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Facing 21st century challenges: Tom Fletcher equips egg industry with essential survival skills
In a recent IEC member-exclusive presentation, former UK Ambassador and Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, Tom Fletcher CMG, captivated members of the global egg industry with his anecdotal insights into “21st Century survival skills we need as states, businesses and individuals”.
Drawing upon his experience working in geopolitics and international relations, Tom highlighted fundamental trends that affect our global community and considered the skills needed to navigate future challenges, to ensure the egg industry stays ahead of the inevitable change.
Tom opened with the theory that the world is often seen and understood through the “prism of 1989”, a year when “history appeared to have ended” due to events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. He suggested that this belief – that major changes in society, politics, or economics have ceased – continues to dominate both European and American public life.
Tom argued that in order for businesses to continue to evolve, this attitude must change; “the world is not moving in one direction, history has not ended”, change is occurring at an increasing rate, and instability will continue for years to come.
To illustrate how we can better understand and navigate this change as both an industry and as individuals, Tom outlined three fundamental trends; the first political, the second economic, and the third technological.
Politics: the value of trust
The political trend centered around trust. Tom theorised that “we live in an age of distrust”, and that the trust individuals place in experts is declining, making it difficult for the people in those positions to exercise their authority and for structure to be maintained. Tom suggested that, as individuals, companies, and an industry as a whole, we need to question whether we are gaining or losing trust.
He went on to use the analogy that “trust is a finite currency, it is hard to get, easy to use, but also easy to lose”. He recommended that, looking to the future, “we should hoard trust like we would hoard a currency”.
Economics: challenging global inequality
Next, Tom explored the growth in global inequality and the perception of inequality, suggesting that this perception is also a key driver of current social and political change. He explained that there is a general sense that “politics and the establishment are leaving people behind”, and this feeling is “driving a lot of political discomfort, extremism and polarisation across Europe”; and this “will only worsen in the future”.
With this in mind, Tom asked his audience to question whether they are adding to or challenging inequality: “Will the egg industry be seen as part of the answer or the problem to the challenge of global unfairness?”. He added that “the industries that cannot adapt”, and moreover “tell a story about how they are adapting to take on inequality”, will struggle under public scrutiny and debate.
Technology: navigating an ever-changing world
The third and final trend discussed by Tom was the technological change, occurring at an ever-increasing rate over time. He cited that the world will go through the “equivalent technological change in the next century as in the last 43 centuries” and argued that the gigantic leap in technological development will be accompanied by an “equivalent change in society and politics”.
In Tom’s view, there is yet to be a plan for “how we navigate through the implications of this technological change”. He suggested that in a sense, we are living in a “driverless world”. Further to this, he considered that we are inadequately equipped to deal with future technological challenges and encouraged industry members to reflect on whether they will work for the technology or if the technology is going to work for them.
How can we respond to these challenges?
In the face of the presented challenges, Tom then considered how the industry can and should respond.
For Tom, part of the answer lies with education, which he argued should ultimately be a “balance of knowledge, skills, and values”.
He suggested that knowledge should consist of an understanding of our relationship with the planet, how technology has progressed over time, how humans collaborate to incur change, and the history of how we have learnt to co-exist.
Furthermore, he said skills should consist of “managing our emotional and physical health”, “an understanding of how we learn” and the ability to learn and adapt to change continually. He added that “global competence” is also an important skill, and that we should have the “emotional intelligence” and “cultural antennae to adjust to different environments”.
Finally, our core values should centre around being kind, curious and brave; “kind enough to tackle inequality”, “curious enough to deal with the massive challenges we face”, and “brave as the world isn’t going back to 1989”, in other words, fragility will continue.
Tom proposed that these three attributes could be the key to safe navigation through the ever-changing geo-political environment. In addition, he stated that we must be “good ancestors” and “work out which values to pass on in our families, industries and countries”.
As his presentation came to a close, Tom drew upon his experience as UK Ambassador, reflecting on some key advice offered to him by a number of notable political leaders and inspirational individuals. He summarised this advice into three critical skills for successful leadership:
- A clear vision – it is important to have a core purpose and focus that can be held onto in times of instability.
- Effective communication skills – these are essential for engaging with people, gaining their support, winning and getting ahead of arguments.
-Solid long-term plans – a structure must be in place to deliver change over time and keep promises in periods of instability.
Coming full circle, he concluded that the “world will not go back to 1989; we will continue to experience instability and flux”. He, therefore, advised that we cannot wait for leaders to fix our problems, as an industry we need to “move into that space”.
The inspiring speaker further highlighted that it is “vital that the industry comes together” in gatherings such as conferences, to find ways to “coexist across boundaries”, “find kindness, courage, and curiosity”, and take collective action to navigate the period ahead.