The Fourth Wave: Business in the 21st Century

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Applying the concept of historical waves originally propounded by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave, Herman Maynard and Susan Mehrtens foresee a "fourth wave," an era of integration and responsibility far beyond Toffler's revolutionary description of third-wave postindustrial society. Whether we attain this stage of global well-being, however, will depend on how well our business institutions adapt and change. The Fourth Wave examines the ways business has changed in the second and third waves and must continue to change in the fourth. Maynard and Mehrtens foresee a radically different future in which business principles, concern for the environment, personal integrity, and spiritual values are integrated. The authors also demonstrate the need for a new kind of leadership-managers and CEOs who embrace an attitude of global stewardship; who define their assets as ideas, information, creativity, and vision; and who strive for seamless boundaries between work and private lives for all employees.

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1. Hallmarks of a Changing World

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HALLMARKS OF CHANGE

Shift in Consciousness

Disenchantment with Scientism

New (Inner) Sources of Authority and Power

Respiritualization of Society

Decline in Materialism

Spreading Political and Economic Democratization

Movement Beyond Nationality

 

TO MEET THE CHALLENGES posed by a world that is changing at an ever-increasing pace, we must let go of values, beliefs, and practices that have or shortly will become anachronistic and reformulate new ones that are congruent with changed circumstances. The first step in this process is to become acquainted with the changes that are occurring. Because change is omnipresent, it is especially important to identify those trends that promise transformative change. In this chapter we describe seven trends that we believe underlie the emergence of a new worldview.

Increasing numbers of people around the world are concluding that consciousness is primary, that the mind or spirit has a reality comparable to material objects (Harman 1988; Renesch 1991; Cook 1991; Rothschild 1991). Many have had transformative experiences (life-changing dreams, journeys inward that reveal new vistas, near-death experiences, series of intuitive knowings [Porter, n.d.]) that have led them to realize they are more than their physical body and logical mind—that there are levels of reality beyond what can be seen, touched, tasted, and smelled.

 

2. Emergence of the Fourth Wave

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WORLDVIEWS

The Second Wave
We are separate and must compete

The Third Wave
We are connected and must cooperate

The Fourth Wave
We are one and choose to cocreate

 

IN HIS BOOK The Third Wave Alvin Toffler (1980), introduced the concept of history as a succession of rolling waves of change. This concept holds powerful imagery—a wave building as changes in values, beliefs, and behaviors accumulate and spread in and among societies, cresting as change becomes sufficiently deep and wide to be unstoppable, crashing down to sweep away what lies in front, and then receding with the transformation of society. Waves can collide, representing the conflict of different worldviews. When the newest one prevails, one phase of civilization is replaced by another.

Waves of change can also be viewed from the perspective of an onlooker standing in the water near shore. As a wave builds off in the distance, its beauty and power will be attractive and inspiring. As it comes closer, however, its size and force may become frightening. The observer may either embrace the wave’s beauty and power and ride it to shore or attempt to escape its fearsome force and be hammered into the surf or left by the wayside.

 

3. A New Role for Business: Global Stewardship

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CORPORATE ROLE

The Second Wave
Maximize profits

The Third Wave
Create value

The Fourth Wave
Act as global steward

 

THE UNITED STATES and the world as a whole are facing major crises. In this critical period, we endure political candidates whose electoral success is due to thirty-second sound bites and cleverly crafted television appearances—formats that ensure popularity contests rather than elections of transformative leaders who will give pressing local, national, and global problems the attention they need. We also find few who are widely recognized as transformative leaders in churches, schools, colleges, or social institutions.

Where might we look to fill this need for transformative leadership? The answer, suggested by many futurists and consultants, is both surprising and inspiring: businesspeople will become more prominent as global and transformative leaders in the future.

The business of business is not only business. In recent decades, business has emerged as the dominant institution in global culture (Hawken 1992). The other institutions of society—political, educational, religious, social—have a decreasing ability to offer effective leadership: their resources limited, their following fragmented, their legitimacy increasingly questioned, politicians, academics, priests, and proselytizers have neither the resources nor the flexibility to mount an effective response to the manifold challenges we are facing. Business, by default, must begin to assume responsibility for the whole.

