We find ourselves this week amidst one of the most unprecedented challenges the world has seen: a pandemic, declared by the World Health Organisation as a global public health emergency. Had we told ourselves just two months ago at the start of the year, when we were all optimistically organising our 2020 plans and resolutions, that a surprise like this was on its way, we would not have believed it.
Decades ago, the prospect of talking to someone on the other side of the world was unimaginable. Doing business with them, regularly coordinating with them and bridging the geographic and linguistic distance between you and them was even more incomprehensible. Now it is the norm.
In the lead-up to Mother’s Day a few years ago, I teamed up with the engineering team from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, to take part in an experiment live on national television. In this experiment, my engineering colleagues and I would print an intricate necklace from scratch over the course of the morning show with the hosts periodically cutting back to us in the studio to check on our progress. The angle for the story was something along the lines of ‘Don’t buy your mother a gift this Mother’s Day, print her one instead!’
How would you respond if you were told at a job interview, ‘Tell me something that you have invented’? This is exactly what Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says to new employees, in his effort to build and maintain a culture of innovation across all facets of the business.
If you had told your grandparents that in the future the currency of the world, the power of big companies and the division of wealth would largely centre around the movement of an invisible object, they would never have believed you. And yet it is increasingly becoming the case with the unstoppable use of data in the modern world.
We have all heard the painful clichés at the business conferences and read them in the self-help books – ‘the glass is half-full’, ‘look for the silver lining’. The sentiment of optimism is not one we are unfamiliar with in our modern world of self-help. Despite this, 1 in 7 Australians will experience depression in their lifetime and 1 in 4 will experience anxiety. 1 in 7 young people experience a mental health condition in a year. The popular sentiment of optimism has not seemed to translate into a happier or more fulfilled society.
‘Access is the new ownership.’
With the recent dramatic growth of companies like Airbnb, Uber and Spotify, it is hard to overlook the common denominator linking multiple major industries. The concept of ownership seems to be aging into a thing of the past, as renting and borrowing become more legitimate solutions to everyday needs.
If you had told the manual workers of the previous centuries that one day the average person’s ‘work’ would primarily be conducted from one little device we call a ‘laptop’, they would not have believed you – and they definitely would not have thought of it as ‘work’. Today, we are in a similar situation. What we have come to understand as ‘work’ is changing rapidly – the employment experience of tomorrow is certain to look drastically different to the one we have come to know.
In the existing world of power and politics, the story of David and Goliath has never really rung true. Aside from the odd revolutionary who led a charge against the world’s reigning forces, power has historically always belonged to organisations – be they religious institutions, government bureaucracies or corporate behemoths. The individual has always lacked power.