What the Pope Should Tell Congress: Americans Should Strive to Realize Their Ideals

Image result for Images of the Pope

          As a scholar, forecaster, strategist, businessman, American Catholic, and all-around know-it-all, I wondered what I would advise the Pontiff to say in his speech to the US Congress.  I give talks myself, and I think I would suggest the following to help Americans realize their potential.   


Dear American Friends:

          I am delighted by the warm embrace I have received from Americans, and honored to be with you in this seat of great power. This is especially fitting because I wish to speak with you about the use of American power.

          America is a great nation because it professes ideals of democracy, freedom, human welfare, and other virtues that move us toward the transcendent. Your marvelous technological ingenuity, creativeness, zest for knowledge and adventure, and economic advancement are holy attributes that express the sacred power of life and carry it forward.

          I must caution you that there are signs of illness in the American spirit that do not live up to your God-given ideals. The gap between your wealthy and ordinary citizens is beyond reasonable standards, and it harms your society gravely for many reasons. The extravagance of American life and the market push for consumption is a serious failing when much of the world struggles with poverty, and while the planet’s life itself is threatened.

          I understand many of you do what you can to alleviate these harms, but I think the basic problem is that American institutions celebrate self-interest and money rather than the society they should serve.  Your business corporations are dominated by Wall Street and the bottom line, while your political parties are supported by the moneyed class.

          Money is an essential part of any economic system, of course, but it cannot be the dominate purpose of a society.  I urge you to reframe your political system, business corporations, government agencies, and other institutions to serve others. You will be rewarded manifold.

          Take your great American spirit and use it for good. Please free your politicians from the burden of raising campaign funds so they can do their jobs and do them honestly. Ask your business leaders to include their employees in the conduct and rewards of their work. And please also ask them to work for the welfare of their communities. American business can help the developing nations prosper, and they will be rewarded in turn. Saving the Earth from climate change will challenge us all for decades, so addressing this problem will produce a large and sophisticated green economic sector with good jobs and solid returns on investment.

          I humble advise you that this is the path to the fulfillment of your great American ideals. Turning your energy to others is what we all need to find the Lord’s peace. That is what I am inviting you do with me. Let us recreate our institutions to serve others, and thereby help us all find a better measure of happiness. I know this is very difficult to do, and I am asking much of you. That is why I also ask you to do this by working together.

          Your conservatives and liberals have polarized the nation, but this can be resolved with honest collaboration to satisfy both sets of interests. Nobody today doubts the creativity of free markets, and we all know how essential strong communities and governments are to a healthy society. Other nations are exploring how they can integrate both philosophies into a more powerful whole, and I know you can lead the way. The same polarization of societies is happening around the world, and America was born to take us into a new global era.

May the Lord bless you all. Francis    

Why the GOP Loves Trump and the Odds of His Election

The amazing rise of Donald Trump to lead the Republican race for president is a highly symbolic event, and I think it signifies that American conservativism is in crisis.

At a time when trickle-down capitalism has failed and the wealth gap dries up market demand from a squeezed middle class, why would the GOP support a multi-billionaire who advocates more of the same pro-business policies?

With climate change threatening the planet, a hyper-consumer who brags about his extravagant lifestyle seems exactly wrong in an age of limited global resources and mounting environmental costs.

And now that the Nation supports gay marriage and cultural diversity, an aging white male who insults anyone he dislikes sounds like a prescription for political disaster.

Trump has great strengths, mainly his ability to take on big real estate projects successfully, and he has support among rank and file Republicans. A recent focus group thought him “one of us,” “tells the truth,” and is “like Reagan.” But the odds are strongly against him winning a general election, so this rage for Trump doesn’t make much sense, and one wonders what’s really going on?

I study economic cycles to better forecast change, and I think the Reagan Revolution of 1980 has run its course. The deregulation, privatization, and business tax breaks that stimulated the boom of the 90’s are over and Reaganism is in decline.

