The Wicked Podcast

Chris Oesterreich: Pandemic Capitalism

March 02, 2021 [email protected] Episode 35
The Wicked Podcast
Chris Oesterreich: Pandemic Capitalism
Show Notes Transcript

We talk to Chris Oestereich, Circular Economy Consultant at World Bank Group, about progress and the future of sustainability and circular economy.

00:35 Insights & Takeaways
05:00 Interview
 
Links:
Book on Amazon: here
Circular Design Lab website: here

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Music:
'Inspired' by Kevin MacLeod
Song: here
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Marcus Kirsch:

Welcome to the wicked podcast where we read business books you don't have time for. I'm Marcus Kirsch.

Troy Norcross:

And I'm Troy Norcross,

Marcus Kirsch:

and we are your co hosts for the wicked podcast,

Troy Norcross:

we take from the 1000s of business books out there and test the author's ideas by comparing them to real world challenges. With over 40 years or projects between us, we've got quite a bit to compare against. We give you the condensed takeaways followed by an interview with the author's

Marcus Kirsch:

we know you want actions, not theories and his actions that we want to help shape, because that's what the wicked podcast is all about helping you to become a wicked company.

Troy Norcross:

Marcus, what time is it? And why are we doing this so early in the morning?

Marcus Kirsch:

Because we're passionate and dedicated, but what we do in order to make the world a better place, ha,

Troy Norcross:

I need more coffee even so while I'm having some coffee, who's on the show today?

Marcus Kirsch:

So today, we have Chris astray. And his book, pandemic capitalism here. And he's being he's joining us all the way from Bangkok.

Troy Norcross:

Right? So Bangkok, that is about seven hours ahead. So that's why it's his afternoon, but it's our early morning. And you're right, we are dedicated for our show. And for our listeners, what were your takeaways today.

Marcus Kirsch:

So my main takeaways, even so we talked quite a fair bit about universal basic income, but in terms of actions for any of our clients, or anyone to take tomorrow, again, emphasis on, you know, expertise is no longer as valuable as it was before for the type of problems we're doing. So we're doing, we're the problem. And I like to talk about, you know, the problem, evolution is where we're living and not a technology revolution, right. So we need to spend more time on understanding the problem, which means a lot of us expertise we're bringing in is just not that valuable anymore, because it will change in a month or so. So expertise is no longer as valuable, meaning that spent more time on understanding the problem. There you go. That's my takeaway.

Troy Norcross:

And, you know, pandemic capitalism. Most people, especially considering the timing of what's going on in the world right now, would have assumed that this was related to COVID-19. But it's not. It's really how capitalism itself is indeed a pandemic, and what is the treatment for capitalism going to be? And I do believe that there are a number of organisations that are taking this opportunity to stop and look and decide what are we measuring? Is it going to be growth at all costs? Or are we going to expand and think more about our employees or about our customers, society at large and the environment and good and we're kind of a shareholder capitalism instead of a pure stakeholder capitalism. We had a really great discussion about how that all kind of fit and wrapped up with the fact that social media, yeah, absolutely amazing content that's out there. But it's also poison. So I think, really, really great discussion. But enough of Mike Wittering on why don't we do something like go to the interview?

Marcus Kirsch:

Yes, let's do that. Hello, everyone. This morning, we have Chris stretch with us, Chris, hi, all the way over to Bangkok. And thanks for joining us.

Chris Oesterreich:

Hello, and thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Marcus Kirsch:

Yeah, so it's the second time we met we met before I think we emailed last year. And then we met on our on our on a panel or roundtable or, and it wasn't really long time there, of course. And there's a lot about wicked problems there. But let's let's start at the top as we always do. And tell us a little bit about democracy and why you wrote it.

