“The times they are a changing.” – Bob Dylan, 1964
No doubt when Dylan put these famous words together, he thought the world was moving pretty fast, and taking us places unimagined. If you can remember 1964, you probably would agree with him. But the truth is, you/we/he haven’t seen anything yet.
We tend to reflect on the 18 or so year old Internet and see iPhones, Netflix, Youtube and Facebook (and their myriad clones and competitors) as its principal manifestations. Lately I’ve started to realize that I at least missed something. The real import of the Net is that it achieved the original intent of ARPANET – that is to (principally) share knowledge – in spectacular fashion. The messy, competitive, collaborative, unstructured, organic, audacious, distributed sharing of knowledge that resulted, and the consequent transfer of knowledge from the developed to the developing world, means that we are facing a tsunami of unprecedented techno/socio/political disruption that will set the context for our future selves – as individuals and collectives for decades to come.
The cumulative impact of 3D printing, the Internet of Things, wearable computers, nanotechnology, robotics, the always extended Moores Law, or the other ‘top 10/20/30+’ trends noted by McKinsey and others (and tracked here on Innovation Digest), is that we are transitioning from the era of continuous change to continuous disruption. From “make or become different” to “disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process” (according to the dictionary). The rate at which new marketplaces and market players will appear and dominate will only be surpassed by those that will be disrupted and discarded.
As one almost of Dylan’s generation, one could argue that the rate and breadth of change in the last 50 years has been disruptive. But this feels materially different to me. Very different. The glue which binds us – language, shared values etc. have been stretched to be sure, but they have not broken. The tectonic shifts I contemplate, will redefine the definition of self, business and community, where common interest will increasingly offset and displace the dictates of common geography. This surely is a good thing, much, much more than a bad thing.
But what does it mean? Among other things (a great many in fact), it means that the notion of managing our destiny will change markedly. Because we will have little or no idea what we will be doing or capable of doing ten, five, four, three or even two years from now, we will need to focus on our purpose – that will in turn drive the purposeful actions that that will allow us to prosper and excel. Who we are and what we want to offer the world should be resolute and unchanging. Thus armed, we are then able to contemplate the purposeful action that enables us to seize our destiny.
It starts then with – who are you, and what do you want to offer the world? What’s your purpose?