I believe, like many others, that at some point in the past decade we slid over an invisible threshold into a new economic era, one that operates on a different foundation from those of the late industrial/postmodern age. The fall of communism, the end of colonialism, and the rise of increasingly interconnected global trade collectively led to tremendous changes in national economies across the world, starting in the late 1960s and early ’70s. But what has come in this century—the social web, the rapidly mutating and risky financial sector, the unprecedented rise of China and other advancing nations, and a wholesale shift to knowledge work (“services”) in advanced economies—has led many to conclude that we’ve moved beyond the “new normal” into something more permanent, and more perplexing.
I have used the term “postnormal” for this new era to differentiate from the postmodern. And more recently, a new term has started to appear—the “new abnormal”—intentionally contrasted with the milder and less frightening “new normal”. The economist Noriel Roubini wrote an important essay recently, along with political scientist Ian Bremmer, describing the “new abnormal” as a system operating on the basis of an “unstable disequilibrium,” while the earlier “new normal” presupposed the world economy was merely a transitory “unstable equilibrium.”
The takeaway is we’re now in a time of overwhelming volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, where forecasting becomes nearly impossible, and even determining which of the risks confronting us are most significant is almost unimaginable. This near blindness confronts governments, global businesses, the local bank, the entrepreneur, and every person on Earth. We are driving a car whose engineering is unknown (and rapidly evolving, in real time, under the hood), a car that is inexorably speeding up, with only one flickering headlight, and no brakes, on a road headed to who knows where.
I will leave aside any speculation of what might be done to slow the car, fix the headlights, or get the brakes working. That’s a discussion for something grander than this foreword. But this stark context for our world hangs over us like a threatening cloud, darkening every action we take.
Stowe Boyd (an excerpt from the foreword to Make It Work, a new ebook from oDesk)
[Update — 9 August: the company has published the foreword in its entirety on their blog.]