I have written several articles about moving through the difficult transition that we are finding ourselves in as we move into the cyber-enhanced world we are increasingly seeing around us. The reality that I see is that the rigidity of the most powerful organizations around us is going to cause unnecessary pain and suffering to untold millions before we fully emerge into the future that is now in plain sight.
Governments, businesses, public sector organizations, higher education, and on and on, are all sleepwalking into one of the largest and most rapid social upheavals of the last 500 years. One of the largest upheavals simply because of the numbers of people effected on a global scale. Rapid, because of the acceleration in communication and information processing that is the final aspect of the last industrial revolution. Even more rapid because of the ruthless competition for profits amongst the global organizations we see today under the dominant capitalist economic ideology.
The scramble for profits means that the early adopters of newly available cyber-enhanced processes will emerge with competitive advantages that will catapult them into dominance in whatever sector they are working in. We live in a transition that is seeing (and will continue to see) powerful, dominant monopolies emerge on a global scale never before seen. Right now, we have only a few of these behemoths, but we are going to see more and more of these monopolies emerge in such a short time that we will be left wondering how this happened.
I read Tim Hartford’s “Why Big Companies Squander Brilliant Ideas” last week, and just shook my head at example after example that he highlighted. As I was reading, I also thought of the examples that we are seeing today as the biggest organizations of today walk into a future to which they are not blind, but to which they simply are not responding. There are memos and public statements about how they are embracing the technologies of tomorrow and how the organization is transforming itself into a newer, sleeker model of itself that will emerge a world leader in whatever sector they belong.
Tim’s example of what happened to tanks between the two world wars is playing out right in front of us in almost every sector of our society. After building the first tanks and gaining the advantages of tank technological superiority in WWI (although they didn’t really use it), in 1932, the British army built just nine tanks. Nine tanks with a total tonnage less than a single, new German Tiger Tank. This, after the thorough war preparations Britain made in the face of the Nazi militarisation threat by increasing the forage for horses by a factor of 10.
In my own area of expertise, as universities produce an ever increasing number of people with empty qualification filled with cramming and regurgitation, their response to the world we are entering is twofold. First, they fall back on prestige and history. Everyone wants a degree from us, and we have weathered every social upheaval for the last thousand years – why will this one be any different? The second response is to refer the matter to committees who will argue over the proper placement of a comma for seven years, reach tepid conclusions, and then roll out the magnificent solution that will involve a minuscule adjustment to a program and shift another 38% of total revenues to the massively underfunded and lean administrative structure of the organization in order to deal with the coming changes.
Unfortunately, the higher education example is only an example. It is an example of what is happening across the globe in every sector of our society.
I’m afraid that competition will drive the forces of automation forward at a pace that will leave most of us in the dust. The human displacement will be enormous. The organizational withering will be widespread. The emergence of the few dominant global monopolies will be fast and thorough. Not complete though. We all know that there are alternative search engines (or online ad agencies) to Google – umm, I just can’t think of any right now.
Even among those who discuss these global upheavals every day, there is a dominant attitude that there will somehow be a benevolent and soft transition. I can’t share that optimism. Not while the hundreds of millions who will be directly effected are associated with organizations that are calcified in the face of the transition.
I am optimistic about the future. I’m just not optimistic about the transition. A transition that, even in the earliest stages has 39% (and growing) of the 20 – 34 year-old adult population living with their parents. Or the attitude I recently came across where someone actually said that it takes at least seven full-time incomes for a couple to live in New York City and anyone not willing to do this is lazy and deserves what they get.
As I keep hammering away at an obvious (to me) solution of changing the way we learn, all I get is – “Jesse, your brilliant”, or “You inspire me, keep up the good work”, or “Your insights are wonderful and I look forward to them always.” These responses, both public and private, from both humble workers and leaders of some of the largest organizations in the world, keep me going. They may keep me going, but there is no real change. Talk, but no action.
How many young people scraping out a living, after doing all we asked them to do, is it going to take before we stand together and say, “Enough is enough!”, “Enough talk, it is time to do something!”
When does a crisis become a crisis?