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What I Learned Speaking at Davos 2020

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I recently returned from my fourth trip to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos Switzerland. Every time I go to Davos I learn something new. This time my key takeaway occurred as I was leaving from the airport in Zurich. Sitting in my window seat on a commercial flight spewing greenhouse gases out the backend of the two massive Boeing 787 Dreamliner engines, we taxied past rows and rows of private jets at the Zurich airport. Helicopters were coming and going ferrying WEF participants to and from mountain chalets in Davos.

I keep going back to Davos because I love the energy there and I love meeting interesting people who genuinely want to change the world for the better. I truly believe that the vast majority of the folks that make the annual pilgrimage to Davos do so out of a genuine desire to leave the world a little better than they found it—regardless if they arrived by train or private jet. But what dawned on me as I sat on that Dreamliner is we cannot truly solve the problems facing the world within the system that caused the problems.

What dawned on me is the destructive power of incremental change

Incremental progress that we make within our existing systems deceives us into believing that we are putting ourselves on a trajectory towards a positive, restorative, visionary future. But as we departed Davos patting ourselves on the back for the impact we’ve made, the data proves otherwise. The truth data clearly shows that our environmental and societal challenges are outrunning our incremental efforts to overcome them.

The problem is we are problem-solving from within the system that created the challenges in the first place—a self-perpetuating system of entrenched self-interest. We will never solve our problems until we can ascend above the existing systems that are no longer serving us.

To illustrate what I’m saying I want to share with you a metaphor that I used in my upcoming book, “Floating in Darkness“.

As I float effortlessly in the cupola gazing at the snow-capped majestic mountains of the Himalayan Plateau drifting slowly and silently below me, I imagine a rocket. On the top of the rocket is an unconscious super-organism representing all of humanity and every living thing that inhabits Earth. This precious cargo represents not only everything that presently lives but everything that will ever live.

As the rocket’s first stage ignites, tremendous brute force is required to lift the rocket from the launch pad and start the acceleration upward. Eons of competition and conquest push the rocket upward. Dynasties and dictatorships align and organize human effort on a massive scale. In response, tremendous suffering is expelled from the rocket’s exhaust nozzle. Greed and conflict serve as catalysts to tremendous technological acceleration. The collective insanity of the First World War produces radios and airplanes. The Second World War produces nuclear power. The Space Race and Cold War produce satellite communication, personal computers, and solar power. Blind independence and unconstrained growth consume enormous amounts of natural fuel as the rocket approaches staging.

As it continues to climb, the rocket approaches the inflection point between the first and second stages. As the first stage of the rocket burns out the lone passenger, the super-organism representing all living things awakens and is faced with a choice. Jettison the weight of the first stage and ignite the second stage engine or hold on to the first stage and fall back to Earth in a fiery crash. The answer to you and me is clear but the super-organism, having just awakened, is confused. It knows that the first stage brought it to this point and is reluctant to jettison it. The super-organism does not yet realize that it can’t make it to orbit carrying the extra weight of the first stage. But even now a spark of awareness is rising within the super-organism.

Just as the rocket is about to start tumbling back toward the Earth, the super-organism realizes the futility of hanging on to the first stage and jettisons it. Instantly the second stage engine ignites and the rocket is exponentially thrusted upward and onward. But the awakening super-organism realizes that no one is steering the ship. Quickly the super-organism establishes the processes to steer the rocket on its ascent.

The super-organism bases its decisions on the most accurate data possible enabling the most accurate predictions of their effect on the trajectory of the rocket. The decisions it makes are in the context of the entire super-organism considering the big-picture implications not just in reaction to its loudest parts.

The super-organism determines the impact of a decision beyond the immediate area of concern and determines if harm would be caused elsewhere. Decisions cease to be driven solely by party lines or other parochial or tribal factors. The greater good becomes the driving force of a decision, not party or national loyalty. Those motivations were jettisoned with the first stage after they were recognized by the super-organism as fundamentally misguided and destructive in the long-run.

All actions taken consider the long-term (multi-generational) effects to all. When considering a course of action, the resultant trajectory is projected out to the decision maker’s great-grandchildren. Only those actions leading to a positive and restorative world for our great-grandchildren are taken. No longer do we sacrifice our progeny for our own present short-term benefit.

During this second stage acceleration, course corrections are made with open and transparent inputs and courses of action. All proposed solutions permit everyone to see “how the sausage is being made” and can survive having a spotlight put on them. No longer do decisions require secrecy to be successful.

As the rocket continues its acceleration to orbit, a planetary consciousness arises within the super-organism. Planetary consciousness can be thought of as an embedded system. At the core is social consciousness where we truly understand the meaning of one human family. Where the false notion of separation is finally overturned. Encompassing this social consciousness, like the rocket fairing cocooning our spacecraft, is the awareness of our interdependent place within the Earth’s biosphere. Together these two nested systems are the emerging planetary consciousness.

With all of this in place, the super-organism can now steer the rocket to orbit. And what is orbit? Orbit is where we no longer need our engines. It is where we have accelerated to the speed where, with no additional effort, we can remain at our present altitude. Or, if we so choose, we can continue our assentation further out into the Universe.

Orbit is where we enter into abundance. It is the long-awaited post-scarcity existence where goods can be produced in great abundance with minimal-to-no human labor required. Our metaphorical orbit is a place where everyone has what they need and it is where everyone is able to choose for themselves how they will contribute to society.

Imagine what the world could look like in the next fifty years if the super-organism that represents all life on Earth, which has as its brain the embedded super-organism known as humanity, awakened and jettisoned all those things that are no longer needed. What would happen if our true current state vector was realized and we were able to make a course correction to steer our trajectory toward an unlimited future?

What I learned at Davos is we need to have the courage to jettison all those things that are weighing us down and are preventing us from escaping the gravitational pull of our own egos.