As I’m getting settled in at my new position at Fourth Economy, I have been thinking about how I can blend my experiences into the team’s current projects and approaches. I have known some of the Fourth Economy team for many years, and I’m certainly someone who has promoted and supported their brand of progressive innovative growth strategies / economic development, and regional development. At the same time, I’m someone who has worked for many years promoting the strategic value that sustainability principles (triple bottom line) bring to companies, organizations and collaborative initiatives. So, I’ve been thinking about the sustainability side of the fourth economy and the organizations we’ll find there.
Currently, many of the Fourth Economy Consulting clients are in fact groups of organizations and companies working together in collaborative efforts. It’s not a coincidence, and I think it’s very compelling. While collaboration is nothing new, I believe that we all have a long way to go in elevating collaboration to a key organizing principle. Collaboration is becoming more and more fundamental in how we strategize and operate in our communities and economies. What Fourth Economy team members know is something that many experts in sustainability know: the goals of economic development (like the goals of sustainability) cannot be achieved by any single actors or organizations, and in fact must be achieved by enduring collaborative efforts among public and private organizations and other community members.
So, what does this mean for organizations going into the fourth economy? While I do think it’s possible that the reality of “organizations” will be very different in the future (e.g. having fewer in the public sector, and having innovation as a core operating principle), I think it is evident that they will be collaborating more. If you believe that all organizations – public and private – are essentially in some way serving the public good, then the missions of all organizations can be seen as overlapping with each other much more than we see now, including private companies. If organizations see this overlap, it will be irresponsible and inefficient not to collaborate with the many organizations that share their mission in some way. They all will be collaborating more than they are now, and more “collaborations” will exist as high-functioning and critical components of our economic development and regional development efforts.
It’s All Regional
Although I’m giving away my age with this next one, I remember seeing “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper stickers on cars every time you turned. They were in college dorm rooms and office cubes too. That phrase captured an important theme in the early days of sustainability, and was the first popular phrase that communicated the depth and true systems perspective of sustainability. Today, we’re still absorbing that theme into our economic development thinking. Our economic concerns cannot be adequately addressed by either acting globally (e.g. offshoring or international trade policy), or by thinking locally (e.g. solely about your company’s, city’s concerns). We’re learning that the strengths of companies are in the local/regional economy, and the region’s workforce and infrastructure. As offshoring begins to reverse now, we have a chance to get this right. We must understand all of the value available to our industries that our regions provide, particularly over the long-term, and we must invest in the stability of regional resource supply, education, workforce and quality of life.
Over the last couple of decades, sustainability leaders and thinkers have made clear that the big issues that we are working on together are in fact regional by nature. They are analyzed in terms of watersheds, habitat bioregions, and even airsheds. Some have even started using the phrase “problemshed”, when the problem does not fit easily into any other existing sheds. Globalization taught us that cities, even big ones, can’t compete with Southeast Asia alone. Europe led the way with the development of large multi-city collaboration initiatives starting in the 1990s. Think of the so-called “mega-regions” in the U.S.: Northeast, Great Lakes, and Southern California. 11 U.S. mega-regions have been recognized to-date, and many are working hard to understand their economic strengths. As a sub-region of the Great Lakes mega-region, the Pittsburgh-Cleveland corridor is getting more and more organized for regional economic development through the TechBelt Initiative (powered by Fourth Economy Consulting).
So, I can now offer – with respect to economic development and sustainability – that the new bumper stickers should be: “It’s All Regional.”
While this is a broader theme with many things to take away, it is very significant for our organizations, companies and strategies. Organizations with a “fourth economy” perspective will have to look hard at offshoring. They must understand the regions in which they operate – the workforce, the research that is being done, the companies and organizations that are similar and the opportunities for “coopetition” with them. Do you understand your operations and your destiny from a regional perspective, whether from a recognized metropolitan region perspective or a problemshed perspective? How about the true status and stability of the infrastructure in your region? Regional demands for water in 25 years? Are you involved in a market opportunity network, like the Water Economy Network? Fourth economy organizations apply their well-honed regional perspective to assessing their strategies and plans, the major issues and challenges they face, as well as their opportunities.
There are many other themes and aspects of the dynamic and innovation-focused organizations that we’ll see in the fourth economy. Because the whole idea of achieving a more innovative and resilient economy and a more sustainable society is indeed a complex undertaking, our organizations will need to evolve and grow in complexity as well. We’ll at least need a couple more blog posts. Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts and I look forward to continuing the conversation.