I met Nadya Zhexembayeva at the Flourish and Prosper conference in Cleveland. Nadya, who received her doctorate at Case Western, is the co-author, with Chris Laszlo of “Embedded Sustainability.” Her latest book is “Overfished Ocean Strategy.” I attended one of her workshops, and then arranged to speak with her, by phone, after the conference.
Triple Pundit: Hello Nadya. The sub-title of your book is “Powering Up Innovation For a Resource-Deprived World.” Talk to me about declining resources. When I saw your workshop you showed a graph of steadily decreasing commodity prices.
Nadya Zhexembayeva: That graph is from the Economist which has been tracking commodity prices since 1864. For the majority of the 20th century, other than a sharp spike in the 1920s those prices have been falling significantly — until now. When you think of the fact that these are limited resources and that the population has increased by a factor of four during that time, driving demand up dramatically, this is a bit of an economic miracle. And this miracle has informed the mindset of most managers. They simply assume that prices will continue to fall forever. That is the basis of many of their growth models. However, what many people haven’t recognized is the fact that in the first 10 years of the new millennium, these prices have shot up a whopping 147 percent.
3p: Wow. That’s pretty dramatic. You say in your book that this new scarcity is here to stay. But how do we know that it isn’t just another temporary blip? After all, much of this decline had to do with productivity and economies of scale, as well as the accumulation of knowledge. Aren’t we still learning and innovating?
NZ: Yes, of course we are still innovating and learning. But if we look at the trend, although much of the price decline was from productivity improvements, we can’t overlook geopolitical trends either. Particularly after the Second World War, we have developing countries essentially being exploited by the former colonial powers to provide commodities at prices well below those that reflect their true costs, often as the result of corrupt arrangements.
3p: So, now those artificial factors have been largely eliminated, and we’re getting closer to “true” pricing. Time to get off the bubble?
NZ: Yes. We’re catching up to the reality. There are only this many molecules. Now new geopolitical forces are bringing in increased demand from rapidly growing new economies that are turning around that long term trend and driving prices up.Click to continue reading »