In a recent 60-Minutes interview with Donald Trump and Mike Pence, Lesley Stahl said, “I don’t remember the last time we’ve seen a world in this much chaos,” to which both candidates enthusiastically agreed. This is not surprising after all the Republican presidential nominee’s popularity spawns off a growing public sentiment of doom and gloom. I understand why Trump and Pence would agree, but this coming from Lesley Stahl, one of the highest profile journalists is a mystery. Stahl’s is an accomplished woman who has lived through a world war, a cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, the assassination of JFK, the fall of communism, OJ Simpson’s car chase, the stock market crash of the 80’s, 9/11 and a great recession. And yet this moment, now, is the most chaotic time in living memory.
Like you, like seemingly everybody, I’m anxious because it seems as though the world has been forcibly gripped by the scruff of the neck, turned upside down, is being viciously shaken about and there is nothing people can do about it except irrationally vote for Trump or figuratively pull up the drawbridge that is Brexit ““ An oxymoron, because The U.K. leaving the E.U. is like a teenager leaving home and moving into the basement. I’m fatigued from facing digital deluge of stories about shootings, bombs and all the horrible things captured in real-time that is happening out there in our crazy world.
We are being fed an incendiary regime that we live in the craziest, most dangerous, unprecedented and disruptive time in human history. The problem is that people are buying up this smelly cow poop by the bucket loads. Which is crazy because you can just scratch the surface to see that in reality this is the sanest and safest time, like ever! Statistically you are more likely today to be killed by a piece of furniture than a terror attack. No doubt there is a lot of crappy stuff going on, but here’s the thing, maybe just maybe it’s not really that bad.
BEEN THERE DONE THAT GOT THE T-SHIRT
This delightful picture taken of my great grandfather George, kneeling, and his brother Bill and sisters Annie and Daisy, shows them at a fancy dress party. This precious moment in time captured at the turn of the twentieth century at Kimberly, a dusty diamond mining town in the British Protectorate of South Africa. Aunty Daisy looks like she can’t wait to get out of her outfit, uncle Bill looks something between Napoleon, a cockerel and a camp ballerina. I’m sure he took some ribbing for the outfit. Aunty Annie’s spear looks rather frightening no doubt given to her by a parent in the hope it would ward off the advances of over zealous boys. It would seem that to ‘Poke’ someone meant something very different back then than for what it means for today’s younger generations
The turn of a century always leads to a certain degree of reflection and I can only imagine as my young relatives looked to the future what their dreams and fears would have held. The 20th century then primed and ready, would bring about the most dramatic and impactful changes the world had ever experienced.
Soon after this photo was taken Bill, Annie, Daisy and George experienced first-hand the siege of Kimberly fought during Second Anglo-Boer War followed by enduring extreme poverty as their lives were rebuilt after the conflict. My great granny May who married granddad George wrote in a letter to my mother, “during the siege artillery shells exploded across Kimberly, the terrified girls at the school were forced to take shelter in the ash pits where waste was dumped. Because of the creepy crawlies, including lice, the girls all had their hair cut short for obvious reasons.” I love the stoicism from this age. In the face of almost certain death if one of the huge shells landed in an ash pit the big issues were lice and short hair!
WE ARE NOT INNOVATING ENOUGH
The twentieth century my great nan lived through saw many of humankind’s most remarkable innovations. Household electricity would brighten up dark nights, and bring with it countless electrical appliance from electric toothbrushes to pleasure rabbits. Running water and household plumbing became commonplace. Automobiles for the “great multitude” was an impossible dream realised. The washing machine would transform millions of lives and women got to vote. Democracy and globalisation replaced nationalism and the fall of communism was witnessed. Two world wars would almost tear the world apart, the atomic age with all it’s energy promises and destructive might was showcased. Life longevity doubled from an average of just over thirty-five to over seventy. Flight ““ an impossibility at the turn of the century would progress at light speed from propeller, to jet, to supersonic, to space exploration, to humans walking on the moon, all within the first seventy years of the Wright Brother’s first flight in 1903. Talk about stratospheric change.
If my great granny May had been a ten-year old girl today, she’d delight to learn that even if she lived in one of the poorest countries the probability of her experiencing extreme poverty, has reduced from 90% to 10% in the past century. She’d discover that she’d have better access to nutrition than a girl in the richest country 100 years ago. She’d be guaranteed a place at school and most likely live in a democracy where women and LGBT people have individual rights and protection from rape, abuse and slavery. She would face a lower risk of experiencing war than any other generation in human history and her risk of dying from flu, tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox or measles “” or starvation would be close to zero. By almost any indicator you care to identify, things are markedly better now than they have ever been for almost everyone alive.
