Monday, September 08, 2008

The Marblehead Letter

I've written about my musings on growth a number of times, even as I worried that my ideas might be controversial.

Now I've seen the Marblehead Letter, written by executives at a SoL conference in 2001, and I think those of you reading this blog might find it worthy of your time. Read both the full letter—it's only two pages long, and I think it states its questions better—and the summary, which hints at some of the signatories.

Note that the letter has questions, not answers, and note that the letter comes from people high in the ranks of major organizations.

I discovered this letter by reading Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, courtesy of InBubbleWrap and 800ceoread. For various reasons, that's been a hard book for me to get through, but I'm persevering (and those of you who have a copy can tell the page I've reached by this blog posting). Perhaps I'll blog more about it when I finish it.

What do you think? It's comforting to know that others are considering similar questions to the ones I've been raising. Question 3 is exactly what I want to work on, but reading it brings two thoughts:


  • You can't address that one question in a vacuum; you have to consider their other questions and still more (for example) in the process. It is a systems issue on multiple levels.
  • I wonder if they didn't go far enough in question 3. They want to reconceive growth. I wonder if and how and under what conditions overall sustained growth is possible and good for us. If, in aggregate, it is not (and I have yet to see evidence that the systems mantra of "there are always limits to growth" is false), I want to help find a new and successful way forward. While we have to address the long-term situation, I'm more interested in helping us figure out how to make the transition from growth to sustainability, whether on an organizational, societal, or personal level.
Those of you acquainted with some of the literature on growth will realize that a stable system doesn't mean there is no growth. For example, in a business sense, some technologies, products, or services outlive their usefulness, and their companies shrink or perhaps go out of business. Other technologies, products, or services are needed in increasing amounts, and their companies grow. Equilibrium in the aggregate doesn't require equilibrium in the details.

While I'm optimistic we'll figure out a way to deal with this, I still think the issue of growth is an integral part of one of the two major problems we face as a people. From what I read, we may well have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. If that be true, then these are important times, for the way we respond can likely have a major effect on the response of the systems in which we live, and the recovery of a system from overshoot can be harsh.

I really would welcome your comments on this.

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