Welcome to the era of human capitalism
“One thing we have learned acutely through this pandemic is that we exist first and foremost to connect.”
How We Got Here
We have about 5,000 years of recorded human history and during most of that time our sole focus was on survival. We moved through human eras from the hunter gatherer to agricultural to industrial to information to now the augmented era. From the industrial era onward, we experienced a series of industrial revolutions (IR) driven by paradigm shifting technologies from the steam engine (1st IR) to electrification (2nd IR) to computerization (3rd IR) to the convergence of cyber, physical, and biological systems (4th IR). Work became separate from home in the first industrial revolution and structured formal learning emerged just prior that as we emerged from the agricultural era. The concept of retirement with company or government provided benefits emerged out of the second industrial revolution for most.
These innovations were the start of the Education-Career-Retire model of life as we know it. This paradigm became the march towards a fixed occupational identity. Sometime in the last few decades we began asking young people “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and requiring university students to select a major or concentrated area of study towards a set job or industry often before they have stepped foot on campus. This march towards a single occupational identity and the false promise that learning only needs to be in the first third of one’s life is now tragically at its end.
Where We Stand Today
Today we are trapped between the third and the fourth industrial revolution and between the information and augmented human eras. The coronavirus disruption has nudged us toward the augmented era and the fourth industrial revolution. This global pandemic has accelerated our transformation to digital, which is, in reality, human transformation. The good news is that humans are superb, when pressed, at adaptation. Schools and businesses adapted to learning and working from home, while companies globally pivoted product lines, altered process, and reinvented entire businesses. We radically transformed how we work, where we work, and what we do.
What is the Future of the Individual?
The evolution through human eras and industrial revolutions has tended to value humans at their ability to gain rare expertise or produce value. This is the reality of a capitalist society. Much of our core/personal status is inextricably linked to our occupational identity. Is this a moment to redefine our identities beyond what we produce or acquire? Perhaps. We still live in a capitalist society and the economic drivers will continue to place value on scarce resources, rare expertise, and unique knowledge. Therein lies the opportunity. We need to shift our focus from “what” we may do with our lives occupationally or personally to why and how we do it. The “why” is our connection to our own internal drive—curiosity, passion, and purpose—this is the path to finding engagement and fulfilment in work as self-expression. The “how” is our ever-evolving efforts to expand our capacity through learning and adaptation.
One thing we have learned acutely through this pandemic is that we exist first and foremost to connect. Human connections are a motivating and self-nurturing force in our work and our personal lives. Shared purpose is a major source of connection. When we live in a world of work as self-expression connected to purpose, we reach more of our potential. As this pandemic ends and technology consumes more and more routine tasks, we have the opportunity to build a more just, equitable society where every human discovers their purpose, connects to shared values, and reaches their full potential regardless of circumstance. This could be the moment when capitalism shifts from shareholder to stakeholder to human capitalism—a world in which humans are the most valuable asset.