#06 innovation
Hinrich Mercker

Book Review: The Necessary Revolution

"Our children should have it worse than we had" is apparently the motto we have lived and kept house under for some time now on this earth.

The Industrial Revolution took more than 200 years to spread across the entire globe. In his new book, "The Necessary Revolution", now also available in German, Peter Senge analyses the background, requirements and factors necessary for a discernable change toward a sustainable economy to occur.

The first part of the book is aptly named "Endings, New Beginnings". It uses examples to describe the ongoing process of rethinking and innovation in multinational firms (e.g. Nike, Coca Cola) or in a country like Sweden. In view of the multiple crises, endings don't really come as a surprise. Innumerable publications in recent years have explored each individual crisis. Some, like the WBGU-flagship report "The World in Transition: A Social Contract for a Great Transformation (2011)", have even drawn together a compelling overview. But how can a new start be successful, who is driving this change and what types of innovation are needed today?

Peter Senge, considered one of the most influential management innovators since his book "The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organisation", is not interested in a political revolution. Instead he explores the collective awakening that is slowly emerging. In keeping with this idea, the book is subtitled "how individuals and organisations work together to create a sustainable world". Systems thinking, which means taking a step back, observing, pausing and recognising patterns, is described as a central prerequisite for innovative action. This is accompanied by the ability to collaborate necessary in order to develop collective system intelligence, then use it to tackle complex problems.

Senge and his team of co-authors define three central learning skills for systemic change, and offer many examples in support:

  • Seeing and recognising systems, grasping the individual self or an organisation as part of a system, and acting based on this interdependence
  • Cross-sectoral collaboration to expand one's own perspective and develop system intelligence for crisis management
  • Creative shaping of a desired future

This approach requires expansion in a number of directions. How can we succeed and who will succeed in describing this future with neither alarmism (the hands of the clock have been at 5 to 12 for 40 years...) nor expedient optimism, in painting a picture that is simultaneously immediately accessible and visionary, that awakens a passion to participate and a desire to experiment? As part of this process, how can we become aware of our own "mental infrastructure" (Harald Welzer) upon which we base our experience and ideas about a successful life? And: how can the mindfulness principle, the awareness of the moment, help us achieve a sober view of this world that neither seeks to glorify the past nor withdraw into visions of the future? This would be true innovation: both a mode of living and a lifestyle founded on an "us identity" that would allow our children to live in a better world.


Peter M. Senge / Bryan Smith / Nina Kruschwitz / Joe Laur / Sara Schley
The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals And Organizations Are Working
Together to Create a Sustainable World
Doubleday Publishing; 1 edition (June 10, 2008). 416 pages.
ISBN 038551901X; 29,95 $

Peter M. Senge / Bryan Smith / Nina Kruschwitz / Joe Laur / Sara Schley:
Die notwendige Revolution. Wie Individuen und Organisationen zusammenarbeiten, um eine nachhaltige Welt zu schaffen. Carl-Auer-Verlag GmbH (Heidelberg) 2011. 464 Seiten.
ISBN 978-3-89670-790-1; 49,00 EUR