Thomas L Friedman, the New York Times columnist and famed author of The World is Flat, just wrote an insightful and thought-provoking piece that I think everyone needs to read. It elegantly explains the challenge faced by the middle-class in our country, describes how both political parties are shielding you from the harsh reality of our times, and underscores many of the ideas we’ve been exploring in this blog for the last year.
In his column titled,”Web People vs. Wall People” Friedman argues that, as the winds of technological change blow increasingly harder, candidates from both political parties are advocating the building of walls to protect us from the punishing gale.
The primary focus of Wall People is finding a president who will turn off the fan — the violent winds of change that are now buffeting every family — in their workplace, where machines are threatening white-collar and blue-collar jobs; in their neighborhoods, where so many more immigrants of different religions, races and cultures are moving in; and globally, where super-empowered angry people are now killing innocents with disturbing regularity. They want a wall to stop it all.
Of course, as my readers already know, we are living through an upheaval never before seen—a fourth industrial revolution—of unprecedented speed, scale and breadth; from which there is no turning back; a maelstrom from which no wall can provide adequate shelter.
So how do Web People differ in their view of what’s going on?
Of Web People, Friedman writes:
Web People instinctively understand that Democrats and Republicans both built their platforms largely in response to the Industrial Revolution, the New Deal and the Cold War, but that today, a 21st-century party needs to build its platform in response to the accelerations in technology, globalization and climate change, which are the forces transforming the workplace, geopolitics and the very planet.
As such, the instinct of Web People is to embrace the change in the pace of change and focus on empowering more people to be able to compete and collaborate in a world without walls.
What the politicians aren’t telling us
So, if Donald Trump’s literal wall-building is at least impractical, if not totally unrealistic; if Bernie Sander’s socialist wall-building has failed in past industrial revolutions, and is likely to fall short again; and if Hillary Clinton continues to vacillate between walls and webs, as Friedman suggests in his column—what are we missing? What are they not telling us?
Friedman put it this way:
[they are] refraining from telling people the hardest truth: that to be in the middle class, just working hard and playing by the rules doesn’t cut it anymore. To have a lifelong job, you need to be a lifelong learner, constantly raising your game.
Think about that for a moment.
Friedman is saying that we are transitioning into a world where “just working hard and playing by the rules” doesn’t guarantee you the middle-class lifestyle that has been darned nigh guaranteed to all hard-working, rule-abiding Americans for the better part of a century!
Now, because of climate change and the fourth industrial revolution—there are no guarantees. Jobs last just 4 or 5 years, and then you move on. As you do, your skill sets will need to shift but you’ll never quite know what skills you’ll need to depend on next. That’s why Friedman says that if you want anything resembling the comfort of a lifetime job, your best bet is to become a lifelong learner, constantly raising your game.
This is key.
And that’s what practicing Outsight and this blog are all about.
Though government can, and should, play a big part in making sure the fourth industrial revolution doesn’t do any unnecessary damage, the onus is not on government to protect us. Actually, they’re largely powerless in this regard because protectionist policies, like walls, are just encumbrances. The onus is on you and me. Will we make the right choices? Will we choose to learn and grow? Will we step out of our comfort zones? Will we work every day to raise our game in order to stay competitive?
I can’t say enough about how vitally important this is.
You can already see that there’s a race to the bottom. Many people are living it, right now, and that’s why we’re experiencing an alarming increase in fear, anxiety and even violence. There will be less opportunity, as we’ve traditionally defined it, and more people trying to access it. And though there is more wealth today than ever before, that wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
Meanwhile, the winds of change will keep howling, and the pressure will only continue to intensify.
But my message here is not one of doom and gloom. Though concerned by much of what I’m seeing around the world, I truly believe we have a great opportunity before us, if and only if, we embrace the proper mindset.
So let’s get busy acquiring and developing the high-value skills of tomorrow and start using the new hi-tech, wealth creation tools at our disposal. It’s time to think like capitalists, entrepreneurs, and community builders—like Web People.
And let’s stop thinking like employees, waiting for the boss to take care of us. That game is over, though most people haven’t gotten the memo. But you have, and I have every confidence that you’ll choose to play the new game and put all this wind that Friedman’s talking about to good use.
Why wouldn’t you build a sail, so you can put the wind at your back?
photo courtesy of Joshua Earle via unsplash