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The Human Economy

The Renaissance culture movement profoundly affected economic, scientific, social and political thinking as humanism, liberalism, and intellectual inquiry led to a revolution in learning.  Architecture, music, philosophy, mathematics and artistic endeavour are studied and still admired hundreds of years later.  This flourish of human imagination was eventually overtaken by industrialization, technological progress, social organization, managerialism and urbanization focused on creating efficiency and economic growth.  The idea was to improve the human condition.  It is true that scientific progress has improved quality of life and economic development.  However, the mechanistic Victorian paradigm birthed in industrialization continues to exist within organizations focused on processes and efficiency saving.  The result is a significant cost to both the environment and human society: Deteriorating quality of work and life, loss of individuality, reduced individual power, negative health impacts and rising levels of inequality.

Pollution, Environment, Drone, Aerial

In recent years there has been a growing trend towards integrating humanism into organizational life, and the growth of the human economy.  The digital economy has swung the pendulum away from the mechanical to a focus on knowledge, innovation and creativity.  It is no longer just about what people can make but what humans can create and communicate.  This movement was accelerated following the 2008 credit crunch when the financial machinations of corporatism woke up the working population to their exploitation at the hands of their corporate masters.  The millennial generation are leading the shift to the gig economy as accepted ideas regarding the workplace challenge the nine to five permanent role as the only acceptable form of employment.  This offers a dual benefit of releasing organizations to be more human, whilst creating a stream of disruptive influences as those working outside the organizational boundary become infect organizational culture.  This new structure of employment is challenging what is meant by organization, and forward thinking organizations are moving towards a more humane form of organizational endeavour.  Perhaps history will note that this era was the beginning of a New Renaissance, demonstrated by the shifting political landscape, social upheaval and a growing demand for freedom and independence of workers wanting to think for themselves, create something new and contribute to society beyond the economic.  The fear of non-conforming is being replaced by a fear of conforming and a struggle for freedom to be, defines the hope of this generation.

What does this mean?

As a discipline Organization Development (OD) is over 60 years old, but the movement towards a more human economy means that the philosophy and approach offered by OD is in tune with what is happening in the wider social, political and economic systems. Knights (2016: 4) stated that, “to expect ‘the leader’ to always come to the best solution alone is unrealistic especially in our modern complex world.”  The world of the charismatic leader that always had the answer has been exposed as problematic, and once feted leaders revealed as flawed. Organizations are facing unprecedented pressures on their operations and this environment is often referred to using the acronym VUCA;

  • Volatility: Unexpected challenge over an unknown time period
  • Uncertainty: Unknown causes and effects of change
  • Complexity: Overwhelming interconnection between variables
  • Ambiguity: Unknown, unknowns.

OD can offer organizations tools and techniques to combat these challenges by harnessing the human power and creativity within the organization to deliver sustainable organization performance.  It offer a human approach to an industrial problem.