There is a dividing line separating forward-thinking businesses from the rest. Umair Haque (@umairh), director of the Havas Media Lab and founder of Bubblegeneration, has identified that line.

In a recent HBR post on “The Meaning Organisation” [link], Haque argues:

A better and very different global economy made up of novel, more beneficial industries, more purposive types of organisations, and more passionate work will bring radically more fruitful approaches to commerce, trade, and exchange. We’re in the midst of a bumpy, lengthy transition from a lackluster present, to an uncertain future. The grinding gears and titanic motors of the industrial age are coming, finally, to a clattering, juddering halt. What you might call the age of wisdom is being painfully and noisily born.

To Haque’s mind, organisations have gone through three stages. First, there was the firm that executes; such Industrial Age companies simply processed and delivered products. Second, came the firm that learns; these modern companies gained competitive advantage by accruing and leveraging knowledge faster than their peers. Now, says Haque:

Meaning Organisations create micro- and macro-structures that fuel radically meaningful work, life, and play. They’re concerned first and foremost not just with making goods, or learning to make goods, but with ensuring that production, consumption, and exchange scale ever more meaningful peaks of prosperity.

New Tree GrowingHaque provides a rather complete profile of what he means by the “Meaning Organisation” in his post. He discusses significance, outcomes, harmony, purpose, peace, love, and ambition. And, yes, he concedes that his profile “sounds a bit soft“.

Yet, I’m extracting from Haque’s great article that the dividing line between companies rooted in the past and those in the future is the way in which they engage society. It’s no longer about selling to the public; it’s about interacting with them. As I have noted before [link], this movement to a new kind of organisation is more transformation than crisis.

Leaders must guide their firms from a lackluster present to an uncertain future, which is the transition Nextsensing wants to help leaders and organisations make. My sense is that the meaning organisation will not happen by rejecting every successful business practice of the past. What’s needed is a healthy respect for the past, a deep understanding of the present, and an active mind focused toward future-tense opportunities to reshape not just companies — but in today’s transforming paradigms — also growing people, communities and entire societies.

Isn’t the essence of all this tied to how one thinks? We need to think differently not only about “what we do and what we know” but also about what matters, or meaning. Our project team, and those who follow this site, are hopefully dedicated to creating the most effective process for imagining possible new and desirable future states, to convert executing and learning (as Haque advocates) into something a great deal more meaningful.

The metrics for measuring success in capitalism are changing — and need to. Foresensing desired future states must include how you want to measure success — a new accounting system for evaluating what comes next. To a company that merely executes, it’s all about scale and scope. To the learning enterprise, it’s all about knowing. To tomorrow’s business, it will be about finding prosperity by providing meaningful experiences. We need to move beyond building and shipping, selling and learning. We need to start engaging.