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Even If We Conquer Death – Should We?

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“Nothing can be said to be certain, except Death and Taxes” – Benjamin Franklin, 1789

As we head into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), there is the possibility that only one of those will remain a certainty.

While taxes may morph from employee-contribution-for-state-resources, to a nominal amount on the gains of technology, to a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – death may yet be conquered.

An increasing number of futurists believe that death is a disease; and like any disease it can be cured. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief futurist, with a prediction accuracy rate of 86% (115 of 147 since the 1990s). Kurzweil believes by 2029, we will see signs of living forever when we reach ‘Longevity Escape Velocity’ – the point at which every year we live, we extend our lifespan by at least another year.

The oldest verified living person, Chiyo Miyako, died at 117 years old in July. However, the number of centenarians is up 44% from 2000 to 2014. Improvements in vaccines, antibiotics, hygiene and sanitation are all contributing factors to increasing survival to advanced ages.

READ MORE: You Only Live Twice

Coupled with affordable healthcare, food abundance, and a decrease in non-natural death causes (war, measles, diabetes), global life expectancy increased from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013.

The cost of sequencing the genome has decreased exponentially from approximately $150 million (2013) to under $1,000 (2015), a reduction of 150,000x. Once quantum computers become mainstream, the cost to sequence an individual genome could be cheaper than flushing the toilet! This could lead to mass customized medicines, further decreasing human mortality rate.

Additionally, the introduction of CRISPr allows scientists to cut out and replace living DNA; effectively eradicating almost all diseases and rewriting the genetic code that governs life expectancy.

And we haven’t even included advancements in nano-tech, AI to determine genetic diffusions, R&D into reversing aging, 3D printing organs, or human augmentation to the point of ‘the singularity’.

With life expectancy of, say 200, versus today’s 75, there are a number of considerations. Many challenge the conventional paradigms we currently deem normal. Questions of increased retirement, education systems, second, third or even fourth careers, children and life-savings, are obvious short-term issues to address.

At a micro level, which individual wouldn’t want to spend just another year with a sick loved one? However, at a macro level, this would be far from ideal. Arguably, the greatest issue we face is resource constraints caused – not by over-population per se (the United Nations projects a world population of 9.7 billion by 2050) – but by the number of consumers and the scale/nature of that consumption.

Across Africa, the median age is 19.4 years with a total population of approximately 1.3 billion, however, the average age of the continental leadership is 65 years old. Already Africa has a history of dictatorships, and with leaders living longer, will we have more authoritarian rule?

With an increasingly aging active workforce, what is the future of jobs? Especially coupled with the replacement of labor with 4IR technologies (robotics, AI, automated plants) and youth unemployment upwards of 50%. From a capitalist perspective, efficiency gains and profit maximization will drive business decisions. However, are we further creating a situation whereby the Gini gap increases while the rich, aging, experienced reap the benefits of longevity? Are we sitting atop a socio-economic time bomb with increasing inequality?

Advances in technology will definitely drive the upward age of longevity toward the 200 mark. However, there are a number of considerations – both moral and social – that we have not begun to think about, as a species. Ultimately, the question is no longer if death (like taxes) is inevitable, but rather: even if we can conquer death – should we?

 By Craig Wing, a partner at FutureWorld International, driving innovation and futures thinking across organizations globally. He is a thought-leader on 4IR, future of work and corporate culture.

Opinion

It’s About Time For Success For Entrepreneurs In Africa

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As a teenager it dawned on me that my undergraduate academic ambition was going to be threatened when my father lost his job. My dream to become a petroleum engineer was deflated in a matter of days. I was concerned about my future and afraid I would be tagged as a failure. During this unpleasant and frustrating experience, I questioned the rationale behind my dad’s choice of paid employment. If he had started a business, maybe things would have turned out differently. That was a tipping point for my search for success in life.

In 1999, I found a book that answered the question of how to be successful. The Success Journey, written by John C. Maxwell, sparked my hunger for knowledge, which led me to start visiting a public library built by the Catholic church in my town, in southwestern Nigeria. I made that decision because I had read in the book that knowledge is a prerequisite for success.

