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The Most Important Product of the 21st Century

You can go back in time to a few major advancements that have so fundamentally changed the way we live that we would consider them to be the most important products or innovations in history. They’ve not only shaped how we work, but the way we educate, communicate, interact, and govern.

With the advent of agriculture, more than 12,000 years ago, humans no longer relied solely on hunting and gathering to source their needed food supplies. Agriculture changed the world in meaningful ways over time, with humans shifting from a roaming to a sedentary mindset and introduced the world to civilizations.

The same can be said for the discovery of oil in 1859. It fueled the rise of the Industrial Revolution and was marked by a shift in manufacturing from time-consuming, hand-production methods to more efficient iron-production processes. It also created a major movement in the working population, from farms to factories, and from rural centers to major cities.

Then came the onset of computer technology, which had its most meaningful impact with the introduction of personal computers, followed closely by the Internet. Both technologies have altered the cultural landscape of the world, shifting most of the workforce from factory floors to offices, construction sites, restaurants and homes. They’ve helped to spark new industries and transform existing ones, while creating a more interconnected, global economy.

So, what’s the next great advancement that will alter the landscape of the 21st Century? There’s no doubt that technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and nanotechnology are creating significant disruptions in the marketplace. But is it a technological innovation that will drive the greatest amount of change or rather a human evolution?

The rate of technology change has outpaced our ability to keep up with it. It’s estimated that nearly half of the jobs in the U.S. are at risk of being replaced by algorithms within the next fifteen years. These algorithms aren’t merely rote processes that can be performed more efficiently by computers, they also include the rise of artificially intelligent systems that can solve problems – i.e. create.

In a future where the collective technology in the world will be able to create at a faster pace than the human population, shouldn’t we be focusing more of our attention on increasing our (collective) creative output? Shouldn’t leaders be striving to unlock the creative genius in all their people, rather than a small few?

This is the most important product of the 21st Century. The ability to unleash the creative capacity of all people.

Our future shouldn’t rest in the hands of a small few, nor should we become slaves to the technologies that are supposed to enable us to do more. When leaders unlock the creative genius in their people, they can co-create the future in harmony with others. They can enable others to reach their full potential. And they can realize a future where the human collective continually outpaces the creative output of technology.

This has the potential to change the world in meaningful ways. It starts with courage: the courage of leaders to see beyond the myopia of today’s world of instant gratification; the courage to find a purpose that extends beyond the bottom line; and the courage to help others achieve self-actualization, where purpose and creativity resides.

It is the responsibility of leaders, in the highly digital and dynamic world in which we operate, to put that product to use. From there they can create the seismic shifts needed to change the way we live and work now, and in the future.

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