Ten Years to Midnight: A book review by Bob Morris

Ten Years to Midnight: Four Urgent Global Crises and Their Strategic Solutions
Blair H. Sheppard with Susannah Anfield, Ceri-Ann Droog, Alexis Jenkins, Thomas Minet, Jeffrey Rothfeder, and Daria Zarubina
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (August 2020)

What would William Butler Yeats make of the world today?

As I worked my way through the final chapters of this book, I was again reminded of the final lines in Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming:

“The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

With the assistance of Susannah Anfield, Ceri-Ann Droog, Alexis Jenkins, Thomas Minet, Jeffrey Rothfeder, and Daria Zarubina, Blair Sheppard examines global crises of prosperity, technology, institutional legitimacy, and leadership. How to resolve them? “Clearly, the challenges outlined in the first part of the book are enormous and seem too overwhelming to successfully corral. If we try to employ answers copied directly from those who guided us in the post-World War II period, we will be relegated to watching or, worse, participating in exacerbating our problems and cause irreversible harm.”

I agree with Sheppard as does Albert EInstein when he observed long ago, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Back to Sheppard: “A better approach — an imperative one — is to adapt to the underlying ideas from the model that helped generate so much success to address their unintended consequences. Exploring those new solutions is the job of Part 2 of the book.” The solution process is urgent. According to Sheppard, we have about ten years before reaching what I view as a “fail-safe” point, beyond which it will probably become an inflection point.

In 2016, Bob Moritz, chairman of the PwC International network, posed this question to Sheppard: “What are people really worried about and does that affect how we should think about our business?” Ten Years to Midnight is a response to that question, based on countless conversations that Sheppard and his PwC colleagues have had with leaders from governments, business, and civil society “as well as everyday people trying to make a decent living and build a better life for themselves and their children.” Based on these conversations with leaders as well as on conversations between and among themselves, they focus in this book on serious concerns organized within five ADAPT categories:

ASYMMETRY: Increasing wealth disparity and the erosion of the middle class.

DISRUPTION: The pervasive nature of technology aznd its impact on individuals, society, and our climate.

AGE: Demographic pressure on business, social institutions, and economies.
POLARIZATION: Breakdown in global consensus qand a fracturing world, with growing nationalism and populism.
TRUST: Declining confidence in the institutions that underpin society.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of the book’s coverage:

o How We Got to the Precipice (Pages 1-10)
o Disruption (18-25)
o Asymmetry and the Crisis of Prosperity (25-28)
o IT Disruption and Harmful Effects on People and Society (42-44)
o The Disturbing Effect of Social Media (49-50)

o Artificial Intelligence Is Puzzling (52-53)
o Trust and the Crisis of Institutional Legitimacy (54-62)
o Technological Disruption: The Erosion of the Fourth Estate (62-64)
o The Shortcomings of Education (65-67)
o The Rejection of Expertise (72-73)

o Demograohy Accelerates the Institutional Crisis (78-80)
o Age and Institutional Disruption (83-85)
o Strategy: Rethinking Economic Growth (91-94)
o Local Entrepreneurs: The Building Blocks (101-103)
o Strategy: Reimagining Success (105-109)

o Structire: Repairing Failing Institutions (120-131)
o We Can’t Control Technology If We Don’t Understand It (135-136)
o Two Global Crises (144-147)
o Inside GAME (148-153)
o Leadership: Reframing Influence (161-175)

The “four urgent crises” pose challenges far greater than any I can recall in a prior time. Are the strategic solutions proposed in this volume realistic? Yes, they are as realistic as the crises. Can they succeed? Yes. Will they succeed? Only if the leadership paradoxes on which Blair Sheppard and his six colleagues focus are resolved.

Meanwhile, Yeats reminds us, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick….


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