|John Adams' new book, Thinking Today as if Tomorrow Mattered, promises to become a classic guide for people committed to doing the inner and outer work necessary to choose a wise path toward stewarding a positive future for our world. This is a brilliant book, inviting the reader into a profound inquiry about the nature of change, choice, consciousness, and the quality of life. Adams offers the reader an arsenal of powerful tools for developing personal resilience, while awakening wisdom and wonder regarding the personal, organizational, and global forces that shape our world.
As we write this review in the summer of 1999, it has just been announced that there are now six billion people living on Earth, most of them in very difficult circumstances. As momentum gathers, 80 million new people are added every year; or just over 9,000 people per hour! At the beginning of the "Common Era" (Year 0) it is estimated that there were approximately 300 million people living on the whole planet, slightly more people than presently inhabit the United States alone. Over the next 1,000 years, the population of the planet slowly grew to 10 million. In 1500, there were approximately half a billion, and finally around 1800, the population reached a billion. By 1900, there were approximately 1.65 billion people living on the Earth. In this century alone the global population has more than tripled, and by projections it is likely to double again before finally leveling off sometime in the next 100 to 200 years.
Many of us in this world are so engulfed in the struggle for survival that we care very little about affairs beyond our daily struggle. Others of us simply swoon at such alarming statistics. Various schools of systems thinking remind us that the social and ecological outcomes of our present trends will become "fixed" (i.e. pass a point of no return) at some time prior to the year 2030, in ways that will largely determine the future and the fate of life on Earth. Yet as this point of no return approaches, most of the organizations around the world, both large and small, are poorly prepared or coordinated to assess the complexity of the situation and to muster a wise and time critical response.
Most of the leaders of today's world were born when there were less than four billion people on the planet. Also, the economic and political models and social values of today's world were developed when the global population was far smaller than it is today. Those with mind enough to ponder this conundrum may well be left wondering "to whom do we turn and what do we do?"
John Adams, whose earlier brilliant works - Transforming Work, and Transforming Leadership -- inspired many of us in disciplines related to organizational and social transformation, health enhancement and peak performance, presents us now with his long awaited new book,
Thinking Today As If Tomorrow Mattered: The Rise of a Sustainable Consciousness (Eartheart Enterprises, San Francisco, 2000). In clear and compelling language, Adams' latest book invites, challenges, and skillfully guides us to take the realities and the potentialities of the future to heart, to take them personally, and to consider what each of us can and must do to assure that we and our progeny have a life on earth worth living. Drawing a wealth of insights from over three decades of work around the globe, Adams has played a key role in helping dozens of organizations, businesses, and medical systems to leverage business success by doing what is "good for the people and for the earth."
With a rare blend of wisdom and creative compassion, Adams takes us on a quest toward the universal ethical principles, qualities of mind, and ways of living and working that are necessary for a sustainable quality of life, asking "Would this act be "right" if everyone on the planet did it?"
Adams builds upon the insights of many leaders to develop a comprehensive view of growth; helping us to see the need for shifting from a preoccupation with "quantitative growth" to focusing more on "qualitative growth," which would be measured more in terms of the quality of life, and not solely on the quantity of resources we consume. Initially this approach would focus more attention toward rebuilding and repairing the already compromised life support systems of the planet. Yet with time and success, our priorities could shift more toward the cultivation of rare and precious human qualities such as dignity, integrity, creative intelligence, spirituality, and continuous learning as a way of life,
Adams' premise throughout this book is that the eventual outcomes produced by global trends will ultimately be the results supported by the perspectives, or mind sets, of a critical mass of the global population. An individual's perspective is made up of his or her beliefs, expectations, and assumptions. Most of us have spent very little time becoming aware of the perspectives we hold and how we learned them. Yet this lack of awareness of our perspectives and their roots does not in any way diminish their generative role in strongly influencing the qualities that emerge in the future, Our choice is to be conscious or to be unconscious about our individual and collective impacts on whatever future our children and grandchildren are to inherit from us.
