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Short-termism is killing us: it's time for longpath | Ari Wallach | TEDxMidAtlantic

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    October 16, 1993,
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    1:17am.
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    The phone rang at my parents' home.
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    I answered on the second ring.
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    I pretty much knew who was calling.
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    The voice on the other end
    spoke for maybe 10 seconds.
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    My reply was even shorter.
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    "Do not resuscitate."
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    I was 18 years old when I lost my father.
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    Several years later,
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    I was reading the book by Ernest Becker,
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    "The Denial of Death."
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    He won the Pulitzer prize for it in 1972.
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    And I'll paraphrase an entire book
    in three sentences.
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    Man is the only sentient species,
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    who, at a very early point in his life,
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    knows that he will cease to exist,
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    and that he does everything he can
    to run, shield and hide himself
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    from that inevitable truth.
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    And so, now you know
    how I became a futurist.
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    That was my running.
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    So I've been "futuring,"
    which is a term I made up --
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    (Laughter)
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    about three seconds ago.
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    I've been futuring for about 20 years,
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    and when I first started,
    I would sit down with people,
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    and say, "Hey,
    let's talk 10, 20 years out."
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    And they'd say, "Great."
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    And I've been seeing that time horizon
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    get shorter and shorter
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    and shorter,
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    so much so that I met
    with a CEO two months ago
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    and I said -- we started
    our initial conversation.
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    He goes, "I love what you do.
    I want to talk about the next six months."
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    (Laughter)
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    We have a lot of problems
    that we are facing.
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    These are civilizational-scale problems.
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    The issue though is,
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    we can't solve them
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    using the mental models
    that we use right now
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    to try and solve these problems.
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    Yes, a lot of great
    technical work is being done,
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    but there is a problem that
    we need to solve for a priori, before,
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    if we want to really
    move the needle on those big problems.
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    "Short-termism."
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    Right? There's no marches.
    There's no bracelets.
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    There's no petitions that you can sign
    to be against short-termism.
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    I tried to put one up, and no one signed.
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    It was weird.
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    But it prevents us from doing so much.
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    And, by the way, this is on policy,
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    this is at home,
    this is on the major issues.
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    Short-termism, for many reasons,
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    has pervaded every
    nook and cranny of our reality,
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    yet it's something
    that we don't actually talk about,
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    but it prevents us from doing so much.
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    I just want you to take a second
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    and just think about an issue
    that you're thinking, working on.
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    It could be personal, it could be at work
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    or it could be
    move-the-needle world stuff,
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    and think about
    how far out you tend to think
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    about the solution set for that.
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    Because short-termism prevents the CEO
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    from buying really
    expensive safety equipment.
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    It'll hurt the bottom line.
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    So we get the Deepwater Horizon.
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    Short-termism prevents teachers
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    from spending quality
    one-on-one time with their students.
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    So right now in America,
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    a high school student
    drops out every 26 seconds.
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    Short-termism prevents Congress --
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    sorry if there's anyone
    in here from Congress --
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    (Laughter)
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    or not really that sorry --
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    (Laughter)
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    from putting money
    into a real infrastructure bill.
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    So what we get
    is the I-35W bridge collapse
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    over the Mississippi a few years ago,
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    13 killed.
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    It wasn't always like this.
    We did the Panama Canal.
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    We pretty much
    have eradicated global polio.
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    We did the transcontinental railroad,
    the Marshall Plan.
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    And it's not just big, physical
    infrastructure problems and issues.
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    Women's suffrage, the right to vote.
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    But in our short-termist time,
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    where everything seems to happen right now
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    and we can only think out
    past the next tweet or timeline post,
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    we get hyper-reactionary.
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    So what do we do?
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    We take people who are fleeing
    their war-torn country,
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    and we go after them.
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    We take low-level drug offenders,
    and we put them away for life.
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    And then we build McMansions
    without even thinking
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    about how people are going
    to get between them and their job.
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    It's a quick buck.
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    Now, the reality is,
    for a lot of these problems,
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    there are some technical fixes,
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    a lot of them.
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    I call these technical fixes
    sandbag strategies.
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    So you know there's a storm coming,
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    the levee is broken,
    no one's put any money into it,
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    you surround your home with sandbags.
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    And guess what? It works.
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    Storm goes away,
    the water level goes down,
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    you get rid of the sandbags,
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    and you do this storm
    after storm after storm.
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    And here's the insidious thing.
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    A sandbag strategy
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    can get you reelected.
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    A sandbag strategy
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    can help you make your quarterly numbers.
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    Now, if we want to move forward
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    into a different future
    than the one we have right now,
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    because I don't think we've hit --
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    2016 is not peak civilization.
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    (Laughter)
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    There's some more we can do.
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    For the issue of short-termism, yeah,
    there's a lot of technical fixes.
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    I could spend the next four hours
