Our institutions are out of date; the long career is dead; any quest for solid rules is pointless, since we will be constantly rethinking them; you can’t rely on an established business model or a corporate ladder to point your way; silos between industries are breaking down; anything settled is vulnerable.
Put this way, the chaos ahead sounds pretty grim. But its corollary is profound: This is the moment for an explosion of opportunity, there for the taking by those prepared to embrace the change.
We have been through a version of this before. At the turn of the 20th century, as cities grew to be the center of American culture, those accustomed to the agrarian clock of sunrise-sunset and the pace of the growing season were forced to learn the faster ways of the urban-manufacturing world. There was widespread uneasiness about the future, about what a job would be, about what a community would be. Fringe political groups and popular movements gave expression to that anxiety. Yet from those days of ambiguity emerged a century of tremendous progress.
Today we face a similar transition, this time born of technology and globalization–an unhinging of the expected, from employment to markets to corporate leadership. “There are all kinds of reasons to be afraid of this economy,” says Microsoft Research’s boyd. “Technology forces disruption, and not all of the change will be good. Optimists look to all the excitement. Pessimists look to all that gets lost. They’re both right. How you react depends on what you have to gain versus what you have to lose.”
Yet while pessimists may be emotionally calmed by their fretting, it will not aid them practically. The pragmatic course is not to hide from the change, but to approach it head-on. Consider this vision: “Imagine a future where people are resistant to stasis, where they’re used to speed. A world that slows down if there are fewer options–that’s old thinking and frustrating. Stimulus becomes the new normal.”
To flourish requires a new kind of openness. More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin foreshadowed this era in his description of natural selection: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
As we traverse this treacherous, exciting bridge to tomorrow, there is no clearer message than that.