'IF ARMAGEDDON IS OUR FEAR, WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION?"
By ICHAK ADIZES, Ph.D.
President and Professional Director of Adizes Institute
We are rapidly approaching a crossroads that will determine whether or not our civilization has a future. Depending on the choices we make, we face either total apocalypse or a new Age of Aquarius. On one hand, we could experience an exciting new culture, our behavior dominated by mutual trust and respect. The alternative could be complete destruction, a nuclear holocaust that ironically would throw its survivors back into a world as primitive as the feudal states of the Middle Ages. This dramatic crossroads — in essence a confrontation between destructive and constructive forces — does not have its origins in modern times, however. The confrontation can be traced, in various forms, back through the centuries. While its current form is a struggle between those who oppose diversity, such as Osama bin Laden, and those who support it, what is different about the current confrontation is its accelerated pace.
Let’s analyze what is happening. We know that change is a constant. The process of change has been going on since the beginning of time and will continue forever. The world is changing physically, socially, and economically. Change is here to stay.
But what happens as a result of change? It’s a bit like approaching an intersection. You have several options: turn left, turn right, stay where you are or go back to where you were. Each of these choices is a two-part process requiring both decision making and implementation. Each also involves conflict. Conflict in decision making occurs because different people have different decision-making styles. Conflict occurs in implementation because change threatens people’s established interests. Thus, by definition, change means conflict and the greater the quantity and velocity of changes, the greater the quantity and complexity of conflicts and problems that manifest change. We are currently experiencing an accelerated rate of change, which in turn is triggering more intense conflict. During the 20th century, human beings slaughtered each other on a scale previously unimaginable in mankind’s history. In the new century, we are already in the midst of a third world war; not between nations but between cultures, as Sam Huntington from Harvard noted in his article and book, The Clash of Cultures . Instead of national self-interest, religion or a point of view is now the issue. Wars have become cross-national in response to economic, political and social systems that function interdependently among nations. Conflicts are now systemic rather than particular to single countries or regions.
This kind of destructive conflict is caused by disintegration, which occurs whenever there is change. What is disintegration, and how does change cause it? To explain, let me back up a few steps and begin with a premise: Everything is part of some kind of system, and every system is a subsystem of some larger system. But these systems, which interrelate, do not necessarily change at the same rate; some change faster than others. When the systems do not change in synchronicity, gaps occur, which manifest themselves as problems within the system. If you analyze any problem you might have — with your car, your marriage, your career — you will find that something has fallen apart, and it has fallen apart because of change.
Take human beings, for example. Everyone is composed of many systems: the physiological (physical), the intellectual (mind), and the spiritual, among them. They do not necessarily grow or develop in synchronicity. A person might be forty years old chronologically, but still be a teenager emotionally, not even born yet spiritually, and physically, might feel eighty years old. These disparities can create a lot of problems, manifested in what’s called “falling apart.” Conversely, when the system is strong, it “has it together,” just as a person, family, or country “has it together.” “Together” means that all the subsystems are in synchronicity and in balance. But because of change, which is constant, a state of “togetherness” is never very long-lasting.
The higher the rate of change, the faster the cracks in the system show up and the deeper they will be. On a global scale, technology has been advancing faster than our social values. According to Edmund O. Wilson, 95 percent of all the scientists who ever lived are alive today. This has created gaps that are manifested in unique social problems.
The Internet is a good example of a technology that is a force for integration on one hand and disintegration on the other. Enormous potential exists for integrating through chat rooms and creating Internet communities. But those who, because of poverty or social status, lack access to computers and cheap, easily accessible e-commerce, roam the streets hijacking cars, while the more fortunate sit in planned, protected communities connecting with an international community of like-minded members of the privileged class through the Internet.
These manifestations of disintegration caused by change, which we call problems, require solutions. Whatever decisions organizational leaders make concerning how to deal with these problems will create new changes. The changes will create new discontinuities and thus, tomorrow’s problems. The purpose of management, leadership, parenting, or governing — any form of organizational leadership — is to solve today’s problems and get ready to deal with tomorrow’s problems. That means managing change.
