expanding scientific knowledge gave us power to create new and wonderful technologies. Armed with these, we became super-efficient in our ability to exploit the seemingly boundless resources of the Earth. We split the atom, mapped everything – from the outer boundaries of the known universe to the inner world of our genetic make-up. Not satisfied with having pushed the boundaries of the real world, we created a virtual world to explore, where tangible and intangible blurred, a world where, literally, virtually almost everything was possible. In this world of great possibility, we shrunk a great world into a small village, where, connected by technology and bound by global economy, the accessing, acquiring and exploitation of knowledge became the currency of exchange. This is the world of global business, where business provides the fuel driving ever greater growth so as to ensure the sustainability of our progress and development.
Even as we marvel at our genius, there are, as in the past, those among us who question the way things are; where we are going and how we are getting there. They tell us that the resources available to us are not limitless, that all things are finite, that is not in the nature of anything to grow and sustain itself infinitely. They point to the destructive effects of our ways on the natural way and order, effects so alarming as to make us almost scornful of their warnings. They point to the empty places where once were forests, to the empty seats at Nature’s once bounteous table where once were species that are no more and shall never be again.
They tell us is that the great journey of progress, upon which we embarked when we lost our fear of the Earth’s imaginery edge, has brought us teetering on an all too real edge of a place of imbalance, which we have created as we have pushed our boundaries in disregard of hers.
It is the place, where, unrestrained by natural fear and brimming with confidence born of success, resource-full human nature stands confronted by resource-spent Mother Nature sucked dry to fuel our insatiable quest for growth. With our minds fixed on minding the world of business, we have been mindless of our impact on the business of the world. Gorging, disgorging and fowling the air with the flattulence of our emissions, we have pushed Nature to the brink, beyond her tipping point, her fragile place of balance. We have transgressed her boundaries, flouted the natural laws that bind all of life in a mutually sustaining and interdependent ecology.
And so we have come full circle, back to the place which, if not true in the minds of men, is true in heart of nature, the the edge, the tipping point, Nature’s boundary where she asserts her right to say ‘No further!’.
The weight of our excessive demands and our over self-provision threatens this delicate ecology of this place of balance. We arrive as aliens, confronted by a world of our own unmaking. We can no longer move inexorbarily forward. Here we must stop, not merely to pause to negotiate the way forward (for that will take us over the edge) but to consider which way to move at all, to learn to adapt to what already is and to mitigate what yet may be.
In order to move, we must ourselves be moved. We have to shift the way we think, shift our paradigm of how things are and how we relate to all things. We must shift the way we act. We have to be moved in our emotions, shift the way we feel about the natural world in which we do business.
The preferred language of businessis the language of negotiation. We may negotiate among ourselves, create international protocols and agreements on how much harm we will allow ourselves to continue to cause; we may trade and tax our emissions. But we cannot negotiate with Nature.
Nature’s way of changing, the ‘natural way’, is the process of evolution, a naturally selective process involving adaptation by that best suited and able to fit into this process, that which accepts its part in the great system of Life .
How are we to change? How will we adapt? Will we learn to fit in?
Whichever way we choose, we will need to move the way we growing and sustaining our business.
The world of business has to become the business of the world.