Ben Franklin, Ballons and why we never see the future comning

Benjamin Franklin was famously asked what use he thought this newfangled thing, the hot air balloon would be. He famously replied, “What use is a new born baby?”

It’s interesting to note that many of us smile at the naivety of the man who couldn’t see the future of flight, and nod at the wisdom of Dr Franklin.

Strangely though 99.9% of us are much closer in outlook to the naive man than to Dr Franklin.

Now one could easily argue that Dr Franklin was one of the greatest polymaths in history with an extraordinary mind and for more on that you should try think link to Dr Franklin’s Wikipedia page.

Naive friend

Today however I want to concentrate on our naive friend, the one we all look down on, perhaps indulgently as a simpleton, or perhaps more harshly as an idiot utterly incapable of understanding the huge ramifications of the things presented to them right in front of their eyes, someone so naive that they can’t see a future in which the world looks utterly different to the one of day.

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It’s you

It shouldn’t be too hard to think of this person, after all it’s you. But don’t get too upset, it’s me to, and it’s probably everyone you’ve ever met.

So here’s the problem, we grow up in a world that acts and behaves in a certain way, it’s what we call normal. But it’s only normal for us because it’s the world we grew up with. After all our parents and grandparents lived in a different world and most of us with children see their world as utterly different, and hopefully easier, than our own upbringing.

The rate of change has historically been a rate that meant there was some change, but not too much during any one person’s lifetime. This was partly because the rate of change was relatively slow, and partly because people didn’t travel much or live long enough to see the changes.

Over the last 100 years the pace of change has continually accelerated and many older folks feel disconnected from a world they no longer understand. The rate of change has increased to the point where many people fail to keep up.

Rate of change

The problem is this rate of change is constantly increasing. My grandfather lived to 99, and the changes he saw in his life were incredible, but the my boys lives will certainly see more change in their first 40 years than my Grandfather saw in 99.

Our society already has the problem of the 50 something executive with no relevant skills. What happens when they inevitability becomes the 35 year old with no relevant skills. There will be no early retirement options available. Particularly as the retirement age could easily be 90 within a generation, and life expectancies 200 years or more.

So how do we help ourselves not be the naive man who saw the balloon flew in 1783 and 164 years later watch Chuck Yeager break the sound barrier.

I’d love to get a discussion going on ideas and techniques to not get left behind, and let’s get that going in the comments. Here’s my top 9 ideas on the topic.

Change Happens

Understand change happens. Just being aware that tomorrow isn’t going to look like today matters. It helps keep the mind open to the idea that new ideas exist.

  1. Read. A lot. There’s an interesting positive collaboration between reading and income, and reading help keeps the mind open to new ideas. Pew research talk about book reading here.
  2. Switch off the Television. The average American watches 5 hours of TV per day. Cut it out, or as a minimum cut it down. There is plenty of evidence to suggest the brain switches off while the TV is on. It's the modern opium of the masses.
  3. When a new idea and way of living comes into your world, consider it carefully before discarding it. It is way too easy to dismiss new ideas. Be careful doing so.
  4. Be very careful with the phrase. "They’ll never bring that here". History would suggest yes they will, and quickly.
  5. Look not just at the new technology as it is today, but where it could logically go. Humans are truly terrible at extrapolating out from an existing set of circumstances to a future set. So knowing it's our weakness we need to work especially hard on this.
  6. Forget the idea that college is where you learn and work is where you do. Constant retraining is vital. It doesn't need to be formal education to be useful, but never stop learning.
  7. Remember the generalists often see the opportunities to mash together multi existing ideas to create something new better than the specialists.
  8. Don’t go with the flow. There is a concept called the wisdom of crowds, but it doesn’t work when considering systematic change.
  9. Don’t work too hard. Odd to say perhaps, but keeping your nose to the grindstone gives you a terrible view of the big picture. Working hard short term can be a useful strategy but it should never be a long term one. Always be looking for ways to automate or change your work so that you have time to think.

I was inspired to write this article after a conversation with a friend of mine about the new Driverless Pods coming to Greenwich in London and his conversation with a London Black Cab driver. These ideas and concepts also feed into my Book. The End of Certainty "How to thrive when playing by the rules is a losing strategy" It’s free to read if you’re a Amazon Prime member.

About the Author: Simon Dudley

Simon is a contrarian. He makes a habit of being the guy who questions the orthodoxy, the guy who doesn’t believe it just because the good and the great said it’s true. This has not always been good for his ascent up the corporate greasy pole. However it’s been very good for his employers if they are prepared to listen.

The Book The End of Certainty "How to thrive when playing by the rules is a losing strategy" explains why groupthink and the doing what you’ve always done is no longer the right move.


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