Ten Years to Midnight: Conquering the four urgent global cases

An excerpt from PwC’s book Ten years to midnight: Four urgent global crises and their strategic solutions by Blair Sheppard, Global Leader for Strategy and Leadership for the PwC network.

IN THE BOOK’S INTRODUCTION I OUTLINED THE CAUSES OF THE ADAPT crises, examined throughout Part 1. The generally accepted model  (Figure P2.1) that guided global revival and an era of remarkable growth nearly everywhere after World War II is no longer fit for purpose. Although once a positive force, this model is now revealing its dark side.

To be sure, this model and the institutions that supported it connected the world in unprecedented ways, created extraordinary economic gains, and brought many people out of poverty. But as the world changed, without notable reassessment or attempts to curb their least effective and harmful unintended consequences, this approach produced measurable disparities and ushered in a winner-take-all world, put jobs at risk, weakened communities and social compacts, split us apart, and produced an environmentally unsustainable model. ADAPT and its associated crises grew directly out of our overreliance on this worldview for more than seventy years.

Chart showing the shared global alignment that drove success following World War Two.

FIGURE P2.1 The shared global alignment that drove success following World War II.

A number of radical solutions have been offered to mitigate the negative ramifications of this model: dismantle it, eliminate capitalism altogether, build walls and strangle trade, or replace business, markets, and institutions with entirely new structures. These ideas are by and large not fully thought out and would be foolhardy to adopt for a variety of reasons, but none more persuasive than that elements of the postwar change model are essential to continued success; many of its interconnected elements need rethinking. Consequently, each facet of the old model needs to be reevaluated and modified to better address and reflect today’s conditions and needs. One goal here is to describe what this new model and the change process to achieve it might look like (Figure P2.2).

The individual but intertwined elements of this revised model, which contains the same elements as its predecessor but has been rethought, are explored in some depth in chapters 7–10, which offer solutions to propel a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous world. Sometimes these solutions are spelled out through argument, but most often by looking at the efforts of creative and resourceful people who are spearheading innovative ideas and programs targeted at the problems identified earlier in the book. As a group, these chapters show that we need to revisit the core assumptions that drove the past seventy years and reimagine our institutions and shared culture to support new sets of ideas.

Chart showing a model for leadership in the twenty-first century.

FIGURE P2.2 A model for the twenty-first century. Source: Created by the authors.

Chapter 7: Strategy: Rethinking Economic Growth—Local First

Chapter 8: Strategy: Reimagining Success—Thriving in a Broken World

Chapter 9: Structure: Repairing Failing Institutions—Cementing the Foundations

Chapter 10: Culture: Refreshing Technology—Innovation as a Social Good

The problem is that reworking our thinking, institutions, and shared culture will take significant time. Given the urgency of the crises identified and their sheer scope and scale, time is one thing we do not have. Even as we begin the painstaking process of rebuilding our institutions, economic models, and shared culture, we must dive in with some daring to confront crises that need immediate attention. In so doing, we can begin to move toward a global model of behavior and action that will carry us closer to the outcomes we hope to achieve from our rebuilding efforts. As the world is growing more dynamic, we must learn how to do this perpetually to continually refresh and keep relevant our most important institutions and organizations. We need to use the urgency of our most massive dilemmas to bring the desired future forward faster. What those crises are and how we can undertake the gargantuan task of defeating them are the subject of chapter 11, “Massive and Fast—Problems That Cannot Wait.”

To achieve all of this, we need new types of leaders. People who can with some agility rethink our strategies and tactics in practical ways, build more effective and sustainable institutions, alter the dysfunctional dynamics with which we interact and engage each other, and address the world’s problems and promote change based on a worldview that is more sustainable and adaptive to our new realities. While juggling this litany of tasks, these leaders will find themselves compelled to steer through political, social, cultural, and strategic pressures and biases that seem quite at odds with each other. I have identified six leadership paradoxes that they will have to reconcile to achieve a better future. That is the subject of chapter 12, “Leadership: Reframing Influence—Balancing Paradoxes.

Although this is a book directed in part at people who lead corporations, large and small governments, institutions, and NGOs, it is also for the rest of us. The problems at our doorsteps are too big and too important for anyone to ignore and decide not to do their part in solving them. Some of what we need to do requires that we change our behavior; some demands new ways of thinking; and some will depend on serious new efforts and greater imagination and creativity.

That actually is the fun part. We have built a world that has had innumerable and unfathomable successes in bringing up the social and economic conditions of many of its residents. Now it will require ingenuity, vision, innovation, energy, focus, new disciplines, and a strong dose of empathy to fix this world so that everybody benefits. Just the thing humans were designed for.

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Blair Sheppard

Blair Sheppard

Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership for the PwC Network, PwC United States

Alexis Jenkins

Alexis Jenkins

Director, Global Strategy and Leadership, PwC United Kingdom

Daria Zarubina

Daria Zarubina

Director, Global Strategy and Leadership, PwC Russia

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