As this longest bull market faces an uncertain future of trade wars, interest rate hikes, debts in government, corporate and household sectors, this is a time for asset managers to unpack their algos and check their assumptions for the many structural changes in our societies and globalization patterns.
These three books lay out an array of positive trends and overlooked possibilities for our human future - a welcome antidote for investors to today’s ever more serious global problems, trends and alarming scenarios. However serious and real these trends: from global climate change, terrorism, species extinctions to financial crises, inequality, cybercrime and nuclear threats, we humans must also keep all the good news of our global situation and the positive trends firmly in mind.
These three books are the best recent antidotes for investors I have found to dispel the negativity and cynicism that inhibit the real reforms, courageous civic action needed at all levels to innovate, create and evolve the possible futures that await humanity. Their authors and co-editors have curated and present all these future opportunities from environmental, economic, financial, social and humanistic perspectives.
In “Imaginal Cells” editors Polman and Vasconcellos-Sharpe, Reboot the Future, (2017), also co-founders of the non-profit Reboot The Future use the well-known life cycle of butterflies: from the lowly caterpillar gorged on eating, changing into a chrysalis and finally opening to the gorgeous emerging butterfly. This transformation process often seen in nature, is a powerful metaphor for many human organizations, companies, communities and in our lives. This shape-shifting of an organism’s form and structure is performed by the activities of a special group of “imaginal cells” within the body of the caterpillar, which gradually re-group and re-shape the organism into the chrysalis and finally into the emerging butterfly.
No metaphor could be more appropriate for the changes and transformations human societies are now experiencing all over the world: shifting from fossil-fueled sectors to renewable energy and electric vehicles; from sprawling suburbs to urban revivals; from wasteful methods to the circular economies upcycling all inputs for future use - even startups capturing CO2 for making cement and plastics. We report on these deep global processes reshaping global finance and energy sectors in our annual tracking of private investments in our Green Transition Scoreboard®. Many CEOs, start-up entrepreneurs and venture investors are undergoing similar structural changes. Government agencies, academia and religious organizations are also changing in fundamental ways along with digital disruptions in many sectors including finance, media, retailing, medicine, law, and our very democratic systems. Many start-ups remain private and family offices and private equity groups prefer financing them directly through groups including London-based Family Office Forums in Asia, Europe and the USA at which we present.
Imaginal Cells reflects the views of many well-respected leaders around the world: including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mo Ibrahim, both leaders in Africa; Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank; architect William McDonough, author of "Cradle to Cradle" (2002) and its certification for circular economy – designed companies such as privately-held ECOR; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever (NYSE:UN), scientist Johan Rockstrom who researched the "9 Planetary Boundaries“ (pg. 143); former US vice president Al Gore; Britain’s Jonathon Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future and Mark Malloch-Brown with the United Nations ((UN)) Global Compact, and others. Their views summarized in “Imaginal Cells” reflect their leadership styles. All are similar to those imaginal cells in nature that embody the possibilities of evolution for humanity’s next stage on this planet. This inspiring book is also well-documented and includes lists of additional books and authors fleshing out all these possibilities for our common future.
In “A New Reality," Jonathan Salk, City Point Press, (2018) lovingly updates his father’s ground-breaking “The Survival of the Wisest" first published in 1972, the same year that MIT published its famous Report to the Club of Rome: “Limits to Growth," led by systems analyst/biologist Donella Meadows. Dr. Jonas Salk, best remembered for his life-saving Salk vaccine which stemmed the terrible polio epidemic, then turned to the global issue of human populations as they expanded across the planet - pressuring its resources and biodiversity. Today, 16 banks collaborate with Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney of the Bank of England in re-tooling financial models in the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and the UN Principles of Responsible Investing with over $60 trillion of AUM assist in this research - using future scenarios beyond economic models.
Salk began exploring how the planet’s many species had evolved. He found two distinct repetitive patterns of statistical S-curves which he labeled Epoch A and Epoch B. During his observations of the evolution of species in Epoch A, Salk found maximum resource-consumption, territorial expansion, rapid growth and out-competing other species for resources. Then as this upward growth curve began saturating its resource-base, there was a leveling of the upward curve into a flatter Epoch B: in which behavior changed to consolidating resources into more sustainable, qualitative development, co-evolving with other beneficial species through communication and combining into more efficient, cooperative networks. Salk rejected “the survival of the fittest” model of competition advocated by British sociologist Herbert Spencer which he attributed wrongly to Charles Darwin in the early editions of The Economist (for which the magazine finally apologized in December 2006).
Salk agreed with Charles Darwin’s view of evolution via natural selection driven by environmental changes, and that humans have survived due to their unique abilities, through language and bonding, to cooperate for their survival and achieved their spectacular planetary success. Obvious evidence of the successes of cooperation include humanity's rise from tribal nomadic bands to settlements and agriculture, to towns, cities, guilds, legal rules, social norms, and today's multi-national value-chains and corporations. Thus, while competition is also necessary, it works best within cooperative rules-based systems such as the WTO, UN-ratified agreements, as well as prudential global financial architecture.
This early Salk volume now updated in “A New Reality: Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future” plots societies' progression from Epoch A toward Epoch B scenarios - noting the leveling of human population growth as countries develop technologically toward better living standards, education, health and democratic norms while birth rates drop to replacement levels or even lower. I was lucky enough, along with other futurists, to know Dr. Jonas Salk. I was enthralled by sharing a breakfast with him as he discussed how he saw human norms changing with new conditions so as to meet these social transformations.
Kudos to Jonathan Salk for so expertly updating all these scientific and social realities in "A New Reality." Like the future scenarios in “Imaginal Cells," this book, gives us both the scientific, metaphoric and modeling tools to unpack our obsolete algorithms, big data, human-trained machine learning intelligence (mis-labeled as AI) which still reflect too many cognitive biases. These mental tools can aid and update our short-term decision-making and our financial algos, indexes and robo-advisors of our pension plans, as I pointed out in “AI + Algorithms = Assumptions“, (2017).
Global statistician Hans Rosling’s work is captured in “Factfulness “by his diligent children, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Flatiron Books, (2018). Hans Rosling enthralled me and many other policy wonks at various UN and EU conferences on world trends. His scientific trend-spotting was encapsulated and clarified in his hundreds of colorful visual representations of trends in: national populations, GDP-growth, poverty gaps, infant mortality, health outcomes, education and social development. All these are now in this book.
Most of Rosling’s forecasts from the past two decades have been corroborated and they support the possibilities outlined in “Imaginal Cells" and “A New Reality." Microsoft (MSFT) founder Bill Gates and Melinda Gates recommend “Factfulness “as both “an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world” and as “the secret, silent miracle of human progress” in their cover comments.
These three books will not only give us scientifically-based hope for our future, but also the optimism necessary for wise longer-term decisions and positive actions. They help clarify our technological choices, needed reforms in our institutions, they illuminate how best to re-purpose our burgeoning social media and the FAANGs (FB), (AAPL), (AMZN), (NFLX), (GOOGL) (GOOG) so as to make more positive contributions to the now global democratic processes and public discourses for a brighter future. These books are essential additions to the bookshelves of impact investors and asset managers, and on public and private decision-makers’ summer reading lists.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: Full Disclosure: The Family Office Forums at which Hazel Henderson presents Ethical Markets Media research in Asia, Europe and USA. Hazel Henderson serves as a Technical Advisor to ECOR on the circular-economy. (Non payment as advisor but with stock options if they become public).