I’ve often been asked what authors have most influenced me. There are so many that I find that question overwhelming. However, I’m going to focus in this post on four authors who, when woven together, form a tapestry that has shaped my thinking for decades.
Carlota Perez – A unique period of history
Carlota has taught at many universities and in 2002 wrote an eye-opening book, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. She looked back in history over several centuries and studied five technological revolutions, including the steam engine, electricity and the automobile. At the risk of over-simplifying her perspective, she found that each technological revolution followed a similar pattern. It started with a burst of innovation in one or more core technologies that led to significant performance improvement, but then the performance improvement leveled off fairly quickly. That set the stage for another burst of innovation in the infrastructures required to deliver the technology to the economy and society but, then again, the performance improvement of the infrastructures leveled off fairly quickly. That then set the stage for everyone in the economy to figure out how to adapt to the change and get the most value from the technology.
While she included digital technology as one of her technological revolutions, she under-estimated the extent to which digital technology has deviated from the pattern of earlier technology revolutions. Rather than quickly leveling off in performance improvement, both the core technology and the infrastructures required to deliver that technology to the economy have continued to improve exponentially in performance improvement.
This analysis led me to see that we are in a very different era from any other in history, one that is catalyzing exponential change over an unknown number of decades. This creates both a significant challenge and opportunity, as we strive to find ways to create more and more value from the exponential changes playing out around us.
Jane Jacobs – Cities as a catalyst for economic growth
Jane was a prolific author, starting with her classic work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961. Throughout her many books, Jane argued that cities were a key catalyst of economic growth. She inspired quite a bit of controversy by her perspective that top-down urban planning was actually a hindrance to economic growth. Her view was that the potential of cities could only be unleashed through bottom-up organic growth. She argued that the growth and prosperity of cities resulted from a growing diversity of innovators and entrepreneurs who were drawn to cities because of their ability to connect and scale their efforts. The diversity and density of these initiatives has led to the kind of growth and prosperity that we see in ecosystems in nature.
Jane’s perspective led me to more deeply appreciate the role of cities in economic growth around the world. We can accomplish so much more if we come together with many others. But we need to evolve our cities through interactions at the local level, rather than relying on urban planning “experts” to determine what is best for us.
Annalee Saxenian – Cultures as a catalyst for growth within regions
Annalee is a professor at Berkeley who wrote an inspiring book in 1994 – Regional Advantage. She was intrigued by the differing trajectories of two major digital technology centers from the 1970’s in the US – Route 128 around Boston and Silicon Valley. While both began as major technology centers, over several decades Silicon Valley maintained a significant leadership in innovation in digital technology while Route 128 declined in importance. What explained this divergence in trajectories?
Annalee assembles convincing evidence that a major factor in the different paths of these two regions was the very different cultures that dominated each region. In Route 128, economic activity was dominated by a few large vertically integrated companies where employees went to work for their entire careers and rarely interacted with people outside their company. In contrast, Silicon Valley developed a culture where employees transitioning from one company to another every few years was not only accepted, but expected. Also, people often came together outside their companies with people from other companies and they were motivated to ask for help in addressing really challenging problems. The result was a culture that fostered widespread collaboration and collective learning.
Annalee’s research inspired me to see that people coming together in certain areas can unleash much greater innovation and growth if they adopt a culture that fosters connection and learning among a growing number of people. It’s not just enough for people to be together in the same area. They need to reach out and build relationships in ways that will help them to learn faster.
Carol Dweck – Mindsets as a catalyst for growth
Carol is a professor at Stanford University and in 2006 published an extraordinary book – Mindset. The book suggests that people can be placed on a continuum of beliefs ranging from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that they have been given a fixed set of abilities, intelligence, and talents. At the other end of the spectrum, people with a growth mindset believe their talents and abilities can always be further developed through effort and persistence.
These are fundamental beliefs that shape one’s view of oneself and of the world around us. People with a fixed mindset tend to adopt a “win/lose” view of the world with constant competition to see who can capture the most for themselves. People with a growth mindset see the potential for continued growth of performance by everyone. They will be much more motivated to come together and help each other to draw out more and more of their potential.
The good news is that Carol believes that we can evolve our mindsets. If we develop a fixed mindset in our early childhood, we can shift into a growth mindset over time, but we need to make a conscious effort to do that.
Weaving the tapestry
While these authors address a widely different array of topics, I find that their perspectives weave together in a powerful way. Carlota Perez sets the stage by looking at history and helping us to see how different the current stage of technological innovation is from many previous eras. Digital technology has launched a period of exponential change that continues to unfold and will likely shape many decades ahead. In a world of exponential change, thriving and flourishing will depend on finding ways to learn faster. Exponential change also means that we need to shift our focus from learning the form of sharing existing knowledge, which is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate, to learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge as we confront new situations never encountered before. So, how do we do that?
This is where Jane Jacobs comes in. She focuses our attention on the role of cities in bringing us together and the power of geographic connection in helping to drive greater innovation and learning.
But then it is Annalee Saxenian’s turn to remind us that culture shapes how people connect. It’s not enough for people to be in the geographic area – they need to embrace cultures that will encourage them to connect and build deeper, trust-based relationships so that they can express vulnerability and ask for help in addressing really challenging questions.
And, of course, we then need to turn to Carol Dweck who shifts our attention to the beliefs about ourselves that shape our choices and actions, and the kinds of relationships we will build with others. If we don’t have a growth mindset, we are very unlikely to build the deeper, trust-based relationships that can unleash the potential of living closer together in urban areas. As a result, we’ll be unlikely to unleash to exponential potential that can come from learning faster in an exponentially changing environment.
But, is that all there is? As those who follow me will recall, I’ve come to believe that heartset is even more fundamental than mindset and will help to shape the mindsets that guide us. We need to focus on the emotions that are shaping our choices and actions. That’s what led me to write my latest book, The Journey Beyond Fear.
Here’s an interesting observation. All four authors that have had a profound influence on my view of the world are women. Is that just a coincidence?
I don’t believe so. I believe it’s an interesting indicator of the profound differences that define the feminine archetype and the masculine archetype in our societies around the world, something that I have explored here. Women who represent the feminine archetype are much more likely to focus on deeper, long-term relationships, adopt a holistic approach to understand the world around us, and embrace change as a powerful catalyst for growth and learning. These four authors, each in their own way, demonstrate the feminine archetype in action. I am very grateful for their insights and different perspectives from the “conventional wisdom” of the masculine archetype that rules much of our world.
We live in an exponentially changing world that unleashes the potential for exponential learning. But, to address that potential, we need to come together and build much deeper, trust-based relationships. And to do that, we need to embrace a growth mindset where we see extraordinary potential that we can all cultivate that will help us to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to us, and to others. This will require us to challenge and change many of the beliefs and practices that have guided our behavior in the past. Most fundamentally, we need to address and overcome the emotion of fear that motivates us to resist change and distance ourselves from others.