This is the weekend that I have been waiting for, the release of the Marvel Epic and blockbuster film: The Black Panther, the first Mainstream superhero of African descendant. Since the initial previews I’ve been excited to see how Director Ryan Coogler and the amazing cast translates a vision of Afro-futurism and black excellence. Even though I’m not an avid comic booker, the idea of seeing a predominately African-disaporic cast in a movie that wasn’t about slavery is exhilarating.
I’ve also been slightly anxious about this weekend, as it’s also when my final project for Seventh Sense Course for the Culture of Health Leadership program is due! Eek! The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks is a national bestselling book by Joshua Cooper Ramo about the impact and utility networks, connections, in a rapidly digitizing world.
So…what is the Seventh Sense? The Seventh Sense is the ability see, understand and leverage networks and connections. It is a unique skill to not just see connections, but to also be able to create new connections when there is a void. Ramo argues that as our society becomes more interconnected, the people and societies that understand how to work and manipulate networks will be successful. One of my key takeaways is that the Seventh Sense is the ability to remain calm in the face of extreme urgency and societal anxiety. Our innate survival instincts are no longer (or will no longer) be useful in surviving the next era of our society. In the 21st century society, infinite access to information, insatiable desire to access new information, combined with the biological instinct to immediately react at the perception of threat, clouds our judgement and does not consider how one reaction can impact the entire network. This book is a key reminder that it is no longer good enough to have the fastest answer or the fastet response. In order to lead most effectively, an individual must have the patience and the clarity to slow the world around them by slowing down their self. A tool that I believe will be very helpful in practicing this lesson is mindfulness. Being alert, conscious, and aware of my own actions and thoughts, will allow me to more easily understand the motives and actions of others. This skill, will be critically important, because chaos will surround us, but the master will know how to understand it and move through it.
After watching Black Panther twice this weekend, I realized that the fictional society of Wakanda, provides a great a visual representation of the elements of the Seventh Sense that Ramo describes. I figured I’d dive into the elements of the Seventh Sense, by exploring The Black Panther. Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Black Panther, yet, come back when you’re ready!
The Elements of the Seventh Sense
- The fictional country of Wakanda is the wealthiest and most technologically advanced society in the world. The country has stores and stores of the most powerful metal in the world and has used this tool to make advancements in all areas of life. While all of the people in Wakanda have access to this wealth and benefit from the country’s technological advancement; how the country chooses to act or not act in the global sense falls on one man, The Black Panther, T’Challa. T’Challa becomes the current Black Panther after his father T’Chaka is killed at the UN. In the film, Previous Black Panthers decide to use the Wakandan technology to disguise the country’s successful reality from outsiders. This is explained as a tool for survival and to prevent potential exploitation of the technology, but it can be argued (and was argued by Killmonger and Nakia) that this is only a tool to further concentrate power. Seventh Sense Lesson: Everyone connected to a network benefits; but only certain gatekeepers have power (Networks Concentrate and Distribute Power at the Same Time)
- The anti-hero in the film is Erik Killmonger, the (spoiler alert) cousin of the T’Challa and son of N’jobo, the brother of T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka. Killmonger was born in the United States to an African American woman and to Wakandan Royalty. About 25 years before the present day, N’jobo was living in the United States as a spy and frustrated with Wakanda’s lack of intervention in improving the condition of people of African descent. N’jobo decides to take matters into his own hands, and sells the country most valuable resource to a racist villain to start the revolution. N’jobo is confronted and killed by his brother and then Black Panther, T’Chaka. T’Chaka then leaves behind his nephew Killmonger and returns to Wakanda and lies to everyone saying his brother is lost.
Killmonger, fueled by abandonment and rage, dedicates his entire life to reclaim his blood right and to fulfill his father’s vision of using Wakandan technology to liberate black people across the globe. He graduates from the Navy Academy in Annapolis and MIT, serves several tours of duty in the military, gets to Wakanda, uses ritual customs and defeats the Black Panther legitimately. He also kills a few hundred people along the way. Yet, many characters question his authenticity and his right to the throne. Even though people understand that he is the grandson of the king, he is still rejected by his long-lost family.
As I watched, I never disliked Killmonger, nor did I root for him to win. This is because Killmonger is a complex character, how can you just hate him, without really getting to know him? He wants Wakanda to use its resources to save the world! Who is the villain in this film? Is it Killmonger for using violence to force Wakanda to help people internationally? Is it T’Chaka for killing his brother and abandoning his nephew? Networks, just like the human condition and perception, are complex. There is no blueprint that says do these things and you will be the hero in a story, or a great leader or great person. In many instances, there are not even any expected or certain outcomes. It all depends on variables and factors, that are often beyond one’s hand. These and can yield different results solely on appearance.Seventh Sense Lesson: The Hero depends on who you ask or There is No Right/Wrong Decision or Networks are Complex.
