Big changes, the new age and new challenges
It’s no news that the World has changed/been turned upside down in the past few decades, but we are often not even aware of all the changes in our lives. Therefore it is extremely important that we stop for a moment, take a deep breath and try to figure out the global currents, as well as the phenomena of change as the drive of these currents. After a short analysis of the world’s paradigms and the nature of change, it will be crystal clear why we need to apply new life management techniques to our lives.
Every change, no matter how big or small, brings new positive things and opportunities to us, along with new challenges and concerns. There is no solution (change) without a new set of problems. As the Taoist rule goes, there is no ultimate good or bad/no ultimate good or bad exists. Everything has its positive and negative side. Change is no exception here. The bigger the change, the bigger the impact with all its positives and negatives. What we have to remember is that the change is an opportunity for some and a burden for others.
Let’s go on. We know two different kinds of changes. The first one is a linear, step-by-step change, also known as an evolution. In business, it’s called the “sustaining innovation”. After every “linear” change (innovation), we are a little bit better – as a person, company, product or society. Because of competition, all organisms and entities have to get better through existence, even if just by a little bit.
This “linear” or “evolutionary” kind of change is usually very defined, narrow and predictable. So are the new set of problems and the opportunities it brings. We all expect our next mobile phone to be a more capable machine (advantage) and we all know that we will have to learn (disadvantage) a few new tricks in order to use it.
That is also why we humans don’t like change. Every change brings uncertainty and demands our effort to adapt or learn new things. We are more prepared to deal with change when the award (advantage) is much bigger than our struggle to adapt (disadvantage). That usually isn’t a problem with linear change, because we know the upcoming struggle and reward pretty well.
The second kind of change is called a revolution. In business we know it as “disruptive innovation”. The quake in this case is incomparably stronger. Such revolutionary change usually happens in two cases – (1) either there is no more room for evolutionary progress or (2) a new radical technology has been invented.
When it comes to disruptive innovations (or the business revolution), the business ecosystem landscape is unrecognizably changed. Revolutionary change means total damnation for some, and an opportunity to rise for others. The change is so big that the old players find it too difficult to adapt to the new circumstances. But no matter how much we resist, revolutionary change is a part of our lives.
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But there is more. From time to time, many disruptive innovations come to life at once and cause a quantum leap in humankind’s mindset, the technology development level and world order. That is the real global revolution that changes lives and industries from every single aspect.
In the past few millennia, humankind has lived through three social and technological revolutions that big. The first one was the agricultural revolution. There was not enough food hanging from the trees for the entire population and consequently, it was time to grow food more systematically and become more organized.
The agricultural revolution slowly led to the second one, the industrial revolution in 1800s. New cultivation technologies and higher food production meant dramatic population growth and less work opportunities for people in the fields. People flocked to the cities, providing labor supply to the first factories. With the invention of the steam engine, a whole new world was born.
Most of us were born in the middle of the third revolution. It took a century and a half for the early primitive engines and machines to be improved to the point of the first computer being born and commoditized. The digital age had begun and in the last 20 years, it has revolutionized all parts of the World, from every industry to the way most people are living their daily lives.
It’s very easy to see all the positive elements of the new digital world that was shaped after the third world revolution (also called creative capitalism, the knowledge society, post-information age etc.). Let’s look at some of them:
Access to information
We can access most of the knowledge and information known to mankind. Knowledge is power and all information (assets) are just one click away.
Ease of communication
We have numerous options to communicate and connect, even with people who are on the other side of the globe. On top of that we have many options for entertainment and fun.
Material status and shopping
Shelves in stores are filled with an unlimited amount of different kinds of products that we can (easily) afford to buy. If we don’t have enough money, we can borrow it very fast. The number of people living in poverty is decreasing very fast as well.
Travelling has never been so cheap and easy. The world has become a global village. If we cannot visit a specific piece of land in this planet, we can “go” there with a single click – to look at pictures, videos etc. More and more jobs can be performed remotely.
Safety and longevity
Statistically, there has been a big decrease in violence and poverty. Medical and pharmaceutical inventions contribute to longer life expectancy.
You have the power to create your life as you desire. If you know how to do it correctly.
Fact is, we live in the best times ever. But as we mentioned before, there is no absolute good or bad that comes with every change. The positives of the new digital world are big, as are the new challenges.
Here are the biggest personal challenges everyone is facing in the digital world (the new age):
Too many options
The world today is filled with options and alternatives. You can buy millions of different products, choose from numerous religions, sports, hobbies, occupations and investment opportunities. On the one hand, this is great, because it allows you to adjust your lifestyle completely according to your personality (what to wear, eat, do etc.). You have the power to build your life as you want it. But on the other hand, all the options also bring a big psychological burden.
It is easy to choose from a restaurant menu with three options. It is extremely hard to decide when you have twenty pages of different meals. If you know yourself really well and have a good decision making system, having many options is a big advantage; because options mean freedom. But if you don’t have a good decision-making system, all the options take a lot of our cognitive fuel. Freedom becomes burden.
And guess what, all of us have life situations or areas where we can decide fast and others where we are totally indecisive, because we lack a decision support system. For example, one can be brutally decisive when it comes to deciding on what to eat, and the biggest ditherer when it comes to making a decision about a career change.
Before: You could buy few types of diapers in a store nearby.
