Some 6 weeks ago, I moved to the USA to pursue my passion to make a difference on a larger scale than my work in Australia enabled. The Amplify Festival that I founded in 2005 and produced as Director of Innovation for AMP for the past 10 years had let a genie out the bottle that just wont go back in. That genie is an obsession with anticipating the future, thinking through the implications of change across systems, and then taking action to reconcile the enduring needs of human beings with technologies that pervade and disrupt many aspects of our lives.
See, while I am a technologist and an innovator, I am a human being and a humanist first. To me, the purpose of innovation is to improve the quality of life and standard of living for all human beings, whilst taking care of the only habitat we have. In this, I am 100% aligned to the thinking of one of the world’s great innovators and system-thinkers, Buckminster Fuller, who said:
“Make the world work for 100% of Humanity”
For me, the P as in People and the P as in Planet should not be sub-ordinate but rather super-ordinate to the P as in Profit. If we can run our organisations where profit is never pursued at the expense of planet and people but rather in service of, that is a noble purpose to which all of us in business should hold ourselves to account.
Much as my life’s work is the pursuit of innovation, yet every innovation holds within it the seeds of creative destruction. Much of today’s technological advances carry the potential to create tremendous harm to social systems. Unless we match the investment of time and money in technological innovation with the investment of time and money in social innovation, we will inherit a world where humans have less purpose and relevance than machines and a planet not fit to sustain us. And that is not a future I relish.
So, I am on a mission to enlarge the corporate innovation conversation beyond the technical, the product, the business model… and that is what brought me to the US. It started with my participation in the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Programme in 2011-2012, and ongoing research into all things concerned with The Future of Work for Amplify, and my frustration at how difficult it was to find innovators with answers for new challenges arising from the digital work revolution.
I looked at reports like these produced year after year by expensive consultants and found nothing transformational or innovative in either the thinking behind the design of the questions nor the answers gathered and published. So, I had to do my own search.
Along the way I discovered an organisation co-founded by Vint Cerf, Internet Evangelist for Google, and David Nordfors: Innovation for Jobs ( i4j). Their purpose is to seed thinking and fund innovations that create and amplify opportunities that help people to earn a living and connect with opportunities beyond the traditional employment model.
In January 2016, I participated in the i4J Summit on Eco-systems in Silicon Valley to scratch our heads together on how to disrupt unemployment and create meaningful work for everyone. Whilst it was probably the smartest 100 people I had ever found myself amidst, I had a shocking realisation that none of us in that room had experience of long-term unemployment and systemic helplessness through personal, lived experience.
But at least there was a heartfelt recognition of the problem of potential human obsolescence, and a willingness to invest time, money and emotional capital to find breakthroughs that recognise man’s search for meaning as core to the human condition.
This stands in contrast to some who see a Universal Basic Income (UBI), or sit-down money as Australian Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson called it, as the answer for the masses who will become displaced by the fortunate few. In his hard-hitting article “Silicon Valley’s unchecked arrogance”, Venture Capitalist Ross Baird acknowledges that it’s a concept worth exploring but challenges us:
It seems like noblesse oblige for Silicon Valley to throw coins at the 90% of the population that will no longer have a job, thanks to their inventions. But the reality is most people don’t want just a universal basic income.
At the 2016 meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF, released his Global Challenge Insight Report: “The Future of Jobs- Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” It is a short and a shocking read ( free on Kindle) with well-researched facts presented calmly and clearly by a fine economist, but I doubt that any C-Suite executive I know read it, or even knows of its existence, let alone reference it as part of strategic future thinking and planning. In his speech, Schwab cautioned:
Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.
His concluding remarks say it far more powerfully than I can:
We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails. (Refer Source)
In my next post, I am going to inspire you with stories from visits, field trips and meetings here in the USA and in Europe of leaders who are embracing what Schwab is talking about and beginning to swop Plan A, which is no longer working, with Plan B. I will share with you insights from visits to Google, VM Ware, Virgin Unite, Unilever, Toyota and BlackRock.
Come join me- and let me know what questions you have!