My need to be successful and influential was so strong that it birthed inspirational dissatisfaction in me. In the same manner, I have observed that many successful business owners often start with a burning desire and this desire takes up most of their time, most of their resources and almost all of their energy. I believe that is what counts for entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, I have also encountered many African start-up entrepreneurs who have ideas that lack that yearning. All they have is a wish that may or may not be achieved, and a template-guided business plan. Most of these plans remain on paper and are eventually buried. Some that succeed in starting their own business don’t get to live their dream beyond a few years.

READ MORE: A Little African Dream In Gangster’s Paradise

Other than the fact that many African countries have a poor rating on the ease of doing business index, a core factor that accounts for a business’s inability to survive is the lack of a burning desire. Success is for the hungry and desire is the emotion that will see it come to fruition.

It is important that a target is clearly defined before commencing with a business plan and allocating responsibilities. This helps everyone to effectively focus on crucial matters. In the present business space, time is more essential than money. The rate at which business disruption happens is so fast that many business leaders are constantly on their toes to just remain in the game. With this in mind, attention should only be given to what is important – the key drivers of the desired result.

Obviously, entrepreneurs in Africa are finding it easier now than a decade ago to hire tools, and raise capital to produce products. But, realizing the ability to rent time is highly unlikely in the near future. Time is inelastic. Therefore, we must focus on what really matters to get the desirable business result.

To better manage time, an entrepreneur should focus on what they have control over. When you focus on concerns that you can’t control, you may lose sight of things within your control.
Also, ensure your beliefs and values align with the desired business result because these influence your time and attention.

Setting goals, and planning for them, are instrumental to time management. This will help guide decisions as well as allowing you to delegate where necessary.
I have accepted the simple paradigm that nothing makes one entrepreneur more successful than the other in an industry as much as what each person does with time. Time creates everybody’s chance, but not everybody creates a chance with the time they have.

– Victor Mamora

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Should we be worried about Generation Z joining the workforce? Here’s why not

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In the next year or two, the workplace faces an unprecedented situation where for the first time, due to the fact that we’re all living longer, five generations may be working side by side: Veterans (pre-World War II); the Baby Boomers (World War II – 1960s); Generation X (mid-60s – late 1970s); Millennials (aka Generation Y) (1979 – 1991); and last, but not least, the largely unknown factor: Generation Z, born after 1992.

It’s estimated that there are more than 2 billion of Gen Z worldwide. In South Africa, a third of the population is under the age of 21.

It may be too soon to be definitive about the characteristics of this generation, but they are said to be realistic, cause and value driven, entrepreneurial, financially prudent, and have boundless curiosity.

This is the first generation born into a fully technological environment – a world of being connected, being digital, and having mobile phones or tablets as a matter of course . They’re therefore more advanced in searching for information and figuring things out on their own.

It’s said that Generation Z will have jobs that have not even been created yet. But that’s not the only thing we aren’t sure of. Although there’s some indication of who they are and the influences shaping them, their characters are still forming and their role in the workplace is yet to take shape.

And, let’s face it: organisations are still struggling to analyse the challenge that Millennials pose in the workplace. These include fitting in with organisational culture, their communication style preferences and negative stereotypes of each generation. All these need to be managed in the workplace.

What exactly are they going to do when Generation Z arrives?

Business as usual

Popular wisdom argues for a fairly predictable set of approaches – all of which are wise. And increasingly people are understanding that while there are important differences between generations, they can be complementary and there is a significant opportunity for both ends of the age spectrum to learn from each other.

Listed staffing agency Robert Half asked chief financial offices where the biggest differences (and therefore opportunities for learning) lay between generations in the workplace. Thirty percent said “communication skills”, 26% said “adapting to change”, 23% said “technical skills”, 14% said “cross-departmental collaboration”, and 7% noted “no differences”.

The gist of tried and tested approaches is to:

  • encourage collaboration between generations;
  • facilitate mentoring;
  • allow for a cross-pollination of knowledge, where older employees share their experience, and younger employees contribute technological know-how, newer techniques and innovation.

It has also been well argued that managers should take the lead in adapting their management style rather than expecting staff to change.

