The Challenge Network

   go back   

The key issues

The key issues

This section reviews the key agencies that will be at work from 2000 out to 2020. The overall forces that are at work are those of capability, connectivity and scale.

Capability: We are able to do things which we could not do before, whether we be the first person to receive education in a poor village, or an entrepreneur operating at the sharp edge of the industrial world's capabilities.

Connectivity: We are able to link together things hitherto unlinked; but we also impinge on our neighbours and remote interests as never before. We have access to information, but we have to live with the consequence of many voices raised over every issue.

Scale: The sheer volume and pace of events is both unprecedented and replicated in every domain of interest and every level of scale.

This is, indeed, a closely-coupled world. There are two great interest blocks, at present very heterogeneous internally, which are coming to contact. One of these is the industrial nations, their populations and interests, and the other is the six to seven billion people who live in the poor world. Their internal preoccupations and interactions are best shown with a figure. Where domains of interest collide, 'flashes' symbolise the possibility of friction.

Figure 1: Interactions within and between the great interest blocks.

Each of these issues has been explored in Chapter One. This section is divided into six topics. We begin by considering the three main drivers: connectivity, capability and scale. We then turn to the issues peculiar to the industrial world, as the likely controller of well over four fifths of the world's wealth and power. Uneasy may lie the head that wears this particular crown. Then, we look at the relations between the great blocks, as shown in Figure 1. Finally and in this light, we consider the roots of the scenarios.

To look twenty years ahead is not equivalent to looking twenty years behind us. The pace of change means that 2020 will be much more distinct from 2000 than is 1980. This said, the major powers will almost certainly remain major, and the chief structures and dynamics of life will remain common. However, the complexity and speed of events increase with every passing day. The USSR fell not because its economy collapsed or its people revolted, but because the institutions and forms of social engagement - notably, around motivation and cohesion - were unable to cope with the complexity which modernisation brought. Major nations such as the USA, Germany, Japan or Britain face exactly these issues. How are we to maintain our public and private decision-taking apparatus in a form that wins consent, encompasses the best knowledge that is to hand and which is able to conquer complexity? Failure to meet this hurdle will create dynamics which will, at the very least, slow growth. Success will, in all likelihood, be first demonstrated in the smaller complex nations than the large ones, and in those with a tradition of consultation, rational decision-taking and close relations between commerce and the public sector.


One thought which readers should have extracted from these papers is that the agencies of 2020 may be much more complex than the current patterns of discrete nation states. This is not to say that agencies such as multinationals or NGOs will take more power, but rather that we shall all be embedded in different, overlapping webs of connectivity to our peers, to those for who we work and from whom we buy. If the US government takes a position that such a group dislikes, then it will mobilise across frontiers.

More to the points, however, there will be expert cadres who understand a particular matter better than any others, and whose voice will be naturally dominant. Such cadres - in science and commerce, the arts and activism, in a myriad of hobbies an enthusiasm, in the follows of media deities and fashion gurus - will increasing set transnational bundles of connections which will have their influence. Such groups will be contained in areas of common interest, and may thus be similar in income, education and personal influence. One can envisage this as bundles of increasingly dense connections focused on, initially, cultural boundaries. Each bundle will, however, develop links across the more trivial of the boundaries, such that a person may be a member of several distinct networks, Some of these will be primarily face-to-face, some entirely virtual. Some may be operational, some a backdrop of solidarity. One may work for particular network of interest, and quite distinctly, be a member of several more or less coherent value communities which only come to light when an issue is raised that concern them.

How these networks influence those with power will, by 2020, be both complex and expert. Political mechanisms have to change very considerably, to cope with complexity, to pool expert knowledge and to co-ordinate a social and operational response to the new. De-located networks that know how to build cars, or preserve insect-eating birds, or engage young people in live music will interact naturally with these structures. They will do so as enthusiasts, not as national citizens. The issues - of extremely local concerns or of transnational reach - will invariably evoke other agencies with different time scales and geographical interest. The governors of a local school might have proposals that interest international educational interests, foreign courseware vendors, local shopkeepers and national custodians of standards. Whilst few of these could force their opinion, any one would be able to make a good case to be heard.

