Sep 5, 201307:16 AMLeft Business Brain
with Tom Breuer
A sunnier forecast: As the Great Recession thaws, a local futurist sees signs of spring
(page 1 of 2)
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Rebecca Ryan believes in the lessons of history, but perhaps more importantly, she believes in the promise of the future.
Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, it’s no use, she says, to maintain a white-knuckle grip on the halcyon past. Our nation is constantly reinventing itself, cycling through seasons with regularity.
Right now, she says, we’re in winter. And that’s a reality we’re all going to have to come to grips with.
Her metaphor to describe where America is, where it’s been, and where it’s going is one that she relies on heavily in her book ReGENERATION: A Manifesto for America’s Next Leaders. And while her diagnosis may sound bleak, her outlook is actually a hopeful one, based on the assumption that the best is yet to come.
“I think Americans are almost a fatally optimistic country,” said Ryan. “When you say to people on the street, ‘How are you?’ if anyone says anything other than ‘fine’ or ‘good’ or ‘I’m okay,’ we think of these people as kind of Debbie Downers. So we have this cultural bias toward positivity, and everything’s sunny. And while that’s a great asset overall, when it comes to facing the truth of winter, it can lead people to be sort of in denial, because it doesn’t feel maybe very cheery to think, ‘Oh, winter. Whoo-hoo! All my institutions are crumbling. Awesome!
“So I can understand why people would think maybe winter seems to be pessimistic. But I tend to think people, when they know what reality is, will rise to meet the challenge.”
ReGENERATION is a slim, easily digestible paperback that begins with the premise that our history is made up of seasons. Our first winter was the American Revolution, the second the Civil War, and the third the Great Depression. Great things followed all these harrowing periods, and with the Great Recession currently thawing, Ryan sees great things ahead. But first, she says, we need to shift our assumptions.
In issuing her wakeup call, Ryan — a Madison-based futurist and economist and the founder of Next Generation Consulting — dings both conservatives and liberals, slaughtering sacred cows on both sides.
For one thing, she thinks our current entitlement system is a train wreck waiting to happen.
“We have to extend the retirement age,” Ryan said. “We have to start doing that on a prorated basis, very regularly. We can’t have extensions of the retirement age limping along at 2% to 3% when life span is being extended 7% to 8%, and we’ve dealt ourselves a really crappy deck on that.”
She also takes a shot at top-down, old-guard organizations — in the process making a point that my arch nemesis on Page 8 will love.
“Teachers unions, or unions generally, I think have gotten so well established, and this is the cycle of all organizations; Google is going to run into this, too,” said Ryan. “The organization is founded around a cause, and over time as the organization gets bigger, the organization’s purpose becomes to protect itself, and at that point it falls out of favor with a lot of people, because when the goal is just to protect current interests, it stops serving the greater good.”
But conservatives, who have often cycled between acting as if Obamacare doesn’t exist and believing it’s the worst thing to happen to this country since Pearl Harbor, are unlikely to be soothed by Ryan’s health care prescription.
Since the so-called “long job” has largely been replaced by the “gig economy,” in which workers change jobs and take on new tasks freely and frequently, we need to have a health care system that can accommodate this new normal, says Ryan.