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Anticipating what’s next is vital for our survival. Indeed, all species on this planet live in a perpetual “fight or flight” mode wherein they are “attuned” to protect themselves and their kith and kin when danger strikes. While humans have evolved more or less to a greater degree where their subconscious is now not in a continual survival mode, yet, the ability to “see” what’s coming next and predict the future is critical for their further progress. More so when advanced societal and sophisticated technological trends have made it imperative to plan ahead and prepare for what is euphemistically known as the “longer-term”. So, why is it becoming so hard to predict the future in the aftermath of the pandemic, where the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” (a phrase made famous by the Late Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary of the United States) mean that even the “best and the brightest” fail to “model” the future based on current trends?
The answers to why it is becoming so hard to predict the future lie in a combination of globalization, accelerating technology, mind-boggling complexity, and the volatility and ambiguity that characterize modern societies. This is the so-called VUCA paradigm where Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity combine to befuddle even visionary leaders in all walks of life, Partly, it is our own doing which has gotten us into this state as elites kept on adding layers of complexity, which is becoming unmanageable for them. For those of you who remember the Great Recession of 2008, the sheer complexity of the financial instruments meant that even the ones who were supposed to be “in charge” had no clue as to how the Dark Days of Winter 2008 would play out, what with the Global Financial System coming close to collapse.
Next, let us again revisit 2007-08. These were the years in which Steve Jobs, the late legendary founder of Apple, “revolutionized” the world of personal computing and gadgets y introducing the iPhone. Based on Moore’s Law which states that computing power doubles every two years, the “accelerated” growth of technologies means that even we, with our advanced brains are unable to keep up with so much “speed” and our Neanderthal instincts of fleeing in face of ambiguity is making us feel like we are on a “treadmill to nowhere” , and mimicking the travails of the ancient Greek figure, Sisyphus. Moreover, our Smartphones have turned us all into “junkies” which means that the constant “dopamine hits” lead us to a miasma of nothingness.
As if this were not enough, we have the 24/7 media that have “invaded” our lives in such a manner that we are kept “on the edge” not knowing what the next news bulletin would bring. This day to day existence leaves us with little time for planning ahead or even preparing for tomorrow, which is the equivalent of a Present Shock, where everything happens for the instant and only for the instant. While my generation of Gen Xers grew up without the internet, succeeding cohorts of Millennials and Gen Zers, have known only this world, with so much stress and strain, and no wonder, they are reporting high rates of burnout and outcomes such as the Great Resignation. This is also making corporates wary and weary of planning ahead as they are unsure what “fresh hell” awaits them what with the Pandemic, the Ukranian war, and populism worldwide upending globalization and “force” them into not providing “guidance” and forecasts beyond a few quarters.
Some of this “chaos and volatility” is inevitable as the world “transitions” into a Post Industrial Digital Age where things like the 9 to 5 workday and Onsite work give way to flexible and hybrid models of work and corporate existence. Moreover, the Gig Economy is here to stay, which means that there is an added layer of planning for a future where full time employment is a thing of the past. Moreover, corporates, and for that matter, much of all sections of society are finding it hard to figure out where the “next surprise” is lurking and in the process, “giving in to” the virality of the moment where much like the Coronavirus, things change by the hour and mutate and spread and cause havoc.
Is this the New Normal?? Or just another normal before the next New Normal?? How does one think ahead with the VUCA environment making it hard to predict the future and prepare for tomorrow, that is If Tomorrow Comes!! What is definite is that the sense of “weirdness” that we are experiencing is going to be with us for some more time, and these “post-pandemic blues” are leaving us more confused. As I mentioned earlier, much of this can be explained by the fact that we are now well and truly in the Digital Age and the pandemic has an upside after all. So, here’s to the Future and looking forward to many more tomorrows and many more “dawns” of a better life and “dusks” to the disorder.
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