The overhyped booms and busts of 2000 and 2008 lost Americans trillions of dollars and still spook markets around the globe. Middle-class wages have been flat for decades while the 1% thrive, ironically fulfilling Marx’s prediction about the “immiseration” of the working class. In a world growing to 9 billion people, the single-minded focus on money is almost blind to the exploding need for good jobs, community services, environmental damage and climate change. These disparities in wealth in the face of mounting social concerns provoked Pope Francis to call capitalism immoral.

In the face of such daunting limitations, one would think new principles are in order. But the lure of “a self-organizing market economy with minimal government” is so great that the GOP can’t forsake Reagan’s legacy. Yes, Trump draws on the public’s anger at politics, but it’s a lot more than that. They like Trump because he exemplifies their free market ideals, even though he’s a caricature of a rich capitalist.

By celebrating this outdated ideology, Trumpmania could produce a conservative disaster. It gives Trump great appeal for the nomination but a likely defeat in the general election. Yet a “President Trump” is entirely possible. Remember, Reagan was considered a buffoon up until he took office,

Let’s strategize this issue using scenarios. The three most interesting possible outcomes are outlined below, along with my estimate of the probabilities:

Normalcy Returns – 60%     Trump blows it by becoming too insulting on a sensitive issue, so Bush or another normal Republican run against Hillary Clinton.

Trump Wins GOP Nomination – 40%   Trumpmania gets the Donald over the top, and Trump runs against Hillary or other Democrats.

Trump Wins the Presidency – 40% X 30% = 12%   Trump convinces conservatives, independents, and angry democrats that he can be presidential, while Hillary implodes.

Trump Loses the Presidency – 40% x 70% = 28%   Trump can’t pull it off, and is revealed as incapable of being an effective politician.
These are just my estimates of course, and I invite you to provide your own and do the math. You are likely to come up with roughly similar numbers. If Trump were nominated (40% probability), I think there is a 70% chance he could not beat a Democratic, so the probability of losing the electron would be 24%. To win, Trump has to beat a Democrat (30% probability), producing a 12% probability of winning the election.

A Trump Presidency may be a wild card, but it is entirely possible, and even plausible. By supporting a comic capitalist who appeals to their outmoded ideology, the GOP is likely to suffer a historic defeat that ends Reaganism.  And there is a small but realistic possibility that Americans would have to accept Donald Trump as president. 

Dystopias like the great movie “Idiocracy” are fun to watch, but reality often beats fiction. It could happen here in the Good Old USA.

A Poke in the Eye and the SONY Hack: How Will Americans Handle the Clash between Freedom and Violence?

The Interview (2014) Poster

 The North Korean attack on SONY raised the issue of America’s vaunted “freedom of expression” to dizzying heights as the company withdrew the offending film. There is intense concern over yielding to this cyber-attack because that would encourage other attacks, and they could become more frequent and damaging. If a backward nation like N. Korea can bring down a major corporation, we are in new territory of “cyber-feedback” where angered leaders can impose damage on enemies at will.

While it may be reasonable for Americans to see this as an assault on basic freedoms, it can appear very different from a broader perspective. At the symbolic level where we all impute meaning, the offending movie is seen as a poke in the eye of N. Korea. Yes, the movie’s criticism may be valid, and comedy has always been used to promote change. But that’s not how N. Koreans see it, and the result is to provoke conflict.

Americans have a habit of speaking truth to power, and our independence is the source of robust creativity and enterprise. But we often overdo it badly. When Westerners mock the Prophet Mohammed, for instance, this incites violence among Muslims around the globe. If we really want to insist on total freedom of expression, we should also expect a lot more retaliatory violence.

From this broader perspective, America seems more like a rowdy teenager than a global colossus. Issuing offensive media in an increasingly emotional and connected world looks not too different from the way teens attack one another on Facebook. What’s worse, those who favor showing the offending movie are like parents who tell their child it’s OK to continue the eye poking.

