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.Continue reading
A recent book explores aspects of a broader Convergence story. The book – 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything – was authored by Mauro F. Guillen. In exploring a number of trends, he shows how the only effective way to understand the global transformations underway is to think laterally. Said another way, we need to think at the systems level. Understanding pieces in isolation blinds us to the combinatorial nature of change. The book abstract says it this way:Continue reading
This Analysis by the Conference Board underscores how the trajectory of COVID-19 and the economic response over the next few months are uncertain. They developed three scenarios for the course of the US economy for the remainder of 2020. Focusing on future scenarios was already a critical imperative given the pace of change; the current pandemic just underscores the point. The analysis authors from the Conference Board are: Bart van Ark, Executive Vice President & Chief Economist, and Erik Lundh, Senior Economist. Here is an executive summary from the report:
While the 19th Century belonged to the British, and the 20th Century to the Americans, Parag Khanna believes the 21st Century belongs to Asia. In his recent book The Future is Asian, the author takes us on a journey to Asia’s past. Along the way, we learn about the historical events that shaped Asia, and the role that the western world played in that shaping.
As Mr. Khanna shifts to the present, we learn about the fascinating stories unfolding across Asia – from all corners of the eastern world. From Saudi Arabia, Africa and Australia, to China, Vietnam, Russia, and Korea. The coming together of Asians as a people is a core theme. The author explores the prominent role that Technocracy played in Singapore, and holds it up as a model to be replicated. He compares and contrasts the progress made in the East, to the dysfunction of the West. As we witness the populist outbreak in the west, we see a coming together in the east. As it does so, the Post-War (One and Two) global order defined by the West gives way to a global order increasingly defined by the East.
The further Backward you Look, the Further Forward you can See – Winston Churchill
I really like this quote from Winston Churchill. In a previous post on Learning from History, I was trying to say the same thing. One of the key learnings in looking back at our most transformative period (late nineteenth, early twentieth century), was the Convergence that occurred across multiple domains. I had developed a visual to capture a convergence phenomenon that took place over a one hundred year period – some have called this a Special Century. I updated the visual with new content (click the visual to expand). The color scheme shows the convergence that occurred across the business, science, technology, political, societal and economic domains. The red boxes represent the Catalysts that drove this convergence.
In looking at transformative periods throughout history, it is apparent that Convergence was a critical driver of change. While I am still hopeful of the ultimate convergence across societal, political, environmental, philosophic, economic, and business domains, it is clear that convergence is already occurring in the science and technology domains. This synergistic relationship where advances in one domain fuels rapid advances in the other is the force behind our rapid pace. As we saw in the Poll that looked at the catalysts that drive convergence, it is this rapid pace of innovation that many believe will ultimately drive it. This initial convergence is altering long-held Beliefs and Intuitions – eventually forcing convergence across the other domains.
Two major forces are likely to converge in very unpredictable ways. The road to Abundance, as described by Peter Diamandis, promises to advance our human development in ways we never could have imagined. At the same time, the journey will drive a number of unintended consequences. The intersection of these two forces underscores the importance of focusing on emerging scenarios now, while we have the opportunity to realize the advancements and mitigate the impact of unintended consequences. Let’s use the journey towards food abundance as an example.
In a recent post, I asked my readers to help me identify those catalysts that force the actions required to steer our future towards advancing our human development. Feel free to respond to the Poll. The number one response was the rapid pace of innovation. That response supports my own opinion that the pace will ultimately force stakeholders across multiple domains to take action. Much like the Domain Convergence that occurred during our most Transformative Period in History, convergence is required if we are to take the correct path towards human flourishing.
As I reflected on my Thoughts for 2019, three themes stood out. I’ve already written about Convergence and Acceleration, so this post will focus on possibilities. As described recently, I believe the world will experience a Burst of Possibilities enabled by the forces of convergence and acceleration. We should expect these possibilities to multiply in 2019, but realization depends upon multiple factors. One of these factors is a true focus on purpose, posing this question for humanity: how do we harness these possibilities to bring about a better world?
In arguing the case for purpose-orientation and possibilities, I created this visual that maps future advancements to our areas of well-being (click on visuals to enlarge them). I could create a different one that shows how these same advancements can be used to diminish our well-being. That’s why convergence is the most critical theme among the three. An effective way to think about purpose and possibilities is via the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are among the best-known and most frequently cited societal challenges. I believe we are entering a period of astounding innovation – advancements that have the potential to address these goals.
As I described in my Thoughts on 2019 post, convergence is one of the key dynamics I expect/hope to see more of this year. 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. I captured the advancements made during that period using an Innovation Wheel to map them to our areas of well-being (click on visuals in this post to open in a separate window).
A look at history is very instructive, as several dynamics from that period have the potential to emerge once again – the biggest being the opportunity for convergence. In this context, convergence refers to a virtuous cycle where events in one domain spur action in another. The great inventions (electricity, telephone, and internal combustion engine) were clustered together at the end of the 19th century, forming a virtuous cycle that drove a period of astounding innovation. This innovation cycle continued well into the 20th century – a dynamic that could be emerging again. Yet, science and technology are simply two domains that converged during the special century. The others were the economy, business, politics, and a broader set of societal issues. What enabled this convergence and created the most dramatic improvement in human development? There were several key catalysts.
The dialog surrounding artificial intelligence and ethics is amplifying. As society continues this rapid progression towards an automated future, the role of ethics becomes increasingly important. After painting a picture of several possible futures for an audience, I would ask this question: Is this a society that you want to live in. This discussion was captured in a post on Technology and Ethics, along with a poll to capture my readers thoughts on this same question (please take the poll to keep the dialog moving).
This question underscores the need to proactively manage the path towards these possible futures – and the discussion surrounding ethics plays a critical role. Enter initiatives like Moral Machine from MIT. As described by their website, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace. The moral machine provides a platform for building a crowd-sourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas. Given the challenges of coding an ambiguous set of morals and ethics into machines, crowdsourcing makes great sense. So visit the Moral Machine platform and add your voice to the conversation.