Over the past year, the image of the “dancing lady” (to the right) has floated across the Internet in a viral fashion. Its popularity is due to the fact that some people see the image turning counter-clockwise, while others see it moving it a clockwise direction. (The general theory is that those people who see it moving counter-clockwise are more analytical in nature, while creative types see it moving clockwise.) The truth, of course, is that the figure is moving both directions simultaneously.
I like the image because it is a good visual metaphor for learning how to embrace two different ideas at the same time—a trick the Exponential Executive will need to learn if he or she is to successfully jump the curve into the future.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first rate mind is the ability to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in your head at the same time.” If you can’t yet see the dancing figure turning both ways yet, I’d suggest that you stick with it until you can because the skill will serve you well in dealing with tomorrow’s future.
Last week, I said that unlearning will turn your world upside down. To make this point more succinctly, I would like to direct your attention to the photo on the right. It is a common view of earth as seen from space.
I went on Google today to try to find a similar image only from a different perspective -- upside down. Now, if you think about this for a moment, it shouldn't have hard because there is no "upside down" in outer space -- things are only relative according to your orientation.
Surprisingly, I could find no photos from this "opposite" perspective. One important take-a-way from this little lesson is that conventional wisdom has a very powerful hold over how we see things, including our planet.
To see how the earth might also look from space you will need rotated the photo. If you do, it will serve as a good reminder that we need to unlearn our perspective some times. (The "upside-down" photo is now my screen-saver.)
P.S. If you can find similar "upside-down" photos of the earth, I'd appreciate you sharing them with me on www.unlearning101.com
Let me begin by saying that I am not a disinterested bystander to this issue. My children are now in the 2nd and 4th grades, respectively, and I would love for college to irrelevant by 2020—if for no other reason than to save me a boatload of money.
I do not believe college will be completely irrelevant by 2020 for two reasons. First, I believe that college is still an important venue for learning. This learning, however, has little to do with the learning typically associated with the classroom and more to do with learning how to socialize with one’s peers in an environment outside of the home. Now, there is absolutely no reason why young people can’t—and won’t—learn many of these “life skills” elsewhere; I just think many will choose a college setting because it is safe and familiar.
The second reason college will still be relevant in 2020 is because parents, educators and community leaders simply can’t envision a different future. In short, it will take them a long time to unlearn their idea of college. As a result, the transition to college becoming “irrelevant” will occur over a longer timeframe than the article suggests if, for no other reason, than society is generally resistant to change.
Don’t misunderstand me, though. At some point college as we now know it will be irrelevant. (This date will likely occur in inverse proportion to the degree that colleges and universities continue to inflate tution).
Knowledge deserves to be free and it has, for all practical purposes, now reached this point. In the future, it won’t matter where you received your degree; what will matter is your ability to demonstrate knowledge.
From how we and our enemies fight futures wars to what it means to wage war, robotics are poised to transform virtually every aspect of war. The transformation will require generals, admirals, politicians and even citizens to unlearn much of what we currently think about war.
Below is an excellent TED presentation from P.W. Singer, the author of "Wired for War" that highlights many of these issues:
My fascination began when I stumbled across this article in Newsweek entitled "Just Say No to Aging,” which profiles her new book. Two items, in particular, caught my attention. First, a group of men were asked to imagine that it was 20 years earlier. This, however, was no ordinary exercise. The men were actually taken to isolated retro-fitted New England hotel and instructed to act as though they were two decades younger. (Party like it’s 1989!)
Langer’s findings were amazing. After just one week the men in the experimental group had more joint flexibility, increased dexerity and less arthritis in their hands. In other words, just by thinking they were younger they felt younger!
This is not an isolated example. According to this article, Langer conducted a similar experiment with hotel chambermaids. The maids were separated into two groups. Both groups did the exact same work only one group believed they were getting exercise with their work while the other group didn’t. The group that thought they were exercising not only lost more weight, they also experienced a drop in blood pressure.
Both studies strongly suggest that people need only “unlearn” their mindset in order to experience real changes in their health. Or, as I wrote in my book, Jump the Curve, people need to ”stop acting their age.”
John Seely Brown, John Hagel and Lang Davidson recently wrote an article entitled ”The New Reality: Constant Disruption.” The basic premise isn’t new to anyone who has read my book Jump the Curve or The Singularity is Near, and that is that society is now headed into a new era whereby change is a constant and accelerating reality. This is replacing an era where disruption was followed by periods of stabilization. In other words, in the past, people, businesses and society often had an opportunity to catch their breath and develop and orchestrate plans before the next new paradigm-shifting technological change arrived.
If you doubt this radical transformation is real, lets just use yesterday, March 31, 2009, as an example. To begin, Intel released its next generation computer chip, the Nehalem. According to this article it is a “major game changer” because of its powerful new capabilities and the fact that it uses significantly less energy than previous chips.
This announcement was followed by news that a new company, Tendril, is now using existing off-the-shelf technology to make “dumb” electrical meters “smart.” The new “smart meter” industry, which is itself only a few years old, thus finds its once promising business model already under attack.
There was then this article suggesting that Skype is about to enter the mobile cellular market. As it does, wireless carriers, which should have seen the writing on the wall for years, are about to come face-to-face with a technology that views phone calls as nothing but data and should therefore be priced no different than the information flowing over the Internet—which is to say nothing!
Elsewhere, in the field of farming and agriculture, there was this announcement that a researcher has figured out how to grow a number of different crops using only one-fifth the water and no soil. (If not using soil to grow crops isn’t disruptive, I don’t know what is.) And, in the field of robotics, there was this report announcing that Honda is now using human thoughts (via brain-computer interfaces) to control the action of robots.
Each of the aforementioned technologies is only going to get significantly better, they are going to require a great deal of unlearning. As they do, old ways of doing business will fall by the way-side and new business opportunities will emerge. This scenario is both frightening and exhilarating.
The first step is to act. As one of my favorite leaders of all-time, General George C. Marshall, once told his subordinates “get action where action is needed.” In other words, the primary responsibly of any leader is to act. In this era of accelerating change, it is easy to postpone action for want of perfect information or because “tomorrow things will be different.” It is true, things will be different tomorrow, but people will still need products and services and problems must still need to be addressed today. The bottom-line is that a less-than-perfect solution now is often better than a perfect solution later.
Secondly, leaders need to learn to embrace ambiguity, and perhaps the greatest such ambiguity is that failure can be a positive characteristic. To succeed in this new era, organizations must be willing to not only risk failure but actually reward it.
There is no possible way every organization is going to do everything right. To succeed boldly, organizations must be willing to fail boldly; and when those risks don’t work it is important to learn from the mistakes and not punish them.
The edge is a dangerous place and few people like to venture out there but that is where the future will take place. In order to encourage and cultivate employees who will venture out to the edge, leaders must encourage action and recognize that “failure is an option.” Why? Because if you don’t act and instead attempt to avoid failure, you are likely to fail anyways because the future is here—now! That’s the new reality and we must unlearn the old reality.