Now: You can choose among hundreds of different types of diapers on numerous websites. Each one is much better than the rest, according to their marketing.
The new digital world doesn’t stop at the unreasonable number of options. Every product is accompanied by extremely aggressive marketing. It comes with a strong pushy message appealing to our emotions, ego and life goals and, even more importantly, it impacts our perception of the World. Every product comes with an ad showing beautiful, happy, rich and perfect people.
We are exposed to thousands of ads every day, everywhere. Everybody wants a piece of our lives, let it be money, attention, time or some other form of currency. The goal of all the ads is to take as much as possible from us and in return, give us a short-lived feeling of material satisfaction, which also builds up unrealistic expectations that life is a bed of roses. It’s very easy to associate consumerism with happiness. The belief that buying things will make us happy in the long term largely contributes to ruining the quality of life.
Don’t get me wrong, money is very important and it does solve many problems. When we earn less than 80,000 € annually, the added value of every new dollar to our happiness is that much bigger. But having dozens of pairs of shoes in the closet or believing an ad claiming that if we buy a specific product our lives will miraculously change for the better, is a whole other story. It doesn’t matter which cookies we buy for our kids; if we don’t build a relationship with them (love = quality time), cookies won’t help.
Why we are unhappy – The expectation gap
What’s even more frightening is the psychological effect that the thousands of happy people in ads have on all of us. We start equating happy ad people with real people and mix those two up. We start assuming that everyone around us is more beautiful, happier, richer… more everything compared to us.
It consequently makes sense that Hollywood and YouTube stars are the main role models of the today’s society. Because it seems that most of them are living the happy lives of people in ads. They have the looks, the money, they enjoy life, have fun etc. without any struggle. If we add the halo effect to the equation (“halo effect” being the cognitive bias of thinking that people who excel at one thing are more perfect than they really are) there really is room for envy, depression and low self-esteem.
To make our expectations even more unrealistic, we are surrounded by social networks showing only the best parts of our friends’ and acquaintances’ lives – partying, hanging out with friends, travelling – all happy. They live a dream life while we have to struggle. It seems totally unfair. The reality is of course totally different. We all have our fights, struggles and obstacles to overcome. Nobody on this planet is living a perfect life. But it appears otherwise at the first glance.
Before: It wasn’t at all odd if you smiled and you were missing one or more of your teeth.
Now: It seems like everybody is perfect, with perfect bodies, spouses and dream jobs… in ads and on social networks. Everybody seems to be living a better life than us.
The agrarian revolution was a little bit about the brains (innovation), but mostly about the muscle (field labor). The industrial age was already a little bit more about the brains, since the machines took over the part of the labor. Management (organizational innovations) and other (technological) innovations were becoming more and more important. Today’s information age and creative economy is all about the brains. Knowledge, creativity, information, innovation.
Information as the king currency in a creative economy leads to everybody wanting to trade with this currency. With 7 billion people living on planet Earth, this surly brings us information overload/leads us to an information overload. Every two days, we create more information than we did to up to 2013 altogether. More than 2 million blog posts are written every day. Since quality and quantity rarely go hand in hand, the quality of the information is dropping very fast. It’s easy to get lost in useless content on a day to day basis.
Having access to so much information can be a positive or a negative thing, depending on our self-discipline and our decision-making support system. It’s a big disadvantage if we are easily distracted and can’t separate the wheat from the chaff. If we don’t have a personal system for organizing, analyzing and structuring information, the overload is a big burden. The same situation arises if we have low technological literacy.
On the other hand, knowledge is power. To be even more precise: applying knowledge is power. Every one of us who has access to the Internet has access to the mighty source of power; the power to live an abundant full and creative life. But only if one has an agile and lean approach to handling information and developing personal competences.
Before: You finished formal education, watched news and read a book from time to time.
Now: You can read 2 million blog posts at any given time of the day using your mobile phone.
With information overload, global competition and rapid innovation, markets have become extremely complex. It doesn’t matter which market or industry we look at, they’re all becoming more and more complex and unpredictable.
Financial markets are volatile, having thousands of different products to choose from. You need to be extremely well financially educated to make a good return on investment. There are less and less safe jobs on the market and many people are questioning the value of formal education. New occupations are appearing every year and it’s hard to tell where in the future the demand will become greater than supply.
Same goes for small business owners. The markets are changing fast and the average lifetime of companies is rapidly shortening. Even big companies can go out of business in a second if they are not innovative enough. Consider Nokia and other giants that have quickly disappeared when Apple and Google presented new disruptive mobile technology.
Markets demand constant innovation, but constant innovating leads to more complex markets. Yes, it’s a magic circle and life it’s not going to become any easier.
Before: You finished formal education, got a job for life and invested surplus in one of the mutual funds.
Today: You can invest in crypto currencies, CFDs, ETFs, yourself, or crowd fund some cool product. There are almost no safe jobs anymore. You are on your own.
A hardly bearable uncertainty
All previously stated paradigms of the new digital world have brought a very demanding psychological uncertainty to our lives. On the one hand, we expect great things from our lives and have an unlimited amount of opportunities all over the world, but on the other hand, there is no real systematic knowledge on how to not get stuck in all the complexity and fast change.
All that can lead to a mediocre productivity, because of indecisiveness, anxiety, not setting the priorities, numbness, escaping real life, shallow relationships and so on. That is why we need new approaches and techniques to life management, such as agile and lean life management principles.