Reading Time: 4 minutes

We are now facing a planetary systemic failure of our ecological, social and economic systems. There is no doubt that the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive, but we will likely inhabit a different world. The decisions made now will have the most profound influence in shaping the world for years to come. Unfortunately, in these turbulent times, our condition of intelligent beings could be a sort of curse instead of a blessing, as we tend to think we know everything we need to about life, but nothing could be further from the truth. If there is anything my life and my consulting career taught me, it’s how little I really know, so I has certainly grasped the importance of being a lifelong learner. Therefore, we should think very carefully what is happening and the consequences of our decisions. This is truer than ever in the times of COVID-19.

It’s time to get serious about systemic changes to systemic problems. Current COVID-19 pandemic is the best evidence that the great challenges of humanity are systemic problems that require a new mindset in order to be successfully resolved. This crisis is teaching us an important lesson: we need to see the problem as a whole and understand the way how the individual, social and economical dimensions interact and are interdependent with each other. We have to change of way of thinking, leading and living, because if we only do what we have always done, we will only continue to get the same results we have always gotten in the past. As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Unfortunately, there are too many so-called “leaders” who think they have everything figured out and know all the answers.

There is no doubt that there are connections and dependencies between all our biggest problems. Our civilization is like our bodies, if there is something systematically wrong, it’s manifesting all over the place. For example, as the planet warms, geographical scopes will expand for many dangerous infectious diseases that are endemic of warm countries. At the same time, when the sea level will rise more due to climate change and some coastal areas will become uninhabitable, there will be more climate refugees. Conversely, in a perverse way, any economic crisis from pandemics might be good for climate because there is less emissions due to there is less commerce and travel. Therefore, as the twenty-first century unfolds, it’s becoming more and more unquestionable that the major, wicked problems of our time cannot be understood and resolved in isolation. Ultimately, these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single systemic crisis that requires systemic changes.

In recent years, the activities of most companies, governments and public institutions have been shaped by fundamental misjudgments about how the world functions and what it means to live a good life. They fail to see how the major problems of our time are all interrelated. We must understand that we’re all connected and we’re only as strong as our weakest immune systems. But the pendulum has been swinging in recent years to an excessive individualism attitude. Pure nationalism is frankly dangerous in the face of borderless issues like climate change, resource overuse, and, yes, pandemics. In other words, the majority of our leaders are unable to “connect the dots” to use a popular phrase.

To resolve such a planetary systemic failure, our leaders must overcome the erroneous thinking that created the predicament and adopt the systemic view of life as the right framework for solving problems because we all are living within a network of interdependent ecological, social and economic systems. At the most fundamental level, this requires moving from a “individualistic” way of thinking, where we focus on fixing the broken parts of without a clear understanding of how those changes will affect the collective action, to a “systemic” perspective that brings thought and behaviour into line with the natural systemic view of life.

We are enmeshed within a global web of interdependent ecological, social and economic systems. Accordingly, the coronavirus epidemic itself and the resulting social, economic crisis are global systemic problems. They can be solved effectively only by worldwide collaboration. If each individual, company, institution, and government does its own thing in complete disregard of the others, the result will be chaos and a deepening crisis. It’s time to play for something bigger than ourselves.

Systemic view of life - Let's play for something bigger than ourselves by Jose Cantera

We do not live in a time of change, but a change of time. We live in a new era, the Anthropocene, where humans have become the dominant force of change on our planet. The scale of today’s economy and associated ecological impacts mean that human activities, not natural processes, will now determine the fate of our planet. There are almost no ecosystems on the planet that are not shaped by people. Even the most remote coral atoll is affected in some way by climate change, global shipping routes and micro-plastics.

Therefore, we have to put life at the very center of our way of thinking, leading and living. The most important thing is that we all must take our individual responsibility for the continuation of all life in the planet for current and future generations. The most fundamental implication of a systemic view of life is the shift of perspective from the parts to the whole, from components to relationships, from competition to creation, from domination to collaboration, from closed to open, ultimately, from me to we.

We must see our world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collections of parts, because “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”.  Let’s play for something bigger than ourselves. This mindset is the path to overcome not only the coronavirus, but also all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.