Americans face a tough choice. If we continue pushing the freedom to say anything, regardless of how hurtful it may be, we should not be surprised if people fight back. Or we could temper our indulgence in being candid to avoid provoking conflict, and become a little more mature. After all, most adults usually withhold gratuitous insults simply because they want to avoid confrontations.

Forecasting Threats Like Ebola

Eleven months into the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, there have been more than 9,200 suspected cases and 4,500 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.5 times that many have gone unreported and warns that there could be up to 10,000 new cases each week by December. At the current rate of spread, there could be 6 million infections by early April 2015 and over 6 billion by the following Halloween.

In Vietnam, Myanmar, and several major Chinese cities, health workers are screening international visitors for fever before they are allowed to leave the airport, though there has not been a single case of Ebola in Asia.

In the US, Congressional leaders are calling for a ban on travel to West Africa. President Obama found it necessary to warn that Americans “can’t give in to hysteria or fear” over Ebola and appointed a “czar” to deal with the crisis.

A few infectious-disease specialists have speculated that Ebola could mutate into a form that spreads through the air. “It’s the single greatest concern I’ve ever had in my 40-year public health career,” says Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. If Ebola can be caught from a cough or sneeze, that would be a nightmare, and a catastrophic global pandemic would be all but guaranteed.

Is the global pandemic envisioned by TechCast’s Wild Card already at hand? Our forecasts offer some perspective on the odds for Ebola and other pandemics. The TechCast panel of experts estimates a 22-percent probability that “A new pandemic devastates a major region, destabilizing global society.” They also think the impact would be serious, measuring -4 on a scale of -10 to + 10.

Although an Ebola pandemic is possible, these estimates suggest that it is unlikely there will be 6 million infections. The Ebola outbreak spread because of basic mistakes. WHO experts in Africa downplayed the risks in reports to headquarters. Many countries were slow to react. Budget cuts at WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control impaired their preparations and hampered their response. In general, the world was unequipped for a major outbreak of a disease formerly limited to isolated villages in Africa.

This has changed dramatically. WHO estimated it would cost $600 million to end the epidemic. Governments and philanthropists have pledged nearly $2.1 billion. Funding for CDC’s work on Ebola has been restored. Experimental drugs from the U.S. and China are on their way to Africa, and development work has been ramped up.

As a result, there has been major progress against the epidemic. WHO has declared both Senegal and Nigeria free of Ebola. Success in Nigeria is especially good news. The slums of Lagos, variously estimated at between 15 and 25 million people, were considered the worst danger zone for a pandemic.

No matter how many new patients appear in December, the balance clearly is tipping. Ebola will be controlled long before infections soar into the millions.

The real danger comes from superbugs that develop resistance to antibiotics. It is widely believed that the excessive use of penicillin and other drugs for minor medical problems, and especially in livestock, is promoting the development of far more ferocious bacteria that could devastate modern societies. TechCast experts estimate a 38-percent probability that “Antibiotic-resistant superbugs become common threats to health.”

These TechCast estimates are just that—expert estimates—but they help give us a better basis for our judgments and actions. In the case of today’s Ebola outbreak, they suggest the dangers are manageable and there is no cause for panic. They also remind us there are far more likely and enduring health concerns, like superbugs, that deserve our attention.

For more forecasts, See www.TechCastGlobal.com

Testing Forecast Repeatability: Before and After Data on the Move from TechCast.org to TechCastGlobal.com


TechCast’s recent move from its 6th generation website (www.TechCast.org) to its new 7th gen site (www.TechCastGlobal.com) offered a rare opportunity to test the repeatability of forecast data.

As the move was approaching, we captured one of the last data sets from the old site on Jan 29, 2014. The extensive background data framing each forecast (research breakthroughs, applications, new ventures, adoption levels, etc. organized into trends) was transferred to the new site, but we decided to drop the old expert estimates and have experts enter new estimates from scratch.  Below is a summary of forecasts from the Jan 29 data (Before) and the most recent data (After) on Oct 13, 2014.




