Tomas Björkman

We Can No Longer Save The World By Playing By The Rules

Especially in times of crisis, the systems we live in need to learn to organise in new, more complex and deeper ways, or they will break down.


This is a transcript of the opening words of Tomas Björkman at the Emerge Gathering 2019.

We have chosen to share this text at this present moment, when our world seems to be in great chaos, to remind our readers that although this is the worst public health disaster for a generation, one that brings with it so much tragedy, within this disruption is great potential for transformation. 

“I have chosen to take my starting point in current events. In this picture, you'll see a text that was projected on the UN building in New York.

This text blew me away. Perhaps not so much for the content, because we all already know this to be true, but for the fact that it's actually out there in the public space. 
We cannot just tweak the present system, the fundament of the present system needs to change.
It's a quote by Greta Thunberg, and I find it to be very radical. It says:

We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules.

Because the rules have to be changed. We need a systems change, rather than individual change.

But you cannot have one without the other. And so I ask you to please wake up and make the changes required possible.

To do your best is no longer good enough. We must all do the seemingly impossible.

Everything needs to change.

And it has to start today.

Text on the UN building in New York

This acknowledgement that the rules have to change - that we cannot just tweak the present system, that the fundament of the present system needs to change - is now out there in the public space. 

We are at the beginning of a great transformation. As Greta says here, it’s a transformation both within ourselves, and outside of us.

This text is a recognition that a fundamental paradigm shift is underway. 

This is what brings the Emerge network together, and this is the attraction of this Gathering. Somehow it's easy to say that things need to change, but how do we do this, and who's job is it to do this? 

We can’t trust others to make that change, and Greta can’t do it alone, so of course the change must come from each of us. Importantly, it must come from the right inner place. This is the understanding that brings us all together. 
If you were in this field ten years ago you had nobody to talk to. Then something started to happen. We started to form networks.
You could say that we are the ‘imagined cells’ that Margaret Wheatley talks about. The cells in the chrysalis when the caterpillar gets completely dissolved into a biological mesh, into complete chaos. Then, within this chaos, there are cells that start to connect. Even the immune system of the caterpillar start to fight the imagined cells. Over time, the imagined cells begin to find each other and to relate, and out of this relation something new emerges: the butterfly. 

Of course we don’t even know what this butterfly will look like, and we don’t even know if there will be a butterfly. It's a little bit up to us if there will be a butterfly, and not just a mess. 
So I think I've saved a lot of time by summarising 20 slides in this short introduction! We are already behind schedule, so I will just flip through some of the slides that I wanted to talk about. 

So this meta-crisis of our time. That’s where we are at right now. 

The exponential growth of technology

I summarise this in three graphs. Who recognises what this is? This is exponential growth, exactly. The exponential growth of technology. We've never ever seen as much development as we have right now. It's unprecedented in human history.

And where we are now is at the point of paradigm shift. The old paradigm is dying, and the new paradigm is being born. 

All of you here, I believe, were here twenty, ten or five years ago. You were all innovators in your various fields and, probably, you all felt very alone. If you were in this field ten years ago you had nobody to talk to. Then something started to happen. We started to form networks. And this is one of those occasions where these people can really can actually meet and start to interact, perhaps even moving into communities of practice, like the and other organisations in Europe and all over the world - in Africa, in China. The Chinese have already been thinking in systems terms for thousands of years. 

So what do we mean when we say paradigm shift? An early example of paradigm shift is when we shifted from the Medieval paradigm to the dogmatic religious paradigm that had its height in the Middle Ages. 

What we mean when we say paradigm shift

Then, starting with the invention of the printing press, technological development started to accelerate. We had the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic war. It was chaos, and Europe was in a mess for fifty to a hundred years. Out of that mess something new emerged. That is what we today call Modernity. Modernity was a completely new way of organising and thinking - new glasses to see the world. 

This paradigm reached its peak in the 60s or 70s, before the arrival of the internet and other exponential technologies. Then, we entered into this chaos we see today, what we call the meta-crisis. The question is: what might be born after this? Of course we don't yet know. 

One way of looking at this is using the World Values studies. Some of you might be familiar with this diagram that shows all the world's countries and their development on the axes of internal motivation and a change in world view. 

