Powerful Times: Rising To The Challenge Of Our Uncertain World

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Pearson Education, 2006 - Civilization, Modern - 368 pages
Understand the most revolutionary human transformation in four centuries ... and prepare for it! We're not just living through an age of change: we're living through a 'change of age': the most profound inflection point in human history since the Enlightenment. That's the thesis of Eamonn Kelly's remarkable new book Powerful Times . From terrorism and nuclear proliferation to emerging technologies and economic globalization, Kelly weaves together 7 powerful 'dynamic tensions' that will reshape human life in the coming decades. Kelly offers breakthrough insights into how these tensions will conflict -- and how they'll resonate, creating giant waves of change beyond anything we've ever faced. He takes on the truly big questions. To answer pivotal questions, Kelly draws on breakthrough 'scenario planning' techniques he pioneered: techniques hundreds of top organizations now rely on. Simply put, this book will help you prepare for humanity's most profound transition in 400 years. For every executive, strategist, manager, entrepreneur, public policymaker, and citizen interested in the trends that will most powerfully impact business and life in the coming decades. Eamonn Kelly, the CEO and president of Global Business Network, the renowned future-oriented network and consulting firm, has for over a decade and has been at the forefront of exploring the emergence of a new, knowledge-intensive economy, and its far-reaching consequences for society, organizations and individuals. He has consulted with senior executives at dozens of the world's leading corporations in virtually every leading business sector; with key global and national public agencies, and with major philanthropic foundations. Kelly co-authored What's Next: Exploring the New Terrain for Business and The Future of the Knowledge Economy, and authored GBN's 2003 Scenario Book.

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The author is head of Global Business Network, a consultancy specialising in scenarios. After a brief introduction, the book divides into four sections (of descending substance in my view);
1. An
analysis of seven global tensions, none of which has a single option answer;
2. A review of two key challenges ahead; governance and innovation;
3. Three snapshot scenarios of the future of the world order; and
4. An interpretation of what it all means for business.
The book is written in an easily accessible style and with a clear presentation of some extraordinary facts that make it a gripping read for all who plan or strategise. It is worth reading if only for section 1 which takes up half the book.
Section 1 argues that “ in a world in which multiple contradictory forces are exerting themselves at the same time, the ability to think and act in terms of ‘both/and’ is an extraordinary enabler of learning.” By understanding these paradoxical forces now, we can better prepare to understand how they will play out in the different futures we all imagine. The polarities at the extremes of each of the seven dynamic tensions need to be embraced. The seven tensions are between
• Clarity (or transparency) & Craziness (or dishonesty)
• Secular & Sacred (which could more helpfully be Values; common & conflicting)
• Power & Vulnerability (can US hegemony avoid the flaws that ended prior empires?)
• Technology Acceleration & Pushback (by detractors)
• Intangible & Physical Economies (real physical constraints on growth of the “virtual”)
• Prosperity & Decline (reversing the widening gap between rich and poor globally)
• People & Planet (improving human wellbeing while preserving planet earth).
(Notable omissions include Global & Local, Democracy & Populism and Education & Indoctrination, some of which are picked up briefly in the final section.)
Whereas the polarities of these dynamic tensions leave their futures uncertain, the author makes a very convincing argument that the way they play out will be critical to almost all possible futures. They also represent in a sense the tectonic plates of the future, since there will be pressures and tensions between them, not just within each one. Readers can use the 7 tensions as a framework to review the robustness and completeness of plans and projections and shape future thoughts.
Section 2 starts with an introduction to the need to change including organising for change, contrasting the “citadel” mental model of formally structured organisations with the “web” concept of emerging forces. Reviewing governance, the author concludes “Today, much of the formal power in the world lies with national governments that lack the capacity to address the planet’s central challenges.” He expects this to result in a second superpower in the shape of the voice of the people expressed through non-state organisations. Diversification of the sources of innovation is expected to be facilitated by widespread e-learning: it “may well prove to be our collective salvation”.
Section 3 offers three scenarios for the next decade. They are of interest as exemplars of how to work driving forces through into distinct, but plausible futures. Some may wish to use them as a shortcut to developing scenarios of their own, but they lack the independence of thought and the environmental relevance to be very useful in all but a few cases for practical use.
However, Section 4 builds on the three global scenarios to draw conclusions about the way the world will be different for us all, drawing upon yet another set of polarities, ending with the philosophical question: who are “we” in a globalised world?
This is an extremely thought-provoking read with extensive factual support to the arguments. Some of it is inevitably controversial, but it will resonate as a sound articulation of the uncertainties felt by many people in a world thought by many to be increasingly turbulent.
Martin Thomas Mar06

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