3-D Printing 2017 2017 0
Cloud/Grid 2016 2017 +1
Space Tourism 2015 2018 +3
Intelligent Web 2017 2018 +1
Climate Control 2022 2018 -4
E-Government 2017 2019 +2
Global Brain 2017 2019 +2
Fuel Cell Cars 2019 2019 0
Biometrics 2018 2020 +2
Virtual Education 2018 2020 +2
E-Healthcare 2018 2021 +3
Intelligent Interface 2019 2021 +2
Green Economy 2020 2021 +1
Internet of Things 2020 2021 +1
Hybrid Cars 2019 2021 +2
Synthetic Biology 2023 2022 -1
Small Vehicles 2023 2022 -1
Virtual Reality 2019 2022 +3
Intelligent Cars 2021 2022 +1
Commercial Space 2023 2023 0
Power Storage 2020 2023 +3
Precision Farming 2021 2023 +2
Water Purification 2028 2023 -5
AI 2024 2024 0
GMO Crops 2021 2024 +3
Nanotechnology 2022 2024 +2
Smart Grids 2024 2025 +1
Aquaculture 2025 2025 0
Modular Buildings 2026 2025 +1
Replacement Organs 2026 2026 0
Personalized Medicine 2025 2026 +1
Smart Robots 2026 2027 +1
Alternative Energy 2025 2027 +2
Next Gen Computing 2025 2027 +2
Cancer Cure 2029 2029 0
High-Speed Rail 2030 2029 -1
Thought Power 2025 2030 +5
Gene Therapy 2029 2031 +2
Organic Farming 2025 2031 +6
Solar Satellites 2036 2031 -5
Humans On Mars 2037 2033 -4
Moon Base 2035 2034 -1
Neurotechnology 2031 2034 +3
Child Traits 2034 2035 +1
Life Extension 2040 2037 -3
Star Travel 2073 2055 -18

MEAN CHANGE = +.38 years

Note:  Forecasts are for varying adoption levels.


This simple test is a good way to check repeatability of a research method. It is often thought that such results are “anchored” by the existing forecast data, which is another way of saying experts are “biased” by the present results. The resulting mean error of .38 years seems remarkably small, especially considering that the average forecast has a time horizon of at least 10 years out.

Repeatability is not the same as accuracy, of course, and that’s where our annual accuracy studies come in, We have found from previous studies that TechCast accuracy is on the order of +3/-1 years at about ten years out. That is, there is a tendency for experts to be over optimistic by about 3 years and under optimistic by about 1 year. This tendency toward optimism is well-reported in the literature on forecasting. We call this “forecast creep” – the tendency for forecasts to slowly creep into the future by about 3 years over a ten year horizon.

Since the elapsed time between our Before and After data is about 9 months (Jan to Oct), forecast creep probably accounts for significant portion of the .38 years error. We also note that another form of the anchoring likely accounts for this repeatability. In our system of collective intelligence, the background data provides an empirical foundation of knowledge which experts use to make their estimates, thus anchoring the results to an accurate knowledge base.


This simple test demonstrates that the TechCast system is remarkably repeatable and robust. The results also confirm other studies we have done comparing results from two different groups of experts, which also seemed remarkably similar. Considering that the expert panel changes over time, and the conditions affecting forecasts also change constantly, these results support the utility of collective intelligence forecasting. There may be a small zone of error, but pooling knowledge is a great way to get good answers to tough questions.


A Carbon Bubbble in 2015?

The dot.com bubble caused a market crash in 2000, a housing bubble almost brought down the global economy in 2008, and today’s gushing excitement over new US oil and gas discoveries could also prove to be a bubble that is likely to collapse about 2015 – a “carbon bubble.”

