Living In Uncertain Times

The title of an upcoming presentation I will deliver next week is “Adapting to Uncertainty.” It should be very clear by now that we live in extremely uncertain times. I maintain that the world has not been this uncertain since a series of twentieth century catalysts established our modern day. The reason lies in the similarities between our current times and that period decades ago. The world back then experienced uncertainty across multiple domains: science, technology, society, geopolitics, economics, and business. The breadth of change occurring across those domains made the period one of the most turbulent in human history. The uncertainty of our current world did not just emerge, it has been years in the making. As it did in that earlier period, the convergence of multiple forces created the current environment. In studying those forces, our ability to adapt became a central tenet of my thinking, alongside seeing the future and continually rehearsing it.

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The Final Stages Of The Fourth Turning

It was 2019 when I finished a book titled The Fourth Turning. I found myself referring to it a couple of weeks ago during a conversation about the cycles of history. I went back to the book after our discussion given the many changes the world experienced since I added it to my library. The repeated cycles of history described by the book remain both fascinating and ominous.

First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.

Frank Diana – adapted from the book “The Fourth Turning”

Read that description of the historical cycles carefully. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years. Now, let’s trace the current cycle back in time – quoted right from the book – keeping in mind that the book was written in 1997.

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Solving Humanities Greatest Challenges

Every so often, the knowledge base of society expands in a way that can be felt across multiple domains. When science pushed technology to new heights starting in the 1870s, it put society on a path towards transformative change. With science continuing to produce amazing breakthroughs in a synergistic relationship with technology, it feels much like that period so long ago. Take a look at the headlines from the past week:

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Deglobalization

Deglobalization is a geopolitical building block with massive implications as it converges with its societal counterparts. In my August 2020 poll on the catalysts that drive change, deglobalization entered the list. It was not surprising, given the supply chain concerns that emerged in the early days of the pandemic. But is deglobalization likely? This recent article explores that question.

The risks of sourcing overseas are a less immediate concern than higher shipping costs, which might tip the balance in favor of sourcing from nearby – and shipping costs are not the only trade costs which are rising. Increasingly, policy is adding to trade costs. The EU’s new Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will add the equivalent of a trade tariff to reflect the emissions embodied in imports from outside the EU.

Inga Fechner, Joanna Konings, Rico Luman – Deglobalization Ahead? The Pros And Cons Of Reshoring

The article states that despite headlines about an increase in reshoring, evidence does not support the headline of companies bringing production back home. Instead, there is evidence of more diversification. Construction activity for manufacturing facilities is on the rise in the U.S., but mainly in critical areas such as microchips. Trade in intermediate goods continues its upward trend, but the war in Ukraine has introduced uncertainty regarding future direction. The recent announced G7 $600 billion infrastructure investment in response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative will increase trade, and friendshoring seems to have entered our vocabulary.

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A Shift In Economic Power

This visual from visual capitalist looks at global economies between now and 2036. It tracks the shift in economic power across the years, dating back to 2006. This article provides color commentary. Below the visual is a chart projecting the top ten economies in 2031. The economic domain is one of our convergence areas, with the changing economic landscape contributing to our uncertain environment. In rehearsing the future, this domain is a critical area of focus. What are the implications to the future if the visual accurately depicts economic power shifts?

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The Future Of Autonomous Driving And Logistics

Uber Freight and Waymo Via just announced a long-term strategic partnership to connect their technologies and deploy autonomous trucks at scale on the Uber Freight network. According to the announcement, carriers that purchase trucks equipped with the Waymo Driver in the future will be able to opt-in to Uber Freight’s marketplace to seamlessly deploy their autonomous assets on the Uber Freight network. This announcement informs two often asked about possible futures: autonomous driving and logistics.

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An Endless Possibility Space

In times of significant change, society has followed two distinct paths that represent the Opposing Forces of Innovation. This subway diagram focuses on these two paths: one that enhances human development (green), and one that diminishes it (red). The station stops are the major impacted domains in either direction – but we could add several other stations based on the number of Building Blocks available to society. Click on the visual to expand it.

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What Role Did Geography Play In The Past – And What Does It Mean For The Future?

Another recent article explores the factors that drove civilization success. The article – along with a number of recent books – looks for historical signals that aid in our understanding of the future. In this case, the focus is geography, which the article positions as the reason both individuals and civilizations are the way they are today. If history informs our views of possible futures, then according to the article, geography has influenced history more than any other factor. The author uses Japan as an example.

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Economic Headwinds Highlight Uncertainty Across Multiple Domains

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered its economic predictions for 2022 and beyond. The IMF predicts that global GDP growth will slow from 6.1% in 2021 to 3.6% in 2022 and 2023

Jenna Ross – Mapped: Economic Predictions for 2022 and Beyond

This recent article maps economic predictions for 2022 and 2023. Those predictions are presented in two very effective visuals via Visual Capitalist provided in this post. The article provides commentary on the headwinds that global economies face. As mentioned in my post yesterday, sustained economic growth dating back over 200 years was the engine for standard of living improvement. Managing these headwinds along with other forces across multiple domains is critical to enabling ongoing human development. The two visuals are provided below – click on the visuals to enlarge.