Chris Oesterreich:

Sure. My, my latest book is called pandemic capitalism. And basically the the main thing behind the book or under underpinning it, is the idea that capitalism is basically like a disease that has to spread to survive. And so it continually consumes more and more resources, more and more people's lives and in a destructive way, at least the current form of capitalism that we have. And so what I tried to do the the reason for writing the book was to try to help people see how I see that and get them thinking about how we might want to do things differently in the future.

Troy Norcross:

Great, so let's just kind of pick up on the whole idea of capitalism. One of the topics that we talked about a lot, at least I talk about a lot is the difference between what we're seeing today, which I call shareholder capitalism and stakeholder capitalism, and stakeholder capitalism, and I was thinking More than just a shareholder, you need to think about the employees and the customers society at large, ie how you pay taxes as a company and the environment. How do you how do you separate those two? Or is it all pandemic? Is it all capitalism all the way.

Chris Oesterreich:

But I am, again, I can kind of bring come at this from from two different ways. So, I talked about this in my book a little bit about how what I suggested was, you know, I know the idea of like, going straight to like, socialism is just terrifying for a lot of people they've been, you know, moving raised with the idea of, that's this horrible thing that's going to destroy all of our lives. So, so what I suggested in my book was basically a layer cake with a mix of socialism and capitalism, so that the socialism takes care of your basis, you get your home, your you get your clothes, and your food and all of your necessities, everybody's necessities get taken care of. And then what you do with capitalism, beyond that, I don't really care. You want to go and make profits out of whatever, as long as you're living within ecological limits, you know, you're not destroying the environment by by pursuing your business interests, you know, go for it. But I but I think that we need to pull back a little from what we wouldn't need the direction we've gone in the last 30 or 40 years. As far as shareholder capitalism, I guess I can put the book that we're working on now. But my company or my publishing company, wicked problems collaborative. What we do is anthologies around different wicked problems. The one that we're working on right now is on the the moment that we're in. And so what do we do after the pandemic, what I asked all of the co authors to do is consider one system that we really needed to change that we really needed to take it from what we're doing today, or the way it is today, and really make a big change. And say, this is the one systems change that humanity needs, that will really put us on a better path. And I've got a couple of chapters in that one that around stakeholder capitalism, and cooperativism, and different things like that. So there, I think there are a lot of different things that my contributors shared there that we could look at. I'm all for lots of experiments, I believe the in the idea of building a new thing, I don't fight the existing system, go and show people a different way, do some experiments, find something that works better, and build on that and people follow? So that's that's kind of the that's that's what I think as far as an approach. But I definitely think that the the stakeholder piece of it is just critical, because we're not there right now. And you know, the problems, the outcomes are pretty obvious from that.

Troy Norcross:

Yeah, very, very good thing about the experiments, we had an entire podcast that Marcus and I did just ourselves on how to do experiments. So whether that's in an organisational level, or whether it's in new economic models, we totally support experiment, experiment, experiment. And if it doesn't work, that's okay. What did you learn from that? You know, picking up on the on the UBI? No, go ahead. And you started to say,

Chris Oesterreich:

it's gonna say, one of the other things I'm involved with is the circular Design Lab, one of the co founders that with three of the faculty members, I used to teach with a Thomas ship University here in Bangkok. That's a an experiment where we came together, and we had between swayed a lot of experience with facilitation, leading workshops, shops, design, and systems thinking and human centred design and all these kind of related areas. And what we've been doing with that effort is bringing together community members kind of building a community of people are interested in these sorts of problems working at community level, learning about systems thinking, learning how to look at these big problems and building experiments and trying to see if we can start to nudge things in better direction. So we've been doing that for about two years now. And starting to see some really interesting opportunities out of that, where one of our efforts is working on air quality that we have, we've had some real challenges with air quality with Pm 2.5 over the last few years, and our group is getting a petition sign. And they're doing a lot of events, that raising awareness, and just bringing the level of concern, and people that are pushing to get positive change out of that is really, really cool. Not Not one of the initiatives I'm leading, but one of them, one of the ones that I'm really proud of. So really cool stuff. Really great.