My TechCast Project (www.TechCastGlobal.com) has been cautious about the new energy discoveries, and the following trends suggest good reasons for thinking the bloom is off the rose. Yes, abundant optimism abounds, but that’s how it always looks at the top of a bubble – endless opportunity and other exaggerated promises. Our forecasts reported below suggest it would be wise to consider the prospect of a major oil shock to the global economy in the next few years, triggering a global downturn.

LIMITED     The new discoveries are a boon to Americans, but they only add a few percent to global supplies. The US’s 3 million barrels/day output pales in comparison to global demand of 90 million barrels/day, which. is increasing rapidly as China, India, and other nations industrialize. The new oil in the Dakotas, for instance, is considered the greatest find ever in the US, yet this is only 0.5 percent of global reserves.

DECLINING     It is also clear that the supply of carbon is declining. The International Energy Agency reports that four million barrels are being depleted every day, and the rate of loss is increasing. The US Energy Information Administration thinks oil and coal seem to be flattening and gas is likely to peak in a decade or two. (MIT Technology Review, Jul 3, 2013) Shale gas only produces about 1 percent of transport fuel, even while the first gas mines are now declining. Some think gas will peak in a decade. (Atlantic, May, 2013)

OVERSTATED    There is also evidence that energy companies are overstating the supply to discourage competition from alternative energy. Shell’s head of exploration stated: “I am sick and tired of lying about the extent of our reserves.” Because of low output, Shell’s $24 billion investment in unconventional oil and gas in North America has been disappointing. The outgoing CEO said “Unconventionals did not play out as planned.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

ENVIRONMENT BACKLASH   This imbalance between growing demand and declining supply is likely to worsen as environmental limits press back. With climate change becoming serious, our Social Trends cite dozens of major protests as people demand environmental protections, carbon taxes, and other changes to curtail carbon use. Economist Jeffery Sachs predicts the next spate of big hurricanes, droughts, fires, and sea level rise will foment a revolt against coal, gas, and oil. (Washington Post, Nov 17, 2013)

IN THE FOOTHILLS NOW    Other new carbon sources are coming online as fracking spreads to some nations, potential deposits in the Arctic Circle become available with global warming, and energy efficiencies keep increasing. But these are like foothills in the huge mountain of carbon we have exhausted over the past century.

The result is that a serious energy shortage seems to be growing. Consider the following conclusions by global energy institutions and authorities:

* The UK Peak Oil Task Force reported: “Global peak production for oil would likely occur within the decade, very likely by 2015.” (Markpg, Apr 4, 2013)
* The International Energy Agency finds “Global oil production will drop 1% a year from 2015 on… supply would fall short in 2015.” (IEA, May 12, 2014)
* Geologist and energy expert Dr. Jeremy Leggett thinks “systemic energy risks could trigger a global crash sometime between 2015 and 2020.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

If the carbon bubble were to burst, this new oil shock would likely coincide with an overheated stock market that is also heading for a major correction. Equity prices are reaching the same atmospheric price/earnings ratios that preceded the crashes of 2000 and 2008, and the piercing of this carbon bubble could serve as the trigger for the next global downturn.

On the other side of the bubble, what seemed an endless supply of oil and gas may be viewed more accurately as limited, costly, and dirty remnants of a fading energy past. The declining cost of alternatives is even now disrupting markets for carbon fuels. See our recent breakthrough Solar Taking Off. In our forecast on Alternative Energy, TechCast experts estimate that 30 percent of global energy will come from alternative sources in one decade, about 2025, taking renewable energy mainstream.

Is Soft Power a Breakthrough?

My TechCast Project (www.TechCastGlobal.com) has published breakthroughs for years, usually for emerging technologies. This is our first “social breakthrough”—social trends that reach a critical tipping point that transforms society. Think of the Collapse of Communism, the Women’s Movement, and the Tea Party.

