For my upcoming book on global changes and trends, Future Proof Your Life, I interviewed 25 thought leaders. Among the interviewees were researchers, educators, futurists, senior and midlevel environmental/sustainability professionals, and organizational consultants, mainly from the United States and the Netherlands. The age of the participants ranged from the thirties to ninety years; they worked for large corporations, government, and universities or institutions, were independent, or (semi-) retired. What the interviewees had in common was that I found them passionate and advanced thinkers with the ability to understand complex systems and who do not shy away from consciousness-related elements in their responses.
The primary question was “What changes and trends do you see related to recent global stressors” (including COVID-19, economic swings, inflation, supply chain risk, cultural factors, climate disruption, war, and resource scarcities). The method used to sort the interview data was to select pertinent statements from all answers to the questions and write these on “sticky notes” using the Miro application. The sticky notes were then clustered into groups to discern themes and patterns. I have attempted to keep my personal bias out of this process although I realize this is never completely possible with an interview-based survey. Unless specifically mentioned, the text does not include interpretations from me. I also included the different (related) categories from the “sticky note exercise”. I want to thank all people that have participated in this survey. I cite two in this blog; all will be fully referenced in the upcoming book.
Their perceptions of the state and trends concerning our planet and global family are summarized below (clusters Global Disruption, Meaning Making, Organizations and Business, Generational, and Sociology and Spirituality):
The respondents mentioned that they see a dichotomy in the public beliefs about the occurring global changes. Several respondents noted that the rate of change is accelerating. As one respondent said: “Things are getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster” . Many of the answers pertained to observations of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. On the plus side, COVID did bring out more humanness. We witnessed a great scaling-up of the caring economy when it was needed. Caregivers responded with astonishing stamina and often deep compassion. The COVID pandemic also gave us a better view of what a global, nonlinear systems progression looks like. The general public doesn’t understand the hockey stick curve (on global temperature, ed.). If we see the planet as a giant global ecosystem, we can expect a significant reduction in human numbers as a result of other nonlinear systems undergoing disruption or collapse. One respondent remarked that it is almost as if COVID didn’t last long enough for the concept of global systems change to sink in.
As people attempt to cope with systems stressors, geophysical factors will become more prominent: a place to live, access to water and food, and a support network. The respondents expect increasing migration within the United States, but also into the United States and Europe.
We will have to become better at adaptation, or colloquially put–learn how to ask the “now what” question and come up with nimble, effective answers.
Meaning Making: Bubbles and Behavior
The words “living in a bubble” were used by several respondents to describe their observations.
Living in a bubble may be a result of a freeze response or bypass, or even a regression of meaning-making coming from uncertainty and resulting in clinging to the past. This is likely to have certain drivers underneath, including a feeling of not being valued and existential fear, which seem to manifest as defensiveness, blame, and resentment (Doorn).
Several American respondents lament the dysfunction of the political system and stalled communication and see this as a key impediment to addressing the current global challenges.
Subconsciously, and more and more consciously, we may feel and understand that there are major changes (crises), yet such feelings are suppressed as people focus on ways to cope. This “coping” is a response to stress and an unrecognized emergency mindset. People consciously or subconsciously don’t know what to do. In other words, people are firefighting emergencies that are seen as disparate, i.e., not yet seeing the bigger picture (Doorn). There is an illusion of what is normal and a resulting lack of urgency, especially regarding the environment/climate. The “old normal” is gone, but we don’t know what the future will look like.
There is a growing adherence to one’s own reality. This could be positive, as long as it is well informed. On the flip side, there are short attention spans, a hardening of the own position, disinterest in alternatives, and a gravitation to drama and demagoguery. Truth is no longer believed to come from authority.
Organizations and Business
“We” (the West and especially the United States) are a “do” culture. As such, we are disposed to focus on artifacts and results, not on basic principles that can help us understand the change we’re in and which could guide us (Doorn). The awareness of various kinds of risk in business is growing; this is less so in the United States because they are buffered by their location and relatively robust economy, and an enormous internal market (Doorn). A transformation or even reinvention of much of business and government is needed, including the health and educational systems. This will cause growing pains.
