Up to this point in the countdown, I’ve presented evidence that ecosystems are emerging and predicted that they will become the dominant structure of the future. For the three remaining posts, I’ll focus on the future of ecosystems – what they might look like, how they might evolve and their ultimate power to make our world a better place. First up in the future of ecosystems is the concept of Abundance. In this post, I’ll address why abundance is important, share what it could look like and present why ecosystems are critical to achieving it.
In The Coming Great Transition, entrepreneur and blockchain angel investor Jordan Greenhall writes that we are going through a transition from a social system that solves the problems of scarcity to one that takes on the challenge of abundance. While capitalism, which was founded on competition for scarce resources, has enabled us to achieve the greatest improvement in life conditions in history, it has also contributed greatly to such unfortunate consequences as gross inequality, starvation, over-consumption of natural resources, environmental degradation and climate change. Given this, most of what you find written on the concept of Scarcity to Abundance focuses on how we shift from a scarcity mindset of competition in a zero-sum paradigm of life to an abundance mindset of sharing and belief that there is enough for everyone.
This led me to wonder if mankind could really make this shift. After all, capitalism, which has triumphed over communism and socialism, is the dominant economic model on the planet. What would lead society to an abundant existence? Is it realistic to think we could actually address the unfortunate consequences of scarcity? Haven’t we been struggling to solve these problems for years? What’s different now?
Exponential Progress in Technology
In looking at these questions, Greenhall believes that the world is rapidly evolving past the problem of scarcity as technology and automation are making resources abundant that were once considered scarce. For example, the world’s industrial agriculture system now produces more than enough food to feed the planet and the deserts of northern Africa absorb enough solar energy to produce electricity for everyone. The question now is how to access and distribute these abundant resources. In his book Abundance, Peter Diamandis illustrates countless examples of exponential technologies that are emerging to address the world’s grandest challenges of subsistence. He cites the DIY (Maker) movement, technophilanthropy and the near $13 trillion in purchasing power of the rising billion as factors that will support the emergence of exponential technologies. What’s needed now is a model that enables a shift in priorities from our current competitive scarcity culture to an abundant culture that values fulfilling lives for everyone. As technology accelerates exponentially to create abundant resources, it is up to us to decide whether we will use that technology to compete or connect with each other.
Exponential Progress in Human Values
While most everyone would agree that technology is advancing exponentially, many would not go so far as to agree that human nature is progressing exponentially. In my Predicting the Future of Business post, I found a strong historical correlation between general purpose technology inventions and societal progress, which suggests that both technology and human values are progressing exponentially. In fact, Clare Graves, founder of the Spiral Dynamics framework, predicted a momentous leap for mankind – a time when humans would evolve from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. Graves stated:
We have nearly “reached the point of finishing the first and most primitive ladder of existence: the one concerned with the emergence of the individual  and his subsistence . As man moves from the [community value system], to the [inter-dependence value system] level of being , a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed. The gap between the [community value system] and the [inter-dependence system] is the gap between getting and giving, taking and contributing, destroying and constructing. It is the gap between deficiency or deficit [scarcity] motivation and growth or abundance motivation.”
Like the number of disruptive technologies appearing, the number of movements focused on making the world a better place is unparalleled in our history. The sharing economy, the circular economy, renewable energy, environmentalism, sustainability, veganism, conscious capitalism, decentralization, collaborative commons, positive psychology, Singularity University, and Google’s moonshots. These movements are a bellwether for change in human values that favors abundance over scarcity.
Not convinced? You say people will always be competitive. This is true in part, because there will always be a variety of value systems present on the planet. Yet, I question whether the drive to compete will always be the predominant human priority and here’s why. Our priorities are directly determined by our life conditions. In a world of scarcity, humans have historically competed to feel significant and make life more prosperous. Yet, if exponential technologies are to make resources abundant and everyone’s lives prosperous, then competing for prosperity will no longer be a priority. We will naturally seek more meaningful experiences. This is why many billionaires turn to philanthropy after they’ve made their fortunes. Competing and accumulating resources are simply no longer meaningful experiences.
