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.

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Short Video Describing This Transformative Decade

It was late 2020 prior to the pandemic when I first came across RethinkX and their perspectives on humanity and the coming decade. I echo their thoughts that a pivotal decade lies ahead. They have launched an eight-part video series, with the first one provided below. It is a short two minutes and fifty seconds and well worth a view. Here is an abstract describing the series.

ABSTRACT

Blind to the deeper process of change, humanity has no idea it’s on the brink of epic, existential transformation. Episode 1 of the Rethinking Humanity series by @RethinkX explores how humanity is failing to see its immediate future: a decade of existential transformation, triggered by technologies converging deep in the foundations of our global civilization. We all feel the tremors, but we’re blind to the deeper process of change. Before it’s too late, we must all see the mind-blowing possibility space of the next decade, as well as its catastrophic risks. This is the first of an eight-part series. The Rethinking Humanity video series is based on the book, Rethinking Humanity: Five Foundational Sector Disruptions, the Lifecycle of Civilizations, and the Coming Age of Freedom by James Arbib and Tony Seba, published by RethinkX.

Building Blocks Of The Future Explode In Number

Is it any wonder that leaders are overwhelmed? It’s not just the pace of change, extreme events, or challenges to existing mental models. It is the sheer number of building blocks that currently exist, and those that are emerging. Factor in convergence occurring across these building blocks, and you have a recipe for uncertainty, unpredictability and an overwhelming number of possibilities. It was the book titled The Second Machine Age written by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, where the point was underscored.

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A Different Work Future Requires New Models

A recent article via Linda Lacina is very impactful in these days of uncertainty. A focus on the future is ramping across all sectors, and one of the hottest topics is the future of work. The work discussion is focused on two different time horizons. One is the nearer term implications of the pandemic, labor shortages, automation, an aging society, etc. The other is a longer-term view of what work becomes. In both those conversations, a focus on our human traits and an urgent need to transform education is appropriate. That’s why this article resonated with me.

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Multiple Signals Point To The Need For Global Cooperation

The pandemic is demonstrating the extent to which high levels of collaboration are required for deeply interconnected societies to manage—and recover from—complex, exponential systemic crises. The fact that viruses are borderless is just another reason why humans need to invest in dramatically re-tooled principles and mechanisms for global co-operation.

Sanjeev Khagram – Why coronavirus will accelerate the fourth Industrial Revolution

Historically, when society has entered a new era, the world has transformed. I believe we are in the early days of a transition to a new era. A major difference between this era and previous eras is the connectedness of our world. That means managing the transition is more complicated. No one nation or organization can ensure a smooth transition. Much like the accelerating shift to multi-stakeholder ecosystems requires collaboration excellence, the path to a future that enhances human development depends on global cooperation.

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The Profit Paradox

I finished another book and added it to my book library. The Profit Paradox was written by economist Jan Eeckhout and focuses on the decline of competition in the market. This decline, and the resulting dominance of large firms, has contributed to inequality, reduced innovation, and dropped the labor share of the economy.

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Growing and Declining Jobs Over The Next Decade

A recent article provides a glimpse into the fastest growing and declining jobs of the next decade. The visuals captured from the article summarize it well. Not surprisingly, health and wellness, renewable energy, and technology represent the fastest growing job domains. A very hot topic these days along with education.

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The Building Blocks Of Our Future

In a post from 2019, I described the building blocks that established our modern society. It was convergence across multiple domains that shaped our current world. From the post:

A century ago, a convergence across domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. As Robert J. Gordon describes, the special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what Mr. Gordon calls the great inventions. The great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being. In his view, the economic revolution of 1870-1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because many of its achievements could only happen once. What makes this century so special, is that these inventions altered what until then, was a life lived in misery. 

Frank Diana – Convergence

I captured many of those building blocks in a visual that I use to tell this story (click on the visual to open in a separate window).

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The Precipice

I just finished another good book. Tony Orb takes us to the precipice in a new book that explores existential risk. He looks at natural risks like asteroids, comets, supervolcanic eruptions, stellar explosions, brightening of our sun, and orbital dynamics. He then explores those risks stemming from human activity (anthropogenic). These include nuclear weapons, climate change, environmental damage, pandemics, unaligned artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and back contamination (from space microbes). The remainder of the book focuses on quantifying risks and safeguarding humanity. I highly recommend the book for those looking well into the future and focused on humanity. I have added the book to my library. Here is the Amazon abstract.

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The Extraction Age Gives Way To The Creation Age

In their book titled Rethinking Humanity, RethinkX Founders Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a transition from an age of extraction to an emerging age of creation. The extraction age began with agriculture and continued through the industrial period. The authors describe the age of extraction as follows:

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The Impact Of Societal Forces On Our Future

Convergence is a big part of how the future reveals itself. I have written often about convergence across geopolitics, science and technology, and other domains. Even a domain like philosophy is converging in ways that help shape our future. Macro-level forces illuminate possible futures, and forces in the societal domain play a major role in determining that future. This article on population provides a great example.

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Are We Living In The Most Important Century For Humanity?

I have written in the past about tipping points in human history and a belief that the world may experience its third tipping point sometime this century. A recent article via Holden Karnofsky hypothesizes that we live in the most important century in human history. Both views are driven by an underlying belief that the century likely delivers humanity altering changes. In my view, the combination of rapid knowledge expansion, artificial intelligence, machines, biotechnology, genetic engineering, our connectivity, and a new computing paradigm, are likely to change what it means to be human. In the article, the author argues that the 21st century could see our civilization develop technologies that allow rapid expansion throughout our currently empty galaxy. He argues all sides of a debate that ranges from impossible, to skeptical, to humanity altering.

