Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World (paperback)

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9780131366244: Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World (paperback)

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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About the Author:

Eamonn Kelly is CEO and president of Global Business Network, the renowned future-oriented network and consulting firm. For over a decade, he has been at the forefront of exploring the emergence of a new, knowledgeintensive 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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Preface

We humans are truly remarkable. We have, so quickly, taken such commanding control of our planet, developed such powerful sciences and technologies, and assumed such profound and audacious responsibility for our own destiny. Yet for all our ambitious and aspiring ways, we have not, in our essence, moved so very far from our ancestry. While capable of incredible sophistication of thought and discovery, we still desire clear, compelling stories to make sense of our world. We still crave certainty and simplicity and shy away from complexity and ambiguity. We still tend to default, whenever we can, to black-and-white, "either/or" logics that allow us to discern neat patterns and construct comfortable worldviews. We still appear to be motivated primarily by the primitive dual forces of love and fear, and we still, for the most part, fear "the other"—the unknown, the strange, the distant.

Today, there is growing dissonance between the dynamic and uncertain world that we have created for ourselves and our instinctive preferred postures toward that world. We lack a shared story of our times. Instead, we live with many critical but disconnected storylines (globalization, war, materialism, fundamentalism, dotcom bubbles, terrorism, decline of multilateralism, economic growth, rise of China, agony of Africa, climate change, and so on) that are incoherent at best and hazy, flickering, and out of focus at worst. Our world is increasingly complex and confusing, a crazy kaleidoscope of important but ambiguous dynamics from the worlds of politics, technology, economics, and culture—all amplified, but not necessarily clarified, by a ubiquitous yet partial global media. As incorrigible meaning-makers, we are compelled to identify patterns in the messiness. But the signals we extract from the white noise of daily events often appear mutually incompatible and even paradoxical. And yet our world is so transparently interdependent, our economies so integrated, our boundaries so permeable, distance so diminished, that increasingly there is no "other" to fear, reject, or hold at arm's length. There is only an emergent "we" that we have yet to come to know and understand, let alone trust and love.

The world, then, is increasingly messy, complex, and interconnected—and it is also increasingly volatile. It has been obvious for more than a decade that we live in an age of change; today, it appears that we are also living through a change of age. In the decade ahead, the collective choices and actions of people, businesses, organizations, and governments everywhere will likely define and shape global civilization for the next generation and beyond.

These are indeed powerful times, and they will demand an openness of mind and of heart that does not come readily. Our times demand that we adopt a powerful orientation toward learning, experimentation, and discovery that will require us to acknowledge uncertainty and embrace ambiguity—even as our impulse is to seek comfort in certainty and adhere to a set of familiar convictions, assumptions, and beliefs that provide us with a reassuring true north. Our times demand that we make diversity and multiplicity a virtue, that we bridge divides, make connections, and find alignments and points of commonality—even as our differences frighten us, our ideologies polarize us, and our enemies enrage us (and this is as true within countries and regions as it is between them). Our times demand that we think long term, imagine the futures that we may be creating today, and prepare for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. Yet how can we possibly try to make sense of the future when the present is so profoundly perplexing?

Can we, then, really rise to the demands of our powerful times? I am deeply hopeful that we can. Since the late 1990s, I have enjoyed the privilege of leading a unique organization that is dedicated to exploring our changing world and anticipating the futures that may await us—and that we can collectively act to create. Global Business Network, a Monitor Group company, was founded close to 20 years ago as an unique new networked business. Part consulting firm, part think tank, it is a pragmatic learning community that includes future-oriented strategists, business leaders, public servants from the world of governance and intelligence, educators, and executives from nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, combined with a network of deep, wise, independent thinkers and visionaries from the sciences, the arts, and academia. Believers in the necessity of diverse perspectives, we have deliberately chosen to work with a fantastic array of organizations—from global corporations to community colleges, from large government agencies to small nonprofit organizations, from philanthropic foundations to global institutions. Our work with them all is exploratory yet practical. It is aimed at helping our clients make better sense of the world they inhabit; think afresh about the multiple possible futures they might face (and are also helping to shape); gain new insight into what they must track, observe, and understand better over time; and, above all, make wiser decisions and take better actions to ensure their own success while contributing to a better future for us all.

My colleagues and I are repeatedly humbled by the people, teams, and organizations that we support. We have learned, again and again, that in every organization, every community, and every network there are people with the passion, energy, talent, and humanity to make a true difference. They are people who seek out the big picture, imagine the future, create meaning, and figure out ways to both succeed and contribute over the long term. They are able to acknowledge, explore, and understand uncertainty without being forced into denial or overwhelmed by paralysis. They are open to alternative perspectives, opinions, and beliefs, however uncomfortable that sometimes can be. Sometimes they are senior leaders with the power to make decisions and set directions. Sometimes they are acknowledged thought leaders—designated explorers with voice and credibility. Sometimes they are regarded as idealists, even heretics. Yet they all share three characteristics: a belief that the world is changing in critically important ways, a conviction that there are ways of making better sense of those changes, and the confidence to embark upon a difficult journey with no clear destination or endpoint.

It is this group of people—this type of person—who inspired this book. They are, to borrow a nature metaphor, the "scout bees" among us. In every hive, there are scouts whose job it is to discover new sources of pollen. They set out for new pastures, and when they discover a promising area, they return to the hive and perform an intricate dance that signals to others the direction and distance to the new harvest. These scouts play a critical role as explorers and providers of new knowledge and new direction; without their constant searching and steady perseverance, the hive could not live, let alone thrive. There are always a small number of scouts who, sadly, cannot dance well, and end up sending their fellows on an unknown path—until they, too, eventually and inevitably find new pollen. Even these inaccurate explorers, then, serve as a source of hope, renewal, and new discovery.

This book is for all of the "scout bees" of the human world—those explorers who find it their calling to seek, on behalf of us all, a better future. I hope it makes a modest contribution to strengthening your wings, animating your dance, refreshing your optimism, framing your insights, and, above all, helping you make a difference in the world.


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