Whenever there is change, there is conflict over the inherent quality of the decision, what to do, and whether to do it, because some parties feel their interests are threatened. Conflict can be destructive or constructive. Destructive conflict will happen by itself. To have constructive conflict, an organization – whether that organization is a business, a family, a nation, or a planet of diverse nations – must do something proactive.
In my thirty years of helping transform organizations in forty-eight countries worldwide, I have seen that my theories of effective management can be applied on a global scale as effectively as on a local scale. In other words, whether we are talking about a small, family-owned company, or the government of a nation, the key to successful decision making and implementation is providing an atmosphere in which constructive conflict can occur.
Systemic issues require systemic solutions. We cannot apply temporary or partial solutions to holistic problems and expect them to be effective. The methodology I have developed approaches problems systemically, holistically, involving all of the people necessary to solve the problem and implement a solution.
My goal in this article is not to provide solutions, but to provide the tools with which to arrive at effective solutions. To accomplish that, I use the methodology I’ve developed over thirty years to suggest some proactive steps nations can take to map a route toward constructive, rather than destructive, conflict. I’m providing a compass, not the road map.
We know that when the subsystems are changing at different rates, disintegration will occur and eventually problems will become evident. Which problems emerge depends on the degree of disintegration and which subsystems are out of balance. Thus, those who understand the theory well can use it as a tool for predicting and preventing disintegration. If you can see which subsystem is deficient, then you know what problem is going to be manifested by the deficiency (or by an oversupply of the other). Depending on what you have too much of or too little of, you can either predict the problem that’s going to happen or analyze a problem that has already occurred.
For example, in modern societies, homelessness is a manifestation of social, economic, and emotional disintegration caused by rapid change.
Contemporary societies are, in fact, experiencing a fourth wave of evolution. The first, a nomadic society, evolved into an agricultural society; the third wave was industrialization. Now we are moving into what’s called “the information technology wave,” which is a post-industrial society.
These are major changes, and as such, are usually accompanied by wars and other manifestations of disintegration. Karl Marx’s theories were based on the problems that he observed of the changes that occurred moving into industrialization. As we move into a post-industrial society, many of the same problems have reappeared. Some people are not capable of catching up with the rapid changes, thus they are becoming unemployed – permanently unemployed. They cannot find their space in the new environment and in a sense, they just give up. They are disempowered, although not by any outside force. Instead, they have disempowered themselves because they no longer feel capable of linking or joining with the rest of the society they live in. These people are the manifestation, the remnants, and the collateral damage of the changes we are experiencing.
The same is true for crime: it is a manifestation of social, economic, emotional, and political disintegration. Another obvious manifestation: the higher the rate of change in society, the higher the rate of divorce. As change accelerates, the disparities – both between and within nations – are increasing. In addition to the conflict between those who accept diversity and those who oppose it, there is also the increasing problem of the haves against the have-nots. Thus, what we have is a confrontation between first-world countries, which are rich and democratic, and third-world countries, which tend to be poor, totalitarian, and almost always on the losing side of change.
Change is a centrifugal force in which the haves tend to become more powerful and get more, and the have-nots fall into traps where they have less and less. And they cannot escape the trap. The exit from this road to destructive conflict is to find a detour to constructive conflict.
What determines whether or not conflict can be constructive is not whether conflict exists, but how it is handled. Conflict is necessary and indispensable for change and will always accompany change. Conflict cannot be stopped by stopping change; that is not a realistic option. What we have to learn is how to handle the conflict so that it can be constructive. And what I have consistently found in my work, with both companies and governments, is that if there is a culture of mutual trust and respect, the conflict becomes constructive: it is a bonding and growth experience, rather than a destructive experience.
We need mutual respect so that we can learn from a diversity of opinions, viewpoints, and positions. Mutual respect is a necessary component of learning; you can’t learn from people you don’t respect. Voltaire’s famous statement, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” demonstrates the kind of respect that democracy is based on: respect for differences of opinion, and legal protection of those who are different. Trust occurs when there is belief that a commonality of interest exists. When there is no faith in a commonality of interest, there is fear that some will benefit more than others, and that for some part of society, there is no possibility of future betterment.
