Thursday, 28 June 2007

New Zealand Unleashed

My daily foray into Unity Books at 57 Willis Street has just yielded the sort of book about New Zealand that curls your toes up with anticipation. “New Zealand Unleashed: the country, its future and the people who will get it there” by Steven Carden (with Campbell Murray) is a geo-bio-histo-psycho thriller about the emergence of New Zealand in a pan-global sweep through nature and technology. Rooted in the biological science of complex adaptive systems, “Unleashed” is sectioned into “The end of certainty,” ”How to build a successful society,” “New Zealand’s DNA” and “Ideas for a more adaptable New Zealand.” A sped-up world and how we need to face change are key subtexts.

There are several elements to return to in “Unleashed” including the chapter “Maori 1 – a crash course in survival” about the extraordinary adaption of Maori society. “…after landing in New Zealand, Maori sat apart from the rest of humanity for perhaps another six hundred years. No one came to visit. No sailing vessels appeared over the horizon. No mail or telegrams arrived with news of the outside world. No one had sailed over the horizon in either direction for a long, long time. As far as Maori were concerned, New Zealand was the world.” (p 164)

Most resonant for me is the Steven Carden’s placement of New Zealand at “the edge of chaos”: “Innovations rarely emerge from systems with high degrees of order and stability. Systems in equilibrium lose diversity and give rise to the sorts of problems one encounters in homogenous communities and centrally planned economies. On the other hand, completely chaotic systems – riots, stock market crashes, revolutions – are not that great either.

“The key is to find that spot where disequilibrium breeds vitality and creativity, but doesn’t do so at the expense of all order and structure. The spot is the ‘edge of chaos’, a term coined by the physicist Norman Packard. He uses it to describe a state of untidy creativity, between rigidity and chaos. In this zone, the system is best able to function, adjusting constantly to a turbulent world, but without traumatic upheaval.

“Systems operating at the edge of chaos are excellent information processors and are highly creative. They are sensitive to slight changes in external conditions and internal events, generating innovative responses to these which adapt or evolve to suit the current environment. ‘The ghost in nature’s machine,’ he writes, ‘almost seems to be purposefully piloting the system to the edge of chaos.’…

…[The edge of chaos is] where productive agitation runs high, innovation thrives and breakthroughs occur. It’s the place this book argues New Zealand should be. A dynamic, innovative, creative society that is comfortable changing.” (pp 112-113)

Globalization is an exciting concept for New Zealand when viewed through a biological lens. We have a unique and powerful location in the world that is significantly underappreciated by a mass of people stuck in the rut of “small, remote, isolated.” “New Zealand Unleashed” puts some much-needed intellectual and metaphoric moxie into our perspectives about who we are, and what we are capable of achieving. “Unleashed” introduces new thinking and language that picks us up and points us to a better place that has us fully engaged with global change.

Steven Carden is an Engagement Manager for management consulting firm McKinsey and Co., and returned to NZ in 2006 from a posting at McKinsey’s New York office. He has arts and law degrees from Auckland University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. In 2005 Steven was one of five New Zealanders awarded an inaugural Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leaders Award. Campbell Murray is director of the Novartis BioVenture Fund in Boston. He trained as a doctor and also has an MBA from Harvard.

“New Zealand Unleashed,” by Steven Carden with Campbell Murray, Random House, Auckland

1 comment:

David MacGregor said...

I interviewed Steven Carden the other day for Idealog magazine (next issue). Smart guy, don't start a conversation with him though - you'll still be there hours later - in a good way.

Interesting book.

I also review the book - can't preempt it here. But you should read it. He was criticized by Roger Kerr on the Roundtable site I thought some of the observations were petty.

I hope the book stimulates conversations and debate on the topic. Media isn't the explosion, it's the fuse.