Abundance: The Art of Living Wisely, Agreeably and Well
So, what is abundance and how will it manifest itself? Economist John Maynard Keynes referred to it is a time when we are free from economic concerns and focus on living wisely, agreeably and well:
“Thus, for the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares  to live wisely and agreeably and well. It will be those  who can keep alive  the art of life itself and do not sell themselves to the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”
Ok, but what might that look like? Is abundance about luxury, leisure and accumulating things? Not if others are suffering. Is abundance about food, water, energy and equality for all? In part, but that’s not enough. Abundance is more, much more. Imagine this:
You’re the happiest you’ve ever been. You live in a great neighborhood. It’s safe and vibrant. Crime is virtually non-existent. The air is pollution free. You exercise every day and except for the occasional indulgence, you eat right. You’re fit, healthy and self-confident. You’re intimately close to your family and have strong bonds with dear friends. You regularly spend time with them laughing, enjoying each other’s company and creating memories. You rely and depend on each other. You have a strong sense of belonging and it’s comforting. You’re accomplished and have mastered many skills. You’re valued, appreciated and looked up to by family and friends as well as within extended circles because you have a strong sense of purpose. You enjoy a good challenge and you value competing insofar as it helps you grow. You’re willing to sacrifice for the common good because you’re principled and value everyone’s happiness. People call on you when in need, you’re grateful for their trust and you take pride in your ability to make a difference. You live in the moment and enjoy interacting with people. You recognize and respect others’ opinions and treat everyone as peers. You’re always curious and view diversity as a magnificent learning opportunity. You’re flexible, spontaneous and your time is spent almost entirely on things you’re passionate about. For that reason, life seems effortless. There is no sense of work vs. personal time, no driving yourself to exhaustion, no burnout or stress because there is no pressure to get ahead. It’s not about money and you don’t surround yourself with status symbols because there is no need to prove your worth or value. You’re conscious of the fragility of life, you’re truly grateful and have a strong desire to ensure everyone shares equally in the possibility of happiness.
There. This is abundance. This is the art of life itself. This is living wisely and agreeably and well. If it is human nature to strive, then this is what we must strive for. This is what the human experience can be. Yet, for the half of the planet living on $2.00 per day, this is sheer fantasy. For the other half, it seems ridiculously idealistic. If, however, you ever worry about what we will do when robots take our jobs, we can work on making life like this. Think of the possibilities we will have to create fulfilling and abundant lives for ourselves when freed from the means of life and the mundane 9-5 realities of the scarcity model.
Ecosystems and Abundance
Whether or not you believe we can achieve abundance, there’s no doubt that we are accelerating exponentially into the future. A future characterized by artificially intelligent robots, hyper-connected everything and unfathomable efficiency. That future will afford us the opportunity to achieve abundance if we do two things. First, we must address all humans’ subsistence needs – water, food, energy, education, healthcare and freedom. As technology makes resources more accessible and businesses vie for their share of the emerging $13 trillion rising billion marketplace, there is great cause to believe that we can meet the subsistence needs of everyone. Second, to move past subsistence needs, we must achieve an abundant mindset of interdependence that enables us to take big picture views, resolve paradoxes, do more with less, disperse power and allow everyone to co-exist. A tall order indeed, but consider the following quote from Google co-founder Larry Page when interviewed on the prospect of technology replacing human labor:
“I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance . If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy – housing, security, opportunities for your kids . It’s not that hard for us to provide those things.  So, the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true.  I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So, we need to give people things to do.  But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are– there’s not a good correspondence. That’s why we’re busy destroying the environment and other things, maybe we don’t need to be doing. So I’m pretty worried. Until we figure that out, we’re not going to have a good outcome.”
Page’s reference to the poor correspondence between our current industries and our fundamental human needs holds the key to the human race achieving abundance. Our industries today are designed to maximize consumption as part of the capitalistic system. They don’t exist to draw us together, fulfill us or address our global issues. In many ways, our industries distract us from living wisely, agreeably and well. And this is precisely why ecosystems will continue to emerge. They will fulfill our needs when industries formed around scarcity no longer can. As technology makes our lives hyper-productive and frees us from economic concerns, we will naturally turn to unifying structures like ecosystems that enable us to evolve. That makes “Abundance” the number 3 reason ecosystems are the future.
Next Up: Number 2 – Hyper-productivity
Number 4 – Millennials
Number 5 – Purpose
Number 6 – Intrinsic Motivation
Number 7 – Freelancing & Coworking
Number 8 – The Collaborative Economy
Number 9 – Industry Platforms
Number 10 – Community Values