Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

The Evolutionary, the Catastrophic, and the Transformational

Great Transitions

Are you a technological evolutionist, catastrophist, or transformationist? This post will go over the meaning of these worldviews against the backdrop of technological advancement and globalization as considered by Great Transitions: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead (Rasin, P.; Banuri, T.; Gallopin, G.; Gutman, P.; Hammond, A.; Kates, R.; & Swart, R.; 2002).

In comparing the magnitude of the current technological transition to previous major transitions (e.g., stone age to early civilization and early civilization to the current modern era), Great Transitions, which is available here, introduces six worldviews with respect to technological advances, each describing a possible future. These worldviews encompass various philosophical and political thoughts including, “technological optimists and pessimists, market celebrants and Cassandras, social engineers and anarchists. Crudely, archetypal social philosophies can be placed in three broad streams – the evolutionary, the catastrophic, and the transformational…” (p. 9) and these are explained further below (pp. 9-10):

Evolutionists are optimistic that the dominant patterns we observe today can deliver prosperity, stability, and ecological health. Catastrophists fear that deepening social, economic and environmental tensions will not be resolved, with dire consequences for the world’s future. Transformationists share these fears, but believe that global transition can be seized as an opportunity to forge a better civilization. In a sense, these represent three different worlds – a world of incremental adjustment, a world of discontinuous cataclysm and a world of structural shift and renewal.

Unfortunately, Great Transition focuses in-depth discussion on the worldview Policy Reform while giving some treatment to Market Forces. I would’ve enjoyed more equal treatment across all six worldviews, however the authors provide a descriptive table of worldview categories which I’ve reconstructed (based on Table 2 Archetypal Worldviews, p. 17):

Archetypal Worldviews

…some see technology, rather than social agents, as the primary driver of change. Optimists celebrate the potential for information technology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence to entrain a broad web of favorable societal transformation. Pessimists warn of a dehumanized digital, robotic and bio-engineered society. But all scenarios – Market Forces, Policy Reform, Great Transitions and even Fortress World – are compatible with the continuing technological revolution (p.54).

Although aware of the possible downsides and dangers this technological revolution can bring (e.g., loss of privacy, etc.) as well as the challenges we are already experiencing (e.g., a world growing in complexity, work transition difficulties for many in the face of evolving and disappearing jobs, etc.) I see opportunities for a better work-life as well. Hence, I remain a cautious optimist. How about you?

Announcing the next Better Collaboration online Meetup, on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2:30-4:00 pm EST (11:30-1:00 pm PST): Innovating the way dispersed teams collaborate!
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These educational video conference series are geared towards organizational leaders wishing to learn more about improving collaboration and productivity through the use of online tools. Visit the Better Collaboration website or register here at on the Better Collaboration meetup page!

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