For many organizations and governments, it will require integrity and excellent public relations management to regain the people’s trust. New forms of inclusive cooperation will have to emerge. For example, there is a discernable move from share- to stakeholder engagement. One size fits all leadership development is passé. Expect collaborative leadership, self-organizing teams, new forms of organization, as well as increasing democratization and mesh working. Many regenerative grassroots experiments are already taking place. They use collective, local intelligence such as alternative economies and money systems, bartering, and new services–for example, co-ops for green energy or local agriculture. Among (younger) workers is a growing importance of the “why” question and of purpose. Generation (Gen) X and millennials (and likely also Gen Z–Doorn) demand meaningful work and will not want to work for old-style companies. Moreover, they have no loyalty and will easily switch jobs.
Global change is resulting in stress for older generations in different ways. Poorer, less educated older people feel they are losing control, identity, and security, resulting in contraction and resentment. Those wealthy baby boomers who have enough retirement money and vested interests are more likely to display bubble behavior.
Regardless, many baby boomers cannot hold a systems perspective or see connections and associated risks associated with global issues (Doorn).
Accordingly, there is a clear generational split between baby boomers and older Gen Xers versus the younger part of Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. Gen X and millennials require autonomy. They are more comfortable with uncertainty and their own navigation skills, have better intuition, and have a higher developed capacity to operate in networks. They will also be more self-sufficient. Another important observation is that younger generations often have significant student debt and thus reduced opportunities to acquire a home, etc.; they don’t have the luxury of closing their eyes.
This is especially true for Gen Z. One respondent, working in education, perceives that Gen Z already knows they live in a disrupted world. They are savvy and mature fast. They want action and focus on solutions, no endless facilitation or more “bla-bla.” They are not afraid to take to the streets, even taking considerable risks–think Extinction Rebellion and the recent protests of young Iranian women (Doorn). At the same time, there is a loss of hope, especially among poor young people and those from minority backgrounds (such as Arabic descendants in Europe). Addiction and suicide rates are high, and there should be much more emphasis on mental health care.
Sociology and Spirituality
As mentioned above, there is a trend toward more autonomy and self-sufficiency among younger generations. Interactional scales will be more local, including increasing grassroots communities, diversity, and racial equity initiatives.
The focus is shifting towards “getting things done” at the grassroots level. One respondent said that a diminishing of political correctness  can be expected. A process with emphasis on political correctness, while well intended, is likely to slow getting things done. There is an observed deepening, as well as avoidance, of existential questions. Rethinking values requires vulnerability, boundary recognition, as well as mental time. Many people are under constant stress and merely coping, both economically and mentally. As was aptly stated: “It seems we need to learn how to develop our spiritual coping capacities. The situation at the moment is always a given, so that is the basis for adaptation” .
In the future, expect more spirituality and a diminishing role of religious institutions in the United States, similar to what has been happening in Europe. Nevertheless, there seems to be no critical mass as far as the evolution of consciousness and spiritual transformation toward more system-informed, holistic modes of being are concerned. Also, there is the danger of spiritual bypassing and pseudo-positivity. When asked directly, the majority of respondents (85%) would personally be open to more spiritual and intuitive approaches to addressing today’s challenges.
 Jonathan Reams, Ph.D. Director, Center for Transformative Leadership and the European Center for Leadership Practice. Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.
 It’s worth noting that the term shifted and switched meaning significantly over the 20th century (ed.).
 Maarten van Schie, M.Sc. Researcher, Governance Innovation & Transitions. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
Michiel Doorn has an M.S.E. from Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, and had a career in environmental science, technology, and sustainability. He was working for the IPCC when the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 with Al Gore. He was also a visiting assistant professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and Webster University in Leiden, The Netherlands, where he taught environmental ethics and sustainability. Michiel believes that tipping points in global climate and other environmental areas have been passed and that technological solutions, while perhaps inspiring, are insufficient to bring the Earth’s multiple interconnected systems back to a balanced flow. This is why he started The 2nd Life strategies to help people and organizations stressed about today’s global changes, knowing they need new understandings and skills to navigate life and thrive. Michiel currently lives in North Carolina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org