Risk, Innovation, Failure and Futurity

What will the future bring? As individuals, families, scholars, citizens, cultures, societies, economic entities and political nations, we have long asked this question. But today we are seeing a new burst in the academic study of futurity, i.e. the research of the future, scenarios and predictions. How come?

In a compelling lecture at Sciences Po, Professor Arjun Appadurai of New York University and contemporary social-cultural theorist and anthropologist, put forth his argument as to what has caused this renewed academic interest in futurity. 

“New digital platforms, tools and affordance technologies have sped up the experience of obsolescence and upgrading, and have thus created a new relationship between risk, innovation, failure, and futurity. While this new relationship appears to expand possible futures, the reality is that it threatens to shrink them.”

On 29 March, 2018, Professor Appadurai engrossed a full lecture hall at Sciences Po in the exploration of the paradoxical relationship between scarcity and plenitude in our emerging futures, starting with the concept of failure. 

“Failure is part of the human condition. We fail more often than we succeed in life and in our careers, as parents, citizens, planners, scientists, policy makers, and as scholars.”

Yet, he noted, as a society, we make few efforts to learn from failure as a general feature of social life. Instead, there is substantial literature about disappointments, accidents, disasters, and the secrets of success in many endeavours. He continued on the mysterious concept of failure, reminding us that it is a judgment, not a fact, and underlined how our relationship to failure is often characterized by cultural differences (namely in the United States vs. in Europe). Subsequently, Professor Appadurai addressed failure’s role in entrepreneurial culture, and led us into the dark side of Creative Destruction, or the ghost of Schumpeter. 

Creative Destruction, or Schumpeter’s gale, refers to the ceaseless search for innovations, constant disruption and renewal of the market leading to the replacement of old technology, the obsolescence of traditional methods and the prior modes of organizing the economy and society. Professor Appadurai brilliantly revisited this concept in the context of today and tomorrow’s digital era, how it affects the market, and how it may affect our future(s).

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