Book review: Change of Era – The Netherlands tilts

By Petra de Boer

“We don’t live in an era of change, but in a change of era”, states Jan Rotmans, Professor of sustainable transitions and system innovations at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in his most recent book*. A transitional period in which not only our society, but also the economy is changing radically and irreversibly. This creates uncertainty, but also plenty of opportunity to build society together and to put people centre stage again.

Rotmans draws the comparison with the ‘Great Transition’ that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the time there were three fundamental changes: the industrial revolution, the rise of a new middle class and the modernization of society. Today there also appears to be three interlinked transitions: social, economic and in terms of power relations. Communities, co-operations and networks are replacing existing institutions and organizations. In the new economy, products and services are increasingly decentralized, digital and tailor-made. And a new micro power is challenging the traditional power structures. There is a shift from the vertical, centrally controlled, hierarchical and fragmented into the horizontal, decentralized, bottom-up and integrated.

All these changes cause chaos, turbulence and uncertainty because it is still unclear where they will lead. This creates tension and conflict between innovators and those who cling to the old systems. And requires a search for new values, rules and roles for everyone. But the transition also offers opportunities to build society together. A society in which humans -instead of systems- are at the centre stage again. In which trust, freedom, quality, space and time are more important than efficiency, effectiveness, control, costs and benefits.

According to Rotmans there are already some 10,000 ‘leaders’ engaged in radical innovation in education, health care, welfare, energy, food, construction, transportation, water, culture and development. Together with ‘tilters’ and ‘connectors’ they form a vanguard of about 250,000 people who are actively working to tilt the Netherlands. A growing power of people who not only believe we need to do things differently, but who are actually doing it. An inspiring book for everyone who believes that we – the people – need and can shape our society together.

*Original title: Verandering van tijdperk, Nederland Kantelt by Jan Rotmans (November 2014, Dutch only)