In five years, the world will be different, and probably amazing. The bits between here and there, however…. yeah, pretty scary.
The upcoming leaders
The new generation of leaders that are coming up have really caught my attention of late. I’m not talking about the ones graduating from college and university, but the ones still working their way through high school. These are the people who will begin taking command five years hence and lead us into the world to come.
Right now they’re stock clerks and they’re behind the counter at places like McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s; they’re the ones hanging out at the mall, giggling and being goofy. But in some ways, meaningful ways, they’re not like any other generation I’ve seen. They’re confident. Not arrogant, but confident. They know their place in the world and they’re comfortable with it. They have a global view of things like no other generation before them, thanks to social media. They’re not afraid to ask questions, or to hear answers. They know that they don’t know everything, but they know where it is and how to find it. Yes, they’re as wrapped up in their own selves as any other teens, but they have the remarkable ability to see beyond it; to catch glimpses of the humanity and value of other people. They help. They apologize. They chat. They notice. Frankly, I was freaked out when I first experienced this. A teen noticed my existence? And then smiled!? Is my fly undone? Do I have dirt on my nose? A frog on my head? Not a reaction that a middle-aged type like me is used to from teens. Which may be a sad commentary on the type of teen we’ve become used to until now. This new crop is downright refreshing to deal with, if occasionally unnerving as well.
These people are comfortable with continual change. They’ve grown up in a world in flux, and it’s natural to them that this will continue, and even increase. They will be able to thrive in a world that will overwhelm the less adaptable. They won’t be change agents, they’ll be change wranglers. In them lies great hope for the future.
The outlook for our institutional infrastructure isn’t nearly as rosy in the short term. Over the next five years the leading edge of the baby boomer generation will begin retiring, in droves, and in rapidly increasing numbers. Reorganization will become inevitable as this demographic shift occurs. The die-hard power brokers will be scrambling to establish dynasties, to carve out some legacy by which they’ll be remembered. Reliable social institutions will become fragmented and plunge into turmoil as the battle progresses and as corporate implosions begin to occur.
This can already be seen starting in libraries. This is an age of information; it should be a golden age for libraries where they’re riding the crest of abundant information. Instead they’ve turned inwards and begun tearing themselves apart; they’re lagging far behind the leading edge, stamping their feet petulantly and demanding that the world slow down and wait for them. Funding is dwindling as they increasingly fail to maintain relevance, which leads to even more fragmentation and infighting, and thus to even greater irrelevance. Kingdoms are built at the expense of the whole. They’re currently haemorrhaging talent at an unsustainable rate; they’re driving away the people upon whom their very survival depends.
Of course there are some remarkable libraries out there, which will survive, and even thrive because they “get it”. They understand their role and they reach out and in turn have earned the unrelentingly enthusiastic support of their communities. These will survive when others die. These will have earned their share of the diminished resources and will be able to continue to grow as a consequence. I suspect this will be the pattern in many different areas; the ones who can change and adapt will flourish, while those that can’t will be trampled under by the juggernaut of restructuring.
The final word
When the dust settles, the world will have become a much more interesting place; a much more diverse place. Until then, however, the best description will probably be “turmoil”. In the way that the Black Death helped launch the Renaissance, so too will the next few years of turmoil lay the foundation for something amazing yet to come. I’m excited to see what the world will look like in five years, while at the same time preparing as much as is possible for the coming changes. I want to be one of the survivors who are positioned to flourish in the coming new world. How about you?