Since the beginning of the social media revolution, many of us have been hearing and talking a lot about collaboration – and some organizations have actually been doing it.
Now, there’s another term we’re beginning to hear more about, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. World Economic Forum founder and Executive Chairman, Klaus Schwab, described it this way in his Jan. 2016 blog post, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it is and how to respond:
“The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
The fact that when I Googled “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, every link on the first results page referenced Schwab’s book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, may indicate that the same thing is happening with this revolution as the first three: it is being embraced and fuelled by competition-based capitalism. However, I would argue that in order for the fourth revolution to succeed – and for humanity to survive – we must change our economic system so this revolution is fuelled more by collaboration than competition.
Schwab appears to think that if we keep the current system and just make good choices, everything will be OK. However, with our current competitive system, this revolution may be the last to deliver good things to a few in the short term, with the unfortunate side effect of ending humanity in the long term.
Good things and bad are already happening. How you see them depends on your perspective. For example, Schwab’s view of the power of social media may give some insights into both Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s election victories:
“Discontent can…be fuelled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media…In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.” Obama and Trump may be the first of many “social media presidents” who use online tools to skirt the mainstream media and reach millions of supporters, all too willing to accept their message uncritically.
Schwab recognizes the positive impact technologies like smart phones have had on our lives but is also concerned about the negative impact:
“Sometimes I wonder whether the…integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.”
That’s the bad stuff. The new revolution is, of course, already delivering incredible things for some people and has the potential to deliver much more. Author, Bernard Marr describes some of the potential in his April 2016 Forbes.com post, Why Everyone Must Get Ready For The 4th Industrial Revolution:
“These technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management, potentially even undoing all the damage previous industrial revolutions have caused.”
Schwab would no doubt agree with Marr’s overly optimistic view – especially since his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, is Marr’s main source. Clearly, they both believe that if we just make the right choices, it will all be good. As Schwab says:
“Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is a…force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors…We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them.”
Again, the problem is that Schwab doesn’t see the need for a fundamental change in our competition-based economic system for this to happen. That kind of thinking will lead to us losing the ultimate competition – humanity vs the planet – as problems like climate change can only be solved by collaborating.
Not convinced? Maybe the Harvard Business Review can change your mind. Two HBR articles, Collaborate with Your Competitors – and Win and Collaboration is the New Competition back up my argument. The problem is that not enough companies seems to have read them as the first article is from 1989…
Luckily, the fair trade and coop movements have listened and are challenging the dominant economic systems by working more collaboratively with each other and operating in ways that empower their employees and suppliers from developing countries.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution must be accompanied by an economic revolution. If not, and it’s dominated by companies only collaborating internally while still aggressively competing against each other to grow and satisfy shareholders, none of us will win – or survive.