What darkness tells us about the future

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The days are getting shorter, dark times are upon us for the next few months. Soon, we will change back to Winter Time and the media will inundate us with tips on how to deal with the depressive months of November to March. Depressive? Sure, in a world where everything is optimized, anything below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 hours of sun is a major problem. In hysterical times we are always looking for dangers. In the end, we will all die, if not by terrorists, the darkness will get us.

I was reminded of a story about the city of Tromsø, the largest dark winter city in Norway:

Tromsø, for those who don’t live in Norway, is above the Arctic Circle. At Tromsø’s latitude, 69 degrees, the sun sets at the end of November and doesn’t reappear until mid-January. That’s right, roughly 49 days where the sun never rises over the horizon.

Leibowitz, an American psychology student, became curious about how people in Tromsø managed to avoid the winter blues. She was so fascinated by the question she spent an academic year in the city after completing her undergraduate degree in psychology. As a US-Norway Fulbright fellow, she worked with Joar Vittersø, a psychologist at UiT-The Arctic University of Norway, whose research areas include quality of life and positive psychology.

“It seemed like the perfect place to test just how adventurous I really was, while also providing a unique population for a psychology research study,” Leibowitz wrote in a recent article in The Atlantic magazine about her experience. “How do the residents of northern Norway protect themselves from wintertime woes? And could these strategies be identified and applied elsewhere, to the same beneficial effects?”

Leibowitz came to understand quickly that her research was based on an assumption that people hate winter. Not so much in Norway:

Leibowitz and Vittersø found a correlation between how far north people lived in Norway and how positively they viewed winter and winter darkness.

More importantly, “Vittersø and I found that positive thought patterns in winter were related to life satisfaction, positive emotions and seeking challenges that can lead to personal growth,” Leibowitz said.

Vittersø emphasizes that the study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and that the correlations they found do not mean causation.

Nevertheless, he says that the study suggests what might make life easier for Norwegians during a time of year that most people don’t really like.

“We who live in Norway are probably not aware that we see so much to enjoy during the winter, because it is so normal for us,” Vittersø said. “But it is probably much less common to look at winter this way elsewhere in the world.”

It’s an intriguing study on the adaptability of human beings and our inner freedom. Norwegian citizens see the best sides of winter by transforming their mind into positive acceptance. Instead of whining (“It’s going to be dark for so many hours”), they adjust their reality to new possibilities. This Possibilismus, the philosophy of possibility, is in contrast of optimism and pessimism: It’s a creative force that shines a new light on the world. Light only shows its real beauty in darkness.

Paying attention to what we are paying attention

When we turn off the constant stream of the fear-mongering machine, we wake up in a reality where real relationships matter. Reality returns, changeable reality, a world we can make a difference in. That’s the opposite of post-factual. We return to liveliness. It doesn’t ignore the world, it gives us the freedom to interpret reality without intervention and intrusion.

The inventor of the term ‘mindfulness’, Ellen Langer said:

“The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful.”

When we are blind to our inner workings, we allow the past to dominate the present and the future.

Immanuel Kant said: “Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.” Jesus said: “Do not be afraid”. He isn’t telling us to never fear; he’s telling us we don’t have to stay in the fear. Feel it, but leave it. Acknowledge it, but don’t live in it.

Fear makes us close our doors. Fear makes us turn our backs. Fear makes us focus on protecting ourselves, causes us to eye others with suspicion, leads us to think of our own needs. We react to problems when we let fear take hold.

Hope, on the other hand, encourages us to open up. Hope encourages us to turn toward each other. Hope encourages us to be generous, see the beauty in other human beings, reminds us to care for the least of us. We are able to respond when we let hope lead us.

Change is in the air. There is growing opposition against being afraid of fear, being overfed by media and news. Dangers, exaggerations and conspiracies. Since 9/11, an influential “fear industry” has taken root in the media and other opinion-shaping institutions and groups. It has consistently moved toward ever-greater gloom and hysteria, knowing this is the best way to get attention in a crowded marketplace of ideas. In today’s competitive information environment, extreme positions and amplified fear sells more advertising and wins a larger market share than balanced moderation. So far, much of the public has bought in. But I see small signs that people don’t want to be afraid anymore, they discover that social networks have turned into weapons of mass fear-mongering and distraction. That the dark seasons are for connecting with people again.

The confirmation quote I chose almost 40 years ago was: “And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Almost everything has changed since I chose the quote. But my belief in those words has never been stronger.

