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Thursday, January 27, 2005

From The Information Age To Conceptual Age Courtesy - Asia, Automation & Abundance

(Via Wired) Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave the Information Age. Now comes the Conceptual Age ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion, says this well thought out and a provicative article. Excerpts with edits and my comments added:

Peter Drucker gave the cadre of professionals like doctors, lwayers. Engineers etc. an enduring name: knowledge workers. These are, he wrote, "people who get paid for putting to work what one learns in school rather than for their physical strength or manual skill." What distinguished members of this group and enabled them to reap society's greatest rewards, was their "ability to acquire and to apply theoretical and analytic knowledge." The world has changed. The future no longer belongs to people who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. Today amid the uncertainties of an economy that has gone from boom to bust to blah - there's a metaphor that explains what's going on. And it's right brain. The Information Age that Americans prepared for is ending. Rising in its place is the Conceptual Age, an era in which mastery of abilities that we've often overlooked and undervalued marks the fault line between who gets ahead and who falls behind. This shift - from an economy built on the logical, sequential abilities of the Information Age to an economy built on the inventive, empathic abilities of the Conceptual Age - sounds delightful.. The causes: Asia, Automation,& Abundance. The effect: the scales tilting in favor of right brain-style thinking.

Asia : Those squadrons of white-collar workers in Asia are scaring the jobs across North America and Europe. According to Forrester Research, 1 in 9 jobs in the US information technology industry will move overseas by 2010. And it's not just tech work,but extends to chartered accountants preparing American tax returns, lawyers researching American lawsuits, and radiologists reading CAT scans for US hospitals. Outsourcing to Asia is overhyped in the short term, but underhyped in the long term. American’s are not going to lose jobs tomorrow. (The total number of jobs lost to offshoring so far represents less than 1 percent of the US labor force.) But as the cost of communicating with the other side of the globe falls essentially to zero, as India becomes (by 2010) the country with the most English speakers in the world, and as developing nations continue to mint millions of extremely capable knowledge workers, the professional lives of people in the West will change dramatically. If number crunching, chart reading, and code writing can be done for a lot less overseas and delivered to clients instantly via fiber-optic cable, that's where the work will go. But these gusts of comparative advantage are blowing away only certain kinds of white-collar jobs - those that can be reduced to a set of rules, routines, and instructions. That's why narrow left-brain work such as basic computer coding, accounting, legal research, and financial analysis is migrating across the oceans. But that's also why plenty of opportunities remain for people and companies doing less routine work - programmers who can design entire systems, accountants who serve as life planners, and bankers expert less in the intricacies of Excel than in the art of the deal. Now that Asians can do left-brain work cheaper, the US must do right-brain work better.

Automation : Last century, machines proved they could replace human muscle. This century, technologies are proving they can outperform human left brains - they can execute sequential, reductive, computational work better, faster, and more accurately than even those with the highest IQs. Stockbrokers, lawyers , financial agents all are feeling the heat of automation.Consequently, legal abilities that can't be digitized - convincing a jury or understanding the subtleties of a negotiation - become more valuable. The routine functions are increasingly being turned over to machines." The result: As the scut work gets offloaded, engineers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence. Any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is at risk. Now that computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills, american’s have to rely ever more on right hemispheres.

Abundance : Left brains have made Americans rich. The Information Age has unleashed a prosperity that in turn places a premium on less rational sensibilities - beauty, spirituality, emotion. For companies and entrepreneurs, it's no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that's reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life. This will only intensify as the first children of abundance, the baby boomers, realize that they have more of their lives behind them than ahead. In both business and personal life, left-brain needs have largely been sated, the right-brain yearnings will demand to be fed.

As the forces of Asia, automation, and abundance strengthen and accelerate, the curtain is rising on a new era, the Conceptual Age. If the Industrial Age was built on people's backs, and the Information Age on people's left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people's right hemispheres. The Americans have progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now the next level of progress - to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. To flourish in this age, the Americans need to supplement the well-developed high tech abilities with aptitudes that are "high concept" and "high touch." High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing. High touch involves the capacity to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning. Developing these high concept, high touch abilities won't be easy for everyone. For some, the prospect seems unattainable. Forget what your parents told young americans in the past. Instead, do something Asian’s can't do cheaper. Something computers can't do faster. And something that fills one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age. In other words, go right, young man and woman, go right. Indeed an excellent, thought provoking article - an elaboration of the future path for abundance and survival for western society would make this article fullsome - This is indeed one of the finest piece published in this year.

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