The Age Of Resilience

In an online leadership course developed in 2016, I stressed the need for resilience and adaptability. The course, titled A Journey Through the Looking Glass, focused on an emerging world of complexity, uncertainty, and the unknown. We rarely heard the words resilience and adaptability spoken back then, but along came a pandemic to force them into our vocabulary. While our short-term focus obstructed our view, cracks were forming and accumulating in ways that were likely to put a premium on these two traits.

One of those cracks is described in detail in a new book titled The Age of Resilience. Author Jeremy Rifkin was an early influence on my thinking. In his book published in 2014, The Zero Marginal Cost society, he took a fascinating look at economic history. That look backward provided a window into possible economic futures. Now, eight years later, Rifkin positions a transformative vision for how our species will thrive on an unpredictable Earth. Through an organizational lens, I viewed resilience as the primary trait on a strategic foundation of automation and intelligence. Rifkin views it through the lens of the biosphere.

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America’s Demographics

Demographics are a big piece of forward-looking analysis – and we are living in times of significant demographic shifts. An aging society, a fall in working age population, a drop in fertility rates, and a diversifying population are just a handful of examples. This recent article provides a great interactive visual via Visual Capitalist that captures one hundred years of demographic change in America.

The most obvious takeaway from this animation is that America’s population has soared over the last century. America’s population grew from 77 million in 1901 to over 330 million in 2020—or total growth of 330% over the 119 years.

Kaj Tallungs – Animated Chart: America’s Demographics Over 100+ Years

Other key findings include a near-even split between men and women and drastic changes in age and race distributions. As mentioned above, birth rates have been slowing over time, which results in an increased elderly population and a depleted workforce. From a diversity standpoint the shares of Black, Asian, and Hispanic have also been growing. The article provides other charts and insights.

A Future Shaped By Generational Differences

Overall, in 2021, Gen X (anyone born from 1965 to 1980) spent the most money of any U.S. generation, with an average annual expenditure of $83,357

Preethi Lodha – How Americans Spend Their Money, By Generation

As we focus our gaze on the horizon, history tells us that generational transitions to new stages of life play a role in shaping the future. As we traverse the seasons of life, how we think influences where society goes. In the book The Fourth Turning, the seasons of life are described in detail:

  • Childhood (ages 0-20)
  • Young adulthood (ages 21-41)
  • Midlife (ages 42-62)
  • Elderhood (ages 63-83)

However, many factors have converged to change the traditional life cycle from 4 segments to five.

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The Changing Human Life Cycle

Given the recent focus on demographics, I went back to review a book in my library titled “The Great Demographic Reversal.” In a post that reviewed the book, I mentioned that the authors state several times that their findings are controversial and counter to the views of mainstream economists. By way of review, the authors concluded that the future is one of:

  • Inflation
  • A fall in working age population
  • An aging society that struggles with the ravages of dementia
  • Declining growth of real output
  • An increase in labor’s bargaining power
  • Possible interest rate increases
  • Increased health expenses
  • A reduction in inequality

Several of those projected characteristics of a possible future are currently in play. Whether these are transitory or the new normal suggested by the authors remains to be seen. We have the benefit of history in looking at the various forces that shaped the current global economy.

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The Two Sides Of Population Growth

My last two posts focused on labor shortages and population growth; two critical societal building blocks that converge in ways that shape our future. Continuing with that theme, this recent article looks at these building blocks through the lens of China.

China has edged over a demographic precipice: Its population has begun to shrink. United Nations data published on Monday showed that the long-anticipated tipping point came in the first half of the year; it’s a significant moment for a country whose large population helped transform it into a manufacturing powerhouse

Lili Pike – The end of China’s population boom has arrived. How will the country’s changing demographics shape its future?

According to the referenced United Nations Data, the world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion on 15 November 2022. The report titled World Population Prospects 2022 provides the latest United Nations projections that suggest the global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. Another data point from the U.N. report highlights that population growth is driven in part by declining levels of mortality, as reflected in increased levels of life expectancy at birth. Life expectancy reached 72.8 years globally in 2019, increasing 9 years since 1990. Mortality reductions are projected to result in an average longevity of around 77.2 years globally in 2050

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The Looming Labor Shortage

In a post yesterday on population growth, I shared a fascinating visual that looked at the age structure of our population in 2017 versus projections for 2100. The tweet is shared again below, click on arrow in the visual to see the changes.

Population size is important in several ways. Historically, experts worried about societies ability to sustain an ever-growing population. With climate change issues mounting, those concerns remain. However, a scenario where our global populations shrink brings a different set of challenges. As this article on projected labor shortages describes, the growth rate of an economy is determined by two factors: growth in hours worked and growth in productivity. The sustained economic growth of the last 250 years can be attributed to a growing skilled workforce (education played a major role) and major innovations that drove productivity.

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Population Growth

Recent estimates for population growth are at odds with one and other. Where the United Nations sees 11 billion people on the planet by 2100, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation sees growth to 9.7 billion initially and then a decline back to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. Future population sizes underpin future strategies for governments and industries around the world. This article via the World Economic Forum underscores the point. The quick video snippet in the Tweet below is fascinating.

