Creating Desired Futures in a Global Society

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Reflections
The SoL Journal

on Knowledge, Learning, and Change
FEATURE ARTICLE

Creating Desired Futures
in a Global Society
Peter M. Senge

Published by The Society for Organizational Learning

ISSN 1524-1734

4reflections.solonline.org

FEATURE

Creating Desired Futures
in a Global Economy
By Peter M. Senge

change, sustainability, the future of education, and

and societies face is the question: How can we cre-

leadership development. In June 2003, 335

ate desired results in an increasingly interdepen-

researchers, consultants and executives from busi-

dent world? That question has been the focus of

ness, government, and civil society gathered at

Peter Senge’s work for more than 20 years. It also

SoL’s first Global Forum, in Helsinki, Finland. This

is at the heart of the Society for Organizational

article was adapted from Peter’s remarks at that

Learning’s research in innovation, large-systems

forum. — Paul M. Cohen, Senior Editor

T

Peter M. Senge

Senior Lecturer,
Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
Founding Chair, SoL

here’s nothing more elemental to the work of leaders than creating results. But it’s no longer possible to create positive results in isolation. With organizations, economies, and entire societies increasingly interconnected, our actions affect (and are affected by) others, often literally a world away. It’s impossible, in today’s world, to think about how to have an impact in our workplace without also asking ourselves a deeper question: What does it means to live in a global society?

This question was brought home to me by Mieko Nishimizu, one of the most gifted executives at the World Bank. Shortly after attending the SoL Executive Champions’ Workshop in August 2002, she addressed business and political leaders observing the 50th anniversary of Japan’s membership in the post-World War II Bretton Woods Agreements. Speaking with candor unusual for such an affair, she described what it meant for her, after growing up with many material benefits, to come to grips with poverty. For example, she told of meeting an Indian woman who had to walk four hours each day to gather fresh water. As they walked together, the woman told her, “This is not life. This is only keeping a body alive.” For Mieko, such conditions – which are a reality for an increasing number of people in most of the developing world1 – cannot be separated from the forces shaping an increasingly global society: The future appears alien to us.

It differs from the past, most notably in that the earth itself is a relevant unit with which to frame and measure that future. Discriminating issues that shape the future are all fundamentally global.

reflections.solonline.org

Senge

Creating Desired Futures in a Global Economy 1

Copyright © 2003, Peter M Senge. All Rights Reserved.

Underlying every significant issue that organizations

We belong to one inescapable network of mutuality – mutuality of ecosystems; mutuality of freer movement of information, ideas, people, and goods and services; and mutuality of peace and security.

We are tied, indeed, in a single fabric of destiny on planet earth. Policies and 2

actions that attempt to tear a nation from this cloth will inevitably fail.

The future
appears alien
to us.

Few of our institutions are prepared for a truly global society. Indeed, it appears that much of the preparation nature has invested in us – our physiological, cognitive, psychological, and cultural evolution – is failing us. Our neuroanatomy is tuned to respond to sudden, dramatic changes in our environment: clap your hands loudly and watch it react. We focus on immediate needs and problems, and are trapped by the illusion that what is most tangible is most real. We’ve been conditioned for thousands of years to identify with our family, our tribe, and our local social structures. A future that asks us to overcome this...
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