November 17, 2014

It's the ecology stupid!

A blog by Guido BraamDo you remember the victory of Bill Clinton in 1992? Although it was meant to be an internal campaign slogan, the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid”, turned out to be the road to victory for the democrats.Back in those days I was a student, anxious to make some life defining decisions in my area of expertise and future career. I was outperforming on commercial sciences and economics, so an obvious career choice was easily made. For decades, I fully believed that life was all about economics.When I did my Masters in Business Administration, I was told that it is easy to predict everything by filling out excel sheets. Intuition, my professors explained to me, is a thing that you need to rationalize with formulas, and the biggest purpose of mankind is to contribute to the holy economy. ‘You are a consumer that needs to keep on consuming, you need to work for a corporate or start-up a business to expand the economy. Civil servants, doctors, teachers…. They can be of value, as long as they serve our growing economy.’It took me quite some time after finishing my Masters to discover a totally new world which my bright colleagues are teaching me more an more about every day.Logical as it sounds now, I only recently discovered that the true foundation of life is not economy, but ecology, or nature.I’ve come to the conclusion that the economy is merely a system we created to organize our society, and therefore it simply supports the higher purposes of mankind. The economy in itself can therefore not be the goal (and I’ve been told that you should never mix up goals and means) (I addressed this earlier in the FD during a discussion about a new growth agenda for the Netherlands , article in Dutch)Don’t get me wrong though. I love entrepreneurs (not to be mistaken with managers). They have the exceptional skill to create value. A quote of Michael Porter I often use is “social entrepreneurs are the ones filling the gaps and failures in society”. I use this quote to emphasize the huge opportunities that lie in moving from the current linear system with all its challenges, to a promising circular economy. This shift would happen without the narrow focus on monetary value, but with a holistic view in terms of shared value, as Porter calls it.If we have a closer look at the etymology of the word Economy it is interesting to see that the ‘Eco’ stems from the Greek ‘Oíkos’ which means ‘house’ and ‘nomy’ means ‘a set of rules’. Economy thus means ‘management of the house’. Whereas the literal translation of ‘ecology’ is ‘study of the house’. That makes me realize that we probably need both the understanding and the control over our world’s household. An integrated approach is therefore necessary.But let’s make a small step first. I suggest MBA programs introduce ecology courses in order to help their students understand the power of nature. Similarly, I suggest ecologists take some basic courses in economics in order to understand how to apply their understanding to economic structures. Let’s create the ‘T-shaped’ leaders (or should we call them housekeepers) of tomorrow we are so in need of.To conclude, it is not the economy nor ecology. Perhaps it time for a new word, like ‘economology’. Or to keep thing simple, because we should all know by now:



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