On December 31st, 2018 an interesting article appeared in the New York Times. It was titled “Wielding Rocks and Knives, Arizonans Attack Self-Driving Cars“. It wasn’t a lazy review of some crazy future book. The fourth industrial revolution is here and our tools seem to be testing us. And some of us are running out of patience. The world is reacting to change. Like in Arizona, people were pelting stones at driverless cars! Including one man who jumped in front of one driverless car and waved a gun at it saying, ‘he despises it’!
Every revolution is about a shift in energy. From physical to mechanical. From mechanical to digital.
The first industrial revolution (sometime between 1760 – 1840 or so) had the power of ‘steam’ as its thrust area. Steam. Steel. Machine tools. Industrial looms. And the like.
The second industrial revolution a.k.a “The technological revolution”, is about scale. Electricity. Petroleum. Iron & Steel. Railroads. Turbines. Engines. Etc. And the like. Perhaps a mention of Fredrick Taylor and his management principles is due. The second industrial revolution happened between 1870-1914.
The third industrial revolution is the giant shift from mechanical to digital. Commencing sometime from the late 50s when computers began to make their first appearance. An important marker on the ground was the movement of music from vinyl records to CDs in the 80s!
Some argue that the fourth is primarily a continuation of the the 3rd. Obviously, it’s not that simple. Wearable devices. Implants. Networked devices. Data. Robotics. Internet of things. All point to a fusing of the physical, biological and digital.
Reacting to change
Example after example from history points to non linear change leading to a forceful response . Every significant change that disrupted an existing status quo provoked people of that time. Be that a wave of dismissal, royal proclamation or violent protests!
Is it different this time?
If change is natural, so must our reactions to it. Isn’t it? Only this time, the scale of change isnt quite the same. Changes that are reaching us are more intense, simultaneous, interconnected like never before. Klaus Schwab, who wrote “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” speaks of the difference in terms of Scale, Scope and complexity. The fusion of physical, digital and biological worlds will break boundaries of a number of disciplines. From economics to research. From biology to technology.
Artificial Intelligence is changing professions. Lawyers. Doctors. Construction engineers. Construction engineers. Armed Forces. You name a domain and a passing lark will point to how AI and related stuff is sitting outside the door.
The ramifications of such sweeping change presents dilemmas at scale. Most of it dished out simulataneously. Complex and interwoven, mankind’s sense of preservation is being tested. The scenario of mankind not cherishing all the progress made by its own is real. Worse, it is already happening every day.
There is something more
The fourth industrial revolution has in it an innate ability to amplify and showcase the inequalities that are omni present in the world. These inequalities have been a result of
The amplification of inequalities and the new opportunity to amplify independent voice is a different deal. This change is not the usual change!
In search of new frameworks and new mental models
Ways of thinking and working that aided us all these years are coming apart now. Not because they are wrong but because, they were designed for a different era. The new age citizen needs a new assortment of skills and mind maps. Needless to say that holds true for leaders and leadership as well.
Klaus Schwab notes, “We need leaders who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego. The digital revolution needs a different, more human kind of leadership”.
We need to keep thinking and talking about this. It is only in our interest to do the same.