Human-Centered Progress Means We Must Move From STEM to STEAM

There is a lot of buzz there days in business, government and education circles about the competitive shortcomings of Canada’s economy.  The “collective wisdom”, which can also be characterized by the “pool ignorance”, is based on an inadequate mindset of the “thought leaders” of the day.  They believe the solutions are found in graduating more, science, technology, engineering and math people. (STEMs)

STEM is like water is to soup, essential but insufficient, because it ignores the obligation to serve the greater good, ethical and judiciously. We need input from the Humanities, including (especially?) the Arts, (the “A” in STEAM) if we are going to achieve a prosperous economy based on genuine wealth creation through enterprises that are progressive, equitable, accountable, sustainable, preferred and profitable.

Traditional economic competitiveness is aimed at producing relatively better status levels in living standards between nation states. In the meme of the post-industrial economics more “science”, more “technology”, more “engineering” and yes even more “math” is a reasonable focus to achieve superiority.  The long view foundational faultiness of that thinking is that economic growth is equated the to the continual expansion of consumption, regardless of the limits of the planet or the negative impact on people.

The classic marketplace competitive business mindset says there are only two kinds of people in the world; winners and losers.  And then we have the greatest of all sacred cows of western economic thinking, namely that GDP is the immutable standard of measurement of economic success.

We, in the so-called “developed world,” have heretofore applied our STEM-oriented economic efforts to use science, technology, engineering and even math that is aimed at exploration for the purposes of exploitation, be it natural resources, social cohesion or environmental integrity.  Too often we see that science is in medicine, not into curing cancer as much as it is to corner the market for the cure.

Technology is always two-faced.  Take Internet technology and how it has delivered access to facts and knowledge of our world that are literally at our fingertips.  Then come to grips with bullying,  as are fake news, loss of privacy, phishing fraud and institutional manipulation of democracy that has also been spawned by the Internet.

Engineering’s ingenuity got a man on the moon.  It is now about natural resource exploitation that maximizes bottom lines that benefit the 1% while ignoring the duty to citizens as the resource owners.  They continue to free-ride on cost externalities inherent in ecological degradation and waste plus the consequential effects of societal breakdown.  Math is now big data and coding that is providing coding for robotics, automation, and machine intelligence that will take away meaningful ways to make a living from everyone from truck drivers to lawyers.

Systems thinking, design consciousness and yes, adding a healthy dollop of ethics and morality to our business mindsets, are needed if we are going to truly succeed.  That means we have to include the Humanities in our mindset models when we think of progress.  Moving from STEM to STEAM is a necessity as we move beyond single-minded market-based competition.

We must move towards collaboration and not just languish in a destructive winner-take-all-the-spoils mindset abuses of the recent and failed past.  A narrow-minded, short-sighted, market-based competition model that only focuses on cutting costs drives us to the bottom, impedes progress, stifles innovation,  and through ignoring climate change that then threatens the extinction of our species.

We need wiser leadership, at all levels and activities, to get us out of this “progress at any cost” old-style and abusive economic progress trap.  We have to include the Humanities in our mindset models of what is economic growth and what we accept as success and prosperity, instead of an economy that is often founded on destructive and despoiling exploitation.

For a better explanation of the need for the Arts and Humanities in our economic, environment and social mindsets click here 


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