All disruptions aren’t useful…

I have recently been bombarded by messages of “The Fourth Revolution”, disruption, disruptioneers, transcendence, exponential opportunities etc. etc. etc.  There seems to be a lot of “disruption” in our world, and I am not sure I like it all…

There are emerging, yet competing visions of all of this either reweaving or else unraveling the social fabric we live in.  When we anticipate the future, we ask:

“Will we take care of each other?

Will we lean into or turn away from dialogue with those whose views are different from ours?

Will more or fewer of us get to participate fully in economic and social life?”

These debates are the tip of the larger civic iceberg, which many perceive to be melting. New York Times columnist David Brooks laments “a sense of general fragmentation and isolation [and] loss of civic imagination.”

At the recent inaugural summit of his new foundation, Barack Obama warned, “Something [is] wrong with the civic culture, not just in the United States but around the world.”

Dr Tara Swarts is one my favorite Neuroscientists and she makes some really interesting observations.  She reflects about what technology will do to the future of the human brain and humanity. 

Will we still be ourselves?

Or will we be some kind of human artificial intelligence hybrid? 

By all indications we will surpass our ancestors, faster, smarter, more efficient.  But will we be kind?

Will we be lovable, creative, intuitive and philanthropic?  These questions push us into a space of ambiguity and disorientation, and there's actually a psychological phenomenon that describes that, and it's called "Liminality".

It comes from the Latin word for threshold and it's the middle stage of a process where you're no longer what you were before but you don't yet know what you will be next. It’s a time of fear and uncertainty, like a midlife crisis or an identity crisis. Liminality is a threshold between our previous way of structuring identity, time or community and a new way which will be the future.

A lot then is left to the choices you and I will make, every day, every moment.

I have no doubt that technology holds many positives that will make a meaningful difference to our health and our wealth. But have we really thought about what it will do to humanity?

Technology could be one of humanity's greatest innovations, but we've kind of been in this liminal space before - industrial revolution, language, fire.

Some Native American tribes sit together in a circle and consider the consequences of their decisions on seven generations into the future. Can you imagine if we did that about technology? What do you think we would see? I mean already technology affects the different generations that exist in the world really differently. Some generations spend more time online than face-to-face. Some feel more connected. Some feel more isolated. Some people see the Internet as a place of deceit and superficiality. And other people say it's the only place they can truly be themselves.

Technology has rocked our world and it is not going away. We've known for a long time that a hormone called oxytocin encourages emotional bonding between mothers and newborn babies by adjusting activity in the limbic system.

Dr Swart references that new fathers' brains are also rewired by oxytocin and this seems to be evolution's way of giving men a biological imperative to stay in a unit family and ensure the safe upbringing of his children.

A way of remaining connected during this time of disruption could be to reference the experiences of leading social entrepreneurs like those in the Ashoka network. They powerfully contribute to social good and confidently command the changemaker landscape. Their defining qualities can be the foundation of a new developmental framework. They include:

Mastering empathy

Empathy is a learned behaviour

requiring cultivation, but measurably declining in young people. That urgently needs reversing because as the speed and complexity of social change ramp up, static rule-making won’t keep up. Young people will need to rely on empathy-based ethics to guide them through myriad everyday decisions.

Practicing a new kind of teamwork

The future of work is non-hierarchical collaboration demanding rapid, innovative problem solving in fluid teams. Everyone on the team must be empowered and active, everyone must see the big picture and be jointly responsible for outcomes. This requires cultivating self-definition, valuing the strengths and passions of others, finding the confidence to make one’s full contribution.

Leaving comfort zones

Young people need to look outward, get out of their zip codes, and experience situations different from the ones they are conditioned to expect. Projects in a different neighbourhood and international experiences are formative and help reinforce change making skills.

Making actual social change early

Successful social or business entrepreneurs typically start in their teens. Teenagers are digital natives and most master digital technologies early. But if your teenager hopes to participate fully in the change maker world, she’d better start practicing the social technologies of change making now -- develop her ideas, build her team, and work collaboratively toward a verifiable result.

The irony is, at the critical moment we need to help our kids learn how to break down barriers, empathize, collaborate, and look outward, more adults are putting up walls, becoming increasingly closed and turning inward.

The good news is, it’s fixable. If we relinquish nostalgia for some imagined past and align ourselves with the dynamic future clearly in front of us, we’re likely to reverse the long slide in civic engagement and succeed in engaging rising generations.

The biggest divide we face is not Right vs. Left or rich vs. poor; it’s the emerging divide between the few who have the skills to play the new game, vs. the many who don’t.

Change that equation, equip young people for the new era of change making now dawning, and there’s no end to what we can build together.

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