Navigating a New Era: The World of “DEST”

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Navigating a New Era: The World of “DEST”

Yaroslav Kaplan
What kind of global society does everyone dream of living in? Most people yearn for a world characterized by stability, certainty, simplicity, and clarity. Until the end of the last century, the business universe largely resembled this ideal and was often referred to as the Steady, Predictable, Ordinary, Definite (SPOD) world. Unfortunately, our new modern realities are such that we have to live in a new world that is unstable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, (VUCA).

The term "VUCA" was coined by the U.S. military in the mid-1990s to describe the unpredictable and anarchic conditions of modern warfare. Later, in the early 2000s, business leaders and strategic consultants adopted the term to explain why traditional methods of planning, predicting, and maintaining stability were no longer viable in the corporate world.

The VUCA world is one where predicting the environment has become increasingly challenging. The metaphor of shifting landscapes captures this concept well, likening it to a changing environment for a moving object.

For instance, if you're accustomed to driving your car on paved roads, you'll immediately notice a difference if you find yourself navigating a forest path. Similarly, if you were to suddenly go from driving on land to being in water, you would feel the change right away. In the VUCA world, the idea is that you can't be entirely certain of your environment. To put it figuratively, if you leave for work in the morning by car, there's no guarantee that you won't have to return home in the evening by boat, skis, or even horseback.

Here are two illustrative examples that demonstrate the transition of the business world from a SPOD environment to a VUCA one:

Example 1: Netflix vs. Blockbuster

Blockbuster operated a chain of 5,194 stores across the United States, focusing on selling video products. In 2001, approximately 70% of U.S. residents lived within a 10-minute drive of their nearest Blockbuster store.

Contrast this with Netflix, which embraced an entirely online model for movie rentals, bypassing the need for physical stores. Between 2004 and 2010, Blockbuster saw its sales drop dramatically from $6 billion to virtually nothing, leading to bankruptcy. In the same timeframe, Netflix capitalized on the changing landscape; by 2017, the company reported a turnover of $11.6 billion.

Case Study 2: Kodak

In 1975, Steve Sasson, an engineer at Kodak, invented the world's first digital camera. Kodak's management reacted somewhat dismissively, saying, "That's nice, but don't tell anyone about it." The management saw the company as a manufacturer of photographic film and paper, as well as a seller of cameras. To them, Sasson's invention seemed radical and even absurd: "A camera that doesn't use photographic film? Why would we want to sell that?"

It seems that after nearly two decades of navigating the VUCA world, we may be entering a new period—an era coined by yours truly as DEST (Disordered, Egocentric, Suppressed, Turbulent ).

Interestingly, DEST is also the root of the English word "destination," which originates from the Latin word "destinare," meaning "to affirm." In the 15th century, the term was initially used to denote "intending someone or something for a particular purpose." By the 19th century, it had evolved to refer to a place or purpose in itself. Albert Einstein seemed prophetically aware of this new, unknown, destination on the horizon with the quote, "Our main problem seems to be that we are improving our methods, but we are confused about our aims."

Welcome to the Era of DEST:

Disordered (Chaos): Characterized by sudden change, confusion, disagreement, and sometimes even violence, this state is turbulent and unstable.

Egocentric: This refers to a perspective centered solely on oneself, with a focus exclusively on personal interests.

Suppressed: This involves the intentional halting or concealment of an activity, be it knowledge, truth, evidence, or the publishing of books or names.

Turbulent : A condition marked by conflict, confusion, and a lack of control.

Just as VUCA helped us make sense of a volatile, uncertain landscape, DEST serves as a new framework for understanding our ever-changing world.
Philosophical digression (you can skip it and read on) -what should I do with this line?
At the core of this transformation lies a confrontation between two historical forces that have been at odds for the last three thousand years. The first is the oligarchic system, where a small elite attempts to assert its dominance over the majority. The second is a humanistic force that seeks to unlock the creative potential of all people. These conflicting forces are metaphorically represented by two figures from Greek mythology: Zeus and Prometheus. Zeus, the ruler of Olympus, embodies the oligarchic system, valuing only his own interests and privileges while disregarding the well-being of others. Prometheus, on the other hand, brings fire to humanity, symbolizing the desire to fuel progress and improve the quality of life.

