, Silicon Valley

Here is the Introduction to my book “Empower”. I hope you enjoy. You can read the whole book at http://www.passiak.com

This is an incredible time to be alive. Not only are we living through the period of the most rapid innovation and exponential change in human history, but for the first time we have the tools and resources to solve the world’s biggest problems. The collaborative economy and rise of the autonomous world will radically reconfigure business, society, and culture. Everything is going to change, faster than we think.

Humanity is building a bridge from an analog to digital world, taking a giant leap forward on par with the discovery of fire, invention of writing, or going to the moon. Each of us plays a role in co-creating the future. Entrepreneurs, investors, activists, employees, students, politicians, and community leaders must work together with passion and purpose. The leadership decisions we make on how to coexist with technology will shape the evolution of civilization for the next 1,000 years.

Will we live in abundance, leveraging the power of technology to share value and realize our true potential in an emerging networked society? Or will automation from AI, drones, robots, self-driving vehicles, and the Internet of Things (IoT) decimate jobs, lead to mass inequality and a dystopian nightmare?

It is not enough to think about how to protect our individual jobs from automation or save our companies from disruption. There is a higher likelihood that you have the skill sets and resilience to succeed in this new era, but millions of people will not. We need to think about how to connect our efforts to a greater purpose, shared goals, and a global community of like-minded individuals committed to building a collaborative society.

Movements require collaboration among members that mutually support and look out for each other. Their strong sense of community provides a safe space to share and test ideas, transforms failures into learning opportunities, and builds resilient networks that allow us to adapt and grow. Movements have visionary leaders that inspire us to embrace challenges and transcend differences for the sake of the greater good. They foster a sense of optimism and aim to accomplish what seems impossible.

In the context of movements, technology is a great enabler. It brings people together by allowing them to communicate better, forge new relationships and communities organized around like-minded interests, and facilitate exchanges of ideas, goods, and services. Early-adopters test new technologies and baptize innovations into popular culture through reviews, recommendations, blogs, and social media. Terms like “evangelism” and “conversion” borrowed from religious movements reflect the passion and purpose at the heart of every startup team. Technology provides access to knowledge and opportunities irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender.

The first step toward building a movement is to start a conversation around the issues and challenges that lie ahead covering: (1) Collaborative Leadership, (2) The Power of Sharing, (3) Companies and the Crowd, and (4) Better Economics.

We need a different mindset to co-create the future. This includes a new approach to leadership characterized by collaboration and sharing, cooperation and openness, transparency and honesty. We have to think holistically about the roles that our brands, organizations, or startups play in the world. New technologies and platforms generate new business models, create opportunities to share value, and allow us to rethink the basic building blocks of business, society, and culture.

The global economy recovered, though in many ways this bounce-back effect gave business leaders a false sense of confidence: The crash accelerated trends in innovation that will radically disrupt traditional industries. As Brian Solis said at the time, constraint drives innovation. Forced to do more with less resources, companies embraced new products, services, and business models. Many startups founded in the wake of the crash are now thriving. At the time of this writing, there are 177 unicorns (privately held companies with over $1b valuation) with a cumulative valuation of $677b.

The collaborative and sharing economy is now mainstream, including a number of unicorns like Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, and WeWork. Empowered people can get whatever they need directly from each other. Growth in this arena outpaced the rise of social media and will continue exponentially. However, as Chelsea Rustrum points out, what began as a movement is being eaten by an on-demand everything model. People-powered platforms of the collaborative and sharing economy face disruption with the rise of the autonomous world (drones, robots, AI, self-driving vehicles, etc.) All of this innovation will bring a tsunami-sized wave of disruption. Every industry will require new business models and management processes, face huge regulatory challenges, and automation could lead to mass unemployment.

The traditional career path is officially over, replaced by the gig economy and project-based temporary workers competing with machines for jobs. A recent report indicated 83% of jobs making less than $20/hour are at risk of automation. This trend could be exacerbated by findings that millennials “don’t like dealing with people.” Instead, they prefer kiosks and automated services. White-collar, office jobs could also be replaced. In fact, they are often easier to automate because software and AI doesn’t require physical installations. As Martin Ford puts it, any repetitive task can be automated.

The doom and gloom of techno-dystopia is counterbalanced by a profound shift in values and behavior. Millennials buy less stuff, prefer access to ownership, embrace collaboration and sharing, and want to support and work for companies that have a social purpose. New communities form around likeminded interests, challenging the importance of traditional identity categories of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. The collaborative economy empowers people to create, share, and exchange goods and services directly from each other, eliminating the need for intermediaries.

We are also seeing widespread interest in meditation, mindfulness, and awakening. This is accompanied by a new generation of apps, devices, and tools to help relax and attain altered states of consciousness. What my meditation teacher Kenneth Folk calls “contemplative fitness” could be incredibly important as we need to train our minds for immersion in a world saturated by virtual and augmented reality. The giant leap we are making with technology may be a catalyst for the next Great Awakening.

 The next generation of collaborative economy startups can leverage technology to distribute and share value with users. Decentralized platforms built on the blockchain could enable new types of company creation and eliminate the need for hierarchical power structures. Digital cooperatives and open innovation models present opportunities to reorganize society around communal interests. The world is getting more interconnected, giving rise to what Parag Khanna calls an “emerging networked society.”

As Brad Feld points out in his interview on giving first, part of the challenge we face is that humans are very bad at predicting outcomes of exponential technologies. Cycles of rapid change and adoption that previously took decades to unfold can now happen in a matter of weeks or months. The ripple effects from breakthroughs in innovation become more complicated when factoring in the idea of AI learning from AI. We are tasked with preparing for the future when even the best minds in the world can’t predict what it will be like 10–20 years from now.

Equally difficult to predict are the changing dynamics of global communities. Current economic leaders like the U.S. and Europe face vast challenges, plagued with regulatory red tape, legacy infrastructure, massive organizations that will need to be restructured, and millions of jobs at risk of automation. Meanwhile emerging markets across South America, Africa, and Asia present greenfield opportunities to improve the quality of life for billions of people coming online for the first time. Access to the same tools and platforms could allow developing nations and megacities to leapfrog ahead, changing the global flow of people, money, and power.

Recent history has shown that underemployment and social media can be a recipe for nationalism and religious extremism. The same platforms that connect billions of people through collaboration and sharing, community and open dialogue, serve as amplifiers and echo chambers of polarizing anger and hatred. Attempts to enforce isolationist immigration policies distract from the ominous threat of AI replacing jobs, while the rise of the autonomous world presents new security risks as self-driving vehicles, drones, and robots could all be used as weapons.

The interrelationship between technology and humanity, innovation and tradition, globalization and local identities, community and the individual, is vast and complex. Although we cannot control the rapid pace of innovation, we can choose to face the future with a sense of hope and optimism, mindfulness and compassion. We can be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Together we can empower each other to reach our true potential and co-create the future we want and deserve.

David Passiak
David Passiak
David Passiak is a keynote speaker, innovator, futurist, and author of three books - Empower, Disruption Revolution, and Red Bull to Buddha. A former religion scholar who did Ph.D. studies at Princeton on "Great Awakenings," his work focuses on building movements, co-creation, crowd-based innovation, and emerging business models that will reshape the global economy.


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