Change, dreams and the fall of empires


The National Archives of the UK’s Maps in Time illustrates how humans changed the political and economic map of the world between 1900 and 2000. Maps in Time makes its case so effortlessly that it’s easy to overlook the complexity and enormity of the work behind the project. One hundred years worth of documents and countless bits of information had to be collected, recorded, stored, massaged, analyzed, collated and readied for presentation for the purpose of helping us understand how the world we live in came to be. The thinking behind the project is as impressive as the project itself.

In the end, it’s all about information. You can visualize how the state of the world’s empires has changed and declined since 1821 by clicking here. Or watch shrinking ice caps through NASA images from space for the 32 years since 1980. Then there’s the constant motion of weather in real time available at Environment Canada’s website. You can acquire a sense of where the world economy is going by checking the Dow-Jones and NASDAQ closing averages at the end of each trading day.

Information was plentiful, available and accessible and might have caused university graduates who are still waiting for one or more of the degrees they earned to bear fruit to think more critically about their choices and examine more options (Demand and supply. Entitlement and teaching our children how to fish.). But they made a conscious decision not to access it. Why? Did they stumble across their original premise that university education will automatically translate into a “well-paying job in my chosen field” on their own or did others influence them? If there were others, who were they? On what did they base their recommendations and/or pressure? What was their prognosis for the future? How much skin did they have in the game? Why have things gone so terribly wrong that 30-somethings are moving back to their parents’ homes?

Maybe it’s because some of us prefer to treat change as something to be resisted and ignored. Change is at the heart of every one of the examples above and, like risk, it can’t be ignored. A single bump in the road may be an aberration: recurring bumps in the road may signal a trend and a sign of things to come because ours is not a steady state world. In the span of two days we experienced one meteor impact and one near miss.

Poor decision-making in selecting postsecondary education has proven to be a better predictor of debt than of financial security. The students who placed their bets and lost used steady state arguments to justify decisions about investments of time and money that couldn’t be justified—and still can’t. For those who prefer their history in bite size chunks, consider Nortel, HP, Dell and RIM (now BlackBerry). All four used to be considered steady state. Nortel is no more. HP is working on its 6th CEO since 2005. Dell is taking itself private, and RIM… well, we all know about RIM.

When it comes to the future and the role of education in shaping it, we have much to learn from the Finns and the Swiss. The generation just entering the workforce with at least one and, increasingly, two or more university degrees and the debt to prove it, is living proof that what we don’t know can hurt us—all of us. Not knowing is no longer an excuse. What they didn’t know has hurt them and, possibly, their dreams of a good and secure life.

PDD recognizes that discomfort over change is as much about emotion as it is about intellect. The art of the Great Masters, the works of the great composers and the literature of the great writers shouldn’t change. We need them to enhance the quality of our life. They pose no threat. Failing to recognize that all is not as it was and having no plans to deal with it does. That’s why PDD is here.

Your children are precious. Research, analysis and critical thinking are among the most powerful tools you can bring to bear to minimize the risk that their dreams will fade away. Realizing dreams is one of the reasons we created Personal Due Diligence in the first place.

P.S.: As this post was being prepared, both Bloomberg Businessweek and The Economist ran stories about computer hacking and cyberspying. It seems incongruous that nations would risk retaliation at the hands of other nations over acquiring information while we and our children turn our back on it.

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