Nine forces shaping our world

This week I'm working on a 'toolkit' for managers interested in developing organizational capability and effectiveness. Essentially it is a set of activities, diagnostics, checklists, and thought provokers that they can use to work out what organizational (not personal) strengths they need to have and develop to make their business successful.

One of the tools suggested by my colleagues working on this is something called 'The Nine Forces Shaping Our World'. I hadn't come across it before and found the whole concept intriguing. It set off a whole raft of questions in my mind, including:

  • Why are there only nine forces (or is nine too many)?
  • What is the rationale for the nine?
  • What perspective about the world does the title and the list suggest?
  • What can someone 'do' with the list. (I just got the list, no introduction or instructions)

Before going further, the list of nine is:

1. The Internet – the acceleration in the application of information technology and communications.
2. The emergence of large trading blocks – EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, Africa
3. Globalisation of business – WTO
4. Break up of former power blocks (e.g. communism, several dictatorships. Power to supra national bodies (UN, EU, OAU) and to local regions. Resurgent countries – Russia, China
5. Knowledge industries as the driver of the new world economy.
6. The Environment
7. Energy
8. Conflicts – regional wars
9. Competing ideologies / value sets e.g. East vs. West, Islam vs. Christianity, Change via ballot vs. bullet

There are some obvious challenges that can be made to this list . In an attempt to find out more about it, and making an assumption I would find something I started Googling the title. This was, itself, an instructive exercise as in one part of the document I was reviewing the tool is listed as 'A global perspective – the 9 drivers of the world', and in another – 'The 9 forces shaping the world'.

I put in the search bar 'the 9 drivers of the world' and got suggestions including the list of the nine world rally championship drivers, and the Callaway FT-9 Tour Driver. Knowing nothing about either, I spent a few moments dallying on these sites so now I know next to nothing, rather than just nothing, on rally driving and golf equipment. The return I liked most, however, on this search was 'Amphibian road kills: a global perspective'. I had not appreciated that "Transportation infrastructure is a major factor determining land use forms. As global changes in this factor are the most important for biodiversity, roads fundamentally influence wildlife."

This set me off on another tack as I'd just read an Economist article on the car industry in China (one of the articles in the pull-out of April 17 'The World Turned Upside Down') so now I wondered whether there should be a substitution on the list of nine forces. Is road construction/use v amphibian road kill a competing ideology?

I then searched on the term 'Nine Forces Shaping our World'. This got a match closer to what I was expecting, but not exact. However, I know now that " Air Force officials have announced the 2010 force-shaping initiatives and that 'Air Force retention is at a 15-year high, despite an incredibly robust operations tempo. … We must correct these overages and skill imbalances by sizing and shaping our force within our authorized, funded ceiling.' This information started to imply number 8 on the list 'Conflicts and Regional Wars' but it was still not quite close enough for my purposes.

What sprang to mind at that point was Tom Friedman's book, The World is Flat. I remembered he had in it the Ten Flatteners and I took another look at these to see if there's a match. There are some similarities which might suggest that Friedman's idea of shapers of a 'flatter' world (a concept many challenge) are akin to the shapers of 'the world' (flatter or not).

I question whether 'shapers' or 'drivers' of the world can be reduced to a list of specifics. A higher order of abstraction might work better e.g. regulatory, physical environment, government, technology etc. That would allow a wider discussion within and between organizations seeking to develop capability as they could put their own stamp on the detail of each category.

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