President Obama’s foreign policy raises the question, “Will soft power prove to be another breakthrough?” When the leader of the world’s most powerful nation shows a commitment to engagement, sanctions, and diplomacy to avoid war, it seems a shift in international relations may be entering the global mainstream.

The Republicans, Big Media, and almost everybody else thinks Obama is timid in foreign policy, while many love Putin’s show of strength in Ukraine. Obama has certainly make mistakes, and avoiding action on crossing red lines has left many wondering “What would America fight for?” (Economist, May 3, 2014) This may not mean that Obama is weak, however, but that people are confused over the changing use of power.

Soft power is poorly understood because it represents an historic shift in international relations. The concept was defined by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., as the move from war to  engagement. (Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, NY: Public Affairs, 2004). The top ten nations using soft power are the UK, US, France, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy, so Obama is not alone.

Consider some long-term benefits of America’s soft power policies:

SYRIA  The slaughter of civilians goes on, but Obama may be wise not to get sucked into what looks like a great civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. Putin has earned the condemnation of the world by helping Assad continue the slaughter, while Obama eliminated chemical weapons in Syria without firing a shot.

IRAN  After decades of futile sword rattling by American hawks, Obama’s policy of engagement has finally brought Iran to the bargaining table, and it looks like a solution may be possible.

UKRAINE  Putin may be enjoying his display of bravado, but he has demonstrated that Russia remains a backward nation bent on cold war violence. Apart from the energy companies rushing to tap Russia’s gas and oil, who would want to invest in an economy based on extractive industries, corruption, and force? In contrast, Obama’s patient use of sanctions has taken the air out of Putin’s sails and avoided escalation.

Soft power doesn’t provide the satisfaction of a decisive victory, but when has that been possible since WW II? The indecisive outcome of wars in North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan show the futility of expecting triumph.

Soft power is also difficult and messy, and force may be necessary at times. Yet, the idea is compelling because collaborative problem-solving is often more productive than the alternative. All parties can win and it’s far better than war.

This is especially true because the world has become too complex and turbulent to tolerate conflict. Think of the enormous costs of having the US Congress in gridlock for years. And the massive threats of climate change, energy, financial collapse, and terrorism require working together if the world is to survive.

There is also a comparable trend toward the rise of a collaborative business model. But TechCast’s forecast for Democratic Enterprise is not promising, showing only a 27% probability of arriving and suggesting resistance to the change.

We will be following this trend at www.TechCastGlobal.com and reporting on future prospects. Stay tuned.

Moment of Truth: Will “Immiseration” of the Working Class Spur Change?

Cautionary Note:  Although I have published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and or major papers, this article was rejected by them plus the Los Angeles Times and others. So read at your peril.


The fall of Communism left Capitalist nations feeling “triumphant,” yet America seems to be fulfilling the prophecy of Karl Marx by “immiserating” the working class.

 Middle-class incomes have been flat for decades, the Great Recession left 7 million unemployed, and now cutting food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits will devastate millions who can’t earn a living income — at a time when the rich enjoy gains unheard of since the Roaring Twenties that preceded the Great Depression. And this extreme concentration of wealth has dried up the markets that are slow to revive because people have little to spend.

I think this means the ideological focus on self-interest and money that marks American Capitalism may not be unsustainable. As a business professor and a business owner as well, I understand the merits of markets and free enterprise. But I have come to see that the prevailing business culture cannot survive the difficult world ahead without fundamental change. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said the 2008 “financial collapse may be to Capitalism what the Berlin Wall was to Communism.” 

Pope Francis has it right – the basic problem is “the idolatry of money.” Yet the very thought of applying Christian principles to business seems such a radical idea precisely because prevailing practices are so far removed from our democratic values. The challenge is enormous. I study crises like this, and my experience suggests the following three possible outcomes along with their associated probabilities:

FURTHER DECLINE – 30%   Americans are unlikely to change unless forced by events, which could easily continue the present slow decline. Absent some dramatic twist, look for more government gridlock, financial crises and swooning markets, continuing pressure on the poor, and increasingly hot and extreme weather.

