An interview with the futurist, strategist, and speaker
David Houle is a futurist, strategist, and speaker. Following a 20-year career in television that earned him two Emmys, a Peabody, and an Academy Award nomination, Houle published The Shift Age in 2008. “The shift age” is his term for the period after “the Information Age.” Houle’s second book, Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education, will be published this spring; he is at work on a third book, The New Health Age.
CMI spoke with Houle about the future of meetings during the recent Professional Convention Management Association annual meeting, where he led a session on “the Transformation Decade.”
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: What exactly is the Shift Age?
Dave Houle: It began in 2005–2006. The changes that will take place between then and the year 2020 will exceed all the changes in the last 35 years. The three fundamental forces of the Shift Age are: the flow to global, the flow to the individual, and accelerating electronic connectedness.
CMI: Talk about electronic connectedness.
Houle: We now live in two realities, the physical reality—our parents’ reality—and the new “screen reality.” We now live in a broadband world and must therefore live in and manage both of these realities. Business people have always cultivated word of mouth in the physical reality;is the word of mouth of screen reality. A cell phone call from me to you in this room takes about four seconds; a call from here to India, about nine seconds. For the first time in human history there are no longer time or distance limitations on our ability to communicate.
CMI: What does this mean for face-to-face conferences?
Houle: The higher tech we become the higher touch we crave. Why do you think Apple is so successful? They get you into their beautiful, translucent store and get you to touch everything. The reason we come to meetings is that we need to be together, especially in today’s workplace, when you can work from anywhere. The only reason to go into an office is to collaborate. And the more employees are dispersed, the more they want to come together face-to-face. The future of the workplace—and the educational setting—is about experience.
CMI: You spoke about the Transformation Decade. What do you mean by that?
Houle: I have called 2010–2020 the Trans-formation Decade because most of humanity and its institutions will be transformed. The dictionary says transformation is “a change in nature, character, shape, and form.” What I’m saying is that businesses and confer- ences will change their nature, shape, character, and form in these next 10 years.
CMI: What does the “flow to the individual” have to do with leadership and innovation?
Houle: It means that increasingly we are becoming independent contractors; we are our own jobs. Project management is key in the Shift Age. In order for you and your business to keep up, you must be adaptable. Don’t build hierarchies, which are resistant to change. If you don’t have collaborative ongoing reorganization, you’re going to fall behind. If you want to increase innovation, close your eyes and envision who in your company has the highest quotient of innovation. That is the first person to put on your company’s “vision team.” Forget about titles.
CMI: Talk about “digital natives”—the generation now under 18. They, along with millennials, who are in their 20s, are the meeting attendees of the future. What does it mean for meeting professionals?
Houle: Digital natives are the first generation to grow up in a globally connected, always-on world. They are wired differently. They are not just creating our presentations and constantly multitasking, they are also teaching us how to communicate in this digital world. Historians will look back at the millennials as a generation of civic-minded leaders and as innovators who helped solve the world’s problems. More importantly, the digital natives will be viewed as one of the greatest generations of artists and creators, and they may signal the beginning of a new level of connected human consciousness. Meeting planners still haven’t quite figured out how to bring social media into the physical meeting space. They have to find a way to appeal to all generations. Soon new iterations of social connectivity, using GPS technology, will greatly assist this effort.
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