As has been said before, there has probably never been a better time for entrepreneurs than there is today. But for young people, in particular, to take advantage of the opportunities, there is a need to understand the new paradigms and also to be able to break free of the old paradigms.
This means that young people need first to understand that creativity is given to all and not just the few. It is also true that there isn’t a single type of creativity, regardless of how much the traditionalists would make you believe that there is. If people had accepted that classical ballet was the only true form of ballet then modern ballet would never have appeared.
Young people need to understand that we were all born creative and that it is only the constraints of the present system that have tried to remove it from you either by prioritising academic achievement or even by drugs that suppress non-conformist behaviour.
Therefore, to fully benefit from the entrepreneurial opportunities it is necessary to regain that creative spark that you were born with. Not only does it allow you to be as creative as you want to be, no one can say that it is wrong because no one has seen an alien!
Which brings me to the next thing that young people need to address, which is not to be afraid of failure. Unfortunately we live in a world where we are led to believe that success is everything as defined by others. We are not encouraged to define success by our own parameters. As a consequence, failure is too often seen as a person rather than an event.
Not only can this be life-defining for some young people, it also suppresses the entrepreneurial spirit. To succeed as an entrepreneur it is essential that one can accept the possibility of failure and be prepared to learn from it. Whether like Edison you need 10,000 attempts to produce a light bulb, or like WD40 you need 40 attempts to succeed, an unwillingness to risk failure will halt entrepreneurship before it even starts.
In harnessing this creative ability, it is important that young people recognise the alternative outlets for their creativity. Clearly, they will be conversant with the potential for high-tech innovation, but they should consider other forms as well. Entrepreneurship from the creative arts is a growing possibility as people look for items that are less mainstream and mass produced. They also look for items that exhibit sustainability, and hence environmentally friendly and recycling entrepreneurship is a real opportunity.
Young people also have a real opportunity to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the form of new social enterprises. Many existing enterprises in this arena operate across country boundaries. This often involves one for one matching so that when you buy a product then an equivalent one is donated to an area in need. This has included glasses, shoes, medical equipment and medical scrubs.
Experience of working with young people has demonstrated that there is a significant moral awareness amongst many of them and they are often best placed to deliver such social enterprises.
But for the 4th Industrial Revolution to become a reality for the young, they need to understand the reality of the world in which they are growing up. They need to understand that, however gee-whiz the inventions of tomorrow may be, they will further decimate the idea of a job for life.
We now live in a world where we cannot predict the jobs of ten years hence, let alone for children just entering the education system, nor can we predict the numbers of jobs that will be replaced by AI and robotics. So following the route of their parents in a blind, unquestioning manner, is not really an option.
Not only will job types change regularly, and often within a few years, the loss of employment may well require a change to a job-sharing model to replace the one where the employed pay taxes to fund the unemployed.
Entrepreneurship will continue to be an increasingly likely option for people wishing to create an income in this new world. This will require people to look more closely at what they intend producing as entrepreneurs. Simply because the entrepreneur thinks it is a good idea doesn’t automatically mean that someone else has to buy it. In this much more competitive, entrepreneurial world, satisfying real need is going to be key to success.
That in turn means that listening is going to be a key skill for the 21st Century entrepreneur. That means really listening and understanding what customers really want and how they want it. To achieve this then the entrepreneur needs to understand that messages on phones send 7% of a message, telephone calls give 45% of the message, but that for the whole message you need face to face, with words, intonation and body language.
The successful entrepreneur of the 21st Century will be the one that doesn’t rely on the smartphone for customer relationships but gets back to real communication. I was interested to see that Simon Cowell of X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent fame has not touched his smart phone for ten months!
So for the young entrepreneur, the message has to be to start to question everything especially yourselves. Start asking yourselves the same questions that drove your parents mad which all started with WHY!
Ask yourself why you do things on that smart phone, whether taking selfies, or posting pictures of your whole life. Who in the past went into the town square with their physical photograph album and asked passers by to view it? And yet, isn’t that what so many do with Facebook, Instagram and other sites? Do you really need to take 25,500 selfies in the course of your lifetime? This amounts to almost one a day for every day of your life!
