Organisations and the sixth wave: Are ethics transforming our economies in the coming decades?

Sofi Kurki, Markku Wilenius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The Kondratieff wave theory describes how societies develop in socio-economic waves of 40-60 years. The theory postulates a set of technologies and practices that are unique to each wave. Although a challenge of the Kondratieff wave theory is great variance in interpretations about the timing of the waves among scholars, based on several analyses we suggest that with the financial crisis of 2008, and resulting economic instability, we are experiencing the end of the fifth wave and the emergence of the sixth. We take as our starting point the global trends, particularly those of scarcity and the rising cost of commodities such as energy and raw materials that have led to a widely shared hypothesis that resource productivity will be the key driver of technology and economic growth in the next wave. Socially, this driver will be fortified by growing environmental concerns since climate change and the destruction of natural ecosystems seem inevitably to proceed. Both these sources are boosting a generation of new companies and behaviour. In this article our focus is to evaluate weak signals that point to possible directions for the future of organisational practices in the sixth Kondratieff wave. We ask what will be the effects of the changing socio-technical landscape on the working life and organisational culture. The K-waves theory explains how certain ways of organising that have so far developed in the fringes of organisational culture may move into the mainstream, as a product of the systemic restructuring that has often accompanied the new K-wave. We present our findings from a workshop with representatives of five different resource efficiency oriented organisations in the Silicon Valley area. Based on the data we have gathered through the workshop and complementing interviews, we show how organisations base their considerations about the future to a surprisingly large extent on ethical arguments. Our material also includes a case that shows that this ethical approach is not self-evidently related to the aim for resource efficiency. We evaluate our results in the Future Sign - framework presented by Hiltunen. The signals we have gathered are combined with corporate shared value - thinking, and both are interpreted through the Kondratieff - wave theory. Based on our sample of five cases, along with a framework that supports our interpretation, we suggest the ethical motivations as backbone of organisations is a relatively strong future sign that has potential for strengthening in the sixth wave context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-158
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Ethics
  • Future sign
  • Kondratieff waves
  • Resource efficiency
  • Sixth wave
  • Social change


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