Deep Forces Driving Cultural Change – 1

When we think about drivers of change, we often think about technology. The most primal and ancient technological advance, the domestication of fire, changed everything about us. Some of us think of change as a “top down” process and so our thoughts go immediately to government as the main driver. Futurists, who are all about studying change, scan the STEEP (Society, Technology, Economics, Enviroment, Politics) domains for drivers of change. Most of us so often think of the big forces that drive change that we forget the very human role in local and global transformation.

In that light, I want to lift from obscurity another profound force that is driving 21st century culture: Humans are looking for a new way of living. Click to tweet this idea. Thanks

Homo Erectus and Fire

The pursuit of a new way of being is why educated and motivated sales people go on vision quests, high powered corporate executives explore Buddhism, and intellectuals experiment with psilocybin.

It’s why the country of Costa Rica wants to do away with their Zoos and let wild animals live wild.

It’s why Millennials in the workforce want to volunteer for community projects and will work for less for an organization they believe in.

People want to feel whole.



In terms of religious change, there is a rise in the number of those who claim “no religious affiliation”. We call them the “nones.”

I know so many people of intense, vibrant faith who classify themselves as “nones” because they’re detaching from traditions in search of something authentic.

This leads me to suspect that the rise of those who identify themselves religiously as “nones” may reflect the rise of the discovery of a deeper spirituality as much as it signals an abandonment of the institutions of faith. Click to tweet this idea. Thanks!

We want to be healed, to feel connected. We just don’t know exactly what it is that ails us. We just know that being “friends” on social networks isn’t enough. The discovery of a new way of living requires a journey of discovery, and our whole culture is on it.



What does this mean for leadership in the 21st century?

To believe that “things” can “make sense” is quite a leap of faith. But all leadership is about “sense-making”. Leaders must describe reality (assessment), a preferred future (vision), paths to get there (strategy), and the non-negotiables (culture). In a world in which humans long for meaning and pursue a new way of being, leadership means both the way we talk about what ails us and the way we energize human community towards a commonly desired future.

Some of us witnessed, during the last two decades of the 20th century, the demise of centrally controlled hierarchical organizations. This demise was represented most visibly by the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.

Q: What has been replacing these pyramids?

A: Experiments in ways to build community and attend to friendships in the context of our passions.

In a way, humans want to build that ancient tribal fire again. This is a deep driving force without which we cannot understand the world around us.

Idyllic and fanciful?


But changing the world does not begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. Click to tweet this idea. Thanks!

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What do you think?


9 responses to “Deep Forces Driving Cultural Change – 1”

  1. Mark juane Avatar
    Mark juane

    Great thoughts, Alex!

    Isn’t it interesting that after the collapse of the political pyramid known as the Soviet Union, the more fluid al-Qaeda emerged and changed the world? A whole different kind of fear and oppression.

    The driving force within human beings you mentioned seems to be about much more than a new way to organize or lead our communities. It seems to hint at the Kingdom that Jesus spoke about. A Kingdom which requires a different kind of life force to see and experience. Such a new way of being can only come from within.. Isn’t this what we hunger for as human becomings? A hunger for eternal life? And then from that life, a whole new way of organizing and leading ourselves?

  2. Alex McManus Avatar

    Thanks Mark.
    Indeed, In terms of structures, one tact manifested in the move from hierarchical systems (except China) and towards decentralized cells. Good catch.

    And Yes, the relevance of Jesus and his teachings continue to manifest generation after generation. He must be on to something!

  3. Joseph Thompson Avatar

    “To believe that “things” can “make sense” is quite a leap of faith. But all leadership is about “sense-making”. Leaders must describe reality (assessment), a preferred future (vision), paths to get there (strategy), and the non-negotiables (culture). In a world in which humans long for meaning and pursue a new way of being, leadership means both the way we talk about what ails us and the way we energize human community towards a commonly desired future.”

    Alex, this is a brilliant concept of what Christian leadership should look like. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of our purpose being to make the world everything that Jesus died for it to become, this concept energizes the idea of servant leadership. If the goal of leadership becomes helping people discover what “ails” us and then pointing people in the direction that will provide help, then it ceases to be about hubris and self-aggrandizement, and becomes more about making the world “more human again.”

    1. Alex McManus Avatar

      Thanks Joseph. Little hinders organizations, communities, and even marriages like the inability to be truthful (within the context of love and trust) about who and what and where we are. Calvin Miller once wrote that “Vision is a comprehensive sense of where we are, where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there.” To me, the functional word is “we”. A leader can go faster alone or with a small team. But a leader within a community may go farther. Either way, the first step is truthfully assessing our current condition and situation. thanks again.

  4. geoffreybaines Avatar

    Thanks for this, Alex. I had to look up psilocybin – I see it does the same thing as chocolate!

    If you mention dream in a sentence I guess I’ll be drawn to it, so when you say changing the world doesn’t begin with a plan but a dream, I’m there with you. Of course, it’s about many dreams, many people’s dreams, and it very much looks like this is where we are in Human history – wherever I read, people are dreaming of MORE (look at Ramez Naam’s recent book ‘The Infinite Resource’ for the future of this planet, or Ken Robinson’s ‘Finding Your Element’ for people identifying how to live their single life MORE, or Seth Godin’s encouragements to do gracefully the remarkable stuff we each do best, so we might change the lives of people for the better.

    In places, these dreams are merging, being shared in vital communities, and new things are emerging.

  5. Alex McManus Avatar

    Geoffrey, Ha! You know, this knowledge comes from our whole “mushroom eaters” thing! You are one of the few who will know what I mean. But you’re right. Not only is the world changed via dreams, the idea of humanity itself is born in a dream.

  6. Ted Dettweiler Avatar

    I know that “individualism” has a broader reach than just N. America, but it isn’t so surprising that “nones” should be prevalent in North American society. As soon as two “nones” get together and agree about something they become affiliated. Alex M. says that “we want to be healed” (of individualism, perhaps?) “to feel connected”, so it must be the religious part that nones reject, not the affiliation thing. I don’t think we can heal ourselves, we were made for community and I’m not whole until I find where I fit in to something that is bigger than me. Being married was a first step toward being healed / being whole for me, but together with my wife we need an even wider affiliation.

    I’m influenced by Alex Roots recent IVP book “The Relational Pastor” and he draws from Jeremy Rifkin’s “Empathic Civilization” (and many other sources).

    1. Alex McManus Avatar

      Thanks for the input, Ted. Your comments brought to mind the very funny 1997 film, As Good as it Gets, with Jack Nicholson. In it we see three broken people who make an unlikely trio and who are healed by their relationships to each other. It’s a really good comedy that shows exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks.

  7. […] my last post “Deep Forces Driving Cultural Change – 1” I suggested that a deep force driving change is that “humans are looking for a new way […]

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