The crucial bridge for Generation Z

But just how different will Generation Z really be? The Millennials (aka Generation Y) has been described more than once as “Generation X on steroids”. All indications are that Generation Z will take this up a notch. Emma Davies, Human Resources Manager for South African construction company ALEC, says the organisation has already experienced this to some extent with work experience students:

They are a very politically aware generation, and they have been taught to question everything, but to do so respectfully. The toddler stage of asking ‘why?’ does not end!

Both inside and outside the workplace, listening skills, patience, tolerance and humility will become more and more crucial for older generations. And two-way mentorship will become even more important than it has been with Millennials.

Generation Y has already pointed to some important changes that need to happen. Because they want involvement and feedback and are generally outspoken they have played a role in creating a more inclusive workplace as teamwork has become central to their work life.

This will be a crucial tool in making the most of the skills of Generation Z. This, combined with their strong communication skills and self-awareness, will emphasise the importance of teamwork.

These integration skills may prove crucial in helping to manage Generation Zs. Millennials, in this sense, may function as a bridge. This isn’t to say it will all be plain sailing, even if older employees are patient and ready to learn from the youngsters.

Generation Y and Z’s desire for connectedness and relationships on the part can be used for more successful mentorships. A desire for learning could also help alleviate tension with Generation Xs, Baby Boomers and Veterans, who may otherwise experience them as disrespectful or arrogant.

Focus on the similarities

But stereotyping needs to be avoided. South African organisations are very familiar with the effects that negative racial stereotyping can have on teams and productivity. They need to guard against the same thing happening with different generations. By fixating on minor differences and taking them out of context, and by failing to appreciate similarities, organisations could be missing an opportunity.

More than that, the differences between generations might be smaller than we think. Research from the University of North Carolina showed that Millennials want the same things as Generation X and Baby Boomers: challenging, meaningful work; opportunities for learning, development and advancement; support to successfully integrate work and personal life; fair treatment and competitive compensation.

And all three generations agreed on the characteristics of an ideal leader – a person who leads by example, is accessible, acts as a coach and mentor, helps employees see how their roles contribute to the organisation, and challenges others and holds them accountable.

The chances are, Generation Z won’t be too far off this mark either.

Respect and common sense is key

Implicit in this list of characteristics of the ideal leader is respect – of self and others. In business, as in life, the fundamentals of mutual respect go a long way in building positive workplace cultures. Respect will be key in managing multiple generations too.

All that’s really needed is a commonsense approach that maintains a focus on individual needs, honours each person’s contribution, and strives to keep older workers engaged alongside newer hires so as to avoid losing institutional knowledge.

It may also help to remember that each generational shift evolves organically – and so, too, will the workplace, if we are open to allowing it to do so. – Written by Linda RonnieSenior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

Originally published in The Conversation

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Cash is falling out of fashion – will it disappear forever?

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On June 27, the ATM turns 50. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker once described it as the “only useful innovation in banking.” But today, the cash that ATMs dispense may be on the endangered list.

Cash is being displaced in so many ways that it’s hard to keep track. There are credit cards and electronic payments; apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Square Cash; mobile payments services; cryptocurrencies that operate outside the purview of central banks; and localized offerings such as Kenya’s mPesa, India’s Paytm and Bangladesh’s bKash. These innovations are encouraging cashlessness across communities worldwide.

It’s reasonable to expect cash to follow the path of other goods that have been replaced by digital alternatives, such as photos, music and movies. Will cash – and the ATMs that dispense it – experience a “Blockbuster” moment and disappear from our neighborhoods?

Not so fast. Cash will likely become less popular, thanks to the high cost of using cash and the growing array of alternatives. But I expect it will remain with us forever. The future will be “less cash,” rather than cashless.

The cost of cash

As of 2013, approximately 85% of the world’s transactions involved cash.

Reliance on cash is quite uneven across the world. While Singapore, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Switzerland are among the least cash-reliant countries, in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Peru and Egypt, only 1% of transactions are cashless. Even some highly advanced countries, such as Japan, are still highly reliant on cash.

Cash usage in the U.S. is still high relative to EU countries. In 2015, cash usage in the U.S. represented 13.1% of its GDP, whereas it represented just 7.1% in France and 4.5% in Switzerland.