Troy Norcross:

Coming back to the the UBI, or universal basic income, which is a significant part of the book and something that I quite like and I quite like to talk about. But I would say if you're going to replace the concept of a job with UBI, as far as I'm concerned, you're only replacing half of what a job brings. you're replacing the money side. The other half is Yeah, so please tell me why I should get out of bed. How do you get a sense of purpose? So if UBI is the money part, how do you how do you address the purpose problem?

Chris Oesterreich:

Well, first I don't, I don't suppose a UBI will replace all of anyone's income, I think it was probably a portion that gives you kind of a shock absorber where if you lose your other incomes, that you're not suddenly complete without income, but for most people, I'm guessing it's not going to be everything they need. But as far as purpose, I don't know, maybe maybe I'm wired different differently than most. But I have so many things that I want to do to help with humanity and improve the way things are that, that I feel compelled to do. That I feel, I don't think it would be a problem. I mean, I'm sure there are people who have is playing bed going, what do I do today. But I think in general, that if you had time, to garden, to learn to bake, to help your neighbours to learn to paint or play music, and look at what we did, in the beginning of the pandemic, we saw all these really cool videos where people were spending time at home, and they were doing all these really neat things that they never had time to do it. I don't think there's any problem there. I think that is just bs that people are using that as one excuse for not doing something like this. I don't I do not believe that people won't find something a purpose in life. Because what did they do before people had jobs, you know that when were people just laying around out in open fields being miserable, because they there were no jobs to go around. I just don't,

Troy Norcross:

I don't buy the idea. Back in the 80s, or 70s. Really, when I was growing up, there were a couple of books about utopia. And a utopian society was where everything was fully automated, and you didn't have to go to work, you didn't have to do anything. And you could pursue the arts, you could pursue more time with family, do all of those different things. And so I think it's a it's a really interesting kind of aspect. I'm glad you call it out as being Bs, because sometimes that's exactly what it is. You got to call it for what it is. Marcus over over to you. Yeah, I

Marcus Kirsch:

mean, I want to follow up on that a little bit as well, because I think it's a really interesting conversation full of mess. And, you know, I love science fiction movies. And I wrote an essay when I was in secondary school around the city of the future in movies. And you could see how it went from this utopias, where everyone was dressing in Greek togas, everything was white and freshly rebuilt to something more like Blade Runner right? And and you said, you know, people are at home bringing a lot of now things out that they before didn't have time for but always wanted to do kind of thing. And you finally turn that around. What's your view on when people collectively so back into let's call it organisations or companies, where you always will have an I'm quoting David McKay here, you will always have here, okay. You don't always have necessarily the management and the driven control and decision making in that way. But you always have Hiroki. And when you have Eureka, you have people who listen to other people know what to do and what not to do. So at home, you're pretty much your own master. And you can do it as you don't feel that pressure in an organisation. What do you think needs to change and people are equally as enabled, maybe

Unknown:

I kind of

Chris Oesterreich:

believe in an idea of what I think of is facilitative leadership, where I say I'm doing a project with the circular Design Lab group. There are times where I might be leading the process where I might be making decisions for the group. And there may be times where I completely go back into the woodwork and someone else was leaving, and it was just kind of, you know, pass it around to whoever needs to take over at that moment does it? When I teach it, that university, I teach courses related to social innovation, I try to teach all of my my students to think of themselves as being able to leave, but also being able to be part of the team and to collaborate with each other and figure out who needs to do it, who needs to be stepping up and who needs to be stepping back at different times. It's a very different model from what we see in like corporations and any any kind of hierarchical organisation. So I think that's probably a difficult model for large organisations to think about. But I think their letter was like hockey, I think was the name of it a few years back that had a lot of people talking about it, but it was to try to take away hierarchy be within it added a lot of process. I kind of feel like if everyone knows where you're starting and where you're going and you agree on that, then who's leading becomes a lot less important because the you're already aligned, and you don't know someone who may have to make decisions at some point. But if you can figure out, like if I want a big project, values and purpose, I think we always try to figure out what those are when we start so that you have the starting point, you know, you're going there, and then how do we get there to Gather as efficiently and as successfully as possible, rather than, you know, keep continually going back to the one person who's making all the decisions for you, I

