Technology may be ready for the digital revolution, but is society?
It is robots who spark neo-nationalism, not globalization
The year 2016 was most likely one of the most disruptive years in recent history. Nationalist movements are on the rise across the globe. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, the Brexit-Vote, the advances of the Front National in France, the Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands. This list could be continued almost indefinitely. While the leaders of this parties may differ in their physical appearance, their core message is the same:
America First! Build the wall! Reclaim Britain!
While at universities and on the dinner tables of the academic elite discussion may revolve around how the political landscape could have changed so rapidly within the past months, we often calm ourselves with the knowledge that the supporters of the Brexit-Movement or President Trump were simply ill informed at the time they casted their votes. Frequent exclamations of “Bregret” (Brexit-Regret) or the steep decline of Trump’s approval ratings during his first week in office are only a few of the numbers we like to cite in order to calm ourselves (The Economist, 2016; Agiesta, 2017). We like to relax in the knowledge that these events were only spikes of madness in an otherwise sane world.
However, while it is true that several Trump or Brexit supporter may, in hindsight, have their doubts regarding their decision, these events are only the symptom of a much bigger, underlying cause, which could easily be identified if you took the time to listen to their supporters.
All the 2–3 word policies chanted by enthusiastic supporters of such movements proclaim to be an easy fix to their most urgent problem: Job insecurity. Uncertainty of their livelihood. The fear of being left behind in an ever-changing world.
When asked, one Donald Trump supporter summarized his feelings: “I think he is the last chance we have to establish law and order, and preserve the culture I grew up in!” (Parker, 2016).
While the highly educated side of society may exclaim that the nationalist movements will throw humanity back in time by reducing wealth, creating conflicts, and separating society, it seems like this may be exactly be the aim of their supporters. A financial analyst may find it hard to imagine that his job may one day be outsourced to another country. Yet for a manufacturing worker, this may be a cruel reality which may cause him severe fear and stress.
Though it may seem inappropriate to quote a movie in an essay regarding such a serious topic, no other than Yoda, the beloved Jedi master from Star Wars, summarizes the current developments better:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Anger, which causes the formation of radical ideas. Hate, which leads to a separation of society, be it psychologically based on ideologies, or physically, through the construction of walls. Suffering, like the families who are currently separated due to President Trump’s “Travel Ban” and may not be able to return to their loved ones (Ott, 2017).
Gary Hamel’s Pyramid of Human Capabilities
Yet what is it about globalization that the well-educated part of society is so eager about its benefits and possibilities while the other side of the spectrum is suffering tremendous fear? One of the world’s leading researchers in innovation management, Gary Hamel, may provide the answer in his concept called “The Pyramid of Human Capabilities” (Hamel, 2006; thehypertextual.com, 2010):
This pyramid, based on Maslov’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, describes the Hierarchy of Human Capabilities, the skills it takes to create value in this world (Hamel, 2006).
The first level, obedience, describes the obedient worker, executing the tasks assigned to him.
The second level, diligence, describes the diligent worker, who appears friendly and delighted while executing these tasks.
The third level, intellect, describes the worker who studied the best practice and applies this knowledge at work.
Note that, in our globalized world, these first three levels of human capabilities have turned into commodities. Simple tasks which solely require an obedient or diligent executer such as cleaning can be performed by almost every human being. Yet while a college degree may once have been a valid escape from this situation, in today’s globalized world, such tasks may be outsourced equally easy to a similarly well-educated person in a developing country such as India.
With this knowledge in mind, it may not seems as absurd anymore that supporters of nationalist movements attempt to return to a time when their livelihood as e.g. super market cashier was not threatened by an equally skilled immigrant who may execute the same tasks at a lower cost.
However, the attentive reader may notice that this observation is flawed due to one important communality between supporters of nationalist movements and immigrants: They are both human, which entails several inconveniences which come with the human nature. High costs of maintenance in form of alimentation and accommodation and decreased productivity due to other needs such as sleep or breaks. All of these are short comings of which a machine does not suffer.
Globalization as scape goat
Immigrants and globalization serve as scape goats for these movements in order to channel the fear, anger, and hate of their supporters. It is simply too difficult for the average human being to process that his job is threatened by a machine. “Build that Wall!” simply is more accessible to the average human than “Stop the rise of the machines!”. While the prior appears to be a tangible solution to a human problem, the latter may seem like a statement from the movie “The Matrix”.
Yet this is the reality of our time. According to Frey and Osborne (as cited in Mesnard, 2016), an estimate of 47% of US jobs are at risk due to “computerization”. And this phenomenon does not exclusively apply to the western hemisphere: Fewer people are currently employed in manufacturing today than in 1997, at least partially due to automation (Rotman, 2013). The immigrants or developing countries which are currently blamed for the loss of jobs by nationalist movements in the West may sooner or later face the same issues the West is currently facing.
