Institutions And The Exponential Gap

Our current linear structures do not translate well to the exponential world in which we live. This will force governments and businesses to address the structural challenges that lie ahead. How these challenges are addressed will either serve as an accelerant for emerging future scenarios, slow them down, or derail them. 

That quote from a post on future structures back in 2015 would find a more receptive audience in 2021. Back then however, it was a position that mostly drew stares. Those structural challenges refer to the institutions that represent the lasting norms that define how we live. These norms are established over time and are so engrained in how society behaves, that it usually takes major catastrophes to change the status quo. In transformative periods, institutions struggle as society transitions from one phase to another. These moments of radical change represent a phase transition. The post-world-war two era represents one such transition. How society handles the transition is crucial, and the next decade is tied closely to the evolution of those Institutions. The challenge is large and best described in this passage from a recent book titled The Exponential Age, written by Azeem Azhar.

The exponential gap described by Mr. Azhar captures our challenge well. It is this gap that drives potentially destructive outcomes – not the progression of science and technology. The challenges of this emerging era require the continued advancement of innovation in this period of great invention. That leaves us with the other alternative: accelerate the path of institutional change. The choices are clear in the visual below – adapted from Mr. Azhar’s thinking. A great example can be found in a recent article about our current work model.

It turns out, the current 8-8-8 structure comes from the labor movement in the early 19th century – which aimed at improving work and life balance at the time

Liucija Adomaite and Justinas Keturka – Woman Explains Why The 8-Hour Work/Sleep/Play Model Does Not Work Anymore

Workdays in the factory back then were very long, driving a move towards a new model of work. The model of eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will, is still alive today. That quote represents an institution, a norm that defines how we live. It was established in a very different time but embraced till this day because it is all we know. The pandemic served as a catalyst, forcing individuals to rethink various aspects of their lives. As a result, this norm is being challenged. But it should not take a pandemic for us to focus on institutional change – not with overwhelming evidence that the world is changing in accelerating fashion. As Mr. Azhar states, we are living in the first exponential age, while offering a set of policy solutions that he says can prevent the growing exponential gap from fragmenting, weakening, or even destroying our societies. The result is a wholly new way to think about technology, one that will transform our understanding of the economy, politics, and the future. It is this focus on multiple domains and how they converge that enables institutional change. There is more to tell from this great book. I will explore it in future posts. In the meantime, I added it to my book library.

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