The 22nd century will be what we make it

Are we wasting the Covid crisis and avoiding the Great Reset ?

NB: this is a cross post from my Substack newsletter, published in Oct

Born during the baby crash years of the 1970s and coming of age in 1980s America images of the future beckoned and excited the imagination. Notwithstanding the “Day After” nuclear Armageddon fears, our childhood was bookended by the 2001 Space Odyssey-style visions of the future and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Futurists like Alvin Toffler graced magazine covers and the “year 2000” was a calling card for progress. The first 2 decades of the 21st century, rocked by terrorism, wars and climate catastrophes, and too often we seem to have forgotten that the future is what we make it. Who speaks of preparing the future and establishing strong foundations for the 22nd century ? Too few it seems, save for global thinkers like Douglas Rushkoff, Nassim Taleb, Anand Giridharadas, Naomi Klein, Nilofer Merchant, Amy Webb, Jurgen Habermas, Sarah Kendzior and Jacques Attali.

Reasons for hope in building the 22nd century

Everyday newsreaders in all eras overanalyze the current moment and can feel that everything was better prior to them and the future is looking bleak. Those of us who were around the 1960s Cuba missile crisis or the 1970s-80s before Reagan’s bold move towards the USSR, remember fears of a coming nuclear confrontation. They should speak to today’s pessimist youth to properly frame today vs yesterday.

There are ample reasons for hope in building the next century:

Extreme poverty has been reduced worldwide and the most populous country, India, is moving upwards in its economic development.

For every populist autocrat there are efficient pragmatists, usually women, heading up governments towards society-wide positive goals: Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel are but 2 examples. At the EU level Margrethe Vestager and Ursula von der Leyen is also

Technology has helped countless companies and their employees function during the first lockdown this winter/spring, showing its power as an essential lever of our economies. It also enabled schools to organize distance learning in a meaningful way.

The awareness of the younger generations that they must redouble efforts to save our world is propelling a number of inspiring initiatives such as Boyan Slat’s initiative to clean up oceans of plastic garbage..

The number of violent conflicts worldwide and of collateral victims has decreased significantly.

Areas of worry remain, most notably the power wielded by the carbon barons worldwide

A longtime friend who’s a keen investor summarized it well: the current monetary creation worldwide is keeping too many zombie companies afloat and in essence preventing the next economy from emerging. Nowhere is this more impactful than in the energy sector. The US coal industry found a useful idiot in Trump as it vainly tried to stay relevant but data points towards its sunsetting as an energy source. Traditional oil companies such as Exxon spent billions lobbying DC to enforce the status quo and are caught flat footed now that oil demand is plummeting, seemingly for a long while.

Still, “carbon barons” worldwide wield an inordinate amount of political power. In America the maligned Koch network of companies spends 400M$ on Supreme Court-approved “free speech”, Russia’s foreign policy moves need to be framed via its role as a petro-oligarchy and the latest “peace” deals in the Mideast have carbon energy as a backdrop. George Monbiot and other keen analysts have been warning of the outsized influence of these “carbon barons”, against which institutions such as the EU need to step up their efforts. The same institutions should also provide much needed regulation to the FAANG/Big Tech platforms, most of whom are actually calling for it.

Are we wasting this Covid crisis and avoiding the needed Great Reset ?

Preparing the future entails tough choices and it’s unnerving to see that we wasted 2008 and are on the path to wasting 2020. The Covid crisis should be the backdrop to bold decisions, on a global scale, to perform the Great Reset our societies are craving for. Purpose, resilience and risk taking should be the operating concepts for governance, alas they are trumped (pun very much intended) by greed, laziness and corruption, in the short term.

Churchill’s words therefore resonate in the loudest way: “You have to run risks. There are no certainties in war. There is a precipice on either side of you — a precipice of caution and a precipice of over-daring.”

This writer remains a staunch pragmatic realist, with faith in human ingenuity and the will to overcome adversity. The way forward is now, it’s exciting, let’s embrace it !

What I’ve done in my own environment

I’ve been working remotely or in a remote&distributed fashion since 1996. Some lessons learned along the way:

Passion can be shared across time zones and without in-person interactions. I started my career in news photography in New York in 1996 and worked daily with passionate photographers posted all over the world. I got to meet them in person only a handful of times. In-person interactions are only one way to instil and maintain a strong working relationship.

Establishing a professional network remotely is possible. Younger generations are 100% networked, yet some are skeptical that they can forge strong bonds outside in-person meetings at offices, business conventions and other networking-friendly venues. When I look back at some of my strongest professional bonds, some were forged 100% virtually eg we haven’t met in person.

What YOU can do in your own corporate environment

Properly preparing for tectonic shifts requires planning and fortitude. Here are a few tips that YOU can use in your work:

Future-proof your business by assessing your market opportunities properly. This means accepting that the Covid crisis will keep accelerating long term trends. The e-commerce boom worldwide due to the lockdowns is only one example.

Establish a strong company culture, shareable remotely. I’ve been working in a remote capacity since 2015 and prior to that in global companies of various sizes. A key lesson learned along the way: communication, communication, communication is what makes all the difference. The other, act quickly to remove toxic individuals who do not fit the culture. Remote harassment is real and manners still matter. Deborah Copagen Kagan’s example of her remote firing is a fitting example. Finally a strong company culture will resonate with prospects and clients alike and serve everyone’s interests.

Empower all strata in your company and channel enthusiasm and passion properly. Easier said then done, of course, but this should be every corporate leader’s mission statement. I’m currently working with a large financial institution with teams spread out across time zones and geographies. They have specifically empowered one team member with a long in-house experience with the task of cutting red tape and facilitating dialogue across business lines.

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