 

 

 

There’s no transition. Only acceleration.

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New technologies are already starting to impact how people make a living and there is a fear that many will be left behind. But before further indulging that fear, do we really understand what’s going to happen?

While predicting the future is always hard, the past is a good place to start. The trick is figuring out how the present differs from the past, and to try to estimate how this will impact our collective tomorrows. It is unsurprising therefore that current discussions about the future of work frequently refer to the difficulties of previous ‘transitions’; it is not necessarily that we are going to a bad place, but getting there is going to be rough. However, the implication is that we are moving from one stable state to another one. And while that may have been true of the past, it will not be true of the future.  

McKinsey, for example, has produced an excellent report, unfortunately titled, Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation. It imagines the world in 2030 and what might happen between now and then under various scenarios. Like any good future-looking report, it makes reference to the past: “We know from history that wages for many occupations can be depressed for some time during workforce transitions.” 

However, there is nothing special about the year 2030; it was likely chosen because it is a round number, far enough away that things will have definitely changed, but close enough that most of us will still be working. Yet neither this report nor any other suggest that change will stop, slow down or even stop accelerating at that time.

Acceleration? Yes! 

If we look at what humans have been doing over our history, for most of those many thousands of years, it wasn’t really much. Things started to pick up from the industrial revolution until around 1950. At that point, human activity took off, in what has become known as The Great Acceleration. Population, real GDP, energy use, water use, foreign direct investment, telecoms, and transportation use have all risen sharply, according to research carried out by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  

For example, the world’s population grew from around 2.5 billion in 1950 to about 7 billion by 2010, with real gross domestic product increasing from less than US$10 trillion to more than US$60 trillion over the same period. In fact, the impact of human activity on the environment has prompted some scientists to suggest the world has moved into a new epoch, the Anthropocene.

It is true that some, if not most, of these measures of human activity will level off in the coming years – The United Nations forecasts population to peak at 9.8 billion in 2050, for example. But those trends most closely tied to science and technology are merely laying the groundwork for even faster-developing technologies that will challenge what we have come to expect from the corporate organisation, itself a modern concept. That means change will not just continue, but it will continue getting faster.  

For example, Facebook was born in the era of the personal computer, which helped it reach 100 million users in just four and a half years. WeChat, a Chinese social media platform, was born in the era of the smartphone, and reached 100 million users in just 433 days. Today’s technologies enable tomorrow’s technologies to proliferate at ever-greater speeds.   

Time to get worried? No. Time to radically adapt? Yes. 

So does this mean we’re heading for a ‘technological explosion’ of artificial super-intelligence that improves itself in ever shortening cycles? Fortunately, it is unlikely to be that scary. But it will be a rapid evolution of jobs as automation takes over specific tasks.  

The important point is that this evolution will intensify. We will need to learn new skills not on a regular basis, but rather on an increasingly frequent basis. Rapid learning (and forgetting) itself will become the core skill, with adaptability becoming the differentiator between success and failure.  

So if you think the world is a bit hectic and complicated now, take a deep breath. The future of work will be perpetual, accelerating change, and the quicker we drop the idea of a transition, the quicker we will be able to embrace the need for radical adaptability.

The future of Financial Services

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Powerful forces are reshaping the Financial Services industry. Customer expectations, technological capabilities, regulatory requirements, demographics and economics are together creating an imperative to change. Most players are innovating and experimenting with new products, delivery channels and analytics through Digital Transformation. Each financial institution will have a unique response, depending on its current position, aspirations for the future, desires customer focus, organizational capabilities, brand promise and capital constraints.

While all financial institutions are busy transforming their services through Digital Transformation, they should step back for a second and ask themselves a question: What do people really want from financial institutions? More importantly, what do people want from money?

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It’s a question that can be answered with many complex responses but I would argue people want happiness from money. Money shouldn’t cause us sleepless nights, fights at home, anxiety, panic, distress, jealousy or envy. Money should help us to improve our well-being. And this is exactly where the problem lies: All stakeholder in the financial industry have translated this need to be happy into the desire to have more money. More money equals more happiness. Either they help us grow our asset size or they give us access to financial resources that allow us to buy more stuff.

