Shifts and Surges

In his 2015 book, The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World, Steven Radelet makes a powerful argument about sustaining global economic progress in the future. The book is a well-crafted antidote to today’s pessimistic views that the world is going in the wrong direction and heading for an inevitable catastrophe. In light of the alarming news about climate change and radical Islam, Radelet provides a refreshing perspective: not only have we seen dramatic improvements in poverty, health, and education in the last 30 years, but there also appears to be a pathway to more promising possibilities in the future. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is in need of a dose of optimism.

Photo by Tim Gouw,
Photo by Tim Gouw

The formula for success is fairly simple:

Shift mental models and global conditions, provide opportunities for growth, develop new skills and technologies and then experience a surge in health, education, income, and safety.

The formula can be represented as the COST of growth, development, and progress.


Clearly, the price of non-action far exceeds the investment costs of taking these actions. Lets consider each element separately.

Conditions: On a societal level, the major shift needs to be from control to freedom. Countries who are committed to control strategies do not fare well. If you look at a whole range of success indicators, the most controlling countries show the least amount of progress and the most decline: North Korea, Egypt, Zimbabwe, etc. Those counties allowing the most amount of freedom fare much better: U.S., Canada, European Union, Ghana, Botswana, South Korea, etc. Growing countries and raising kids are remarkably similar: too much control usually backfires.

Opportunities: The biggest shift in opportunities has resulted from foreign investments and easy access to information. As investments pour into developing countries, new jobs become available. More importantly, as the people around the world gain access to new technologies for communication, health, agriculture, and education, opportunities explode. For example, over 40% of the world now has access to the internet. This access radically changes the market opportunities for people in the most remote locations. As that percentage of people continues to grow, opportunities will expand.

Skills: The biggest shift in skills has resulted from new business opportunities and larger markets. Also the shifts from The Industrial Age to The Information Age to The Age of Ideation have created entirely new skill requirements. The world still needs manufacturing capabilities and knowledge workers, but it also needs idea generators who create new sources of gain and new types of jobs. In conditions of freedom and opportunity, people can learn new skills that accelerate their economic prospects.

Technologies: Technology innovations are exploding in every field. The only question is, “what are these technologies enabling?” Technology is amoral. It can be used for better or for worse. Military technologies are often used for worse. Most medical technologies are usually used for better. If the conditions and opportunities are right, new technology shifts result in surges in the right direction. If conditions and opportunities are wrong, then the surges occur in the wrong direction.

The COST benefit ratio for all these shifts can only be maximized through effective leadership. Great leaders set the right conditions, create the right opportunities., require the right skills, and leverage technologies to maximize the good. These leaders have a vision of possibilities and are focused on development and inclusion vs. dominance and exclusion.

All of these COSTs can be translated into capability development as follows:

Conditions = Environmental capability
Opportunties = Organizational capability
Skills = Human capability
Technolgoy = Information capability

This translation raises several questions. Do these shifts take into account the need to protect our environment? Do they insist on sustainable development? How do these shifts impose new demands on organizational structures? How do we align organizational cultures with changing conditions and requirements? What new organizational capabilities are required to sustain environmental needs? What new skills are required to continually enhance the environment and align our organizations? What new skills and capabilities do people need to function in new environments and organizations? How can we use technology to accelerate growth? These questions demonstrate the need for a deductive approach to enable COST shifts and facilitate surges in growth and development.

There is a growing number of people and organizations who are trying to make the kinds of shifts that nurture the right kinds of surges. For example, The Shift Network is an organization devoted to helping people create new conditions, form new organizations, learn new skills, and leverage new technologies for advancing world peace and harmony. And this link shows the real revolution taking place in the world.

In short, if we can facilitate the right COST shifts, then we may be able to produce surges in performance, peace, and prosperity, so that there is reason to hope for an inclusive and ever-developing world.

Also published on Medium.

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