If you are going to a concert, a show or a film, surely the purpose is to listen or watch or both. It is not to ignore what is going on in order to play with messenger or to make illegal recordings that annoy those around you.
But question other things as well. Ask yourself whether your education choices are those that you wanted to make or ones that adults chose or said were best for you. Remember, in today’s fast moving world their guess about the future is likely to be no better, and probably worse, than yours.
Ask yourself how you want to spend the rest of your life. Make sure you consider what you want to do in work and in lesure. Remember, as jobs become in short supply, as job-sharing becomes more common and as AI means the working day can become shorter, what you do with the extra leisure time becomes increasingly important.
While private schools have always recognised the importance of leisure activities, albeit out of school teaching time, the state system is much more limited in its choices because of the numbers involved. Certainly, video games are not going to keep you fulfilled or develop the sorts of communications skills and social awareness necessary to survive in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
What this section is really saying to young people is that we have reached a stage in human development where young people must take responsibility for their own choices. They must stop waiting for others to tell them what to do an must stop playing the blame game when they discover that abdication of life decisions to parents, teachers and careers advisors knew less then they did is counterproductive.
In many ways it is parents that will play the biggest part in shaping the success or failure of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, at this point in time they are probably the least able to do so.
There are many reasons for this from their upbringing, through the changes wrought in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to the lack of understanding of the rapidly changing technical environment that conflicts with previous understandings of how things are or should be.
Most parents will have come from an upbringing which was largely non-technical, unless we count things such as the creation of the twin-tub washing machine. We came from an era where computers were mammoth machines in air-conditioned rooms run by a few long haired geeks. Our interaction was largely through basic functions for running the finances of a company.
Moreover, we lived at a time when we believed all, or at least most, of what our parents told us. Interestingly, parents then seemed to know more given that requests for information were more parachial and parents had more practical experience of solving problems. Dad was often a necessary genius with a screwdriver and mum could make fantastically filling meals with seemingly few ingredients.
At the same time as this was happening, our horizons were extremely limited. Holidays were either taken by the seaside or at a beach in a nearby country. Jobs were mainly sought in the near vicinity and globalism was a fantasy except for the very rich and famous.
However, as new inventions and marketing techniques caused people to want more material wealth, there became a need to finance it. The first reaction was for workers to demand more money even if productivity was not increased. This caused a major decline in manufacturing industry to the point that it hastened the globalisation of manufacturing.
As people sought new employment to fund their loyalty to materialism, more women entered the workplace. While this removal of the barrier between the worker and the home provider was seen as a step in the right direction towards more equality, paradoxically it worked against what would really be needed to cope with the future.
Much of what was achieved in this equalisation was destruction of any gender specific roles. While house husbands or female firefighters may be great for those that want to do it, the changes started to set governments on a path to legislate for all aspects of equality. Interestingly, the most important area of equal pay has been the most difficult to achieve despite being so important for true equality.
What it has done, is to create many rules such as gender neutral toilets and a culture that adopting past traditional roles is somehow failing either yourself or your sex. Being a mum, instead of being the most important role of society, has now been downgraded to ‘just a mum’!
The trend from the 1st Industrial Revolution continued with present day parents as mobility became key to gaining employment sufficient to sustain the material world that people craved. This became even more of a trend with globalisation. What it also meant was that the stability of the extended family finally reached the same state as the dodo! So, not only were parents limited in the time they could apply to parenting, but the support of other family members became impractical as families moved away.
This reduced time, coupled with the advances of technology, meant that the instant society took a giant leap forward. All day TV, videos and later DVDs and streaming became the quick fix to replace real adult and child play. Fast food and microwaves ensured that most cooking of healthy meals went out of fashion. This has all added to the obesity crisis affecting the Western World.
We now have a society where less than half of children have access to a bicycle, whilst 80% of teenagers have a mobile telephone and are far more likely to use the internet than their parents.
