This is second of a series of thoughts grown from a presentation I gave at an event at Cambridge University. Officially, it’s my take on the three critical factors for building successful companies, careers and lives. In reality, I’ve been dying for an excuse to introduce Robocop, Spiderman, StarWars, The Matrix and Guns & Roses to this blog, and think I’ve finally done it. If you enjoy this, do watch for the other posts in this series – Ethics and the Importance of People
In 2048 Man and Machine will merge. This forecast by Ray Kurzweil seems mind blowing, but what is really striking is the timeframe. This is an event that will happen in our life time. In 36 years from now we will all hopefully still alive and well. And, if Man and Machine have merged, which is entirely possible, we will not only be alive, but also on our way to being immortal…
Your Matrix moment
On reading the above, was your immediate reaction to relegate the idea to mere science fiction and assume it has no relevance to your day to day life? Or, did you let your brain go and explore what this could mean for you, your business or your career?
Would you choose the Red Pill, as offered by the inimitable Morpheus in The Matrix, and explore the depths of the rabbit hole ? Or the Blue Pill and wake up in your bed, in the downy comfort of status quo?
Which brings me to what I see as the second critical success factor for building successful companies, careers and lives. Future gazing.
– Why is the immediate focus for any business, organisation or even government the solving of current problems, often to the exclusion of considering where they need to be in one year or even three years’ time?
– Why do we use old thinking for new problems?
– Why do we reinforce the status quo instead of reinventing ourselves and our business vigorously and permanently?
– Why do events continually ‘surprise’ business or markets, even though all indications or futurology has indicated their inevitability?
Take the merging of man and machine for example. Why aren’t we planning, adapting and innovating now for THAT future? Ignoring it won’t make it go away, nor any less likely to eventuate.
From a corporate perspective, at Jobsite, we always knew that intelligent matching of job seekers to hirers would become our core competency and that’s the reason why we continued to work on it. We had set backs. We couldn’t find answers, but we have prevailed and now we are feeding this matching ability into our existing business model.
But we don’t stop there: The next thing we are working on is cultural matching – how can we identify which person is suitable for which company based on some key data points. It won’t be long before we can deliver this…
But the point is that Jobsite has never been satisfied with what works for our customers here and now. We are working today on delivering what we believe the jobseekers and recruiters of tomorrow will need. Even if they don’t know it yet. It’s this willingness to embrace and explore what the future could bring that will keep us innovating and at the forefront of advances in the industry. We’re a ‘Red pill’ kind of company!
From a wider society perspective, the current economic situation is a perfect example of what happens if we don’t look ahead and prepare for the future. For the last 12 years it has been clear that the traditional way of doing business would be obsolete and that structural changes will need to happen on all levels: business, education, institutions. But then – unluckily – with the internet recession between 2000 and 2003 – the traditional incumbents were under the impression that they could just ride out the wave, that everything would just continue in a linear fashion. And instead of adapting for the future a decade ago, they decided to stick with the status quo. And now that this future has hit us, we are still not looking forward and instead are using business thinking and solutions suited to the present (or even the past), not the future.
My point is: let’s work and act with a little more foresight and let’s take the next year, decade, or even century into consideration now. Successful businesses and individuals gaze into the future, and act now.
Mouse Clicks to Mind Control
At this year’s SXSW, I was privileged to listen to the futurist Lee Shupp speak about the developments we are already seeing that will pave the way to ‘singularity’, or the merging of man and machine. Let me share some of his thoughts with you.
Shupp describes the journey to singularity as:
Mouse clicks -> Touch -> Gesture -> Mind Control
Most of you will already experiencing innovations along this path.
While today mouse clicks still rule the world, touch is certainly challenging innovators, as driven by smart phone and tablets. We already know that more and more devices will enable touch, but how often and how much do you take this into consideration when designing or commissioning the design of your next website? Is mobile – and therefore touch – at the heart of everything you do? Looking at the likely future, shouldn’t it be?
Even the stage beyond touch is already in existence and moving into living rooms around the world, mainly through Microsoft Kinetic. This stage – or Gesture, as forecast by Shupp – is the big next leap in the journey to singularity. For example, the next level TV sets will be all about gesture. Not only the way that we interact with the TV, but also the way TVs will interact with us. Advertising and film recommendations will depend the device scanning the room and recognizing you. If your child comes into the room, it will show different, relevant and appropriate advertising. When the child is in the room alone, the advertising will automatically be appropriate for the child and certain programs will be blocked.
The same will happens for recommendations. If I ask for a film recommendation when I’m on my own, it will be different to the recommendations I receive when I’m with my wife. The beauty here is the connecting of technology and social media.
Mind Control, Shupp’s last step on the path to singularity seems a little far fetched, doesn’t it? But as Shupp mentioned, 80,000 of us and counting have already had brain implants for medical reasons. And the military is working on mind control for silent communication. So once again, as so often before, it’s the health and military sectors that are leading innovation. And why? Because they are actively future gazing. And proactively innovating and evolving for that future.
Shupp does, however, state that there are obstacles to overcome on the journey to the full merging of man and machine.
– Focused concentration. Using mind control will be like learning a new language. It will require incredible concentration and on only one task. Multi tasking therefore isn’t helpful. I’m not talking about doing multiple tasks consciously but controlling our unconscious thoughts such as “Ooh, I’m hungry”.
– Emotional intelligence. Given people can’t always ‘read’ other people, how on earth will computers read people? And how will this affect how society interacts in the future? What happens to compassion, empathy and respect? Can society operate without these characteristics? What characteristics does a person / machine need to retain to be human? How do you define an entity without those characteristics? Where do they fit into society? And, circling back to my first Man Vs Machine post on Ethics: What does it mean to be human?
Take Red Pill approach
To my mind, the merging of man and machine by 2048 is absolutely believable and feasible. Without question, Touch and Gesture are already in existence. So we’re well along the path to singularity. Knowing we’re on that path, let’s be brave enough to look ahead to its end destination. To gaze into the future.
Critically, let’s use this knowledge in our decision making. Let’s be more proactive in designing and influencing our futures and most importantly, in adapting our perspectives, behaviours, institutions and systems accordingly.
If you take anything from this post, it’s this. In your Matrix moment, whether you’re considering your career or your company, take the Red Pill. Open your mind and look to the future.