MUDDLE THROUGH – 50%  Palliative measures could ease the pain, like raising minimum wages. And the economy seems likely to grow modestly, so we can easily imagine Americans muddling through. Government approaches to reduce inequality as highlighted by Mayor de Blasio in New York City will not help much unless the business community undertakes fundamental change.  

DEMOCRATIC BUSINESS – 20%   Americans are revolutionary people, basically, and it’s possible they could reject the ideology of money. Progressive corporations have long developed quasi-democratic business practices that include social responsibility, ethics, the triple bottom line, employee participation, corporate community, and recently the idea of conscious capitalism. This broad trend suffers from the taint of “doing good,” but it could evolve into a legitimate model of the 21st century corporation that is both socially responsive and more productive as well.

The Muddling Through scenario seems most likely because people don’t expect much today. But I think we could be surprised to see the Democratic Business scenario emerge — not to be moral but because it will prove a competitive advantage. Studies show managers in 17 nations realized higher financial gains focusing on stakeholders rather than profit alone, and companies that have a social purpose, high customer satisfaction, and strong employee involvement outperform others by 10 to 1. Even Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric who gained fame for his strong focus on profits, recently acknowledged “Shareholder profit is a result, not the goal. Your main constituencies are your employees and customers.” 

Americans are facing a moment of truth.  We could sink further into apathy relieved by our good lives, or we could respond to the growing immiseration of our fellow citizens and our own decline as a nation. The stakes are high because business is the most powerful of our institutions and it largely defines our social character. The shift to more equitable and more productive business culture would transform our economy and society itself, and Americans could lead the world again.

We’re running a forecast on “Democratic Enterprise” at TechCastGlobal.com, and I expect to have results soon. Stay tuned.  


William E. Halal is professor at George Washington University and president of TechCast Global. His most recent book is Technology’s Promise: Expert Knowledge on the Transformation of Business and Society.

Stop Arguing: Today’s Knotty Problems Demand Collaboration

The strident controversy over President Obama’s threat to strike Syria and Congress’s most recent stalemate is typical of the interminable arguments that run rampant through American society, the big issues of the world, and our own organizations.  Rather than address the problem, the focus seems to be on proving we are right, and predictably escalating into bitter conflict. As always, the solutions lie in getting beyond the arguments to really listen, to find compassion for others, and to resolve differences.

The Syrian crisis, for instance, is now being approached in a collaborative way that satisfies all parties a lot better. Russia’s plan to have Assad dispose of his chemical weapons offered a creative solution. Why didn’t this idea come of the US?  Because we were too busy arguing!  There are probably many other solutions, but the point is that we will never get to them until we stop arguing.

In my own organizations, I often am concerned to see a colleague object fiercely to some proposal, challenges to authority, misunderstandings explode, and other everyday conflicts. Debates over tough issues are always welcomed. But heated rhetoric is disruptive, so we discourage it by simply announcing “Let’s stop arguing” and take a break.

It’s not easy to give up one’s righteousness, of course. That’s why there is a great need to institutionalize a collaborative ethic. We should make collaborative problem-solving a key principle, train people to work together, and have leaders demonstrate by example. I find that many of us generate conflict with our own behavior, often without realizing it. As sages remind us, our biggest enemy is often not being able to control ourselves.

The power of sheer collaborative problem-solving is one of the most underutilized practices of today.  The enormous challenges ahead – climate change, energy, financial crises, globalization, overregulation, etc. – are fundamentally a higher level of complexity. Systems theory shows how a more complex system requires an equivalent level of dispersed intelligent networks interacting with one another – a “Global Brain.” (See www.TechCastGlobal.com)

In fact, cooperation and active collaboration are among the most fundamental forces of nature – opposing the forces of competition and conflict to produce some balance between these two evolutionary tendencies.  Darwin wrote of the collaborative relations among species, although that has gone largely unnoticed, and Adam Smith also saw cooperation as a central part of economy.

