In this week’s lecture, Professor Zak said that “we can get glimpses of the future by looking at the edge.” This quote corresponded nicely to the reading this week entitled The Four Global Forces Breaking all the Trends by Dobbs, Manyika and Woetzel. The article effectively encapsulated a selection of upcoming forces that demand attention from the great thinkers of our time.
Four major disruptions in the world economy were identified: urbanization, accelerating technological change, an aging world, and global connection flows. Having worked at Carnegie Mellon University for twelve years, as well as from the perspective of a current student, this article held particular resonance for me. As I read the description of each global force, it was strikingly apparent that the University has identified and begun to actively address each of these areas of concern. After all, Heinz College offers a concentration in Urban and Regional Economic Development, not to mention the provision of studies in Urban Architecture. The University is overflowing with the study of new technologies in all area from arts to science, but also is a primary contributor to the development of predictions and solutions for the impact of such technologies. In 2015, Carnegie Mellon sought and received a grant to study healthy aging from the National Institutes of Health, with CMU’s BrainHub focusing on groundbreaking research in Alzheimer’s and other brain-related aging issues. And the Learning Science and Engineering Professional Master's Degree Program gives students the tools they need to use and analyze big data, addressing global connection flows.
Surely this is no coincidence. Higher education organizations are uniquely positioned to consider, address, and solve real-world problems in each of these areas. In fact, they continue to house, or at the very least shape the thoughts of, those who are able to predict the work that needs to be done in this era. As the article notes, “…for all the ingenuity, inventiveness and imagination of the human race, we tend to be slow to adapt to change.” The article also states that executives and policy-makers “make decisions on the basis of the intuition built on our experience.” Fortunately, higher education institutions offer a safe-haven from such external pressures. In fact, they could arguably offer the best possible environment for nurturing the ability to address change and seek solutions. I would assert that at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, the norm is never enough. Risk-taking is not only essential, but virtuous.
Higher education institutions are hubs for the leading minds in each of the fields addressed in the article, offering an environment that embraces unbiased discovery, celebrates interdisciplinary solutions, and looks to the future without blinking. Simultaneously, universities serve as training grounds for future leaders whose education through studies, collaboration and interdisciplinary learning will prepare them to not only look at the edge of the future, but jump into it, impressively equipped to meet the challenges that it holds.