Marcus Kirsch:

think I think that's a really, really, really great point. Because I'm, I literally I just started just about a month ago, a new transformation project for an organisation here in London. And it's the same thing exactly what you're saying. So it's quite substantial. And it's a key effort to align right? And to have agreement also often on language. And that gets me down into a question around practices, right? A lot of different practices have different languages that come with it. And I've been in a lot of situations where you spent hours just agreeing on what certain words actually mean. And I just came out a meeting yesterday, same thing, and we're all laughed about it. So it's all good spirited. But what's your what's your view? Then on things? Like? Do we have to be more like polymathic? Maybe, you know, or definitely have more skills that we know a bit more of be more jack of all trades, rather than specialists? Do you see that shifting? Or what's your what's your view on that? Therefore?

Chris Oesterreich:

I guess it depends on what you're doing. I think being somewhat of a polymath, you know, having different disciplines where you know, a fair amount that you can bring to the table can be very beneficial. Because you can look at things from different perspectives than someone who is just deep in one in one thing. I've seen a lot of people saying basically, expertise is no longer valuable, because it doesn't solve problems it used to. But I think we're trying to solve different problems than we used to with with expertise. So if you look at the de snowdens connection model, where you've got simple, complicated, complex and chaotic, simple is like, I recognise that my, my faucet is leaking, and I need to go and either repair it or replace it myself, because it doesn't take any special knowledge. I know the basics of replacing that I can take care of that. I've got a water leak coming out of my wall, I better call a plumber, plumber comes out, they've got expertise, that's germane to that problem, they're gonna come in diagnose it and fix it for me. But then you get into the complex domain. And that's where expertise kind of falls off. Because we're used to selling experts. Here's the problem, you go fix that, when you get into complex domain. And it's beyond just that area of expertise. Usually, you may need several areas expertise, and you probably need a lot of local knowledge to be brought to the table. So I work on circular economy issues here in Southeast Asia. And if I went in there and just said, you know, okay, you just need some recycling bins and a truck to come by every couple of days, that you know, kind of like setting it up what I like I would for a company in the US to set it up within their business, it would be a miserable failure. It takes more going there meeting the people understanding why are the things happening the way they are now, what are the people care about? What What would they like to see happen? What are they willing to do? How, how would they like to see this changed and the and working with them, collaboratively designing getting them to lead that design and implement it and own it, rather than just saying, Here's your new system, good luck to you. So now, if I if it was just a matter of bringing expertise to the table, we probably fail. But if we bring a number of relevant types of expertise to the table, and we work collaboratively with the people who are going to own that change, and have that understanding of the local systems, then we have a much better chance. And then we need to know that these sorts of changes, take a lot of time, if you're doing systems change, you're going to spend a lot more time upfront understanding the problem, then people that are new normally designing systems change want to spend, it's usually like you kind of handle that understanding the problem, oh, we know what the problem is. And then you jump into solutions. And you get you end up with solutions that are you know, kind of not really well designed for purpose. context matters.

Troy Norcross:

We actually have a printed on a T shirt. Love the problem, not the solution. It's really kind of understanding the problem is so much the important part of any process is understanding what's the right question before you're ever going to get close to the answer. So circular economy that's that's interesting, kind of leads me to one of the other questions that I've got, we spend so much time energy resources, etc. Manufacturing junk? Absolutely. You know, and it's always this endless, relentless pursuit of growth over all things. And nation states measure their success based on GDP. And I personally believe that measuring a successful country based on GDP alone is is broken is is obsolete. How does that kind of factor into your thinking?

