Long-term planning is important in business. Everybody knows that. But it's also critical to the human race — have you thought about that one lately?
Erik Peterson gave one of those “you-had-to-be-there” multimedia speeches at this year's Plastics News Executive Forum, held Feb. 25-28 in San Diego. Jagged guitar chords from the Beatles' Helter Skelter kicked it off as Peterson, a Washington think-tanker, reviewed 50 years of social changes with video clips of supercomputers, jammed freeways and Third World poverty onto giant screens. Vietnam. Computers. The Cold War. Terrorism.
Peterson is a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He heads the Seven Revolutions Initiative, and he laid them all out — seven very complex, unrelenting trends that will challenge — and threaten and transform — the world through 2025.
The central message: We need more long-range thinking to cope with changes that are faster than ever. But his speech wasn't your standard “embrace change” message so common at industry conferences.
Citing what he called “an epidemic of short-termism,” Peterson urged people to think strategically about the future. “What an irony that, at a time of incredible change, we are so short-sighted, almost by definition,” he said.
Check out the Seven Revolutions Initiative Web site, at www.7revs.org. But here's a sampling. It's heavy stuff.
* Rapid urbanization will continue. As advanced Western countries steadily grow older, poor nations will experience massive, population-driven “youth bulges” that could lead to unrest — or spawn tomorrow's terrorists.
* Ongoing income stratification between rich and poor makes it critical to spread technology widely. More than 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day; 1.2 billion on less than $1 a day.
Peterson said the future could bring a chaotic world led by what he called “big-ticket challenges confronting humanity — disease, despair, poverty and conflict.” He called for people to raise their level of consciousness.
There are some encouraging signs. It looks like the United States is finally going to move on global warming, as more Americans become concerned about the ultimate long-term issue.
“What we are looking at here is a world of simultaneous promise and peril, of concurrent opportunity and danger,” he said. “What makes this future different — our future different — is the level of promise, and the level of peril.”
I'm 45. Often, things move too fast for me, especially when it comes to computers, e-mail and what feels like a soulless, digitized world.
Peterson's speech made me want to a) meld karmas with a New Delhi street child or b) crawl back into bed and bury myself in the covers. But you can't hide. The dilemma we face is far greater than figuring out where you put the remote.
Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter based in Akron.