“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world!” Nelson Mandela
The times they are a-changing…
To paraphrase Ray Kurzweil (which is risky as it suggests an understanding about much of what he asserts), the world is changing at an accelerating rate, which will lead to Singularity by the year 2045.
And therefore, the world as we have known it until now will be changed beyond our current comprehension with machines ruling our world.
On the surface, this bold, yet somewhat believable prediction (if one looks back over developments in the past 40 years), appears to paint a bleak future for humans. However, I prefer to see this knowledge and insights as useful provided we utilize the information they provide.
Kurzweil is not alone in his predictions as a quick scan of the internet will illustrate. There are a number of experts predicting that much of the future workforce just one decade from now, will be engaged in jobs that have not even been invented yet.
At first, we transitioned slowly…
If we go back as far as our Hunter-Gatherer-Fisher forefathers around 11,000 years ago, just as they were transitioning into the Agricultural era, we might imagine a few of the struggles they had to contend with and adjust to.
The need to learn new skills – how to prepare the soil, the depth to plant the seeds, the right amount of irrigation, understanding how long they needed to tend the crops before they could be harvested, and so on. All the while worried about how to survive a day on day.
But as they persisted, and no doubt experienced many disappointments, they eventually learned the best methods for generating sufficient results to support their needs.
Needless, this evolution took thousands of years, and therefore the slow pace of change meant we humans had ample time to learn, adjust and grow into that new way of living.
The increasing speed of our evolution…
Fast forward now to the late-18th century in Great Britain and the beginning of the Industrial revolution. Another monumental period in our history, but one which we can now look back on as the turning point that has led us to our present situation at a much more rapid pace.
What became dubbed as Industry 1.0 progressed from water and steam-powered mechanical machines to the use of electricity some 120+ years later and signaled Industry 2.0. This increase in production capability drove the development of the Management techniques.
The second wave – that being the birth of Industry 3.0 took only half of the time of the first transition to Industry 2.0. We moved to Industry 3.0 with the development of electronics. Electronic hardware supported by software ensured that we had started to gain significant momentum with our communications and the next transition would not be far away.
Industry 4.0 arrived with the advent of Cyber-Physical Systems or the blurring between the physical and virtual worlds. We have now reached a point where machines are able to communicate with themselves and require little or no human management.
Again, we experienced this transition from 3.0 to 4.0 in around half the period of the previous transition.
Hence in only the blink of an eye (in evolutionary terms) some 230 years, we have moved from the first invention of machines to a world where machines are capable of programming themselves and operating without humans.
So, what can we do about this direction…
How can we know which direction is going to be the right direction for us to focus? Well unfortunately we are not fortune-tellers with any magical crystal ball, but we can look at the current macro projections and make some calculated assertions of our own.
And the most pressing of these is the conclusion that the number one priority is becoming a lifelong learner.
Here are our 10 reasons for stating this belief. And to qualify this further, I believe we will need to become adaptable and agile at the same time. Hence lifelong, adaptable, and agile learners.
Here are our 10 reasons for LLAAL…
- We are living longer.
- Governments raising the retirement age
- A growing world population
- The impact of global warming
- Converging technologies
- Business obsession with data
- Human agency and progress
- Access to learning material
We are living longer…
During the Industrial revolution stages 1.0 to 4.0 the average life expectancy has more than doubled and in developed countries sits around 80-85 years. In fact, that figure has improved by almost 30 years since 1955.
And according to Peter Diamandis, we have the technology today that could enable people to live to the age of 120 if we chose.
However, living longer creates its own challenges, as people need connectedness, a financial means for survival, and activities to keep them occupied. But more importantly, they need a way of staying current in a world that will be rapidly changing around them.
Already we see the elderly struggle with new technology that has been introduced over the past 50 years. Imagine the challenge ahead as that same amount of change is likely to occur in less than one decade.
Governments raising the retirement age..
