61st ELFA Convention Coverage: The Decade of Disruption: Takeaways from Dex Hunter-Torricke’s Keynote Address

by Ian Koplin Nov/Dec 2022
Despite Hurricane Ian disrupting the ELFA’s 61st Annual Conference, originally planned for Marco Island, FL, the show went on in Orlando, FL. Featuring a slew of exhibitors, breakout sessions and keynote speakers, the conference’s first keynote speaker, Dex Hunter-Torricke, laid out the coming changes to the global economy and labor market and what’s just over the horizon – the Decade of Disruption.

Ian Koplin,

The Convention that (Almost) Didn’t Happen

The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s 61st Annual Convention was one that almost didn’t happen this year. Originally set to take place on Marco Island, FL, Hurricane Ian changed those plans and caused the convention organizers to quickly pivot to host the event at another venue. Luckily, the ELFA was able to find space at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando, FL, leaving only the task of getting the word out to all attendees — one that came together with the kind of succinctness you only see in the movies. A whole four and a half hours north of Marco Island, the JW Marriott Grande Lakes was fully operational, ready to accept the 904 attendees to this year’s conference and not caught in the eye of the storm.

With the new venue locked down, ELFA participants were able to meet, learn and network in safety. Featuring more than 40 exhibitors showcasing their latest products and services, as well as 13 concurrent breakout sessions, the convention provided more than enough to keep attendees busy. Per tradition, the convention also exercised its charitable muscles, this time in the form of donating a portion of every convention registration fee toward Hurricane Ian disaster relief as well as helping local students enjoy music through the Build-a-Guitar community service project. Both events were an enormous success, with the Hurricane Ian disaster relief fund contributing $25,000 to the American Red Cross Hurricane Ian Relief Fund and the Build-a-Guitar community service project assembling and donating 15 guitars to local students along with a $15,000 financial donation to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a project dedicated to saving sea turtles through research, advocacy and education.

Hitting the Ground Running

Michael DiCecco, chair of the ELFA and executive managing director at Huntington Asset Finance, kicked things off with an introduction to the conference and the event’s first keynote speaker, Dex Hunter-Torricke, former head of communications at SpaceX and former executive communications manager at Facebook. Currently, Hunter-Torricke is head of communications for the Oversight Board, the independent body that will be making decisions on Facebook and Instagram’s most challenging content issues. Hunter-Torricke opened with a story about his interview with SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, for the role of head of communications, who threw him the curveball question, “What does the first government of Mars look like?” The question got Hunter-Torricke thinking and he concluded that the next decade will be the most disruptive in history. It’s a feeling, he says, that we all experience these days — the notion that something big is around the corner, be it war, pandemic, recession, climate change, social unrest or, simply, the unknown.

The Decade of Disruption

The coming disruption to the global economy, as Hunter-Torricke explained, stems from the coming transition away from a reliance on the exploitation of natural resources toward the exploitation of knowledge, technology and data. Knowledge, technology and data has already begun to take hold as the future basis of a global economy, as this trio is responsible for many of the disruptions and shocks delivered to the current model, which is centered on industrial production and manufacturing. If you are wondering whether Hunter-Torricke’s statements are true, ask yourself, are you reading this article on a computer or smart phone? Technology has become an ever-increasing aspect of daily life as well as work life, so much so that we forget we carry supercomputers in our pockets. It’s no mystery that any company that doesn’t center their business on staying current with technological trends and methods gets left behind – and the new reality will not change back to the way things were.

Where is it all leading? Hunter-Torricke says that if your life (in general) seems like it has sped up, you aren’t alone in that feeling. Today, many of household names of companies and brands, from SnapChat to TikTok to InstaCart and UberEats and beyond, are ones that have only been around for the past decade or so. Look at the S&P 500 companies in the 1960s and beforehand, and the average company had been in operation for more than 60 years. Overnight success and trends taking root much faster than anticipated is now the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has only hastened the global workforce’s evolution toward the melding of work and home life with the advent of work-from-home as the pandemic’s darkest days raged on. Work-from-home, born out of necessity, turned out to work better than expected. Productivity surprisingly went up, employee satisfaction skyrocketed and work/commute stresses eased across the board. Our lives and economy were ready for the jump and only needed the push. It’s trends like this that will give birth to new industries, new ideas and new markets, whether they are intentional or arrive in the form of one of life’s curveballs.

Work-from-home, however, isn’t the panacea it was hoped to be. As productivity increases, so does spare time to schedule more projects, work and meetings — leading to a higher burnout rate for many as they burn the candle at both ends from the comfort of their homes. On average, people who work with knowledge, technology and data work an extra two hours daily through the increased productivity provided by working from home. Forty-nine percent of those professionals experience what is known as Zoom fatigue, which is, according to Hunter-Torricke, due the high amount of unnatural eye contact Zoom users endure, leading to stress, strain and fatigue. Luckily, Hunter-Torricke says one way to reduce this fatigue, per scientists who have investigated Zoom fatigue, is to simply make the window small enough that you can’t see anyone’s eyes.

A New Age of Employment

Hunter-Torricke tied things together in his next segment, wherein he explained how the traditional power dynamic of employer holding power over employees is transitioning to employees holding power over employers. Demonstrated by the Great Resignation, which has occurred throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the apparent power employees had over their employers became clear. Demanding better working conditions and higher wages, depending on the industry, became a regular occurrence, as Americans realized they could do better or different. Employers, some of whom were in total shock that their profit-driven models omitted the necessary care, compensation and respect for the very people driving those models, were forced to adjust or sink to the bottom. This phenomenon created another trial by fire lesson that served as a disruption to the labor market, allowing a newfound market, equipped with new businesses, roles and career opportunities, to emerge. Trends like these will continue happening and it is a matter of staying ahead of that curve as well as adapting to what you could not predict that will ensure your company’s survival.

And speaking of being ahead of the curve, the next big disruption coming to both the labor and job market is already here and taking hold more and more: artificial intelligence (AI). AI, due to its efficiency in solving tasks faster than any human could, will outpace the necessity to hire people to fulfill certain roles. An example Hunter-Torricke gave involved a study about an Israeli startup that created an AI program that could create and review nondisclosure agreements, a staple to the professional lives of most lawyers, in just 26 seconds. Anyone who has waited for an NDA from a legal team knows it takes some time to create, let alone deliver — but 26 seconds or less is an unbeatable time no matter which way you slice it. Lawyers aren’t the only ones who have the future of their profession to worry about. Art has become an area of focus for highlighting the limitless possibilities of AI with the advent of AI-driven artists. Simply type your concepts in with as much or as little detail and let the software do the rest. Masterpieces of realism and surrealistic possibilities are created this way, completely undiscernible from the hand of a human, and again, in mere seconds — something that has the art world stirring. It is applications like these where AI will excel — cumbersome but necessary processes previously too delicate and too sensitive to be left for a computer to decide upon. The age of AI is already here, and it will be a decade or less before entire industries are transformed by it.

The Simple Solution

From a vastly different global economy to lending professions, transportation, how we feed ourselves and how supply lines operate — the major takeaway from Hunter-Torricke’s address was the need to embrace change. Holding onto your tried-and-trues works in some, but not every, situation, and most of the time, a fear of change holds change, itself, hostage. Instead of worrying about the fate of an industry, think about the future of the industries that sprout from its demise. Think of the possibilities, for they are endless with AI.

Ian Koplin is an editor of Monitor.

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