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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RethinkX: The Growth and Collapse of Industrial Civilization

In this fourth installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a civilization that now stands at the precipice. We lose sight of the fact that we invented the political and economic systems of our time. When the organizing system is no longer suited for a new era, we have the power to reinvent. Reinvention however requires a willingness to look beyond our current beliefs, institutions, and mental models. If we view this phase transition through our traditional lens, our solutions will fall short. The power of this video series lies in its ability to illuminate the size of the challenge. This is not a story of disruption, this is nothing short of a phase transition between eras.

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RethinkX: Repeating The Patterns Of History

In a brilliant third installment of an eight part series, RethinkX explores the lessons of history. In analyzing the patterns from the age of extraction, the video zeros in on the cycles of history and the warning signals that should be flashing bright red. History is very instructive – but if we do not learn from it, we are destined to make the same mistakes. Consider for example the eerie similarities between the 1920s and our current day:

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The Great Discovery – Rethinking Humanity: Episode 2

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 here. Here is the second video in the series. Here is the video abstract:

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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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