Thinking Today as if Tomorrow Mattered brings alive Einstein's often quoted challenge that "We cannot expect to be able to resolve any set of complex problems from within the same state of consciousness that created them." Adams points out that instead of seeing a critical mass of people moving rapidly to shift their consciousness, most people and organizations are still trying harder to make old familiar approaches work, with progressively poorer outcomes and ever increasing levels of daily stress and anxiety as a result. This thought provoking book offers a brilliant blend of ecological and "trans-ego-logical" insight necessary to help us make that crucial step from wanting to change how we live to actually making the steps necessary to create a future truly worth living for,
Thinking Today as if Tomorrow Mattered is a guidebook with value for both our inner and our outer work, carrying us on a journey through landscapes and mindscapes both global and intimately personal in nature. It is organized in four sections.
Section I: "The brighter the light, the darker the shadow" paints the backdrop for the challenges to developing a consciousness that is sustainable. It addresses our tendencies to not think about how we think, discusses the realities of the accelerating and unsustainable rates of growth around the planet, and explores the question, "who should take responsibility for the common good?"
Section II: "We can't resolve any of the challenges, we can only resolve all of them" introduces us to the non-negotiable ecological conditions necessary for life to continue on Earth, while helping us understand the changes needed in our economic systems along with addressing the strain of increasing population.
In Section III: "From autopilot to choice," we are invited to explore the nature of the mindsets that shape our ways of life. Here we are guided to think more deeply and expansively, and to develop both the mental versatility and ways of living that are likely to increase the vitality and sustainability of our lives.
Finally, Section IV: "Thinking into the future" provides the reader with a wealth of knowledge and skills for enhancing the quality of our own health, performance, and life balance so that we are well equipped to meet the challenges of turbulent times to come. It also offers guidelines that encourage the emergence of a sustainable mindset.
One delight of this book is that Adams skillfully concludes each section introduction, and each chapter, with a series of provocatively compelling questions that are intended to stimulate both further personal contemplation and dialogue with others in our organizations, communities, and families. Interestingly, the questions are distilled from those submitted by 1500 people, attending an annual Organizational Development Network conference, in response to John's keynote call to the audience: "What questions should we be asking ourselves and what questions should we be asking our profession?"
Among the hundreds of very useful very and challenging questions included in the book are:
- How do I maintain my awareness of the growing global challenges and not get so overwhelmed that I turn off and go back to life/business as usual?
- To whom in the next generation shall I dedicate my work?
- In what ways do we all collude with an unsustainable system? How are we each perpetuating the status quo?
- What are the long-term implications of what I do each day?
- Is my work more about generating money in the short term or adding value in the long term?
- How much am I willing to change my life style today? How much will I have to change my life style tomorrow?
- What am I willing to change within myself in order to help the dreams of our children become a reality?
This book provides an excellent summary of the work of a host of esteemed leaders and futurists including, Willis Harmon, founder of the World Business Academy; Sweden's Natural Step founder Karl-Heinrik Robert; and Paul Ray's work on the rising numbers of "cultural creatives" in our society. Adams' unique blend of insights and strategies takes us yet another leap further along the path toward actually creating the mindsets and ways of life that will promote a sustainable way of life.
Throughout this book, we are offered a wonderful variety of profoundly practical tools to
- cultivate the flexibility of mind necessary to simultaneously balance:
- short-term with long-term;
- our personal and local perspective with a global one;
- the treatment of symptoms with the identification of the real core issues;
- and a lifestyle of "doing/having" with one that values "being."
Offering the reader clear insight into issues that are at times daunting and overwhelming in scope, Adams demonstrates the art of continually balancing realism with optimism, reminding us that both individuals and cultures with an optimistic outlook ultimately fare better than those prone to pessimism.
While many books these days invite us to consider the future, Thinking Today as if Tomorrow Mattered: The Rise of a Sustainable Consciousness will hold a special and unique place in the literature of the new millennium. This book will be widely read by visionary leaders and change champions in many fields. It will inspire dialogue among community members and leadership teams seeking ways to turn the tide and to shift toward a more long-term definition of success for all the stakeholders who ultimately must live with the outcomes of their decisions and actions.
Joel Levey, Ph.D. & Michelle Levey, M.A., serve as chairpersons for the Center for Corporate Culture & Organizational Health at the Institute for Health & Productivity Management. They are founders of Seattle based InnerWork Technologies, Inc. (wisdomatwork.com), a firm that specializes developing inspired leadership, team and organizational resilience. Their published works include Living in Balance (Conan Press, 1998) and Wisdom at Work (Conan Press, 1999).