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Millennials, Seize the Future or Lose It All

How Do We Survive Change? - The Future Project

In the previous article, we looked at the increasing pace of change. Change doesn't stop. Only in very authoritarian, repressive, government regimes does anyone stop change. For the rest of the world, it's "join us or get out of the way."

Who survives? History is littered with those who failed:

The rough, tough, militarized Spartans of Ancient Greece thought that the Athenians of Greece were soft, and their great empire would be easily seized. It was Spartan oligarchy against Athenian democracy. After 30 years of spurious war, the Spartans managed to win and temporarily install tyrants, but in the process destroyed the Greek civilization, ending the golden age. But then the Spartan's rule was overthrown and democracy restored. The Spartans perceived strength simply led to overconfidence, destruction, and loss.

The very conservative Sadducees of the ancient Jewish nation, died in that final era of Judaism nationality around 80 AD. The more progressive Pharisees continued on, and Judaism continued to change. The inability to cope with change was lethal.

In Ancient Rome, too many stresses from differences within and pressure from outside, destroyed the Empire. It could not cope with pluralism. The inability to cope with change is lethal.

We see huge monuments to past civilization, such as in Egypt; Middle, South, and North America; and Easter Island, and we wonder what happened. Why did they disappear? Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, wrote that past collapses of civilizations tend to follow a similar theme: population growth exceeded the environment's ability to maintain them. Despite their technological achievements that stun us, they could not survive. To be sure, the people in those lands are still there. But the empire with its government, agriculture, communication, architects, and technology are gone. If they adapted, it was to become smaller to fit the environment. Moderation, not excess, wins.

Some say nature teaches us that "only the strong survive." If that was true, the earth would primarily be populated by dinosaurs and other large creatures. They are gone. Darwin taught that the adaptable survive in nature, not the dogs in the dog eat dog world that some love. Nature teaches us that the cross-pollinated survive (diversity creates disease resistance, and expands abilities). Science teaches us that we are interdependent with other species. For example, bees are essential to plants and many of our food plants may disappear with the hundreds of bee species that are dying. Anthropology assures us, from the "cave man" example, that the more intelligent survive. Man wasn't the strongest in that era. Strength may have its day, but other qualities ensure survival.

People love stability. Well, actually youth thrive on change. Most of the world wants stability. But change will come. Survival depends on:

  1. Our ability to cope with the stresses and changes in our population
  2. Adaptability that helps us adjust to change
  3. Moderation and control that keep us from destroying the environment
  4. Cross-pollinating ideas with others that makes us stronger, just as it makes plants stronger
  5. Intelligence to control life
  6. Strength? Strength may be the outcome of the above traits. Nations with strong military keep regional peace through gunboat diplomacy. Others won't attack them for fear of destruction. The appearance of weakness invites invaders. When nations help others, it's done more effectively from strength. But even the poor help each other.

Coming changes

Technology often fools us because it is constantly morphing. It is filled with business creative peaks, followed by mergers, and includes cross-pollinization. The first phase is rapid technological development. A revolutionary new product comes out, followed by rapid change that quickly makes, for example, an audio device or a computer type obsolete. This rapid development period commonly lasts around 30 years. After that, few significant changes take place, the price of the item falls rapidly, and the market settles to around 3 major companies through failures and acquisitions.

The technologies developed become incorporated in other technologies, that make their development possible. For example, the X-Ray machine combined with the computer made Computerized Axial Tomography possible, the CT Scan. Radio, computers, and super-strong magnets made the MRI machine possible. The CT and MRI make it possible to make advanced methods of disease detection and treatment that before would have required major surgery and years of development and testing. And thanks to newer non-magnetic components, a technician is able to communicate with a patient over a microphone and speaker during an MRI scan.

Many areas are affected by technological change. We are in a period of medical technical advancement that will probably last until 2040 or so, before it starts tapering off. This will continue raising prices. Audio advancements have slowed. It has been a few years since audio went to MP3 and Internet downloads. In that change, it changed the entire recording industry delivery and profit model. All of these technologies work together to make technological advancement accelerate at an exponential rate, instead of a slow additive trot. And they affect our world in myriad ways.

