Where Will Civilizational Leadership Come From In An Exponential Age?
The three step approach for how personal and organizational transformations can transform civilizational leadership

Where Will Civilizational Leadership Come From In An Exponential Age?

The world is facing unprecedented pressures from the climate crisis, technological change, inequality, healthcare, education, infrastructure. A new form of leadership is needed individually, with organizations and civilizationally.

Nishan Degnarain

The world is facing unprecedented pressures.  Growing population and middle-class demands, unequal resource limitations, and distribution, rapid technological progress combined with aging and outdated institutions have led to the proliferation of global public challenges.  This is what has been described as the 20 'Gutenberg Moments' of transformational change that societies are struggling to grapple with.

In addition, most of today's global institutions are struggling with leadership. While there have been pockets of excellence within the United Nations system (e.g., on climate science after a 20+ year battle), there are huge inefficiencies at best, and at worst, much of the United Nations system has been captured by vested interest with ambiguous moral intentions (e.g., fisheries policies, shipping governance, deforestation, biodiversity protection, seabed mining).

Leaders who have been put in place to transform society are themselves hamstrung by the very system they have been asked to run, with few being able to transform and transcend these systems themselves.

At the core is a battle for society's core values - whether these be environmental, social, technological, political.  This is at the center of the battle for Civilizational Leadership.

The global protest politics of Extinction Rebellion, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Anti-Vaxxer movement show that many citizens are now looking for solutions outside of conventional power structures.

So where will Civilizational Leadership come from?

There may be three aspects to this:

1. Individual Transformation

Sunshine bath
Transformation starts with individual actions. Photo by Zac Durant / Unsplash

Transformation starts with individual actions.  These actions could be taken by a community of actors or a small group of 'leaders.'

There is no single model for a leader (just look at a list of Time's 100 Most Influential People to see how this has changed over time).  What is new is the range of new techniques by which leaders are awakening and sustaining change.  

As research continues into how leaders move into 'Flow' states of productive work, and develop more effective techniques to address the 'anti-bodies' fighting systems-change,  these will become the values, voices, actions, and leaders who will drive civilizational change.

2. Exponential Organizations and Institutions

Organizations and institutions are critical to scale individual actions. Photo by Lagos Techie / Unsplash

The catalyst of change is the organizations and institutions that individuals can use to scale up their actions.  Whether these are new media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, or new models), new forms of distributed organizations (e.g., Ocean Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion climate protests), or organizations developing new technologies that can transform our societies (e.g., alternative proteins, privacy-centered media companies, new inclusive Fintech solutions).

3. Civilizational Leadership

There have been several regions that have shaped human civilization values. Photo by Zahid Lilani / Unsplash

Throughout history, there have been several regions that have shaped human civilization values (not that there is one homogenous civilization).  This includes the values of Ancient Egypt, Aztecs, Ancient Greece, the Romans, the use of the Magna Carta in England, the Renaissance, the rise of various religions, the rise of European Empires post-industrial revolution, and over the past century, the prominence of the United Nations system.  In several instances, multiple civilizations with different values have advanced in parallel.

The Civilizational Challenges We Face

Fridays for future - global climate strike on the European elections (May 24 2019)
The world faces some of the biggest civilizational challenges in the next decade. Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

However, if humanity is to thrive over the next century with over 10 billion on the planet, some of the most profound and radical changes to all major aspects of society are required in the upcoming decade.  This includes a transition to a low carbon energy pathway, sustainable alternatives to animal protein, solutions to financial inclusion and the housing crisis, addressing growing inequality globally and within nations, ensuring privacy-centered internet and media.

Individually, this means the rise of radically new industrial sectors (new exponential technologies will see the rise of industries we have never seen before, such as in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Microbiome, Autonomous Vehicles, etc), as well as a new environmental paradigm (e.g., less extractive agriculture, regenerative management of the land, sky, and ocean, rewilding, carbon extractive technologies), as well as societal (e.g., new forms of education, healthcare and transportation, privacy centered security enforcement, more inclusive, more diverse leadership structures, new definitions of Human and Civil Rights).

All of these are tantamount to a new form of Civilizational Leadership, especially in an Exponential Age.

Humanity faces a choice, whether to be reactive and responsive to these changes, or whether to be proactive and shape the future to be one that is positive, built on abundance, aspirational and inclusive.

In order to succeed, all three layers of transformation need to be in place.

This future is possible, and it is one we can achieve together.


ExO Insight is a written word publication for exponential insights from thought leaders including members of our OpenExO community.  We tell stories of transformation while hoping to inspire and drive change in the world for positive impact. If you don't want to miss an article, be sure to subscribe here.

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