The Power Paradox

In the times we live in, it seems that we are facing ever more challenging decisions that embody ever higher risks. Moreover, these decisions seem to affect a growing number of different spheres in our society. The answers to the challenges we will have to face may lay in the power held by influential groups who have the capacity to make lasting changes. Nevertheless, the very same problems and challenges can find their causes in the misuse of this very same capacity. Corruption, poor decision-making, abuse of power just to name a few.

In this scenario, it seems vital to question the way in which things will ultimately develop, bearing in mind the use we make of the power we possess. From the systems through which we give up our decision-making power to the people who will have the final say in the bigger picture, and the technologies that will make all these possible. Who will have the final say in these decisions? How can we start building a framework than can help us plan a real course of action? How can we become a relevant influence in this excitingly complex process?

Subtopics

The following texts delve into the main ideas of each of the subtopics of this edition.

In Sync with Technology

In Sync with Technology
For thousands of years, the human race has evolved slowly without encountering alterations in its environments which demanded a noticeable modification in its way of life. The linear change has been our guide, where we could predict a future with promising evidence of a continuation of the present. The Industrial Revolution was the very first technological event that was drastic enough to affect the majority of the earth’s population. By not presenting any precedent, it is understandable then the discontent and fear of the majority towards the unknown transformation of their surroundings. Never before had such an occasion presented itself to us and we did not feel prepared for it; it felt unnatural. But how much longer can we continue to use these excuses?
Since the last century, writers and TV series fantasized about what the present would be like, coming up with stories about the end of the world by the takeover of robots. And for a long time we believed in these science-fiction tails, but why did we do it? Do we have actual evidence that any of the predictions have been fulfilled? We can say for sure that there is a technological world that could not be conjurated, as 3D-printing, digital currency, Internet of Things, Data Analysis and clinical protheses, among others. By living in an era of constant technological change, is it essential to keep ourselves informed about the incessant advances? Will it be necessary to become aware of our new roles in society, such as the ones of machines? Undoubtedly, the development of these changes makes us rethink how we will achieve balance for a fruitful coexistence, when a main aspect of our lives is being threatened: work. Is it reasonable that we are not willing to give it up? Could it be that we do not want to grant them responsibilities we feel owners of? To what extent do we want to empower technology over us? Are we willing to share it and team up?
With a record full of emotional ups and downs regarding the different uses of technologies, how does it really affect us? First we must admit that we have a different opinion, depending on the aspect or scope in our lives that it has a direct or indirect impact on. For example, we like that they calculate, that they store information, that they reduce search times and that they improve our quality of life. We do not like them replacing us at our jobs, that they make decisions for us consciously, nor that they do better what we do poorly “at the eyes” of computers. But how long do these opinions last? How much time do we need to get used to it and see it as a benefit or even as essential? In the Industrial Revolution, the use of machinery to write texts, left many unemployed, who probably were deeply and lastingly harmed. Currently, only few would argue that the printing press was a detriment, given that at the distance it is easier to admire the benefits it brought, along with the new job offers. In conclusion, there are cases in which we cannot deny that technology improves services and others. What do we dislike, what is it we cannot accept? Could it be that we do not want to redesign our habits (laws, activities, ways of socializing, economic systems, etc)? Does technology take power and rights away from us over our decisions? Military wise, it is worth asking ourselves whether we worry most about new deadly machinery or about the human designer who makes it possible. Would war be different if we remove the human factor altogether? How would decision-making at war take place?
And if technology itself continues to create more by itself, evolving into its own species, what would the place of mankind be? What to do when the models we have followed for the last thousands of years become obsolete? The competition seems to have come to an end when we observe that we have no way of doing things better than technology. Is it the solution to invest our lives in what machines cannot dominate, as some experts think? Which will be the skills that demonstrate having only human characteristics? Will there be any that technology never reaches and imitates? Is it the greatest power of technology to enrich human culture, something that we have mostly failed to encourage? Maybe it is only a matter of time until there is a software that challenges us in the fields we believe only humans can achieve such as the arts and sports, since there are currently projects that combine some of these with algorithms. But, why speak only about competition? Why not believe that this is the birth of a symbiosis between two collaborative species, destined to complement each other in solving common problems?