Population stability will have a lot of effects. The current US population is around 320 million people. Without immigration, we will only reach 340 million, coming close to that in 2030. With immigration, we may reach 400 million, but they tend to go to certain areas so they don't affect many communities. We will have equal numbers of people of all ages up through around age 80. Life expectancy was calculated to continue increasing, but with current levels of obesity, it is hovering around age 76 and declining.

What will population stability affect? Business will no longer be able to depend on ever-increasing markets. Innovation from technological advances, which adoption lags current technology by 5 to 15 years, will slow. Stock market gains will likely become less important because business profits will likely increase much less than in previous history.

Current business depends heavily on growth. People of all ages will have equal impact on the economy, but in different areas. Young adults through age 27 are neither married nor have homes (on average). They spend more money on recreation. People at the other end, spend much more on medical care and travel.

Companies will find labor will likely be better educated and less available, so a tight labor market will drive labor costs up. The demand for housing will decline as fewer people marry and move into new homes.

One of the biggest fears in society is the potential impact of automation technology (AKA robotics) on our future ability to make an income. Automation technology will continue to replace many. This will help the eternal quest for business efficiency for 5 to 15 years, but will peak and decline because many jobs require intelligence that computers can't attain. This replacement creates jobs to maintain and operate the automated technology, but is it one to one? Will more jobs be lost than replaced.

Can your job be automated? McKinsey and Company did research to see how much of individual jobs could be automated using existing technology. Automation Potential and Wages for US Jobs.

Overall, McKinsey sees an average of all jobs having some degree of automation, averaging around 45%. Some have very little potential, others much more. CEOs could have 20% of their work automated. Those with low wage jobs aren't necessarily in great danger, but their work will change because of automation. The largest pay node is in the $10 to 15.00 an hour range. The slope from 15 to higher pay ranges is a steep downward curve, with most people earning below $40,000.00. This is not household income, but since over 50% of households are single parent, this reflects around 50% of households as well.

Creative work, such as writing, isn't likely to be influenced much by automation, but that is only around 4% of total work activity. However, writing is a favorite activity of those over 50, so competition may kill writing.

McKinsey concludes that most jobs will simply be redefined, not eliminated, so we don't have to fear automation, we just have to adapt to it. For all of the talk about fast food replacing people with kiosks, and restaurants using pay terminals at tables, in reality it has little impact on overall employment.

How do we survive?

You can fight change... and get buried in the avalanche. Or you can embrace change and benefit from it. Change makes people unhappy, even though it benefits them.

Technological innovation drives change that uses technology to replace people, and creates new jobs. What do we have to do to survive? Become more technologically proficient. Employability is likely to continue to be correlated with the ability to adapt to new technology.

Businesses, on the other hand, are going to have to do a lot of adapting. A tighter labor market with more highly trained employees will try to drive wages up. Markets that don't expand will mean more competition and no to slow growth. Retail sales in 2015 were buoyed by auto sales. But sales are getting increasingly harder to land, which indicates they may decline. Hungry stock market investors won't be pleased.

As automation peaks, the 66 year trend of productivity rise will likely cease. As technologies and markets mature and innovations dwindle, there will likely be few new opportunities for mergers and acquisitions. Competition will likely increase, with fewer ways to gain an advantage in the market. Business will have to adapt to stable markets and income. Much of the increase in stock prices for the past few years have been driven by accounting gimmicks and mergers, not increases in sales.

Consumer consumption that drives the market has most likely peaked. In a recent interview, an Ikea officer who had evaluated the US market, said he believed it had peaked: IKEA Thinks Consumers Have Hit ‘Peak Stuff’ (And That They Can Work Around That). When businesses are forecasting income, it's certainly something for executives and investors to consider. 8 Ways the American Consumer May Have Already Peaked - Money at Time.com.

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