Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Reflections on a Noughty Decade

There’s a joke which goes “I almost won the lottery last week” “What really!” “Yes. Absolutely. The chap next door won it…” 2000 to 2011 was that sort of decade. We’d almost all become internet billionaires and then it dot bombed, then boomed again then bust spectacularly, but whilst some were PIGS, tigers were still growing and in a global world, uniformity isn’t. The first recession in living memory where prices continued to rise as demand fell – so much for classical economics of supply and demand. Society continued to become more complex, splintered and interconnected as now the average UK child has five grandparents! The complexity and interdependence of the world's activities have grown but there has not been the same growth in our ability to understand complex issues or move away from linear, Cartesian thinking and Government-by-policy. Lofty goals and intentions such as concern for the environment and sustainability led to plans to massacre millions of wild camels in Australia to offset carbon! Subsidies designed to discourage logging, which are based on agreeing to reductions in targets for logging, led to the countries simply setting higher targets which resulted in more of the Amazon forest being chopped down whilst at the same time the logging countries receive subsidies! As this new world has taken hold, the ‘Black Swan’ surprises seem to increase- from Lehman Brothers to the Arab Spring. Our ‘old world’, outdated thinking models continue to leave us blind to reality. The knowledge we must manage, is not the knowledge tacit or otherwise, of what is and how it is. But instead the new knowledge of what could be and how it could be. That and a clarity of the patterns which now persist as events come and go or evaporate.

After decades of promise, finally, companies like Apple and single application websites like twitter, enable us to use and manage knowledge without the constant struggle and by designing dummy solutions which mean that to use and operate them we do not need to acquire new knowledge ourselves or in anyway change our habits and behaviour, these solutions bypass the human resistance to change. (They call it ‘intuitive’ but actually it means ‘using your current knowledge and skills.’ Would an ipad be intuitive to a 12th century peasant?). Companies and organisations have been slow to understand and adapt. This has resulted in a form of time travel where, you go to work and use information and knowledge equipment and software set in the late 1990’s and then come home in the evening and connect the 21st century equipment to with youtube and face book and digg whilst skyping your grandchildren.

 To me it has been the first decade where the recognition that the pace of change, complexity and scale outstrip our traditional rate of learning has been so obvious.

I was initially tempted to typify the decade with a book and to select one of my own – “The Complete Leader” – the first book on leadership with a section on mis-leadership. Mis-leadership is not about being a poor leader but instead about being a fantastic leader who leads followers and the world to misery, bankruptcy, catastrophe and poverty or worse. But instead I have opted for a film, ”Avatar”. The biggest grossing film ever. Avatar was completely congruent, using new digital 3D technology with a highly creative script which only worked as a concept if it could be represented in three dimensions – the floating islands seen from below in 3D make sense of the need to fly around on the ikran. It works because it is congruent, new world technology, a new world idea, and new world execution and so on. Imitators have applied the old world thinking and have created non-congruent efforts, just with 3D effects and then been disappointed with the results. Avatar is evocative of what the decade could have been, if the lottery had not been won by the chap next door.

The best innovation of the decade I think has been the discovery by pharmaceutical companies that it costs them nothing and at the same time helps mankind to sell crucial drugs to the poorer parts of the world at cost or below. The discovery that they to date have only made drugs for a small proportion of the world, the rich world, and their apparent determination to do something about it has to be very high on the list of the best innovations of the decade.