We are facing stunningly fast and disruptive influences coming at us due to innovations in artificial intelligence technology, genetic research, and climate change. Key to how we fare in the coming years will be the quality of leadership we have at the national, state, and even the local level.
“One of the interesting things about change, however, is that it keeps coming at us, despite our resistance to it,” Doug Griffiths writes. He is the author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community and the chief community builder at 13 Ways, a company pushing communities to face their challenges to find their own unique, successful path.
“In fact, the pace of change is increasing exponentially. 20,000 years ago, we were hunters and gatherers, and our lives remained relatively unchanged until the discovery of agriculture 5,000 years ago. Once we moved from being nomads to farmers, not much changed for thousands of years until the Industrial Revolution 300 years ago, which changed everything about our world again. Now, the technology revolution is transforming every aspect of our lives, dramatically more so every day, but it only began about 30 years ago.”
Our rate of change will continue to accelerate.
Artificial Intelligence technology is evolving at a pace its creators struggle to comprehend. Systems learn on their own, writing their own algorithms. Its impact on society, from medicine to the factory line, to a law degree, and to a host of other professions that it might eventually radically change, is unknown but feared. In many ways, it’s full of faults today, but its evolution to ever higher capability, reliability, and intrusion in our lives will continue to accelerate in ways measured in months, not decades.
At the same time, advances in medicine, from the ability to manipulate the genetic code to eradicate hereditary diseases or to one day design a better human being, may be in their infancy today, but their foundation has already been set. While the ethics are debated, the research progresses toward application.
Then there is the impact of a changing climate on the challenges communities face, from more intense droughts to once-in-500-year deluges becoming increasingly frequent to invasive species from the South moving into Minnesota. A warmer climate is having a dramatic impact on the sustainability of aquifers, with the consequences being felt by farmers, residents of communities, and businesses. Future economic development may be limited if water resources are unavailable to meet their needs.
“There are so many changes coming, and they are coming quickly, that we will see our communities forced to adapt to more in the next 20 years than they have in the last 100,” Griffiths writes. His timeline has been altered by the accelerating pace of technological advancement, genetic research, and climate change in the past year.
So much of a community’s progress comes down to the quality and makeup of local leadership. Do they listen? And if they do, do they have the courage to do what needs to be done?
You take a leadership role when you choose to serve on a school board, city council, county board, township board, or one of their committees. But we found through several decades of covering public bodies that some elected or appointed fail to either serve or lead.
Some become placeholders, sitting on the body for a feeling of status in their community, but contributing little in the form of leadership. Some hinder progress doing little to study the challenges a community faces and in their reluctance to let go of the old way of doing things, obstructing needed change. Some would-be leaders are paralyzed by fear of public reaction to creating new priorities and taking innovative action.
“Many communities don’t realize the challenge they are facing,” Griffiths writes. “They are working hard to modernize their community and prepare for the future, but their intent is to modernize it to today’s standards and ideas. By the time that great work is done, it may already be too late.”
In fortunate communities, leaders are innovators and explorers. They study and understand the challenges today and those coming in the years ahead. They aren’t afraid of being a step ahead of the public. But they also know educating the public is essential to achieving their goals for the community. They keep it informed through their meetings and through the community newspaper’s stories about their actions.
Trust is essential to leadership. Citizens will ask, “Where are you taking us? Is it in our interest as taxpayers? Is it in our interest as a community? What are the benefits if we do, and what are the consequences if we don’t? Citizens want answers to these questions, not at the last moment before the local government body votes. They must be brought along, educated on the issues, given time to discuss them among themselves, and given a chance for input before the public body votes.
Communities that “adapt will live on and prosper, passing on their community’s mentality and attitudes to the following generations of communities, while those who resist will see their communities perish,” Griffith says. Whether we like the changes or not, they are coming. We can shape their impact on our communities by adapting and planning for them.
There are fundamental priorities in our communities that don’t change. We need housing for those moving to our communities for a job. We need affordable daycare facilities for families so their parents can be part of the local workforce. We need recreational opportunities for our residents. We need social gathering places. How we address these challenges to growth requires a higher priority with new approaches.
“As the pace of change increases, we need to be leap-frogging the current frame of mind and preparing for what may be coming next, or we risk spending a lot of time, energy, and money investing in the present, which will already be obsolete tomorrow,” Griffiths says.