    going down a list
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    of tax policy, insurance,
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    just a litany of things
    that we could do to tackle short-termism.
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    But my argument is that unless we shift
    our mental models and our mental maps
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    on how we think about the short,
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    it's not going to happen.
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    So what I've developed
    is something called "longpath,"
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    and it's a practice.
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    And longpath isn't
    a kind of one-and-done exercise.
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    I'm sure everyone here
    at some point has done an off-site
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    with a lot of Post-It notes
    and whiteboards,
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    and you do --
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    no offense to the consultants
    in here who do that --
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    and you do a long-term plan,
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    and then two weeks later,
    everyone forgets about it.
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    Right? Or a week later.
    If you're lucky, three months.
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    It's a practice because
    it's not necessarily a thing that you do.
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    It's a process where you have
    to revisit different ways of thinking
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    for every major decision
    that you're working on.
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    So I want to go through
    those three ways of thinking.
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    So the first;
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    I'm going to say it slow,
    so I can say it properly.
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    Trans-generational thinking.
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    I love the philosophers:
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    Plato, Socrates, Habermas, Heidegger.
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    I was raised on them.
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    But they all did one thing
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    that didn't actually seem like a big deal
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    until I really started
    kind of looking into this.
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    And they all took,
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    as a unit of measure
    for their entire reality
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    of what it meant to be virtuous and good,
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    the single lifespan,
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    from birth to death.
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    But here's a problem with these issues:
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    they stack up on top of us,
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    because the only way we know
    how to do something good in the world
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    is if we do it between
    our birth and our death.
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    That's what we're programmed to do.
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    If you go to the self-help section
    in any bookstore,
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    it's all about you.
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    Which is great,
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    unless you're dealing
    with some of these major issues.
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    And so with transgenerational thinking,
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    which is really kind of
    transgenerational ethics,
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    you're able to expand
    how you think about these problems,
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    what is your role
    in helping to solve them.
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    This isn't something that just has to be
    done at the Security Council chamber.
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    It's something that you can do
    in a very kind of personal way.
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    So every once in a while, if I'm lucky,
    my wife and I like to go out to dinner,
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    and we have three children
    under the age of seven.
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    So you can imagine
    it's a very peaceful, quiet meal.
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    (Laughter)
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    So we sit down and literally
    all I want to do is just eat and chill,
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    and my kids have a completely
    and totally different idea
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    of what we're going to be doing.
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    And so my first idea
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    is my sandbag strategy, right?
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    It's to go into my pocket
    and take out the iPhone
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    and give them "Frozen"
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    or some other bestselling game thing.
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    And then I stop
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    and I have to kind of put on
    this transgenerational thinking cap.
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    I don't do this in the restaurant,
    because it would be bizarre,
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    but I have to --
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    I did it once, and that's how
    I learned it was bizarre.
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    (Laughter)
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    And you have to kind of think,
    "OK, I can do this."
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    But what is this teaching them?
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    So what does it mean
    if I actually bring some paper
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    or engage with them in conversation?
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    It's hard, and I'm making this
    very personal.
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    It's actually more traumatic
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    than some of the big issues
    that I work on in the world --
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    entertaining my kids at dinner.
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    But what it does is it connects them
    here in the present with me,
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    but it also --
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    and this is the crux
    of transgenerational thinking ethics --
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    it sets them up to how they're
    going to interact with their kids
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    and their kids and their kids.
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    Second, futures thinking.
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    When we think about the future --
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    Don't close your eyes,
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    everyone always says that and no one does.
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    Pretend to close your eyes.
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    (Laughter)
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    Think 10, 15 years out,
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    give me a vision of what the future is.
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    You don't have to give it to me,
    but think in your head.
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    And what you're probably going to see
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    is the dominant cultural lens
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    that dominates our thinking
    about the future right now:
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    technology.
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    So when we think about the problems,
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    we always put it through
    a technological lens,
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    a tech-centric, a techno-utopia,
    and there's nothing wrong with that,
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    but it's something that we have to
    really think deeply about
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    if we're going to move
    on these major issues,
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    because it wasn't always like this. Right?
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    The ancients had their way of thinking
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    about what the future was.
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    The Church definitely had their idea
    of what the future could be,
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    and you could actually pay your way
    into that future. Right?
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    And luckily for humanity,
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    we got the scientific revolution.
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    From there, we got the technology,
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    but what has happened --
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    And by the way, this is not a critique.
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    I love technology.
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    Everything in my house talks back to me,
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    from my children
    to my speakers to everything.
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    (Laughter)
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    But we've abdicated the future
    from the high priests in Rome
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    to the high priests of Silicon Valley.
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    So when we think, well,
    how are we going to deal with climate
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    or with poverty or homelessness,
