We're Only One Percent In. Can You Imagine What Comes Next?

May 03 2020

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

What If We’re Only One Percent In?

I’ve often wondered: if we were standing in Florence at the front end of the Renaissance, would we recognize the movement taking shape? Would we notice that art, politics, immigration, economics, science, technology and philanthropy were converging to propel Europe out of the Dark Ages? 

Can we see many of the same things happening in our world right now?

When you speak with the visionaries and entrepreneurs actually building the technology applications of tomorrow—from on-demand retail to vertical farms—and ask how far into this new era we are, almost universally the reply is: “only one percent”. Imagine then, where we will be ten years from now? How about 50?

What makes this moment so unique is not only that we are collectively experiencing a simultaneous global pandemic and economic landslide, but that we are also standing at the front end of an astronomical (yep, “radical” doesn’t get close enough) shift in how the world will work. And it will happen fast.

Why now? Well, for two reasons. First, while most of us are busy trying to wrap our arms around working, learning, picking out groceries and even being diagnosed from home—debating which video platform works best and whether to use a virtual background or a picture of our dog—others are out there building really game-changing solutions using an advancing basket of exponential technologies. From hyperloops to gene-editing to so, so many innovations in between, everything we do, buy and experience is being reimagined. And if we do it right—with dignity, empathy, and safety—quality of life for everyone will take another big leap forward. Emphasis on “if”.

Which brings up the second reason: just because things felt “normal” four or six or three months ago, doesn’t mean the world was working well for everyone. As such, right now inequalities are glaring. Fear and anxiety are rising. And we are witnessing both the beauty of a healthier planet… and the importance of compassionate, clear, and decisive action from leaders we trust (as well as the heartbreaking price paid when this is absent).  

The point being, that as we try to pull-out of a once-in-a-lifetime (we pray!) crisis, both technological advances and mounting societal breakdowns are reshaping what comes next.  

The Calculus of Exponential Change

One thing we have learned from counting coronavirus cases is how quickly exponential math adds up; because it is not linear or easy to predict, what initially seems benign can suddenly have an explosive impact.

What fuels a renaissance is the way tangential advances converge to pull each other forward: eg, AI decoding of our genomes + cloud storage + cheaper computing power + robotic manufacturing + ethical business models/enterprise alliances = the reality of precision medicine for all. What seems impossibly out of reach now, can very quickly become reality just around the corner.

To help grok this, let’s look back on a recent shift we’ve all experienced and ask, as New York Times financial columnist and best-selling author, Thomas Friedman, did: what the hell happened in 2007? Can you remember back to when you bought your first “smartphone”? Holding it in your hand, could you envision then how nearly every consumer industry would be impacted and upended? Alongside the release of the iPhone, Apple created the App Store; thirteen years ago the general public had no idea what an “app” was or yet understand, “software as a service”.

Since then: Google Maps has changed the way we get around the world. Square has enabled anyone to become an instant, debit/credit card accepting retailer. Banking has been disrupted by Venmo; music by Spotify; dating by Tinder; hospitality by Airbnb; communications by WhatsApp, WeChat and FaceTime; transportation by Uber and Lyft—the list goes on. New functionality available on our phones continues to shape entirely new business models, and rapid changes in consumer behaviors have both eroded—and created—billions of dollars of value. But how?

Yes, 2007 was when the first iPhone was launched. But as Friedman points out, in that one year, mobile and social technologies dramatically changed the way we do damn near everything because all this happened too:

Facebook opened from a closed student network to anyone with an email address. One-year old Amazon Web Services got traction. The internet crossed 1 billion users, and the API (application programming interface) market was created as microservices came into being and apps took off.

In 2007, Hadoop, “the most important software you have never heard of” according to Friedman, began expanding the ability of any company to store and analyze enormous amounts of unstructured data. This helped enable both Big Data and cloud computing. Indeed, “the Cloud” really took off in 2007.

The cost of making solar panels began to decline sharply in 2007, as did the cost to sequence the genome. Airbnb was conceived in 2007 when two guys who couldn’t pay their rent bought air mattresses and were able to rent out their space a night at a time. GitHub, now the world’s largest open-source software-sharing library was opened in 2007 (and has recently been purchased by Microsoft). The Kindle kicked off the e-book revolution. Microfinancing took off when two-year-old Kiva.org caught fire. Oh, and in 2007, Google introduced Android. And IBM started Watson, the world’s first cognitive computer.  

