Thomas Homer-Dixon is a political science professor at the University of Toronto and was the recipient of a Governor General's award in 2001. In his book, The Ingenuity Gap, he relates how, to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, we will need a lot of ingenuity, much more than our current capacity to produce it. Financial crises, climate changes, public health issues… Our greatest challenges today come from a series of cascading events interacting with each other. The good old- fashioned practice of isolating each part of a problem and submitting each part to a specialist is no longer viable. We need to find our solutions elsewhere and work on the interdependence of every part of the problem. We also need to increasingly call upon our ingenuity, fuelled by general expertise, experience and intuition. Professor Homer-Dixon is categorical: the past is no longer an indicator of the future; we are no longer in a proportional mode. But what exactly happened?
What happened is that a wave of globalization propelled our world into an unparalleled level of complexity. Let's have a quick look at the science of complexity to clarify what is meant by a "complex system." Professor Scott Page, one of the figureheads of this new science, explains the four factors of a complex system: a population of diverse agents, who are connected with each other, are somewhat interdependent and have the capacity to adapt. Combine all of these conditions and the system is co-evolutionary and events become predictable. That is why in a complex world, analyzing each part independently is not enough: We must embrace inclusiveness to truly understand what is happening.
Clearly our world has become very complex. The population's agents are greatly diverse (culture, environment, means, etc.), globalization has multiplied exchanges and interdependencies, and the agents are constantly adapting to new circumstances and conditions. That is why, through an often imperceptible chain of events, a variation in Peking's dietary choices may impact social tensions on the other side of the world. In the light of the science of complexity, what we really need to consider is that a complex system that is managed without taking into account a global perspective may evolve into an uncontrollable and chaotic situation. It is therefore imperative that we call upon all of the available ingenuity to properly manage our businesses – and our little planet.
For Homer-Dixon, "our never-ending quest for efficiency, speed and productivity causes overspecialization and fragmentation of knowledge, and it reduces the availability of general expertise..." Then how can we improve the availability of this general expertise? By making people work together in cooperation through a systemic approach. That is where ingenuity can accomplish its purpose. In fact, Homer-Dixon mentions the importance of social values, especially those that rely on trust, reciprocity and loyalty to the common good. These values, he stated, encourage cooperation between groups and provide a means to harmonize the production of ingenuity to solve our common problems.
This is so very interesting to the cooperative world! Isn't this what makes us distinct, our democratic tradition that lets everyone speak their mind, the cooperative values serving the common good? Yes, the need for ingenuity is huge and the challenges facing future generations are indomitable, but cooperatives are exactly the tools required to respond to those needs. They constitute an immense pool of ingenuity of which we are all trustees. "Imagine what we could accomplish together," is much more than a slogan for us. It's also a duty.