Is Our Community Ready?

One would think that at this point in my life, there wouldn’t be much left for me to get to know about myself.  As a result, it came as a bit of a surprise this week when a conversation with someone who barely knows me was the catalyst for an insight that really made me think. 

While I know I am a big picture thinker who likes to connect the dots, he made me realize how much I was assuming others saw things the same way. I figured everyone views communities through a lens like mine and therefore understands why change is necessary. However, as was pointed out during our conversation, many people are quite happy where they are, and simply don’t see why communities need to change.

The resulting insight for me was that I need to back up and try to convey why change is so essential.

For me, the late American business guru Peter F. Drucker provided the most meaningful context for change when he said, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself - its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living through just such a transformation.”

Think of it as the equivalent of being a flapper and trying to relate to the Victorian era into which your parents were born. The changes would have had been mind-boggling as the world shifted from an agricultural-based economy to the industrial era.

Today we’re living through that same kind of transformation, albeit at an even faster pace, as we move into the information or knowledge economy. To make it even more complicated, we’re still in the last stages of the industrial economy, emerging into the knowledge economy, while glimpsing a new economy based on biological and ecological principles that some are calling the organic economy (organic in the sense that the things we make and how we make them will be tied to understanding and reading life, and then programming life for specific purposes).

Futurist Rick Smyre refers to it as a “Creative Molecular Economy” based on the integration of emerging technologies, such as microprocessors, microsensors, nanotechnology, new materials science and biotechnology, with creative individuals, groups and companies organized in interlocking networks, connecting and disconnecting constantly in processes of continuous innovation.

There is no doubt we are in the midst of a fundamental turning point in history that is changing the way we think, communicate, and ultimately will live.

It is an age of instant, 24/7 communications that includes over 750 million users of Facebook. As one blogger points out, if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest in the world (between India and the United States). That’s in addition to a number of text messages being sent and received each day that exceeds the population of the planet. There are 4.6 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide (though many of the world’s 6.8 billion people have more than one), and one to two billion people using the internet.

All of these examples illustrate that the world contains an unimaginably vast amount of digital information. This information if used right can help prevent disease, combat crime, facilitate democracy, identify trends and insights, help business find new markets etc.

This access to technology also means the world really is flat, there are no economic borders. Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. As Smyre puts it, suppliers can be changed overnight and knowledge workers can change employers over lunch.

In 1950 there were 2.4 billion people in the world, today there are 6.9 billion. In North America, manufacturing jobs continue to decline while the need for education increases because 40% of the top jobs in 2020 will be based on technologies and knowledge associated jobs. Ninety percent of the factory workers left will need post-secondary education. Even more startling is the idea that up to 50% of the technical knowledge learned in college or university will be obsolete by graduation.

Genetic testing will ultimately become the basis for disease prevention and diagnosis, and global warming will change our climate and increase the value of water as an economic asset. 

By 2030 those over 65 will be 20% of the population and since our birthrate of 1.6 will not replace an aging population, an increase in immigration will result in greater diversity. 

According to Smyre, this means we’re going to need knowledge not yet known, for jobs that don’t currently exist. Additionally, we’ll need to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.

All of these changes are reasons why we need to think about how we can thrive in a future where survival will be dependent upon transformational thinking and continuous innovation.

The big question each of us needs to ask – is our community ready?

Posted on 08-20-11


Hi Brenda,

Interesting blog.  I am curious where the statistic that up to 50% of the technical knowledge learned in a college or university will be obsolete by graduation?  Also, I wonder what it means given you can’t retool manufacturing processes where that technology is used continually just because there is new, but often unproven, technology.  My question back at you, is how can a community be ready for the unknown and unknowable?


•Posted by Paul Watson  on  08/22/11  at  03:41 PM


Thanks Paul. That statistic came from Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies, “Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s World, Part Two,” May-June 2008, p 41 THE FUTURIST Vol. 42, No. 6, Nov-Dec 2008.

As for your question, “How can a community be ready for the unknown and the unknowable?”...its an excellent one and I’m going to take a shot at trying to answer it in an upcoming blog.

•Posted by Brenda Herchmer  on  08/25/11  at  11:21 PM

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