Hacking History to Reach a Flourishing Future (Part 1)

Image courtesy of www.http://globaia.org

Last week, a group of Earth Scientists published their second paper supporting the proposition that, as human activity is now the most potent source of environmental change on the planet,  a new geological era – the “Anthropocene”  – should be named to mark this historic milestone. Obviously given the geological time frames involved, it makes little sense to try to define the precise tipping point when Earth’s climate stabilised around a temperature that enabled humanity to flourish. (For background see: The Relevance of VUCA and Anthropocene to Tourism)

That got me thinking about a more recent transition from the Middle Ages to Age of Enlightenment, or the shift from an agricultural era to an industrial one. In that case, it is possible to identify four separate events, initiated by the actions of four very different and independent men, which marked the passage from one era to another.

In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg cranked up his printing press – an invention that did for medieval communication what the Internet did for us 550 years later.

In 1473 Niklas Copernicus defied the Church and its teachings by declaring that the earth revolved around the sun. In so doing he ignited a spark of rebellion that Galileo would later fan and that made modern science possible.

Just twenty years later in 1493, Christopher Columbus made it back safely from the New World having proven that the Earth wasn’t flat and immense riches were to be found in lands behind the horizon. That discovery unleashed the most deadly period of colonial expansion in human history but also released the capital that would indirectly fund the industry and create a merchant-middle class.

In 1517, a rather cantankerous rebellious priest, Martin Luther,  who had had enough of having to buy his way into heaven nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg and started the Protestant Revolution.

As history has a habit of repeating patterns, it occurred to me that if we move the dial on the clock another 450 years on, we’ll see another four events, associated with a few individuals, that stand out as triggers of equally momentous huge change:

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee figured out how to send messages between a HTTP client and server via the Internet and pretty soon the world-wide web (as it was called back then) changed everything.

Just ten years later, in 1999, a quod of IT “geeks” published the Clue Train Manifesto that was Copernican in impact and Lutheran in tone. Authors Levine, Locke, Weinberger and Searle scorned the captains of industry for failing to appreciate what Berner-Lee’s invention had unleashed. Customers would no longer be revolving around the sun of corporate largesse, control or whim. Customer centricity was the new rallying cry.

The market + the Internet would deliver unimaginable choice and power to “everyman” provided everyman kept in touch. Within five years young college graduate called Mark Zuckerberg delivered Facebook in 2004 and made those connections personal, colourful, universal and highly addictive. Customers switched from consumers to prosumers, and groups of customers could crowd, text, message tweet, swarm, fund, petition, vote and protest with one press of a button.

cluetrain1Business slowly realised the prescience of Clue Train’s warning that  “markets are conversations”  and spent much of the next decade trying to butt into the conversations their customers preferred having with each other. Corporate executives were so busy  trying to grasp the implications of social media and revive their relationships with customers that they overlooked one critical fact.

Customers and employees come from the same genetic stock. 

Having got a taste of power and freedom as a consumer, many realised they could take back control over their work lives. They turned up to work – well they clocked in – but very few, only 13% globally brought more than their bodies to work (1). Gallup had measured ‘engagement” in the global workforce and discovered that 87% of employees considered themselves disengaged to various degrees. Now bear in mind that engagement, which I think should be equated with passion or enthusiasm, had been defined as:

“the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplish tasks important to achieve organizational goals.” (Source: 2014 IBM Smarter Workforce Study.)

For many employees, the only reason they checked in 5 days a week was the recession – a job was better than no job until it became realistic to risk looking for an alternative.

In the meantime, something else changed outside the workforce – a globally connected population of unemployed but talented individuals weren’t just in conversation, they were trading, training, blogging, tweeting, fb-ing, partnering, creating, writing, coaching, fundraising, hiring expertise and retaining talent from anywhere on a pay-you-go basis. Like the early rodent mammals circling around and between the feet of dinosaurs they are fleet of foot, amazingly agile and potentially devastatingly disruptive.

In the UK, for example, small business entrepreneurs increased by 117% in the worst recession years from 2005-2010 and by 2102 their number had risen to 4.8 million. Lord Young of Grantham in Growing Your Business attributes this growth to confidence. Personally, I put it down to naked hope tinged with desperation aided by a government determined to show unemployment figures in decline.  But whatever the cause, this trend towards fractional work, freelancing, micro and social entrepreneurialism is laying depth charges on the seabed of conventional workplaces.

The final actor in our contemporary change drama, Luther’s equivalent, looks too jolly to be cast as a modern “protestant” but don’t let appearances or his self-deprecating twitter name deceive you. @simpletonbill is committed to cause disruption and mayhem. Better still, he’s committed to help us cause mayhem and disruption before others beat us to it.

Bill Jensen’s sequel to the Cluetrain Manifesto and Luther’s 95 Theses is titled Future of Work- Search for a Simpler Way  introduced by an article in Medium, Hack the Science of Engagement. and contains a clear message:

not in control

Those companies which recognise that their future lies in helping the brightest and the best achieve their personal dreams, passions, goals and priorities will do infinitely better than those companies stuck thinking that the best and brightest should “be applying their discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to achieving the company’s organisational goals.” (Who writes this stuff?)

OK, this blog is supposed to be about a new form of tourism – one fit for our Anthropocene era. I wouldn’t have led you down history lane, if I didn’t think the change in workplace dynamics highly relevant. In a sequel post, I will link these changes to the core tenets of the Conscious Travel model. Meanwhile, what levels of disruption are you anticipating or about to cause?

(1) http://www.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx



  1. Hacking History (Part 2) The Internet’s Third Power Shift | Conscious.Travel - January 27, 2015

    […] the previous post, we considered how mega change happens and pointed to the thought-leaders, technologies and […]


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