Chris Oesterreich:

He's totally totally aligned. If you ask me, in the short term, humanity should be banning anything that is not a necessity. So kind of akin to how I think we ought to be dealing with the pandemic, doing only anything that's non essential. When when we went with in the northeast when the pandemic first started, and things were getting really bad in New York, and they locked down and they shut it down to just essential things that gave them a chance to get the the number of infections down and they got everything under control. I would look at the way we're using the planet's resources in the exact same way. We're beyond what's what can be used, we have to get it within the planetary limits. I like to look at Kate Ray worse donut economics model for this, you know, you look at all these different ecological, ecological boundaries that we're going beyond. Okay, what what's essential, okay, anything is not essential. Cut that away. Are we within boundaries, then? If not, how do we cut that back even further and just skip by until we get things under control. And then once you get anything, everything back under control, and you've got some room to play with, and then you can figure out collectively what you want to do with those resources. But if you continue to use more resources than the planet can give you, it's going to end badly. And you can see that's already happening.

Troy Norcross:

The the donut economics model I've just been recently introduced to that. Apparently they're starting to trial that in the Netherlands, is that right?

Chris Oesterreich:

Yeah, they've got the donut econnect donut economics action lab that Kate Ray were started, they're starting in, in, in the Netherlands, they've got little groups and other parts of the world that are starting up experiments trying to figure out what they can do. But the big debate experiment is in the Netherlands so far, so definitely something to keep an eye on to see see where that goes. Because it seems like there's some real commitment there to make positive change. So I'm excited about that.

Marcus Kirsch:

Yeah. Sorry. Go on that one more. Yeah. Cuz I'm slowly wrapping up.

Troy Norcross:

Right? Well, I'm gonna ask one more quick one. So it got social media, social media, and then the challenges of social media, whether that's, you know, buying and selling attention or driving influence, or, you know, just kind of pushing people in a particular way, can social media be used to kind of drive some of your thinking in a positive way?

Chris Oesterreich:

Yeah, I use social media as a, as an educational tool. I follow a lot of really sharp, really interesting people who were deep knowledge experts in domains that really matter to me. And I learned from other things, they share that you know, their own content, and the things that they share of others. It's a great tool, I think, you know, being on like Twitter, especially for, you know, kind of cutting through, there's so much content created these days. But you can find those people who who just, you know, they just pour out fountains of gold, where you can just learn so much from them. It's fantastic for that. So I mean, I think there's there's certainly positive stuff that's available through social media, but it's also poisoned. So figuring out what to do with the problematic stuff. We've got a long way to go on that. And it's not a lot of time to figure it out. Okay,

Troy Norcross:

thank you so much, Marcus, over to you to wrap this up.

Marcus Kirsch:

Yeah, I think it's great to hear, I think, especially when we started talking about that, you know, talking to someone like you, and you're halfway around the planet. And I think that the round table where we met was was gave me the same pressure. Now, the good thing is sitting for for everyone who sits at home and looks at the screen and talks to their close proximity is that there's so many people out there who I think are starting to madly shift how we look at things and actually doing something about it. For us, it feels more natural for others, maybe not so so I hope that you know, what we talked about today helps other people to go, Hey, it's out there. It's already starting. You're not alone. And let's just tap into things. And as you said, the internet is a great way to tap into this, just our podcasts. So, and therefore. I'll Thank you, Chris, for today for your time for your insights and a great chat. And thank you very much for being with us.

Chris Oesterreich:

I think it goes beyond this was a pleasure. I really appreciate it.

Troy Norcross:

You've been listening to the wicked podcast with CO hosts Marcus Kirsch and me Troy Norcross,

Marcus Kirsch:

please subscribe on podomatic, iTunes or Spotify. You can find all relevant links in the show notes. Please tell us your thoughts in the comment section. And let us know about any books for future episodes.

Troy Norcross:

You can also get in touch with us directly on Twitter on at wicked and beyond or at Troy underscore Norcross also learn more about the wicked company book and the wicked company project at wicked company calm