To be able to say something about the future in turbulent and redefining times as we are now, you have to revisit history. Since we can trace the birth of many of our defining concept of this society back to the end of the middle ages, why not try to mirror what is happening today in what the world looked like then? Can we weave the threads back and forth in an intelligent way in order to create new knowledge??
Here are 9 things that I have collected, which to me seems to be rewinding our society (back to normal?) in one way or the other. Think of them as threads or aspects or images to be used as a foundation for (re?)framing a discussion about the future.
1 – The decline of the nation state as the dominant organizing principle is occuring on many levels. Historians date the nation state dominance back to 1648, a point in time when it became clear that almost all other organizations claiming power needed to relate to the nation. Since the fertile ground of the nation states have been so effective in providing testing grounds as well as long term investment opportunities many organizations have now outgrown the national borders. Another aspect is that new communication technology supports forming of networks and communities regardless of national borders. A third aspect is that many of today’s challenges are to big for any single nation state to manage – global collaborative efforts and e perspective beyond borders are necessary ways of approaching these.
2 – Hierarchical structures are challenged by the emergences of networks, open spaces and market model of organizing things. In a time when a stable environment allowed for big, long term investments in repeatable tasks, the hierarchical model for organizing things became the dominant one. Since some time individuals have gained organizational powers for themselves which have made problem solving and value creation following more direct connections between people, often completely bypassing the hierarchies. Resilience and adaptivity have stepped up to be more important than productivity and efficiency which is creating deep challenges to most traditional organizations. Since some time it have become evident that innovation simply doesn’t happen in stable, hierarchical organizations. It rather happens in spaces and markets where skills, knowledge areas and people meet in new ways.
Knowledge and world view
3 – We are returning to a subjective and relativistic view of knowledge, which is more obviously socially constructed and culturally defined than we have admitted since the era of enlightenment. The driving forces behind this change lies in the increasing educational levels together with a revolution in communication technologies which have made the broadcasting model obsolete and therefore is losing it’s politically and socially homogenizing powers. Together with that the knowledge explosion and the emergence of the modern man who is more critical and have a strong need to create and defend consistency in his own situation.
4 – The decline of the idea of progress and a better future. When we can’t imagine a better future and everything is leveling or is pointing downwards we are returning to a world view based on what exists here and now and flocks around what we think is stable and fundamental truths in order to live our lives.
5 – The text-based knowledge society is challenged by a world of verbally told stories and images. Technology today, and increasingly in the future, provides us with tools and infrastructures that enable us to express ourselves and spread knowledge without learning to master reading or writing. Even if some of us already have basic literary skills it is often perceived to be so much more convenient (more natural?) to consume information in the form of images, video and audio form, that we seems to prefer this before books and articles. That these forms also allows multitasking, something increasingly more important in a more stressful society also adds to the equation.
6 – Qualitative and subjective aspects challenges quantitive and objective views of geography. If you look at medieval world maps, Mappa Mundi, they are usually geographically incorrect and rather mirror people’s world views rather than what the world really looks like. Since the emergence of science and global business the quantitative qualities e g distance, terrain and relative location have since the exploration era of the early 1500:s become extremely dominant way of looking at the world. With the communication and transportation revolutions we got trains, TV, airplanes and now Internet which all have contributed to the death of distance, which rendered many of these geographical aspects less relevant. At least relatively. Today it is not as important where you produce things, where you live or go to vacation in a geographical sense, but rather from a qualitative perspective. We rather talk about if the oranges are tasting better if they are from Florida or if they are from Spain, how you experienced your trip to Bangkok or Mumbai and if the quality of the systems are better if they come from Silicon Valley than from Bangalore.
7 – Re-emergence of the risk society. After having lived in a relatively stable world where many of the earlier threats have been taken care of by the nation state we again regard the world out there as a dangerous place which we need to be protected from.
8 – Re-emergence of value creating without changing money – since the middle ages and though the industrial revolution the society have increasingly been permeated with the concept of money. With dramatically lower transaction costs due to new communications technology, have suddenly been able to communicate, share ideas and information almost free. The result is that we have found that a long row of other values can compete with the pure monetary values. This have created a wide variety of value creating processes which almost not involve any money at all. Major examples are the popular open source/open content movements which today produce much more than just software, a vast array of global innovation, idea sharing and DIY communities, citizen journalism and the spontaneous emergence of catastrophic aid activities when people are in need.
9 – Immaterial ownership logic under siege. When knowledge and education increases, information and data can spread freely to virtually no cost, and almost everyone have the capacity to participate in the innovation and value creating processes the artificial construct of immaterial rights are becoming much less valid than before. Focus seems to gravitate back to more down-to-earth physical and service values which are expensive to produce and distribute.
Comments or ideas?