A thriving economy matters. In a thriving economy, people are likely to earn and spend more, and businesses are likely to generate more job opportunities and grow their bottom line. None of this can happen unless at least a portion of the population lives life from the viewpoint of being of service to others. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people live life with the opposing view; they live off society rather than for its benefit. With a better economy, everyone would benefit. We would all enjoy a higher standard of living, and societies would run more efficiently and effectively.
In my two most recent articles on the reality of money and entrepreneurship, I discussed how in most economic systems, it's not just supply and demand that influences the market, despite these being the most well-known and debated factors. There are two other, less talked about factors that also affect the market – the people and entities controlling our currencies/money and the fact that we collectively influence demand by participating in and/or falling for inauthentic marketing and advertising. In this article, I provide a brief overview of the four stages of the economy so far before considering how the next wave is likely to look. Being prepared for that 'Fifth Wave' will be the key to surfing it rather than being crushed by it.
To date, there have been four stages of the economy, the first going back to the time when human beings lived in caves and were hunter/gatherers. During that era, we were reliant on the resources available in nature. Hunting game and gathering plant-based resources were our only means to address our hunger. Not only did we risk our lives every time we left the relative safety of the cave, but our methods of resource-gathering were both unpredictable and unsustainable.
During the second stage of the economy, we realised we needed a more sustainable and predictable way of producing the materials and resources needed to survive and thrive. It was a distinctly different paradigm of thinking, decision-making processes and behavioural patterns. We started designing and building as opposed to strategising a hunt, which was more like a gamble.
The third stage occurred during the industrial era when we mass-produced the goods and commodities we needed. In 1848, the French Industrial Revolution took place. It was a time when commercialised agriculture, power-driven machinery, mass production and significant capital investments were immersed in the economy. People who were equipped for mass production and had the means to invest tempted others to leave their businesses and join them as workers with the promise of a constant income stream. In so doing, those early business owners/employers were taking huge risks, and their strategies demanded careful leadership and planning. And in accepting a job, the workers outsourced the risk, leadership, management, planning and other elements associated with building and running a business to their employers, happy to receive a relatively consistent, but perhaps smaller, stream of income instead. During this time, the concept of 'a job' significantly changed, an aspect of our history that is commonly overlooked. At the same time, consumers were beginning to demand easier and faster access to products for lower cost, increasing competition amongst businesses. This demand encouraged businesses to take even more risk and capitalise on resources, including their human labour force, in the hope of generating greater profits.
During the fourth and current stage of the economy, the Internet, particularly web and e-commerce, completely changed the ball game. Suddenly, consumers could access almost anything they desired online, and e-commerce operators could organise the supply of a purchased product in just a few clicks any time and from anywhere in the world, as long as they had Internet connection. While some people continue to be mesmerised by the unique nature and power of having technology at their fingertips, others are so accustomed to the abundance and luxuries delivered by the current wave of the economy that, ironically, they are not present to it. They take it all for granted and leverage its unique and abundant power to serve and benefit, but without gratitude. I believe most of us are still processing this stage of the economy. While it may be mesmerising, it is challenging to see the totality of the abundance that this wave of the economy has brought us. As a result, many are still living in the paradigm of ‘economic classes’. They believe that the means to production lies exclusively in the hands of a small group of people when, in reality, almost anyone can create their own enterprise. In other words, they are oblivious to their freedom to choose powerfully to live in the new paradigm, which can dramatically shift their perspective and lifestyle. They play the victim or the blame game by declaring war on 'the rich', proposing progressive tax legislation and protesting to increase the minimum wage by an extra $2 an hour! They ignore or are oblivious to the fact that Zoom, Facebook, Amazon and many lesser-known highly successful enterprises started from humble beginnings and one person's idea and vision.
As radical as it may seem, technically speaking, anyone can go out and discover a deep burning pain or a problem for a group of people (the market) and articulate it in such a way that the market resonates with it. They can then tap into their human potential – their qualities (Aspects of Being), experience, knowledge, creativity, willingness to team up with others to create synergy, etc. – to deliver a solution to that problem or burning pain and hence be of service to others. If they combine this with an effective financial structure, they could potentially turn their solution into a viable business. However, many are hesitant or afraid to step into unknown territory.
In today's economy, many new business opportunities are far more accessible than you may think. At the outset, you may only need the right combination of people on board, each equipped with a laptop, mobile device and adequate Internet access. You can outsource many parts of the business you are trying to build or create mutually beneficial partnerships and progressively take your next leaps. You have access to almost a quarter of the world's population through social media, enabling you to connect with your potential market. Suppose your goal is so ambitious that it seems inaccessible due to limited access to capital. In that case, you could start small and make a plan to scale progressively with the assistance of a bank loan or the injection of seed funding from professional high net worth investors, family and friends, venture capitals, accelerator programs, angel investors or getting co-founders on board who have greater access to funding. To generate cash flow, you could create a separate entity that offers consulting, coaching or other services aligned with your skills and experience and then invest part of the cash flow generated into your scalable business concepts. This cash flow generation strategy is highly effective but commonly overlooked. As you can see, the opportunities to build and scale a business are vast and varied. The key is to initially aim low enough so that you can begin with baby steps and then take incrementally larger leaps over time.
