The design activists

The disruption unleashed by the global transition into a new era challenges leaders to build a better future.

The world faces five huge challenges that will dictate the future: Covid, the cognitive economy, cybersecurity, climate change and China (see our article in Dialogue Q1, 2024). If we, as leaders, are to build systems for a better world, we need to become design activists: people willing to tear down what’s not working, gather the pieces that do work, and rebuild global systems. In a world characterized by these five Cs, a new breed of leaders must emerge who can look forward and identify what business, government and communities might achieve from the volatile times we find ourselves in right now.

We are living through one of the most unpredictable and complex decades in history. It is the result of our shift from one significant period to another. Globalization has transformed our world, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, largely eradicating many terrible diseases and creating a global Internet, while at the same time stretching the world’s resources to breaking point. This historic moment presents leaders with an incredibly rich opportunity to actively redesign these over-pressurized global systems and develop new strategies and leadership approaches for the future. To put it another way: the future is in our hands.

The FLP-IT model

It is easy to feel like we are shouting into a void when faced with the enormity of the task before us. We call the change that is needed a ‘Great Remobilization’ – yet we cannot expect it to materialize if we don’t have a vision and strategic framework to guide us. We need a model to help flip our gaze away from what we have lost and toward what we could gain.

We developed the ‘FLP-IT’ model to describe the strategic decisions and leadership mindsets needed for this shift. It is not a complete guide, but it does provide a clear triage process that design activist leaders can use to build foresight, craft future scenarios, prioritize, communicate, and lead others through the actions they and their organizations can take in times of turbulence. It comprises five elements.


The ‘F’ of the model denotes the extraordinary forces that are already reshaping our world – the five Cs. They will dictate the future no matter how we react to our current crises. Like geological tectonic forces, these technological, political and economic forces cannot be stopped – but they can be molded, shaped and formed. They can be used as a lens to analyze the pathways that might move our societies forward.


As these forces collide, new global ‘rules’ will emerge at a macro level that will guide our daily operations. We can see a new normal begin to rise out of the turbulence. These often include new overarching behaviors that will persist after the disruption, such as the wholesale shift to remote work. It takes skill to understand the new logic that’s arising, and a great deal of resolve to redirect the organizational ship into uncharted waters. Importantly, it requires the prioritization of empathy and imagination over profit. The leaders who are able to envision the emerging operating logic of an uncertain and changing world will build better businesses, better livelihoods, better careers, and a better society.


Whereas logic occurs at a global (macro) level, phenomena occur at an organizational or individual level, often making them easier to identify before the overarching logic becomes clear. Phenomena crystallize into discrete, repetitive occurrences, eventually leading to new business models for societies and organizations alike. Consider the phenomena we analyzed early in the pandemic, such as hybridized online/offline work, and the changing balance of the local and the virtual. Getting an initial sense for the emergent patterns at a more general level is necessary before you assess the potential impacts on your life, business or society.


If the forces, logic and phenomena part of our model described ‘what’ comes at you, the impact part of the model imagines ‘how’ they will affect your country, company, or life. To help us re-imagine, it is helpful to look at how other organizations have operated during times of shock, and at how we might expect them to perform under the radically different conditions that will emerge. For example, in the case of a global fashion house we studied, labor restrictions during the pandemic hurt supplies of raw materials, which led to shipping delays and hit store sales. On the plus side, the firm had already accelerated research to streamline their design process – and, since 80% of its manufacturing took place in Europe, it was able to avoid the worst disruptions.


The final part of the model involves decisions about what we keep – and what we reject – in response to situations we see coming down the line. The key is to prioritize the choices we need to make about what we will do (or not do any more) and where we will invest (or stop investing).

For this, we have to create a culture of rethink and innovation, that allows us to pivot to pilots, experiments and trials which help us build a clearer understanding of the transformed marketplace or society, and our place in it. Since we are doing so with foresight, we can practice our positioning amid potential future disruptions ahead of time.

Whatever the scale, FLP-IT helps us craft a pathway for action, experimentation and innovative behavior in times of radical shock. We can all envision the kind of world we want to build, but we need to recognize the urgency.

In this new era, we need a sweeping movement of global, national, business and community leaders, young and old, to take today’s liminal uncertainty and reincorporate it into a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous tomorrow.

Every one of us has the responsibility to make the future better for generations to come. There is a design activist in all of us.

Olaf Groth, Terence Tse and Mark Esposito are the authors of The Great Remobilization: Strategies and Designs for a Smarter Global Future. Dan Zehr is a research partner.