These are all positive thoughts. There is, of course a dark side to connectivity, ranging from muddle through veto to crime and harm. Managing dissent, finding a way through an expert and assertive babble and creating closure will be even more of a crucial art. Policing the new infrastructure will be a major issue. Handling - for example, remote crime or contractual default across sovereign boundaries may require a rethink of extraterritorial law. In each instance, from the management of dangerous technologies to the control of tax evasion, regulatory domains extend beyond the nation and will require at least convention and agreement to handle the resulting problems. Where events go across boundaries, then there, too, governance must extend.

How all of the practical underpinnings of this connectivity this will occur is explored in sections of Chapter One. Bandwidth will be immense, knowledge stacked in convenient forms and the pool of human talent will be unprecedented. All of this offers immense practical advantages: we described the new, distributed framework as a 'tool kit', from which the discriminating entrepreneur or consumer could construct the option that appealed to them. All, together, serves as the knowledge economy, where intermediaries and deep though help groups and individuals to find their way through this maze. No nation can practically back away from what is on offer. However, engagement brings with it all of the complexity that we have just explored.

Many may find this an insuperable challenge. They may resent the loss of sovereign powers and the weakening of old icons. They may wish to deny the entire situation. We turn to these and to their preoccupations in the closing part of this section.


The extended toolkit, and interfaces to it, offer virtually any capable person in the world the opportunity to engage with global capabilities. At least two billion graduate will be please to enjoy the fruits of this. Much that is on offer in this way will be highly specified, routine and a variation on an established theme. The modular nature of what is on offer will make replication easy, and competition will be truly fierce, and advantage fleeting.

Set against this, there are considerable parts of the value chain that we do not know how to outsource. These revolve around the social processes by which organisations find their options and explore their potential. We have explored this under the general heading of 'knowledge management'. A European car maker looked at the exchange of information amongst engineers who were working on a common project. They passed each other a great deal of data, but at best managed to exchange only one item of information in a working day, in the sense of something that changed the recipient's perspective on the project. This peak rate occurred when the colleagues were working a metre apart, and fell to nearly zero when they worked further apart than 70 metres.

Chapter One explored the innovative milieu, in which firms and others collaborated and competed in a physically constrained site. It turns out that making use of dispersed knowledge requires great amounts of social interaction if it is to be effective, and requires iterative processes in which the participants find a common perspective from which to discuss options. Each has to learn some thing from the other is the knowledge is to be accessible. This appears to be hard to do down networks.

As a consequence, the intellectual aspects of value added may well be retained within the industrial nations, whilst the specified, determined activities will be tendered to the world at large. Much of this, too, will be retained in the rich world, by dint of its productivity. Maintaining this lead will depend on ceaseless improvement, both to the firms in question and t the workforce who operate within them. The skill base and the labour market both have to be tuned appropriately, and kept in tune.

The capacity to lose a skill set will much greater than it is at present. This is because the cutting edge will be moving faster than people can easily retrain in a new field, let alone the pace at which an industry can be started and then catch up. A lapse of a few years will cause a region to be leapfrogged. International resources - and in particular, the scarce resources of technical capabilities and intellectual property - will tend to co-locate with their peers, and to seek out leading edge places to be. This will respect national boundaries to the exact degree to which national governance creates appropriate conditions for them to use. It will be hard to work one creative, high value added activities outside of any such milieu, but the milieux will themselves be mobile when it suits them to be so. Banks located in London could easily relocate their higher brain functions elsewhere.

Such issues serve as sharp constraints (or threats) to political action. It is not that companies become powers, but that the rationale of adding value in a particular way becomes a law of gravity that all recognise to be unavoidable. States which are unable to solve the problems of complexity, or which try to buck to many trends, will find their area falling behind. Rejectionist states, which actively try to slow the pace of change, will find deeply unfortunately things happening to their economies.


Consider governance as a mill wheel, grinding raw grain to useful flour. The speed at which the wheel can turn is a function of the water flow that drives it and the load which it has to sustain. The complexity of its tasks - and the intensity of commercial competition - represent the load. The flow of water that drives the wheel represents the sheer scale of events and the pace of them. Both of these clusters of factors are set to increase, and with their growth comes increased strain on the mill.

Figure 2: Faster flow, more water, more corn to grind.

The strain is met by three forms of adjustment. Each will go faster or slower, depending on the pace of adaptation. The strains will mount, however, if the adaptation is anything less rapid that the driving events - and the complexities to be rendered tractable - will demand. There are a myriad sources of complexity. The erosive forces of competition and obsolescence will mount. The sheer volume of events, however, will prove the decision force. The mill stream is becoming a torrent, at exponential rates, driven by a myriad of tributary sources.

