What is the 4th Industrial Revolution?
What is the 4th Industrial Revolution? Should we be taking up arms? As a term, it has been around for a little while. It has gained a lot of traction because it has become the in-phrase to bandy about at global leadership summits, such as Davos.
It reflects our transition from the industrial era, and hints strongly that the past certainties are no longer future certainties.
Timing wise, the theme is perfect. The convergence of the present and the near future has never been more acute. The changes taking place are profound and we need to ensure our business and political elite (and some celebrities) are ‘up to speed’.
Unfortunately, the organisers have grabbed the wrong end of the stick. This manifests itself in at least two significant ways
- This is not another industrial revolution. The 4th Industrial Revolution merely presents what we are witnessing, as the ‘industrial era amped up on ‘tech steroids’. The transition we are witnessing is both economic and anthropological. It will change the nature of business, work, leadership, society and humanity. This labelling really limits its scope to next generation manufacturing. Thus the bigger picture is missed.
- ‘Mastering’ highlights an industrial era concept that is no longer relevant. Possibly this is an elitist slip of the tongue? Leaders are supposed to master the workers. Companies are supposed to master the market. In an increasingly volatile and interconnected market, ‘mastering’ is not an option. At best, people and organisations will adapt. This will have a profound impact on leadership and strategy. Having said that, we will hear a lot more about ‘mastery’ from a work/skills perspective.
It would have been more appropriate to talk about the digital revolution, or digital age. But even so, not everyone is agreed on what this means. It is certainly much more than ‘state of the art’ email autoresponders and geo-sensitive billboards.
I don’t want to pour cold water on such events, as a lot of excellent content emerged from it. Visit the WEF website to ‘fill your boots’ with insightful infographics and perspectives. But I am concerned that if we simply see what is happening around us as a refresh on the industrial era, we are going to be ill-prepared for the associated societal-impact, both good and not so good.
In answer to the question What is the 4th industrial revolution, I would say that it is a term that reflects the transition from the industrial age, but does not quite prepare either business or society for the seismic changes ahead.