This is the basic assumption the whole Financial Services Industry labors under: make money grow and provide access to more money, and people will be happy. But the subject of money and happiness plus our complex human nature makes this matter much more complicated than the basic assumption. To reach happiness around money is a road filled with side streets, exits to nowhere and hidden traps. Here are just a few starting points to contemplate:

  • Incomes above $105,000, according to research is the point at which greater household income in the US is not associated with greater happiness. The technical term for this cutoff is the income “satiation point.” Does that mean that if you already make $120,000, you wouldn’t be happier with a $30,000 raise?

    Not at all. Research suggests that the average person who makes $150,000 is no happier than the average person who makes $120,000. But it could be that the sort of person who makes $120,000 is different in some fundamental way from the sort of person who makes $150,000. Perhaps, the people who make $150,000 would be less happy if they made $120,000, so their satiation point is higher than the sort of person who is happy with $120,000 and doesn’t want for anything more.

  • How happy our money makes us isn’t just a question of the amount we have; it partly depends on how we have made it. The more pleasurable the process of accumulation, the less substantial the overall sum might need to be (and vice versa).
  • We are working so hard to provide for our families but what is the level of support we should give to our children? Giving them a certain amount might have bad side-effects such as laziness or turning them into spoiled brats.
  • Anxiety is our constant companion and channeling it towards money a typical human response. We exhaust ourselves in the search for money and are not sure if it really helps us to feel stable and fulfilling our hopes and needs.
  • How much money we need can be very flexible, it depends on our reference points. To feel comfortable and safe in our money situation depends on where we live, who our friends are and our life aspirations. Everybody has different benchmarks and environments but we don’t reflect enough on these important markers.
  • Spending money can provide happiness but which are the temptations that make us really happy and content and which are the ones that feel like the aftermath of a full bag of chips? One has to be a fairly reflective person to understand how to best spend.
  • We want to spread goodness throughout the world and give money to causes that are dear to our heart. But where can we make a real difference and which difference makes us really happy?

There’s no doubt: Future Financial Services Institutions will keep money safe, grow it and provide access to additional funds. But they will also understand there’s more to happiness and money than just a 3.5% rate and good rewards. They will help their customers to understand better what role money plays in their lives, how money makes them happy, what can be done to achieve a content lifestyle. They will be financial experts and guides in understanding our own psychology of money.

Why summer never has to end

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Summer officially ends September 23.

According to my social feed, it ended last week, today, maybe tomorrow. Summer seems to end for people when the summer vacation is over, when children go back to school, when they experience a rainy day.

There’s more to it. We all crave summer because it’s an unique opportunity to step back, to relax, to just be for a while. And to be less connected, enjoy the sunset in front of us instead of the sunset on the Instagram feed. To connect with your real family and friends and not the virtual connections. Time to breathe, experience and be yourself.

Summer ending means for many going back to the grind. When people say “Summer is over” it feels like they wish it would never end.

In reality, it’s a choice you make. There’s always the opportunity to step back, to be less connected to the daily race, news and craziness, and to find real connections. And, while the world keeps moving forward to find this little window of time, energy and opportunity to explore what might be possible. Stepping back gives you an opportunity to create something worthwhile. Summer is an attitude. And there’s no reason why it should end.

 

Screens for Information. Print for Wisdom

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The way we read is changing. There’s no wonder that much of our reading time takes place via screens. This fact alone has compelled many researchers to take a closer look into the effects that digital reading is having on our brains, for better or for worse. Initial findings are that comprehension is foregone for the sake of time, focus and concentration seem to to be improving and retention rates are lower.

We might want to take a closer look at this topic. A new Guardian article claims that “Skim Reading is the new normal. The effects on society are profound.”

As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.

Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19thand 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.

And:

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

Screens seem to be superior when it comes to information, print material much more capable of communicating wisdom and insights. There are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development. But there are solutions:

We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society.

Digital Enlightenment

The second phase of digitization is upon us. After hysterical exaggerations and bitter disappointments, it’s now time to adopt digital into human culture.

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A ghost runs rampant across the planet. The ghost is present in every digital conference, each business talk, each segment on CNBC and in every newspaper. The belief in the transformational power of Digital is the final belief system of our time. Digital Transformation will solve everything: Growth Problems, Death, Lack of Intelligence, Human Weaknesses and Weaknesses of our Democracy. Well, let’s skip the last one.

While solving all of our problems, Digital Transformation threatens also everything: Whole Verticals are under threat, Democracy, Freedom, maybe even reason. 20–70% of all jobs will disappear. AI will take over our jobs. We assign, full of excitement, apocalypse capabilities to Digitization, just like we used to do for Nuclear Power and Alien Invasions. Humans might need these mega-demons once in a while to feel alive.