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    our first reaction is to think about it
    through a technology lens.
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    And look, I'm not advocating
    that we go to this guy.
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    I love Joel, don't get me wrong,
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    but I'm not saying we go to Joel.
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    What I'm saying is we have to rethink
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    our base assumption about
    only looking at the future in one way,
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    only looking at it
    through the dominant lens.
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    Because our problems
    are so big and so vast
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    that we need to open ourselves up.
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    So that's why I do everything in my power
    not to talk about the future.
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    I talk about futures.
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    It opens the conversation again.
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    So when you're sitting and thinking
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    about how do we move forward
    on this major issue --
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    it could be at home,
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    it could be at work,
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    it could be again on the global stage --
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    don't cut yourself off from thinking
    about something beyond technology as a fix
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    because we're more concerned
    about technological evolution right now
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    than we are about moral evolution.
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    And unless we fix for that,
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    we're not going to be able
    to get out of short-termism
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    and get to where we want to be.
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    The final, telos thinking.
    This comes from the Greek root.
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    Ultimate aim and ultimate purpose.
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    And it's really asking one question:
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    to what end?
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    When was the last time
    you asked yourself: To what end?
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    And when you asked yourself that,
    how far out did you go?
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    Because long isn't long enough anymore.
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    Three, five years doesn't cut it.
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    It's 30, 40, 50, 100 years.
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    In Homer's epic, "The Odyssey,"
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    Odysseus had the answer to his "what end."
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    It was Ithaca.
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    It was this bold vision
    of what he wanted --
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    to return to Penelope.
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    And I can tell you,
    because of the work that I'm doing,
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    but also you know it intuitively --
    we have lost our Ithaca.
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    We have lost our "to what end,"
    so we stay on this hamster wheel.
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    And yes, we're trying
    to solve these problems,
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    but what comes after we solve the problem?
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    And unless you define what comes after,
    people aren't going to move.
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    Thomas Kuhn, who gave us
    the famous term "paradigm shift" --
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    the part about that book
    that isn't as famous
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    is where he said, "People don't shift
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    unless they have a vision
    of what it is they're shifting to."
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    The frog won't leap from one lily pad
    to the next without seeing it.
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    And you can't tell the frog
    a one-sentence telos statement.
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    It needs to be fully fleshed out.
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    This was the power
    of what Martin Luther King, Jr. did.
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    He went through the list
    of problems and issues,
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    but then, he gave you
    a strong understanding
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    of what it was; "I have a dream" --
    what will come after?
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    This isn't just about business,
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    but the businesses that do consistently,
    who break out of short-termism
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    not surprisingly
    are family-run businesses.
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    They're transgenerational. They're telos.
    They think about the futures.
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    And this is an ad for Patek Philippe.
    They're 175 years old,
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    and what's amazing
    is that they literally embody
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    this kind of longpathian sense
    in their brand,
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    because, by the way,
    you never actually own a Patek Philippe,
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    and I definitely won't --
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    (Laughter)
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    unless somebody wants to just
    throw 25,000 dollars on the stage.
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    You merely look after it
    for the next generation.
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    So it's important that we remember,
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    the future, we treat it like a noun.
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    It's not. It's a verb.
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    It requires action.
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    It requires us to push into it.
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    It's not this thing that washes over us.
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    It's something that we
    actually have total control over.
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    But in a short-term society,
    we end up feeling like we don't.
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    We feel like we're trapped.
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    We can push through that.
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    Now I'm getting more comfortable
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    in the fact that at some point
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    in the inevitable future,
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    I will die.
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    But because of these new ways
    of thinking and doing,
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    both in the outside world
    and also with my family at home,
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    and what I'm leaving my kids,
    I get more comfortable in that fact.
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    And it's something that a lot of us
    are really uncomfortable with,
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    but I'm telling you,
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    think it through.
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    Apply this type of thinking
    and you can push yourself past
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    what's inevitably
    very, very uncomfortable.
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    And it all begins really
    with yourself asking this question:
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    What is your longpath?
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    But I ask you, when you ask yourself that
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    now or tonight or behind a steering wheel
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    or in the boardroom or the situation room:
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    push past the longpath,
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    quick, oh, what's my longpath
    the next three years or five years?
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    Try and push past your own life if you can
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    because it makes you do things
    a little bit bigger
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    than you thought were possible.
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    Yes, we have huge,
    huge problems out there.
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    With this process, with this thinking,
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    I think we can make a difference.
  • 16:37 - 16:40
    I think you can make a difference,
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    and I believe in you guys.
  • 16:41 - 16:42
    Thank you.
  • 16:42 - 16:46
    (Applause)
Title:
Short-termism is killing us: it's time for longpath | Ari Wallach | TEDxMidAtlantic
Description:

We are facing huge problems in the world today, civilizational-scale problems. However, we cannot solve them using short-term thinking. If we want to move forward into a different future, we must adopt what Ari Wallach calls the “longpath.” Ari shares three ways of thinking to approach the major problems we’re tackling.

Applied futurist and innovation strategist Ari Wallach is CEO of New York City based Synthesis Corp. and is Fast Company’s expert on emergent macro-trends in business and culture. Combining a grasp of new technology and business models with a broader understanding of social, political, economic, and demographic transformations, Wallach helps leaders understand, and shape, the future — of their organizations, their industries, and the world.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
16:46

English subtitles

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