Sunday, November 4, 2012

Keep Questioning Mental Models!

This graph is beautiful.

My first instinct when looking at this great chart, provided by Dr. Norm Becker during his lecture, is how beautifully it illustrates the four variables that make up GDP.

I appreciate numbers. I've mentioned it before, appreciating the context numbers provide. Briefly in class, we talked about what ratios were "acceptable" or not, without thinking about the real context that the ratios might represent.

And, as most of us change agents are aware, GDP provides an important and valuable context; Likewise, we also realize that GDP does not measure many other variables; Often times, when this conversation comes up, Gross National Happiness(GNH) becomes another important context.  Here's a great 3 minute animated video short breaking down GNH for those unfamiliar. Happiness is increasingly being linked to economic outcomes. FastCo published an article looking at how GNH relates to developed countries, referencing Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality.

Instead of elaborating about the importance of alternative models in providing more context, I wanted to challenge my own mental models. A research article written by Eric Ezechieli(co-founder of The Natural Step) from Stanford University's School of Education helped me do this.

I believe in education.

Interestingly, as education is increasing in Bhutan, largely due to international aid investment, Bhutanese children are becoming more and more prepared for the industrialized world. Literacy rates have skyrocketed, lifetime expectancy has doubled in the past 50 years(Ezechieli 2003, p.2).

The problem? GNH was dropping in Bhutanese citizens who went through their educational process. This is counter intuitive to the UNESCO's Sustainability and Education Initiative. The first priority was improving basic education, since typically, "in a global economy the countries with the highest illiteracy rates are forced to exploiting natural resources in order to acquire the currency to buy imported goods".  Essentially, as Western Education was imported into Bhutan, largely through expatriated Indian educators, the culture and values of Bhutanese people began to shift.

This is important, as it reflects on both the power of education, and its relationship with value creation.

Ezechieli's study concluded that even when mass education expansion appears to be successful, new challenges will continue to emerge, that require dynamic flexibility of current strategies.

This statement was powerful: "The dominant concept of 'increasing well-being in rich countries and eradicating poverty in the poor ones through economic growth' is obsolete, misleading and, I argue, it represents a menace for the survival of all living beings...It is not addressing the causes of the present disequilibrium. Indeed, the history of the past 50 years shows that this policy is likely to worsen social/ecological unbalances."(p.97)

This also parallels very well with Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, and Majora Carter's conversations on the importance of social justice, and essentially, how it IS the crux of sustainability.

It's not all doom and gloom though, as Bhutan and the GNH initiative represent an example of an opportunity for visions that go beyond sustainability. "Education.. is the greatest resource to shape and spread a new design, and translate it into action...There is no time to lose"(Ezechieli 2003, p.98).

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