Powerful Times

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Powerful Times

by Eamonn Kelly

Wharton School Publishing © 2006, 342 pages, $26.99 (ISBN 0-13-185520-4).

Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World

Times are changing indeed. In Powerful Times, business strategist and author Eamonn Kelly turns his sights into the future to see where today’s profound changes are taking us. Considering the implications of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and emerging technologies, Kelly explores the “dynamic tensions” that are reshaping human life, and develops several scenarios that can help readers see what is ahead and prepare for the challenges and opportunities that await.

Kelly explains that he wrote Powerful Times with the intention of creating a useful resource for those seeking to make better sense of today. He writes that his book’s premises are based on the following convictions:

• The world has never been certain. As our technological, financial, social, economic, cultural and political systems become more complex, global and interdependent, increasing uncertainty is inevitable.

• Much of this uncertainty is clearly visible. Kelly writes that “we may currently be witnessing nothing less than the significant unraveling of much that we have come to take for granted over the last five centuries.”

• The changes that are currently underway are not only complex and systemic — they are also paradoxical and contradictory, which makes them much harder to perceive and interpret.

• We are at a threshold. Profound challenges and opportunities for our coming global civilization lie ahead in the relatively near future.

• No single person or organization can control the future in isolation. People and organizations must learn and understand better and faster the nature of our world, and imagine what could and should lie ahead.

Dynamic Tensions

Powerful Times describes the uncertainties that are shaping the present and driving the future while identifying patterns and themes within and between them. Kelly explains that he has identified “seven matching pairs of forces that most effectively captured and clarified the multiple, confusing and contradictory forces at work in the world today.” He writes that these dynamic tensions are profound yet competing truths that often appear to contradict or challenge each other, but both of them will gain in importance over the next 10 years. By making these competing yet coexisting dynamics clear through pertinent examples and straightforward definitions, Kelly takes the confusion out of the equation. These dynamic tensions are:

1. Clarity and Craziness. As the world grows more transparent, an explosion of fear and confusion is fueled by the vast amounts of information to which we now have access. Although connectivity enables transparency, it also creates new ways to steal and cheat.

2. Secular and Sacred. On one side of the dynamic are Western notions of reason, science and logic that guide civic affairs and the public. On the other side, the power of religion and belief is growing in the form of fundamentalist movements on most continents.

3. Power and Vulnerability. While the accumulation and exercise of power rise in strategic importance as a new global order takes shape, Kelly writes that organized crime; the fragility of our connectivity technologies; and new, rapidly spreading diseases will contribute to a global sense of threat.

4. Technology Acceleration and Pushback. As new technologies continue to proliferate rapidly, creating new opportunities and sources of value, Kelly points out that this “progress” is increasingly challenged by those who fear its ultimate consequences. He explains that we must develop new approaches to talking about these issues.

5. Intangible and Physical Economies. On one hand, an “intangible” economy, in which the relationship between value and weight continues to break down, will rise, and services, experiences and relationships will become more valuable. On the other hand, Kelly explains, physical infrastructure will experience severe pressures in many parts of the world.

6. Prosperity and Decline. Kelly points out that the spread of the market economy will create new prosperity and opportunity for millions, but will also lead to absolute decline in areas of the world already blighted by conflict, corruption, disease and catastrophe. He adds that many people will become aware of their relative poverty as global communication increases.

7. People and Planet. Kelly predicts that, over the next decade, we will “begin to see the interrelatedness of the human economy and Earth’s ecosystems more clearly and realize that there may be planetary limits to our growth.” Then, he adds, sustainability will be taken more seriously. ~

Why We Like This Book

By examining the many dimensions of the future and highlighting the ways dynamic tensions interact, Kelly offers a greater understanding of their nature, power and duality. He also provides specific ways organizations can face the impending challenges of what is happening in the world, as well as ways they can improve the future. ~

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