Although we are still digesting the fourth stage of the economy, we are already heading towards the fifth. Following the tradition initiated by Alvin Toffler in his book, The Third Wave, first published in 1980, I call this next stage the 'Fifth Wave'. There are two critical factors within the economy around which everything else will revolve if they become the epicentre, which is highly likely based on what is happening now. The first is human beings and our unique qualities – the Unique Being or calling of every individual that cannot be replaced by technology – together with our Aspects of Being, specifically how we relate to various underlying qualities that drive our behaviours and actions, including authenticity, awareness, responsibility, assertiveness and a further 27 qualities explored in detail within my book, BEING. The second is purpose or meaning.
Considering we have access to abundant resources these days, many of us now spend more than half our working lives seeking meaning or purpose. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. You need only look at artists like Beethoven and Gabriel García Márquez and innovators like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk to see the extent to which passion and care for one's craft can create meaning or purpose in the broader context of life. However, the Fifth Wave is creating a groundswell movement in which the desire to contribute with meaning is becoming more widespread, especially amongst Millennials and Gen Zs. It is a trend that I predict will become increasingly common. Therefore, we are heading towards an economy that should be far more human-centred, compassionate, purpose-driven and meaningful than any the world has experienced before.
Millennials and Gen Zs are not enticed by the notion of getting a job and becoming a 'lifer', which was common in previous generations, particularly after the industrial revolution. They seek authentic leadership, meaning and purpose in any role they take on. Many have the luxury of exploring their options without being overly concerned about the consequences. They commonly jump ship several times in their quest to find purpose and an exceptional leader they believe is worth following until they have sufficient experience and exposure to the world and business to form their own vision. This may eventually lead them to initiate a venture towards a greater cause that aligns with their values and passion. The growing trend to jump ship multiple times rather than settle in a job or slot into a predefined role and job description has been harshly criticised by many socialists, psychologists, economists, politicians, online 'gurus' and others as a negative characteristic of these younger generations.
My aim is not to defend Millennials and Gen Zs or denounce their critics but to draw your attention to a much bigger picture that is unfolding, a phenomenon to which you are either oblivious or from which you are deliberately averting your gaze. The phenomenon I am referring to is the new wave of the economy that has already begun to build, a wave we should all learn to surf to avoid being crushed beneath its might. Ignorance, negligence and belittling the significance of this shared reality will have severe consequences, both individually and collectively, in many aspects of our lives, from our finances, purchasing power, taxation and other laws to relationships, corporate and employment culture and the future of innovation. Ultimately, failing to face the reality of the rising Fifth Wave will impact our well-being, fulfilment and prosperity.
We need a human-centred, service-focused and purpose-driven economy in preparation for the growing desire amongst Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, to find meaning in their work. This economy would support people driven by a hunger to discover and articulate genuine needs, burning pains and problems within humanity. We also need an economy in which people are free to choose powerfully to be of service. Importantly, as today's leaders, preparing for the Fifth Wave requires you to focus on who and how you are BEING. Why? Because the collective beings within your organisation (your people) are crying out for LEADERSHIP – not the kind of leadership worn as a badge of honour by those in a position of 'power', but to the series of qualities or Aspects of Being that enable a leader and their team to generate synergistic power aligned with a shared vision and commit to a series of missions to actualise the vision by serving others. My studies have shown this to be the most legitimate way to generate wealth, not only for yourself but also for others.
To thrive in the Fifth Wave of the economy, we need more people with an entrepreneurial mindset – those committed to serving others by identifying genuine pain and suffering in the market as opposed to generating problems to match the solutions they already have in their arsenal for monetary gain. These people possess a healthy relationship with awareness, authenticity, presence, care, compassion and higher purpose. Tapping into other Aspects of Being, like freedom, resourcefulness, responsibility and commitment, they are the ones who come up with valuable, workable solutions that solve the genuine problems they identified in the market. Then, with courage, proactivity, assertiveness and persistence, they would dare to produce those products and services and effectively deliver them to the people in need (the market). The outcome would be an economy built on trust, effective communication, care, love, compassion, authenticity, responsibility and accountability with minimal wastage through resourcefulness and proactivity. While an economy like this may seem like a utopian ideal, my studies have revealed that it is not only possible but already a reality to some degree. There are organisations today that embrace vulnerability, authenticity and polished beings instead of office politics and inauthenticity. The key to the problems of humanity is the integrity (wholeness) of individuals. We need to address our flaws if we want to have a thriving economy in which individuals, teams, communities, and enterprises find meaning and purpose in authentically serving others.
Acknowledging the rise of the next wave of the economy and understanding how a human-centric and purpose-driven economy would operate will open the door to being more effective and inspiring as a leader. To achieve this understanding requires you to gain a deeper insight into human beings, yourself and others; to learn about the qualities (Aspects of Being) that drive our behaviours and actions. Despite everything we have collectively achieved, most people still know very little about human beings, specifically who and how we are being and why. However, knowing human beings is the critical missing link if you want to surf the Fifth Wave and not be crushed by it.
For an in-depth study founded on extensive research and discovery into the reality of human beings, read my book, BEING. Or, to gain a brief overview of the Being FrameworkTM, the central paradigm of the book, read my article, How your Being determines the results in your life.