Will we flounder or flourish?

This post was published in ICAI’s online magazine Winds and Waves – now published at Medium.com (see explanatory note). To receive articles by email as they are published subscribe at https://medium.com/winds-and-waves.

Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of our New Renaissance, Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna, St Martin’s Press, NY 2016

A book review by Jeanette Stanfield, ICA Canada, Toronto Canada.

Authors Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna boldly call this moment in history an Age of Discovery in which the question for humankind is ‘will we flounder or flourish?’ Looking back 500 years to the Renaissance in Europe, they explore what conditions made it possible for that renaissance to succeed. They also encourage people from other locations and cultures to explore the Renaissance times in their histories and ask the same question. For them, this is a way to gain perspective on the momentous times in which we live.

The book’s design is stated well in the sub-title: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of our New Renaissance. Insights from exploring the 1400–1500s in Europe provide some guidelines for all of us participating in building the New Renaissance in our 21st century world.

Two paragraphs on page 2 and 3 speak to the significance of our present time.

“The present age is a contest: between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement and human development, between forces of inclusion and exclusion; between flourishing genius and flourishing risks. Whether we each flourish or flounder, and whether the twenty-first century goes down in the history books as one of humanity’s best or worst, depends on what we all do to promote the possibilities and dampen the dangers that this contest brings.

The stakes could not be higher. We each have the perilous fortune to have been born into a historic moment — a decisive moment — when events and choices in our own lifetime will dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”

Part 1 focuses on the facts: how we got to now and what sets this age apart.

New scientific discoveries such as the telescope and new maps recreated as explorers traveled the oceans are two examples of changes in the 1400’s which enabled genius to flourish at that time.

Part II focuses on flourishing genius and how the present age generates genius.

The printing press enabled everyday folk to explore new ideas and connect with diverse peoples just as internet, cell phones and global travel do for us now.

Part III explores flourishing risk and how the present age generates risk and strains society. In the 1400–1500, smallpox was spreading and killing many people, and Venice was sinking. Today, burning fossil fuels is threatening life on earth; extremism is being fuelled by disillusion that is often created by promises not kept by those in power.

Part IV focuses directly on the contest for the future. Here, for me, the book’s brilliance is made practical for those of us who work day to day with local people in communities around the world. Ian and Chris find the European Renaisssance’s underlying guidelines to Magnify Flourishing Genius and Mitigate Risk. These then are their discoveries about Navigating the Risks and Rewards toward a successful 21st century Renaissance.

I led a conversation with a group of people based on this section. I will share the guidelines Ian and Chris discovered, then the conversation I led using the guidelines as a context. I encourage all of us to have similar conversations with those bringing about change in our nations and communities.

CONTEST FOR FUTURE: Magnify Flourishing Genius Mitigate Risk

Magnify Flourishing Genius

1. Welcome Genius •Welcome new truths. •Discern what is objective information (fact) and what is opinion. •Embrace wisdom of all cultures, sexes. •Be open to new ideas.

2. Dare to Fail •Choose bold action. •Act out of long-term, ‘big picture’ view. •Incentivize local citizens to seize opportunities

3. Find your Florence (major crossroad) •Know that place matters with its craft, ethos and concentration of peoples where creativity can be released. •Build new crossroads by strengthening communities’ physical or digital foundations for exchange. •Accommodate newcomers with their rich skills and cultures.

Mitigate Risk

1. Make new Maps •Create maps that move beyond dichotomies • Show actual relationships of nations beyond rich, poor, developed, developing •See earth from space • Avoid people labels that stigmatize and box in thinking and potential

2. Admit risk •Strengthen and diversify each part of a system or infrastructure so that when one part fails, the whole can still function. • Do prevention measures before public crisis •Acknowledge that we have all been hurt by inaction.

3. Stoke virtue •Dignity- Practice respect and exploration of full potential of self and of others to rediscover what makes life worth living. •Audacity- Act boldly encouraging confidence and hope amidst chaos and uncertainty. •Honesty- Demand integrity in society to seed trust leading to robust resilient humanity.


Questions to Consider

  • Where do you see genius flourishing or trying to flourish today?
  • Where do you see risk being mitigated or trying to be mitigated?
  • What excites you or frightens you about these times in which we live?
  • What is a place you would call Florence for our time? What is a place emerging as a Florence?
  • In what arenas do we collectively need to support bold action?
  • Where are you supporting and/or creating the new Renaissance?

About the book’s authors: Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna are presently at the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, Ian as Director and Chris as a Fellow. Ian Goldin was Chief Executive of the Development Bank of Southern Africa and an adviser to President Nelson Mandela. Chris Kutarna is a strategy consultant to senior executives in Asia, North America and Europe.