We cannot say with certainty what the world will be like in the 21st century. Futurists such as Charles Handy and Ian Morrison tell us that “the future will not be an extrapolation of the past”. The success recipes from the past may no longer be the success recipes for the future.
In meeting the challenges of the 21st Century, we must prepare ourselves not just to meet one particular scenario or outcome. We must be prepared to meet any outcome and make the best of it. This will ensure that the plans we make are robust, and that we are not caught flat-footed.
If we imagine that all will be well and things will always go our way, and make plans accordingly, then we will face a rude shock and may fail to survive when they do not. If we plan only for the worst, then we are unlikely to be well positioned to take advantage of fleeting opportunities when they arise.
To prepare for the widest range of eventualities, we must be quick and adaptable, strong and united. We must make ourselves as knowledgeable, as adaptable, as nimble and as quick as possible, so that whatever the new products or technology we will be ready for it , whenever there is an opportunity we will be able to seize it.
Education is a key element. What is crucial in ensuring our ability to adapt to and deal constructively with the forces of change in the 21st Century is not simply education but a constant re-education of our people.
The time is quickly passing when an individual could pass through the formal education system in the earlier part of his life, undergo a predetermined amount of training for a set number of years, in only one particular field, and be well prepared for the rest of his life. We need ‘thinking schools’ and a ‘learning nation’.
As people progress through their lives, they will be confronted with a changing economic landscape. They will be required to acquire new skills, and periodically switch jobs and careers. If you ask CEOs today what their corporation needs, they will tell you: thinking, flexible, proactive workers. They want creative problem solvers, workers smart and skilled enough to move with new technologies and with the ever-changing competitive environment. They need people who can think in innovative and novel ways, articulating problems and envisioning solutions beyond the conventional.
But it is not just a few people at the top who need to be adaptable and innovative. For a company to change, its workers must be prepared to change. For a country to change, our people must also be prepared for change.
Mindset changes are necessary before we can break free of old ways of thinking and doing things and push beyond the boundaries of what is possible. Today information technology links us to the world in exciting new ways, but it requires a mindset change in our people - a mental revolution before we can exploit IT’s full potential.
Those who do not make this mindset change will continue to live in their own little bubble. With IT, we are already connected with the rest of the world. The boundaries exist only in our own minds.
A change in mindset is particularly difficult to make when the old paradigm has brought success. This is therefore something that Rwandans need to remember as the accolades roll in. The Americans would say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But we must constantly ask ourselves: What is it that we have done that works? Which parts will continue to work in the future? Which parts will not? Have we become fat and complacent? Are we so sure of our success that we have become too settled, too self-satisfied and too set in our ways?
It is not pre-ordained that we will be No 1. But fortunately, it is also not pre-ordained that those who are No. 1 will inevitably fall prey to their success.
Our future is what we choose to make of it. And we will have a good chance of succeeding if we remain quick and adaptable.