Living longer creates a real problem for the government as they already struggle to support the elderly through the age pension. A growing number of elderly as a result of living longer means the ratio between working and non-working shifts in the wrong direction. There will simply be insufficient taxes to support those in retirement.
In addition, there may be fewer people in full-time employment with the rise of AI, machines, and automation.
Countries in every part of the world have been progressively increasing the retirement age. The average retirement age now is between 60-65, whereas only a decade earlier some countries provided for retirement at age 50-55.
While raising the retirement age might delay the inevitable government woes, it also creates challenges for companies and employees to maintain the level of knowledge and skills required to be competitive.
A growing world population…
Compounding the struggles of points 1 and 2 above, we can see the explosion in the world’s population. In 2000, our world population was at 6.1 billion people. Today at the beginning of 2020 we are about to hit 7.8 billion. That is a 28% increase in just 20 years.
By 2045, the population is expected to reach around 9.5 billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of people to keep employed earning money. Hence the competition to find adequate work for survival as we reach the point of Singularity – i.e. that point in time when all the advances in technology, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), will lead to machines that are smarter than human beings.
What does that mean for those that have stopped learning?
The impact of global warming…
This topic may seem strange sitting in a list in a list of reasons for continued learning, but cast your mind towards the future where industries are closed due to the excessive effect they are having on the environment.
Most large companies today have included in their policies for Sustainability and zero carbon footprint by the year 2040 or slightly beyond. This is driving a shift (currently gradual but with increasing momentum) towards a change in the way these companies will do business.
Are you prepared for that future? Do you even understand what that might mean? One common thread here is the need for constant upskilling.
We could have placed this topic at the head of the list as many would argue that this is the catalyst for much of what we are discussing. Whether that is true or not, the facts are clear that we have reached the point in the technology journey where the development of multiple fields is enabling a more rapid rate of change to occur than ever before.
This converging of different technologies – whether it’s digital through quantum computing, AI, 5G networks, sensors, robotics, or Material Sciences, Biotech advances. All are contributing and feeding off each other in a way never before possible.
To keep abreast of this and have a chance of even staying remotely aligned with the direction here requires a constant absorption of new knowledge.
Fueling much of the above changes is the shift from rural and agricultural living towards urbanization. The forecast is that by 2050 70% of the world’s population – that’s 6.8 billion people, will be located in cities.
This dynamic will have a significant impact on infrastructure, costs of living, survival in general as densely populated cities will struggle to offer sufficient job opportunities as we know them today.
Hence again upskilling, re-skilling, and constant adaption and agility will all be required.
Business obsession with data…
One aspect which we can already identify is that technology has created a boom in data and information sharing as a means of analysis. The future seems to indicate more of the same.
If you are not a data analyst or someway engaged in computer or data sciences this may be an area to consider strengthening.
Human agency and progress…
Martin Seligman and numerous others in the fields of Psychology believe that we have been increasingly in a period of Agency. That means we have the capacity and freedom to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.
This freedom also lends itself to progress which we can see evidenced through many of the other points in this article.
Both states require however that you are informed and knowledgeable. Capable of making decisions that move you forward. In a world where the rate of change is accelerating, then your need for continual growth is equally necessary.
This ties closely with Human Agency. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you need to be able to satisfy your and your family’s own needs first. Behavioral and Social Sciences have long preached this advice.
If you aren’t able to satisfy those fundamental needs then everything around you has little significance. Naturally having the opportunity to continue learning and growing will provide one means of enabling you to be self-preserving.
Access to Learning Material…
And finally, if we haven’t already convinced you of the need to embrace lifelong adaptable and agile learning as an inseparable part of your DNA then please hear this warning. There are growing numbers of people that are making this transition to learning.
Research during the current pandemic has indicated significant increases in the uptake of online studies by adults.
That means if you are not one of them then you might be getting left behind.
Skills 4 Executives Limited
Co-creating “Moments of Inner Magic” – coaching, mentoring, and facilitating for transformative leadership in organizations.
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