India, this May, has been hot, wet, and cold, with “extreme” climate variations being reported across the nation. Indeed, Bengaluru, where I live, has seen hotter, wetter, and colder weather the last month, than has been the case for nearly a century. While this can be seen as reaching a climate “tipping point”, it is also a sign that perhaps we are past the “point of no return” in many ways and in many aspects of our world that the only thing certain about the future is that it would be uncertain. As the famous American sportsperson, Yogi Berra, said, “the future is what it ain’t used to be”. So, Welcome To The Age of the Unexpected.
For much of the last two and half years, the world has been “locked down” and citizenry quarantined due to the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus. Since New Year 2020, globally, we have been treated to a steady news diet of newer variants and the many “crons” of the mutations of Covid. It is as though we are fighting a war on many fronts, with each battle being progressively harder and more difficult, given the “unknowns” that lurk beyond the horizon each passing day. To use the late Donald Rumsfeld’s (former Defense Secretary of the US) memorable characterization of the future, “there are known unknowns. and there are unknown unknowns“. To wit, there are things beyond our understanding that shape our future.
Now, let us take the world of business and economics. A couple of days ago, India released official statistics pertaining to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth over the last fiscal. While I am not talking about the “inevitable surprises” that accompany each of such data about our economy, nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that an economist with India’s largest bank highlighted their frustration of predicting the economy as a “forecaster’s nightmare”, mainly due to the many “revisions” of data that the Indian government indulges for the last so many years. No wonder leading business leaders throw up their hands at not being able to give “guidance” (much loved by equity analysts) beyond a few quarters, due to the near impossibility of anticipating what’s next, or the If Tomorrow Comes syndrome.
If such “glorious uncertainty” has become a feature of our lives, then what can anybody do to plan ahead for the future. More so, for the armies of corporate planners, whose job of thinking ahead has become so difficult. This Age of The Unexpected also has tragic undertones, like when we could not take enough precautions before the “deadly” Second Wave, and worse, had to face the Third Wave unprepared, with more in store from a likely Fourth Wave. This loss of life was avoidable much like yesterday’s news of the demise of a popular singer, and before that, several matinee idols in their forties and even thirties became victims of sudden and unexpected deaths.
IMO, The Age of The Unexpected is due to our refusal to heed the warnings of “acceleration” of our lives, both technological and profit-driven. Having been fed a steady diet of faster the better, we are unable to turn the clock back and “slow down” that is so essential to our wellbeing. Otherwise, what explains the severe stress and burnout that our young adults are going through, or the sense of “overwhelm” that has taken over us. Moreover, the pandemic has also left us feeling “weird” and the feeling of “blues” that pervades us is leading to trends such as The Great Resignation, where Crores of Indians have simply stopped looking for work, discouraged and demoralized by the status quo.
We also risk social unrest if this present unsustainable “rush to the future” leaves masses of those without the needed resources to “catch up”, who in their desperation and rage, can turn to violence. Already, there has been a fraying of the societal fabric and the breakdown of the social contract is fuelling an “epidemic” of crime and a skyrocketing suicide rate. Even Davos 2022 was engaged with these “future and present shocks” though they couched it as an “inevitable” disruption as we transition from a “smokestack” era to a digital age. Despite any high sounding terms, it remains that what we are now living through is not merely an end of an epoch but, an entirely new future where The Age of the Unexpected is thrusting its full might of chaos and confusion on us.
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