The three adjustment mechanisms are the following:

People need to adjust themselves to their changing society, and alter their society to suit their needs. A host of issues are raised by how this is achieved, or what happens when it fails to occur.

Companies and commercial milieux will need to renew themselves much faster than hitherto. The tools by which to do this revolve around the identification of options and the swift adoption of those which are chosen. Coherence, and the coherent use of knowledge and the third party "tool kit", will underpin commercial success. Rapid advances in productivity will, however, place demands on the workforce - and on society - which will require mutual adaptation.

Public institutions will need to match the commercial framework in precision and agility. They will have to do this in a complex, deeply inter-linked and expert environment. However, they will also have to do this in an adversarial framework in which the number of voices, the depth of their resource base and the professionalism of their advocacy will have increased in at least due proportion. The key issue is less one of expert institutions - although these have yet to be properly understood and brought into being - but a renewal of basic representation. The centralised, national bipartisan political structure cannot meet the needs of a democracy of educated, informed professionals. Something which is both more complex, more detailed, more gradualist, more inclusive and more effective is needed. We have discussed how this may evolve from the growing snarl of connectivity to which we have alluded above. However, the redesign of public institutions, and particularly the institutions of representation, may present formidable problems. We should look to the smaller industrial nations for a lead in this.

Everywhere we look, we see exponential growth: in economic activity and in markets, in the number of capable people, in science and applied knowledge, in connectivity and in access to information. Some of these forces have feedback mechanisms that may limit their development: demographic transitions, pollution, complexity management. Nevertheless, we are being propelled by our own actions into a situation without historical precedent. No-one is in charge of what is happen and it is safe to say that no-one has complete oversight on the events and dynamics that drive them. However, where once we could rely upon the invisible hand either to guide, or to dust us off if we fell over, we must now rely upon ourselves. This is a situation rich in options. It is also fraught with local optima, where we can get ourselves jointly or severally trapped by the rising waters of events.

Issues internal to the industrial world.

One billion wealthy people, virtually in charge of the world's knowledge and wealth, will be ageing by 2020. Many individuals will be suffering as a result of ill-funded age. Their ambition for what the state should provide will be much extended, not least as medical care delivers remarkable possibilities. States will be under pressure to meet all of the challenges expressed above, but also forced to comply with popular pressures for more support. Individual wealth will have roughly doubled amongst those working or with assets, and pressures to tax them may increase. At the same time, the mobility of the knowledge economy may deter states from taking these steps. A range of dilemmas and concerns with adjustment will fill the foreground.

In the background, the forces on the 'mill' will increase. Quite unprecedented issues will become central. How long should people live? How much is it reasonable to adjust human capabilities? What is to be made of sentient machines? Further, issues in the rest of the world - addressed below - become of practical concern. Jobs are at risk for the low skilled, change sweeps in form every corner of the globe, and every nook on it seems to conceal organisations undertaking dangerous, alarming, larcenous or threatening activities. Rather than a Wild West, there is a Wild South and a Wild East, surrounding a beleaguered, elderly West. Or so it feels to the inhabitants.

Within the industrial nations, three groups will be evident. These may or may not be cognate with 'nations', but could also be transnational positions which attain particular strength within certain political entities.

One of these is traditionalist, retrospective and inclined to emphasise the threats and deny the advantages of modern times. Its members are predominantly elderly, relatively poorly informed, dependent on others or struggling to find a place for themselves. The group has a strongly authoritarian streak, and enjoys representatives who set out seemingly clear analysis, point to clear villains and suggest clear remedies.

The second group will be particularly strong in the recently-industrialised nations, as it is in - for example - Singapore today . Such people strive to better themselves through mainstream economic engagement. They are conformist and inclined to rank themselves against their peers, but they are also highly pragmatic and agile in seeking personal advantage. They are enthusiastic consumers. They judge status against the backdrop of mass opinion, and tend to focus on one or two measures of personal success - such as displaying wealth or finding a high status partner - rather than balancing many variables. They want government to 'get on with it' and make the machinery work, and they tend to vote against tired administrations rather than for new policies. They regard charities and NGOs as organisations which 'sell' representation and policy intervention and they buy from these in a consumerist manner. This and the following group are 'unboxed', meaning that they switch between value systems and rationales without being aware that they do so. The orbit that this group take through value space is, however, quite distinct to that of the next group.

