Technological innovation has been dramatic over the past decade. From the rise of social media to the emergence of Big Data, there is no doubt that the past decade's innovations have dramatically disrupted socio-economic fundamentals. New business models such as same day on-demand delivery and new technologies such as virtual reality are changing the way we interact with each other. While these new breakthroughs have been impressive and have accelerated the rate of innovation, it is increasingly likely that the pace of innovation over the next decade will be slower with retraining human behavior taking increasing precedence alongside continued technological progress.
Indeed, the pace of scientific innovation will no doubt quicken over the next decade thanks to a number of changes in the way scientific knowledge is developed and increases in global scientific investment. There is no doubt that the next round of major scientific breakthroughs will still take time to develop but thanks to increasing global collaboration and investment, those scientific breakthroughs will occur rapidly. In addition, thanks to knowledge distribution networks that can instantaneously reach a critical mass of individuals, subsequent follow up innovations will occur even quicker than before. The only critical missing element that will slow down this breakneck pace is whether individuals can be re-skilled quickly enough to support both their own economic sustenance and changing industry needs.
Why will retraining human behavior take precedence over technological innovation in the next decade? There are a number of reasons including:
Business Organization Catchup: While many of today's startups are reaping the benefits of industry disruption, legacy corporations are still slowly catching up to the new business environment. Indeed, legacy corporations have to perform a delicate balancing act. Not only do they have to maintain their existing hard won brand but they somehow must balance the requirements of keeping ongoing operations functional while at the same time innovating. Not an easy task.
Socio-Economic Catchup: It is very easy, particularly for those living in technologically advanced global centers, to think that the majority of society is already benefiting technologically. For those living in advanced global centers where access to on-demand delivery is ubiquitous, it is easy forget that the majority of the world's population is still struggling to gain access to basics such as Internet connectivity. There is a significant swath of the population who have not benefited for a variety of reasons including:
Economic Disenfranchisement: While a portion of the population has been reaping the economic benefits, there is a silent majority who have been in economic decline. Whether it is the rise of precarious work hours in the service sector or the lack of unskilled employment opportunities, there are an increasing number of individuals who are falling through the cracks.
Social Disenfranchisement: There are a number of individuals who aren't participating in the technological revolution due to individual intransigence. These individuals are unwilling to learn about new technologies or are highly resistant to any change in their routine. The speed at which new advancements are occurring is not only frightening and bewildering but is undermining the societal beliefs of these technological laggards. Everything from how individuals should be interacting with each other to the definition of community is being fundamentally challenged in our knowledge- based, rapid-communication economy.
While technological innovation is continuing to move forward at a breakneck pace, there is an increasing desire amongst technological laggards to slow the pace of innovation. For the technological laggards who are refusing to adapt to the new innovations occurring around them, they are seeing their fundamental beliefs disrupted. The headwinds that this increasing societal resistance is creating cannot be underestimated, particularly if technological innovation is to continue at its breakneck pace.
The headwinds being created by the technological laggards is due to this group's desire for a reversion back to a simpler time where society ran on predictable rules and customs and at a slower speed. The cause for this "reversion" trend can solely be blamed on our inability to ensure that everyone in society has adapted to the changes occurring.
In particular, the technological revolution has not ensured that its benefits spread to all individuals along the socio-economic spectrum. Indeed, most individuals who have benefited from the technological revolution have indicated that those who are disenfranchised by the technological revolution will merely adapt and find new employment.
Unfortunately, this glib answer not only doesn't address how this will occur for individuals who are still expected to pay bills and put food on the table but also doesn't address the need by a significant portion of the population for long term stability and consistency. Indeed, while many who have benefited from the technological revolution are comfortable with constant change, the vast majority of society, whether rightly or wrongly in their perception, believes that their socio-economic upward mobility has stalled out.
If society expects the continuation of technological innovation at a breakneck pace, it is necessary that we address the concerns of those who feel left out. Without addressing the "left behind", there will be increasing resistance to change through various levers from political to social to economic.
Those benefiting from the current pace of technological innovation forget that there are still a number of socio-economic levers that technological laggards can pull to slow the pace of innovation. From voting to regulation to individual resistance, technological laggards have sufficient power to slow down innovation if they truly desire.
Unfortunately, to address the concerns of the "left behind", it will mean the adaptation of individuals to the new realities brought about by technological innovation. Such adaptation will be a slow and daunting process as it will involve overcoming set behaviors and patterns. That being said, by taking the effort to convince the technological laggards that the changes occurring are beneficial to them, and that they can be included in them, society is laying the foundations for continued breakneck innovation and growth.
Follow Eric Quon-Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/equonlee