Future Focused on Opportunities - The 4th Industrial Revolution

The darkened room offered solace from the merciless sun - it also helped that I did not have to look out at the bleak, scorched garden where the grass and flowers were losing the daily battle for survival. I was reminded of a sermon I listened to some years ago. The pastor said most people have a tendency to ‘draw the curtains’ when going through tough times. We prefer to hibernate and suffer in silence rather than to get out, do something different or to seek help. The trouble is that in our private spaces, the problem seems to grow and circumstances look darker than ever and soon we are living inside a misery, all alone, because we will not reach out to one another. And in this space it is hard to think clearly or be positive about the future.
At the start of each new year, I have the habit of looking around at what future focused experts are saying about global issues. During January 2016 the discussions at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos were centred on a topic, “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” and it was interesting to read what the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences had to say about this foreign concept. Professor Phelps says the economy is not a machine that can be cranked up to the best possible performance level but rather, ‘a functioning modern economy is a living organism made up of all the individuals participating in it. Their initiatives are sparked by imagination, encouraged by values and assisted by their personal knowledge.’ And this is exactly why it is not helpful for us to draw the curtains and turn inwards on our problems, shutting out the light. We need to look outward 1) to look for hope and 2) to zoom in on opportunities!
Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, at the January 2016 meeting in Davos elaborated on the pending ‘revolution’, saying we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In scale, scope and complexity the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has ever experienced. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power and saw the launch of mechanised production processes; the Second used electricity to bring about mass production. The Third saw the use of electronics and information technology and automated production lines and now a Fourth is building on the third in the form of a digital revolution which is characterised by a fusing of technologies. Billions of people are now connected through mobile devices with processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge.  Schwab believes that ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world’. He recognises that it could yield greater inequality and again, access to technology and skills to use it, will influence opportunities and says in the future, talent, more than capital, will be a critical factor. 
If we close the curtains we may miss out on opportunity. We must seek knowledge and widen our horizons as in Isaiah 54 v. 2, ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.’ We must be creative, brave and astute as we let go of old ways and scout out new possibilities.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution ‘reflects the rapidly blurring boundaries between humans and machines’ and will affect the very foundation of our society from economic growth, education, financial systems, geosecurity, global trade, health, poverty and much more. At this WEF meeting in January, Miki Tsusaka said there are ways to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution but leadership is required to seek out opportunity. She highlighted three essential components for success:
1) Successful companies stay on top by running the business - but also by reinventing the business! This means don’t over-exploit existing business models rather explore new opportunities. Explorers grow faster and deliver higher value than exploiters!
2) Complacency is the kiss of death! Leaders in business cannot afford to steer away from change. This may mean destroying old systems or business processes – she calls it ‘creative destruction’. The best leaders don’t attempt to preserve the past, they invent the future!
3) Businesses would be wise to embrace ‘the right’ diversity. Diversity helps any enterprise avoid the risk of being a monoculture and it creates a platform for innovation and adaptation. Individuals with varied backgrounds have fundamentally different views and the melting pot of ideas leads to stronger business results. BUT, she highlighted the importance of choosing the right driver of diversity saying businesses should not promote unqualified candidates just for the sake of diversity. It can be easy to get swept up in the drive towards diversity to increase numbers, but quality trumps quantity every time. It takes time to find and promote top talent but those who do, will reap the rewards.
Tsusaka says to win in the new business environment, a change in mind-set is required as the status quo or ‘business as we know it’ is not going to be a comfort zone for much longer. She advises that we adopt a bold outlook, surround ourselves with top people and get ready to reinvent our businesses sooner than we had ever imagined. 
I have a feeling that the tough economic environment which farmers have been facing almost for too long is an added catalyst, forcing us to re-examine our business models for the future. Try not to draw the curtains. Keep your finger on the pulse, attend farmers meetings and support your agricultural organisations that are lobbying on your behalf and STAY POSITIVE!