One foot on the ground
DEFINITION "disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process"
Governments, companies and employees are increasingly concerned about the risks that digitisation, machine learning and robots will have on our jobs. As well as the potential loss of personal pride and purpose, job losses will lead to lower taxes and a higher burden on the welfare state. The sums just don’t add up that way. But this “disruption” (as it is generally known by consultants and technologists) will happen. It is inevitable. It will happen faster than any of us imagined. And we need to be prepared for it.
As a management consultant, every day I see the potential for savings from technology driving efficiencies, from within an industry that has thrived on this. However, my industry now faces the same threat of extinction unless it changes. And that’s driving it to innovate and disrupt itself. I’m working in a team that examines this disruption close up, considering the emerging technologies that are changing our world. I am lucky to be working with deep experts who are modelling the disruption these technologies will create. 'Disrupt yourself or be disrupted' is the basic principle to start from, no matter what industry or employment, from truck drivers to lawyers.
However, there is still plenty of work to be done on our planet that needs humans. We are just so much more creative, agile, flexible, dexterous and empathic. Each of us has a kilogram of brain which is still the most incredible thinking machine we are aware of in our universe. I am a firm optimist that the fourth revolution that is unfolding will help humanity move to a more sustainable future. The key is for us to turn the ‘potential’ opportunities ahead into real results. Anyone who turns their thoughts in that direction will have an interesting future, even if along the way they disrupt themselves out of a few jobs.
Over the last few weeks I have visited two post industrial cities in Australia, Geelong (an hour and a half south of Melbourne) and Newcastle (an hour and a half north of Sydney). Both have seen their traditional manufacturing industries collapse. And in the wake of these loses I’ve seen the most fabulous innovative spirit emerging. In the face of adversity, each city is rallying around its university campuses where the bright minds of tomorrow are aligned to the opportunities of the future. New leaders that understand the potential for technology to improve the city are collaborating with the universities, local government and industry to reimagine the future of their cities. Out of the ashes of a disrupted industry, new jobs are emerging in areas from nano technology to virtual reality. The cities are preparing for the driverless car and instrumenting their streets to communicate with them. Newcastle was just voted by the National Geographic magazine as one of the 9 smartest cities to watch. Geelong has a waterfront campus, Deakin, that is attracting some of Australia’s smartest minds.
Change is not easy and it can be painful. From within a large organisation, whether public or private, there are checks & balances, rules & regulations, practices, bureaucratic processes, compliance and internal risk departments. Each of these is designed to support the operations that have evolved over time. But each make it difficult to change. Which of course is why so often today it’s the start up that moves faster, blissfully and ignorantly ignoring the risks, breaking some rules, making up the new practices as they go. Think Uber, AirBnB, Tesla, Facebook & Google, 21st century companies that have already changed the world. This change is only just beginning.
Europe is facing a period of stagnant growth. Our leadership is failing to deliver and increasingly infighting over alternative facts. At best Europe will muddle through the next few years. And whilst global growth is expected to average about 3.5% GDP, forecasts show growth in the UK falling for the next 2 years and even then is driven only by fiscal stimulus.
Living in Australia I feel inspired about the future. Looking from here to Britain I feel worried. Britain needs a leadership with a clear vision for the future that will give a strong sense of hope. It needs to be brave enough to disrupt itself and position itself as a leader of the 4th industrial revolution driving a safe and sustainable future for its citizens bringing new jobs, hope and purpose. Move out of the Palace of Westminster for a while and take a state of the art glass building in Manchester. Accelerate the speed of devolution to the cities, our powerhouses of the future, and task them with competing more intensively for the best minds on the planet rather than turning in on ourselves. Britain is unique in its diversity and this is a strength to build on. Make our cities great places to live and work. Drive legislation that will move us to electric cars and micrograms as fast as possible. I’m not suggesting a few tweaks here and there. Britain like every other country on the earth needs wholesale disruption and it needs it now.
To lighten things a little. Last week we went to see a gig with Dan & Fiona by Costas the Greek and I shot this short video which captures the energy that I think is needed to disrupt!