Do you feel you are living through a golden era? By some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in humanity’s history (yeh, I know, hard to believe). According to World Bank figures every day about a quarter of a million people moved up out of extreme poverty and that’s the highest it’s been, like, ever. Disease, famine and wars are at their lowest ebb too (yes, really) but it doesn’t feel like that does it? You might be looking at your social media feeds and thinking that the world is going to hell in a handcart but it really isn’t: what we’re living through is technology disruption writ large as it moves mainstream into our politics, economies and societies.
For me, the big elephant in the room isn’t Trump or Brexit; it’s Europe and what sort of future Europe can offer its people irrespective of where they live in “Europe”. I live in Europe and I want it to be a shining light for the rest of the world to follow—open, pluralist, collaborative—key tenants forged on the back of two shattering world wars. And for that it needs to get its act together and fast: Despite bold quantitative easing and record low interest rates, anemic demand continues to hobble GDP growth throughout much of what we call the European Union. In several EU countries, more than a quarter of the population has been unemployed for close to a decade and political discontent is boiling over into extremism—the very thing the European project was meant to prevent.
My role at the Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work is to challenge our clients to think differently about their future. I am no way arrogant enough to assume that I have the answers for Europe but I can offer some ideas for business and political leaders in the region to think differently about Europe’s future and regain the beguiling swagger it had from the 1990s. What’s clear is Europe needs a new North Star; a goal around which its countries, corporations, and its citizens can coalesce to reignite the growth that will propel Europe forward into the middle of the 21st Century. I believe that harnessing the power of digital technologies can provide that new goal, that new North Star and turn Europe into a powerhouse for innovation.
Injecting “digital” into every aspect of work, life, culture, and society can act as the forcing function that raises employment and productivity, and acts to build social cohesion across the continent. See the new waves of digital technology now coming at us thick and fast as the seeds of an entirely new economy – a digital economy – and it’s growing from the red hot furnace of technological innovation. This new economy – powered by platforms, data, algorithms, “bots” and connected “things” - is taking shape and, in the process, generating massive amounts of new money from ideas that represent the future. This digital economic opportunity is the opportunity in front of Europe today and for decades to come. Europe’s business and political leaders must seize this once in a generation opportunity to reengineer and revitalize Europe’s role in an increasingly hyper connected global marketplace. This is Europe’s Digital Imperative and is the title of my latest report from Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work. Please read it here
Succeed with this imperative and Europe marries its historical strengths – culture, education, ingenuity – with the mores of the digital world to create a “hybrid” that can reassert its rightful place in the world. Fail and Europe falls further adrift from the entrepreneurial power of the United States and the mass populations of Asia Pacific.
The stakes could not – literally – be higher.
PS. So it’s time to bore the kids...I turned 20 in 1990 and it felt like a rocket ride. The Berlin wall had just fallen while the cold war fault lines fracturing Europe had begun to disappear. Fukuyama famously declared a new destination for us in his End of History essay, closer to home the Stone Roses changed music while dance music made Glastonbury feel like a proper festival for us, the young! Disruption was everywhere in politics, music and culture. New ideas then, like now, were on the march albeit with a different set of winners and losers.