By Frank J. Rich
Last week, in introducing John Naisbitt’s vision of the future we focused on the cultural aspects of his insightful look at the world we live and work in. This week, we draw attention to the economic and evolutionary aspects of his extraordinary vision.
From Nation-States to Economic Domains
We are fast creating a world whose produce is GDP (Gross Domain Product), according to Mr. Naisbitt. This world shares not only the natural resources of all nations, but also their talent. Globalization and decentralization are the magma causing this eruption of traditional economic models, and giving impetus to a fundamental economic underpinning: “It is not countries, but entrepreneurs and companies that create and revitalize economies.” Governments, like corporate management, have but a single overarching goal—to create motivational environments that foster growth and opportunity.
In his work over 20 years, Michael Shuman, author, speaker, and economic model maker, has defined the model of resurgence that has populated economic growth at the grass roots level. His book The Small-Mart Revolution, is a milestone work that touches the very soul of human nature in suggesting that the unique qualities in each are the driving forces of a market economy; it alone is enabling the economic revolution that creates more jobs and unique products and services than a thousand Walmarts. The winner in this new (and old) economic order is “smart, small, and flexible.”
China: The Periphery Is the Center
Make no mistake about it; the transforming of China into the fastest growing economy in the world (24% annually, till recently) has been on the back of solid economic policies. There may be no communists in China anymore; the private sector is the most vibrant and significant economic force in the nation, and its sheer force of being will cause political reforms that prepare it even better for its extraordinary growth into the future.
Economic zones are a common reality in a nation still struggling to lift its population out of poverty. With this view in mind the government has spawned economic opportunity models that reach into agrarian pockets to extract the most marketable elements of them for distribution to its more mechanized areas, as if confident in the knowledge that when the tide rises all boats rise with it. The “tide” in China is “capitalism in Chinese characters.” China has 166 cities with greater than 1 million people, compared with 12 in Japan and 9 in the U.S. Almost all have been turned into vast construction zones, and nary a person in them is reluctant about the transformation that is occurring—a far cry from the disenfranchised worker in most industrialized nations who hates his job.
Everything in America—the rich, cars, tourism, filmmaking, educational and artistic classlessness—is now evident (in some form) in China, and the people are enjoying it as though value in everything is a given. Strangely, if China faces a problem, it may be a shortage of the 300 million people necessary to keep the economic boom afloat over the next ten years of growth.
Europe: Mutually Assured Decline
I am likened to say that the higher the price we pay for the positions we take, the harder it is to relinquish them. As John Naisbitt puts it: “The ‘Statue of Europe’ has two hearts and 25 mindsets.” The 25 country mindsets are stirring a mixture with ingredients that do not blend: tradition, ambition, welfare, and economic leadership. Her two hearts beat in different rhythms, one for economic supremacy and one for social welfare. Proud and ambitious, each one wants to be right. To reach either goal, they have to compromise, and neither side is willing to do so. My experience makes me believe that Europe is much more likely to become a history theme park for Americans and Asians than the world’s most economically dynamic region as it has proclaimed it wants to be. Economically, Europe is on the path of “mutually assured decline.” Enough said! Brexit may be the first pillar to crumble.
Our Evolutionary Era
The era of “discontinuous changes,” Peter Drucker’s view of innovation emanating from every corner of thought and endeavor, has laid the foundation for the practical realization of a vast store of it. Ninety percent of the greatest scientific minds the world has ever known are alive today. The next big thing, according to Mr. Naisbitt, may not come along for some time. Rather, the world will learn to use what it has in extraordinary and new ways.
The great tool that is the internet has a dark side. For all of its power and ability to bring the world into our homes and offices, the sheer weight of it is too much. We need to harness its greatness in practical ways that serve our interests and work with intuitive and more specific and useful data. If we fail, literacy and the power in knowledge will elude us.
The Lockheed L-1011 aircraft was the first commercial plane that could take off, land, and fly a course without human intervention. It was prescient in its practice, even as far back as the 80s. The joke in aviation circles today is that the future will bring planes with only a pilot and a dog in the cockpit. The pilot’s job will be to feed the dog. The dog’s job will be to bite the pilot if he touches anything.
The extraordinary technology that gave rise to the iPod’s success was well developed a decade before its debut. Its exciting form, functionality, and design are what made it the choice of the world for MP3 players, accounting for 40% of Apple’s revenues at the time.
It is time for the evolutionary process to improve our lives, to unify peoples, to perform against the promise of peace in the world. It is time to face the dark side—literacy is waning. It is time to face the bright side—to question what we are, and to use the technology and insight we have spawned to serve the greater good.