As all of these innovations advanced and converged, entirely new possibilities and new power took shape. Friedman summed it up this way:

“What happened around 2007 was that connectivity and computing got so fast, cheap, ubiquitous and leveraged that they changed three forms of power—in really differentiated ways—all at once: The power of one, the power of machines and the power of ideas.”

We arguably didn’t pay enough attention to the giant shifts that took place that year because the recession hit hard in 2008. It took several years for businesses to realize their old operating systems were losing relevance and would not hold in this new normal.

Though it all makes sense when you look back, it is so very difficult to imagine what is possible as we look forward. As Bill Gates once said: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Buckle Up… and Read

To help you make this cognitive leap to what will happen quickly ahead, I highly recommend you order a copy of Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler’s latest book called “The Future Is Faster Than You Think” in which they make a compelling case for what makes this such a potent moment of change. While they describe in detail the technology advances that will transform all industries, it is the powerful convergence of these forces that will reshape our global experience. Let your imagination (and heart) soar as you ponder what you can do with the ten renaissance inducing shifts these two optimistic technology entrepreneurs identify, such as: 

  1. Increasing global abundance
  2. Accelerating demonetization and democratization of legacy models
  3. Everyone, everywhere is connected at gigabit speeds
  4. Everything, everywhere is connected (IoT/IoE)
  5. You can know anything, anytime, anywhere
  6. Autonomous personalized transport that is both both fast + cheap
  7. Increasing “Human Intelligence” supported by AI (and likely with brain/computer interfaces)
  8. Increasing human longevity and health
  9. Abundant access to capital funds innovative ideas
  10. We have globally abundant cheap renewable energy

While there is a strong argument to be made that a challenge-filled 2020 should just end right here so we can leap on over to a normal 2021, how about we take a deep (safe) breath and recognize that we are standing in an extraordinary juncture in time.

So, Let’s Build A Much Better “Next”

The world as we knew is over. And though the pain this has caused is very real, it now opens opportunities for reinvention most of us couldn’t even imagine just six months ago.

If we are only around one percent of the way into this next economic, technological and cultural evolution—and many of the things we thought we couldn’t do, we’re realizing we can—let’s dive in and create the future we really want. One where more than 20% of people feel engaged by their work and economic prosperity can be more equitably distributed. Where technology makes us feel both safer and more connected. Where fresh, healthy food is affordable and plentiful, and all can live under a secure roof (whether we know how to code or not). Where the data we create is used to empower rather than exploit us. And where we don’t just discuss “future of work” in terms of how many feet we sit from one another or whether we now have plexi-shields between our cubes, but instead we make it possible to integrate well-being and family with our unique abilities to contribute and create value; to express our curiosity and build sh*t we are really proud of. For everyone.

In a couple of weeks, my team and I will be launching an inspiring series of interviews with many of the world’s leading futurists. Our intent is to expand our belief in what’s possible so that each of us is encouraged to get in there and start making it so. Soon you will also begin hearing about a return to a caring economic approach that offers so much more potential than the tiring and outdated tug of war between current forms of Capitalism and Socialism. As Hawaii is advocating in their recovery plan, when we ask better questions, we can build a much better way.  

While the exact shape of what’s to come is still under construction, I can tell you for sure that we are at the front end of a new era and we have important choices to make about the future we want to see. Will we retrench in fear or redesign with confidence and care?

Now that we have been shaken awake, let’s use this dramatic life pause and economic restructuring to consciously consider what we want the future to look like. Rather than rush to rebuild what we had, let’s apply new thinking and exponential technologies to radically rethink education, healthcare, food waste, environmental fragility, wealth inequality and the role of business overall. We call all leaders, innovators, enterprises and youth to fire up your curiosity, learn to navigate uncertainty with confidence, stay focused on how we can hold each other well… and join the growing movement to actively design and construct a much, much better next.

Honestly, why go back to a broken normal when we're now invited to play really big.