Now is a truly amazing time to be alive for the curious and adventurous – opportunities to do what you enjoy for a living have never been better. The information available on obscure interests is amazing. There is lots to be optimistic about as the future will continue to bring new possibilities. And yet it seems that the inertia of the majority of the population, at least in North America, has been heading in the opposite direction for some time, cruising along on the achievements of previous generations while simultaneous taking advantage of the economies of scale afforded by the continuing advancements produced by a small minority.
Culturally out of favour are education, particularly math, anything perceived as complicated and inaccessible. In favour is the continued pursuit of material wealth, indiscriminate politically driven praise in both the corporate and parenting worlds coupled with an “egalitarian” rather than competetive worldview where you don’t have to work hard for fulfillment. Drugs are prescribed indiscriminately to treat the perpetual anxiety of not being happy – a state probably brought on by the general lack of real achievement. Personal responsibility is at an all time low and feel-good, quick-fix books are as numerous as anti-depressants.
And now from society over to business: It seems that the last few decades of business have seen a trend of ownership with reduced personal responsibility. Corporations “externalize” as much risk as possible to the lowest bidder without proper regard to the consequences. Society seems to be more addicted than ever to the quick fix while avoiding difficult, critical thinking. Lawyers seem to have convinced us to be irrationally afraid of any risk and therefore have managed to profitably and irreversibly insert themselves as middlemen in almost everything. Somehow along the way established big businesses have started convincing the public that obvious ideas, or even human genes and molecules that have evolved in nature are (absurdly) not public domain but in fact licenceable “intellectual property.” See this excellent brief review of the topic at the Register. Gone are the days where it matters to the patent office that you have a truly groundbreaking concept which is actually implementable. Today’s intellectual property goes to those with deep pockets and audacity to claim the incredibly obvious.
So the questions for 2006:
- How do we make competetive education a priority and improve the general public’s aptitude to think creatively, constructively and critically?
- How do we increase the will to take personal responsibility and improve our work ethics?
- How do we incent businesses to manage themselves sustainably assuming responsibility for the total costs and risks of any venture?
- How do we retake ownership of our ideas?
I plan to drill down into more detail on a few of these topics.