The third group is best characterised as seeking to balance many desirable things, and to minimise many undesirable features. In doing this, they take their cues from their peer group and from best practice in any one element of what concerns them; but their fundamental touchstone is themselves, their aesthetic, ethical, interpersonal tastes. In knowing themselves, they are self-confident, assertive and analytical. They access large amounts of knowledge and are well-educated. Their life choices may not make them particularly wealthy, but they tend to create an environment for themselves which selects what they enjoy and which walls off the rest. The outcome of this may be extremely heterogeneous: environmentalists and technology entrepreneurs, gardening enthusiasts and journalists, policy designers and academics. Under the surface manifestations, however, this group seek to understand 'how things work' - to understand the system - and then to manipulate this to their own ends. As most complex structures connect - not least through the individual conducting the analysis - they naturally arrive at a holistic view.

These three groups employ radically different value systems, standards of debate and sources of gratification. They will be roughly equal in numbers in the industrial societies of 2020. Not only will it be necessary to change the nature of the representative institutions, therefore, but it will also be necessary to bridge these gaps if cohesion is to be achieved. Nations have already polarised around these groups: their dominant culture speaks chiefly to one of the three bundles of values which are on offer. There is every reason to believe that this tendency will increase. It will do so against a background of increasingly rigorous scrutiny, however, and messy or rejectionist political entities may find themselves deserted by the forces vive that drive the knowledge economy.

Interactions between the first, second, third worlds.

The issues peculiar to the first world have been described. Seen from the outside, however, their average income per head will be extraordinary. In 2000, income per capita in the G7 nations averaged US$25,875 when corrected for purchasing parity. The OECD average was US$21,000. This will, in general terms, double by 2020, due to low birth rates and steady economic growth. By contrast, GNP per capita in the poor nations is around US$1000 when parity corrected, and the mean for the developing countries is around US$ 3200. These values will not double, and the poor nations may see no average improvement. A divergence of 20-25 to 1 may rise to nearer 50 to 1.

Figure 3: Key issues in the relationship between these blocks.

The key issues are suggested in Figure 3. At the heart of it, as always, lie resource issues: cash, talent, knowledge, capacity, water, air, the natural world. Each want aspects of this for the others, either as transfers or as a conserved resource.

More specifically, the wealthy world has two 'wish lists' One, primarily directed at the poor, populous world, is for its reform. From improved institutions spring security, public health, environmental protection and the absence of shocks. Failure to improve brings with it the opposites of these, and an increased isolation of the parties from each other and, in the case of the poor nations, increased friction between them. The reciprocal needs are assets, access to labour markets and what might be called 'assisted independence': sovereignty, but coupled to a great deal of piecemeal help. Naturally, this is a general assessment and some nations will not want any of these factors, and many poor nations will not get most of them in any adequate measure. It is, however, striking that measures of the quality of life in poor nations on the same level of income per capita vary widely. Improvements may be less due to economic change than to better policing, better government, stable economies and cities which work, health care which cures and education which informs. Female participation in work, education and representation appears to be a significant marker for such social development,

The second wish list is directed at the industrialising nations. This seeks economic and political stability, both between and within these nations. As noted elsewhere, these are still at the development stage where aggressive adventurism allows useful assets - such as oil fields - to be captured. Further, these nations have the capability to use dangerous technologies, to steal intellectual property and to assist tax evasion and remote crime. (The same is true, on a lesser scale, of the poorest nations.) Nations of this type wants access to markets (and to out-sourced value streams) and they want access to knowledge and other resources. Wise nations seek long term relations, and help to build regional security and stability. Less wise nations, or temporary administrations, may not.

The relations between the poor nations and the industrialising countries have only begun to form. However, the potential for rough economic colonialism is already clear, as are security collaborations and, perhaps, confrontations. This interaction may be amongst the least policed aspects of the Wild South and the Wild East.

Many nations do not fit into this framework, which is intended as a guide and not a prescription. The pre-World War II Soviet countries are often less developing than despoiled. Many have an increasingly elderly population, often split along ethnic lines. Their political institutions are not merely weak but unfit for purpose. The revival of the nations engulfed after World War II has been slower than expected, but is an object lesson in policies that work and policies which do not. The role of the European powers in this pattern offers similar lessons of what to do and to avoid.

