Learning and unlearning

May 21, 2014

On paper, I was part of a group absorbing information at the Produce Marketing Association Tech Knowledge seminar in San Diego.

At times, as futurist Jack Uldrich rolled out his vision of things to come, I thought I was on a different planet.

Uldrich urges companies to cultivate the ability to “jump the curve,” or stay on pace with the exponential rate of change that is hurtling society into the future in a number of key areas.

The key to jumping the curve, Uldrich said, is to engage in an active process of unlearning. To anticipate change, we need to challenge — and abandon — much of what we think we know.

To prove his point, Uldrich asked us to consider a simple question, and then tell the answer to our neighbors: what two primary colors make up a highway “yield” sign?

An easy question, we thought. Everybody knows yield signs have black letters on a yellow background. Imagine our shock when Uldrich gave us the correct answer: yield signs are red and white, and have been since 1971.  And did you know there was an arrow in the FedEx logo? I didn’t.

Without this kind of unlearning, we’ll never be able to adapt to exponential change, a process that is only in its early stages. Look for upheaval in the areas of computer technology, genome mapping, robotics, nanotechnology, sensors, Google glasses, three-dimensional printing, web-based videoconferencing and more.

“We will do the same things we have always done, only differently,” Uldrich said.

Drones will become a major part of agriculture in the near future, and tiny drones may even take on the roles of honeybees to achieve plant pollination. Sensors may be able to analyze soil quality and plant health down to the individual leaf. Growing will be so technologically driven that in 10 years, the phrase “precision agriculture” will be obsolete.  Farmers will be using what we know of as precision tools or they will not be farming at all.

“The really big change is ahead of us,” Ulrich said.

But plenty of it is already here. Ulrich showed a photo from the 1987 film “Wall Street,” depicting Michael Douglas with a giant, blocky cell phone of the time, complete with antenna. Twenty-seven short years later, as I was walking to the meeting, I noticed four homeless men on the street using their cell phones.

We are going to be challenged and inspired by bringing you stories about all the technological changes coming to farming. The best is yet to come. Stay tuned.

Lee Dean, editorial director