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Science and Technology Race Ahead

I recently wrote about innovation being everywhere. This pace of innovation has me believing in a possibility space with the potential to solve many of humanity’s grand historical challenges. As Chunka Mui (Futurist and innovation advisor) said in a recent article, today’s innovators can prosper by building a better tomorrow. Indeed, purpose has become a catalyst for positive change. I encourage you to read his recent article. Chunka described our current world in late 2013 with the release of his book titled The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups.

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The Future Of Mobility

In one of my posts from a recent series titled A Journey through the Looking Glass, I focused on the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of our current environment. Although this dynamic makes it difficult to envision possible futures, the “Future of” question is a growing focus among leaders around the world. While many themes have emerged, mobility is a common topic of discussion. Current conversations are dominated by electric vehicles, batteries, and charging infrastructure. However, the future of mobility is much bigger than our current focus.

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The Raging 2020s

The signals are coming from every direction. To understand the future, signals illuminate possible paths. As I have written multiple times, history provides a wealth of signals. Looking at similar historical periods provides insight that feeds foresight. A book I recently completed did an incredible job of using history as a source of signals. In The Changing World Order, Ray Dalio explores all the major historical empires, the world order they presided over, and their eventual collapse. In doing so, he points to several signals that are shining bright red. Decision-makers would be wise to understand these signals.

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The Changing World Order

Ray Dalio is the Co-Chief Investment Officer & Chairman of Bridgewater Associates, In making decisions, he has found history to be very instructive. This is a recurring theme that I write about often, as I view history as a key source of signals. I’ve included links that explore these signals below. In exploring possible futures, it is helpful to understand the patterns of history – and they really do rhyme. In the book The Fourth Turning, the authors describe what the cycles of history tells us about our next rendezvous with destiny. What intrigued me as a Futurist is the claim by the books authors that our past can indeed predict our future – it’s a compelling argument when viewed through the lens of these historical cycles.

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The Great Resignation

We like labels. In this case, our current labor market dynamic has been called “The Great Resignation”. This article explores the current resignation phenomenon, providing great insight into why it is happening. There are several survey results presented via The Conference Board’s latest workforce survey. The high-level theme from the survey is that although it’s a culmination of a multitude of factors, employees are seizing this moment of leverage. But, as the article states, it’s also about workers’ pursuit of flexibility and autonomy.

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Work

Conversations about work take many forms these days. Is remote work here to stay? What will a hybrid work model look like? Will we need to work in the future? In the short term, the pandemic has driven a focus on different models of working. In the long term, the polarized discussion centers on the impact of automation. That discussion is explored in incredible detail in a recent book titled Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. Anthropologist and author James Suzman sets out to answer several questions. He does so by looking at the history of work and the lessons we can learn.

To answer these questions, James Suzman charts a grand history of “work” from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now.

James Suzman – Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots
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A Growing Number Of Building Blocks Make Prediction Impossible

I have been of the opinion that the number of building blocks across multiple domains makes prediction impossible. As a result, understanding the future is about rehearsing it versus predicting it. That ambiguity makes many uncomfortable. Humans like certainty, but we live in a world that is very uncertain. Many will argue that this has always been the case. But it should be increasingly clear that periods like this emerging phase transition have only occurred a handful of times in human history. We want to rely on methods that have proven effective in the past. We find comfort in applying those methods to drive a degree of certainty. One need only look at these building blocks to see rehearsal is the only way to identify possible futures.

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RethinkX: An Action Plan For Humanity

In this eighth and final installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib provide an action plan for humanity. The plan focuses on three things we must do: rethink, enable, and bridge. To do so, we must allow ourselves to think differently (rethink), through awareness, take action (enable), and guide humanity through the transition (bridge). The video series is based on the book Rethinking Humanity. I’d like to thank Tony SebaJames Arbib and RethinkX for providing us all with the awareness required to think differently and to act.

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RethinkX: Crashing Up, Crashing Down – Two Dystopias 

In this seventh installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe the choices that lie ahead, as convergence across five foundational sectors drive a phase change: energy, transport, information, food, and materials. With this convergence, the old industrial system could collapse before the new production system emerges. One need only look at existing timing issues as the energy sector transitions. Supply of fossil fuel drops along with investment, while demand increases and clean sources of energy cannot meet demand. In a shift so profound, it may be impossible to imagine what it looks like. The power of this storytelling lies in its ability to illuminate possibilities and drive awareness – and with it, the hope for human action. Similar brilliant storytelling can be found in the new book AI 2041.

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The Future Of Work In The Creation Age

I had the pleasure of opening the Creatio Accelerate event with a presentation on the future of work in the creation age. This macro-level view of societal change attempts to connect these changes to the future of work. The notion of a creation age is explored in detail by RethinkX and captured in a series of videos.

RethinkX: Humanity’s Choice – The Age Of Freedom

In this sixth installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a brand new possibility space fueled by convergence across five foundational sectors: energy, transport, information, food, and materials. This convergence enables reimagination in areas like feeding and powering society. In this emerging age of creation, global design converges with local production and is unconstrained by industrial age limitations. As abundance satisfies our needs at near zero marginal cost, the world moves towards unheard of prosperity. But our subway map tells us that every constructive path is accompanied by a destructive one. In a shift so profound, it may be impossible to imagine what it looks like. The power of this storytelling lies in its ability to illuminate possibilities and drive awareness – and with it, the hope for human action. Similar brilliant storytelling can be found in the new book AI 2041.

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