Chapter 7 - The Age of Uncertainty

OCTOBER 30, 2011

The subject of what comes next after the Information Age is a popular one with business strategists. After all, talking about what comes next is their bread and butter.  Most votes go to either the Age of Uncertainty or the Dream Society.  

I can’t really decide because I feel there are going to be elements of both.  In an age of uncertainty, we will all have to learn to evaluate both opportunities and threats correctly. Are they conventional? Are they adaptive?  We will deal with far more probability than certainty. And we already know that with every move we make, we change the very landscape surrounding us. “Walking on the trampoline” may make future goals seem even more distant, but we still can’t afford to ignore the downstream consequences of our actions.

But not everyone thinks of the future in quite the same way. The ancient Greeks had a very different concept of the future than we do today.  Western society tends to think of our future as waiting there ahead of us; somewhere out there just out of sight. Not so the Greeks.  Instead they felt the future took them from behind and by surprise. Their past, on the other hand, was always in full view; and directly ahead.

They literally could not “look to the future”. But isn’t crafting a successful future is what business is really all about?

“Escape Velocity is a term that is used to denote the speed necessary to break out of a planet’s gravitational field. Business strategists use it to refer to a point at which a company or individual can pull away from their competitors.” – Idris Mootee 1999

Of course, the real issue is how to reach Escape Velocity for yourself, for your employees and for your company.

Easier said than done.

Anytime someone moves out of their personal area of expertise, and takes a risk, they become fearful. Shared knowledge and expertise, along with a more enlightened corporate atmosphere could help to alleviate some of the problem. We could also begin to define which opportunities and players have the capacity to reach the highest levels.

The biological term is emergence; and what it really means in the context of most businesses is to spot opportunities early.  The whole point is to spend money and direct precious resources to where those opportunities are; and not to where they were.

Of course, you also have to remember most successful firms and their marketplaces will be complex adaptive systems. In other words, they will all be trying to do exactly the same thing. The Red Queen effect (running faster to stay in the same place) will be in full force and will serve to identify the smallest differences in efficiency and make those gaps ever narrower.

Translation: It’s going to get a lot harder for everyone.