[BLOG] New dawn calls for bold leadership.
What are the core trends that will intensify in this year, 2012, the start of the second decade of the 21st century?
Despite significant advances, we stand at only the beginning of the digital revolution. We saw the invention of the personal computer, email, and hand-held devices that have fundamentally altered the way the world works. (My MA treatise was still typed on an Olympia machine with tippex for corrections). Looking back at earlier revolutions - agriculture, industrial and scientific - it takes up to 150 years for a revolution to mature. We are only 50 odd years into the virtual era and cannot even imagine new inventions and applications that will shape business, personal relations and education over the next ten years.
The green revolution - only 40 years old - will gain more and more momentum. Green parties will move from fringe to the centre. Green technology - specifically sustainable energy technologies - will grow exponentially as the public knowledge about the dead-end of a carbon-based economy spreads. Green consumerism - from medicine, tourism agriculture to building - will grow dramatically over the next ten years. The right investment in green will yield superior results.
On the political front, the democratic revolution - commencing in modern times in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe - will gain momentum. The days of dictatorships are numbered. Whereas the iron curtain came down in 1989 leading to the freedom of Eastern Europe and the USSR, the Arab curtain is at the moment being torn down in the name of populist power (and Western interests?). Though other forms of oppression will always remain (curbing of media freedom in the name of homeland security, for example), the world is undeniably marching toward people-based governance. How China will - in the end - deal with this momentum over the next decade is perhaps far more important than their GDP growth.
We currently live in the midst of a fundamental re-thinking of capitalism as we came to know it since the late 18th century. We can clearly see that capitalism or the free market is the most efficient system to create wealth, but that - unless properly steered for the public good - can become a monster that feeds only a few, privatise profits, but socialise debt in the financial and ecological sense of the word. Ask the “Occupy Wall Street” people. The relationship between state and market is now once again a crucial question. The old adage that a minimal state is always the best option fell flat on its face after November 2008. The alternative - a nationalised economy - has not shown itself to be either efficient not compatible with individual freedoms. To resolve this tension in each specific situation will require great policy wisdom over the next decade.
The next decade will also see an intensification of the spiritual revolution. The secularization thesis of the 1960s that predicted the slow demise of religion as people grow more scientific and “mature” in their thinking and life-style, has been proven wrong. In uncertain times, religion provides spiritual support and in a fast globalising world, a sense of anchor and identity. Bad religion leads to fundamentalism, suicide bombers and war in the name of the gods. Good religion has proven itself through the ages as liberating and socially uplifting, leading people to enormous input on behalf of others, and actions for the public good in education, health care, and family life.
The world is now indeed a small, inter-connected town. In some cases these inter-connections are formalised - like in the EU or BRICS. But in most cases the effect of what happens in one part of the world on another far-away place is not immediately apparent. We have already seen how cheaper production in some countries led to job losses in others; and how “Western” culture and life-style - spread via the mass media - have become the norm and implicit ideal for all. The reactions of economic protectionism and cultural nationalism will profoundly affect international relations over the next decade.
In our role as leaders and business people, we must study each of these revolutions and determine the best strategies to maximise benefits. Leaders know their environment and can make intelligent advance choices. Fools go forward as if the future is a mere prolongation of the past.
We live in unprecedented times. It requires unprecedented leaders.
* Prof Piet Naudé is the former head of the Business School and currently Deputy Vice- Chancellor: Academic at the Nelson Mandela Metro University in Port Elizabeth. He writes in his personal capacity. This article is to inform and educate, not to advise.
This article was originally posted on South Africa Business Communities