A recent client engaged in an ambitious thought process: How do we change the underpinnings of the economy in two decades? The process was launched with a helpful framework. A participant proposed that any time big social change happens - we must have three things in place:

  • An Activist Base - the passionate visionaries who want to create a different future, those who are able to see that something is wrong and that something must be changed if we are to fulfill our destiny.
  • A Permissive Majority - the majority of people are not activists, but they have to be willing to go along. They are not going to fight for the change but they are not going to be against it. This group can be easily turned off, activists tend to push them too far, social or economic conditions lead to fear of change. This is the space where culture evolves.
  • Political Leadership - people wielding political power must create the legal framework that makes the change possible. While we are using the term “leadership,” what tends to happen is that these leaders actually follow the demands of activists on the ground and the energy of the permissive majority.

Two other things are important to account for:

One is the role of corporate power and the way an international oligarchy continues to shape the economy and the political system in ways that protect and prolong its power. Politicians are not really in charge, and the majority of people are more likely to live as consumers rather than as citizens. Our perspective is too often shaped by marketing and by media that serves the interests of the oligarchy. Whatever we are doing, we must aim to reach people directly. We must interact in ways that remind us of our humanity and of our inherent freedom.

Second and as important is the social and economic context. If people are in fear of demographic change or if they don’t see an economic pathway to a new future, they are less likely to become a permissive majority. Culture is changing at a rapid pace, some are excited to run in this direction, others react by becoming more conservative, more committed to the status quo. We must bring more of our attention to democratizing how we generate and distribute energy (innovations like the microgrid!), to amplifying and supporting experiments in local living economies, and to imagine a life that is not exclusively defined by work.

The human species has placed itself (and a myriad other species) at an existential risk. We are engaged in a suicidal global economy of seemingly unstoppable momentum. Where will you focus your energy for change? Your transformational capacity? Will you build an activist base? Will you use culture to impact a permissive majority? Will you become an authentic political leader?

It’s time for BIG change.