An unexpected force transforming our economy
4 min read

An unexpected force transforming our economy

At last weekend’s Transformational Technologies Conference, I met dozens of founders building businesses they deeply cared about in health, education, and entertainment.

This is what I conclude from peering into the future:

A single force is driving massive change in many industries:
The desire for depth.

Depth of understanding. Depth of understanding and expressing the uniqueness of an individual. A desire to reject the superficial, the mass produced, the over produced. A craving for authenticity in a sea of information overload, and superficial noise.

This is not a new idea, but many people underestimate the magnitude of change yet to come.

Depth has already transformed media

Reality TV was the first major signal that media was moving in a new and uncharted direction. While Big Brother seems fake and over produced today, it did (somewhat) focus on real people, and in doing so, heralded the future of media.

Today, most YouTube stars allow some aspect of their personality and life to shine through their work. TikTok’s rapid move against Instagram is fueled by its raw, under-produced, and expressive culture. Instagram, with increasingly over produced content, should be worried.

This trend has been playing out in marketing for some time. Traditional branding died as soon as we spent enough time on the internet and encountered information overload. We don’t want to be sold to and we don’t care about fancy ad campaign. What works? Content marketing. Substance and depth, not superficial over produced slogans.

More recently, its impacting the way founders launch companies. Building in public builds a brand by exposing future customers to the raw and messy journey. Larger companies are catching on by transparently publishing deep thinking on everything from organisational experiments to covid-19 layoffs.

We crave this authenticity. It is what cuts through our over stimulation, still too frequently loaded with over produced, over polished, and superficial content. We seek depth.

And this is going to change more than just media.

Depth is transforming how we work

Media front runs mainstream reality. It reflects the ideals of a culture, and often it engages you because some aspect of what you’re watching is aspirational.

People who want media with depth mostly desire depth in themselves. You watch people expose their lives on social media because you want more authenticity in youself.

I’m not saying you aspire to share the same way as others. My point is more subtle. I’m saying there is an underlying desire to understand what is unique about yourself, and express it. And this underlying desire for depth in ourselves, is what has transformed media and will soon transform a number of other industries.

Think about it. Do you know anyone that has questioned:

  • How they could do work that more meaningful?
  • What was their life purpose?
  • How they could align their work with their talents?
  • How they could make money from their passions?
  • Wishing they could better share their gifts with their world?

If you’re a millennial or younger with a moderate level of privilege, I bet you’ve asked them yourself. This is a relatively recent trend. Aside from an outburst in the 60s, most people were far more concerned about job security than a job being an expression of their essence.

This is often derided as the Special Snowflake syndrome of young people, but its not to be trivialised. It is a real trend, and likely for good reason: A record breaking lack of existential problems tends to make one think more about purpose in life.

However, we are not just contending with the psychology of the emerging generations (though this is a significant force for change itself). Exponential adoption of technology is also driving young people to rationally seek careers that are a unique match to their personality and talents.

Only a decade or two ago, accountancy was considered a solid safe career. Today, I coudln’t think of anything riskier for emerging graduates. I would put money on routine accounting jobs being completely eliminated well before today’s 20 year olds want to retire.

The only way to have actual job security these days is to be doing something unique. It should be hard to systemetize, hard to replace, and desired by customers. Although we are getting better at turning complex products and processes into algorithms, your personality will always be unique.

So understanding your uniqueness, and finding a job that truly allows you to express this in a creative way is the new “safe career path”. (Note: Creativity here does not mean artistic pursuits, it means anything sufficiently innovative that it cannot be easily done by a machine in 30 years time. In fact, even artists are impacted. Accountants that are sufficiently creative - perhaps designing the next taxation regime - would probably be OK.)

And this “safe career path” can be incredibly lucrative. Joe Rogan’s podcast is worth somewhere between $100m and $1 billion dollars, and he will never be replaced by another human, let alone a machine.

This kind of uniqueness, captured through an expression of an aspect of your passions and personality, is something that many entrepreneurs should be striving for. It's a dominant strategy that leads to cheaper, more effective brand building, less competition, and perhaps even a greater sense of fulfilment.

Depth will transform health & education

Eventually, the desire for depth will trickle beyond media and work, to health and education. Both of these sectors must adapt to meet the needs of the emerging younger generation.

The mental health crisis has been known for some time, and is growing. Naturally, solutions must eventually be found to match the psychology, desires and needs of the emerging generation. It is my view that this will drive an increased focus on finding fulfilment through greater self understanding and authentic expression.

The education sector is eventually driven by the needs of the workplace. As the future of work moves further towards creative, expressive roles, traditional education will be found to be increasingly limited in its ability to train work ready humans. The current model trained people for factory work and will be forced to radically change.

To meet the needs of both sectors, we would need a rapid increase in highly skilled workers. It is a lot more difficult to unlock the unique creativity of a student than it is to teach them to count. Even more difficult to do both at once. Without technology, it would be impossible at sufficient quality and scale simultaneously.

Fortunately, I saw a lot of fascinating technologies last weekend that are being developed to meet these needs.

A desire for depth is creating our future and we are rising to meet it.