Almost Timely News: Three Words and Four Enemies of 2024 (2023-12-31) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: Three Words and Four Enemies of 2024 (2023-12-31)

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What’s On My Mind: Three Words and Four Enemies of 2024

Let’s talk about the future today, and my three words as we head into 2024. If you’re unfamiliar, the three words exercise is something conceived by my friend Chris Brogan back in 2006. I’ve participated ever since. Rather than create resolutions which are difficult to keep, the three words exercise puts together three words that form your mantra for the coming year, a way to help you make decisions.

My twist on it is to restrict it to just verbs, because verbs are actions to take. I like the three words as an easy way to remind myself of what I’m supposed to be doing, if I find that my mind and focus have wandered.

My words for this year were release, revoke, and renew – to let go of things that were unhelpful, to revoke access in my head to things that no longer serve the work I do, and to renew the things that do work. For the most part, 2023 went along those lines, with plenty of interesting curve balls. I made tons of new friends and colleagues in 2023, generative AI caused massive pivots in everything, and the chaos of the world amped up.

So what’s on tap for 2024? In years past I have had to reflect deeply on the year that was and what the year ahead might portend. Sometimes I’d spend close to two weeks mulling over what my focus should be for the new year, what three words capture the spirit of the moment.

2024 requires no such mental gymnastics for me this year. The moment I thought seriously about the year ahead and what is likely in the cards, my three words sprang into my head and won’t dislodge.

So, what are those compelling words?

Discern. Defend. Disrupt.

For folks in my martial tradition, you likely recognize these as the first parts of what Stephen K. Hayes teaches as the 5 Ds of self defense, and they are wholly applicable to the year ahead.

Why these words? Why did this provoke such a strong reaction? Because from my point of view, everything that 2023 was, 2024 will be much more of, and it’s not going to be positive at a big picture level. To be clear, there will still be plenty of room for love, for joy, for happiness in your individual world. But in the big picture, not so much. If you’re looking for an optimistic, rose-colored look at the future to set the tone for the year ahead, this is not it – it might make sense for you to skip the rest of this issue for another time.

We’re headed into 2024 facing four major enemies.

Enemy 1

The geopolitical events will be bigger; the wars in Ukraine and Israel aren’t going to slow down any time soon, and there are half a dozen other flashpoints just waiting for someone to toss a match into the pools of gasoline, like the war along the Armenian border, the conflict in Yemen, the war in Ethiopia… you get the idea.

There will be a presidential election cycle in the USA, and that will usher in a new era of disinformation, misinformation, and deception like never before seen, thanks in part to generative AI. We already had armed conflict during the previous election cycle, with insurrectionists storming the halls of Congress. There’s no reason to believe that trend will stop.

Enemy 2

The climate events that made 2023 an alarming year will continue to amplify in 2024. Bigger storms. Drier droughts. Heavier floods. And what’s uncomfortable about climate change is that many of the existing models and projections have a mathematical flaw that’s only been recently addressed – that feedback loops are not independent of each other. Sea ice melting impacts more than just Arctic water temperatures. It causes other feedback loops like methane reserves in permafrost to accelerate as well.

We’re already in a state of food insecurity for a large amount of the planet, and that’s going to get worse this year as climate change accelerates. Food insecurity isn’t strictly biblical famine from the movies or from 1980s charity appeals. It’s a lot more insidious, and looks just as much like a single mother trying to decide what limited food she can afford to buy this week, or a student couch surfing and managing one meal a day, as it does a starving child in a war zone, or a family in a migrant caravan.

Enemy 3

Oh, and COVID still hasn’t gone away. In fact, a new study came out recently that showed COVID’s damage is cumulative, so everyone who’s just accepting infection as part of life and not taking precautions is in for a nasty surprise – perhaps not today, but definitely over time. A second study in Canada showed the same thing.

Here’s the thing about COVID that we’re not thinking about enough. These studies, which have passed peer review and are scientifically and medically valid, point to COVID as a long term problem that’s much bigger than feeling sick for a week. A disease that causes cumulative long term damage and doesn’t evolve to become weaker – because COVID spreads regardless of case severity thanks to how the virus works – is a disease that is softening up the immune system of our entire species. (a peer-reviewed study in April 2023 showed this as well) This sets the stage for decades of health issues – especially mental health issues since COVID causes inflammation and inflammation causes clinical depression.

Enemy 4

Finally, there are some big, big structural issues to talk about. Generative AI is amazing. I’ve spent most of this past year talking about it, delivering keynotes on it, building an entire course around it. And there are plenty of positive, powerful use cases about how it makes us more productive, more effective, more creative. But there are also tons and tons of examples of how it’s changing work as a whole, changing how we resource labor, changing entire professions, and changing how we perceive content in general.

When you scroll through your feeds on the social network of your choice, do you wonder now how much of the imagery is machine-generated, or how much of the text is machine-generated? Have you had colleagues laid off because someone higher up in their company decided that machines could replace at least some of the staffing?

