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Leadership

What All The Presidential Candidates Are Missing

You wouldn't know it by listening to this year's election rhetoric, but opportunity abounds in this swiftly changing world we live in.

What All The Presidential Candidates Are Missing

IWantYou.gov: "The reason I'm really here is to recruit all of you," President Obama told techies at this March’s SXSW festival.

[Photo: Drew Anthony Smith]

My 12-year-old son loves the United States. He’s always wearing red, white, and blue, drawn to anything with an American flag. He even dressed as Uncle Sam for Halloween. But talking with him about this year’s presidential campaign has been challenging. In part, that’s because the political discourse has included a coarseness and belligerence that we don’t condone in our household. More important, none of the candidates have expressed a coherent, compelling vision for the America my son will inherit.

The world we live in is changing faster than it ever has, fueled by advances in technology, bioscience, and artificial intelligence. These changes are powerful and exciting and sometimes a little scary. They hold the seeds of our future; their impact is already both unmistakable (people are holding smartphones around the globe) and unstoppable. At Fast Company, we devote our energies to illuminating this evolving future—to show how DNA testing and genetic editing may affect medical care or how self-driving vehicles will alter our transportation system. This issue’s coverage of may seem playful, but the transitions under way in the global entertainment industry are dramatic. All across the economic landscape, organizational structures are shifting, with a heightened priority on new skills and tools that can unlock new opportunities.

Yet little of this transformational wave seems to figure into the candidates’ messages, which seem more focused on protecting the way things are (or have been). If they express any sentiment about the future, it seems to revolve around fear. I recently attended South by Southwest Interactive in Austin where the spirit couldn’t have been more different from what you see in the presidential debates. Appropriately, the conversations at SXSW included questions about the downsides of technological advance—from security concerns to the ongoing digital divide—but these questions were raised to try to cope with the march of progress rather than to stop it.

In the months ahead, I hope that forward-looking issues will become more prominent in our political dialogue. (With that in mind, we will be rolling out coverage here.) Acknowledging how far ahead the United States is in many of these realms—our critical role in this evolving future—would not only be inspiring but also truthful. At the same time, it is essential that we figure out how to prepare more Americans for these future opportunities.

For years, we at Fast Company have wondered which non–U.S. companies would break out to become global brands on the level of Coca-Cola and Nike. Yet the breakouts we have seen have come from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Uber, and more. Our candidates should focus on explaining how their policies would further extend this kind of success and help all of our citizens participate and compete in the global economy of today and tomorrow. Let’s give my son and his peers more than rhetoric and nostalgia; let’s give them a modern reason to cheer.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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