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Every time I hear comments about this being the “worst recession since …” or muttering about the GFC, I’m struck by the thought that this is not just an economic crisis (which it is – don’t take this to be an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the situation) but a fundamental shift in how we create, perceive and consume economic value, and that what we are seeing is not just one of the cyclic fluctuations similar to what we have seen before but part of a much deeper change that will affect how we work and live, and where prosperity comes from.

Umair Haque runs a good line of commentary in this vein, talking about the current “zombieconomy” being replaced by constructive capitalism and smart growth (I like his “unnovation” punch too!). Umair speaks of people getting rich in the zombieconomy, but nobody really being better off – that measuring everything with money is not only limiting but often just plain wrong.

But one of the more interesting documents I’ve come across recently is from Deloitte’s “Center for the Edge” (peopled by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown among others) called “Measuring the forces of long-term change – the 2009 Shift Index” (PDF).

It speaks of three measures of change:

  • the Foundation Index (the first wave), measuring the impact of increase in computing power, increase in access to that power via the Internet wired and unwired, and changes in public policy; all of which reduce barriers to entry and movement
  • the Flow Index (second wave), which builds on the foundation to create new sources of economic value, and
  • the Impact index, where we start to see the effects of the first two.

The executive summary and overview are a feast of quotes:

Today’s companies must make the most of our own era’s new infrastructure through institutional innovations that shift the rationale from scalable efficiency to scalable learning …

The second wave of change … is characterized by the increasing flows of capital, talent and knowledge across geographical and institutional boundaries. … the increasing rate of change precipitated by the first wave shifts the sources of economic value from “stocks” of knowledge to “flows” of new knowledge.

Knowledge flows – which occur in any social, fluid environment where learning and collaboration can take place – are quickly becoming one of the most crucial sources of value creation.

The conceptual framework for the Big Shift underscores the belief that knowledge flows will be the key determinant of company success as deep foundational changes alter the sources of value creation.

I’ve still got the details to read through, and there’s a fair bit of blue sky thinking in it, but it gels with my recent ruminations about what “work” I should be doing, and what opportunities can be found by looking at our current economic situation through a different lens – it may be that the GFC persists because we are still using the old models and metrics to plot our course and explain the problem when we should be looking for the longer-term, deeper shift and the new possibilities it brings.