Can Society Adapt to an Accelerating Pace of Change?


Updated December 15, 2017

Thanks to Parthasarathi V for his thought provoking comment on LinkedIn, and a link to a relevant article from Clay Shirky on the Collapse of Complex Business Models. His comment:

“We are having super abundance of everything – capital, talent, resources. The previously known scarce resources (e.g physical world scarcity, natural resources) are also abundant now thanks to technology. With every abundance there will be new scarcity that will be the point of friction. With every node of regulation we remove to promote innovation, new set of problems will emerge that needs to be regulated otherwise system will collapse.”


I am often asked for my perspective on the societal implications of a rapidly approaching future. More recently, that question has centered on Government and our economic system. My views are somewhat captured by this comment from Phil Tanny – an active participant on my Blog:

“There is a limit to how much social change human beings can successfully manage. What exactly those limits are is unknown, but it seems beyond obvious that our ability to adapt to change is not infinite. Thus, there is a collision coming between the exponential rate of knowledge development and the incremental ability of humans to adapt to the social change generated by the knowledge explosion.”

Said another way, we now live in an exponential world, while the linear nature of humans – and structures that were built for a different era – have not changed. The governance mechanisms of our past -at some level – managed the pace of change. Those mechanisms are gone. I have argued for balance – while others argue for mechanisms that slow the pace of innovation.

My reason for balance lies in this often shared visual representing the two sides of the pace phenomenon. Case in point, at this Health Summit in Washington D.C, the many health challenges that we face as a society were on display. Innovators will one day solve these grand challenges – and I for one do not want to see the pace of realizing these and other societal gains altered. But the concerns that people like Phil Tanny raise are real concerns – and the risk of unintended consequences is very real.

The building blocks to both enhance and/or diminish humanity are there – it’s a question of how we as a society manage this exponential world. Here are my thoughts on the question of Government at the previously mentioned health summit.

 

Women Leadership in an Exponential World


I was honored to deliver the opening keynote at the SIM Women Executive Leadership Forum on Thursday May 5th. SIM Women Founder Kristen Lamoreaux did a wonderful job organizing the program. I met some fascinating leaders that selflessly give their time to their communities and society in general. As we look at the challenges that face our world, these are the type of leaders I want to stand with. In a room full of outstanding women, I saw the leaders of our future. As our exponential pace accelerates, a gap widens between exponential progression and our linear and incremental progress. This gap represents disruptive stress or opportunity – and increasingly, it is our right brain characteristics that help determine which.

Linear to Exponential Shift

Creativity, imagination, big picture vision, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, and other human characteristics are critical to navigating in an exponential world. As automation accelerates, these human traits become even more critical. In a recent report by Citi on Technology at Work, the authors point to our propensity for social interaction, communication, and empathy being something machines can never replace. Women excel in these areas, positioning them as leaders of our emerging future. In a different Citi report on Women in the Economy, they highlight the importance of women in the labor market, where a 50% reduction in the gender gap can lead to a 5% increase in global GDP. Women are uniquely positioned to play a critical role in the digital economy.

At this SIM event, I focused on our emerging future and the unlearning that it requires. The last time we faced a similar scenario was a century ago, as a shift occurred from the steam engine era to the electricity era. That transition did not go well – something I’ll explore in future posts. We find ourselves approaching another transitory point in history. Will we learn from history? My focus remains on this transition and the mindset shift so crucial to navigating the change. This time, I believe women leadership could be the difference. You can view the presentation Here.

Emerging Paradigms and the Future of Business


I had the pleasure of joining SAP’s Coffee Break with Game Changers Radio Show on August 5th.  This was my third appearance on the show, and I was joined by Futurist Gray Scott and SAP Global Innovation Evangelist Timo Elliott. The show titled “Emerging Paradigms and the Future of Business” was part two of a series that was expertly moderated by Bonnie D. Graham. Part one of the series was a discussion on Decentralization.

The show abstract: The pace and scale of change is hitting unprecedented levels. This presents unique challenges for the future of business. We’re seeing new and emerging paradigms, exciting innovations in energy, challenges due to resource scarcity, big implications for the climate and environment, an increasing blurring of physical and digital boundaries, growing business decentralization, exponential progression, and many more global drivers – all contributing to an uncertain future. Futurists worldwide, including our panellists, are examining these factors and assessing their potential business impact. Some of the critical questions to address:

  • What factors will shape our future?
  • What new leadership skills will be needed?
  • How will leaders deal with challenges and implications outside of their base of experience?

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Future Thinking


I’m struggling with the term disruption and its effectiveness in driving urgency. Most definitions describe a radical change in an industry or business strategy, and most involve the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. My struggle is not with this decades old view of disruption, but its application in the context of our exponential world. The word disruption is viewed through a traditional lens. I end up in debates about the validity of a disruptive scenario as viewed through this lens, versus the massive implications of these future scenarios viewed through an exponential lens. The ensuing dialog focuses on:

  • Coming up with disruptive innovation before our competitors do
  • Embracing protectionist behavior to block a disruptor
  • I’m not worried, regulatory hurdles in my industry block the impact of disruptors
  • I’m safe, my industry is very stable

Future Thinking

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Technology versus Humans


Futurist Gerd Leonhard recently released a new short 3 minute film titled Technology versus Humans. Here is an excerpt from his Blog announcing the video:

“I am very excited to announce the release of my new short film “Technology versus Humanity”. This film marks the beginning of a new period for me, with much of my future work focusing on the topic of how exponential technological changes are changing what and who we are, as humans, where this is going in the next 15 years, and what we need to do, TODAY, to make sure that these changes will indeed be beneficial to us.

For this film, I was very fortunate to be able to team up with Story7 and Jean Francois Cardella as producer and director, and Jeremy Joly as DOP. They made this film very special – thanks!  We shot most of the footage in Cannes and the surrounding area – see some of the pics below.  If you like this movie, please share it and spread the word, or submit a comment below and let me know what you think.  Thanks!  New hashtag as of today:  #techversushuman

Gerd was kind enough to do an interview with me back in January. You can read that here. Enjoy the film