It’s a disruptive and uncomfortable world we live in, never more so than at the start of 2017.
2016 saw a number of key shifts in public thinking, the overrunning of democracy and a step away from rational thinking. This is manifesting itself as insular and fearful voting around the globe. But rather than being fearful, the world has never seen such an abundance of opportunity, and potential equality.
With technological disruption, free/open trade, automation, globalisation and AI at the root of the destruction of middle-class invulnerabilities, we’re seeing a backlash as people are genuinely anxious about the future. And they’d be right: in the 1980s and 90s we saw the rise of a new middle-class, liberated by Thatcher’s free market, deregulation, home-ownership and easy credit. It was explosive.
But, the basis of that new middle-class has been slowly eroded away over the last decade; workplace cutbacks, income equality, increasing debt, stagnating salaries, increased education costs and ever more home ownership challenges. The middle class is looking under serious threat, it’s estimated that nearly half the jobs across the OECD will be wiped out in a generation. We’re right in the middle of a not-so-quiet revolution of thinking, working and living.
This is not, however, a time to be an insular thinker, or a shrinking violet. This is a time to adapt to a new way of thinking, of life-long learning, micro-creativity and a rethink of the whole working paradigm. Its a time to let go of how you thought it used to be and create a brave new world. One could view this as a Darwin exercise, those that can adapt through change (mutation) will end up the winners whilst believers in the old-world era will not be so lucky.
Some respected thinkers suggest that the UK (and Europe), has entered a “lost decade” as we struggle to adapt to this new world. The juxtaposition of train drivers going on strike for 1960’s working practices, and temporary tent communes popping up around Amazon distribution centres last Christmas is hard to swallow, but easy to understand. In less than a generation we’ve seen the destruction of “job for life” and the emergence of transient work and zero-hours contracts.
Those that voted Trump into power, and those that voted us out of Europe, are maybe lashing out subconsciously to this violently changing world. Neither Trump, nor a post-Brexit Britain will see us turning back the clock – in fact we run the risk of extending the lost decade into a lost generation. We should all guard against this, and we have a social resposibility to smooth the transition.
Teresa May announced this week that we might see the end of most of the ties to Europe, not just the EU. Exiting the single market, the customs union and even the ECHR is to unpick nearly 50 years of continued integration. The potential imbalance created with the introduction of trade tariffs in combination with the absence of worker portability is something this country hasn’t faced since the post-WW2 labour shortage – and at least then we had the remnants of a commonwealth to damp the supply/demand cycle.
What’s next? A brave new world?
The government needs to quickly forge alliances (trade and immigration = money and people) with the worlds top economies as we charge full-speed into a unilateral version of globalisation. Open trade and automation allows almost anyone to participate on the world stage in a way that simply cannot been imagined just a generation ago. So, the future is not to be feared, but without the tools to hand, or the skills to play in this new world, we’ll see increasing income and socio-economic inequality.
Mass creativity sounds an imposing term, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s more of an umbrella term to define a shift from state-defined job and life planning to a more fluid and agile path through life. Gone, then, is job stability, and the 8hrs work, 8hrs sleep and 8hrs leisure model. The new world is centred around ideas, value and what individuals create themselves.
Go out and plough your own furrow
The disruptive nature of the modern world and the absence of stability rewards those that innovate, those that take risks, and those that try new stuff. Conversely, it hampers the slow, the Luddite and traditional thinkers. And being innovative is now a good deal more accessible than it ever has been. Being an entrepreneur is no longer the preserve of the rich, connected or lucky – anyone can join in, the tools are all widely available and easily within reach.
Changing political landscapes, including Brexit and the terrifying thought of a Trump/Putin alliance, are now the norm. The world has got a bit giddy on an excess of democracy and shock voting is likely to become the norm. Be prepared to back the underdogs, flick the Vs at the elite and think we are changing the world in the same way our parents and grand-parents did during the 60s.
I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times, but keep in mind the old French adage “the more things change the more they stay the same”.