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The Global Decline In Fertility Rates

Societal change is a critical area of convergence that is likely to play a major role in shaping the future. Three building blocks provide an example: declining fertility rates, an aging population, and a fall in working age population. This article connects those dots visually. In looking at the global decline in fertility rates, the article illuminates the impact to global stability, as a given area needs an overall total fertility rate of 2.1 to keep a stable population. But why are women having fewer children? According to Dr. Max Roser, the founder of Our World in Data, most of the literature boils down to three main factors:

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Immigration By Country

Immigration continues to be a hot button issue in our polarized society. I shared a book back in 2020 that explored the reasons for this polarization. The book identified several societal changes that contribute to this alarming trend. A recent article provides a glimpse into the societal challenge of immigration, providing this visual that identifies the immigration make-up of countries. The article states that there were 272 million immigrants in 2020, amounting to 3.5% of the global population.

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Urbanization And The Rise Of Megacities

By 2050 it’s predicted that 68% of the world’s population will live in a major city — that’s 2 in 3 people. According to this recent article, less than 10% of people lived in urban areas in 1800. Today, more than 4.3 billion people or 55% of the world’s population live in urban settings.

This macro-level societal force will converge with forces from other domains to shape an uncertain future. One such domain is technology, where the rise of smart cities will coincide with the rise of megacities. What is a megacity?

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RethinkX Releases Climate Change Report

RethinkX just launched a report on climate change, and I have added it to my research library. Sustainability is a growing topic and focus area for leaders around the world. RethinkX concludes that technologies to address the climate change challenge already exist, but they are subject to societal choices. The abstract points to the importance of this report for all leaders.

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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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Reverse Migration: The Danger Of Prediction

I have often stated that prediction is a fool’s errand. The sheer number of building blocks, the pace at which they emerge, and the combinatorial nature of innovation all conspire to complicate the art of prediction. For example, predictions about urbanization and smart cities point to 72% of the world population living in cities by 2050. This and other projected disruptors have many people believing that we will need an intuition reset.

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The Implications Of Slowing Population Growth

The power lies at the intersections. When I first started using the term “Combinatorial”, people thought I was making words up. Although I would like to take credit for the word, I first came across it when reading The Second Machine Age, a fascinating book by Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson. In a post from 2015, I explored several possible combinations that represented disruptive power. A visual from that post attempted to show how science and technology spawned a number of several scenarios, using two curved lines, one for science and technology, and the other for scenarios. As the building blocks combined across the curves, the world would transform.

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Wall Street Is Going Green

Wildfires burned nearly 10.4m acres across the US last year. The most costly thunderstorm in US history caused $7.5bn in damage across Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. As the climate crisis swept the globe on a biblical scale it left in its wake a record number of billion-dollar disasters.

Dominic Rushe – Reading the writing on the wall: why Wall Street is acting on the climate crisis
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The Future of Information And Influence

Colleague Kevin Benedict recently started researching the future of information and influence. It should be readily apparent that misinformation and its associated erosion of trust is a big societal challenge. Some of us are more susceptible to misinformation than others. In a new Blog Post where he describes his research, Kevin points to a recent study:

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Long-Term Does Not Mean What It Used To

The news cycle these days makes it hard to catch our breath. More importantly, our focus is increasingly on short-term dynamics versus long-term trends. By long-term, I mean a little beyond what is right in front of us. I captured this thought in a Post last year: When someone says to me: “I’m not worried about five years from now”, my reaction is always the same. What looks to be five years out is likely only 18 months away: A phenomenon I describe in this piece on Acceleration.

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Human Development Index

Human development has advanced considerably since the start of the industrial revolution. Future Innovation Wheel - White backgroundEconomist Robert J. Gordon describes this Human Development Journey and concludes that, as far as standard of living is concerned, we have journeyed as far as we can. While thinking about that assessment, I set out to consider this new age of great invention and its impact on human development. The result was the development of this innovation wheel (click to enlarge).

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Why We’re Polarized

I have added a new book by Ezra Klein to my Library. The book titled “Why We’re Polarized” takes us on a fascinating journey to the past, helping us see that for all our problems, we have been a worse and uglier country at almost every other point in our history. Having said that, our current polarization has made it impossible to govern. I found his historical perspectives on the framing of our current political system very timely, and the notion that what works in one era fails in the next. The institutions, frameworks, and beliefs born in a vastly different era, struggle to keep pace in an era that looks very different.

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How Rising Inequality Distorts The Global Economy

I just finished a new book titled “Trade Wars are Class Wars”. The book has been added to my Book Library. Authors Matthew C. Klein and Michael Pettis explore how our economic linkages have both benefits, and an ability to transmit problems from one society to another. The thesis of this book is that rising inequality within countries heightens trade conflicts between them. A very insightful journey through history helps us to understand this phenomenon. One fascinating observation made by the book:


A global conflict between economic classes within countries is being misinterpreted as a series of conflicts between countries with competing interests. The danger is a repetition of the 1930s, when a breakdown of the international economic and financial order undermined democracy and encouraged virulent nationalism.


I have been amazed at the similarities to the 1930s as I explored in a recent post on a Post-Pandemic Society. Tariff wars were a part of the 1920s as they are today. Yet, as the authors indicate, tariffs and nationalist rhetoric will not resolve China’s imbalances, but they will likely reinforce the mistaken belief—on both sides—that China and the United States have incompatible economic interests. Rising inequality is another challenge faced back in the 1920s. The book explores how this distorts the global economy. It also opens the door to societal unrest – something that becomes more evident by the day. I highly recommend the book.