Generative AI’s effects will be felt more heavily in every industry, in every corner of the world. Properly used, it has the potential to transform industries and work itself for the better. Improperly used, and you’ll have a super express ticket to structural unemployment and civil unrest. It doesn’t take much to create civil unrest – structural unemployment is like poison. You don’t need a gallon of cyanide to cause harm, just a small spoonful will do.

That’s the world we’re riding into, in the big picture. And again, I want to emphasize that there’s a lot of room for bright, shining spots in our individual lives, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

But that big picture is what triggered my instinctive response, that self-defense response. Discern, defend, disrupt.

So let’s talk about what these three words mean, and how I’m applying them to our four enemies, our four attackers.

Discern: to tell what’s going on, to separate truth from falsehood, meat from filler, wheat from chaff. Discerning is about seeing through the noise to what matters. It’s partly focus, but more than just focus, it’s willfully tuning out everything unimportant so you are dialed into what matters. In self-defense, discerning means to fight off distraction so that you can focus on what’s really happening – the loud noises someone’s making are disguising his friends trying to ambush you from behind.

In the context of 2024, this will be paying attention to what matters and tuning out everything else – and 2024 will do its best to distract us, to confuse us so that we can’t tell what is and isn’t important. For me, this means being even more aggressive about what and who I subscribe to and who gets tuned out. Services like The Boring Report help keep me informed without dragging me down into unproductive rat holes.

Defend: Once you’ve discerned that you’re in truoble, your first task is to defend, to counteract the aggressive act. In the context of self-defense, this is warding off that initial attack, giving yourself time and space to avoid harm.

In the context of 2024, this means being protective of the resources you have on hand. Family, friends, health, love, happiness, work, money, land – whatever resources you have that you value, defend them, because the climate in 2024 is going to work very hard to diminish them. You and I will be under siege for most of the year, and defending against that will be key to making the year work for us, rather than against us.

Consider our four enemies.

  • If you’re fortunate enough not to live in an active war zone, but you live in a place where physical conflict is possible, do your best to prepare for it.
  • If you have the means, prepare against the wild nature of our changing climate and have supplies on hand to last through a week-long emergency. Imagine what you would need to live for a week off-grid – no power, no running water. What would you want to have on hand?
  • If you have the means, invest a little in better safety gear. We all got used to N95 masks during the pandemic, but there’s better, reusable gear out there. I’m a fan of P100 half-face respirators. They work on EVERYTHING particulate – viruses, bacteria, smoke, mold, spores, and that one dude who just doesn’t understand that cologne is not a marinade.
  • If you can make the time, invest in yourself and your training around generative AI. Learn how to use it, how to apply it, how to find use cases that will make you more valuable, not less valuable, in your work.

Disrupt: in self-defense, this is when we start to turn the tide, when we break the rhythm of the fight and change from defense to attack. We look for opportunities and openings, and we seize them as we can – carefully, thoughtfully, strategically.

In the context of 2024, this is all about taking advantage of opportunities as they come along. It’s about not just hiding in a bunker waiting for the year to go by, but to actively look for opportunities, to create opportunities. 2024 wants to kick our ass, so how can we turn the tables on it and pop the top on a can of whoop-ass ourselves?

Consider our four enemies and their potential opportunities.
– The use and inevitable abuse of generative AI in politics presents as much opportunity as it does threat, from helping political movements discern the use of AI to helping guide its ethical usage – and earn some fees doing so. Along those same lines, all the conflicts happening now are as much about mindshare and support as they are boots on the ground. Whatever causes you believe in, how can you lend a hand?
– We know supply chains are still brittle and climate change is keeping them unpredictable. What hedges can you make to not only secure your business and career, but find opportunities? Here’s a silly example: Trader Joes sells this seasoning, Seasoning in a Pickle, for about two weeks every year. I like it, and I’m sad when it’s not on the shelf. So this past year when it was available, I bought 26 of them. I’ve got more than enough for myself, and if I wanted to, I could probably sell it at a ridiculous markup. What opportunities are there for you to do similar (in ethical and moral ways, of course)?
– We know COVID is basically causing population-wide health effects that will be a massive drag on our economies. Healthcare costs will continue to spiral out of control, and mental health will still be in the toilet. What opportunities are there for you to innovate? For example, making mental health a true strategic priority at your business could dramatically improve employee retention.
– We know generative AI is going to change the nature of work itself in every field. What opportunities do you see for yourself to reinvent your career, reinvent your company, perhaps even reinvent your profession? What can you be first or best at in the new AI-powered world that could make you prosperous?

Here’s the thing about self-defense training: when you do it right, you don’t have to live in fear anymore, worried that something’s going to happen that you won’t be able to do anything about. Instead, you tackle life filled with confidence and joy, knowing that when life throws a sucker punch at you, you know how to handle it, how to keep safe, and how to turn the tides on the aggressor. We know who the four enemies are that we face in 2024, and we can either hunker in the bunker, or strap on our armor, grab our sword, and fight them off.

Discern. Defend. Disrupt. That’s what I’ll be looking for in this year, what I’ll be holding myself accountable for. What will you look at this year?

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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