Systems Facing Obsolescence

In Sync with Technology
It has become the norm to hear about the incredible amount and speed of the changes that characterize our times. So much so that leaving the subject aside has become common practice. But when we hear more specific predictions, no longer about 50 or 20 years from now but 15, 10 or even 5 years1, it seems much harder to keep calm. Some predictions suppose such violent changes that even our most basic values could be in jeopardy.This leads us to question whether the way in which we understand how the world works will still be valid in the future. Is it possible that the systems that organize society as a whole have become obsolete? Will they be enough to face the new challenges of the future?
The intricate way in which the different social spheres - economics, politics, education, etc - interweave, calls for a systemic approach. In which of these areas can we identify flaws that will prevent us from overcoming the problems we will face in the future?
One of the most heated debates today is closely related to the growing influence of automation in a wide variety of industries, which would potentially lead to huge waves of unemployment and radical changes in our productive systems. What alterations could be made to our economic system to cope with these new tensions? Debates on the possible need of a Universal Basic Income (UBI)2 have flooded a wide range of forums’ agendas globally. Different UBI related experiments3 have been deployed all over the globe. This idea can be traced as far back as the late 18th century, typically regarded as a concept from the far left. In the current debate, different versions of UBI have been considered by different sectors of the ideology spectrum. How much does preexisting ideologies influence our capacity to implement new ideas?
The development of Big Data based technologies has been growing exponentially. These technologies have been proven to be very useful when it comes to evaluating new projects or designing more user-centered alternatives. Moreover, its use can provide a more detailed and uncensored picture of reality. This leads us to the possibility of an evidence-based ideology free future in politics. According to Elisabeth Mason4, we could come closer to the vision of a meritocratic technocratic society, with unbiased assessments of the projects developed. This could helps us slowly forget the ever-weakening scenario of opposing parties battling for power. Would ideologies still make sense? Even in such scenarios, would truth be inevitably shared knowledge?
In the same way, Blockchain-based projects seem to be growing stronger and stronger. The media is flooded with debates on the urgent need of transforming our economic and financial systems. Alejandro Sewrjugin funded the Phi Economy5 initiative, a decentralized economic model based on Blockchain and the golden ratio. In his words 'The Blockchain makes us more human as it allows us to make connections and exchanges between one another, it eliminates any intermediary.'
Beyond the economy, Blockchain proved its flexibility pushing several different projects that represent a huge mindset shift. Healthcoin6 proposes a blockchain-enabled rewards platform designed to change people’s behavior and prevent diabetes, creating its own health records certified by this technology. According to the organization “Blockchain is the best technology for driving behavior change”. Synereo7 dives into the entertainment industry directly connecting content creators and distributors. These are clear examples of the kind of technological change that we are experimenting. Flexible, accessible, generalized, distributed. What does this built-in flexibility really imply?
With a quick Internet search, it is easy to find thousands of new disruptive proposals intended to solve different problems. Not only that, but some of them even have positive and consistent pilot test results. Then, what are the actual challenges when it comes to implementing ground-breaking ideas? Peter Senge, Director of the Organizational Learning Center at MIT, gives as quite a bold answer. Beyond the most clear challenges, like funding or scalability, Peter introduces the concept of mental models into the debate.
According to Peter, mental models are deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting. Bearing this in mind, when we encounter radical differences between new ideas and our preexisting mental models, their implementations are hijacked. Some sort of self-sabotage. Is there any belief or generalized idea in society that might counteract innovative solutions? How could we get passed outdated mental models?
As specialists say, the problem is not rooted in the simplicity or inaccuracy of mental models, but in the inability to detect them consciously when making decisions. This leads us to become unaware of the mistakes we make. Are there some basic values from where we stand to make decisions that should be questioned? A set of truths we consider absolute without further analysis?
The world is clearly running towards an unknown destination. A radically different destination that demands new ways of understanding reality, a new set of values, a new set of structures… or maybe not. There has never been a better moment for this quest. What role do you want to play in this amazing puzzle?

