written by Umair Haque, originally published on HarvardBusiness.org
Dear Old People Who Run the World,
My generation would like to break up with you.
Everyday, I see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. I think we have irreconcilable differences.
You wanted big, fat, lazy “business.” We want small, responsive, micro-scale commerce.
You turned politics into a dirty word. We want authentic, deep democracy — everywhere.
You wanted financial fundamentalism. We want an economics that makes sense for people — not just banks.
You wanted shareholder value — built by tough-guy CEOs. We want real value, built by people with character, dignity, and courage.
You wanted an invisible hand — it became a digital hand. Today’s markets are those where the majority of trades are done literally robotically. We want a visible handshake: to trust and to be trusted.
You wanted growth — faster. We want to slow down — so we can become better.
You didn’t care which communities were capsized, or which lives were sunk. We want a rising tide that lifts all boats.
You wanted to biggie size life: McMansions, Hummers, and McFood. We want to humanize life.
You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built on authentic community.
You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.
You sacrificed the meaningful for the material: you sold out the very things that made us great for trivial gewgaws, trinkets, and gadgets. We’re not for sale: we’re learning to once again do what is meaningful.
There’s a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. The last two points above are what express it most concisely. I hate labels, but I’m going to employ a flawed, imperfect one: Generation “M.”
What do the “M”s in Generation M stand for? The first is for a movement. It’s a little bit about age — but mostly about a growing number of people who are acting very differently. They are doing meaningful stuff that matters the most. Those are the second, third, and fourth “M”s.
Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday’s way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who’s Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr guys. Ev, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.
Gen M isn’t just kind of awesome — it’s vitally necessary. If you think the “M”s sound idealistic, think again.
The great crisis isn’t going away, changing, or “morphing.” It’s the same old crisis — and it’s growing.
You’ve failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.
But they’re your institutions, not ours. You made them — and they’re broken. Here’s what I mean:
“… For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation’s total output of goods and services.”
Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn’t be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don’t need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.
I was (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here’s what it looks like to me: every generation has a challenge, and this, I think, is ours: to foot the bill for yesterday’s profligacy — and to create, instead, an authentically, sustainably shared prosperity.
Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Generation M is more about what you do and who you are than when you were born. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century – or the 21st?
Umair and the Edge Economy Community
photo by: 1HappySnapper