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The curious shall inherit the future

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“The future depends on what you do today.” – Mahatma Gandhi

By Mike Saucier

The future, from Don Tapscott’s perspective, is anything but bleak. And those who are curious will lead it.

 

Tapscott—the highly sought-after speaker, best-selling author of 15 technology, business, and society books including the New York Times No. 1 Wikinomics, Spencer Trask advisor, and adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto—has made a career out of championing innovation and collaboration.

 

“We are going through profound change, and some people are more interested than others in learning about it,” he said. The most critical trait one can possess in this time of great and growing complexity, Tapscott said, is curiosity.

 

The most inquisitive tech users are driving the deepest cultural changes, notably those in the Millennial or Net Generation. “Collaboration is changing everything around us, especially how young people interact with each other and the world at large,” he said. “The best way to understand that is to look at young people, because embedded in their culture is the new culture of work, the new culture of learning, the new marketplace and the new culture of collaborative intelligence.”

 

“Evidence is mounting that young people can juggle multiple sensory inputs much more easily than adults. Rather than our children having dysfunctional brains that can’t focus, young people are developing brains that are more appropriate for our fast-paced, complex world.

 

“The post-WWII generation spent many hours a week staring at a television screen, and that form of passive behavior shaped the kind of brains they developed. Today, young people spend an equivalent amount of time with digital technologies—being the user, the actor, the collaborator, the initiator, the rememberer, the organizer—which gives them a different kind of brain.”

 

Tapscott, ranked as the 4th most influential person on the Thinkers50 list, points to the interactive games young people play that teach team building and strategy. Their constant collaboration via online chats, texts, video games, and social media equips them to deal with modern challenges. Rather than seeing hordes of young people glued to their devices as an annoyance or an addiction, Tapscott sees them as critical assets.

 

“For teenagers today, doing their homework is a social and collaborative event involving text messages, instant messages, and Facebook walls to discuss problems while the iPod plays in background,” he said. “Already, these kids are learning, playing, communicating, working, and creating communities very differently than their parents. They are a force for social transformation.

 

“The main interest of the Net Generation is not technology, but what can be done with that technology. I think they are smart, they have great values, they know how to use collaborative tools, and that they are well equipped to address many of the big challenges and problems that my generation is leaving them. Overall, their brains are more appropriate for the kinds of complex demands of the 21st century.”

 

Tapscott does worry, though, that no matter how equipped our young people are, the fact remains that jobs will be a concern as a “new wave of robotics, and network-inspired automation is targeted at the heart of knowledge work.”

 

Looking ahead, he said, “Technology is convulsing entire industries and wiping out professional and management jobs. Amazon turns book retailing on its head and is now transforming retailing itself, devastating big box stores like Best Buy. Most of the magazine industry has been wiped out and former newspaper journalists everywhere are blogging for a living. Education is ready for massive disruption from MOOCs– Massively Open Online Courses. Legal Seafood uses robots to remove shells from shrimp. Bill Gates reported he’s working on robots that can pick crops better than humans can. Pharmacists will be replaced by drug-dispensing computers, 3-D printers will print homes, and you will hail an autonomous vehicle rather than a taxi.”

 

“There are new opportunities for reaching out and engaging every citizen.” Tapscott said. “A culture of public deliberation and active citizenship will help achieve social cohesion, good government, and shared norms. This is not direct democracy; it is about a new model of citizen engagement and politics appropriate for the 21st century.”

 

Despite his busy schedule, most of his time goes into his work as director of the Global Solution Networks program (www.gsnetworks.org). A global solution network, according to the company, “consists of diverse stakeholders, organized to address a global problem, making use of transnational networking, and with membership and governance that are self-organized.”

 

And Tapscott’s efforts aim to bring people together to solve those problems—both private and public.

 

“Just as waves of innovation are washing over the private sector, opportunities to harness new models of collaboration and innovation are arriving at the doorstep of governments everywhere,” he said. “Indeed, if mass collaboration is changing how enterprises innovate, orchestrate capability, and engage their stakeholders, why can’t the public sector seize networked business models to cut across departmental silos, improve policy outcomes, reduce costs, and increase public value?” While acknowledging change is difficult, he still encourages everyone to participate, to learn what they can, to be better equipped to contribute to a more engaged, interactive future.

 

“People should use the new technologies as much as they can, for familiarity with the technology is a precursor for understanding it,” he said. “Even if you don’t use tools like Twitter, Google-plus, Instagram, or even Facebook, show some curiosity.”