Welcome to the weekend, and to this very special 200th edition of the Weekend Briefing. This week I looked back through all 200 Weekend Briefings and pulled out key themes that will most shape our world over the next 200 weeks – 3 years and 11 months. This is a good time horizon for predictions because it’s both far enough out for some change to take hold, but not so far that the world will be unrecognizable. What you see below is essentially an essay on the world we’re creating. Though there are some serious challenges ahead of us, I’m optimistic that the world we are creating is moving toward human flourishing. I hope you enjoy the read and look forward to your reflections on how you agree or disagree with me and what I missed. I’ll share the best comments next week.
Before we dive into that. I want to celebrate the 200th Weekend Briefing by celebrating you – the Changemakers. Our community is filled with amazing people that are working hard to make a real social or environmental impact. But changing the world is hard work… sometimes you just need to lay on the beach to relax and rejuvenate.
So, our friends at Playa Viva are offering a 4-night vacation for 2 people. This place is pretty epic – a sustainable luxury retreat destination on the unspoiled, pristine beaches of Mexico. Do sunrise yoga, explore, get immersed in nature, volunteer in the turtle sanctuary, give back to the local community, engage in a workshop, or just sip a drink on the beach. You’ve got to check out the photos on their site, the treehouse is my favorite!
So, here’s how the contest works. Click here to nominate a deserving Changemaker (don’t be shy… feel free to nominate yourself). In 200 words or less, tell us how this person is making an impact and why they deserve some time on the beach.
As I look toward the next 200 weeks, the world I see can be most easily summarized by a shift from Old Power to New Power, a concept conceived by friends (and clients) Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.
This change from Old Power to New Power will be precipitated by 2 societal shifts and 2 technological shifts. The societal shifts are the increased emphasis on character and purpose. The 2 technological shifts are the broad applications of blockchain and automation.
This move toward New Power will not be complete in the next 200 weeks, but I think we’ll be surprised at how rapidly the power balance will tip.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. This year has proven that terrible deeds done in dark cornered and covered up by power and influence will come to light. Sexual assault, harassment and sexism has been rampant for years from news rooms from Manhattan, to Hollywood and Silicon Valley. For female founders this behavior isn’t surprising (78% of female founders said they’ve been or know someone who’s been sexually harassed). This year when courageous women broke the silence, the spotlight was flipped on many high-profile men who finally suffered the consequences of their actions.
Change often happens slowly and incrementally, but this year the norms have shifted incredibly quickly. Whereas companies may have overlooked a star performer or influential person engaging in questionable conduct, going forward, no person or firm can afford to even be close to the line on these issues. It’s not just the high cost of lawsuits and bad PR, but more importantly, they are sidelining some of their best talent. Companies with more diversity, and particularly more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership.
Increasingly, how you treat people is becoming as important as how you produce. This week First Round Capital released its annual State of Startups report which ranked good character as the number 1 criteria for selecting a lead investor.
In the next 200 weeks, character will matter more than ever.
Companies will continue to move toward a future where purpose isn’t just a nice-to-have but it’s a business imperative. Workers and consumers will demand that organizations do right by their employees and the world. Large corporates will slowly move beyond corporate philanthropy, cause marketing and CSR, to bring their social / environmental purpose to the core of their commercial strategy. Companies founded by Millennials are embracing purpose from the outset and will strive to maintain purpose as they scale.
But beyond the broader purpose of the company, managers will need to empower employees to find their personal sense of purpose to connect it to the company’s larger purpose. This personal sense of purpose, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered, is found in the pursuit of mastering a skill or practice. Purpose derives from the connection of the individual to a tradition, enterprise, and community of practice that lie beyond the self. The specific craft need not matter, what does matter is that you respect and honor the traditions of the craft, pursue long-term progress in it, and participate not for the sake of raising yourself up (i.e., an ego boost) but for the sake of transcending the very notion of your “self” altogether
In the next 200 weeks, purpose will be on the rise.