World Values Survey

In the old, pre-modern paradigm, every country in the world was poorer than they are now and more religiously dogmatic. Then we moved from survival into self-actualisation into the modern paradigm.

I think the next move is into self-transcendence. Looking beyond our ego. Here we are as individuals, we have individuated, but we still want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. We are moving from the (post)modern world view into something which you might call an 'Integral' world view, 'Game B' or 'Metamodern' world view. 

One thing joining all those new ways of looking at the world is that we have multi-perspectives. We understand natural systems. We understand that we all have the inner worlds, where our souls follow completely different rules and ways of understanding. Then we have society, our collective imaginary, that is a bigger combination and amalgamation of our inner worlds with the outer reality. 

The blind men and the elephant

At the Emerge Gathering in Berlin last year I showed this picture of the blind men and the elephant. I think that we are all here a little bit, like these seven blind persons, checking out this new paradigm. None of us see the whole picture. We're all holding onto important parts of the totality, and by getting together like this we can start to try to perceive the bigger picture.

Of course, if we're talking to each other and passing on information then it will be easier to see the total picture.

How can we try to be both open and receptive to what is happening, and at the same time be conscious agents in making that change happen? How can we help that future to emerge in a positive way?

This brings us to the third branch I have, which is a graph of bifurcation. In any complex system - our minds, our societies or whatever - when complexity increases, you'll always come to a point where the present system will not hold any longer. And then the system - whether it's a society, if it's consciousness or a natural system - will either step up in complexity and depth and learn to organise in new, more elegant, more complex deeper ways, or it will break down. 

That's where we are right now. We are rapidly reaching this bifurcation point. 
Our view of ourselves need to change: we need to go from a paradigm of separation to connection and relationship. 
I think that’s why we are all here in this room. We somehow feel a calling, and even though we know that this is a process that cannot be managed - because you cannot manage a complex system - we still feel rightly that it's possible to have an influence.

Many times throughout human history civilisations have collapsed, but there were always other civilisations in other places. Right now, we don't have a backup civilisation and we don’t have a backup planet. We only have one chance, so we better try to make this transition as lightly as possible. 

Okay, I'm going to finish with this one and say that I think we all need a new world view, new glasses to see the world, before we can really understand what's going on. 

I'll just here put on the table my sketch of what I think a new world might contain, and this is my personal idea that I hope will resonate with you. 

I think that our view of ourselves need to change: we need to go from a paradigm of separation to connection and relationship. 

Our view of the world also needs to change. We need to go from the world of things to the world of evolving processes. 
We think that we can negotiate with our planetary boundaries and are all subject to the fixed market, when it's actually the opposite. 
Our understanding of our minds needs to move away from the rational and fixed mind of the enlightenment philosophers, the rational Homo-economicus. We need to understand that this is a deeply flawed image of our mind. We need to move to a constantly evolving living systems model of understanding our minds. 

We need to change our view of society from something that is given, to something socially constructed out of our own thinking and acting. 

The social imaginary, the collective imaginary, is something we have created. My favourite example is that of money and oxygen. In today's society we are totally dependent on both oxygen money. Even if everyone in the world got together and decided that they didn't want to be dependent on oxygen anymore, it wouldn't be possible.

As an individual today, I might think that I need money as much as I need oxygen, but money and the market are a part of our collective imaginary. 

Together, we can change the concept of money. We think that we can negotiate with our planetary boundaries and are all subject to the fixed market, when it's actually the opposite. We need to realise that collectively we are masters of our collective imaginary. 

Finally, we need to change our view of our lives. We need to move from focusing on material success as an end in itself to a focus on purpose and meaning. 

Thinking, doing and being

We all come from different directions and we have different personalities. I think if we are going to be able to have any impact on the world, we need to recognise that we need all three of these circles I present here; thinking, doing and being.

Some of us are stronger within certain parts. I'm certainly the strongest in doing and thinking. My weak spot is the being part. I bet that everyone here will identify with one or more of these circles more than the other.

This transition is not something we can engineer. This transition has to happen in all three of these circles. At the same time, we have to honour and cherish that some people are focusing on the different parts.

By Gathering like this we can only focus so much on each part and we need several separate gatherings for the various parts."

This talk was based on Tomas Björkman's recent book The World We Create.
Words by Tomas Björkman
Tomas Björkman is a social entrepreneur, philosopher and co-initiator of Emerge.