People are clearly confused. They want certainty but live in uncertainty. They want to know that patterns they are familiar with will not change, but they will. They want to have a sense that the future is a straight line from the past, but it isn’t.
We are living in an “in-between time” – a time between one model of the way in which the world works and another. A time of rapid, frequent and complex change. A time when decisions made in one place – China, Washington, London – have an impact on us all, even though we didn’t “have our say”. It is a messy, confusing, disturbing time.
Five things are changing quickly:
1. The United States is changing its place in the world. Whether intentionally or not, the US is no longer seen as a source of truth, certainty or trust. Its former strength – strong diplomacy, a superior military and a rational government – are all no longer self-evident. Its military are struggling even though its budget ($730 billion) is the largest in the world (though not the largest in terms of spend as a percentage of GDP – that would be Saudi Arabia). It is struggling in Afghanistan and in its roles elsewhere in the world. Its diplomats spend their time explaining Trump’s tweets and appeasing the Whitehouse sensitivities and allies are losing faith. As for rational government, look at simple things like gun control, democratic rights, economic policy and ask “is the US a beacon in the way in which it approaches these issues?”. This opens up the space of shaper of global relations – Russia, China and EU now compete.
2. The global economy is on the edge of recession. The yield curve (difference between short and long term interest rates on bonds) is reversed and debts are rising quickly - $247 trillion needs funding globally and this debt is growing at $2 billion a day.
3. The nature of work and organizations around the world is changing. Technologies of various kinds (but especially 3d printing, AI, blockchain, stem-cell based manufacturing, robotics, augmented and virtual reality) are changing the relationship between people and machines and impacting job and organizational design. Companies are making money from intangibles (IP and business processes) rather than tangible goods and services. Some 30-40% of all Canadian jobs will be impacted by technology and it is anticipated that 2.4 million new jobs will be created by 2030.
4. Family and community dynamics are changing. More single parent families, more single gender families, more divorces and more common-law unions. More complex communities as a result of immigration – leading to issues of multicultural respect, racism and understanding.
5. Politics are changing. There has always been “party politics” but, until recently, there has also been cross-party collaboration. But wherever you look, we now have very divisive tribal politics. You are either for or against. It is also very personal. If you are for X then you hate Y with a passion. There is a lot at stake – look at Brexit, the Amazon Rainforest, Climate Change, World Trade, relations with Russia and China. At the very moment we need diplomacy and inspired conversation, we have antagonistic and vitriolic shouting.
One instinct people use is called “wishing back to the future” – wishing the future was more like a past they want to recollect (a past which was rarely as they describe it). We have this now in Alberta – people wishing we could go back to when oil and gas was king and cash flowed into and out of the oil and gas sector and created jobs and a vibrant economy. Not going to happen. Too many aspects of the global energy system have changed and too many companies have shifted their understanding of the business that they are in for this to be a viable. In addition, global energy prices will not return to the heady days of oil at $100+ a barrel. Think about it: Shell used to be an oil and gas company and now they are an energy and ecosystems management company; Weyerhaeuser used to be a forest company, now they are a land management and eco-system services company
People want to “blame” someone for the change – the government (either the previous Alberta government or the current Trudeau government), but their role in this is just one cog on a very complex wheel. True – their actions can have an impact, but in the scheme of things the role of a specific individual actor is minor.
Another instinct is to “fight against it all” – to rail against change. The Yellow Vest campaign in France was an attempt to stop sensible reform of working conditions; the “Trumpistas” in the US support a President who wants to roll back environmental regulations, bring back coal and denies climate change. Voting against and campaigning for “a return” to basics in education or for “free speech on campus” or for anything which makes people feel like they can go back in time is what this looks like.
And then we have the “who gives a crap” silent minority who don’t vote, don’t get involved and are then surprised when their world changes and feel depressed, angry, ignored, hard done to and alone. They don’t see voting as helping, but equally they don’t see being an engaged, active citizen as helping either. They expect others to do things for them.