Concerns about social equity offer one motivation for lawmakers to push for cashless alternatives. My colleague Benjamin Mazzotta and I have studied the costs of cash across a wide range of countries, with a particular focus on the U.S., Mexico, Egypt and India. Our research shows that the poor and those with less access to institutions bear a disproportionate share of these costs of using cash.

In the U.S., for example, cash usage imposes a regressive tax on consumers, with the highest impact on people who do not have an account with a bank. We found that the unbanked pay four times more in fees to access their money than those with bank accounts. They also pay $4 higher fees per month for cash access on average than those with formal financial services. Such fees include those charged for payday lending, buy-here-pay-here auto loans and check cashing. The unbanked have a five times higher risk of paying cash access fees on payroll and EBT cards.

Poorer consumers also have to spend far more time getting cash. On average, Americans spend 28 minutes a month traveling to get cash, but that time isn’t evenly distributed. People who don’t use a bank spend about five minutes longer getting to the place where they can get cash, and unemployed people spent nearly nine minutes more.

In the meantime, other scholars have argued for the benefits of a “less cash” society. Ken Rogoff at Harvard has argued that eliminating higher-denomination banknotes can prevent currency from being used to fund illegal activities.

A world without cash

A combination of public and private initiatives are currently chipping away at the global predominance of cash, with some countries moving more quickly than others.

Sweden, already high on the cashlessness scale, may become the first country to come close to a truly cashless state. Sweden’s history in banks promoting cash alternatives dates back to the 1960s, with digital bank transfers used to pay wages. Cards also become more popular in the 1990s, when banks also started charging a fee for checks. The app, Swish, developed by the major banks, is widely used today for digital money transfers by nearly half the population. Many businesses discourage use of cash, and retailers are legally allowed to refuse cash.

In several other countries, governments are experimenting with innovative digital alternatives. In 2012, the Royal Canadian Mint launched the MintChip project, recently handed over to the private sector. The plan is to store cash on computer chips, enabling the transfer of money between chips through encrypted messages.

In some countries, the private sector has led the way, creating “less cash” societies in the unlikeliest of places. Consider Somaliland, one of the poorest countries in the world. It stands at the forefront of a mobile payment revolution with its ZAAD platform. At over 30 mobile payment transactions a month on average, the average citizen of Somaliland is far ahead of the rest of the world’s average of 8.5 such transactions per capita per month.

Perhaps the most dramatic nudge toward “less cash” was experienced recently in India. Last November, the Indian government made a high-risk, high-stakes move by demonetizing the 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes, in effect voiding 86% of cash in circulation. Their initial aim was to root out corruption and illegal activity funded by cash. New 500 and 2,000 rupee banknotes were issued, so consumers had to go to a bank and exchange their demonetized currency.

In a country that is almost 90% reliant on cash, this move led to disrupted enterprises, unpaid wages and long lines at banks. Mobile wallet players were the unqualified winners of the decision, with market leader Paytm claiming a 435% increase in traffic and a 250% increase in overall transactions and transaction value.

However, despite the surge in mobile payments after demonetization, cash in India remains resilient. In March, five months after demonetization, cash withdrawals were actually 0.6 percent higher than a year earlier.

The future of cash

What explains the resilience of cash, despite its costs and a growing array of alternatives?

Cash is unique among payment instruments in that anyone can transact, any time, any place, with no third parties involved. With this freedom comes strong privacy protection. Currency neither knows nor cares who holds it or when and where a transaction occurred. People have a visceral sense of security when they have cash with them. Much of this sentiment was uncovered in our Cost of Cash studies spanning multiple countries.

These thresholds will, of course, evolve as our societies become more digitally native. However, old habits and perceptions take a long time to turn over. Some merchants will resist the costs of new equipment or fees that accompany cash alternatives. Cash is also considered more convenient and versatile, while with digital transactions there’s always concerns about hacking and fraud.

So, no matter where we are in the world, let us celebrate the ATM’s half-century of service. The human connection with cash will be hard to break. Though cash may become less popular, rest assured that there will always be someone who will stop you in the street asking for directions to the nearest ATM. – Written by Bhaskar ChakravortiSenior Associate Dean, International Business & Finance, Tufts University

Originally published in The Conversation

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