The quality and security of human life in any society are largely determined by the balance between these two forces: the oligarchic and the humanistic. Since the time of Pythagoras in ancient Greek philosophy, the concept of "dynamica" has held a special place. Aristotle's "dynamis," for example, refers to a person's inner strength or predisposition towards activity—the potential inherent in something or someone. The term "dynamics" often describes a state of movement or change influenced by various factors. It is important to understand dynamics as the sequential, gradual development of something. The age-old philosophical principle, "nature does not make leaps and bounds," holds true here; all processes in nature and human thought occur through incremental changes.

Competent thinking

Any insightful analysis of power, politics, and economics must consider the individual human mind's potential power and its capacity to shape and create its environment. Historically, the focus in both economics and politics has primarily been on larger institutions like the state or the church. This perspective was somewhat justifiable when the primary source of income was land ownership, usually controlled by either the state or the religious institutions. However, in today's global economy, labor—especially as it is augmented by technology—has become the most significant source of income. The two other pillars of classical economics, land ownership and capital, have become secondary.

If we persist in viewing humanity merely as social animals, we risk hastening the day when people regard one another as resources to be consumed, much as animals might see each other as food. Unlike animals, humans have the unique potential to choose their destiny. This potential is realized not through empty rhetoric but through purposeful action. The task of the strategist, therefore, is to envision and act towards a better future, not just for their group, but for society at large.

In strategic planning, focusing on three key dynamic areas is crucial for the strategist's safety, survival, and success. A lack of understanding in these areas almost guarantees defeat:

  1. Individual Dynamics-Individual dynamics refer to a person's potential ability to attain a specific and desirable state that is in his or her own interest.

  1. Technological Dynamics-Technological dynamics are shaped by humanity's ability to create and harness high-density energy flows for its own benefit. This topic has already been discussed in detail in the first part of the book.

  1. Cultural Dynamics of Society-Cultural Dynamics of Society refers to the collective norms, values, and beliefs that influence how people interact, make decisions, and solve problems within a community.

By closely considering these key dynamics, a strategist gains the insight needed to navigate the complexities of today's world. This understanding enables them to shape a more promising future for both their own group and society as a whole.

The culture of a society is shaped by evolving dynamics that not only alter established decision-making principles but also pave the way for new ones. One significant catalyst for these societal shifts is technology. From the moment humans harnessed fire, technology has fundamentally transformed relationships, traditions, customs, and even language, thereby elevating society's level of creativity, interaction, and cooperation. This cyclical relationship continues to perpetuate itself: advancements in technology trigger shifts in cultural norms, which in turn, inspire further technological progress. The current state of cultural dynamics in society is particularly influenced by rising population density.

United Nations estimates reveal the accelerated growth of Earth's population, which has significant implications for societal dynamics:

1 billion in 1820

2 billion in 1927

3 billion in 1960

4 billion in 1974

5 billion in July 1987

6 billion in October 1999

7 billion on October 31, 2011

In 2009, a milestone was reached in human history: for the first time, the urban population equaled the rural population, each totaling 3.4 billion. Projections indicate that the urban population will continue to grow at a faster rate than the global population overall. This trend signifies a rapid increase in population density per square kilometer in cities. It is crucial to understand that increased density inevitably leads to qualitative changes within society. These changes manifest in various ways: the emergence of new resources and technologies, increased levels of specialization, improved standards of living, the establishment of new laws, and the evolution of markets and economies.

Dest Signs Of The New Era

Sign No 1. The End of Many Stereotypes

Aimee Mullins was born with two legs like anyone else, but due to medical reasons, they had to be amputated. While society was quick to label her as "disabled," Mullins never considered herself handicapped. Instead, she viewed her prosthetics as granting her superpowers that others could only dream of.

