Recently I’ve been reading a book by Yuval Noah Harari, an historian, and a futurist. It’s called Sapiens – I highly recommend it.
In the book, he talks about the idea (which I think is brilliant) that one of the ways to understand who the human creature is – what sets us apart and why we’ve been able to overcome so much, and essentially subjugate the rest of this world – he says, the reason we’ve been able to do that is because we have this ability to create, and believe, fictions at a mass scale.
Humans have this ability to create and believe fictions, at a mass scale, and this unlocks collaborative potential…
And if we can believe the same stories, that unlocks collaborative potential in us. I won’t go too much further down the track of what’s in his book, Sapiens.
The major stories of the last century
What’s really fascinated me is a comment that he made in a podcast I listened to recently, where he says that in all the major stories of the last century – and he breaks them down into communism, capitalism, and liberalism, all of which he says, are dead, they’ve all failed – when we break down each of those stories, humanity at a collective scale, but also at the micro individual scale, could see themselves in the story.
They understood their place in the future, even at the worst of the height of the poverty of the Communist story, the individual factory worker, in Soviet Russia, they could still see themselves in the story – that utopian future – which they were being told was going to happen as a result of their hard work – was a result of their hard work.
The propaganda on the walls was the big strong factory worker. It was a human story.
But those stories have died.
They have proven they are not enough to get us any further into history, into the future. And the new stories, or digital stories, that we don’t understand.
The average human – you and me – we can’t see ourselves in the new stories; the digital stories.
But here’s the clincher. The average human, you and me, we can’t see ourselves in that future story. We’re hearing things like: big data, machine learning, AI, biotech, or genetic engineering.
And it’s inaccessible to us. We don’t understand it.
And we’re left with this feeling – and these words are chilling, I think these are his exact words – we’re left with the feeling, and perhaps even the belief, that the future doesn’t need me.
The future doesn’t need me
Wow, the future doesn’t need me. Collectively, we are suffering from a crisis of self-belief. Click To Tweet
I don’t understand big data. I don’t understand all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that have made a precious few companies explode in the last decade. I don’t understand that stuff.
I don’t live in Silicon Valley. I live in Cape Town. So here we sit, looking towards the future that looks like it doesn’t need us; the robots are going to take our jobs.
Where does that leave us?
Harari goes on to say that feeling useless is much more psychologically damaging than feeling like you’re being taken advantage of.
We’re at a point in history, where we are in danger of losing a sense of the value and worth of our identity. Now, as we go from this point onwards, there are two mindsets that we can adopt, but only one will be helpful.
The unhelpful attitude of a poverty mindset
Let’s start with the unhelpful one – a poverty mindset; protectionist thinking.
A poverty mindset is one that says:
I’m not going to be able to break out of the situation I’m in. I’m not going to be able to get what I need. I need to protect what I have. Because there’s only so much to go around. And I don’t have my fair share.
A great way of understanding this is through something called a zero-sum game. It’s a construct of thinking that says – there is only so much to go around.
But if I haven’t got my share, it means someone else has more than their share. And if I get more than my share, it will be at the expense of someone else’s share.
Let me give you an example: so me and my friend, Peter, let’s say we’re little kids, and we have a bag of candy to share, a little bag of chocolates, or something.
Let’s say inside this bag of chocolates, there are only 10 little chocolates. Now it’s a small bag, small chocolates. I’m a kid with a sweet tooth, I want more than five. But so does my friend, Peter. If he’s going to get more than five, I’m going to have to get less than five.
That’s what a zero-sum game is.
If there’s only 10, and he wants eight of them, well 10 minus eight is two, which means I’m only going to get two. He can’t get more than 10.
But let’s say, worst-case scenario is, that he does get 10, well, maybe that’s still not enough to meet his desires. But I’m still left with nothing.
A zero-sum game – protectionist thinking, a poverty mindset – is one that says there are only so many jobs to go around.
And the robots are sticking too many hands into the bag of candy. And the future looks grim. That mindset is not going to serve us well, as we look towards the future.
Because here’s the thing. We do have a place in the future. The future is human.
An optimistic win-win future
We need to adopt another mindset.
We need a win-win mindset. One that is optimistic, and not pessimistic, and cynical, and protectionist. “We need a mindset that says: no, there is more than enough to go around. And if there isn't, we are human beings. We can make more candy. We can make more jobs.'' - Theran Knighton-Fitt, Mygrow Chief Humanising Officer Click To Tweet You might think that’s naive.
In this whole conversation around AI, there seem to be two camps.
Two camps – the future looks grim vs the future looks awesome
The one camp, headed up by Elon Musk, says: ah the future looks grim, we’re in trouble. We’re in trouble (I mean, I’m not in trouble, I’ve got Tesla), but everyone else is in trouble – and I’m not in any way trying to knock that, I think he’s got some very important points.
Then there’s the other side. There are Zuckerberg and the other big tech people saying: no, the future is awesome, we are making such great strides. Technological advancement is going to mean that healthcare is going to get better for everyone, we’re going to eliminate poverty, etc, etc.
And if worst comes to worst, we can do universal basic income. Everyone can get a little stipend from the government.
But that still leaves us psychologically in a position of feeling useless.
We will have evolved humanity into redundancy.
Alright, so either the future looks bad, or the future looks good.
How can we untangle this?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a well established, well-understood model to explain how human beings experience psychological needs.
It’s a pyramid that comes with base-level needs, medium-level needs, and then top tier needs. And you don’t get to the top of that pyramid before you meet the lower order needs.
The bottom rung is physiological needs – it is food, it is water, it is shelter, it is warmth. From there they become psychological needs of belonging, and of community, and of love. And once we have those, we can move into self-actualisation – reaching the potential of what we can be as humans.
Now, Maslow’s argument says that you’re not going to be concerned with self-actualisation needs, if you’re hungry. So there’s a hierarchy, there is an order, we start at the lowest end of the triangle, and we work our way up to the top.
So, take that idea and map it on to this idea of two mindsets heading into the future.
What we can see when we look at Maslow’s hierarchy is that there are deficiency needs – that’s everything at the bottom; we have needs that are deficient and we need to meet them.
And then there are growth needs; reaching our true potential.
Now, here we sit with Peter, the robot sticking too many hands into the candy bag, taking all our jobs and making us feel like the future is grim. We’re not going to have food to put on the table. We’re going to lose the roof over our heads – protectionist, protectionist, protectionist; poverty mindset, there isn’t enough to go around…
Making us feel like we’re being pushed down the pyramid.
As I said, that kind of thinking, that’s not going to serve us. Rather, we need to realize that in this psychological space that we’re in, in the middle – as we’re trying to understand our identity in relation – the robots, AI is giving us the chance to move up the pyramid, to reach our human potential.
AI is giving us the chance to move up the pyramid to reach our human potential.
Here’s the thing: for us to get more, we need to figure out where the winning horses are and bet on those.
Humanity, by its ingenuity, and its incredibleness, is what has brought us to this point.
We mustn’t stop betting on ourselves now.
There are growth needs that we should be focusing on, not deficiency needs. Growth needs to become what we can become. To become more human.
We need to invest where there will be the best payoff. We need to invest in our humanity.
If we need to set our mind for the future, we need to set our hearts on humanity.
In my next video, I want to talk about how we can do that – unpacking the power and the incredible uniqueness of the human imagination.
Mygrow helps you to develop the skills you need to flourish at work and in life. It does this by methodically building Emotional Intelligence using daily online 10-minute sessions. These sessions involve the techniques that rewire neural pathways in the emotional centres of the brain over time, helping you interact with your world in new and positive ways.