The Urgency of Purpose and the Forward Movement of Failure
As a futurist I spend much of my time tracking failure. Why failure? Because they are the unforgiving anchors around which society changes directions.
In the U.S. we are now witnessing a record number of failures taking place. Just look around. Failed businesses, failed systems, failed jobs, and failed marriages.
Some failures are easily predicted, where a known problem looms larger and larger until a solution is found. Most, however, are not so easy. In many respects, failures are nature’s own system for checks and balances.
Failures attract attention. Much like a car accident causing a gawker’s block along the highway, failure attracts onlookers, some with offers to help, others moving quickly to avoid being painted with the same failure brush.
So what causes failure? Turns out that failure is just one relentless driver being perpetuated by a series of other relentless drivers. As we lift up the hood on this eight cylinder engine, here is what’s really going on.
To be sure, there are many forces driving the world around us, and each one of these drivers is like a hand grenade generating a blast zone of forces pushing in multiple directions. However, these particular forces concentrate an unusual amount of energy in the directions I’ve indicated here to keep this cycle in motion.
- Mortality drives urgency
- Urgency drives purpose
- Purpose drives our quest for knowledge
- Our quest for knowledge drives technology
- Technology drives complexity
- Complexity drives failure
- Failure drives conflict
- Conflict drives mortality
As we begin to study these linkages, we are able to uncover fascinating relationships which help enormously in explaining the nature of humanity and the world we live in.
1.) Mortality Drives Urgency – The fact that we will someday die gives us only a short runway of time to get things done. The clock is ticking. We either get things done today or we lose a significant piece of the time we have left before we die. Even though people are living longer today than 100 years ago and we have a slightly longer runway, the urgency we feel is still a prevalent force in everything we do.
While it’s true that competition and our need for status also drive urgency, the constant trickle of sands falling through the hourglass leaves us feeling like our own lives are slipping through our fingers. The sound of our own mortality is a sound few can avoid listening to.
Counter to what some believe, living forever may indeed be counter-productive. People who live with no end in sight may well lose their motivation for “doing anything important today.”
2.) Urgency Drives Purpose – How many times have you heard someone ask, “Why am I doing this?”
It’s a very common concern because most of us simply despise doing anything dubbed “meaningless.”
Baby-boomers are getting older. As this massive bulge in the population moves into their retirement years, many are feeling the regrets of not having lived up to their own expectations, and in doing so, are searching for higher meaning. In what Forbes Magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard describes as the “Age of Meaning,” the former hippie generation is now searching for a higher calling, and they want it now.
3.) Purpose Drives our Quest for Knowledge – To find meaning and purpose, we need more knowledge.
In today’s world, information is infinite, but knowledge is finite. According to a 2010 report by the Global Information Industry Center, the hours we spend consuming information has grown 2.6 percent per year from 1980 to 2008 to an average of nearly 12 hours per day.
At the same time, our ability to sort through the growing storehouses of information and find those shimmering glints of needles-in-the-haystack information is a relentless quest. It is a quest we cannot do alone, and so we turn to technology.
4.) Our Quest for Knowledge Drives Technology – Human frailties and our own physical limitations drives us to find technical solutions.
How can we think faster, see things outside of the range of normal human vision, hear things on the other side of the world, or process information that baffles the normal mind?
Virtually every invention known to mankind is an extension of human senses or human capabilities.
The more information we consume, the greater our need for technology, and that’s where things start getting complicated.
5.) Technology Drives Complexity – Technology drives many things, but when it comes to complexity, technology acts as the great enabler.
Rather than managing 100 accounts on paper, we can now manage 1,000 accounts with a computer. Rather than spending 10 hours sorting through 20,000 books in a library, we spend 10 minutes sorting through 2 million books online.
Technology extends our reach, but it also extends our ability to devise complex systems for managing it, and complicated solutions to our problems.
Complexity itself is neither good nor bad, but it increases fragility and too much complexity pushes us beyond our ability to manage it. And that’s where things begin to fail.
6.) Complexity Drives Failure – The more complicated something is, the more likely it is to fail.
Yes, in abstract terms, complexity adds function. And some measure of complexity is both necessary and beneficial.
However, according to complexity management firm Ontonix, 80% of companies that fail experience at least one year of rapidly increasing complexity.
Complexity tends to function like a self-perpetuating organism. Complex systems tend to expand until they reach a breaking point, and that is where the conflict begins.
7.) Failure Drives Conflict – Yes, failure causes many things, but failure is very emotional, and emotional intensity leads to conflict.
Our first reaction is that failure is bad and conflict resulting from failure is even worse. Yet at the same time, failure is a time of renewal, a new branch growing where an old branch just died.
Conflict arises from our resistance to failure, and in many case we need to resist because failures are not inevitable. We only appreciate that which we struggle to achieve, and virtually every conflict clears our mind about the importance of what we are struggling for.
8.) Conflict Drives Mortality – Every conflict gives us another look into the frailties of being human.
Conflicts are riddled with confusion and doubt, second-guessing and regret. They are the friction from where the rubber-meets-the-road on this turning wheel.
But most conflicts come from within. As famed country singer Garth Brooks says, “The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.”
In the end, we ask what we were fighting for, and that, in turn, drives our own feeling of mortality.
So What Can We Conclude?
It was several weeks ago when I first sketched this out, trying to decide if it was indeed meaningful, and whether this kind of insight could be helpful.
In the back of my mind I kept asking, “Is this cycle inevitable” and “Can it be stopped?” Perhaps, more importantly, “Should it be stopped?”
We each have many wheels to contend with. Our family wheel overlaps our business wheel, and those overlap our social and side-projects wheels.
With global databases of information skyrocketing and technology improving access to it, the wheel is turning at a faster and faster pace.
Every imbalance in the wheel causes a ripple effect throughout the rest of the wheel.
Are we better off trying to eliminate conflict and failure, or trying to optimize it? With the new mantra being “fail fast and fail often,” we have begun to accept the inevitability.
Is purpose more important than knowledge, or does strengthening one driver simply create an imbalance that strengthens the other?
Is our quest for knowledge making us smarter, of just more confused?
As you can see, I have far more questions than answers, so I’d like to hear your thoughts. If possible, please take a few moments to write down some of the ideas that formed in your head as you read through this.
I look forward to hearing your insights.
The Urgency of Purpose and the Forward Movement of Failure
I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.
Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away. In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.
After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.
When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.
For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.
The Risk-Averse Nature of Education
When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.
While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.
This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.
From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.
For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.
Offering Pilot Programs
When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.
Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:
- When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
- When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
- When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
- When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
- When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
- When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
- When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it
Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.
52 Future College Degrees
As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:
- Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
- Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
- Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
- Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
- Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
- Smart City – mixed reality modeling
- Smart City – autonomous construction integration
- Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
- Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
- Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
- Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
- Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
- Swarmbot – municipal system design
- Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
- Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
- Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
- Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
- Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
- Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
- Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
- Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
- Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
- Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
- Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
- Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
- Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
- Mixed Reality - experiential retail
- Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
- Mixed Reality – game design
- Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
- Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
- Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
- Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
- Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
- Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
- Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration
More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.
Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.
The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.