The Context To Understand The Emerging World

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Context

It’s not clear why some cultures and nations concern themselves more with the future, and what it may bring, as oppose to others. Perhaps it has to do with how much one has at stake. Nonetheless, protecting oneself from the risks while availing the opportunities, is inbuilt human mechanism. Traditionally, the risks were usually related to ones health and the weather conditions, as it impacts the crops and the food needed for survival. At a more sophisticated level, hazards and prospects are connected to gauging the political, economic, environmental, technological, and security circumstances one may have to deal with.

Another dimension that individuals and societies consistently juggle has to do with the difference between individual and collective benefits. Again, certain cultures and nations are more adept at deciphering between the individual and larger interests; also know as the national interest. Is it connected to the upbringing, culture, religion or societal status? Abraham Maslow would simply state that as long as basic human necessities of food, affection and safety were provided for, acting in larger interests would be not that difficult. On the other hand, Aristotle would say that politics is for the aristocrats and not for the layman.

According to religious interpretations and epic stories related to major prophets of Abrahamic traditions, the future was foretold via divine inspiration, not derived. For example, it is said that prophet Noah knew about the great flood more than a hundred years before it happened. When he started building the boat, there was no ocean or river in the vicinity, and people laughed at the old guy.

The art of predicting the future has changed in the modern times and is mostly as a result of careful examination of the world around and the deep study of nature. So, the more informed one is about the up-and-coming trends, the better one can adapt. Moreover, whoever leads change would have the comparative advantage to shape it while requiring others to catch-up. Associated with this are other critical inquiries; how to spot change, what is causing it, what does it mean, and what outcome will it lead to if left unchecked.

This particular article is the first one in a special series designed to provide the context and framework for understanding the profound change around the world. The future articles will examine the trends previously identified, such as the growing tension between economic and security concerns, and the weakening of the nation-state system. Furthermore, these patterns will be compared against the thinking of prominent global think tanks and how they are wrestling with the uncertainties of the future. It is essential to be cognizant of the fact that change does not occur in a vacuum; different actors perceive, interpret, and respond to it based on their interests and vantage point. For example, Arab Spring may have been a positive development for some, but highly threatening and disruptive for others.

 Nonetheless, a multidimensional view is a necessity to grasp the complex reality. The focus will be not only on identifying major trends but also on understanding the underlying causes of change. These reasons can be debated quite a bit, perhaps leading to controversy or confusion. On the other hand, limiting oneself to a limited set of factors can trigger misinterpretation, risking inability to cope and inaction.

Studying Change

In the era of information overload, there is a growing debate about the tools, skills, and technologies that are best suited for observing patterns. For example, mounting research is focused on how the brain works and how best to use it to identify change. Terms such as ‘Big Data’ and ‘Analytics’ are the new buzzwords that suggest that as technology infinitely increases the human capacity to collect and analyze data; it can also tremendously boost its understanding on both nature and nurture.

Connected with this endeavor is to monitor where the change is likely to lead. Flux is a constant and an essential ingredient of how nature manages evolution. And if change is continuous, then the challenge is how to overcome the human folly of preserving the status quo. Or in other words, observing a different pattern is not enough; equally critical is to determine the direction of change.

If one can assess with reasonable level of confidence on what is emerging as a result of change, shaping of the future part and transformation becomes easier. This, however, involves tinkering with the budding trend early on, and to shift it towards a different direction, or towards a more favorable outcome. When one takes this particular approach, it can be categorized as the ‘processed’ future, while the alternative path being the natural evolution or ‘organic’ future.

Organic and Processed Future

As the pace of both the processed and organic change speeds up, it has led to a parallel dilemma of growing uncertainty and unpredictability. Human beings, and the systems it created to deal with a given set of circumstances, perform well when they work under standard processes. These mechanisms mal function if there are too many exceptions to the rule, as is the case today. As the uncertainty and complexity increases, the futurists are grabbling with how to deal with the non-liner nature of the emerging world, which may require new ways of organizing and structures of governance.

While in the past the action-reaction cycles took time. The communication and information revolution has made this equation much more seamless and dynamic and has empowered individuals. Change occurring in one part of the world quickly becomes known, and others either have to react or reserve the right to act later. But first of all, they have to understand the implications of a particular anomaly for them, and this iseasier said than done. If there is no machinery in place to observe new trends and customized interpretation of it’s meaning, half of the battle may have already been lost.

Nature as a Teacher

As observed in nature, evolution and adaption usually takes place as a response to change in the ecosystem. While it’s impossible to control all variables in a given geopolitical environment, responses to a few critical stimuli do provide evidences on how to shape future strategies. In the business world, this is often identified as ‘competing on the edge’ or ‘strategy at the edge of chaos’ models, which attempt to continually reshape the competitive environment and lead change. This is done by performing small experiments, working with scenarios, and continually adjusting strategies based on results. The semi-coherent strategies adopted under these paradigms are unpredictable, uncontrolled, inefficient, proactive, continuous, and diverse.

What’s Next?

This particular article is part of a special series designed to provide the context and framework for understanding the profound change around the world. The future articles will examine the trends previously identified, such as the growing tension between economic and security concerns, and the weakening of the nation-state system. Furthermore, these patterns will be compared against the thinking of prominent global think tanks and how they are wrestling with the uncertainties of the future. It is essential to be cognizant of the fact that change does not occur in a vacuum; different actors perceive, interpret, and respond to it based on their interests and vantage point. For example, Arab Spring may have been a positive development for some, but highly threatening and disruptive for others. Nonetheless, a multidimensional view is a necessity to grasp the complex reality.

As mentioned above, the focus of future pieces will be not only on identifying major trends but also on understanding the underlying causes. These reasons can be debated quite a bit, perhaps leading to controversy or confusion. On the other hand, limiting oneself to a limited set of factors can cause misinterpretation while resulting in inaction and inability to cope.