As we scan recent headlines, I am sure many of us are getting that feeling that the world is moving way too fast, that we aren’t sure what is happening anymore. Where are we now? How do we fit into this picture emerging from a worldwide communications revolution?
If we feel lost, maybe it is because our world has grown too big and our stories have grown too small. We think of race and nation, economy and culture, faith and place as singularities, all existing within clearly differentiated narratives, but somehow, the world has made scrambled eggs of all our distinct identities. Everything seems connected to everything, everybody is connected to everyone else, and any one can potentially play a part in any one elses’ story. The world is being desegregated. How can this be, and how did it come about?
Facebook began in 2004 with a few thousand Harvard students. For the first few years, it grew slowly. Then in 2007, something happened and it rapidly reached a critical mass of 50 million. That was amazing then, but in the last three years, it has multiplied by twelve to over 600 million, and there are only 750+ million on the Internet. That means a personally connected world like we have never experienced before. Add Twitter and Google, LinkedIn and Cloud computing, and whatever the next big thing is, and we are in uncharted territory. We have no precedent for this, no story to tell us what it is all going to mean.
It’s time to stop thinking we can just keep doing what we have always done, relying on the old maps of a familiar world that once worked in 2005 but no longer accurately reflect the context of our lives or the future of our businesses. We are in a new world. We sorely need to find new stories and new maps, and most of all, new leaders because we are living in a new age of discovery.
When explorers exploded the known world beyond the confines of a familiar Europe and the Mediterranean, the Magellans of the world were the ones leading the way. What we need to become now are new Magellans, to revive our spirit of exploration and discovery, to reclaim a new story of adventure. What is going to help us more than ever is embracing our ignorance over our expertise, because what is out there is marked terra incognita. This is not just about Twitter Revolutions in far away places, this is about how we in America have reached a “hinge of history” moment. It’s more than our politics or our economy. It’s more than finding a new Sputnik moment or reviving our competitive edge. They are the old story still. We have as much to unlearn as to learn, and to learn above all, that new leaders can no longer lead with old maps and old stories. Lincoln knew as much when he said in 1862
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
We need to remap the world in order to understand why some of our most cherished stories no longer make sense, the stories about being super competitive to be successful, the privileging stories about faith and patriotism and national identity, the comforting illusions about infinite energy and unchangeable climate. Aldous Huxley once wrote a book called, “Brave New World” and that’s an apt title for what we are witnessing.
Our brave new world needs new maps and new stories and above all, it calls for new leaders who are adventurers and explorers. Are you the new Magellan? If you are, come join this ship we are building at The Republic of Stories and hang on for the ride of your life. There is much work to do.