In our mini-series on the high impact, hugely disruptive but often overlooked forces shaping our world (we call them the “Grey Elephants” in the corner of your office), we look at:
I hope you’re enjoying this interlude between Seasons 3 and 4 of ThrowForward Thursday, as we give you a summary of our team’s latest research and insights.
Welcome to ThrowForward Thursday, my name’s Graeme Codrington. Come with me to the future, but not that far in the future. We’re in between season three and four of what we normally do in ThrowForward Thursday, and we’re having a look at the very near future, as in probably this afternoon, as we look at what we at TomorrowToday call all the “grey elephants”.
At TomorrowToday we believe that the best way to predict the future is to actually create it. And our grey elephant framework is designed to help us to do that. It works as a radar where this is something that you would need to look at on a regular basis and it helps you to think like a futurist, identify opportunities and prepare to take advantage of these forces of change. I’m not so much concerned about the threats, although those are there, but more interested in helping our clients to see the impact, advantage and opportunity that these disruptive forces can bring.
We use the concept of grey elephants because we like to think of the elephant in the room, which are highly probable, hugely impactful, but often ignored forces of change. The problem today is there isn’t just one of them, there are a whole herd of them ready to stampede at us. Last week, we talked about three of them Ageing, the Angry Planet and Inequalities. So now let’s jump into the next four. Next week I’ll talk about what we can do to engage with them, but let’s finish the story with the last four of these items.
Number four is the “Big Squeeze”, and the big squeeze is a collection of interconnected challenges that pose a systemic and complex burden on various aspects of our lives. It’s when a whole lot of forces, including the angry planet and inequality and ageing, in fact, it sort of brings together most of the other forces. But as they converge on multiple facets of our lives, they amplify the pressure on individuals, on communities, on societies, and even global systems as a whole. And so, we see this in evidence when we look at supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, rising costs of living and stagnant wages. And the Big Squeeze creates a multifaceted squeeze on our daily lives and most of us are left feeling the pinch.
When we work with clients on this, we often focus on supply chain issues, food and water security, the energy squeeze and we ask people to consider even, whether we might be living in an era-defining time of change where maybe one of the reasons for the squeeze is that the systems themselves that have been governing how we live and work those themselves might be changing. We’ll come back to that thought in a minute when we look at multipolarity.
But number five is “Angry people”. If everything we’ve said so far from the angry planet and inequality in the big squeeze makes sense to you, then it shouldn’t be any surprise that people are upset and we see this in a number of ways. Politics is about as divisive as it has ever been. People don’t just vote for their political party and get on with their lives. People have chosen sides.
And I think maybe America is the best example of this at the moment, where as we get up to the moments when families are supposed to get together, Thanksgiving, for example, they’ve maybe been difficult times for families where there are differences of opinion in the past, but now they’re almost impossible. We can’t have conversations about politics or religion or culture. The culture wars are part of angry people expressing themselves.
We see this in social media and the way that people choose to communicate. Maybe there’s a whole separate subject about this, but I think it’s an expression of the fact that people are angry and they express that anger in the way that communicate with each other. If you’re on a community, or WhatsApp group of any form, you will know what I’m talking about.
And I also think that we see angry people in the workplace. As I record this in 2023, there are more people on strike now in different parts of the world than there have been maybe ever. I don’t know if anybody’s keeping those stats, but certainly, it’s striking, whether it’s riot-level striking in France or the striking of various public servants in the UK. So much so that they actually have an app to help you work out whether the nurses are on strike so you can’t go to the hospital today, but tomorrow you could go to the hospital, but you can’t get there because the bus drivers are on strike and then the train drivers, and then the air traffic controllers and the pilots.
And in America, my word, every major union from the Screenwriters Guild to the UPS delivery drivers seem to be on strike on one week or another. It’s happening all over the world and there is pushback again, probably related to big squeezes and inequality, as people say, “The system isn’t working, Is it, angry people?”
Part of the system not working is what we call multipolarity. Now, this one maybe needs a little bit of explanation. The concept itself, we think, can be tracked back to the early 1990s with Russia, and as the USSR had collapsed after 1989-1990 with Gorbachev and Perestroika. Russia had spent the previous 30-40 years in a head-to-head combat with America for dominance, and Russia had got things into space. First, they’d got the first satellite and the first human but then, of course, John F. Kennedy led the way to say, “No, we’ve got to win this fight” and put a man on the moon to just sort of prove that dominance.
