"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipient."
– Herbert Simon
Photo courtesy of ama_lia
In part one of this article, we explored the three “waves of transformation” that have shaped humanity over the last 10,000 years and created the modern world. The agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information revolution have seen us evolve from hunter-gatherer bands to the technologically-enhanced, “instant access” societies we live in today. But with that increase in speed, complexity and information-abundance comes a new set of challenges. In this article, we'll be exploring the 4th wave, and looking at how understanding this new paradigm can help you navigate in times of uncertainty, complexity and chaos.
Signs of the 2nd wave ebbing and the 3rd wave growing
As the current wave grows in strength, the previous wave starts to ebb and signs of the next wave begin to arrive. Here are some of the signals that let us know the 3rd wave (Information Revolution) is growing and the the 2nd wave (Industrial Revolution) is ebbing:
– Manufacturing is being outsourced to factories in places like China that can deliver similar quality at a fraction of the cost due to a large, lower waged workforce
– Internet and telecomms connectivity are allowing European and North American companies to outsource more & more knowledge work to well-educated, highly motivated workforces in India.
– Manufacturing processes have been refined to a very high level. Mass-produced goods are becoming more and more of a commodity, like smoke alarms, butter or baked beans.
– Competitive advantage shifts from manufacturing-strength to knowledge-strength, supported by IT, telecomms and culture (with all it encompasses); employee engagement, talent management, customer loyalty and brand-value.
– Huge institutions that formed the foundation of the industrial age are downsizing radically as their leverage point moves from “mass labour and machines” to “knowledge”.
– The speed of communication and access to information has massively accelerated over the past 70 years. Five billion people now carry mobile phones and 3 billion have access to email.
– Information technology means that much of the work previously done by employees of large organisations is now carried out by their customers (ATMs / Cashpoints, booking flights, online shopping etc).
As waves collide
So what's the impact of this rise and fall we're experiencing? Here are some of the more significant patterns we're experiencing:
– Attention-poverty: The massive rise in availability of information (enabled by an exponential increase in the speed of communication) means that people's attention is being consumed at an ever-increasing rate. For example, the fact that you're reading this article means that you've prioritised it over the plethora of other information-streams competing for your attention in this moment.
– Time-scarcity: As attention is consumed, people's experience of available time shrinks. While there are still the same number of seconds in each day, people's minds are busy, clogged with junk-thought (the mental equivalent of nutrition-free food). Time-scarcity isn't a lack of minutes in the day; it's a reduction in the experience of the richness of life from moment to moment.
– Mind-maintenance: Just as factory-workers need to keep their machines clean and well-oiled, knowledge-workers, managers and leaders need to take similar care of their minds. Individuals and businesses are paying the price as time-scarcity and attention-poverty clog the “mental machinery” they rely on with junk-thought.
– Mental Congestion: In fact, the over-revved, congested mind is one of the biggest problems we face in the modern world. Clogged with everything from breaking news and social media to fears, anxieties and limiting beliefs, the congested, speedy mind is the single biggest contributor to stress, lack of confidence, bad decisions, strained relationships, fumbled goals and unrealised potential.
– Connection-starvation: Human beings are wired for connection, to each other and to life as a whole. Connection and intimacy emerge naturally when there's nothing else in the way. And what gets in the way? Junk-thought. As the 3rd wave rises, and the surface-connections of social media become more prevalent, people are starving for intimacy and genuine connection.
– Values-focus: 2nd wave institutions and “jobs for life” took care of many basic needs for people, providing a sense of purpose, belonging and security. The 3rd wave is seeing a focus on other values, such as freedom, adventure, independence, personal growth, connection and contribution. As people live these values (moving away from large organisations, starting their own businesses, doing location-independent work etc), they feel the desire for the sense of security, belonging and purpose that was previously provided for by the 2nd wave structures.
– Outside-in misunderstanding: This widespread misunderstanding attributes our security, resilience and wellbeing to external circumstances. While numerous studies prove this is not the case, the conditioning is very persistent. As such, it is the most prevalent source of junk-thought on the planet.
Early signs of the 4th wave
Remember; each “wave” solves existing problems, while creating new possibilities, new benefits and new challenges. Solutions to the new problems are delivered by the next wave.
The “advance signals” of the 4th wave started arriving in the late 19th century with the birth of the field of psychology. The business world was quick to embrace psychology for commercial purposes, using it to influence public opinion, customers and employees alike.
Over the past 40 years, the signals have been arriving more and more quickly:
– The rise of the human potential movement in the 1970s
– Identification of the need for “emotional intelligence” in the workplace
– The desire for authenticity, integrity and transparency in the companies we do business with
– Huge focus in business on identifying and developing the qualities of leadership.
– The simplicity movement, building on disillusionment with the undelivered promises of the consumer-culture.
– Positive psychology and recent trends in personal development.
– The trend towards “experience economy” consumption (eg. Starbucks coffee and sofas, Lady Gaga concerts, Build-a-bear workshop etc)
Understanding the nature of thought
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd waves have each been driven by understanding:
1st wave – understanding of farming / agriculture
2nd wave – understanding of mechanisation / industry
3rd wave – understanding of information / digitisation / computerisation
The deeper our understanding of the “leverage point” within a given wave, the more power we have to create value.
Most people these days would concede that their thinking has some part to play in their experience of life. The advance signals of the 4th wave have seen people try to influence their thinking in a variety of ways. As people start to see that thought plays a role in their experience, it's natural that they would try and use it to influence that experience.
But while people have correctly identified that thought is an incredibly powerful leverage point, the real power comes from understanding the nature of thought.
4th wave – understanding of thought
Thought is the leverage point within the 4th wave. Our understanding of the nature of thought, and the role it plays in 100% of our experience is the key to unlocking the value inherent in the wave.
As a society, we currently have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of thought, and the role it plays in our experience of life. As we see through that misunderstanding, as individuals, as businesses and as an entire civilisation, an extraordinary transformation in our experience becomes possible.
And how do we see through that misunderstanding, and deepen our understanding of the nature of thought?
In part three of this article, we'll be exploring CLARITY (the source of realisational wealth), and the role it plays in the experience economy.