2020, the year of the global pandemic, was in many ways an urgent wake-up call for humanity – demonstrating perhaps more clearly than ever that our conventional models of reality are deeply out of sync with the real world. The confused and incoherent responses to COVID-19 highlight the inadequacy of our collective sense-making and governance systems. But the pandemic might be just the catalyst for a profoundly disruptive and unstable decade. Driven, on one hand, by a convergence of complex global crises, from climate change to economic instability, from food scarcity to mental health as our current world order begins to fall apart; and on the other, by the cascading impacts of disruption to every sector of the economy as a new order emerges. Never has the need to understand the underlying processes of change that drive these extraordinary occurrences been more acute and consequential.
This speaks to a much deeper problem than recognised by conventional analysts – that our underlying models of thought and reality are increasingly out of touch with the interconnected complexity of global systems. If we are to successfully navigate the coming decades of crisis and disruption, then, we require not merely technocratic external solutions applied as a kind of ‘band aid’ to these mounting challenges, but rather a fundamental reset of how we think and see these challenges in the first place.
The metaheuristic of reductionism
At the core of the problem is a reductionist model of the world that has outlived its usefulness. Although reductionism as reflected across society has indeed enabled huge progress such as enabling incredible medical advances, the model is not adequate to the current crises, and now has become our biggest impediment.