This is one of the major issues of our time:
Since the industrial revolution, we have spent 150 years turning humans into robots. Now we have to reverse this process and make them human again.
For this reason, we need to focus on the skills which are particularly human in nature, described by Gary Hamel (2006) in the three upper layers of the pyramid of capabilities:
The fourth layer, initiative, describes the employee who does more than is asked from him and walks the extra mile.
The fifth layer, creativity, describes the creative individual who approaches issues from multiple angels.
The six layer, passion & zeal, describes the employee who derives self-actualization and fulfillment form his work.
Gary Hamel’s pyramid of human capabilities perfectly describes the divide of our society (Hamel, 2006): The bottom three layers make up roughly 60–70% of society, while the top three layers make up roughly 30–40%. While the bottom layers, commodities, feel threatened by globalization and automation, the top layers feel save and elevated enough to prevail when the flood hits. Yet in a democratic society, the majority at the bottom may rule over the top, as it has happened in the United States or Great Britain.
Our education system, our value system, and our society, have for too long focused on the three lower layers of human capabilities as it is common believe that we are able to learn these steps while the other capabilities such as initiative, creativity, and passion are distributed through genes or at least reserved for a selected few at the top.
Novel Idea: The Development Process of Human Capabilities
However, when observing Gary Hamel’s pyramid closely, one may notice that rather being static in nature, it appears as if the individual stages of the pyramid are intertwined, connected, into a large process. A process I like to call: The Development Process of Human Capabilities, a model capable of transforming the way we educate and perceive capabilities as a whole.
The main difference between Gary Hamel’s pyramid and the development of human capabilities process is time (Hamel, 2006). While the pyramid is static, in the process presented above we advance from one stage to another as time advances and fulfillment increases. Furthermore, in order to apply this model to the individual, the bottom layers “obedience” and “diligence” were replaced with “motivation” and “discipline”.
A Brief Explanation
In order to become passionate, each human has to first find his driving force, his motivation. Subsequently, the individual has to be taught the discipline necessary to focus this motivation and energy on specific tasks. This motivation and discipline combined equipped the individual with the tools to gather as much information as possible and build ones intellect.
Until this stage the current schooling systems cover most of the process. However, most students believe that their journey ends at this point and the search for a job starts, rendering them in the commodity trap previously described. Therefore, in order to revolutionize the way we educate and think of capabilities as a whole, raising awareness of the subsequent steps is crucial!
Based on the individuals motivation, discipline, and intellect, the individual is equipped which the necessary tools to show initiative. S/he will find more knowledge than solely the one presented by e.g. his professor, regardless of whether it relates to his/her own area of expertise or not. Provided with this foundation of motivation, discipline, intellect, and initiative, it is now the individual’s task to combine the acquired knowledge of different areas of expertise in novel ways, a process commonly described as creativity.
In the final stage, his creativity, which could not exist without the earlier stages, may produce a novel idea or a product. Either way, it is the output of his own capabilities, the direct offspring of his imagination for which he most definitely will feel a form of deeper bond. Some may describe this as passion, others as love for their creation. Those of us who have had the luck to experience both passion and love will agree that they describe the same emotion with a different word.
Proof of Concept
The Development of Human Capabilities Process is universally applicable and each stage equally relevant towards the creation of meaningful output. For example, creativity without intellect is impossible to achieve. Creativity is often misconceived as the creation of something entirely new, a great idea which seemingly comes out of nowhere. Yet, when actual creative output is analyzed closer, it becomes clear that this is simply not true.
Take for example the creation of the jet engine. The engineers creating the jet engine where facing a problem: At such high speeds is was almost impossible for air to enter the engine, as small air whirlpools outside of the engine would direct the air away from it. The engineers solved this problem with the help of biology. The Peregrine Falcon, the fastest animal in the world, can reach record speeds of 320 km/h when diving down to catch his pray. Yet at such high speeds, the falcon would face exactly the same issue the engineer were facing: It could not breathe. Nature solved this problem by creating a small cone-shaped bone within the Falcons nostrils which allows the compensation of shock-waves of air and the controlled entrance of air into its lungs. Rather than relying solely on their engineering skills, the engineers combined their field of expertise with a second field, biology, to create something “seemingly entirely” new. (Biodiversitylibrary.org, 2010)
Similarly, initiative without discipline may lead to a vast amount of started yet never ended projects as the individual lacks the example to persevere as distractions distort his focus. Passion is also impossible to find among people who lack e.g. motivation as they find no purpose in their actions.
Humanity has spent decades to prepare technology for the digital revolution, yet is has forgotten to prepare society for it. Technology is ready for the future, but society is not. By restructuring the educational system and revolutionizing the way we perceive skills such as initiative, creativity, and passion, we can provide each and every one with the capabilities necessary to thrive in the upcoming digital revolution. It our mission to spark a movement and prepare society for the digital revolution and a bright future, or else humanity may throw itself back into the dark age.
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All sources mentioned in this article can be found in the comments.