The future of nostalgia
Let’s face it, we’ve been through some tough times. Most recently a couple of world wars, the subprime crisis and Covid to name a few low points. There is a prevailing view that the world is generally in some sort of steady state that is occasionally punctuated with disruptive events. Thus there is much talk about the new and ‘next normal’, ie the eventual return to a steady state.
But have you noticed that the events are becoming a little less occasional and more continual, overlapping and even compounding? These troubling events are becoming the new steady state or perhaps the ‘new abnormal’.
It is not clear that leaders have woken up to this reality. They appear to be trying to recreate 2019, rather than do the necessary transformational work to create an organisation that can navigate increasing uncertainty. Thus the perception of the world in 2019 and the leadership techniques that were popular back then might collectively be called the leader’s comfort blanket. Clutching the blanket might serve to provide leaders with a sense of security, but it is obscuring them from the reality that they are largely ill-equipped for what lies ahead. This is why I have set up the Intelligent Leadership Hub.
But of course it is not just leaders who feel unease with the pace and unpredictability of the world we inhabit. Some of us are beseeching our children to take up careers that will buffer them financially. Though this misguidance is based upon our experience of growing up in more innocent times.
Let’s take a look at what likely lies ahead and thus develop a better understanding of how different our world is to what the next generation will experience. Here is a list of soon to be extinct ‘things’. These are not in any particular order of significance:
A career – The industrial era assumption was that an organisation could predict its talent needs so far into the future that it was worth creating a career path to retain their best people. The notion of a career then extended beyond a single employer and careers took on a life of their own. In fairness, careers were introduced in the Middle Ages, but the associated careers have been reassigned to our lower maintenance ‘technology twin’/ co-bot.
The weekend – The weekend has religious roots and this was embraced by likeminded industrial overlords. The weekend was an opportunity to restock and recharge for the following week. The nature of gig work, coupled with a deeper passion for one’s work, will lead to work-life balance becoming simple life-integration. In other words, we are seeing the dissolution of the nine to five.
Breakfast – This daily ritual, like lunch (aka dinner) and dinner (aka supper) were timed to coincide with the needs of the factory. It didn’t matter whether you were standing by a conveyor belt transporting unfinished goods or sitting by a terminal transporting unfinished information. Intermittent fasting is growing in popularity and the science of a shorter eating window backs this up.
Monophasic sleep – This is an industrial era construct. It was quite common in the Middle Ages to wake up during the night to pop next door for a chat. Some cultures have retained a variant of biphasic sleep. Traditionally Northern Europeans often scorned Southern Europeans for their siestas and riposos. It turns out that the Southern Europeans saw the industrial era for what it was, a model optimised for factory owners (and thus government) and not the people.
Bosses – The idea of doing what you are told because someone has a contractual lever on you is coming to an end. Leaders who genuinely attract talent will become standard. Some of us may well have bosses, but these will be algorithms and not people.
Managers – Managers are an industrial era construct designed to ensure reluctant workers work. In an increasingly gig economy, the talent is more motivated to do an excellent job because their next gig depends on it.
The alarm clock – Getting up at the same time every day, ignoring the seasons, is unnatural and leads to stress. Again this requirement is part of the industrial era work model. Smart leaders will embrace the notion that a good night’s sleep accompanied by a natural awakening is the best way forward if you are looking to get the best from your people as opposed to the most.
Retirement – Apart from the unsustainability of young people funding the post work lifestyles of older people, it makes no sense to jettison those who are in many respects at peak wisdom. Older people are recognising the cognitive benefits of not sitting in an armchair watching TV when not asleep.
Answers – We have been obsessed with solutions for some time now. There are signs of a transition to a greater focus on questions. Elegant solutions fall out of well-crafted questions. In any case, many of us have had enough of ‘know it alls’.
Professions – Even if careers were likely to hobble on for a bit, the idea that we will always need human brain surgeons, accountants, architects and lawyers is already questionable. The triumvirate of blockchain, AI and IoT are well on their way to making your well-intentioned parental career advice baseless.
MBAs – Why would anyone want to master administration in a world where disruption trumps process. This cash cow will be vigorously protected, so it is likely to continue magically turning the brain cycles of the innocent / ambitious into debt for a few more years.
Examinations – These are unnatural unless later in life your job entails listing the wives of Henry the Eighth in environments where there is no Internet signal. They were and are an exercise in compliance and gamifying life in a manner that favours those with greater resources.
Free will – If you are currently addicted to social media, you have already put your cognition at the disposal of the platform owners. The metaverse is the end game. The more time we spend in the digital realm, the more programmable we become.
Can you think of any others?
This is not so much a definitive list of ways in which the world might change, but more to trigger the extent to which it might change. To adapt to these dramatic changes, organisations cannot simply get away with sprinkling their dying business model with a bit of tech (aka digitalisation). And people cannot simply credentialise themselves more ferociously to be perceived as more employable.
The world is moving so fast today that perhaps nostalgia is truly a thing of the past.