The Journey Continues


It’s been over a year since launching an Online Course focused on a complex and uncertain future. The course takes a Journey through the Looking Glass – a metaphorical expression that means: on the strange side, in the twilight zone, in a strange parallel world. It comes from the Alice and Wonderland literary work of Lewis Carroll, where he explores the strange and mysterious world Alice finds when she steps through a mirror. I have always found this to be a perfect metaphor for our times.

Every time the looking glass has appeared, the world has experienced a Tipping Point. While I firmly believe a tipping point is coming, the impact is likely a question of severity. Some believe that we have survived similar economic transitions in the past, while others disagree:

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The Strategic Foundation


In my last post, I explored the evolution of business in the industrial age. This Fourth Iteration of Business establishes resilience on a foundation of automation and intelligence. Resilience may be more important than the productivity gains that are sure to be realized as we progress towards Business 4.0, providing the capacity to recover quickly as the pace of shifts accelerates. This visual represents a strategic foundation for Business 4.0.

The Strategic Foundation

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The Fourth Iteration of Business in the Industrial Age


The evolution of business in the industrial age has mirrored the progression of three industrial revolutions; moving us from its first iteration to our current form. The emerging Fourth Industrial revolution ushers in another shift, culminating in something that likely looks much different than its predecessors. A brief look at this journey shows us the linkage:

Iteration One: The first industrial revolution introduced mechanization and had significant impacts on business and the labor force. Business in this period was transformed, as the steam engine enabled us to replace human and animal-based muscle with machines.

Iteration Two: Several forces converged during the second revolution to elevate our standard of living. The post-war period that followed was defined by a high level of consumption that drove business in the mass production era. Henry Ford famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

Iteration Three: The third industrial revolution revolved around information technology, electronics, and communications, ushering in a period of computerization and automation. Businesses were once again transformed through significant gains in productivity and a shift away from Henry Ford era standard products to more customization.

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The Turbulent 2020s and what it Means for 2030 and Beyond


In a recent insights report, authors Karen Harris, Austin Kimson and Andrew Schwedel look at macroeconomic forces and their impact on labor in 2030. The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality will shape the 2020s – a collision that is already in motion. By 2030, the authors see a global economy wrestling with a major transformation, dominated by an unusual level of volatility. Here’s a summary of these three forces:

AN AGING WORKFORCE

As the global workforce ages rapidly, our authors forecast a slowing of U.S. labor force growth to 0.4% per year in the 2020s, thereby bringing an end to the abundance of labor that has fueled economic growth since the 1970s. Even as longer, healthier lives allow us to work into our sixties and beyond, it is not likely to offset the negative effects of aging populations. This labor force stagnation will slow economic growth, with negative side effects including surging healthcare costs, old-age pensions and high debt levels. On the positive side, supply and demand dynamics could benefit lagging wages for mid-to-lower skilled workers in advanced economies through the simple economics of greater demand and lesser supply – but that leads to their second major force: automation.

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The Automation of Everything


In a Post from 2014, I explored the path of automation and a possible economic impact between $14 and $30 trillion. Almost four years later, my focus has shifted from economic to societal impact. How far will we take automation? Will automation augment us, freeing us from mundane and redundant tasks, or will it replace us? Is automation limited to those characteristics we typically associate with our left brain – or will it encroach upon our right brain characteristics?

These questions currently have no answer – just speculation. How far the slider in the visual below goes, drives a profound difference in the ultimate implications to society. The obvious area of impact is the future of work – if we do indeed realize decentralized autonomous organizations. Do our right brain characteristics become much more important in this future world, and do they represent a safe haven? I show three very impactful examples in presentations that would have us question whether or not machines can be creative, compassionate, and eventual companions.

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Tipping Points in Human History


I’ve been talking lately about the two main tipping points in human history: from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, and agriculture to our industrial society. That second tipping point beginning about 1760 ushered in three revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution  saw the rise of iron and textile industries and the mechanization of production through the use of water and the steam engine. This second tipping point saw a reduction in physical labor and a shift in where new forms of labor were required. The Second Industrial Revolution started in 1870,  riding advances such as electricity, telephone and the internal combustion engine to drive rapid industrialization and globalization. A massive disruption followed, as established sectors were eliminated and new ones emerged.

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