And, yet there is a growing global perception that now is the most chaotic and dangerous time to live. This is being oversold and it is having dire consequences.
SOMETHING BIG IS COMING
We’ve been led to believe the twenty-first century is a time of incredible unprecedented change but step aside, look back and it’s hard to imagine a more significant century than the previous one. The question that should keep us awake at night is can we recapture or sustain the economic growth of the past? The potential to equally impactful innovations of the past is certainly there, but established companies are just not innovating enough. Maybe all the low-hanging innovation fruits have already picked. Maybe we will have to reach higher, take more risks and work even harder than before. I’m increasingly worried though because the signs and trends suggest that companies are not and will not. Two themes headlining the global consciousness now threaten to hold hostage the awesome potential of the twenty-first century.
The first is the notion that the world is evolving at an unprecedented rate unseen before. The second is that we are living in a most dangerous time and need to “make things great and safe again”. Together these perceptions are merging into a catatonic cocktail of uncertainty, insecurity, confusion and fear. And, this impacts everything from what consumers buy, to who and what people vote for and what organisations invest in.
Because human’s don’t like feeling uncertain we seek comfort in more conformity, more compliance and more control – Think Brexit and a Mexican Wall – But conformity, compliance and control are the enemies of innovation, creativity and awesomeness. Let me illustrate a point here. Today there is an economic mystery surrounding the behaviour of large corporation: Collectively, global businesses are sitting on, hoarding, over two trillion dollars in cash. Not only is this state of affairs unparalleled in economic history, this conundrum is simply a baffling paradox because interest rates are at rock bottom. These companies would be better off investing in anything, a new campaign or product – even a new hula-hoop – than getting the paltry 2% on offer from banks ““ and, yet they prefer to stash their cash, why?
Fed by a daily dosage of twenty-first century doom-and-gloom there is an incapacitating trepidation that something big is coming ““ and, this is crucial ““ the executives of these powerful companies are unsure when or what it will be. So we cling to the old ways, because we know and understand that it feels safe and secure. But it’s not because the world is changing fast outside and the sense of security build on more control and conformity, is an illusion. When the bubble bursts and it will as hungry new upstarts embrace and disrupt the old world and create a new one, the old empire builders will wonder why their castles are in ruins around them.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. Be brave, strive to find new ground. Recongnise there is no safety in clinging to the past. Even slow companies and slow leaders can speed up. There just has to be a reason, go find it.
WE NEED MORE BETTER
The remarkable innovations of the past were brought to us by leaders who asked questions like: “Can this work better?” Better gave us wings to fly; better gave us light bulbs and cars for the multitudes; better shaped our dreams and brought us longer healthy lives. The same question: Can it work better should be at the heart of everything you do. When Google began designing their self-driving cars, they were not trying to innovate a new type of mobility. They were asking the question what can we do better that will end road fatalities? Autonomous cars became the most obvious answer.
Ending road fatalities is a huge, almost impossible, challenge when taken as a whole. More than a million people are killed each year in car accidents. Google developed the technology and the pioneering mindset required for autonomous cars, and this mindset has become contagious across an industry where now most motor manufactures proclaim they will have this technology in their cars by 2020. And if you own a Tesla, you have it already. The exciting thing is that many of the challenges we once thought impossible, are now possible because of advances in computer technology.
So, the greatest risk we face today is not disease, migration, population growth, global warming or terrorism. No. the greatest risk facing humankind today is that we do not have people bold enough to reach for the innovations that will make this century remarkable. The awesome potential of this century is at risk of being being held hostage by the fear that some devastating black swan will swoop down and attack us. So we turn inward, feed our most insecure suspicions and reinforce a laager mentality.
We stand at a junction point in history and the choices we make today will have a profound impact on our ability to meet and overcome the challenges of the future. We need more remarkable leaders. Leaders who embark on quests to make better the world they influence.
The reason to be optimistic and a doom-ladened world: It’s never been easier to make a difference whether you are an individual or an organisation. Because of unprecedented access to cheap mobile and disruptive technology; the power of social media and the democratisation of information; today anyone anywhere can make the impossible possible. You just need to believe. We already have the ideas, insights and technology to create remarkable things that will deliver the meaningful solutions our strained world so desperately needs. And the good news, bucket loads on profits can be made by doing good.
Established companies are best placed to take advantage. They have the cash, the brands and the talent to make a difference. But they just are not doing enough. If their leaders embrace this new world, then collectively we will all achieve remarkable things for this century. So step forward, ask what can be done better.
Do the important things that make the world you influence a better place.