Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
March 23rd, 2010

20th Century Versus 21st Century

In the past year I have found that framing conversations about certain topics with the context of being of the 20th century or of the 21st century to be clarifying for most people.

I have written extensively about humanity being in transition between the Information Age and the Shift Age.  Those who have heard me speak or read my writings come to understand and accept this.  That said, this is a higher concept than the simple reality of the calendar.  No one can dispute the numerical fact that we are 10% into the 21st Century, unless you want to debate whether the scientific concept of linear time verses the older concepts of cyclical time or chaotic time.

Once you start to look at the world, its’ institutions and both business categories and specific companies, through this 20th versus 21st century filter, things become clearer.

Here are some examples:

20th Century 21st Century
Automotive Chrysler Tesla
Airport domestic LaGuardia Denver International
Airport international Heathrow Montevideo
Media long list Internet
Political Parties Democratic


Energy fossil fuels alternative energy of all sorts
Organizations hierarchical flat
Transaction costs significant moving toward free
Production mass micro
Authority vertical horizontal

I could go on for pages, but the lists above should both provide clarity and food for thought.

A very simple way to look at the world is through this filter as it will bring clarity as to what will last and what won’t, to what will be significant and what will not be.  It is clear that companies created in the 20th century that do not transform themselves are at high risk.  While going from good to great, searching for excellence or re-engineering corporations were all good for 20th century businesses, only transformation and on-going re-invention will keep companies competitive in these next ten years.

People, societies and businesses can often get stuck in a context largely created in the past.  The ‘as long as it seems to be working, let’s keep doing it’ mindset hasn’t served large 20th century industries or companies very well these past few years.

On 01/01/10  I suggested  here that the 2010-2020 decade would be the Transformation Decade.  The definition of transformation is “a change in nature, shape, form or character of something”.  Any company, any business that does not do this in the next ten years will likely not be around in 2020.  This of course is particularly true of anything created in the 20th century.

Start to look at the world through this filter of is something 20th century or 21st century and you will start to suddenly see the future separating itself from the past as the past quickly falls away.

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  • Love the list of examples. Easy to get. I want to see more!

  • This is a clear and useful distinction and a framing concept for what many have called the New Normal. Nobody knows what tomorrow will look like and it’s clear that it won’t look like yesterday. Too many leaders are hunkered down, waiting for the economic storm to be over so that we can return to yesterday. The problem, of course, is that yesterday isn’t ever going to come back and those who are just cutting costs while they wait for yesterday are liquidating their businesses on the installment plan.

    We need leadership that is thinking in terms of creating tomorrow – in your parlance, 21st Century. Those who don’t think that way will surely go the way of the dinosaur, Pan American Airways and so many others who didn’t adapt to a new reality.

  • David,
    I am glad to have found your blog. Someone gave me your book Shift Age on 3/21/2010, and I am really enjoying it. As we move toward more connectedness, Toward Global, and Toward Individual, what can you predict about government? The current US Administration has ushered in huge government growth this week. I want less government, not more. Is there any chance for that? HL

  • david

    Very insightful comment. There is no “going back” or waiting for things to “come back”. A CEO told me a few weeks ago that he was operating as though this was the new normal and when the landscape changes, that will be the new normal. Smart guy, just like you!


  • david

    Hank- Well first, you have intelligent friends! The conversation about big and small government is the wrong filter. It is just another argumentative way to frame the wrong conversation. (Read my column with “Thomas Jefferson in the title. click column upper right) Remember that under the 8 years of Bush the debt, deficit and growth of government was the greatest of any 8 year period in the history of this country. Those that seem to rail against the current administration and ‘big government’ are the ones that voted for legislation during the Bush years. Not a Dem or a Repub here, just a futurist seeing that America must deal with the entrenched life long political class if we are to face the 21st century.


  • I read the Thomas Jefferson post you suggested. Thank you for expressing what I am feeling. You wrote, “What the voters were voting against was this entitlement stink of a professional, careerist political class.” The existing politicians constantly thrive to expand their powers for the sole goal of remaining in power.
    I hope you are right about the emergence of a new third party. HL

  • Ken Moir

    “No one can dispute the numerical fact that we are 10% into the 21st Century, unless you want to debate whether the scientific concept of linear time verses the older concepts of cyclical time or chaotic time.”

    Or unless you’re using a Chinese, Hebrew, Indian, Islamic, Persian, Indian, Coptic, Balinese or Baha’i calendar. A few billion people do, after all.

    Here’s another example for your false dichotomy: 20th century = cultural parochialism; 21st century = cultural awareness & inclusiveness.

  • david


    Did you say Happy New Year! to someone 12/31/09 or 01/01/10?
    Most of the calendars you mention are religious calendars, all of which have relativity to belief systems and are usually acknowledged only by followers. I suggest that all the followers of the religious calendars you list will acknowledge this year as 2010, as it is the common metric at this time in human society

    What year do you think this is and what calender do you prefer?


  • Ken Moir

    I prefer and use the Gregorian calendar, but I’m unwilling to impose my cultural preferences on others — even if (especially if) that would make it easier for me to make sense of a diverse, complicated world. I’ll choose rich complexity over simple reductivism every time.

  • david


    We are in agreement. I never try to impose my preferences on any one. If someone asks me a question I will answer it. The comments made in this column are not intended to be impositions.


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