This has further led to a society where the young people have the knowledge but not the experience to identify the dangers of the technology, and parents do not have the knowledge of the technology and also cannot easily identify the dangers.
To exacerbate the situation, parents try to maintain their primary role over their offspring by falling back on what they knew as young people themselves. They try and put restrictions on their children with no real knowledge of how to achieve this. Going to bed early merely means that grooming takes place under the sheets instead of in the lounge!
This falling back on the past also leads to an outdated and wrongly conceived idea of the educational needs of the modern child in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. So, pushing a child down the conveyor belt of education in search of a degree, whilst seen by the parent as caring, fails to recognise the likely lack of opportunity at the end of the road.
The hardworking parents also find that their work commitments reduce the likeihood of their being able to foster the creativity necessary in today’s entrepreneurial world. If you work until late in the evening, then after-school dance classes, music lesson, sports etc. are clearly on the back-burner.
Obviously the richer parents are able to fund private schools that can supply much of this activity, but the state system is increasingly limited in its ability to do such creative activities.
So what are the lessons that the parents of today really need to understand if they are to facilitate the young people who are desirous of following the ideas in the first section of this chapter?
Firstly, there is no longer a job for life, nor has there been for some time. Indeed, many of the jobs that exist today will have disappeared in ten years time. Equally, 65% of the jobs that will be about in ten years time have not even been thought of or articulated. So when you put your child into the education system at 4 or 5 years old, you had better understand that you have no idea of the world you are preparing them for at age 21.
Secondly, given the profound effect of technology over the period of your parenthood and the inherent dangers to young people in particular, there is a need to start to understand what the technology does and particularly what your children are doing with it.
In the past, most parents would form judgements and get to know friends that a child brought home, and yet many parents have no idea who those 300 or so ‘friends’ of your child are on Facebook. Given that the average millenial will take over 25,000 selfies in their lifetime, do you know what they are photographing and where they are posting them?
If I were in a criminal court I could not use ignorance as a defence. Neither is it a parental defence to say you were ignorant of it when your child goes off to join a terrorist group or to meet a paedophile.
Neither teachers nor childminders are a substitute for parents. They cannot be expected to correct your child’s diet, to teach them basic manners, to help them ride a bike or take them to creative lessons. A bit like a dog not being just for Christmas, a child is not just to demonstrate the parent’s fertility!
What parents need to come to terms with is that they know far fewer of the answers than their parents did. This is partly because the world is more complicated and partly because their parents prioritised the growth of their children above all other things including material things.
Parents also need to recognise that they know less about their children than parents did in the past. Sitting down to dinner together and discussing the day is replaced by TV dinners and a smartphone. So if parents want to help their children and protect them from the evils of technology then they need to spend quality time with them as well as getting to understand the technology they are exposed to.
In understanding the technology, parents need to not only understand how it operates, but also what the dangers could be. Parents have a right to know what apps their children use and to explain to them the dangers. They also need to demonstrate to them ways to avoid the dangers.
There are other steps that good parenting can take such as holding children’s passports in a safe place away from the child and being aware of where their children are going. I do not see it as an infringement of a child’s liberty to allow parents to link on ‘find a friend’ when their child goes out; particularly if they are late home.
As responsible parents it is important to recognise that the skills a child develops are going to be far more important in the future than narrow academic achievement. Schools need to be chosen not on the number of people that go to Oxbridge universities but on the breadth of their curriculum and the level of creative activities in the curriculum.
It has often been said that parents have become too protective of their children in their early years. There is a tendency to wrap children up in cotton wool and not to let them get into any situation that may contain a modicum of risk.
In Scandinavia there is a saying that there is ‘no bad weather, only bad clothing’. It was most encouraging to discover that there is now a nursery in the UK that is entirely outdoors regardless of the weather. They have discovered that it is parents, not children, that mainly don’t like rain. Interestingly, this particular nursery has a waiting list of over 2000 2–4 year olds.