- In the Marvel universe, Vibranium is the strongest metal and can be used for many purposes – clothing, medicine, superstrength, weapons. All of the world’s vibranium is concentrated in Wakanda, but only Wakandans know this, making Wakanda very powerful. In the film we see at least three entities, CIA Agent Everett Ross, Scientist and Villian Ulysses Klaw, and Erik Killmonger try to gain access either into Wakanda or to Vibranium to accomplish their personal goals. Although they weren’t successful in executing the personal goal, each man figured out how to hack the system and get inside of Wakanda. Seventh Sense Lesson: Be Alert because Networks are Vulnerable
- In the film, the Wakanda leadership used stereotypes about Africans and African governments to their benefit. Today, there is a general and false association with African countries and poverty, famine, disease, and instability. However, these countries contain an abundance of social, mineral, and biological resources. In the film, other governments easily believed the decoy because of their preconceived notions of an entire continent. So at the end of the film, when T’Challa declares that Wakanda can teach and lead the world, people scoff him. He doesn’t look like the traditional leader and his country is not the typical place of power. Beyond this, T’Challa acts differently from most global and previous Wakandan leaders. His army is a group of dedicated female warriors and he decides to use his country’s resources to benefit the world, instead of using them as a tool for isolation. As a result of this new strategy for diplomacy, his younger sister, Shuri, a black woman, will serve as the face of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. A image that is revolutionary even in the 21st century, as the technology field is heavily dominated by white males. Seventh Sense: New times call for new players or Network participants Look Different
- The inherent goal of connecting ideas, people, networks, or resources is to decrease time and the perception of time. In the film, this concept was repeatedly displayed through Wakandan innovation. People could communicate with holograms in their hands; or magnetic levitating trains. Even the time it took to heal Everett Ross from a gunshot wound decreased. Decisions and progress happened in Wakanda quickly because the networks and technology fueling the country allowed this to happen. Seventh Sense: Networks Make Time Faster
- The fictional country of Wakanda had many different terrains. Each of which served a specific purpose for the country. Some areas, like the waterfall was useful for ritual customs; other places like the vibranium mine were useful for research and development. Even the country’s primary defense strategy was a holographic of mountain ranges that disguised their country. How people moved throughout these places was also revolutionary. Shuri developed a remote driving system that allowed her to control vehicle thousands of miles away. She also created a way to quickly and efficiently move vibranium, a radioactive and dangerous substance. These efficiencies and protections only allow Wakanda to continue to thrive and evolve their technology, as it is all an iterative process. Seventh Sense Lesson: As technology advances New Landscapes Will Emerge
The key to having influence is the ability to create and shape the digital networks and landscapes that networks are now connected to. This is the outcome of Black Panther. T’Challa his romantic partner Nakia realize that in order to propel society forward they must be involved in the creation digital landscapes and become more connected. Just as an international leader would need to know how to communicate in “traditional” languages to be successful; leaders of the new century must understand the digital languages and the trajectory of the future. Without knowing how to create an independent digital network; network participants and traditional leaders are subject to the whims and flaws of network creators. In this is a unique opportunity to leverage power by connecting and deploying virtual communities in real time in the physical world. If social organizers can begin to acquire the skills and languages that are needed to thrive in the 21st century economy, they can then participate in the new caste, representing concerns of a broader constituency and serving as the new gatekeepers.
Once it is understood that new networks must be built and maintained, a leader or facilitator of change must be willing to do the following
- Ask Five Why’s deep to consolidate a problem to its most basic form and consider the type of resources needed to address the problem.
- Search the digital/physical landscape for gatelands or areas of concentrated power with the needed resources
- Observe the gateland; identify the gatekeepers; the patterns/behaviors/skills of people who are allowed inside the gate and those who are rejected from the gate.
- Practice and prepare
- Get inside the Gate
The book Seventh Sense was a little tedious and took the roundabout way to draw conclusions on old concepts. Essentially, the goal of the Seventh Sense is to challenge readers and leaders to remain calm in the fast-paced world and to tap into thoughtful, mindful practices before reacting and to leverage networks and connections with people to your success. Like any superhero movie, the theme of Black Panther is the similar, have allies, trust your instincts, and understand how history will impact your future. The film is a must see, the book…ehhh not so much.
Header image courtesy of the Library of Congress, photograph by Camilo J. Vergara