In an environment where there is mutual respect, however, people learn from differences of opinion. Where there is trust there is faith that the future will be better for everyone, not just one group. When there is mutual trust and respect conflicts are not destructive, they are constructive. Thus, to avoid the increasing gap that change enables between the haves and have-nots, the challenge is to develop modi operandi that are based on mutual trust and respect, in which we learn from each other’s differences and share the benefits jointly over time.
I have found that there are four elements that together can transform a company’s culture into one where there is constructive conflict based on mutual trust and respect. Those factors are common vision and values, the right structure, the right decision-making processes, and people with the right attitude.
Let’s apply these four elements on a global scale to our civilization. Common vision and values means that for the global society to avoid an accelerating move toward destructive conflict, we need a shared global vision of a different society from the one we live in today. In this vision, interdependencies are recognized for the benefit of all rather than for a few, based on respect for differences of opinion, different cultures, and for the other living things with which we co-inhabit the earth: animals, trees, flowers, and everything that lives.
The right structure means we have to design better systems of governance than the UN, which is an aggregation of individual interests. We need to see the emergence of an umbrella organization that represents the globe rather than the accumulated interests of individual nations. We must isolate and destroy those pockets of ideologues that oppose diversity and threaten democracy. This is a fight that will be won, and democracy must win it.
Who will comprise this decision-making body? A holistic problem requires a holistic solution, and that calls for a group that comprises all of the coalesced authority, power and influence (CAPI) necessary to implement a solution. In addition, all those with the capability to undermine the decision must be included. The reason they should participate in making the decision is that, in my experience, people who row the boat don’t rock the boat. Anybody who can rock the boat should learn how to row.
Next, we must include the technologists and intelligentsia – those who have specific knowledge of how to do what needs to be done. These are not necessarily the same people who are responsible for making or implementing decisions; in fact, I have learned when there is disintegration, those who have the authority to say yes and no do not necessarily have the power to implement their decisions, nor do they necessarily have the knowledge to make good decisions. Conversely, those who have the information and knowledge lack the power or the authority; worse, those who have the power to undermine decisions often have little or no knowledge concerning them. They are merely destructive forces, without the expertise or authority to build anything.
Why do you need a group that has coalesced authority power and influence (CAPI)? Because approaching decisions the way civilization has done up until now is no longer effective. We still think of problem-solving as a sequence – that economic change will bring social change which will bring political change . . . or that political change will bring economic change which will bring social change. But the environment has become far too intense and is changing too fast. What is needed is a systemic approach; all of the components together at the same time. To accomplish that, a CAPI group, representing the intelligentsia, the powers of the media, the church, the bureaucracy, and the legislators, must be gathered together. If this group can jointly develop, agree upon, and support a vision, the necessary political, social and economic changes can potentially be made.
This methodology has been successful in many very large organizations. It has also seen the beginning of success in certain countries, most recently in Mexico , where I recommended to President Vicente Fox to create an advisory board to help turn the country around. The board there should be comprised of leading members of the congress, administrators of the governmental bureaucracy, labor union leaders, top business and religious leaders, the head of the Zapatista (the group that is fighting the Mexican government in the southern part of the country), the leader of Mexico ‘s indigenous people, the intelligentsia, and the media.
On a global scale, however, I would start with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Red Cross and Greenpeace. There are thousands of NGOs with millions of volunteers, which makes them very powerful. If they got together and developed a common vision and an organization whose mission was to carry out that vision, change could occur. Later, I would gradually bring in the leadership of governments, business, intelligentsia, labor unions, military leadership, and the rest. If all came together, joined by a common vision and an institutional structure to carry out that vision, change could really happen.
The Decision-making Process
We don’t know how to decide together. We outpace each other because of our styles. Some people jump to conclusions, some take their time to think the process through. Some people don’t like to be involved at all with the pain of decision-making. Some people are continually illuminated, coming up with lots of ideas but no decisions.
