A good disruption - envisioning a new growth model

Infinity Institute is – like TED – committed to spread “ideas worth sharing”. Most discussion around disruption today centers on the negative aspects of technological change (job losses due to automation, rise of the robots / AI…). Martin Stuchtey & Per-Andres Enkvist’s new book “A Good Disruption – Redefining growth for the 21st century” is a notable exception. In this book the authors envision a new growth model and argue that disruptive technologies now at our disposal will enable us to solve some of humanity’s largest problems, from environmental degradation over social inequality to anemic growth.

Over the past century we have been stuck in a resource-intensive growth-model that is absolutely unsustainable and will hit not only the earth boundaries in the very near future in ways that will cause a massive negative impact on our environment, but will also hit directly our economies and societies and will be failing to generate prosperity in the future. As a matter of fact, it is already failing us – a process which the authors call “the great divergence” – that pure GDP growth is diverging sharply from other economic & social indicators (The Genuine Progress Indicator GPI, The Inclusive Wealth Index IWI etc.) and if we include the depletion of natural capital and look at overall prosperity we have been in negative territory now for some while – we are growing poor.

For the 20th century and well into the 21st century there has been a great perceived opposition between the economy (and what’s good for business, growth & profit) and the environment (environmental protection, regulation, “going green” etc.). A culture of short-termism and of an externalization of environmental costs has led to massive damage to the environment, degraded our quality of life and let to a massive “missing out” on potential growth & prosperity.  

What is now possible via technological advances, however, is what the authors call “the great reconciliation” between economic growth and financial capital on the one hand, and the environment as well as human capital on the other hand - empowered by disruptive technologies. What we need is a completely new economic growth model with completely different metrics in the coming decades. “A good disruption” argues for systemic change in three core areas to achieve a new net-positive norm, and thus “accretive growth” that increases instead of depletes natural, financial and human capital, and has a concrete, realistic, achievable plan how to do so – if we use the coming decade well. The exciting thing about this new narrative is that the plan / the new growth model is enticing to political and business leaders because it is driven purely by business rationale, and not as an added “BUT” (“we need to be green” or “become sustainable”). It’s a gigantic economic opportunity to grow sales, massively eliminate waste & thus costs, but one that at the same time will grow our collective stock of natural, economic and human capital.

The authors argue that the shift that will (have to) happen is threefold:

1.)    from fossil energies to renewable, clean energy
2.)    from single-use & waste creation to a circular economy with a cradle-to-cradle material bank, and
3.)    from an economy focused on single product-optimization to a systemic economic organization that reduces systemic waste through high-productivity regenerative systems

The first sectors that should be addressed are Housing, mobility & food as these three sectors alone comprise more than half of GDP.

I was able to speak with Martin Stuchtey about the impending paradigm shift after one of his talks in Berlin recently. He stressed that we need “just” 10% of the people to be convinced in order to reach the tipping point, i.e. to trigger massive change to a new operating system for our economy, and in many areas we are about to pass that threshold very soon.

I assured him Infinity’s support for his mission – the book is a must-read for anyone who wants to find a clear and realistic path towards a truly sustainable – that is “accretive”, productive, healthy – and prosperous future for humanity. Get it, read it, and become part of the conversation about our shared future: http://gooddisruption.com/

Here a short video (interview) with Martin Stuchtey – “Becoming a sustainability hero”, moving from selling stuff to selling performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYqxgCtrJh4

And here, for those who understand German, a presentation sketching out some essential thoughts of Stuchtey’s book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls86IpPEBns