The writing was on the wall.
Long before Brexit and ‘Brexit-Plus’ there were warnings of a winter of mass-discontent.
In January the World Economic Forum reported how the fourth industrial revolution would transform humankind like never before. How we live, how we work, our relationship to each other and the brands we consume and champion.
Steam and water powered mechanical production during the first industrial revolution. Electricity powered mass production during the second. Electronics and technology automated production during the third.
Now the fourth industrial revolution is blurring the boundaries between physical, biological and digital spheres, turbo charged by a mix of new technologies. 3-D printing. Self-driving cars. Drones. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Robotics. The internet of things. Billions of people connected to mobile devices with access to knowledge – and power – at their fingertips.
The fourth industrial revolution is evolving quicker than any other, disrupting businesses, brands, politics, countries, and the world, in its wake.
So where is the problem?
The people who have gained can afford access to the new technologies that have made our lives more mobile. The technology that has changed the way many us facilitate our lives. The technology that has changed the way we make, buy and consume products and services. The technology that has led to the abundance of new brands that have disrupted sectors. Connect on Facebook. Create on Instagram. Listen via Spotify. Watch with Netflix. Make a payment via PayPal. Book a room with Airbnb, or a cab with Uber. The same technology that is challenging our mental health, privacy and cyber security.
But as the economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson warned us, inequality is a grave consequence and societal concern of the fourth industrial revolution, with the potential to upset traditional labour markets and politics.
As automated technology has spread through industries, workers have been displaced, exacerbating the gaps between classes, shareholders and investors, customers and employees. In addition, businesses are looking to recruit ‘global-talent’ which has caused a widening gap between less educated, lowed skilled workers and those seen to hold the high skills modern businesses and brands now demand.
This is one of the main reasons why many more traditional workers are dissatisfied and disillusioned; fearful for their future or just plain angry. And it’s why they’ve voted in protest against unfairness.
Current political systems were established during the second industrial revolution. They are slow, linear and top down. But much has changed since then. As we’ve seen, governments are facing pressure to change as the power balance shifts.
Whilst technology and data enabled the Democrats to coordinate and mobilise their election efforts to military precision, it couldn’t stop Republicans voicing the concerns of low and middle income families, the ‘forgotten men and women’ of the US rust belt.
Trump inspired a working class revolution, winning support amongst those on incomes below $30,000, without a high school diploma, rural and suburban, and those aged over 45, despite reservations around his qualifications to hold office or temperament. A decisive rejection of the political and economic systems that have ruled us for years.
It’s remarkable how the brands of political parties have flipped in terms of their values and what they stand for and represent. How a billionaire business man successfully cast himself as the ultimate outsider against the status quo. Or how the once ‘nasty party’ is now driven by the interests of ordinary working class families, not the privileged few.
Digital technologies could have aided a better understanding between people of different cultures and countries, but sadly appear to have fueled segregation between class, race and gender.
Now is a good time to reflect and consider your brand’s purpose; why you exist and the social value you want to create. So if you haven’t pondered how the fourth industrial revolution will impact upon your business and brand I’d urge you to now, before you get a shock.