The Four Ages Through Our Economic History

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Global Economy

From an era during which our nomadic ancestors hunted for food for survival, to the present day where food and other daily necessities can be delivered to our doorstep with the tap of a finger on a smartphone app – mankind has made remarkable progress.

The global economic landscape has undergone radical transformation over time. Revolutions have occurred throughout the period of human history, driven primarily by the forces of globalization and technology innovation. These revolutions are marked within periods of time, also known as the four ‘ages’ through our economic history: The Agricultural Age, Industrial Age, Information Age and Conceptual Age.

The Agricultural Age was a time of dramatically improved farming and livestock breeding methods that resulted in reliable food supply. This period was marked by strong collaboration among communities of people and the growing concept of trade with the overall objective of ensuring adequate living conditions for the entire community or village. Agricultural production relied primarily on human labor who brought their skills and creative thinking to work for the benefit of the community. Increased food production during the Agricultural Age paved the way for urban development among a growing population.

The Industrial Age was the period during which machines replaced manpower, and the main player was the factory worker. This period was characterized by rapid urbanization and a growing demand for goods. The development of power-driven machinery made possible the mass-production of goods, while also facilitating newer and improved transportation methods. The steam engine and textile mills were among key developments of this era. During this era, however, the focus shifted from community to individual welfare, and the traditional ecosystems approach that involved collaboration among communities of people, was abandoned.

The Industrial Age was supplanted by the Information Age – an era characterized by the shift from industrial production to one based on information and computerization. The knowledge worker, one who got paid for putting to work what was taught in school, became the main player of this age. Knowledge was identified as the new competitive resource that enabled businesses to thrive in information-rich environments. The advent of the Internet in the 1990s made information much more accessible than ever before, while also empowering individuals to communicate with each other. Hundreds of millions of people got connected during this age.

Over the last few decades, we have progressed from an era that was information-dependent, and one which primarily focused on knowledge acquisition and application – to an era that revolves around conceptual thinking. This era is referred to as the emerging ‘Conceptual Age’ – a term that was introduced by author Daniel Pink in his New York Times Bestseller ‘A Whole New Mind’ in 2006. In the Conceptual Age, conceptual thinking will be key, and workers skilled in areas guided by the right hemisphere of the brain will rule.

“We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age”, quotes Daniel Pink. Higher order thinking and creative problem-solving will be the skills in demand for this era.

The Conceptual Age marks the return of the historical ecosystems-based approach of the Agricultural Age. Owing to the growing impact of digitization, businesses would no longer operate in siloes, but in complex and dynamic ecosystems where a combination of people, things, processes and rich data, would play a crucial role in shaping business outcomes and behaviors. The Internet of Things (IoT) and other digital technologies are key enablers of this move towards ecosystems of interconnected businesses that are causing long-standing industry boundaries to dissolve. While in the Information Age, people got connected; the Conceptual Age is driving the connection of ‘things’ with the current transformational wave of IoT technology.

The world today stands at the brink of disruptive change – driven primarily by technology innovation. Digital technologies continue to be woven into every aspect of our lives, fundamentally transforming how we live, work and play. As businesses head towards a digital revolution – their core functions, revenue models, cultures, and people must become digital, too.

Stay tuned to our next post, where we discuss the changing business paradigms in today’s digital age.

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