One of the most interesting new forecasts we are posting on our website is “Democratic Enterprise.”   Progressive companies have always integrated the interests of their employees, customers, local governments, business partners with the needs of their investors to create a more harmonious and productive socio-economic system – a “corporate community.” If this more powerful business ethic were to enter mainstream use, the impact on business and society as a whole could be vast. Look for the results at www.TechCastGlobal.com

I find it frustrating to see the potential everywhere for good solutions to the big challenges of our time — yet our talent and energy is wasted arguing. If we could get beyond the stereotypes, hatred, and the other ills of modern life, I think we could find endless possibilities for satisfying everybody.

Adapted from an article in Professional Pilot   




We Got It Right: America Could Start Working Again

My blogs over the past few years have agonized over the American Decline, but I was gratified that my last blog forecasting an Obama re-election proved accurate, and I also got the move to collaboration right. Lord knows we futurists need credibility. I think this election could prove a crucial turnaround because the election signalled a move toward toward inclusiveness, facing reality, and economic balance.

The most obvious significance of Obama’s victory is the broad range of constituents who voted Democratic. A strong majority of Latinos, Blacks, Asians, women, and young people all went for Obama, with only white men favouring Romney. After a long history of white rule, America is finally embracing its heritage of inclusiveness and now looks like the rest of the world. We have known that the electorate was moving this way for decades, but the election means that women, youth, and people of colour now have political clout. And Obama’s newfound political strength derives from his special role as a symbol of this diverse new America. Dana Milbank’s article in the Washington Post called it the “Defeat of the 1 Percent.”

The election was also a victory for one of my “Five Bits of Advice” in another blog — Americans are facing reality. Laws legalizing Marijuana in Colorado and Washington suggest that people are ready to move beyond the futile war on drugs that has wasted almost a trillion dollars in enforcement, produced the highest rates of imprisoned people in the world, and fuelled the brutal drug trade in Mexico. Laws recognizing same-sex marriages are sweeping the land, finally accepting homosexuals as full-fledged citizens. And with the confirmation of ObamaCare, the U.S. now joins the rest of the modern world in having a universal health care system.

Most importantly, Obama’s win marks a thankful end to the Triumphant Capitalism that begun with Reagan’s election in 1980. The past 30 years were a welcome move to entrepreneurship and free markets, but the economic busts of 2000 and 2008, the failure of trickle-down economics to benefit the middle-class, and the growing chasm between rich and poor now make the limits of free markets vividly apparent. George Stieglitz, who won a Noble for his work in economics, thinks “The 2008 financial crisis was to Capitalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism.”

Current talk of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats is wonderful, but very difficult obstacles must be overcome as both left and right confront the limits of their beliefs. Republicans are right that a decentralized nation is essential to manage exploding complexity, but they have to accept the equally essential need for government. The economic success of Germany, the Nordic states, Singapore, South Korea, and even China demonstrate the superior performance of nations that balance free markets and strong governments. Steve Pearlstein, business editor for the Washington Post, wrote: “A pure market economy is an ideological fantasy.”

Likewise, Democrats may be ascendant now, but they also have to accept the brutal need to curb excessive government spending and bureaucracy. Ironically, the use of markets in education, healthcare, welfare, and other government services could wonders to ensure accountability and innovation.

There is no shortage of inventive workable solutions to these challenges, as I have tried to show on www.BillHalal.com and www.TechCast.org. It’s important to recognize, however, that this is fundamentally an ideological battle of beliefs, and it requires some sort of creative shift in national consciousness. The hopeful thing is that today’s influx of women, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, youth, gays – and possibly people smoking pot openly – has fortuitously appeared just as fresh views are so crucial. There is good reason for optimism again.