2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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Managing Director Excel Venture Management; Author, As the Future Catches You
CEO, Biotechonomy; Founding Director, Harvard Business School's Life Sciences Project; Author, The Untied States of America

A Knowledge Driven Economy Allows Individuals to Lead Millions Out of Poverty In a Single Generation

Freedom to create, to work, to fundamentally alter is unprecedented. For better and worse, science and technology provide ever greater power. Individuals and small groups can leverage this power to set their own rules, make their own lives, establish their own boundaries. Paradoxically, this is leading to massive global networks and ever smaller countries.

Don't like your country or your neighbors? Had enough of the religious, nationalist, or ethnic fanatics nearby? Groups that like to speak obscure languages, that want to revise the heroes in the grammar school textbooks, or who advocate a different set of morals are increasingly able to do so. Borders and boundaries in both rich and poor countries are breeding like rabbits. In Europe there are demands for autonomy or outright separation in the former United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy...

It used to be the bright had to leave India, Pakistan, China, and Mexico to make a living, to lead and have a global impact. No more. There are ever more powerful enclaves and zip codes within countries where there is a concentration of smarts and entrepreneurship. If their neighbors let them, these groups and networks flourish. If not they separate or they leave.

As long as you can become and remain a part of the network, the power of place matters ever less. Who your parents were, where you were born, is irrelevant as long as you have access to and interest in education, technology, science, and networks. Every time you open a science magazine, research a new material or gene, map a brain, ocean, or piece of the universe there is a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn and build something new, to create, to accumulate enough prestige, wealth, or power to fundamentally change many lives.

A knowledge driven economy allows individuals to lead millions out of poverty in a single generation. Many within the biggest, China and India, as well as the smallest Singapore and Luxembourg can thrive. One no longer needs to take what the neighbor has to survive. One can thrive by building something complementary, by thinking up something better. Knowledge unlike land, oil wells, gold mines, is ever expanding. Someone's success depends ever less on taking what the other had. You can build and make your own.

Sometimes the real and cyber merge and cross over. Second lifers, inhabitants of a virtual world, are free to become whatever they wish, wherever they wish. Their creations and wealth are increasingly crossing boundaries into the real world of corporate planning, art, and dollars. This is just a foreshadowing of real world governance going forward as the digital becomes the dominant language and means of generating wealth on the planet.

Throughout the world, likely your grandpa's favorite sports team moved, his flag changed, and his job merged, moved, and morphed. All of this implies an accelerating set of shifts in allegiance and identity. Politicians and citizens who wish to preserve and protect the current country are well advised to pay attention to these trends as more have a choice and as ever more debate whether to become a more compact few. For the illegitimate or the slow, it will be harder to maintain boundaries and borders. There is little margin for error; each government and temporarily dominant party can screw up the whole. And the whole can be spit very fast. But you have any options. You can fight to preserve that you love or you can choose to build or inhabit an alternative space. Your choice.