In other words, evolution is a double-edged sword. On one hand, innovations increase survival. On the other hand, they also increase competition, which reduces survival. Evolution does not rest on its laurels. It accelerates. Enter humans. With humans, we see a shift from competing based on biology to competing based on ideas (cultures, strategies, technologies, etc.). For example… Companies compete for top talent. Employees compete for open positions. Employees compete to move up the corporate ladder. Companies compete for investors. Investors compete for the best startups. Companies compete against each other via their products and services. Scientists compete against each other for publication, citation, awards, and funding. Everyone competes for attention. Just like evolution, when we evolve new technologies, things don’t slow down and become a utopia. Rather things get faster and more competitive. Now, here’s where the big difference between biology and ideas is. While human biology evolves so slowly we don’t notice, ideas (cultures, strategies, technologies, etc.) evolve so quickly, we can’t keep up. Idea evolution is like biological evolution on steroids. In other words, in a moment when many are already feeling overwhelmed by change, things are about to take off even faster. 20 years from now, the rate of change will be 4x what it is now. Things will keep accelerating from there, and in 40 years, it will be 16x (more on these numbers later). What does this mean? Let me put it in context. For many, 2020 felt like five years packed into one… Historic pandemic Historic social movement (Black Lives Matter) Historic stimulus Historic wildfires Historic election Historic stock market high Historic technology breakthroughs (Alphafold / GPT-3 / Quantum Supremacy, etc) We saw once-in-a-generation events in nearly every sphere of life. Each of these events rippled throughout society leading to unpredictable second-order effects which upended our long-held beliefs about media, democracy, business, and citizenship to name a few. Our emotions went from positive to negative extremes as we faced unprecedented opportunities and challenges. We had to fundamentally rethink our lives, relationships, and work. Here’s the thing though… 2020 isn’t a temporary blip before things go back to normal. It is the kickoff to an unprecedented acceleration that few have considered, let alone prepared for. If time is like a treadmill, 2020 was running. The near-future will be an all out sprint. How do we keep up? To answer this question, let’s talk about… The Coming Acceleration Shock “If somebody describes the world of the mid-twenty-first century to you and it doesn’t sound like science fiction, it is certainly false. We cannot be sure of the specifics; change itself is the only certainty.” — Yuval Noah Harari
Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen Effect, explains the tit for tat like this… If a competitor makes an improvement, you must make an equal or greater improvement just to stay neck-and-neck with them. Stay the same and you fall behind. Lauren Bacall said it even better… “Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world.” — Lauren Bacall
For example, one researcher charted the Gross World Product from 10,000 BCE to 2019 and came up with this chart… We are now living in the second half of the curve. This is a big deal, because the second half feels and behaves in fundamentally different ways. Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google and arguably the world #1 futurist, breaks down what the second half of the exponential curve better than anyone else in his book, The Singularity Is Near. Kurzweil’s basic premise is this… “The future will be far more surprising than most people realize.”
So, I spent over 100 hours reading the top 10 books related to these questions across the disciplines of sociology, technology, physics, evolution, business, and systems theory. I read Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism by sociologist Judy Wajcman. I read The Sociology of Speed: Digital, Organizational, and Social Temporalities by ten sociologists. I read Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies by physicist turned polymath Geoffrey West. I reread The Singularity Is Near by technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil. I read The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by journalist Matt Ridley, PhD. I read about the Law Of Requisite Variety pioneered in the field of cybernetics. Finally, I read Competing Against Time: How Time-Based Competition is Reshaping Global Markets by management consultant George Stalk and Clockspeed: Winning Industry Control In The Age Of Temporary Advantage by MIT researcher Charles Fine.
How did things turn out the exact opposite of what we were expecting? More importantly, will the pace of life keep accelerating? And if it does, what are the implications (ie — can most people even cope)? What should we be doing now as knowledge workers to prepare for this future?
“Rather than being bored to death, our actual challenge is to avoid anxiety attacks, psychotic breakdowns, heart attacks, and strokes resulting from being accelerated to death.” — Geoffrey West Rather than inhabiting a world of time wealth, we’re inhabiting a world of time poverty. Rather than feeling the luxury of time freedom, we’re feeling the burden of constant hurry.
neck-and-neck with them
“Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world.” — Lauren Bacall
“because few observers have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.”
“We won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress (again, when measured by today’s rate of progress), or about one thousand times greater than what was achieved in the twentieth century.”
Let that sink in for a second.
Race against the world. Digitization has taken extreme competition to a whole other level. Rather than competing against the best in your local area, you’re competing against the best in the world. In other words, rather than competing against a small number of people, you’re competing against 1,000x the number of people. The result of global competition is that competition is exponentially more fierce and winner-take-all.
within the top professional players, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have combined to win 57 of the past 67 Slams. Out of all of the hundreds of men’s professional tennis players, only three account for almost all of the attention,
Movies have faster cuts. When my kids were younger, I took it as an opportunity to rewatch the first Star Wars. It was too slow to keep my attention.
More and more people are fast forwarding media content. Netflix recently added the ability to watch all of its shows at 1.5x speed. Even Audible recently increased its max speed from 3x to 3.5x.
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