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Posted: September 06, 2011

Living in the age of hyper-awareness: Part 2

Every problem creates an opportunity

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)

In a normal downturn, every 100 people who have been laid off will result in seven starting their own business. Without access to capital, the vast majority of those would-be entrepreneurs have turned to the web where startup costs can be measured in hundreds of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More importantly, the employees these startup companies would have hired have been eliminated. They have figured out ways to operate as a one-person business, bring people on for short-term projects, and contract for services.

Once people learn how to run a super-lean one-person business, there's no turning back. Jobs are not just temporarily eliminated, they are never coming back. Because of our hyper-aware communication systems, one-person business owners are in close communication with others who think and act just like them.

The Downside of No-Fund Startups

Without any form of institutional funding for startups, governments are losing control of online commerce. That means no tax dollars, no regulatory authority, and no sense of what's really going on inside these businesses. Borderless economies mean no sales tax dollars for local streets, schools, libraries, and parks.

There exists a pervasive notion that "since the system has failed them, they will not support the system." Above-ground economies such as store-front businesses are continually subject to the scrutiny and whims of local governments. The added hassle of dealing with planning and zoning departments, filing sales tax reports, and attending city council meetings is more than a mild inconvenience. It's a total deal killer.

As a result of this combination of negatives, the brain-drain happening as people shift from the physical world to the digital world, is dealing a crippling blow to the talent pool and income streams left to run the country.

Driven by Awareness

With the pervasiveness of smartphones and instant connectivity, we are living in a society that jacked-in 24-7 to the world around us.
Talent is being discovered at an earlier age in remote parts of the world:

• Justin Bieber, who was born in a small town in Canada, was discovered in 2008 by Scooter Braun, who happened to come across one of Justin's videos on YouTube. He later became his manager.

• On June 6, 2011, 4-year old Australian art prodigy, Aelita Andre, opened her first solo art exhibit in New York City called "The Prodigy of Color" at the Agora Gallery.

• Last week 19-year-old Andrew Hsu received $1.5 million in funding for Airy Labs, a startup that is making social learning games for kids. As a Thiel Fellow, Andrew has a pretty arresting resume. He completed high school at 9 years old, had 3 bachelor's degrees at 16 years old, and was a 4th year PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford when he quit to start Airy Labs.

These types of discoveries are not isolated cases. They are happening with increased frequency all around the world. Not only are we increasingly aware of the world around us, we are able to focus the frequency of our awareness to precisely the topics and industries we are most interested in.

Refining Our Hyper-Awareness Skills

Our inability to properly meter our response to this heightened level of awareness is exactly what's driving today's megavolatility on Wall Street.
Yes, there are high levels of fear, worries about a double-dip recession, uncertainties about Europe, and a dearth of political leadership. But all of these legitimate concerns stem from our inability to function within this new context - living in a hyper-aware society.

I'm certainly not suggesting we need to dumb-down our systems or we, as humans, are somehow incapable of living in a world with this level of awareness. Rather, it is the fine art of managing and leveraging these capabilities that we haven't yet mastered.

So can we really tame the beast inside Wall Street simply by spending a few zen moments next to some guru of awareness? Probably not. However, by better understanding human characteristics and tendencies associated with living in a hyper-aware world, we should be able to craft new kinds of systems that lower volatility and perhaps even eliminate knee-jerk high-stress reactions to the news of the hour.

Final Thoughts

We have come a long ways since 1850 when Paul Reuters, founder of the Reuters News Service, set a new speed standard for delivering news between Brussels and Berlin by using carrier pigeons. Hyper-awareness is here to stay. We cannot un-ring the bell or somehow roll back time.

Just because we have access to the information doesn't mean we have good ways of interpreting it. Most of our thinking is a mile wide and an inch deep, with little ability to probe the depths of seriously complicated issues Yet we are connected in a new and different way. So will our thinking ever change?

Our journey through life is an ongoing adventure and our ability to both understand the nuances of change and adapt to whatever life throws our direction is what makes this a magnificent time to be alive. Every problem creates an opportunity, and there are currently tons of opportunities waiting to be mined.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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