All this talk about Digitization is challenging for us because we are dealing with two Internets and we can’t align them in our head and our lives. The one Internet is amazing. It’s still a wonderful experience to call a car with a friendly driver to a dark corner of an unknown, rainy part of town. Or to compare all prices of hotels in Fresno. And, then there is the dark room of human desires and trivial narcissism — the thing we once called Social Media.

Jaron Lanier, one of the digital pioneers, called the myth of social networks “Digital Maosim”. Maoism as an allegory for the cross-fading of complex realities into fanatical, social imperatives. “The Internet empowers the powerless” can be compared to Mao’s “Political Power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. Both slogans lead to terrible disillusions. The social Web empowers definitely world savers, neighbors, running groups, friends that otherwise would never hear from each other again. But it also empowers trolls, stalkers, idiots, Russian saboteurs, terrorists. It transports people in our living rooms we can’t see. And we definitely don’t want to see.

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The addiction to the Social Web can be explained with our human nature of a connection-being. From the moment we are born, we are hungering for connections and being seen. Being accepted. Being in relationships. Those synapses are being used by the Social Web, tapping into our relationship neediness. People upload the weirdest thing to their social pages, sharing things they would never share in real life. The pseudonymity of the Web drives people literally crazy.

In the jungle of unresolved emotions, Digital promises something it can’t keep: The right partner. Endless choices. The best friends. Even better friends somewhere out there. The Internet amplifies the Nervousness of our social lives on all levels — privately, socially, politically, economically. The result: Our current reality of constant shitstorms, outrage, conspiracy theories, populism and overall pessimism. The Web can do a lot of things, but it can’t hug you, it can’t heal you, it can’t connect on a human level — unless we are already connected in the analog world.

The Analog Revenge

One of my favorite places in Amsterdam is the Nordermarkt, a Farmers Market that is open every Saturday. I get my cheese, fruits, vegetables, bread, pastry, mangoes, fish, flowers, potatoes from this place. It’s a 2-hour experience every weekend. I chat with the potato guy about his trip to Ibiza, taste the newest bread, buy olive oil from a vintage harvest in Spain. It feels like a place filled with passion and competence. One would think these markets should be extinct by now. Walking distance from my house are at least 4 cheese stores, 4 supermarkets, 5 bakeries. And I’m pretty sure I pay much more on the market than I would pay at the local supermarket. But I still head home each Saturday filled with joy and satisfied that I got a good deal. Supermarkets never make me feel that happy.

What are the merchants selling at the Nordermarkt? Products? Quality? Sure. But the secret is not the product. They trade with relationships. That’s what people are looking for, in the analog and digital space. In the analog world, the foundation of relationships — trust — can be developed rather easily. We look into each other’s eyes when we exchange value.

And that’s the reason why the majority of digitization predictions were wrong. Why are eBook sales stalling and people continue to buy print books and magazines? Why are Moleskins and fancy fountain pens more popular than ever? Why do people put Post-Its on screens and print out important emails? Why do people continue to use cash? The digital gurus sneered about those Digital Neanderthals and proclaimed once those fools were being washed away by the Digital Tsunami, the REAL Digital Revolution would take place. A biological solution…

Maybe sticking to analogue is not the problem. It might just be part of the solution.

David Sax, a Canadian writer, explains in his book “Revenge of the Analog” how the Digital doesn’t conquer the physical, it just reinvents it:

· Revenge of Print: The more feverish and disruptive our information world becomes, the more messages interrupt us, the more people are looking for the quiet presence of paper. Paper is hip. Print is more than alive, the motto of Monocle’s last media conference.

· Revenge of work: We were all supposed to work as cyber nomads in coffeeshops and planes. Instead, work has become more social and physical. The best coders work in lavish office environments, eat organic food before they head to Pilates. And, there are more jobs out there than people who can fill them.

· Revenge of Retail: Yes, Retail is dying. The terrible Retail of Toys“R”Us, Sears and Mega Malls. In the meantime, new shopping concepts are popping up everywhere, there’s more innovation in Retail than ever and digital is fully integrated. But it’s only one channel, not THE channel.

· Revenge of Learning: Let’s be frank: MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) have turned out to be duds. Sure, there are some courses that flourish and work well. But during our digital fever we learned that learning is always the results of human, empathetic interaction. Computer are not bad for learning, bad teachers are. Computer don’t solve the secret of knowledge and learning. As Piaget said: “The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.”