Most importantly, parents need to stop making their children believe that they must always succeed. Failure also teaches valuable lessons and taking risks will be a necessary attribute in their future where the world is so much less structured. The World Cup is soon to take place, and I suspect that many would not watch if the idea of no one failing was carried from school to this tournament. Imagine if, regardless of the result of the matches all of the teams got the same medal and a part share in the cup!
Much of what has been covered in this section is not much different to the requirements of parenting over hundreds of years. But until the 1st Industrial Revolution the environment for parenting remained reasonably static. Since then it has become more complicated, but the role of anyone that brings a child into the world surely remains the same. That child should receive the best possible education and support to be able to fly the nest with confidence and survive.
Parents have one other key role to play in this preparation for the future. Once parents understand the needs of their children, they should use their vote to ensure that only politicians that are proactive in dealing with this new world are put in positions of power.
No one believes that we can put back the clock, now should we wish to. However, parents are a key component of the 4th Industrial Revolution and must responsibly adopt their role for the sake of their children and future generations.
In this rapidly changing world, businesses too have a significant role to play in ensuring that we benefit rather than suffer from the 4th Industrial Revolution. In the 21st Century businesses will soon discover that the naked pursuit of bigger and bigger profits is not going to lead to success.
Furthermore, it is not acceptable to expect governments and, by implication, the people to come up with solutions that your advancement may create. Already, this early into the 21st Century it is becoming clear that people will not tolerate the ever widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.
While robotics and AI may well produce major benefits to businesses, there are some serious implications for those people that are replaced by these new technologies. According to a recent survey, by 2030 nearly 3 million people will lose their jobs in the UK due to robotics and AI. In the worst hit industrial areas the percentage of people losing jobs will be as high as one third.
While it is also true that new jobs are likely to appear, it is likely that such jobs may well be ones that suit people other than those displaced from employment. Simply taking the increased profits and ignoring the problems that occur will not be an option with such high numbers involved.
In addition, it is important to note that people are increasingly requesting that businesses take a more responsible and sustainable approach to business development. One can argue about global warming, the growth of plastics, responsible disposal of waste, ethical sourcing and so on, but the truth or otherwise is far less important than public perception.
Ethical, sustainable development is something that lends itself very easily to the sound bite and the use of social media to spread such sound bites is far more powerful than the two page press release from a business. A simple picture of a bird caught up in a plastic bag or dishonesty over CO2 emissions can damage a business in hours if it gets onto the web. A simple Google search on animals damaged by plastics will create pages of photographs.
To date such ideas as fair trade and recycles materials have appealed primarily to a relatively small group of people that are serious about green issues. But there is a growing trend for a more ethical way of life along with the use of more biodegradable products and more natural solutions to everyday problems.
Businesses also have to recognise that, in today’s global world, the benefits of colonialism are being lost and there is a growing trend to see it as a suppressive regime imposed on nations in order to monopolise their natural resources. Therefore, when businesses moved their production to areas of low wage costs it was seen as another form of colonial exploitation.
There is likely to be a similar distaste of business as businesses now take away these jobs by implementing robotic and AI solutions. Certainly, it is likely that major job losses will occur in countries where business was allocated simply because of cheap labour.
Another area that businesses will need to consider is that of customer service. Over the last few years there has been a general improvement in low end customer service through the use of technology. The advent of online shops and the use of computer systems to deliver things rapidly to the door have seen a major growth in such businesses.
However, these technologies have become so commonplace that it is difficult to differentiate between providers. Recently I order things online from three different providers, all of which delivered on the same day and there was no differentiation between their type or level of customer service. This too will become a challenge to 21st Century businesses.
A major concern for businesses in this new world is the ever expanding ability to collect personal data. While this has been a common occurrence in past years, the scope now is of a different dimension.
In the past businesses have used basic data to assist marketing. For example, one shop was able to determine that people that bought soap also bought shampoo and hence putting these two items apart increased the likelihood of additional impulse buys.
Collecting basic data to support your understanding of your business will not be a problem in the future. However, online shopping and social media give all sorts of opportunities for gathering more personalised information that has a value far outside that of normal business use. Increasingly, businesses have found an additional income stream from selling-on such information.