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The Good Future: A Perspective Via Gerd Leonhard

We must make the right decisions now, if we want a good future

Gerd Leonhard – The Good Future is entirely possible, and it’s our choice!

That quote from fellow Futurist Gerd Leonhard comes from a recent film he produced to convey optimism about our ability to create a good future. He opens with several statements that are core to my beliefs about our emerging future. He states that what we have done for the last one hundred years is no longer going to be suitable for the future. In other words what got us here won’t get us there. It was back in 2013 when I wrote about the structural change expected in the future. Much like my belief that structures and institutions will change, Gerd believes that the current system is unfit for the future, driving the need for a different logic. He mentions something that he has been saying for years: science fiction is becoming science fact. In exploring the possibilities of a good future, he starts with a question: what does good look like? He proposes a definition of good that includes relationships, experiences, the planet, purpose, and prosperity.

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The Critical Need For Foresight

Foresight is growing in importance – and it is great to see leaders focused here. In this world of complexity, uncertainty, and rapid pace, generating foresight is not easy. It is a moving target, with change dynamics altering even the safest predictions. We need look no further than the impact of COVID-19 on the pictures of possible futures we were painting just 18 months ago. As difficult as it is, we are fortunate to have people like Alexandra Whittington around to help. She recently tweeted a pandemic influenced view of the future of population, work, and lifestyles.

In some cases, COVID-19 exacerbated trends that already existed. For example, birthrates were already dropping around the world, a phenomenon that grew more acute in the past 18 months. Africa was viewed as the outlier, contributing to future population growth even in the face of declining fertility rates. If the 2020 Oxfam study referenced in the visual below is accurate, a reversing of family planning gains could drive more growth.

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Interview With Amanda Blyth – AIST Publications Manager

I had the pleasure of keynoting the AIME 150th anniversary event last week. In advance of that session, I did a short interview addressing five questions posed by Amanda Blyth, publications manager for the association of Iron and Steel Technology. The questions were in the areas of energy, digital transformation, sustainability, skills needed in 2030, and remote work. The interview can be viewed below. Note: I misspoke during the interview. When addressing the skillset question, I for some reason reversed our left and right brain characteristics. It is our right-brain that houses those characteristics that make us distinctly human.

Thoughts On Adaptability And Resilience

As mentioned in my recent posts, it was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. The first post launched segment one, which focused on Seeing the Future. The second described the need to relentlessly Rehearse the Future. Given the number of shifts likely to occur, and the pace at which they arise, our ability to adapt is of utmost importance. Here is the abstract for this series followed by the final segment focused on adaptability and resilience.

ABSTRACT: Perspectives on the Journey

A key message in the Reimagining the Future body of work is that our rapidly emerging future challenges every aspect of how we do business, how we govern and how we live. It will drive significant strategic, tactical and structural changes and fundamentally alter our long-standing beliefs, success strategies and institutional constructs. We’re already seeing it. Just look at companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tencent, Google, Alibaba and Facebook. They are rewriting the rules and redefining how value is created and captured, using digitally-centered platforms and ecosystem-enabled business models.

As complexity and pace continue to intensify, uncertainty increases and volatility comes to the forefront. Our daily challenges do not disappear however, making the balance between pragmatism and future thinking critical. I invited two business leaders to share their insights and perspectives on the complexity of this transformative journey and the leadership challenges that emerge.

Perspectives On The Journey 2.0 – Rehearsing The future With Ananth Krishnan And Hassan El Bouhali

As mentioned in my recent post, it was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. The earlier post launched segment one, which focused on Seeing the Future. Given the uncertainty, volatility, and pace of our world, we can only see possible paths. That makes the second piece of the discussion critical: rehearsing the future. Here is the abstract for this series followed by segment two.

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Perspectives On The Journey 2.0 – A Dialog With Ananth Krishnan And Hassan El Bouhali

It was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. Upon a recommendation from Hassan, we did a follow-up session several weeks back. This iteration of perspectives on the journey looks back at our original discussion and then ventures into the future. As we did in the first iteration, we broke the dialog into three pieces: seeing the future, rehearsing it, and adapting to its eventual shifts. I will share each video separately starting with “SEE”. We will then animate shorter versions that capture key aspects of our discussion and share them as they become available. As a reminder of what we focused on in this series, here is the original abstract followed by the “SEE” video.

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Seismic Shocks In The Never Normal

Thinking it’s going back to the calm old normal, forget it. It’s a world of volatility. That’s what I call the never normal.

Peter Hinssen – Thriving in the Never Normal

I obviously agree with that quote for the most part. I would argue that the old normal wasn’t all that calm. It took a pandemic to illuminate what was lurking beneath the surface. However, this is a brilliant short keynote on the decade ahead. It is loaded with great quotes and examples of reinvention. Holding on to the past is a losing strategy, as a funny segment in the video makes clear:

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Emerging Signals On The Future Of Work

While the world continues to navigate the challenges of a global pandemic, discussion of a post-pandemic future is ramping. The future of work is a dominant piece of that post-pandemic discussion. There are still more questions than answers, but the signals are flying. Three recent articles focused on distinct pieces of this future: Performance, Identity Economy, and Making a Hybrid Work model. The article on performance highlights the pandemic as catalyst and accelerant. The need to rethink how we view performance was clear pre-pandemic – but mostly not acted upon. The events of the last 15 months may be driving action.

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