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Geo-Political Instability and Stewardship for Mother Earth

June 28, 2010

Updated July 26, 2011
There seems to be no end to the planet’s problems. Whether it’s North Korea’s Kim Jong Il’s increasingly bizarre behavior (such as the attack on a South Korean warship); the mounting Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing uncertainty about NATO’s success in Afghanistan; Iran’s quest to become a nuclear-armed power; rising social tensions in China due to an imbalanced population structure; Islamic-Christian tensions in Europe and the UK; global terrorism; the horrendous mess in the Gulf of Mexico due to incompetence by British Petroleum; looming trade wars; uncertainties in the financial markets; or the long-term consequences of climate change on population migration from coastal areas, political and corporate leaders more than have their hands full.

It’s enough to make one reconsider entering senior leadership positions. As much as those who choose to play leadership roles in their organizations must learn to become change masters–learning to live with ambiguity, uncertainty and unpredictability–it’s equally important to learn how to recognize the inter-connections of events, seeing the nuanced patterns which at some point converge to release what can be described as potentially catastrophic for the planet. Hence, my expression of living in a spiderweb world.

The issue of climate change, for example, had been front-page material in the media for many months. It’s now on page two for a variety of reasons, one being the mainstream media’s budgie-like attention span. But it was also assisted by mounting geo-political events, such as with Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, and the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster.

One big challenge for senior leaders is trying to balance immediate crises with long-term strategic issues. When we hear about rising sea levels and the eventual displacement of hundreds of millions of people along coastal areas, that seems too far off. “That will be my kids’ or grandkids’ problems,” some might say.

If one looks at human capital development and the vital role it plays in a nation’s competitiveness, this is a more tangible issue but one that is still longer-term and more academic in tone.

However, terrorist attacks are very tangible and elicit immediate responses by the public and government, though not always in a strategic way. Looking at the key underlying issues for such attacks and determining how to best thwart future ones, while simultaneously maintaining the freedom of law-abiding citizens, is a much more difficult proposition.

Terrorist groups automatically gain the upper hand when the results of their often feeble attempts at causing carnage among civilians produce repressive government measures to curtail hard-fought freedoms. My Scottish immigrant dad didn’t join the Canadian Navy during World War Two for a lark. He and his peers literally fought to ensure that Canada would remain free, along with Great Britain. There is indeed a balance when it comes to fighting terrorism, but to date it appears to be an elusive concept.

As the current Baby Boomer generation begins the hand-off of leadership roles to Generation X and, not far behind, Gen Y, there’s an opportunity to step back and ask questions about how we as a society responds to problems, whether they be environmental, business or political. I have hope that Gens X and Y will work together to come up with new solutions for Mother Earth. One thing that has become clear to me is that we can no longer use old-style thinking and past solutions to address the growing complexity of our spiderweb world.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts and suggestions on what you’ve read and heard in this five-part series on globalization.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.

– Albert Einstein

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