With the advent of AI, while people may think they are talking to a human, they will be talking to an application that will be capable of taking the information given, turning it into data and recording it for retrieval in a variety of forms.
The ability of systems to conduct financial transactions through online shopping already exists. However, it is a short step away from adding financial information to personal information on other sites in order to create a total profile of a person.
Those businesses that cannot be trusted with customer data and cannot behave openly and transparently with it will soon find that the 21st Century holds real dangers for their business. With an increase in sophisticated hacking, along with temptations to make money by selling data, it is essential for future sales that your customer can trust you.
The 4th Industrial Revolution will certainly provide some great opportunities for businesses, provided that they understand these challenges and take steps to deal with them. Up until now, much of what has been done to improve employee welfare has been mainly cosmetic or under duress from government regulation or worker pressure.
At the same time, much of the ecological measures introduced into businesses have been as a result of image enhancement or pressure rather than a real desire to be socially responsible citizens.
The 4th Industrial Revolution will require a step change in the ways that businesses approach these and other issues if they are to maintain a competitive edge. Let us look at the three areas of sustainability, employees and customer service as it relates to business.
We are all fully aware that we live in a global world and that business opportunities spread across the globe. However, different countries are at differing levels of understanding and support when it comes to ecological issues and sustainability.
Simply in the area of recycling, Austria is the top country in the world followed by Singapore and both of them recycle three times the percentage of Japan, twice the percentage of Canada and USA and 12 times that of Russia. It is also true that the USA generates the highest amount of waste per person per year at 760 Kg per person.
For people in the food industries it is worth noting that vegetarians now account for about 10% of the population in Europe, but that India is over 30%, largely because of religious beliefs.
For a long time there has been concern regarding the sustainability of deforestation, and the depletion of fish stocks. For example, Japan and China, together with the USA are prime failures at replenishing fish stocks.
What these and other aspects of life in countries such as religion, culture, natural wealth, state of development etc. tell us is that the opportunities of a global marketplace are counterbalanced by a continuing need to satisfy a wide range of societies and countries.
The first thing that businesses need to deal with is their people. The time for token gestures is long gone and a serious consideration of one’s employees in any 21st Century plan is essential.
As robotics, AI and other emerging technologies become commonplace, it is essential that businesses understand what this means to the workforce. For instance, either jobs will be lost or else there will be a need for a major increase in job-sharing. Businesses need to recognise that there is likely to be a reduction in the number of hours that a person is likely to work because of changes brought about by these new technologies and therefore an increase in wages based on contribution rather than on hours worked.
As job roles change at an increasing rate then re-training also becomes a responsibility of the business that wants to survive. It is far easier to re-train than to recruit. These reduced hours also mean that the responsible company will also look to provide more opportunities to develop leisure activities.
Businesses also need to be careful in withdrawing from low-wage countries so as not to damage reputations by damaging third world economies. So gradual withdrawal with contributions to schemes that support re-training are necessary for those companies that wish to minimise the impact.
The key to success in the employee arena is around communication. The more people are informed and the more the benefits of new employee programmes are explained the easier the implementation becomes. One employee representative on the board of directors does little to inform and placate a workforce fed on a constant diet of ‘fat-cat bosses’.
Clearly, the business of 21st Century has to take the sustainability issues seriously. This means looking at ways to recycle where possible, to conserve and replenish resources where possible and minimise environmental damage.
Not only does this mean that businesses have to apply these principles to their work practices, but also in the way they conduct themselves. It is no good offering fairtrade coffee to staff in the coffee machines if directors don’t drink it as well. The same goes for company cars and other aspects that damage the environment.
Customer service is where 21st Century businesses can either score or lose in a big way. AI has already developed to the point where it is difficult to know whether one is talking to a voice simulator or a human. Technology also ensures that orders can be placed without human intervention and prepared for dispatch with little human intervention if you are using Internet shopping.