The Islamic world is heterogeneous and complex and some nations are doing well, whilst others are either visibly static or able to conceal their lack of institutional progress behind the economic shield of primary production. Whether the dominant force consists of finding ways to modernise traditional institutions, or waves of rejectionist populism, largely depends on the role of the educated young in these societies over the next two decades.

These is, therefore, great complexity inherent in the coupling together of a fast-changing world. Collectively, we have around 20 years to 'get this right', before insuperable divisions, despoliation and insecurity dominate the world's eight billion.

The roots of the scenarios

Figure 4 shows the timeframe around which these issues will become critical. The five issue-headings which we have discussed in this section are shown down the left of the figure. The corresponding very general time frame is shown horizontally, with individual issues developing across this as appears appropriate. Clearly, all that we have discussed cannot be distilled into this chart and readers may have a different version that they wish to develop for their own purposes.

Figure 4: The general time frame at which the major issues will mature.

The key issues are concerned with adaptation to change. There will be a great deal of it, at unprecedented scale, complexity and urgency. The world has changed in one very basic way. The forcing factors which are making change cannot be brooked by any one sovereign agent. Where some parts of a society are adapting to fast change of this sort, the rest cannot easily turn the drivers of change 'off' by legislative fiat. At the same time, we are more aware of our rights, more concerned with our liberties, and more confident in the exercise the options which are presented to us. We need to adapt to change as a social system, but we seem likely to continue to do so piecemeal. What we become will be the consequences of what we choose and how we choose.

There are two variables which run through the way in which we exercise choice.

First, we can make our choices in a rational, systems-oriented way or we can let individual choices define market equilibria. Rational choice begs questions: whose rationality is to be used and how is dissent about this to be handled? It implies a degree of indirect decision-taken, whether centralised or no. It can be highly successful - as with urban planning in Victorian England, or make dreadful and sweeping errors, as evidenced by British urban planning a century later. Equally, however, unbridled individual choice can lead to environmental damage, social or political exclusion and the over-playing of enthusiasms and local issues at the expense of the general good. What balances we find on this axis depends on who we are and what problems we face. Commerce, individuals and public institutions will usually have different centres of weight. Both approaches can be successful, and both have their pathologies. Coordinating the actions and advantages of these many modes of operation will, however, continue grow in importance.

Second, these choices can be made by the individuals who are directly affected - as with markets, for example - or they can be taken on their behalf by representatives, such as political authorities, shareholders representatives and retail purchasers. Large aggregates of authority - such as national governments - can act swiftly and decisively when they have the legitimacy to do so. They may lack the fineness of grasp and the necessary information to act appropriately, however, where the issues are very local, very expert, ethnically-specific or otherwise differentiated. Governments cannot do what markets can, but markets need governments to do what they cannot. By contrast, niche-focused, consumerist or expert groups may be agile, informed and able to manage their immediate stakeholders better than the great aggregates. As noted above, however, they are unlikely to arrive at universal solutions without guidance. Once again, the appropriate outcome depends on the nature of the problem and the agents involved in it. Individuals act in one way, public institutions in another. Co-ordination will grow in importance, in parallel with the importance of balanced, expert, adaptive solutions.

These two issues together define the pace and character of the change that a cohesive society can sustain. For example, in a slow changing world, a large number of agents can be lumped together - perhaps as a nation - and choices can be made on their behalf. Slow change means that this lumping-together can work out its differences through political processes. Fast change, by contrast, may tear the aggregate apart if all of the component parts of it cannot maintain the pace, or if the slow are not able to hinder the swift by political or direct action. In general, if the structure that makes many important choices is large - if it is, for example, a nation - then it can impose its values and machinery. Such structures can be inclusive, can help those with limited power and the like. If the decision-taking framework that evolves is not of this form, however, then it will be hard to achieve common values and common goals, or to act in an inclusive manner. If two such structures are to lie along side each other, as they do in the industrial economies, then the many expert, idiosyncratic, local agencies will have to learn to work both with each other and with the more global, inclusive and centralised process.

In addition, however, if the agents who are being lumped together have limited individual options, then central choice is likely to be able to work. If the forces of change are entirely internal to the decision-taking entity - if they consist of the actions taken by the firms within the nation in question, for example - the central choice is likely to be able to do something to moderate their affect. However, the world in prospect is not of this form. The agents - firms, individuals, NGOs, other elements of government - have taken charge of their immediate environment. Most of the forces of change are external to most nations. Central authority is seen to be inadequate to the task of coordination and localised, differentiated expert response.

