The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. There is a TED talk (below) in which the philosopher Nick Bostrom explains how – if we imagine the lifespan of the earth as just one year, the human race has only been around for ten minutes and the industrial revolution was only two seconds ago. In that time the human mind has created extraordinary things. Our ability to think is at the heart of our extraordinary journey from the savannah to the city. As human thinking changes so too does the world. Bostrom asks what happens when the thinking done by computers develops beyond the thinking we can do as humans.
What happens when computers have minds that can create change faster than we can? They will outstrip us almost before we have recognised the technology exists. If we think we have seen exponential levels of change over the past 25 years with microchips, the web and genome sequencing, we haven’t seen anything that can prepare us for the impact of artificial intelligence.
We don’t know when this will happen. We do know where we are today though and today’s technology is changing our world, our politics, our aspirations, even our biology. Human biological evolution may look slow, but it is perhaps not as slow as we once thought. We are already seeing the impact of successful caesareans on the width of women’s pelvises.
Our social evolution is probably the most rapidly changing dimension of our lives at the moment. The change is fast and driven by developments in communications, connectivity, big data and the internet of things.
There are some clearly identifiable megatrends that are impacting on society and business, and therefore on us as individuals and our clients today.
Technology: The evolution of devices changes the way we work, the way we socialise, even the way we think about the truth. Think of the fake news scandals around the Trump election or the way we engage in politics (crowdsourcing has been used in Iceland to develop its constitution). Biotechnology is changing our health and environmental options and nanotechnology is creating new materials, new properties and new tools. What happens when 3D printing becomes mainstream? Robotics is no longer the realm of science fiction. Developing artificial intelligence, or even superior cognitive platforms will change what is possible.
The real impact here is massive change to established business models and the enablement of new ones. Uber and much of the gig economy was not a viable model as little as four years ago (before smart phones were mainstream).
Demographics: Population totals are increasing in the developing world and reducing in the developed world. Urbanisation is an increasing theme with more and more megacities. China and India are seeing a rise in middle classes who want and expect to benefit from growth. Ageing and managing to care for an increasingly elderly population is a major concern in many mature economies. There is a challenge on an unknown scale for China as the mums and dads of the one child policy hit retirement age.
All of this has major impact on macroeconomics, politics, and social cohesion, and therefore global manufacturing and food production security.
Learning: MOOCs (massive open online courses) are now freely available from many providers and are making classical high quality education available to many. A colleague did a Coursera gamification course last autumn – with high quality content from Wharton, completely free, the course attracts 81,000 worldwide. The Khan Academy is sponsored by the Gates Foundation and is demonstrating just how simple it is to materially change the conventional teaching model. It flips the classroom with kids teaching themselves from videos and web-based material while teachers then challenge, coach and mentor on a personal level. It is becoming increasingly common
The education researcher Sugata Mitra believes that even more radical change is not only possible but a matter of time – that teachers are not necessary at all.
Work: The World Economic Forum’s report The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (pdf) predicts huge change in the skills that will be considered important in just five years. This will be driven by factors which are already happening such as robotics and self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.
The questions for us as coaches are twofold.
How are we preparing leaders for this world?
- How many people are chosen for promotion or leadership on the basis of their tolerance of ambiguity? How many have asked for coaching on it? And what does coaching for tolerance of ambiguity look like?
- Are we engaging with leaders in ways that are constructive and forward looking or are we harking back to days and times lost, to idealised views of human relations at work, or to a moral code that is no longer fit for purpose?
How are we preparing as coaches for this world?
- What levels of adaptability are we showing in our practice?
- Where is the innovation in our field coming from?
- Is coaching going to survive as a professional discipline when technology allows everyone to have an intuitive coaching app that knows all about you and your world?
Perspectives, megatrends and legacy
24th January 2017, 6.30pm to 8.30pm
Space in Marylebone, 10 Daventry Street, London NW1 5NX
Members £30; Non-members £35
Image courtesy Victoria Pickering.