At the end of his book, Sax proposes a new way to deal with the digital revolution: Digitization doesn’t mean a reduction of the world into 0’s and 1’s. Instead, we should focus on a co-evolution of the digital and physical world. Just like one can only understand their native language when one learns a second, the real potential of Digitization can only be explored through its counterpart: the analog world

Digital Enlightenment

A healthy future relies on healthy relationships that allow for transformations. A family works when a deep feeling of security transforms into the drive to be free. Globalization is successful when different cultures can exchange freely and creatively to create win-win situations. A company prospers when it’s aligned with societal needs. When employees, leadership, capital, work, innovation and marketing are in full alignment. It’s important to differentiate digital strategies into Technology and Human solutions:

Technology Digitization:

Replaces relationships with digital tools. The goal is to put a digital distance between the customer and/or employee. The boom of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa is based on the hope to replace real market relationships. Between customer and products/service the illusion of a human voice. It’s cynical and manipulative.

Human Digitization:

Creates new relationships, connecting customers, product and environment. When organic Jeans are being offered as a lease subscription, new markets are being developed. When people share their car rides and preferences on BlaBlaCar, new digital relationships are being developed to benefit everyone. Good Digitization combines real-haptic with the information-communicative to develop new relationships and availabilities.

Technology Digitization:

It’s often about efficiencies and cutting jobs. When a company develops a Digital Transformation Strategy without envisioning new relationships and not mapping out the Relationship Strategy, they basically admit they ran out of innovation. They want to squeeze the last penny of profit out of the firm. Customers are moved to web sites and chat bots. The bank moves people into the virtual world, the advisor can’t be reached. At the end, everybody is frustrated. And unemployed.

Human Digitization:

Uses Digital as a power to enhance the relationships between people, organizations and products/services, generating benefits for everyone. It moves control operation to the digital side to allow for human freedom and relationships. It empowers each stakeholder — customers and employees.

Will Ethics win?

It’s not that easy. Cold Technology condenses on the warm surface of human needs, and a lot of heat is generated. Just like the evolution, the digital evolution is a blind selection process. Uber will disappear if it doesn’t overcome its cynical and sexist corporate culture. And Facebook will crumble unless it develops human regulatory systems. Or it will be the trash bin of Humanity, a smoking trash fire of desperate emotions that people will flee to become analog again.

A wave of human-digital alignment processes is coming. Just like the Evolution where new species have to find their stable niches, digital strategies have to explore their adaptabilities to the human environment. That has nothing to do with ethics, many bad players will continue to exploit the Social Web. But we will separate the good from the bad, the digital that makes sense from the nonsense. Factories will use the Internet of Things because it makes sense that machines communicate to improve efficiencies. At home, connecting my coffee machine with the fridge is nonsense and the search of a solution to find a problem.

The Human-Digital Evolution has just begun

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When you spend too much time in Silicon Valley and with Digital Gurus, the future is pre-programmed: AI will take over everything, many of us will settle down on Mars and Death is dead.

But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding behind the AI Religion: Computer are better at Chess does not mean they are smarter than humans, they are just better when it comes to algorithms and board games. AI can only beat human intelligence where complexity doesn’t require the intuition and creativity of the physical human being. Watson might be better at diagnosing diseases but many of our sicknesses are not precise, they are very diffuse. Watson will get stuck in the complexity of the human and health care system. Siri and Alexa will remain toys for some, annoyances for most. Robots will not take over the care of elderly.

The future vision of the Internet giants are the clothes of the new digital emperors. They are filled with panic of the new monopolists, aggregating so much power that it even scares them. Facebook, Apple, Google and Co. wanted to change the world, they were the rebels and now they transformed into Darth Vader. Luring people to click on ads is in the end not a very sexy business model. Their escapism of AI and Robots, Mars and Singularity are just camouflaging the obvious: they have no clue how to escape the click-based model and they have no idea what the next business cycle will bring. The same escapism infected an American airline when they accepted reservations to fly to the moon (the bankrupt PanAm).

Euphoria, Bankruptcy, Decline, Selection: In the next few years we will experience major turbulences in the world of the digital empires. Google, Amazon, Twitter and their ilk disrupted the world, now it’s their turn to be disrupted. The evolutionary carving out continues and will lead to a “New Human Story” as Yuvel Noah Harai describes it in his book “Homo Deus”. The human-digital evolution has just begun. And it’s our job to shape it.