The “killer app” for the early internet was email; it’s what drove adoption and strengthened the network. Bitcoin is the killer app for the blockchain. Bitcoin drives adoption of its underlying blockchain. Like email, it’s likely that some form of Bitcoin will persist. But the blockchain will also support a variety of other applications, which may end up being way more important than Bitcoin. It is likely to do to the financial system and its regulation what the internet has done to media companies and advertising firms.
We are just beginning to understand the power of secure, distributed ledgers. Blockchains have the potential to enhance trust in the sharing economy, track the source and quality of food, audit cargo and share realtime shipping data, lower insurance premiums, verify identity to reduce fraud, increase financial inclusion, more effectively allocate disaster relief, among many other applications. By registering artworks with blockchain to establish authenticity and create property rights, artists can retain an “equity share” in the works, much like the founder of a startup retains an ownership stake that grows in value as the company expands.
In certain instances it will change the structure allowing for the beneficial characteristics of the traditional firm (minimizing transaction costs, aggregating capital and mindshare, and providing job security for contributors) while introducing some new characteristics such as: 1) Ownership isn’t controlled by an exclusive group of founders, employees, and investors, 2) Data isn’t controlled by any one entity, 3) Decision making power is not controlled by one person or group and there are checks and balances from a broad variety of market participants.
All of this is possible due to the ability to embed smart contracts into the blockchain. A smart contract is a digital agreement between parties that self-executes when a certain condition(s) is met. A smart contract operates electronically. It consists of lines of code as well as the software that prescribes its conditions and outcomes. The idea of automated performance is at the heart of a smart contract. The automated and irrevocable performance lowers the need for trust in third-parties and even legal systems. And that means that somebody in Albania can execute a smart contract with somebody in Zimbabwe and they don’t have to rely on the Albanian authorities or the Zimbabwe authorities.
In the next 200 weeks, blockchain will become a standard business tool.
The future is automation – both robotics and AI. The robots and AI likely won’t take our jobs, but will take the more menial tasks off our plate. About half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be automated.
Roughneck robots will take over the repetitive and dangerous task of connecting hundreds of segments of drill pipe as they’re shoved through miles of ocean water and oil-bearing rock. Robots will be much more common in the dentist office and surgery rooms. Drones will move from toys to tools. They will fill the “missing middle” between satellites of photography and street level, digitizing the planet in high resolution and near–real time at a tiny fraction of the cost of alternatives. Drones primary commercial use will likely not be delivering Amazon packages, but as data-collection vehicles. Robots will be deployed in elder care both as care-givers and companions. Precision Farming – the use of highly precise automated farming equipment – will spread more broadly allowing for increase in yields while reducing pesticide and water usage.
AI-driven chatbots will be delivering government service. Therapy and other “soft skill” professions will be enhanced by AI tools. The Chinese government will be the first (but certainly not the last) country to roll out its Social Credit System that will judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion citizens.
Manufacturing will start to return to America. These next generation factories will be highly automated requiring maybe 25% of a traditional manufacturing facility. These aren’t the kind of manufacturing jobs that so many laid off auto and steel workers have been clamoring for, they require very high-end skilled labor. Despite justified fears of obsolescence in the West, it is actually developing economies that are poised to be hit the hardest by fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0,” where machines are networked together in “smart factories” that have little need for human input. A World Bank report found that two-thirds of all jobs in the developing world face being automated out of existence.
Obviously, the rise of automation presents a myriad of challenges and opportunity. If AI, drones and robots do take over humanity in the decades to come, it will likely be because we’ve given it the keys to the kingdom, not because we have lost some global war against robot armies. We must wisely design these tools to reconcile them to our values. Above all, we must observe how automation is changing us — so we can intentionally change as we want instead of becoming what enslaved to technology that is supposed to free us.
In the next 200 weeks, automation will become ubiquitous.
Thanks to everybody that wrote me suggesting cool ways to celebrate the 200th edition of the Weekend Briefing. You guys are brilliant – almost too brilliant! In the end, I followed Cole Wilbur’s recommendation to give my predictions of the future. Thanks so much for your continued commitment to the Weekend Briefing. I hope you’re still reading when I put out Weekend Briefing No. 400 and I reflect on these predictions. Who knows, it may be beamed directly into your brain by then!