Where to from here? It starts with some simple needs.
Last week, Tech Futures Lab brought together our team, industry friends and community of changemakers to an open panel discussion on how we could go forward in a post-Covid world. The format had no real agenda other than to offer a platform to ask more questions, share new ideas and offer insights - all to contribute to the larger body of shared knowledge. This was a culmination in a series of Fireside Chats we’d organised to keep the cogs turning about positive change and how to harness technology in the pursuit of a more balanced and sustainable world. We welcomed people from a diverse range of industries, from aviation to retail, hospitality to agriculture, engineering to finance and creative to manufacturing. Seeing this wide range of perspectives and interests come together in this one session demonstrates a collective sentiment to move forward with fresh thinking in New Zealand. The conversations in these events were encouraging and reflected a real desire to take the opportunity this pandemic has created for pause and reconsideration. The questions raised and discussions had broached sectors like education to health, research and development and science and technology. But the conversation kept coming back to the qualities and values we need to take forward if we are to use this disruption for a positive outcome. Here, we’ve tried to capture the general sentiment of what the panelists and attendees are focusing on as ways move forward in this new and uncertain world. We need each other Right from the start, the conversation focused on inclusiveness and compassion. It's clear that the time we’ve had away from the everyday, the time spent with whanau in our bubbles or connecting with them over video calls, has energised a spirit for community. As panelist Barry Power put it, we’ve been able to “see differently” - at what’s most important. Togetherness. We know this to be true as humans, yet in our world of persistent economic growth, we’ve lost sight of some of our most basic human needs. Our need for connection, with family, with friends, and with community.
The simple fact that this was the gain many people experienced during the isolation period suggests that this is what we hold most dear. Panelist Terry Williams-Willcock remarked how much he’s enjoyed being a part of his children’s learning - to relish their creativity, inventiveness and resourcefulness and now he’s wondering how he can continue that, after we’re ‘back to normal’. If having these connections and engagements with those important to us is central to our happiness and our fulfilment, then it must be a major consideration in our rebuild for the future. We need to be kind to ourselves Being with others and sharing experiences can energise us but often in order to give to others, we first have to fill our own cups. Today’s financially driven world can mean we leave little time for ourselves - “selfish time” as panelist Rich Rowley put it. If we’re running from one thing to another, always looking ahead, we miss what’s happening right now - we’re not present. But practising some mindfulness, spending time doing things that really give you joy, will develop a sense of wholeness and self satisfaction. And when we feel like this, we can be there for others. This is a big part of changing the mindset in today’s world. It’s OK, in fact, necessary to have some ‘me time’ as it creates a healthier individual, who can then be part of creating a more healthy society. We need to think long term We have a rich base for community and generational thinking in New Zealand - Maori offer us a perspective that can enhance our view for the future. As panelist Sara Stratton shared, by planning and talking from a ‘we’ perspective, it becomes the collective responsibility to nurture, grow and protect. When planning decisions are made with a long view - both forward and back, we don’t just deliver to ourselves today, but pay respect to those before us and offer opportunities to those yet to come. This approach pulls into focus the unequivocal role we play as guardians of our environments. We must take this pause to ensure that any future plans we make are grounded in this mantra of long term thinking. We need a new plan There was also a strong sentiment across attendees that our current economic model is no longer the right one. Panelist Chris Pike reflected how unessential so many of our daily desires really are to our existence. We’ve been filling a void with things for satiety, and that feels unnecessary in this new normal. The western economic structure that demands profit, growth and endless churn in a ‘make and take’ society has been exposed in this disruption to be extraordinarily imbalanced and self-centered. And it is predicated on never ceasing. So when we’ve been forced to stop, when our economic pursuits have been interrupted by isolation, as panelist Taurean Butler noted, it has “exposed the cracks”. There’s no safety net to catch humanity. We’ve been so focused on individuality and merit - rising to the top and having it all. And the irony is, as panelist Priti Ambani pointed out, we have in fact become less individual and more homogenous about how we ought to be. This homogenous economic model is juxtaposed with the rich diversity of our species and environment. Nature is incredibly diverse yet still operates in a state of balance This circular regenerative model is one humanity needs to take on board as a foundation for our economy. We need difference It was encouraging that all involved in the discussion are big advocates for diversity. Diversity offers different perspectives, new understanding and fresh viewpoints. It brings colour and vitality, energy and wisdom. And when we embrace diversity, we gain empathy - so critical to creating inclusion and balance.
Through connection across diverse cultures, social standings and mindsets, we can begin to understand what matters to others, and we might find we have the same shared underlying values. Therefore, it goes that diversity is another key foundation to build upon for a restart and reimagine what our future could hold. Together, these simple principles create strength There was a theme beginning to emerge in this open discussion - of excitement and optimism, if we can hold onto these rediscovered ideals.
And there is a clear interrelationship between them - connection and community fosters openness and opportunities for exposure to diversity. Diversity can build empathy and respect and this in turn allows for acceptance. When we feel accepted, our wellbeing is bolstered and we can thrive as ourselves. And a happy, healthy-minded supported community gives space for creativity and innovation. This place, where there is solidarity of vision yet individuality in delivery is where resilience grows. We need tech with a human lens But what of technology? How can we take forward what we have gained and amplify the vision with the technology tools we have available to us. Ever since homo sapiens appeared nearly 200,000 years ago we have used technology to implement our ideas which have propelled us forward to become the dominant species of this planet. Now should be no different. It was clear from the discussions that the technology we have today can help to magnify and expedite a change. As panelist Frances Valintine commented, technology has democratised innovation - it’s pervasiveness has opened up channels for broader views and perspectives. It supports investigation and experimentation and allows for people, from all walks of life, to lead and participate in idea exchange and innovations. Before we get to solutioning, however, we must use the principles of community, equality, the long-view and wellness as our basis to rebuild in this post-Covid environment and identify what tools will deliver best to our needs. To forget this will be a true loss for us and our future generations. This is the potential we can have as we look forward to new possibilities in our workplaces and our lives. Perhaps we have never had a more opportunistic time in modern history to rethink and recalibrate our man-made world to be one that provides for all. A big shout out to our panelists for their time, openness and contribution: Sara Stratton, Terry Williams-Willcock, Chris Pike, Barry Power, Frances Valintine, Priti Ambani, Rich Rowley and Taurean Butler.