In the wrap-up to my series titled “A Journey through the Looking Glass”, I will cover why this story is so important to me personally. As was described throughout the series, we live in a time of considerable change. A period that in my view only has a few historical precedents. I could be completely wrong, as I am not a believer in prediction – but the risk is too high to ignore. Through the years, as I have told versions of this story, I sensed that my audience felt no compelling reason to act. They had low levels of urgency when compared to challenges they faced day-to-day. It was that lack of urgency that pushed me towards more effective storytelling to change perception.
In the last three years I have witnessed a change in mindset. I believe the speed at which the future is approaching is better appreciated. In serving as an accelerant, the pandemic influenced our thoughts of the future. This has created a growing demand for foresight and an ability to envision possible futures. This shift is very encouraging. The question for this final post is this: how do we live in times of transition?
LIVING IN TIMES OF TRANSITION
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that can’t read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn– Alvin Tofler, Rethinking the Future
As we all become life-long learners, unlearning could be our biggest challenge. Our mental models prevent us from seeing the need for change. We are creatures of the only world we have individually known. Even if you are one hundred years old, the mental models established after humanities second Tipping Point dominate your thinking. They form our intuitions and belief systems. Yet we now live in a world where every day that passes challenges those mental models. Our tendency is to hold onto them, hoping that change is temporary and the hype surrounding us is science fiction.
We humans alive today can be forgiven for thinking this way; our belief systems have rarely been challenged as they were during the early days of the second industrial revolution. But here we are, entering a period that is likely more impactful; possibly including fundamental changes in what it means to be human. Alvin Toffler was right, continuous learning is the hallmark of our future as humans – but to relearn, we must unlearn. Beyond our mental models lies the issue of 19th century institutions. Strategies around the world are flawed if they fail to address the foundational structures that society and our organizations are built upon. These structures were built for a different era – and they will eventually collapse under the weight of our new era. We can proactively lead this change; or be spectators as the change occurs.
A good example of structural change lies in how we measure. For example, GDP as a measurement was invented in the 1930s. As described in a book titled The Growth Delusion, growth was not something we focused on back then. GDP is a child of the manufacturing age; it was designed primarily to measure physical production. Our transition to a service economy has rendered aspects of GDP ineffective. Considerable value is hidden in consumer surplus and intangible versus tangible capital. As stated by author David Pilling, people do not see the reality of their lives reflected in the official picture, a picture painted principally by economists.
We are therefore faced with an urgent need to think differently. I say this with the full realization that a polarized society struggles to move from personal beliefs. It is a very human response regardless of the challenges that possible futures represent. That is why it takes catastrophe to drive human action. Our institutions 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.
To live in times of transition requires resilience and an ability to adapt. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. That word is suddenly in everyone’s vocabulary. Whether it is individual or organizational, resilience helps us withstand adversity and bounce back. The pandemic can be credited for our heightened awareness, but it was just a matter of time before we all got here. The factors described throughout this series tell us why. These factors have always been there, but during specific transformative eras throughout human history, they combined in ways that challenged the existing order. Several months ago, a blog follower named Phil Tanny said this on a post titled Can Society Adapt to an Accelerating Pace of Change?
There is a limit to how much social change human beings can successfully manage. What exactly those limits are is unknown, but it seems beyond obvious that our ability to adapt to change is not infinite. Thus, there is a collision coming between the exponential rate of knowledge development and the incremental ability of humans to adapt to the social change generated by the knowledge explosionPhil Tanny
Standing in front of the wave to slow it down is a reasonable response, but history is filled with failed attempts. That leaves us with an urgent need to constantly rehearse the future. In essence, we must see the future, rehearse it, continuously monitor for shifts, and adapt as the shifts occur. This framework for thinking about the future is very challenging as the number of signals we must absorb continues to explode. As my friends at Fast Future Research often say: the challenge is to rehearse the future and prepare for a range of possibilities. We can inform both our ability to envision the future and rehearse it with an ever-expanding amount of insight and foresight. In addition, technology now enables us to continuously probe and learn. Learning our way forward through continuous learning loops enables the rehearse phase.
To live in times of transition requires an emphasis on those human characteristics most appropriate for the times. We need a focus on nurturing right brain characteristics and moving away from left-brain dominance. We need to enhance our ability to interact with each other interpersonally, instill compromise as a virtue, and focus on how to be humane and moral. This dynamic coupled with the speed at which automation is likely to occur brings our right brain characteristics front and center. Creativity, imagination, big picture vision, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, and other human characteristics are critical to navigating in this emerging future. As automation accelerates, these human traits become even more critical.
We will want explorers, problem solvers, dot connectors, continuous learners, and those not afraid to challenge the status quo. As our core belief systems are challenged by this rapidly emerging future, we must think differently. Does our education system nurture these skills? Are we comfortable when someone challenges the status quo, or do we hold onto the mentality that says we’ve always done it this way? Author Colin Seale talks about the current crisis in the context of education by highlighting our need for critical thinking. He had this to say:
If we are sincere in our goal to prepare young people to solve problems the likes of which we have never seen, using technologies that have not been created, in career fields that do not exist, education systems should obsess over critical thinking– Colin Seale
He goes on to describe the gaps in our education system and concludes that when critical thinking is literally a matter of life or death, we can no longer afford to keep treating it like a luxury good. The need to think both critically and differently was already an imperative in a world that promised dramatic change before the current crisis. This crisis just shines a brighter light on it.
Now comes the hard part, creating the future. This story attempts to deliver a compelling reason for society to act. To move constructively towards shaping the future versus allowing it to shape us. To envision the world that is emerging and then playing an active role in creating that world. For leaders everywhere, what kind of world can you envision in 2050? Let’s work backward from there to create a world that exploits fascination and human advancement, while mitigating risk and fear. I will close the series with a video that identifies some of the best leaders in history and the characteristics that helped them influence society. My wish for society is that we embrace these characteristics as we move towards the next phase of human development.
First Post in the series: A Journey through the Looking Glass
Second Post: An Historical Perspective
Third Post : A Growth Of Knowledge
Fourth Post: Our Current World Order
Fifth Post: Convergence Drives Human Advancement
Sixth Post: Catalysts Of The Past And Those On The Horizon
Seventh Post: A Phase Transition
Eight Post: Our Complex, Uncertain, And Volatile Future
Ninth Post: The Building Blocks Of The Future
Tenth Post: Dual Paths Of Innovation
Eleventh Post: The Next Phase Of Human Development
Twelfth Post: The Journey: A World Of Ecosystems
Thirteenth Post: The journey: A Great Reset