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10 Frameworks and Mindsets for Thriving in the 21st Century

To change the world for the better, start by making better sense of the world.

I was recently invited to give a lightning talk to ultra high-net-worth families gathered for an intergenerational summit on reimagining wealth and creating a world that works for all.

The summit organizers tasked me with setting “the context of our times,” or, as Marshall Ganz might say, with telling “the story of now”: What challenges do these families and the global human family face? What choices do we need to make? What futures do we hope to create?

What follows is a recap of “the story of now” I presented to these families. I decided to tell the story through 10 frameworks and mindsets that are essential, I believe, for these families—and all of us—to make better sense of the world. Better sensemaking is an antidote to the senselessness of our times. It’s a critical first step toward action that grasps 21st-century realities and enables thriving at all scales; personal, familial, bioregional, global. Without further ado:     

1. Big History – Situating ourselves in the 14 billion year unfolding of the universe is the most mind-expanding time horizon there is, short of spiritual realization of the eternity of now. Watch Timelapse of the Entire Universe. Humans have existed for only a fraction of a second in this universal timescale. And yet…       

2. Planetary Boundaries – the aggregate effect of human activity on the planet now poses existential risks. We have crossed four of nine planetary boundaries that make up a safe operating space for humanity. In nation after nation, we are overshooting the planet’s carrying capacity and inviting collapse. Many serious observers believe this outcome is unavoidable and have shifted their energy toward managing collapse.

3. Wealth and Income Inequality – the other massively destabilizing force on the planet is mainly a function of late capitalism. Namely, rising extremes of personal and global wealth and income inequality. The observable trends began around 1980, coinciding with the heyday of free-market liberal democracy. Recall Margaret Thatcher, whose proclamations inspired the TINA effect in politics, and Francis Fukuyama, who declared the “end of history” at the end of the Cold War.

4. Alternative Movements – it took some time to see, but there are alternatives to the dominant system. In 2007, Paul Hawken published Blessed Unrest to show “how the largest movement in the world came into being” to address this moment of massive social and environmental unrest. Fundamentally, this is a moment for movements. The truth of this claim was made all the more undeniable in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, with the rise of international progressive movements (e.g., Occupy) and regressive ones (e.g., authoritarianism). On the progressive front, through principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth, strategies for a Commons Transition, and the Post-Capitalist Scenario, the prospect of a grand recalibration of society seems legitimate. Is it imminent?

5. VUCA – regardless of our political leanings and feelings about the aforementioned issues and movements, they all speak volumes for you and I living in a VUCA world. The U.S. military started using the acronym VUCA in the 1990s to describe the life conditions their leaders were facing and could expect to face for the foreseeable future: Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. Today’s leaders must therefore embrace and develop a completely new leadership mindset.  

6. Two Loops – to help us orient and facilitate change in these disorienting times, Berkana Institute offers their exquisite two loops model. One loop, the old system, has peaked and is on the decline while a second loop representing the new system has started to emerge through isolated alternatives. The model highlights “the different roles we might play to hospice the dying system, usher in the alternative system and make clear the choice between the two.” Perhaps especially important is the integrative role of wave rider, whose purpose is to help humanity successfully navigate this time of transition.  

7. Resist. Reform. Reimagine. Recreate. – another brilliant model and theory of transformation. Resist entails working on the current system; Reform is working within it. Reimagine means conceptualizing new systems; Recreate entails generating them. Which approach is your sweet spot? All are valid and needed. The latter two are especially conducive to transformative change (as distinct from incremental change).

8. Leverage Points – our times call for systemic and transformative change, but how do we produce it? Enter Donella Meadows and her seminal work, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. In living systems (e.g., bodies, cities, economies, organizations, ecosystems), sometimes “a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.” Among these leverage points, the most dramatic change comes from shifting mindsets. Thus we must be willing to inquire into our mind, and learn how to upgrade and refine the mental models out of which our systems arise.   

9. Spiral Dynamics – the human mind evolves. That fraction of a second Homo sapiens have existed in the timescale of the universe—it’s roughly 100,000 years. Spiral Dynamics is a developmental framework that presents an understanding of this historical evolution in the mental domain, specifically the evolution of “vMEMES” or values-based worldviews. From Spiral Dynamics we learn to see and attend to the whole spectrum of human cultural systems and life (not just two loops). We learn that the worldview of every epoch has both dignities and disasters. We learn to meet people where they are; encourage healthy expressions of value systems and discourage unhealthy expressions; and invite equitable, peaceful, and productive relations within and between worldviews. Such action-learnings are a product and performance of the integral and mystical worldviews emerging on the planet through small numbers of disproportionately powerful actors.     

10. Integral Models of Wealth & Investment – examples of the integral-mystical worldview applied to wealth and investment are starting to appear. To give just two examples, The MetaImpact Framework “measures 4 types of impact with 10 types of capital which produce 4 bottom lines”; Integral Investing integrates traditional investing and impact investing frameworks into a new framework with emergent properties not seen in either.   

There you have it; 10 of my favorite frameworks and mindsets for making sense of the world and preparing oneself to contribute mightily to the future and flourishing of humanity.

In future articles I’ll dig deeper into some of these frameworks and mindsets, as each one is rich and could be the topic of a much longer talk. I encourage you to explore them with me, if you share my passion for being a force for unthinkable and massive positive change in these historic times!

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