However, not only does this approach eliminate all but the lowest level product picking and courier delivery roles, it also produces a service that is similar to everyone else. Therefore, customer service differentiation becomes increasingly hard.
Where the Internet shop wins is when the person knows what they want and does not need to see the article prior to purchasing. Hence companies like Amazon started with books and CDs, before increasing their range to other well known products.
Emerging technologies provide all sorts of possibilities for improving customer service. For example, the camera on a smartphone can be used to effectively project a piece of clothing onto the person so that they can see it in the same way they would if they went into a shop.
The use of virtual reality and 3D could soon be used to move away from the two dimensional representation of items on sale on the Internet. Technology could also be used to solve the problem of having someone to deliver the goods to. Some places have already introduced lockers to put items for collection into. These are mainly near to major work areas and shopping malls.
However, this also opens up an opportunity for the small retailer to become a local collection point. If the retailer also uses the staffless principle through an app and automatic checkout, then there may well be a resurgence in the local shops.
Marketing also has to become much cleverer for the global business. No longer can one produce an identical product with the same marketing messages and hope that it will win in all arenas. While the sustainability message may well succeed in those countries with high social responsibility, other messages may be necessary in other countries. That is not to say that the product itself needs to change, but rather that the product remains sustainable and the sustainability message assumes less importance in some countries.
In highlighting the potential traps for businesses as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the biggest challenge is likely to be the way that businesses tackle the control of the increasing amounts of personal data that can be gleaned from systems.
Businesses have already recognised that their online purchasing systems have to be totally secure or people will not use them. But protection of personal data is also important, along with any purchasing habits such as item type and frequency. There is no reason why such data cannot be used to communicate directly with a customer, but to sell such information without their knowledge is not acceptable and must be rejected.
While it is going to be perfectly likely that AI will be able to identify a telephone near a retail outlet that they normally frequent, check their preferences for purchases and send them a text with a personalised offer in order to attract them into the store, it would not be acceptable for that data to be used to attract them into someone else’s store because you made money selling data to the other store.
Of course, where takeovers have often happened, it is important that people shopping with one supplier are made aware of other suppliers in the same group and are given the option of whether or not they want the data shared within the group.
However, it is also becoming increasingly common on social media for platform owners to collect personal data as one of the few ways that they can remain solvent. Indeed, such activities can deliver significant sums. However, the evidence is that social platform owners are coming under increasing pressure because of their non-transparent activities.
While options for resisting tracking are belatedly being constructed by the platform owners, it still requires far more information to users and a requirement to opt in to data sharing rather than to take positive action to stop it. As people become more aware of the tracking practices there is a real danger that people are deserting the platforms. Free access is not a benefit if loss of privacy is the real cost. So present and future social platform providers need to start looking at a new financial model rather than the existing one of having the service for free as long as the provider can exploit you.
If people choose to share their lives and the trivia that surrounds them, then that is their right. However, it does not give owners of the platform the right to make financial gain from it. There is a massive difference between knowingly putting something on Facebook that a future employer may see and decide not to hire you, and a company that makes unsubstantiated deductions about you.
Incidentally, the arguments that apply to social media platforms also apply to app creators. There is an increased tendency to provide free apps with in-app purchases. In other words, get people hooked and then charge them for functions that don’t come in the free version. As part of the honesty issue, businesses will need to be brave enough to charge for their app and to sell it on the basis of value rather than perception.
But a further area of business that is critical to the success or otherwise of the 4th Industrial Revolution is that of the operating system providers. These people have the ability to stop tracking and therefore data sharing at its source. Companies like Apple and Microsoft have made vast fortunes from the technology industry. While some of that wealth has been put towards good causes, it is essential that the real good cause is seen as controlling abuse within the industry that they monopolise.
In summing up the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on businesses, the most important characteristic in the 21st Century is honesty. In a world where bad news can reach globally in minutes, it is essential that there are no short cuts to integrity. If traces of something other than what is meant to be in a product are found, or traces of meat are found in vegan products then that market will disappear overnight. If companies are illegally using data then people will vote with their feet, or at least their delete button!