And then there was the dominance of the dollar being selected as the global currency, and then there slowly became a more cultural dominance, and then Russia or the USSR declined and then the USSR collapsed and then Russia was left. The leaders at that stage, they were very influential in shaping the life of one army, I think he was a colonel at the time, you might have heard of him, Vladimir Putin, but he very much bought into this.
The concept was that Russia would go to China and India, this was the original plan, and they would get China and India to form an alliance. So, they saw the EU growing, they have America, and then they wanted this Russia, India, and China alliance to get together, to make sure that America did not dominate, wasn’t a single pole of power and they wanted a multipolar world.
Of course, that has now expressed itself in the BRICS nations, and that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China, and including South Africa. As I record this, it’s a week after the 2023 BRICS summit that was held in Johannesburg, and the BRICS nations agreed to add a number of other nations to the BRICS. I think there were seven, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, including was it Egypt, I think that might have been added, Argentina and a number of others. And I’m sure that as the years go by, more will be added to this because the idea is to create multiple polls. And this isn’t just a grouping of nations. This is an attempt to change the power systems and structures of the world, which might include different currencies, and it certainly includes different cultures and different approaches to safety, to power, to military and we are living at a moment of significant shift in human history in terms of the alliances of power and how things work.
Tumultuous times lie ahead, but opportunities for those people who realise these shifts in powers. And instead of doing maybe what America’s presidents are doing, and it doesn’t matter which person is president, they all seem to have a fairly anti-China bias, but now very much might have an anti-BRICS and the BRICS plus bias as well.
Anyway, I don’t want to tell you what politics you should support, but I do think that you should see what’s happening with multipolarity and the fact that the world’s political, economic and even cultural systems are realigning themselves as we speak.
Finally, then, number seven and it could have been number one, because, of course, we live in a digital age driven by technology and technological advances. We talk about “Intelligent Assistance”. If you follow me at all, you’ll know that this is one of my favourite ways to talk about technology, especially about AI, because although AI is coming, it’s not here yet. Chachi PT isn’t AI, but it is IA. It is intelligent assistance, but we want to do more than that. We talk about being bionic, and if you’re as old as I am, you might remember I was he the $6 million man, a TV show from the 1970s or 1980s, but the concept of bionic comes from that. It is the integration, the fusion of humans and machines.
And it’s not about being scared of automation, being scared of machines taking over from humans, it’s not about being scared of competition, machines versus humans. It’s embracing augmentation, where the machines do the things that they’re good at and the humans do the things that we’re good at, and we actually combine together to do more as humans and machines together, than either of us could do apart.
And so that’s kind of what we mean by intelligence assistance and if you prefer a different label, this might be the fifth Industrial Revolution, although maybe that’s a little bit of an overused statement. So, there we go, our seven great grey elephants.
In your industry, in your society, there may be a few others to add to the list. We’re not saying this is comprehensive, but we think if you start by looking at these seven forces, seven forces, remember, that are highly probable, hugely impactful and often ignored. Maybe the angry planet one isn’t ignored, but the way that we look at it, we think people don’t often look at it. There’s obviously huge climate debate, but it’s more than climate and weather, it’s plastic and water purity and things like that. Anyway, we’ve had the conversations, but we think that not enough companies, whether they’re thinking about these forces or not, not enough companies are realising just how sharp the transformation is that they will cause.
The key message is this if you wait for a great grey elephant to appear in the room, it’ll be too late to prepare for it and certainly too late to take advantage. Enlightened leaders recognise that the best way to predict the future is to boldly create it and that there’s never been a better time than now to deliver value and impact. Using new strategies, new approaches, innovative leadership mindsets, and creative business models. Leaders need to leverage this Kairos moment of opportunity and get ahead of their competition, but we will talk about that just a little bit more next week.
I know this is a slightly longer episode than we normally have, but I hope that you have enjoyed the summary of the work that our team does on these grey elephants. Obviously, this is the work that we do, and all I’ve done is given you a summary. We can present this to your team as a keynote, it’s probably better as a workshop with your leadership, and we can even take you through a strategic consulting process where we help you to integrate this thinking and this radar approach with your strategy and leadership frameworks.
So get in touch with us if you’d like us to help you to do that. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week where we talk about what we can actually do in order to prepare to take advantage of all of this change that’s taking place.
And then finally, the week after that, we’ll be into season four and a new look at what we’re trying to do with ThrowForward Thursday. I’m excited and I hope you’ll stick with me each and every Thursday or sometimes as it is today Friday. I’ll see you next week.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.