3rd Industrial Revolution and Leadership

Let me start 2013 with a macro view of leadership…

I was in Philadelphia last year as part of the delivery team for one of the acknowledged top leadership development programs in the world – the Philips Octogon program.  It is a program involving 32 selected top performers at Philips.   The program takes place over 8 months in three locations.  The first session was at the Wharton School of Business.

steinberg center

Steinberg Conference Center – Wharton School of Business

Of course I felt quite comfortable coming back to this location.  Back in the 1980s I obtained my MBA at Wharton – one of the more prestigious business schools in the world.

I had the privilege to be able to listen to a presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on the first day of the program.  Mr. Rifkin established the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) .  Among many of his activities, he is a valued advisor of heads of state in Europe (including Angela Merkel) and has had very direct impact on European economic policy.  He is the author of the concept of the 3rd Industrial Revolution which is a road map for long-term economic sustainability.  This concept was formally endorsed by the European parliament in 2007.

This concept has fundamental implications for leadership in the 21st century.

His talk began pessimistically enough.  We are in the end phases of the Second Industrial Revolution and the only way out of this dead end is to completely change the fundamental infrastructure on which our current civilization is based.

Each industrial age is characterized by two fundamentals: energy and information.  Mastering a new energy process provides the means to create a new form of information dissemination.  The First Industrial Revolution centered around coal-fired steam-driven power generation.  This new energy regime also enabled the advent of mass produced newspapers and magazines based on steam-powered rotary press and linotype technologies.

The Second Industrial Revolution began with the advent of the internal combustion engine powered by fossil fuels.  This revolution was complimented by a communication revolution based on the creation of an electric grid infrastructure which eventually led to telephone, radio and television.

This Second Industrial Revolution is reaching its limits according to Rifkin.  The most important recent economic occurrence in the past five years is not the financial crisis of 2008, but the rise of oil prices to over 140$ a barrel in 2007.  This rise in the price of oil represents a major threat to the welfare of human society on the planet.  So many of current modern materials are based on fossil fuels (from plastics to fertilizer), that this price has seismic implications for the economy.  Rifkin concludes that the current economy is doomed to limited growth for decades to come.  Every time the price of oil goes over 120 $ a barrel, a new global recession is virtually assured.  The problem is not the amount of fossil fuel available.  There are still plenty of reserves.  The problem is that getting at those reserves is becoming more costly over time.  This limit threatens ALL economies including emerging economies such as China and Brazil.   It is a global phenomenon.

What is the way out?  What are the implications for leadership?  Stay tuned for more….

“One thing I have learned over these last 30 to 40 years is that people make history.  There is no fait accompli in any of this.”         Jeremy Rifkin

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