Human interaction with computers is becoming increasingly intimate. For the first time in history, we are beginning to spend most of our waking hours ‘plugged in’ to digital devices. American teens, for example, now devote almost eight hours a day to electronic media, encouraged by ready access to cell phones and other mobile devices. Three-quarters of them have created a profile on a social networking site. This new generation’s experience of the world—and of each other—is increasingly mediated by technology.
So, what is to be done about the looming wave of ‘digital natives’ beginning to hit the workplace —should we remove temptation by banning social media on the job, or accept defeat and begin overhauling our organisations instead?
Researchers Michael Myers and David Sundaram suggest embracing the work patterns of the social networking generation—even if that means rethinking how information systems are built and used.
Elsewhere in this issue of the Business Review, Matthew Ryan reports on the downside of innovation. He is not convinced that increasing the amount of entrepreneurial activity will automatically lift a nation’s productivity, and cautions that innovation policy must take account of adverse effects such as ‘human capital scarring’.
Brad Jackson reviews the leadership challenges posed to New Zealand by a lethal mine disaster, the rebuilding of our quake-hit second city, the restructuring of our largest metropolis to create a ‘Supercity’ and the hosting of a massive international sporting event. His conclusion: New Zealand’s small size and indigenous leadership expertise, its ‘honest broker’ status and its growing leadership infrastructure make it an ideal laboratory for new leadership practices and processes.
Susan Watson argues that the legislative response to the country’s financial sector crisis has tended to focus on increasing accountability rather than preventing wrongdoing. A better strategy, she says, might be to improve corporate governance.
Finally, Laurence Murphy notes how the Global Financial Crisis, triggered by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the United States, thrust property into the spotlight, implicating the humble residential mortgage in the destabilising worldwide flows of finance and credit. He argues that the dynamics of property as a global asset class has profound implications for national economics, cities, households, investors, industries and services.
There is a pattern here: finding ways to anticipate and respond to what is often pictured as a ‘tsunami’ of disruptive change.
A slice of history to end with. In 1927 the Mississippi River breached its banks, causing the most destructive flooding in US history. Its waters inundated some 70,000 sq. km, devastating the agricultural economy of the Mississippi Basin and contributing to the ‘great migration’ of African Americans to industrial cities in the North and Midwest. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie sang that suffering into the blues. But, over time, the farms in flood-affected, labour-deprived areas mechanised and modernised, driving regional economic development more than unaffected farms elsewhere did.
Often, it seems, there are opportunities, as well as calamities, ‘when the levee breaks’.
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