Arriving at the rope bridge

Entering the Worlds of Integral Economics

Article 1: Arriving at the rope bridge

This is the first in a series – of indeterminate length – in which I will seek to introduce the main themes, principles, concepts and practical solutions offered by the developing model of integral economics.  It is rare for a new sub-discipline to emerge and have the capacity to draw the world together.  Even less common is the capability of University-based writers to cast a bridge across from the academy to the worlds of practical enterprise, community development, social psychology and philosophy, innovation and praxis.

But, no lesser purpose and task is the work of the series of books, conferences, institutional connections and action research projects that have been both written and inspired by the work of Prof Ronnie Lessem and Dr Alexander Schieffer[1].  As such, in this series, I want to escort you on an exciting adventure, which I will simply whet your appetite for here.  It may feel that you are being taken into an alternative reality or towards an alien encounter.  My assurance is that this is the real world which, as entrepreneurs, we inhabit, even though the perspective may seem to be initially strange.

Onto the rope bridge
The movement for Integral Economics (and enterprise, Innovation, research and human development) that has been generated by these two practitioner-academics – together with a world-wide community of co-workers – is truly breath-taking.  But, advisedly, I use the metaphor of a rope bridge to describe their work.  It is not a solid and mechanistically engineered structure of concrete and steel, built to display permanence, despite its highly structural appearance.  It is provisional, evolving, organic and relies on the spiral dynamics of incorporating others into a circle, of which they are a part, for its on-going direction.

Some will feel queasy crossing the ravines over which the bridge is thrown.  Others will stride across, as if it is as substantial as the Severn Bridge (connecting England and Wales, for those outside the UK).  Yet more will take a look and decide to either find another route or stay put within their own enclave.  But, I suggest that, whilst not for the faint-hearted, the women and men entrepreneurs who read this will be intrigued enough to seek to understand, interpret, apply and develop the model for themselves, in whatever sphere of entrepreneurship you work in.  Take a deep breath and step onto the bridge.

Journey to the centre of the four worlds
The global economic, ecological and epistemological crises provide the backdrop against which integral economics has emerged.  It represents a call to action in a world that is losing the last vestiges of the old certainties.  If the financial crisis and its after-shocks have exposed the fragility of ‘dinosaur-capitalism’, the post-modern search for relativized meaning-systems has helped to draw the world together.  The global village has long since ceased to be a metaphor.  It is the emergent practical reality, even for those in formerly isolated regions, seeking to access the supply chain escalator to advanced markets in the West.

But, of course, the West has seen itself as increasingly in the enterprise shadow of the East.  The rising and setting sun have assumed their correct positions in the post-pomo world.  Even so, as the North – at least in Europe – battles with the fiscal melt-down of the local South, the deeper South, in Africa and Latin America is leading a movement for market renewal, based on co-operative principles, similar to those which originated 170 years ago in the North of England (Rochdale, in 1844).  The world is being turned from side-to-side and upside-down.

It is onto this looking-glass stage that Lessem and Schieffer have stepped to offer an alternative world-integrating economic model.  They present a way of describing and understanding the systematic processes through which emergent enterprises, regions and economies are connecting the four worlds of the South, East, North and West together.  But, whilst this appears to be the impetus of the integral approach, something more fundamental lies at its core.  That is ethics or, more precisely, a moral compass, which roots each world within its own particular GENE-IUS.  And, no, I haven’t given up the cause of correct English.

In the second article of this series – in which we will examine the hallmarks of each of the four geo-cultural economic worlds – the synergetic process through which the developing enterprise economy is emerging will be explored.  At this point it is simply worth noting that at the centre or nucleus of each world – as with any cell, itself a microscopic analogue of the entire organism – exists the DNA, with its GENE map.  For Lessem and Schieffer this map is composed – as with the four-fold structure of DNA – of four stages of a developing, spiral (helix) process, through which the unique economic genius of the world is expressed.

It begins with G for Grounding.  Each of the four worlds grounds itself within a particular style of enterprise life.  It progresses through E for Emerging.  The ways in which the economic models emerge onto the world stage are distinctive.  N is for Navigating.  The synergetic process through which each world connects with the other three involves a process of traversing the economic.  Fourthly, the second E spells Effecting.  Out of the inter-connectedness of the four world process each effects distinctive economic, innovation and practice-based enterprises.  But, all of this only begins to take shape once the I (inner moral core) inspires a connection to certain Universal (U) truths (each distinctively rooted in that world), that enable a Synergy (S) to take place, releasing the economic GENE-IUS.

All of which may sound metaphysical, abstruse and far from the everyday world of entrepreneurial activity.  And, in a sense, it is.  There is no avoiding the fact that Lessem and Schieffer’s rope ladder begins high-up in the jungle.  It will take us down to the ground.  But, even if you are slightly perplexed by this very first encounter, I encourage you to investigate further, as, next time, we step off the bridge fully, into the four world integral economics of Ronnie Lessem & Alexander Schieffer.

Tony Bradley, Director, The SEED Centre (for Social & Ethical Enterprise Development), Liverpool Hope Business School, Liverpool Hope University


[1] The starting-point, although not the first in their series, is Ronnie Lessem & Alexander Schieffer, (2010), Integral Economics: Releasing the Economic Genius of Your Society, Farnham: Gower.

4 Comments on Arriving at the rope bridge

  1. I am intrigued and look forward to reading subsequent articles to hopefully understand what GENE-IUS means for us and how it can help us to move towards a more positive economic and ethical model.

  2. Great stuff Tony. Thanks. I am really looking forward to reading the series of articles. “Integrated economics” resonates strongly with Ethiconomics and the “moral compass” element in particular. All organisations are made up of people – individuals with an individual (and potentially shared) moral compass – and integrating this into value-based, practical, ethical activities for the “organisation” creates a “community” mindset based upon wellbeing of the whole rather than simply rate of return/profits for the few.

  3. I have for some time been working on some alternate (and ancient) economic model papers. This work strikes me as unbelievably refreshing, I am looking forward to reading more and will go get Lessem and Schieffer’s work for study. thanks.

  4. Very much looking forward to the subsequent articles Tony as you know the key principles of GENE-IUS are very close to my heart.

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