Getting into the flows

by Richard Roberts 2 February 2017

An excerpt from “Getting into the Flows” by Richard Roberts, published on 1 February 2017. Read the full article on Project Breakthrough publication on

Flows trump stocks.’ That was the conclusion of a 2009 Harvard Business Review article by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison. It used to be that stocks of knowledge — something you knew that nobody else did, like Coca Cola’s proprietary formula — were the ultimate source of value, they argued. But that economic model is now coming apart at the seams as a whole suite of critical flows speeds up. To understand where value comes from in our accelerating world, we need to let go of the crumbling pillars of the old order and tune into the flows.

We’ve identified four key flows — you could also think of them as currencies — that we believe will define tomorrow’s economy: money, data, carbon and genes.

None of these is inherently good or bad, but the nature of flows is that they often get disrupted or misdirected, which can lead to systemic failures: breakdown. On the other hand, if well directed, they are key to delivering value and productivity for the whole planetary, societal and economic system: breakthrough.

There is nothing pre-determined about how the potential inherent in any of these four currency flows will play out over the coming decades. To set ourselves on a breakthrough (rather than a breakdown) trajectory, we are going to have to get much smarter about how we optimise each of these systems.

Over the months (and years) ahead, we’re committed to doing the following:

1. Creating a space for thinking and conversation about each of these flows — to deepen our collective understanding of how we maximise the whole system value derived from money, data, carbon and gene flows.

2. Convening key players to co-create pathways to breakthrough for each of the money, data, carbon and gene systems.

To find out more, or share your ideas, get in touch with

@volansjohn:“Within the Next 30 Years: Humanity Will Be Transformed by Exponential Growth” by @singularityu…
@volansjohn:Big Antarctic iceberg edges out to sea…, @BBCNews


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