The Long Boom
by Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt.
Perseus, 1999, 336 pages, $26.
Peter Schwartz is known for having developed the scenario planning technique that allowed Royal Dutch/Shell to successfully prepare for the 1973 oil crisis that shook the petroleum industry. After leaving Shell, Schwartz founded the Global Business Network, a consulting firm specializing in scenario planning, and he authored the best-selling The Art of the Long View. In his new book, The Long Boom, Schwartz and his coauthors, former Wired magazine managing editor Peter Leyden and lawyer/entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, take a major and potentially risky step by abandoning one of the strengths of the scenario planning technique: alternative scenarios.
Scenario planning usually involves the development of four specific, different, and plausible scenarios based on current or potential trends and events. The Long Boom offers one scenario for the future of the globe, and it is a positive one: By 2020, based on what's happening today, things should be better economically, technologically, politically, and even environmentally.
On the environmental side, for example, the authors believe that fuel cell technology will reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy, and that biotechnology and nanotechnology (building things at the atom level) will further reduce pollution.
Worried about fallout from the Asian economic crisis? Calm down, write the authors. Yes, Asia has had some tough times, but while Westerners are experimenters, Asians are superb learners. Thus, once the textbooks have been written, they will make the most of new opportunities. Just watch how China will thrive over the next 20 years.
An Opinionated View
There will, of course, be in these 300 opinionated pages assertions to which some readers will take exception. Many non-Americans, for example, may consider the book to be not only U.S.-centric, as many American books are, but California-centric as well (all three authors live in that state). "Although there is plenty going on elsewhere in the world," the authors write, "the West Coast of the United States, and California in particular, can lay claim to being the first among equals, the new axis of the civilization. The future is being born right there, right now." While the concept of an "axis" of Western civilization, a world center of innovation and economic vitality, might have been appropriate for ancient Greece or England during the Industrial Revolution, technology has made geography in today's interconnected world irrelevant; in other words, placing such importance on a particular geographic region seems anachronistic.
But these are mere details. Readers must remember that The Long Boom is a scenario. As the authors explain, " The Long Boom is not a prediction. This can't be emphasized enough. It is a first-draft idea -- with the emphasis on the 'first draft' -- that is intended to show people a positive future that is desirable and attainable."
As a first-draft idea, The Long Boom is a thought-provoking, even brilliant exposition of what is going on and what needs to be done to create the best future for everyone.