Editor’s words: what kind of future do we want?

Peter Drucker, one of the original business thought leaders, is famous for pioneering the philosophical and practical foundations of modern commerce. As early as the 1950s, Drucker advocated decentralisation, outsourcing, collaboration and corporate responsibility as key tenets for successful businesses.

Drucker was ahead of his time, advising companies like General Motors, Sears and IBM on effective business strategy with a particular focus on people and management. The challenges of modern day life were not fully understood in the mid-twentieth century but when Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” he highlighted an idea that has big implications today.

In the past, creating the future was a glacial process. It took years, sometimes decades, for an idea to be developed and executed. That slow pace of change afforded time to check and balance progress and if an idea turned out to be bad it was easy to alter course. 

In today’s breakneck economy there is no luxury of time to appraise the direction of travel – we conceive and create the future as quickly as technology will allow. New concepts are developed on the fly without guiding principles to steer them and we deliver the future for citizens, workers and the planet without asking if it’s the destiny they want.

Until recently our ability to influence ideas at scale had been limited – we simply didn’t have the tools and technology to make an impact on a global scale. In 2022, the way that we live, work, eat, travel and communicate is dictated by higher forces and new technologies that evolve and mutate almost as quickly as the virus that held the world to ransom.

Our world, both at home and at work, is defined by technology. In many cases tech makes our lives more convenient but it’s unclear to me whether it’s actually making it better? Is an infinite choice of serial killer documentaries on Netflix better than the joy of taking a trip to Blockbuster? Is the convenience of endless Zoom meetings more rewarding than saying hello in person? Does social media have a positive impact on society or not? Is a virtual world something that we want or need? We’re told that technology is making our jobs more satisfying but are we working harder than ever?

Of course, there are many examples where technology has made very clear improvements to the human condition. But aside from obvious benefits in science and medicine, can we see a straight line between technological evolution and human happiness?

Last week I read that Accenture is proudly onboarding its new recruits via the metaverse. Is that what 20-year olds who are just starting their career in consulting have asked for? Whenever we speak to our YPN members their number one criticism of the industry is that it feels remote and disconnected from real life. At this rate it won’t be long before five year olds are sending invites to virtual birthday parties.

Our future is being designed for us and we have very little say in the process. Drucker told us we could predict the future by designing it, the only question that remains is what kind of future do we want?