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Three more massive global trends


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

4.) Our Growing Levels of Fragility

As our dependence on systems and technology grows, so do the number of potential breaking points.

We all know that a simple power outage can shut down our work, traffic systems, restaurants, doctor, and dental offices. Having a very reliable electric grid makes it difficult to justify backup systems in most places.

We also know how disruptive it can be to lose cell coverage, not have Wi-Fi, or lose our water, cable, or Internet altogether. Every new capability tends to increase our expectations, but when it’s gone we are forced to compensate.

The average person in the U.S. today is highly dependent on a multitude of systems, services and technologies. As an example, we depend on:

  • Facebook to find out how our family and friends are doing
  • Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Bing Maps for directions
  • Pandora, Spotify, or Rdio for music
  • Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast for streaming TV
  • Netflix, Hulu, or iTunes for television programming
  • Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook for email
  • Amazon, eBay, and Etsy for online shopping
  • FedEx, UPS, and USPS for overnight delivery
  • Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber to make international phone calls
  • Ameritrade, eTrade, and Scottrade for trading stock

Every new dependency adds one more possible failure point to the mix. Depending on the situation, our growing levels of fragility can either increase or decrease our job prospects for the future.

5.) The Power of One

In our increasingly connected world, it’s easy to see how much power and influence the individual has today. This kind of power can be used to disrupt industries, make a difference, or even change the world.

While there have been countless examples in the past, motivated people today are making changes everywhere:

  • Grace Choi – This Harvard Business School graduate recently invented Mink, a sub-$300 3D printer that prints custom makeup pigments on demand, a product that will radically transform the high-end cosmetic industry.
  • Fatou Doumbia – When it comes to creating sustainable farming and food supplies, the people of Mali, West Africa still have a long ways to go. Fatou’s plan is to empower women, teach them the best farming techniques, and overcome the challenges of a male-oriented society.
  • Ben Kaufman – This 27 year old founder of the NY-based invention company, Quirky, has raised over $90 million to turn social invention into a faster way to bring great ideas to market.
  • David Allerby – 33 year old founder of HomeCare, a company that provides temporary in-home assistants for seniors and children with developmental disabilities.
  • Sean Kelly – This 29 year old two-time freestyle snowboarding national champion now runs HUMAN Healthy Vending, a chain of franchised vending machines filled with healthy foods, like fresh fruit and sports supplements.

As people come to grips with their own wielding of power, the result will be unique and unprecedented. They will consciously decide to do something extremely positive, like those listed above, or something extremely negative.

What we are seeing is the balance of that power shifting from large corporations into the hands of individuals. But when it comes to people losing their job, we will need to be ever vigilant to insure those who find themselves on the outside, don’t resort to using the dark side of this power.

6.) Our Overprotected “Nerf Generation”

Will our grandchildren grow up to call their grandchildren lazy?

It seems that every generation has a cynical view of their kids and grandkids. They don’t try hard enough, make the right decisions, plan well enough, and simply don’t have any common sense.

At the same time, we have seriously overprotected our kids. There are no longer real chemistry sets and schools aren’t allowed to let students use a scissors. Every sport requires helmets, chin guards, mouth guards, kneepads, and a nurse or doctor on call in case something goes wrong. And playgrounds have to be designed so no one can possibly get hurt, meaning no swings, no teeter-totter, no merry-go-round, and padded surfaces everywhere.

Since we’ve chosen to make all kids feel special, no one actually feels that way anymore. We can’t have winners without losers. In the real world, people will never care about your kid unless your kid gives them a reason to care.

In the U.S. over 29 percent of those under 35 still live at home with their parents. Other places in the world it’s worse. In Italy, as example, over 60 percent of men under 35 still live with their parents.

Dealing with an overly-coddled Nerf generation will have long term implications on tomorrow’s job market, both in terms of maturity, employability and overall resilience when it comes to dealing with adversity.

Final Thoughts

Is our system for creating new jobs a “self-organizing complex system?”

Will our exponential systems compensate for declining birthrates? Will our growing levels of awareness compensate for our growing levels of fragility? Will the “power of one” compensate for our overprotected “Nerf Generation?”

In many cases yes, but not always.

Are people spotting and responding to the opportunities in ways where the future will somehow take care of itself? Or do we need to send something similar to the “Triple Revolution” letter to the U.S. president warning him/her of the trials ahead?

Not everyone agrees there will be problems.

MIT economics professor David Autor describes it this way.

“Journalists and expert commentators tend to overstate the extent of machine substitution for human labor and ignore the strong complementarities. The challenges to substituting machines for workers in tasks requiring adaptability, common sense, and creativity remain immense.”

Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian, offers another fascinating point of view:

“If ‘displace more jobs’ means ‘eliminate dull, repetitive, and unpleasant work,’ the answer would be yes. How unhappy are you that your dishwasher has replaced washing dishes by hand, your washing machine has displaced washing clothes by hand, or your vacuum cleaner has replaced hand cleaning?

My guess is this ‘job displacement’ has been very welcome, as will the ‘job displacement’ that will occur over the next 10 years. The work week has fallen from 70 hours a week to about 37 hours now, and I expect that it will continue to fall. This is a good thing.

Everyone wants more jobs and less work. Robots of various forms will result in less work, but the conventional workweek will decrease, so there will be the same number of jobs (adjusted for demographics, of course). This is what has been going on for the last 300 years so I see no reason that it will stop in the decade.”

There is solid evidence that many low-skilled employees are working less, but the reverse is not true for high-skilled employees. In other words, the low-paid routine jobs just aren’t paying enough, and that’s an incentive for employers to replace people with machines.”

It’s easy to see how things are different this time around, but are they different enough to warrant concern?

From my perspective, the job market is indeed a self-organizing complex system, and for the most part it will take care of itself. However, the main problems we face will stem from those feeling personally betrayed, waging a private war against either companies or systems they deem responsible. The power of the individual should not be underestimated.

Sadly, these one-off incidents are rarely predictable, and from a systems-thinking perspective, are the least preventable.

That said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this time may or may not be different.

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Thomas Frey

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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