That Point In History Where Our Standard Of Living Improved

The third period, in which we all live, is characterized by an unprecedented phenomenon: sustained economic growth. Quality of life went from improving very gradually if at all for the vast majority of human history to improving very, very quickly.

Dylan Matthews – About 200 years ago, the world started getting rich. Why?

That quote comes from a recent article that summarizes the thinking from a book titled How the World Became Rich. As readers of my Blog know, I believe this look at history helps us understand possible futures. In this case, what history tells us about our potential to further advance human development. Another recent book titled The Journey Of Humanity took a similar look at history and attempted to explain this path to standard of living improvement. The earlier book makes it clear – the world has changed considerably in the last 200 years:

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Innovation And Our Well-Being

In a post from 2016, I launched an innovation wheel that captured the activity of the second industrial revolution. This activity set the standard of living that much of society enjoys today. As I mentioned in that earlier post, in a brilliant journey through the economic history of the western world, author Robert J. Gordon looks at The Rise and Fall of American Growth. The book focused on a revolutionary century that impacted the American standard of living more than any period before or after. Our standard of living is typically viewed as the ratio of total production of goods and services (real GDP) per member of the population. But this measure fails to truly capture enhancements to our well-being. Human well-being is influenced by advances in the areas of food, clothing, shelter, energy, transport, education, health, work, information, entertainment, and communications. The special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what the author calls the great inventions. Clearly – as the visual depicts – the great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being.

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A Shift to Purpose and Well-Being

Singularity University has been talking about purpose for some time now. They describe a focus that is audaciously big and aspirational, causing significant transformation to an Industry, community, or the planet. There is a clear “why” behind the work being done, something that unites and inspires action. They call this a Massive Transformative Purpose.

A focus on purpose has a motivating effect with the potential to trigger incredible outcomes. A proven approach in high-growth organizations according to Singularity University, with a focus on purpose in common across the 100 fastest growing organizations. In an era that challenges much of our belief system, an aspirational quality of purpose is a mechanism that helps us think differently. Shared passion within communities and shifting generational views of mission-driven work can fuel the fires of purpose. An organizational focus on purpose is a vehicle for attracting and retaining top qualified talent. A purpose that is aspirational and focused on creating a different future is what ignites passion in individuals and groups; it’s what engages people’s hearts and minds to work together to realize their goal. Breakthroughs in science and technology can be linked to the deeply unifying and motivating ability of purpose. Setting out to solve big problems brings purpose and meaning to work. The more we organize around purpose, the better the outcomes and the more fulfilled we will be with our work.

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