We need a decision making process that is participative in nature, recognizing and appreciating differences of opinion. But how do we make these styles work together? I’ve developed a methodology for teaching people how they can make decisions together and understand and support those decisions, in spite of differences of opinion. The methodology, developed at the Adizes Institute, where people are trained and certified in how to use it, has been tested in 48 countries.
In order to make good decisions, what’s necessary is a complementary team, defined as a differentiation of styles. For instance, in a democratic society it is essential that both the political left and right have the opportunity to lead the government, to exchange policy views, and to present those views to the public.
Bringing multiple cultures together is like bringing multiple styles together. Imagine a team that includes a German, Greek, Jew, Indian, and Japanese who have to make decisions together. Enormous cultural clashes will occur. Why? Because the individual styles and expectations are different, and decision-making methods may be at cross-purposes.
My methodology is based on the notion that the decision making process can be broken down into predictable steps and phases, with everyone in agreement that through certain rules of conduct and discipline, they will advance through the stages and reach a final point together. In other words, I create complementary teams that can overcome each other’s weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths. Each style has its definite strengths and weaknesses, so it’s as if we are a group of handicapped people who together are crossing a river in the jungle. If I am blind and you have no legs, you might say to me, “You walk and I’ll sit on your shoulders; you walk and I’ll see, and jointly we’ll cross the river safely together.”
In terms of attitude, we have to work globally on supporting systems that promote diversity and mutual trust and respect. Societies failing to promote that ideology have to be destroyed or they will destroy us. Al-Qaeda and the Muslim fundamentalists – in fact all fundamentalists, even Christian fundamentalists – are threats to democracy. Democratic systems, I believe, are too tolerant of non-democratic forces. In political science there is continual debate about whether democracies should allow non-democratic parties to exist. My position is we cannot allow it to happen anywhere, because non-democratic regimes are a continual threat. That is the crossroads battle we face; are we going to win this battle?
Like Israel , which in 1994 outlawed an anti-Arab racist party called Kahane, I would outlaw parties that try to destroy the democracy that allows them to exist in the first place. If the rate of change were not so acute, I would feel differently. I would allow them to exist because in a less dangerous environment, freedom of speech would ultimately take precedence. In a democratic society, we should be able to decide what’s good for us and what’s not good for us.
But when the rate of change is acute, and the pain from that acuteness is overwhelming, simple-minded people who don’t understand the complexity of the problem will try to find a simple solution, which is almost always an extreme solution. That’s why the higher the rate of change, the greater the cacophony of religious revivals and vocal minorities, whether fanatical Muslims, Jews, or Christians. It is a manifestation of the rate of change.
When there is ambiguity and uncertainty and pain, these people look for a “solution,” and what they seek is clarity and stability. They are certainly not looking for more ambiguity, which is what democracies offer.
Totalitarianism offers clarity in black and white: “Hate the Jews, the non-Aryans.” It’s a simple solution. Thus, totalitarianism, diversity-averse entities and fatalistic cults have a significant advantage during periods of great change, and the more they gain, the more they endanger diversity.
So I would outlaw all fanaticism, period. I would be fanatically anti-fanatic. No one would be permitted to undermine the system or the democratic vision, or to foment racial unrest. All subversive, exclusive, or excluding fanatical entities would be banned, and edu cational systems put in place geared towards inclusion, diversity, and tolerance. Although it’s true I sometimes get carried away and begin outlining my personal “road map” for the future of the planet, my goal is simply to provide the tools to form a well-structured, complementary, international group that can work toward constructing its own road map, one with the advantage of having been universally agreed-upon and supported.
The clarity of the vision – what is it we are looking for and what do we do about it? – must come from each nation as it adapts itself to rapid and intense change, as well as the world community as it too adapts itself. I’m providing the compass in the firm belief that the road to a solution exists. It may not be the road we are used to traveling on, and it may not have the landmarks we’re used to seeing, but it is there, waiting to be discovered.
Time grows short, however.
1) Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). See also: Huntington, Samuel P., “The Clash of Cultures,” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.
2) Wilson , Edward O., The Future of Life ( New York : Knopf, 2002).