by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Futurist Edie Weiner had us in rapt attention as she explained to her audience in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this year, the impact that galloping technology will have on every aspect of our lives.
Her company "Future Hunters" has been in the business for over forty years using well researched data to advise Fortune 500 companies on significant trends and how they should adjust their strategy to prepare for the future.
Ten years ago, she says her clients were so impressed with guidance that wondered how her predictions were so accurate. She said that they used 30 different thought processes to arrive at their theses. Most important of all, she says, is to recognize your "educated incapacity" - knowing so much about what you already know that you are not looking outside. She said it was human nature that educated people having acquired so much knowledge, held on to it like an expensive piece of luggage but noted that while we were hanging on to that, someone is racing past us with their futuristic "backpacks".
Edie Weiner said that scientific research has shown that "there is no solid matter, everything is energy". She explained that if there were a certain type of tiling in the Grand Central Station, it would capture the energy of commuters, enough to power the Station.
She says that currency is undergoing radical changes. The Economist magazine has noted now that the second most circulated currency is reward points – second only to the US dollar! She observed that even organized crime is now using virtual currency and that more and more people are practicing barter economics.
She turned to the hot topic of education, reminding us that the brain grows fastest before the age of three and that it is ridiculous that after being exposed to Ipads and handsets, children are then taken to schools that are still using the same system that was designed for their grandparents. This was actually quoted at the finale of the Education Enrichment Programme which, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information, USAID and the Digicel Foundation, covered 104 schools improving the literacy and numeracy of 43,000 primary school students. The Enrichment Centres in 43 schools are heavy on information technology and bright visuals which are particularly attractive to boys, have turned unenthusiastic students into high achievers. This was reinforced by Weiner as she demonstrated the difference between the way that male and female brains develop and what stimulates this development.
Edie is predicting a dramatic transformation in the delivery of education. Information technology will make education available to millions in experiential forms. Therefore she says "critical thinking is the most important thing we can teach our young people".
She says that this theory of repetitive practice will be overturned because of what she describes as "cranial stimulation" whereby what used to take 10,000-20,000 hours to learn may now only take a couple of hours. She warned however that the real consequence of this is boredom – "we are giving birth to kids who are more bored than ever before".
She says that all of this new technology is creating disruption. What was described as a recession in the early 90s was actually a result of the new disruptive technology. "This was not a recession", she said, "it was a global fundamental revolution".
She says when asked "what should children be studying now to be ensured of employment", her answer is they should become plumbers, electricians and stonemasons. I would add 'chef' to that!
"In future," she says, "no one will be paying for 'smart', only 'intelligent'. This is the kind of intelligence that will enable you to figure out things that you have never seen before."
She suggested that university students should not major in any one thing but take multi-disciplinary courses and challenge themselves to see the connection.
She noted the presumption of making employees happy and said there was no study that linked happiness to productivity. She recommended three responsibilities of leaders:
1) Make sure that everyone is treated with respect
2) Ensure that persons are treated in a equitable manner and paid according to their skill sets and responsibilities
3) Ensure that you remove all obstacles to their being able to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
She left us breathless with her description of what could become "4D", whereby an item could be manufactured and then after its arrival to its destination be transformed into something a thousand times larger by adding, say water.
For those of us who have been limiting the time that our children spend playing video games, Weiner noted that there is a brand new category of sports called "e-sports". These same video games are evolving into competitive events, one of which has been held in California, attracting 35 million online viewers. She says that universities will shortly be recruiting students who excel at e-sports for their teams.
Turning to Jamaica, Edie is optimistic. She noted that economies in many countries are being challenged by a high proportion of senior citizens while here in Jamaica, half of the population is still under 25. She urged us to focus on two things:
1) Focus on education
2) Build pride and respect in your people for their country.
She says if we don't want people to litter, we should be enhancing our landscape with sculpture and murals, thereby giving our people a sense of ownership. She says you can determine the culture by asking two questions:
1) What are the carrots?
2) What are the sticks?
Even as you incentivize there must be consequences for those who endanger our society.
She surprised us by indentifying two strong leaders – the revered Mother Teresa and the face of evil, Adolf Hitler and said that they had three things in common:
1) Vision and passion
2) The ability to articulate in words and deeds with passion
3) Lack of embarrassment in the articulation.
Here are six suggestions that Edie left with us to make the best of our successes:
1) Within your organization, on a regular basis, challenge your own assumptions using "figuregram" to identify more quickly your market e.g. Toys R Us discovered that appealing to grandparents was a great way to market their products.
2) Subscribe to publications on topics in which you have no interest. If you read about different topics on a regular basis, it will be develop the 'neuro-plasticity' of your brain
3) Hire interns and use them wisely. Have them shadow you and debrief them to use their 'alien eyes'.
4) Stay current with music. (This is why I love 'Onstage','Digicel Rising Stars', 'Altogether Sing' and 'Saturday Night Live')
5) Hire a 15-year old mentor who is not a family member and spend three hours a week with them
6) We need to know she said, that everything is moving off the grid that we are used to – it is the end of a particular civilization.
"Power is something you take for yourself", she advised. "Don't wait for permission – take the power and do it!"
Edie's visit to Jamaica was made possible by the Jamaica Chapter of the International Women's Forum. Top organisers were President Camille Facey, Past President Pat Ramsay, Members Lisa Soares-Lewis, Sharon Lake, Marcia Forbes and Patsy Kelly.
© Jean Lowrie-Chin