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.Continue reading
I had a discussion last week that focused on a post-digital world. It was an open question about the state of digital and the related transformation journey. Although the digital maturity of organizations is not where I envisioned it – and Covid-19 underscored the point – digital should be a foundational piece of a bigger story. The continued digital discussion ignores the bigger contributions of science and the boardroom conversations around purpose and innovation. A recent article goes one step further in declaring that the digital era is over, and we are in a New Era of Innovation. In it, Greg Satell makes the exact argument I made above.Continue reading
I Just finished another great book. This one is titled A World Without Work authored by Economist Daniel Susskind. The author explores a phenomenon that we have discussed many times over the centuries: Technological Unemployment. Drawing on almost a decade of research in the field, Susskind argues that machines no longer need to think like us in order to outperform us, as was once widely believed. The book describes a world where more and more tasks that used to be far beyond the capability of computers – from diagnosing illnesses to drafting legal contracts, from writing news reports to composing music – are coming within their reach. Mr. Susskind tells a compelling story to support his conclusion: the threat of technological unemployment is now real.
I periodically add more future scenarios to this visual that attempts to describe all the dots that are connecting to create our future. This future is complex, emerging from the combination of new and existing building blocks – a dynamic that enables the rapid pace that society is experiencing. The visual is described in detail Here.
I have added two new Future Scenarios to the visual: Society 5.0 and Smart Nations. I have written about both recently. Each scenario is individually impactful – but the combinatorial effect is massively transformative. Tracking scenarios in an effort to See their path is the only hope in understanding their impact.
Dr. Micah Altman – Director of Research, Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship (CREOS) at MIT – recently made me aware of a Survey that probed several questions about the future of our Digital world. The survey was conducted by Elon University and the Pew Research Internet and Technology Project to imagine social and technological evolution over the next 50 years. The respondents were technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and others.
Story telling is the most effective way to communicate – and in times of complexity, uncertainty, and rapid pace, it becomes even more critical. Telling stories about the future requires a broad view of an increasing number of building blocks. The visual I use attempts to look at these building blocks and the various ways they combine to enable future scenarios. The scenarios themselves are combinatorial – converging on one and other in ways that transform how we think about the future. A deeper explanation of the visual can be found Here.
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.
I had the recent pleasure of talking with Richard Frederick about a number of topics regarding the future. Richard runs a Podcast called The Ready Room; an idea driven by his concern over the decline of civil discourse and the ideological barricades with which so many have surrounded themselves. In his words: “If only we could come out from behind our political fortresses and talk openly with one another and truly seek to open our minds to change, we could regain a shared civic trust.”
The Ready Room is Richard’s way of reaching out to others to begin this discourse. I was happy to be included in this process. You can listen to our discussion below.
Updated results: April 9th, 2019. The response has been great, but I’d like to capture more voices. Please consider taking this very short Poll.
In a recent post on What to Expect in 2019, I launched three focus areas for the coming year. This focus attempts to identify the key drivers of change and the outcomes they enable. The three areas are:
- Convergence is one of the key dynamics I expect/hope to see more of this year. A century ago, convergence across multiple domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. Multiple forces will drive a similar level of convergence in the coming decade.
- The pace of innovation and change is often cited as a key difference between the next revolution and prior ones. This is one of the key catalysts driving change, and I expect it to Accelerate.
- I believe the world will experience a burst of Possibilities enabled by these forces of convergence and acceleration
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.
We face the task of understanding and governing 21st-century technologies with a 20th-century mindset and 19th-century institutions – Klaus Schwab: Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In a video titled “The Great Reset”, economist Tyler Cowen uses a great metaphor of canaries in coal mines to describe the warning signals that seem like local events – but actually represent greater and broader stress. He uses several recent examples to highlight the growing stress in the system and the potential for a great reset in the future. Regardless of your belief system – it is hard to argue with the underlying logic. Whether we view this as the Fourth Age in human history, a third major Tipping Point, or a Great Reset, structural change is inevitable. This short seven minute video drives this point home.
As our emerging future shifts continuously, our challenge is to shift with it. The number of building blocks that combine continues to explode, challenging our ability to track its complexity. I’ve used a visual representation of this challenge – and I see older versions floating around – so I am updating it via this post. When I use the visual in presentations, I build towards it to avoid its overwhelming nature (which I believe accurately reflects the overwhelming nature of the challenge). I will replicate the approach here by building towards the full visual.
Convergence across aspects of science, technology, economic forces, politics, society, our environment, and a growing conversation around ethics, is creating a highly uncertain world. At the heart of the pace dynamic is the exponential progression of science and technology – reflected in the first piece of the visual.
Updated December 15, 2017
“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 have used this Emerging Future visual to demonstrate the overwhelming number of combinations that will conspire to create our future. The science and technology foundation converges with societal, political, economic, and environmental forces to build towards a very uncertain future. A future that I believe represents the third massive tipping point in human history.
This very short animated video describes the visual.
At the Health Summit in D.C. two weeks ago, I was asked to articulate those things that leaders should consider as they navigate the complexity of our emerging future. The three that always top my list are:
- Resetting our intuition and belief system for a new era – think differently
- Shifting to a hybrid profit and purpose orientation
- Seeking a balance between innovation that enhances society and mitigating the risk of unintended consequences.
This two minute video captures that portion of our panel discussion.
Timing. It’s one of the most difficult facets to consider when thinking about the future. We know that convergence across societal, political, economic, science and technological forces is creating many future scenarios. We also know that enablement is happening at an exponential pace. Some believe (present company included) that the coming macro-level tipping point is likely to impact humanity on a scale only experienced twice in human history (hunter-gatherer to agriculture and agriculture to industrial). There will be many micro-level tipping points on the journey towards an automated society – and the timing of those tipping points is impossible to predict.
Week two of Reimagining the Future has just launched! Week one drew a large audience and generated great dialog. A big thank you to those who have participated so far. As discussed in the course, we must collectively take control of creating our future. Our hope is this course and related dialog are just one small step on that journey. There is still plenty of time to take the full course, you can enroll here.