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What We Urgently Need Now if We Are Going to Arrive at an Alluring Future

Considering these three things will help us avoid outliving our usefulness.

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BY Jonas Altman - 01 Jun 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Typically we come together in business for three distinct reasons: economies of scale, organizational structure, and healthy competition. A quick scan of the economic landscape, however, and it's clear that something has gone terribly astray.

In our oligopoly comprised of the big four technology platforms, a sound startup strategy is to plump yourself up so one of these companies eats you. As Capitalism as we know it comes to an end, a fresh approach to value creation and economic growth is urgently needed.

Could we awaken from our tech-induced slumber to see the long now? Here are 3 things to consider if we want to arrive at a future that we'd actually want to live in.

Going Gaga for Exponentialism

We've gone gaga over exponential technologies. The best way to think of exponential growth is if you imagine yourself sitting in front of a single page of your favorite newspaper. If it were possible to fold it in half 45 times, you'd find that the paper was so thick it would the moon. Fold it once more, and it would reach back to earth. As the means of production and the barriers to distribution become negligible, the name of the game is to grow exponentially-- producing, scaling, and consuming -- ad infinitum.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."- Edward Abbey

With the commercialization of the integrated circuit, we have created a tsunami of construction and destruction. Moore's law may be crippled, yet researchers continue to push the limits of transistor design. We have to. We need to. There might be no ceiling to our creative bandwidth, but there need be some restraints to commercial growth.

Consumer voice and choice are dependent on healthy competition, not platform monopolies reigning supreme. The value we think we're bringing to the world is tainted by a huge reality distortion field. If we direct a sliver of our energy from making things faster, better, and cheaper and take a longer view -- we might poke through this field. More of us might awaken from our tech-induced slumber and see the long now.

An Evolved Approach to Growth

Something miraculous is happening. Instead of just units of productivity and monetary measures acting as drivers of innovation, intrinsic and social motivations are too. Think Wikipedia, the Linux Foundation, Kiva, or any other peer-based platform that harnesses our cognitive surplus. It's these more decentralized ways of creating value that calls into question both matters of ownership as well the overall utility of the business firm. These emerging systems also beg us to examine and reframe our ideals concerning economic growth.

The dance between digital abundance and physical scarcity is an extremely delicate one.

The jury is still out on how far these motivations (and the organizational models they lead to) will spread, but I remain hopeful. Although the firm will carry on, how we structure our companies in the future presents a thrilling opportunity to evolve. Employees can become owners, platform cooperatives can thrive, peer networks can expand, and pioneers can lead their organizations down new paths.

Indeed, these newish models are really just old models reincarnated. They pay homage to times where there was a distinct bond between neighbors and a social obligation of caring within the community. They are optimized for real-time value. This may all be happening on the fringes, but it does capture the spirit of the times. We really don't have the time to dilly-dally -- our clock is ticking.

Reengineering Value & Reforming Education

Yes, we've also gone bananas for blockchain. It's this reoccurring principle of decentralization and of a new way of sharing value that has captured our imagination. Yes, there are still oodles of kinks to work out. Both the leader and the institution must play a part in re-engineering our approaches to value distribution. This will help to change the narrative. And the new story will have undone decades of institutionalized behavior that reinforce 'play it safe' over 'safe to try' attitudes.

A reformed education system too would allow every child to have their own creativity challenged, unique skills developed, and minds continually nourished. Arming this future workforce with problem-solving prowess, growth mindsets, and the versatility to learn how to learn - we can really advance the way we support the next generation. Our future and theirs depends on it.

It's Time

Canadian design leader Simon Mhanna believes, "We are witnessing an erosion of values led by a hunger for power and defiance of our limits as humans. Our response has been mediocre at best." He's spot on. Although new systems of organizing and better and more equitable ways of spreading value are on the horizon -- the view is faint and distant.

Could we measure the success of a nation not just economically, but by how it performs socially, culturally and environmentally? This is precisely what's happening in New Zealand. Mhanna sees this as a blueprint for others to follow. It could help shift our current concept of value (aka GDP) to one which includes well-being. It need not be rocket science.

Our vision for the tomorrow surely is one in which we will still have a place. But it should also be one where life and work have quality. In this future, everyone has an opportunity to flourish.

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