Will the various component parts of our societies - and in particular, that of economic and social life - be able to stay in step with each other? Much of the complexity of modern societies has been built around machinery which creates general welfare from good choices, and which prevents winners from taking all. Capitalism, for example, allocates resources for proprietary ends, and does so well. In complex societies, this helpful fact is modified in scores of ways, such that it becomes a contributor to an exercise in which the rising tide raises all - or at least most - boats, and sinks as few as possible of them.

We face a riptide of change, however, in which many players are not bound by the rules of the complex economies. The commercial accelerando is driven by many independent forces, all of which we tend to both favour and further in the pursuit of better, cheaper goods, national competitiveness and similar goals. No organisation can stand aloof from this: there is no ramp up which a boat can be run until the tides have taken their course. One must adapt or, at best, be absorbed by more successful rivals. Such forces will not abate without a major change in public attitudes to consumption, quality and choice. Indeed, any one nation, regional aggregate, industrial sector or social group would drop out of this race at their peril.

At issue, then is whether 'society' can - wishes to, is able to - meet the pace which to commerce will be forced. Historically, commerce has become increasing inscrutable as its internal forms become separate from the general run of life: mass manufacture, life amidst the value nets, and - by 2010-15, transpersonal knowledge systems integration. The public already feel increasing vulnerable to integrated systems of supply, such as the food industry. Nobody seems to be in overall charge. What happens between the field and food on the plate is both opaque and alien to the world view of many, apparently prone to accident and in the hands of people that many are not predisposed to trust. The technologies which many companies may be using or exploring may seem extreme. Their commercial relations with suppliers and their staff may seem harsh. Their affiliates may seem even less under control, not least as integration of the rich and poor economies proceeds. This situation may well be set against the background of floundering - or modernising - public institutions, and will be the subject of commentary a myriad of interest groups and specialist interpreters, media channels and interest groups.

These two dimensions can be set up as a matrix, as in Figure 5a. The issue of aggregation is shown horizontally, with the 'box' defining the minimal change that is needed for an adaptive response to the issues of 2020. The vertical axis shows the nature of a response to a changing world. At the top, nations (etcetera) which do not go all-out to meet prevailing commercial best practice lose ground rapidly. At the bottom, firms are much more embedded in 'place': through access to innovative milieux, through niche branding and customer loyalty, through regulatory permissions and insulation from litigation. Their intellectual property may be protected by the nation (etcetera) and their relations with the suppliers of 'specified' goods in the value chain may be regularised.

Figure 5a: Two crucial dimensions of adaptive change.

The captions, shown in italics, suggest the nature of areas of this map. First, excluded from the box describing the reasonable response to the conditions of 2020, we find two cases:

The way we were -

central management of the issues through, for example, national politics fed by a consensus around the proper shape of national social balances. Economic factors are strongly influenced by the need to fit in with this (local) consensus. Change is relatively slow, external factors usually weak.

Great leap forward -

Central governance acts without reference to consensus to force change, doing so against an elite model of what ought to be true. Usually a great leap to anywhere but forward: the totalitarian model.

Then there are four items included in the 'box of the reasonable':

Expert's world -

In place of the elite model of what should be, a managed process of enquiry defines 'what is', pulling together expert views and establishing public and other policy against evidence and actively developed strategic understanding. Splendid, for just as long as the population trusts experts.

Tradition renewed -

Institutions are modernised to take into account capabilities such as those described above, but they are embedded in political and social realities. However, in making society safe for its members, it may make it difficult to achieve informed, swift adaptive responses, or to cope with internal contradictions.

Dog fight or dog pack -

Innovation and deal-making dominate commerce in ways which make political borders increasingly irrelevant. Nations which interfere with the processes of adjustment to this world often encounter negative consequences. There is, therefore, no apparent alternative to active encouragement of competitive adaptation. A harsh, exclusive, litigious and risk-intensive structure develops. Nations lose much of their historical capacity to exercise national choice. By contrast, coherent regions (defined by their commercial base and brand 'offer') become the de facto largest-scale representative organising principle. California - or perhaps Los Angeles, or its entertainment industry - are of a suitable scale to make coherent, inclusive choices. These aggregates are intensely focused and competitive.

