One of the real shifts occurring in how the world organises itself is the move from ‘pyramids to platforms’.
Old, fixed, hierarchical ways of doing things are shifting to a far more chaotic, organic means of self-organisation. Technology is empowering us to create order out of the chaos.
Think about how Encyclopedia Britannica has given way to Wikipedia to democratise all the world’s information. It is a chaotic system, but it has empowered orders of magnitude more information to be out there, it updates in real time and it is run by volunteers. Sure, it sometimes displays wrong information in it for a small fraction of the time, but on balance, such a system has an overwhelmingly positive impact on humanity as a whole.
Think about libraries – the old way to get access to information in the world. Then we moved to online directories like Alta Vista. Both of these required navigation through a hierarchical information system to find your way to whatever you were looking for. Now, using a search engine like Google, you can gain access to pretty much any information without needing to understand the information hierarchy. Google has created order out of chaos.
The likes of Amazon are doing this in retail, where over 200 million products are now available for people to access and buy. Even a huge chain store brand like Walmart only offers something in the region of 120,000 products. Technology is now allowing a previously inconceivable scale of choice and accessibility.
Platform by platform, we have far more capabilities than before, as algorithms allow us to create order and scope beyond the limits of human cognition.
My view is that if your work involves any form of hierarchy, you are likely to be disrupted in some way. Technology is now allowing us to harness chaos in previously unimaginable ways.
Uber is already disrupting transport. Think about how taxi firms used to organise themselves – multiple companies with different phone numbers in every location. Now there is cheaper, more available transport in most cities – all through one app. This is just the beginning of a revolution in personal transport, with cars set to electrify and become driverless. What happens to the world when taxis cost less than bus fares? Millions of cars (or driverless pods) can be algorithmically organised to provide the world with transportation at a fraction of the present cost.
Think of a high resolution 3D printer that can make anything for you. Think of a multipurpose robot that can do anything you need and solve any problem you have. What impact will these inventions have on our world in the years to come? How many millions of different problems could each of them solve? It will happen very soon. Both of these technologies are arriving fast.
We are moving into an era in which technology allows us to organise and operate beyond our normal comprehension. To access that additional possibility, we have to let go of the old hierarchical systems we operate. Most of these changes will be for the better, but as with every new approach, some things will get worse.
Whether we like it or not, the majority of industries will be going through this type of transition in the next decade or two. We all have to find ways to get used to it.
What will healthcare look like, post-transition?
What will finance look like?
What will education look like?
What will democracy itself look like?
All are set to radically change in the years ahead.
How will the transition from pyramids to platforms impact you?