 

4. Corporate Wealth Redefined

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CORPORATE WEALTH

The Second Wave
Tangible assets

The Third Wave
Tangible and intangible assets

The Fourth Wave
Mostly intangible assets,
emphasizing the quality of life

 

THE NEED TO REDEFINE corporate wealth is a consequence of the corporation’s moving out of its current parochial and Second Wave view of itself and its role in the world into the larger Third and Fourth Wave roles we described in the previous chapter. As business assumes increasing responsibility for the whole, new definitions of wealth will be created, ownership will be reconfigured, assets will increase in variety, and new ways of measuring performance will be adopted.

Wealth in the Second Wave is defined as physical assets and is evaluated in terms of the traditional balance sheet. The focus is short term, for example, increasing earnings 5 percent this quarter over last quarter’s performance. Despite much talk about the value of creativity and innovation, little or no concrete support and encouragement is given to those workers who manifest these qualities. This discrepancy is due in large part to the fact that the biggest drivers of corporate business today are product quality and lowering costs (via “back to basics”) (Land & Jarman 1992). When driven top-down, such concerns are antithetical to creativity. They tend to lock people into fear, which closes down their creative potential. Rooted in the conventional, Second Wave corporations provide little room or appreciation for the iconoclast and hence little opportunity to benefit from this potential asset.

 

5. Evolving Forms of Corporate Structure

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CORPORATE STRUCTURE

The Second Wave
Hierarchy, matrix, business unit

The Third Wave
Team-value

The Fourth Wave
Community

 

FROM A SECOND WAVE business perspective, no significant change can be understood unless one looks at the structure of how business is conducted. Organizational structure supplies the building blocks of business activity; it fixes the mind-set from which change is evaluated. In the Third and Fourth Waves, by contrast, organizational structure will be a consequence of business activity. To show how this transformation will come about, we first look at contemporary Second Wave models of organizational structure.

Second Wave companies, especially the large and very large corporations, are committed to hierarchical models of organizational structure.

The traditional hierarchy, with its centralized, top-down control and staff organized to serve the boss, was based on the presumption that managers know more than their subordinates. The two classes above the support staff, managers and professionals, were considered to possess fundamentally different types and amounts of knowledge than those below them in the hierarchy; and managers were to be the decisionmakers. This line of thinking, which served us well in earlier times, is no longer appropriate. Most professionals now know far more about the particulars of their products, market performance, and customers than the manager could ever hope to know. The shift in information technology and knowledge is pushing the corporation toward a fundamental change in the role of management.

 

6. The Corporation as Community

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CORPORATE COMMUNITY

The Second Wave
Employees, separated by
interpersonal barriers

The Third Wave
Employees and their families,
with interpersonal barriers
increasingly let down

The Fourth Wave
Everyone whose life is touched,
unified and fully open
to one another

 

A HOST OF ISSUES—environmental, urban, ethnic, and feminist—is forcing contemporary culture to devalue traditional Western individualism in favor of more appreciation of people as members of groups (Bellah et al. 1985, 1991). The contemporary geist now recognizes the tremendous benefits—to both individuals and to the corporate bottom line—of a strong sense of community. The very word “community” falls freely from the lips of such varied figures as President Clinton (1992), Willard Gaylin, president of the Hastings Center (1990), and Paul Newman, the movie star (Anders 1990), each of whom has strongly advocated strengthening community in our towns, cities, businesses, schools, and civic life.

Community is manifested in two ways: as a group of people and as a “way of being” that unites group members. The first type of community is formed by bringing people together in place and time. The second is created when barriers between people are let down (Peck 1987). Under such conditions, people open themselves to one another and are freed from the feeling that they need to try to defend themselves in their communications. They become bonded, sensing they can rely on and trust each other, which produces effective team efforts. When people achieve this feeling of community, their subsequent achievements are nothing short of miraculous. Such community building will enable the transition from the Second to the Third and then to the Fourth Wave.

