This was a genuine interactive online “festival” that drew more than 2,000 attendees and 150 speakers from all over the world, confined to their homes but united by a common concern: how the global situation caused by COVID-19 can be transformed into an opportunity to rethink and recreate our future, a “VUCA” scenario amplified and aggravated in an extraordinary way by the tragic impact of the pandemic.
It is critical that we manage to learn a lesson from all this for the future: why this happened, how has it been managed, whether it could have been prevented, etc. We must also understand, as a civilization, the resounding message that Nature has sent us.
Bill Gates, in his now-famous TED talk in 2015 announced and complained that we were not prepared for what we are now suffering.
I am going to try to summarize some of the main thoughts and reflections shared at the ExO World Summit, a hopeful and inspiring episode amidst the effects of the pandemic and its tremendous human, economic, social and system fallout.
Let us reflect and learn, because just regret will do us no good.
Darwinism in its purest form
It is natural selection: adapt and reinvent ourselves to emerge from this even stronger … or disappear. Joseph Schumpeter and his theory of Creative Destruction emerge once again: only those who innovate survive, because this makes them stronger than others, who fall by the wayside.
Collective learning and perspective
Fear paralyzes us, the amygdala prompts us to lose focus, to lose perspective, hijacking our emotions. The challenge is to leave fear behind and turn it into a desire for continuous learning fueled by curiosity, imagination and empathy; to learn fast and harness the power of connectivity to do so collectively. We need cooperation, solidarity and investment in wisdom to regain confidence and develop a new attitude, embracing being agile and active protagonists of change. We need new way of thinking, because the future will be better than we think.
What is clear is that the old ways are no longer valid, those with which we felt safe and comfortable, and due to which, in too many cases, mediocrity was protected and valued.
It is time to take a big step back and reflect on what is truly important in our lives, what we can do to pursue it, and realize all the means, technological resources and human capital that we have at our disposal.
John Hagel encouraged us to relativize and get perspective in order to define certainties in this uncertain future through the “zoom-out, zoom-in” analogy: first define a sense of direction based on how you imagine the great opportunities coming up in the next 10–20 years. From there, make a commitment to what you are going to do in a unique and relevant way over the next 6–12 months to accelerate your medium and long-term evolution. And, through all of this, learn. A leader learns, Hagel reminds us.
Rethink our priorities
Are GDP and other economic indicators of progress the only ones to consider … or should factors such as security, development and universal human well-being prevail above all?
Historically we have agreed that the value of a good or service is based on its scarcity, or the difficulty of achieving it: the scarcer it is, and the more difficult it is to obtain it, the greater its value.
Well, Jerry Michalski suggests that we think differently: elevate the principle of trust above all else, and he does so in a very graphic way with his “Scarcity = Abundance-Trust” equation. Because trust is the key to promoting recovery and, at the same time, solving many of the problems affecting our capitalist economy. This is nothing new: open source software is an example of abundance based on the trust of its group of developers. In addition, a large number of primitive societies, until the beginning of the first Industrial Revolution, trusted their economic base. Many of the institutions that govern us today in the fields of education, politics and culture are actually based on mistrust. And all of us, in one way or another, have accepted and even nurtured this system.
In short, now that we have to start from scratch to emerge from the devastation of the pandemic, why don’t we redefine the meaning of life, our scale of values, recognize how weak we are individually, and accept our vulnerability as a strength?
Why don’t we uphold the universal, collective good, re-formulate the concept of work and leadership, change our outdated educational system, and seek balance and respect for nature?
May this new reality that is going to emerge, that is already emerging, be driven by new values and by the courage to do something different; even if this frightens and makes us uncomfortable every day, it will, at the same time, fill us with meaning.
Technology as a factor of progress
The technologies that we already have at our disposal can respond to the great global challenges that lie ahead of us as a society, and that have been further accelerated and aggravated by the COVID-19 scenario:
- To start with, global connectivity, new technologies, and a sense of urgency to combat the same enemy have spurred the global community of research scientists to work together in a collective manner.
- From conventional to digital currency. Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Booth claims that the deflation caused largely by markets, due to technological development, and accelerated by the pandemic, is not only causing the traditional monetary system to lose value but, worst of all, is undermining users’ trust. Central banks are dealing with this situation through a strategy doomed to fail: artificially creating inflation by printing currency, with a consequent rise in taxes. Faced with this strategy, we see the incipient adoption by individuals of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which, driven by a network effect, will lead to its massive adoption, precisely because of the value that the traditional system is losing: trust.
- We need to reinvent the educational system. Modernize it and link it to the panorama of accelerated change that we are experiencing across all sectors. Education in critical thinking, in social skills, in emotions, continuing education, in real time. Nicole Dreiske told us about the Screen Smart project as a landmark initiative to educate children by taking advantage of their comfort with screen time to bolster their earning and enhance their individual and social awareness
- Becoming the “sovereign owners” of our own identities. Are we sovereign now? States, institutions and bureaucracies would have us think that we our, with passwords, etc. And what is worse: if we are not owners of our own identities … our trust is also subjected, in a way, to the criteria of the Establishment. And what about the huge populations in developing countries, or living in refugee camps, nomadic populations, and migrants who cannot even demonstrate who they are? Anne Connelley shared how Blockchain technology allows us to recover or establish self-sovereign identity through a decentralized system that does not require third-party validation.
- Starting to be compensated for our attention.
According to Faiz Nazarali, human attention is a rare commodity for which people are not being compensated. On the contrary, we are the ones who, through our attention – and the data generated by it – pay for many services, including social platforms, which monetize their business model through it. Well, Nazarali proposes that we be paid for our attention, through Blockchain; that is, the tokenization of our attention.
- From disease management to health care. According to Daniel Kraft, the current health model is reactive in that it is designed to address disease. He proposes a change of model towards a more predictive, continuous, personalized and proactive system. Technologies such as genomics, the Internet of things, 5G, self-monitoring devices, etc. must help drive this transformation, taking advantage of data to turn it into knowledge, break down silos, anticipate disease, and humanize it.
Not only is it evident that we have been doing something very wrong, but more pandemics may come if we fail to take responsibility for its protection through balanced development and sustainability.
It seems that, as a civilization, we can take an alternative route, through the production, consumption and storage of solar energy and wind energy, replacing that generated by fossil fuels; a return to non-intensive and more efficient livestock and agriculture thanks to technology; new ways of generating food thanks to cell biology; vertical farms; technological resources (satellites, 5G, drones) to predict natural disasters; the electrification of the automotive industry; optimized consumption (sensors); data and AI at the service of our planet’s health. Because nature, like humans, has its own rights.
Arundhati Roy, an Indian journalist, writer and activist, states the following:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the burdens of our prejudice and hatred, our greed, our dead ideas, our ailing rivers and smoky skies, behind us. Or we can travel light, with little baggage, ready to imagine another world. And be ready to fight for it.
In my particular case, I prefer to continue dreaming, imagining and fighting for another world, rather than simply waiting idly to see how they try to continue to sell us the old one.
Very interestingly, in Chinese language the word crisis – 危机 – is made up of two characters; the first one signifies danger … while the second one means opportunity.
By Ángel González