Consumers' haven -

Societies become richly plural and consumerist, and commerce finds that pleasing the customer is the surest route to stable success. However, this is gained at the expense of agility and focus, as complex responses interact with regulation, litigation, national and regional grasping for distinctiveness.

These six 'places' are advanced not as scenarios but as snapshots into the nature of this space. The reason that they are not coherent scenarios is that they are not stable - or in some cases, viable - situations. Some of the elements of society would be happy with almost any one of these, but not the majority with virtually any of them, or happy for long.

It is, however, almost invariably the case that all components of society lie in mellow equilibrium with each other - and near to each other in such a figure - only in the most traditional and unchanging of societies. The framework that describes the industrial nations now - and in prospect - is, therefore, rather different. A more adequate description would, therefore, comprise movement across such a chart, as well as a separation of the elements of society within it.

This is rather a lot to fit onto one figure! Figure 5b, therefore, reproduces Figure 5a but overlays the "spread" of three groups onto the axes. We have used the commercial, institutional and societal groups. Clearly, these could be segmented further: into the three attitude groups of which we suggested society was comprised, for example.

Figure 5b. The 'location' of commerce, institutions and society in 2000.

Each of these interact with the others. Each has its own internal dynamics. We have described many aspects of these: society will demand more of the collectivity whilst simultaneously asserting personal liberties and plural, rival forms of justification. Commerce will avail itself of new things but root itself in what exists and in consumer concerns. Institutions will have to undertake grudging internal reforms, whilst meeting major issue with no clear sense of direction. The three elements shown in the figure will both migrate way from each other unless forced not to do so, and they will also extend their spread as they become more plural.

The forces which exist on commerce will impose great demands on it. In an ideal world, firms would respond through reference to balanced priorities. In practice, most focus on getting one set of things right - consumer offerings and competitive positioning, for example - before a crisis forces them to pay attention to how society sees them. The recent history of the biotechnology industry offer us a sharp lesson in this regard. Such swings in sentiment and attention are commonplace and we have discussed their origins in the previous chapter. They owe much to sentiment and much or more to the realities which firms must face.

Figure 6: Oscillating concerns.

Such swings in sentiment are shown in Figure 6, where economic and social complexity grow up the diagonal, where a balanced response by all parties would keep the locus of events. If the mounting commercial pressures sweep aside all other considerations - generating strong elements of 'dog pack or fight' and 'expert world, as in Figure 5a - then the evolutionary pathway swings upwards. Such changes are slow to work their way through the system, often requiring decades. An upward swing - where commerce decouples from locale, society, local interests - generates the world of 'Pushing the Edge', of which much more elsewhere. A swing to the right, by contrast, occurs when the social base and its political institutions assert their weight, whatever the economic consequences. This generates the world of 'Renewed Foundations', also reviewed in greater depth elsewhere.

Figure 7: The 'location' of society, commerce and institutions under the two scenarios.

The features shown in Figure 5b are reprised for these two scenarios. It must be emphasised that both of these scenarios represent constructive responses to contemporary reality. It would be easy to suggest a negative version of Renewed Foundations in which nations responded with populism, protectionism, vetoes and bans. Some may do this; but we believe that most see too many problems and too few solutions down such a route to pursue it for long. We have seen too many bad examples in history, and too many of us are educated for this to be viable Traditionalists, the natural target for such inducements, will never form more than a third of the industrial societies. Only in the aftermath of a severe shock could such a situation be contemplated. Renewed Foundations consists of a conscious effort to re-invent society, its institutions, physical infrastructure and its goals.

Equally, one could parody Pushing the Edge as capitalist heaven. This would miss the point. No advanced society is going to throw its hands in the air and let its commerce run away with it. The USA is one of the most regulated societies on earth, as well as the richest and most complex. Rather, the transformations required by the knowledge economy will radicalise how we work and how we learn, how we choose and what we choose. There will be less of a normative centre to this, and much more reliance on individual self-definition. There can be no pretence that there is an over-arching rationale to this, or that any one nation (or any other group) is in more than marginal control of its destiny. To resist the flow is to be smashed on the rapids, but to go with it may well be to enjoy unprecedented liberty and prosperity. The trick must be to find a balance - as suggested in Figure 6 - whereby a nation (etcetera) can enjoy the best of both of these outcomes, whilst suffering the weaknesses of neither.

  To top