Once upon a time society operated within a structure known as a hunter-gatherer model. Small bands of perhaps 50 individuals traveled together, roving the countryside. There wasn’t much theft in such societies, as there wasn’t much to steal. Wealth (in their terms, not ours) was acquired by how well they avoided marauding bands, and how well they hunted. The food they ate, the clothes they wore, the tools and weapons they utilized, were all derived from the animals they killed.
At some point, a great upheaval in society took place – a discontinuity of norms, for some genius figured out that by planting seeds and tilling the land, one could grow their food in their own back yard rather than chasing it down. And the hunter-gatherer societies faded away so that today they hardly exist. They were placed by an agricultural society. Farming became the norm. Wealth was acquired by land ownership (a king ruled a plot of land called a kingdom.) And that reality continued on for thousands of years, until a new discontinuity took place.
With the rise of innovation and new technologies, such as the invention of the steam engine, which ushered in the first industrial revolution, followed by the use of electricity which spawned the second industrial revolution, a new approach to society took shape. The Agricultural Society gave way to The Industrial Society. Great wealth (think Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Rockefeller) was brought about not by land ownership, but by energy sources such as oil. Factories, which fostered systemization, replication, standardization and the like, sprang up everywhere and transformed the culture from an agrarian society to a true industrial society.
If you are reading this, you are in the midst of another discontinuity. We appear to be moving away from the industrial model to an information age. Blue collar workers are being edged out by what Peter Drucker called Knowledge Workers. Wealth and progress are determined less by who acquires oil and more by who acquires knowledge and puts it to use.
It seems that the discontinuities that have transformed our world from its inception have occurred with increasing frequency. No one can predict when the next discontinuity will enter the picture, or what kind of society will come out on the other end. But those who perceive the changes as they are happening, and who can, to whatever degree, shape the outcomes, will not only acquire substantial wealth but will also step into roles of significant leadership.