As with parents, businesses also need to engage responsibly with governments. That does not mean lobbying governments to try and help to bypass the needs of the 21st Century, but to come up with solutions that will provide the products, services and people that will fuel the 4th Industrial Revolution.
This 4th Industrial Revolution gives a wealth of opportunities for businesses that grasp the opportunities responsibly. However, for those that don’t the possibility of failure has never been greater.
So far we have addressed the potential opportunities for budding entrepreneurs and the needs of parents to support their offspring in their pursuit of the opportunities. We have also looked at the potential pitfalls and avoidance strategies for businesses.
Overarching all of this is government. Unfortunately, governments do not have an enviable record in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation or proactivity. Too much of government is decided by past precedent and a desire to maintain the status quo. Indeed, governments are probably the best examples of Einstein’s definition of stupidity.
Modern democracies are founded on an election cycle that is around four or five years. That means that people looking for more than a single term are likely to tackle projects that will be completed successfully within the election cycle. Longer term reforms are most likely to be pushed to the back burner.
This invariably means that longer term projects are only likely to succeed if the civil servants who support the elected representatives champion such moves across the election period to the new administration. This is unlikely to happen if such action challenges the status quo that preserves their positions.
Much of what has needed to be tackled by governments in order to support the growth of entrepreneurship falls outside the favourable five year window and hence is not likely to happen. However, that does not stop the identification of the potential pitfalls of the 4th Industrial Revolution, or of the opportunities it presents to a forward thinking and less ego driven elected government.
The first challenge that the 21st Century creates for governments around the world is their lack of real understanding of the nature of the world they are now called upon to administrate. They are increasingly restricted by their lack of exposure to the new paradigms as political dynasties with no ‘outside of politics’ experience begin to appear.
Their second inhibitor is their lack of understanding of the true nature of government and the restrictions that they artificially place upon themselves. Governments do not really understand that they create little or nothing when it comes to wealth creation. In reality they are little more than a charity that receives donations in the form of taxes from the people that do create the wealth.
It is interesting to note that governments have been very critical of the Trump administration because of his desire to approach government like a business negotiation. But, governments of all persuasions have been doing precisely that for generations. Is there really any difference when they trade tax breaks for more jobs so as to appear to bring down employment? Equally, if deals for the powerful were not possible, why are there so many lobbyists?
Finally, when they do decide to act then governments seem only to have legislation as a tool within their armoury. Unfortunately, this sledgehammer approach simply provides opportunities for smart non-governmental lawyers to find ways around the legislation.
Given the weaknesses and inertia built into the present system, it is hardly surprising that governments in their present form are considered past their ‘sell-by date’. Suddenly we have seen a growth in election victories and near victories in countries where candidates actually propose doing something radical.
The first thing that I tell entrepreneurs to do is to listen to their customers and potential customers. Entrepreneurs need to stop trying to tell customers what they need and provide what the customer says they need. Government is no different.
As we have seen, the 4th Industrial Revolution can bring great benefits, but it can also create real problems for governments unless they understand the issues and start to act now. That means that they need to start really understanding what they have coming down the line and the implications of it.
A major potential problem for government is the loss of jobs because of the implementation of robotics and AI. Conservative estimates put the disruption and subsequent unemployment, leading to worker unrest, at significantly higher than that of the British miners strikes of the 1970s and 1980s. Failure to identify new approaches prior to its occurrence will create a major headache for government.
A second area of concern is that of education. Despite the loss of the job for life and the need for a more adaptable workforce, governments still lay most store in an education system that focuses on a single path to academic excellence with knowledge rather than skills being the driving force.
This academically based curriculum, coupled with the need to be able to test achievement, and a fear of litigation through health and safety legislation has meant that learning by experiment and the possibility of more than one right answer have been eliminated.
Financial cutbacks and this over-emphasis on academic achievement has also resulted in the reduction or elimination of many of the creative subjects. This, in turn, has led to a common belief that creativity is of less value than academic certificates.