Mullins has defied stereotypes surrounding disability. Her prosthetic legs enabled her to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association at Georgetown University. She set three world records in track and field during the 1996 Paralympic Games, embarked on a career as a model and actress, and even made People magazine's annual list of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.

In 2009, Mullins took the stage wearing prostheses that elevated her height from 1.76 meters to 1.86 meters. She owns twelve pairs of prosthetic legs, each tailored for different occasions. While she has more practical pairs for navigating the streets of Manhattan, she also has stylish ones reserved for glamorous events.

Sign No 2. Multiple Generations Coexist in Today's Workforce

Imagine the scenario: a recent university graduate, still basking in the glow of a freshly minted diploma, is working alongside a 60-year-old colleague on the same project. While both are employed by the same organization, their expectations and perspectives on life and the workplace diverge significantly.

Sign No 3. Rapid Breakthroughs in Labor Efficiency

As previously mentioned, the hallmark of a successful modern business is that its growth is no longer directly correlated with an increased demand for labor.

Sign No 4. The Rise of Network Economics: Challenging Traditional Models

The emergence of the network effect challenges traditional principles of industrial economics, leading some experts to propose a new paradigm: network economics. Once a certain critical mass of users is reached, the number of participants begins to grow spontaneously and significantly, often without the need for marketing efforts. This phenomenon raises questions about existing economic models. In a network effect, as the network expands and revenue increases, fixed costs decrease, which theoretically could lead to continuous profit growth.

Sign No 5. Rising Global Urbanization

Urbanization, derived from the Latin word "urbanus" meaning urban, refers to the growing significance of cities, urban culture, and urban relationships in societal development. This process is marked by an increase in the urban population relative to the rural population, as well as the diffusion of cultural patterns that originated in cities to areas beyond them. The prerequisites for urbanization include the expansion of trade, crafts, and industry in cities, along with the growth of their cultural and political roles. Agricultural mechanization and rural unemployment also contribute to this trend.

Sign No 6. The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Information Revolution serves as a metaphor that encapsulates the transformative effects of information technology across all facets of society, primarily in the last quarter of the 20th century. This phenomenon amalgamates the impact of earlier revolutionary inventions in the information field—such as printing, telephony, radio communication, and personal computers—by creating a technological foundation that transcends geographic limitations in information transfer. This, in turn, facilitates the consolidation of intellectual resources on a global scale. The term "Information Revolution" is also employed to denote shifts not only in information processing but also in production methods, lifestyles, and value systems.

Sign No 7. A New Crisis of Faith

Today, we are witnessing a marked decline in trust towards governments, media, and non-governmental organizations worldwide. Intriguingly, history seems to be echoing itself. Five hundred years ago, the bedrock of faith in the Roman Catholic Church was severely shaken during the Reformation period in Europe. When Martin Luther affixed his "95 Theses" to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517, one of his primary objectives was to put an end to the sale of indulgences, which he viewed as the ultimate corruption of faith.

More specifically, Luther's campaign was aimed not just at the Catholic Church but also at the Fugger Bank. At the time, this financial institution had a strong presence in all the commercial centers of Europe and had been granted the exclusive right by Rome to sell indulgences across the Holy Roman Empire. From Luther's perspective, this was nothing short of a diabolical reinvention, causing the Roman Church to lose credibility rapidly across many European territories. If the Fuggers were the embodiment of evil, the financial system they spearheaded served as evidence of that malevolence.

The current global atmosphere bears many similarities to that earlier era of declining faith in the Catholic Church. However, the target of this eroding faith is no longer the Church but what has replaced it—the state, or more precisely, the governments of various states.

Today, we observe a strong correlation between trust in a country's government and trust in its media. Countries with higher levels of government trust tend to also have higher levels of media trust. Conversely, in nations where trust in the government is low, trust in the media tends to be similarly diminished. Overall, this decline in trust reflects the poor quality of the objectives pursued, as well as the means employed to achieve them, by today's global leaders.
To be continued…
Excerpt from my unpublished book "The Strategy of the Rulers"

Yaroslav Kaplan