Thinking in Bets

It seems that so many aspects of day to day personal and business life are changing so quickly, and so randomly, that it is easy to dismiss it as a period of chaos.

I don’t think it is. 

I think that, as Annie Duke would advise, we learn to think in bets

There’s a pattern to it. It’s complex, very challenging to the habits we have formed in dealing with our world for the last several decades, and is complicated by the fact that the change is moving faster than our understanding of it. Even when we’re putting in long hours of hard work at what we do today, it’s still leaving us behind. 

It doesn’t have to be that way, but to change it requires that we accept we have to make some fundamental changes to the way we live and work.

If we scratch beneath the surface, even a little, things begin to clear.

“Life as Usual”

Most of us, whether a “boomer” like me, or a new school leaver, have been brought up and educated within a system that assumes tomorrow will be much like today. That if we work hard, get good qualifications, and find a good employer, our lives will work out.

That no longer holds true, regardless of our age. 

The changes have been happening, in plain sight, but quietly. The financial crisis of 2008 has catalysed them, and we now have work environments that are fundamentally different to ten years ago.

Many approximations equate only marginally to what is needed to thrive in a much looser “gig” environment – whether you are a graduate delivering Pizza, working as an Intern, or long hours for little pay as a professional. Right now even architects are looking to unionise

Elsewhere, we know workplace engagement is low. Surveys seem to agree that around 70% are disengaged, some so fundamentally that they commit the equivalent of organisational self harm. This may be related to the types of job we are creating, many of which meet David Graeber’s conditions of “Bullshit Jobs”.

The changes have been happening gradually, but now suddenly, and we find ourselves on the edge of a situation where the nature of work is not compelling enough to hold society together. Populism, of one form or another, flourishes.

Climate

It’s over fifty years since Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, and we’re only now beginning to get it. Along the way, we’ve ridiculed those like James Lovelock and Gaia theory, and others, as marginal cranks.

Even now, despite overwhelming evidence that they are far more right than wrong, we still have those who find it convenient to deny it, as it messes up their business models. Right now, we’re looking at the biggest IPO ever from arguably the biggest single polluter ever.

Elsewhere, here in the UK we have business and councils declaring “Climate Emergencies” in response to the energy created by a variety of initiatives, not least Greta Thunberg’s climate strikes. 

And yet, if we look at the action plans for these “emergencies” they are more akin to finding out our house is on fire, and relaxing because we’ve order some fire extinguishers.

Technology

We’re moving very quickly now from what I think of as “Passive Technology” – the web, internet, the cloud, apps; to quasi sentient technology – Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence.

We seem to have an odd relationship with this change – on the one hand, alarmist but authoritative articles, and on the other, a more relaxed, almost anthropomorphic view of being assisted by friendly robots.

Generally, I find, many of those most likely to be affected have not engaged with what’s really happening – which is as exciting as it is threatening – or understood what it might mean. 

For generations, we have been educated and employed to process.

In the future, we need to think and create. That’s a big cultural and personal transition.

Equality

For me, this is possible the biggest, as it seems likely to act as a catalyst for all the others. The combination of capitalism, globalisation and technology has concentrated economic wealth in the hands of a tiny minority. It’s not that those who have accumulated are “bad” (although, I can think of exceptions) so much as they’ve been in the right place in the system to benefit.

If this systems remains, without question or adjustment, the benefits from the next phase of concentration will concentrate wealth even further – to those who provide the capital, rather than the knowledge, to enable machine learning and AI. 

David Graeber makes a powerful point. In 1930 Keynes argued that by 2000, we would only need to work 10-15 hours a week, as efficiency and technology would do the mundane work. Those who should benefit from the gains – those whose mundane work can be taken away to free them to do more worthwhile things – end up losing out. 

The level of equality we have is unsustainable, let alone that which might emerge unchecked. Those that have meanwhile, are likely to be willing to reduce their share – but unless we find a discourse that examines that, in a way that seems fair to all, we face the likelihood of a much more abrupt, and unpleasant adjustment.

And?

These trends – a sort of technological “four horsemen of the apocalypse” – require us to own the challenge – not deny it, or delegate it to someone else.

Individually, and collectively, we can question the work we do, and how we it benefits our collective good. 

We can address our individual carbon emissions of around 10 tonnes of CO2. Walk more, fly less, address diet. An aggregation of a lot of little actions won’t cure the problem, but might buy us time to work out how we do.

We can learn to be powerfully human, rather than efficient servants of a process. To create more than just redistribute. 

And we can learn to be humble. As countless studies have shown, our lace in the system, rich, poor or destitute, is largely a matter of luck, not effort or virtue.

We can all do something more than observe or comment. It’s time we did.

It will mean doing things we’re maybe uncomfortable with, or uncertain about, or even afraid of.

However, we’re all making a bet, one way ot the other. Whether we like it, or not.