02 August 2013

Everything is Made Up

Everything is made up. Tyrannies and polygamies and capitalism and K-12 education. It’s all made up but of course we quickly forget that and come to believe that "this" (whatever "this" we are living in) is just the way things are.

The problem is, societies and economies develop. They outgrow the solutions the previous generation just made up. Of course when that happens, they may not see, say, democracy that allows only property-owning men to vote as only made up. Instead, they see it as the way things are. The way "we" are, the way we define ourselves. And of course when that happens, change becomes a threat to self and gets resisted. Sometimes violently. 

Everything is made up but we forget that. And that’s just one of the reasons that social change is hard.

Everything is made up but you can’t just make up consequences. Some things that you make up – like a tricycle – are less impressive than other things you make up – like a passenger jet. There are huge differences that follow from just making up a tyranny or just making up a democracy.

Also, some changes can be neatly fit into the existing order while others overturn it. Some are "normal" and some are revolutionary.

An Industrial Economy suited to overcoming the limit of capital is very different from an Information Economy suited to overcoming the limit of knowledge work. And the transformation from an Industrial to Information Economy is a big shift. It’s upsetting. And in the end, it reveals that the institutions through which we once defined ourselves are in fact just tools that can be changed. Monarchies can become democracies. Credit carefully guarded by bankers can be given out on plastic cards. But the insight that the institution through which we once defined ourselves is really just a tool is not an insight that is obvious or immediate or even particularly comforting.

You are living through an historic economic change. You may not know that. It’s not obvious that people living during the Dark Ages ever knew they were living in the Dark Ages or even called it that. The Industrial Revolution had been underway for at least decades – arguably a century – before the term “Industrial Revolution” was even used, and even then only by an elite few. It is possible that you’re the first of your friends to hear that we’ve already entered a new economy but eventually all of your friends will know – or perhaps all of their children will know.

And one other thing that everyone’s children and grandchildren will know is that everything is made up. And they will regularly make things up to better realize potential, possibility, and to shape history in the process of exploring what it means to be human. They will not, for instance, accept an institution that grades them on their learning; instead, they'll expect an institution to change to adapt to their learning styles and goals and personal strengths and weaknesses rather than accepting them to change to adapt to what is - allow me to repeat - just a tool for individuals. 

Making things up in the domain of social invention will become as normal and as expected as our expectation that companies will make up new model products. And this matter of making things up will not just be referred to technological change. It will increasingly include social invention, creating new ways of learning, new kinds of religion, and regular – and occasionally disruptive – social inventions in the domain of politics, finance, and, of course, business, Just like machinery during the Industrial Economy or information during the Information Economy, social inventions will proliferate as entrepreneurship is popularized. Entrepreneurship, like R&D last century, will become institutionalized. Or would be, if it were possible to institutionalize the very process of regularly transforming institutions.

Everything is made up. Even my claim that there have been three past economies – an Agricultural, an Industrial, and an Information Economy – and that we are living into a Fourth, Entrepreneurial Economy. That is made up but the consequences of focusing on popularizing entrepreneurship are very different from the consequences of popularizing knowledge work. Very different, very challenging but potentially very powerful. Powerful enough to create a new economy.

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