 

7. Ecology and Economics: Toward a Common Cause

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ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE

The Second Wave
Consumption

The Third Wave
Sustainability

The Fourth Wave
Preservation

 

ENVIRONMENTALISM WILL SURELY remain one of the most common themes in the public media well into the twenty-first century, as our problems with pollution, resource exhaustion, conservation, and land use continue to worsen. Because environmentalism will increasingly command the attention of both consumers and lawmakers, the prudent businessperson will respond proactively to the environmental challenge.

Specific measures will of course depend on the nature and markets of specific businesses, but fundamental to them all, regardless of field or product, is the crucial step of changing attitudes. If environmentalism as a phenomenon is teaching us anything, it is that we can no longer operate from a Second Wave perspective where we regard environmental protection as a problem or ecology as antagonistic to economics. Rethinking some of the basic assumptions that lie behind the operation of business today can present many opportunities and can offer the progressive businessperson a significant competitive advantage. In this chapter, we demonstrate how retooling our thinking can turn environmentalism into a major new business benefit.

 

8. Use of Appropriate Technology

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TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

The Second Wave
In a vacuum

The Third Wave
In growing harmony
with sociocultural, political,
and environmental values

The Fourth Wave
In full accordance with
principles of appropriate
technology

 

THE RISE SINCE WORLD WAR II of a host of complex technologies has created both prosperity and pollution. While the prosperity has been welcomed, the resulting pollution has occasioned increasingly vocal criticisms of technology and of the science from which it springs. Contemporary critics of Second Wave perspectives of science and technology focus primarily on the limitations of scientism and the need for technologies appropriate to their time, place, culture, and environment.

In Chapter One we noted the trend toward the view that consciousness is primary, that immaterial things such as the mind have a reality comparable to material objects. This presents a challenge to the basic assumptions of scientism—which denies or disparages nonrational ways of knowing in its stress on the empirical testing of reality (Pascarella 1986)—and to the contemporary technologies that are based on it.

 

9. Leadership in the Era of Biopolitics

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CORPORATE LEADERSHIP ROLE

The Second Wave
Business leader

The Third Wave
Participant in dialogues on
societal and global welfare

The Fourth Wave
Global leader and biopolitician

 

THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS, recent advances in biotechnology, and global democratization are propelling us into the biopolitical era. As we make the transition to this new era, business will play new leadership roles and assume new responsibilities. Here we focus on the qualities and responsibilities of our corporate leaders as they move out of the Second Wave to take on their global tasks in the biopolitical arena.

Biopolitics has been defined as the exercise of control over the future of life (Rifkin 1983, 237). As a type of politics, it is an amalgam of the usual elements of politics—power, connection, and uncertainty (Anderson 1987)—set in a wider context. In biopolitics, power is the ability to produce change in ecosystems as well as in corporate headquarters, city hall, or Washington. Connection refers to networks, or circles of personal contacts. In a biopolitical context, these go beyond people to reflect the ecological law that “everything is connected to everything else,” that humans are connected to other living things and to living systems. Uncertainty is a feature of all forms of politics, since humans are free beings and hence unpredictable. As conditions in the world’s ecosystems become more stressed, uncertainty grows, making decision making more difficult at the very time when it is becoming more urgent.

 

10. Business in the Twenty-First Century

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THE FOURTH WAVE CORPORATION

Exemplar for Other Institutions

Global Citizen Acting Locally

Advocate of the Living Economy

Committed to Serve

Community of Wellness

Model of Environmental Concern

Pioneer in Appropriate Technologies

Led by Biopoliticians

 

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING VISIONS of the new corporation:

As an exemplar for other institutions in society. See us becoming aware of the contemporary shift in consciousness and working to foster it, especially recognizing the value of intuition in business and using it extensively.

As a global citizen acting locally, while thinking globally. See business responding to the pleas for democratization of the international economic order and moving to implement it. Envision the corporation sharing responsibility with its constituencies in the Third Wave and taking responsibility for the Earth as a whole and working to heal it in the Fourth Wave.

As an advocate of the living economy, practicing social and resource accounting. See business reaffirming the value of its intellectual capital, thereby boosting creativity and discovering a host of new strengths within its ranks that constantly spin off new businesses. See us working toward new forms of ownership in the future and achieving global prominence for it.

 

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