Leading Through Uncertainty

In Sync with Technology
Nowadays, we live in a globalized world, where an event that occurs in a certain place can have repercussions somewhere else, no matter how far apart they are. Each event can develop several consequences, that can at the same time, make new changes as a butterfly effect. The world is in constant change. Nothing stays the same, nothing lasts forever.
Human beings form groups naturally. Since the early ages, people understood that if they remain together in groups, their chances of surviving were much higher. Not only for reproductive matters, but also for protection, efficient search for food, to name some. Nowadays, we form groups almost constantly: in our families, our friends, our jobs, as a nation and as citizens of planet Earth.
According to David Logan, a management consultant specialized in cultural change, strategy and negotiation, when individuals get together and find something that unites them, that is bigger than their individual competences, the group gels. It transforms from being a motivated group, but slightly individually centered, to being something great; a tribe that becomes aware of their own existence. But, does the common interest always prevail over individual interest? Is it the leader’s job to reach harmony between them?
At the same time, groups need someone to guide the way. Leading consists in steering a group of people towards a certain goal. That goal is what gives purpose to the group. It is usually set at the beginning of the forming of the group and if everyone is on board, then all their efforts can pull to the same side. Nevertheless, do we always have our goals set in every group we belong to? Or can there be, for instance, groups formed due to traditions, beliefs, affinity or even inertia, that do not have a specific purpose?
If there really is a set goal, the next point we should address is ‘How do we get there?’. When the time to plan comes, the person who is in charge must find a way to foresee possible negative outcomes and obstacles that could come up. But, how can we plan ahead when the global scene is constantly changing? How can we shorten the gap between what we know and what we do not?
With today’s globalization, we tend to believe we have access to information about everything that is happening at that time, anywhere in the world. However, communication is never objective. In order to get a message through, both transmitter and receiver have to be in sync with each other. A clear example is what the UN called a textbook case of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar1, where the military forced over 400.000 Rohingya Muslims out of their homes. The disaster got such poor media coverage that experts started talking about a government-designed “news black hole”. In the same way, given a relevant event there will be many people who will not receive the news and will not know what is going on, whether it is because they do not have a personal interest for the cause or maybe because their country will not allow the news to get through. On our daily basis, we choose where to get information from. Usually our choices are based on language, affinity (politics, religion, culture), means of communication (online newspapers, videos, radio, to name a few) or simply because is what we have within closest reach. So, is it true we always have access to every bit of information? If every event is being reported all the time, can that amount of information overwhelm us? And if that is the case, how can we make decisions based on our apparent knowledge, when there is actually an endless amount of unknown?
How do we choose our leaders? Is it the same to be the one who leads and to be the leader? Will the classic view, of the leader and the subjects, be enough to face the ever-changing current situation? Or will there be a more appropriate way to lead in the 21st century? For example, is a mass leadership, in which we can make small decisions by using technology, possible? All in all, this leaves us wondering if the power of a leader lies in the title as such or if it depends on the people that hold the position.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leader Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that leaders are those who have power or authority, but those who lead are the ones that inspire us and we do not follow them because we have to, but because we want to. He insists on focusing on why we do what we do and concludes that people who have the ability to inspire those around them, are the ones that start asking themselves ‘why?’. This makes us think whether it is possible to maintain authority and at the same time inspire others. Could that inspiration eventually transform into fanaticism? Where is the limit? Or could, instead, leadership be used as a bridge to bring antagonistic opinions closer?

*The opinions and ideas presented in these texts were written as triggers to facilitate writing the essay needed to apply to the SABF. They must not be taken as an undeniable truth. In case of disagreeing with some of the ideas, applicants are encouraged to express it in their texts.