The governments of 21st Century need to be able to deliver an environment where there is not high unemployment, where change is embraced rather than feared and where learning and re-learning is more than a fifteen year period through childhood and teenage years.
Another area of real concern is the potential impact on society of the emerging technologies. We are seeing misuse of data without the individual’s permission, we are seeing people making large profits from such misuse. We are seeing the breakdown of real communication in society in favour of texting and social media.
So, what is government able to do, and what should it be doing to ensure that their country benefits rather than suffers from 4th Industrial Revolution?
Given the importance of this change, it is essential that every politician and government official understands what the 4th Industrial Revolution is about. They will no more be able to predict what the future will look like in 10–20 years, but they will start to understand the sort of environment that will enable people to cope.
Once they have understood the issues then they need to start by removing the lies that have surrounded the population for so long. They need to inform parents that the job for life no longer exists. They need to tell them that neither they not anyone else can tell what the world will look like when their children leave school. They need to tell them that skills are of more importance than just academic knowledge and that you don’t get this sitting in front of a smartphone, TV or tablet.
Then they need to look at a total overhaul of the education system. Although children still need to have some basic knowledge. They also need to develop skills. That means that they need to have the opportunity to discover for themselves rather than learning facts that lead to only one right answer; even if it makes marking more difficult!
There needs to be a greater emphasis on creative subjects and this can be achieved by allowing those tax breaks for businesses to go to creativity and arts centres. People should be encouraged to enjoy all forms of the arts and, if governments want to pass a regulation they should make it mandatory that all cinemas, theatres and arts spaces fit smartphone jammers so that people can concentrate on the performance.
On the subject of improving social interaction in place of social networking and texting, governments could easily ensure that companies that offer free Internet services to customers are charged a significant fee for doing so in order to discourage the companies from offering it.
Most mobile telephone networks either have a government licence or are part government owned. It is a simple matter to increase a graduated usage cost that increases by use and hence acts as a limiter of usage.
Governments also need to look at the uses and abuses of technology by the large high-tech companies, whether platform providers, technology providers or operating system providers. For any of these to be available in that government’s country, they need to satisfy defined conditions on use of data, elimination of unauthorised tracking and content auditing.
For governments to survive in the arena of 4th Industrial Revolution they need to engage with businesses, not through lobbyists, but from a position of strength in that failure to act responsibly means the opportunity in that country is removed. Deals for contributions to campaign funds or a blind eye to taxes in exchange for jobs is not acceptable in the 21st Century.
As far as unemployment is concerned, there needs to be a real dialogue between businesses and governments. Working together there needs to be a solution created to the eventual loss of jobs. Part of this may be to look at job-sharing rather than eliminating one job in every two. This may need to be a method where payment in a job-share is more than half of a single job in order for the person to survive.
Such a solution may require a subsidy to the company that would otherwise have needed to be spent on unemployment pay by the government. It is also through businesses that the ideal of life-long learning and retraining can be fostered. What is important is that such solutions start at the top of businesses and then work their way down to SMEs.
Other options to encourage creativity and earning from such creativity could be done by creating small craft centres in old unused buildings. These could be rented out at a peppercorn rent to artists and others with creative hobbies. Whilst I have witnessed this in some countries to encourage women to use their talents, there is no reason why such a facility could not be used for men as well as women with creative skills.
At present many countries regard leisure as an optional provision for its citizens. Given that the 4th Industrial Revolution is likely to mean shorter working hours then leisure should become a mandatory service within all municipalities.
What is interesting about much of what is in this section is that much does not so much rely on legislation but on a dialogue with key players, a refocus on the important matters facing people and a level of creativity not witnessed for many years within governments.
It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump is good or bad for the USA, whether Brexit will be good or bad for the UK, whether elections in Italy will be good or bad or whether many other forms of this disruptive style of politics will work.
What is certain is that people are increasingly voting for candidates that will try something new rather than sticking to the old protectionist, ego-driven and self-centred politicians and civil servants. The world is increasingly demanding change and politicians should remember the old quote that says ‘those that say something is impossible should get out of the way of those of us that are doing it’.