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A Brief History of Our Future

Written by Paul Morley

A Brief History of Our Future

Written by Paul Morley on Jan 16, 2020 12:00:07 PM

Data and Analytics

We stand on the cusp of the massive evolutionary change the fourth industrial revolution is about to impose on all dimensions of our culture, from politics to business and education. 

We are starting on a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. We are going to have to change the way we see the world and our individual context within the world and embrace new ways of thought, interaction and thinking to equip us on this journey of discovery.

This will be fundamental to our ability to survive and prosper as individuals and social collectives. We have to change the way we think, see the world and interact with people, systems and machines.

There Be Monsters

Change the way you see the world. The past is as important as the future, if not more so.

Like ancient master mariners of old, at the start of the first industrial age, before the great age of discovery, people thought the world was flat and that there were sea monsters at every turn. Back then, only the desperate, ambitious and brave undertook the leap of faith to push the boundaries and challenge the way society and leaders saw the world.

This example in history is not much different from the uncertainty we face in the 22nd century. History is a great educator. By looking at and understanding where we came from, we can navigate our future a little better. While we do not have time machines, fortune tellers or crystal balls, we are far better equipped than our historic master mariners to shape our future and the next generation of humans.

We have all heard at some point in our lives the famous quote: “Invention is the mother of all necessity.” Well, it turns out that it is the “Second of Law of Technology”. 

The Laws of Technology

  • Technology is neither good, bad; nor is it neutral
  • Invention is the mother of necessity
  • Technology comes in packages - big and small
  • Technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence
  • All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant
  • Technology is a very human activity 

Many decades ago, a historian and professor of the history of technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology named Melvin Kranzberg published these laws. As such, they predate many modern unicorns and mega corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft.

Social Impact of the Fourth Industrial Age

Be creative and critical.

We always seem as technologists and evangelists to downplay the more complex and intricate dimensions of people and the processes of interaction.

This new age is going to necessitate agility, self-learning, lateral thinking and creativity to deal with the complex and rapid evolution of technologies, as external forces drive the need to evolve.

We need to start changing the way we plan and develop strategies that are futureproof to counter uncertainty and exponential change. We have started to see the effect of an accelerated business and social context, which will continue to accelerate exponentially into the near future. The reality is that many more companies are going to have a 'Kodak moment'.

Recent research shows that the resilience and sustainability of companies is becoming shorter and shorter.  As the World Economic Forum says: “The average lifespan of today’s multinational, Fortune 500-size corporation is 400 years.”

For anyone in leadership in corporations of any size, that should be a sobering statistic. That means the company you’re tasked with leading has a 50/50 shot at making it past what we mere mortals call middle age. A further sobering WEF statistic tells us that almost 50% of the Fortune 500 from 1999 had disappeared from the list just 10 years later.

The 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027. Additional research from Standard & Poors continues to suggest this trend will hold true going into the future. 

The Need for 'Quantum Thinking'

Change the way you think.

What can we do about this seemingly dystopian future? 

First of all, throw away your current reference of how you think. We need to think differently. As history has already shown us, if we keep doing and thinking in the way we always have, we will be a part of the statistic WEF and S&P have published.  

Now, they could be wrong and my views could be wrong. But ask yourself: "What if they are not wrong?" 

Enter 'quantum thinking'. This is about being able to maintain both a for and against position at the same time. This might be because I am entertaining at least two significantly possible but inconsistent hypotheses or because I favour some parts of a set of ideas and not others. 

At the core is superposition, which is similar to “quantum superposition” in quantum physics. It is the theory that all states exist simultaneously or at the same time.

By simultaneously holding two significantly possible, but inconsistent hypotheses it forces us, in Colum McCann’s words, to keep away from answers but live in the middle of the question, avoid the magnetic poles of oppositional opinions, and to embrace the ambiguity of the unfinished answer.

Within, around and adjacent to this skill, is a host of others skills that are critical for personal development and education systems. This includes the rational evaluation of opposing arguments, deconstruction and isolation of the parts from the whole and accurate and non-binary communication of your opinions.

All these skills are important to develop our minds into something that can deal with agile processes, ambiguity and uncertainty, none of which are taught in our education and leadership frameworks.

This level and type of thinking becomes very critical to design thinking and aggressive product development, allowing product owners to develop the next generation of products, while not being influenced by existing biases that exist in the present context.

Quantum thinking also implores us to keep our friends close, but our enemies closer. For, if we understand the challenges that our opponents face even better than they do, then we have the advantage. If we can hold our own positions at a healthy distance, we retain objectivity and avoid compromising biases, such as 'status quo' bias, which is an almost overwhelming human trait. 

Age of Communication

Change the way we communicate and engage.

Communication has always been the keystone of human evolution, and is the single greatest trait outside of the discovery of fire. It has separated homo sapiens and allowed us to be the evolutionary masterpiece of the animal kingdom.

Long before written language, we had the ability to transfer one generation's knowledge to the next, through stories and paintings. One of my favorite authors, PK Dick, said that if you can define reality and communicate it, you can control it. 

Well, we see this all over modern society. Politics, religion, advertising, education. We could give a myriad of examples where the basic premise of language and how we communicate is to control, define and manipulate society. There many trials and tribulations, thought out colourful history, that we could showcase.

In the 22nd century, we find ourselves in a world of unprecedented abilities and tools. Cell phones, 5G networks, cloud computing, hyper connectivity, social media, mobility - the list goes on. All these trends, tools and capabilities are shaping the way we communicate, react to and understand our current reality.

We have seen how fake or 'dark' media, NLP media search engines that propagate various biases and artificial context,  erode and destroy the fabric of modern society. The ability to manipulate entire societies is more prominent now than ever.

Our single biggest defence against dark aspects of living in a hyper converged and connected world is through education and understanding our next generation of humans.  

Millennials have the characteristics to better enable the future, as well as to destroy our current notions of business and social structures. Early signs of this include fintech's evolution, the massive uptake in gamification, online gaming and eSports. All these are totally alien to most of older generations.

We, the previous generation and traditional thinkers and leaders, need to start adopting and learning new ways of agile engineering and adaptive thought process, like quantum and scientific thinking. If we do not, we will not be able to evolve fast enough, and will become irrelevant faster than we think.

Current and newer generations need to embrace and shape these traits today to mitigate the risk of becoming irrelevant: augmented reality, remote learning, digital twins, assisted reality, wearable technologies and virtual reality.

Paul Morley is the Executive for Nedbank Group Data Services and will provide the opening keynote at DataCon Africa 2020 on 11 March at the CTICC.


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