The Overarching Lesson from a Historic, Intense Year of 2 Realities

12/26/2017 11:33 am ET

Created by Joan MIchelson, courtesy of wordclouds.com

How do we make sense of a year like 2017? It’s filled with “no one would believe us if we put this in a script” moments – extreme highs and lows, no matter what your values – and each one met with a counterpoint from a different reality.

None of these happen “out of the blue.” They are each the culmination of a series of decisions, of choices, actions and inactions, consciously and/or unconsciously.

A Year of Extremes:

1. Technological advances that alter our universe forever – yet are being cut. Artificial intelligence and data science are giving us more contextual information than we ever dreamed we could have and organizing it faster with powerful results. For example, doctors can see how treatments for one disease could help another one that’s unrelated – and fast. And then there’s cybersecurity, supercomputers transforming how we fuel our energy-hungry world, private space travel, climate change tracking, bitcoin cryptocurrency and blockchain.

In a different reality, the federal government seems to be abdicating responsibility for technical and scientific advancement and exploration with significant cuts to science funding – and even banning words such as “science-based” and “climate change” – which could have dire consequences for public health and U.S. competitiveness.

2. Even as the Arctic warms to levels that are “unprecedented over the last 1,500 years,” and extreme weather events nationwide revealed the potential ravages of climate change -- and the implications for national and economic security -- the Trump administration denies climate change, pulls out of the Paris Climate Accord, reverses environmental, clean water and clean air protections, and supports the fossil fuel (CO2-emitting) industries.

Yet, contrary to the administration’s actions, corporate leaders declare their companies are staying in the Paris Accord and taking bolder, louder and more serious actions towards climate change mitigation and risk management and environmental responsibility, and the markets demand it.

3. A nearly all-white male U.S. administration is headed up by someone who boasted (on tape) about taking sexual advantage of women, while at the same time, most high-profile leaders credibly accused of comparable behavior are being tossed out. Companies are taking women’s harassment claims and concerns – and diversity – more seriously, pressured by the #MeToo movement and their own talent. More women are running for political office than ever before too.

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4. The U.S. federal government seems to be going in one direction, while the states are going in the other. The White House and GOP in Congress pass a tax overhaul that unquestionably and overwhelmingly helps the rich, and protect the scandal-plagued executive branch, the white male establishment, the alt-right (anti-diversity) movement, and the fossil fuel industry.

Yet, states are taking matters into their own hands, with bolder, louder action to protect their residents, environment, economies and women, increase diversity, and raise minimum wages. Twenty U.S. states, and 50 U.S. cities signed on to the Paris Accord (so far), defying the White House. Democrats won historic elections in Alabama and Virginia, including in the Virginia state legislature in an off-year election with “the highest turnout in two decades.”

5. Despite the attacks on the rights of a free press by the executive branch and its supporters, and their labeling critics as “fake news.” the mainstream media is experiencing record growth. Subscriptions are at record levels, and .professional journalists are doing some of the best reporting in years, breaking open scandals and holding authorities accountable with solid, responsible, unbiased journalism.

6. Even as the U.S. becomes increasingly polarized, economic growth and national security demand that we talk to people who don’t look, talk, think or act like us to solve the serious, intractable challenges that threaten each of us. To paraphrase Einstein, you can’t get new ideas with the same thinking, and you can’t resolve conflicts without hearing the other side.

Generational Spending Habits, as of Nov. 2016, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Generational Spending Habits, as of Nov. 2016, Bureau of Labor Statistics

7. While advertisers focus on Millennials, it’s important to remember that Baby Boomers and GenX’rs have more disposable income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Seventy-six point six percent of the population that is not Millennials might feel alienated by the plethora of Millennial-targeted messages and images and spend accordingly.

To Control 2018 Trends and Achieve Our Goals – The Lesson?

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Quick responses, tweets, texts, emails, and shutting out or dismissing an issue or position we don’t want to hear about, all can have grave consequences. This is true in personal and business relationships, in finances, in foreign relations, and in the quality of our air, water and natural resources.

Even looking through the prism of the current ADHD society, we see more and more that big things happen with focus and open minds. Books are written, marriages last, mutually-beneficial policy agreements are reached, and businesses grow with focused concentration and hearing – really listening intently – to different perspectives.

So, to me, the overarching lesson from 2017 is: Focus, with an open mind.

What will YOU focus on in 2018? Whose voice that you dismissed will you hear this year?

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