by Lynette Silva
Recognize This! – Our world is highly networked today and will become more so in a more secure fashion. Leaders must help ensure we retain our humanity as we become at once more connected and more secure.
I’ve just finished a book that’s possibly frightened me more than the Exorcist. (And that’s saying something. I didn’t sleep after dark for a week after reading that.) On the upside, the book also gave me my first sense of true hope for how humanity will navigate the coming decades in which we are all far more deeply connected and intertwined – networked – with each other than we likely realize or want to admit.
What’s the book? The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune and Survival in the Age of Networks by Joshua Cooper Ramo. He’s a futurist who brings his global perspective, deep technical knowledge, and expansive interests to helping us understand not just the way in which the world works, but how and why, too. I picked up this book after seeing it listed by four CEOs in a McKinsey article on “What CEOs are reading.”
What is the Seventh Sense? “A feeling for how networks work that is joined to a sense of history and politics and philosophy.” What does that mean? Essentially this: We are living in a rapidly changing and ever more quickly evolving world due, largely, to the nature of the intense amount of networked connection now common in nearly every function of life – financial markets, food distribution, work/job distribution, biomedical research and development, even terrorism.
A key through line is the idea that connection changes the nature of an object. And by extension, “connection elevates those who control that connection to a level of rare power and influence.”
Another through line is the morphing of the manufacturing era adage of “You can have good, fast, and cheap, but only two out of three at any one time” into the networking age truism of “You can have secure, fast and open, but only two out of three.” In today’s world, we are largely operating in a “fast and open but not secure” environment. If we want more security in our networks and in our lives, then the likely option to give up is open.
How do we gain security in a networked age? By setting up “gatelands” where access is controlled through a clear set of rules and values. Remember, connectivity is power. With that reality, Ramo proposes new geopolitical structures based on “Hard Gatekeeping,” which he defines as “the construction and development of secure, carefully designed communities to manage everything from trade to cyber-information to scientific research.” Ramo points out that today we have very few gates and walls (and tremendous cyber-insecurity). Gatelands may be the answer – gated networks that are far more secure and run faster than open ones. And as an added benefit, gated networks “offer not merely security, but influence: The cost of being exclude from gatelands of finance or information will be nearly total.”
Gatelands are fast and secure, but definitely not open.
How do we retain our humanity in a networked age?
Two basics of what it means to be human are enhanced and even accelerated in this new age.
- Connection to others (and our trust in them that makes deep connection possible). Trust is another through-line in the book. As Ramo says, “When you connect to a person or an object, you connect as well to its whole history of decisions about whom to trust…. If you are what you are connected to, you are also the sum of every trusting (or untrusting) choice someone or some machine has made.” We may become more cautious or circumspect in our connections overall, but the depth of trust we have in our connections will likely grow.
- Inevitability of the passage of time and ultimately death. As biological creatures, our mortality is a constant. And yet, a basic human desire is to do more, be more, achieve more with the time we are allotted. Networks can help because they give us the means for tremendous efficiency. Ramo points out, “The compression of time offers the possibility to live more with less time.”
What won’t work? An attempt to return to an isolationist, disconnected structure. The networked age is our current reality. Let’s take as an example the call in the US to build a wall. Set aside for the moment whether the idea is right or wrong and ask instead why the idea seems to be so popular. The obvious answer is fear, but fear of what? Immigrants taking jobs and committing crimes? I don’t think so. The fear runs much deeper than that. It’s a fear of changing expectations and how life works. It’s a very real and reasonable fear based on the realities of the networked age where jobs are very fluid, both in structure and in where they can be done and by whom. Building a physical wall isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s the antithesis. If we want to help resolve the underlying concerns, we need to build stronger connections and more secure gatelands.
A message of hope and instruction from Ramo for those with the Seventh Sense:
“Possession of the Seventh Sense isn’t about just letting the tech do its thing. It is not about passivity in the face of so much power. Rather, it demands grasping the nature of a connected age and seeing how it might be used to further, not erode, the things we care most about.”
Just how networked is our world? Here’s a small, personal example. As I was drafting this post, I received an email from Tim Leberecht, a past WorkHuman speaker. In a brief email exchange, I mentioned I’d just finished this book. He replied with his intent to read it soon as Joshua’s wife is Tim’s friend. Our world has become very small, indeed.
How networked is your corner of the world? What gatelands do you work within today or see as being critically necessary in the near future?