Change is Good
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
If I had more than a second to think about it, I’d be thinking about the pace of change and reactions to change. As it is, I’m busy keeping up with the changes. From email to tweets. From broadband to cloud. From the risks of recession to the risks of swine flu. I’m thinking that if I can just get around the corner there will be time to catch up.
But what if there isn’t?
Harvard Business blogs recently posted about the “New Reality,” which might be a state of constant disruption. In it, the esteemed authors argue that “the pattern of disruption followed by stabilization has itself been disrupted,” and that quite possibly we are looking at a world of constant change. Before you panic, it’s just a thesis. But once you read their thinking, you may find it quite persuasive.
That kind of world sounds exhausting. And, in fact, it IS exhausting. Already we spend most of our time dealing with the pace of change in one form or another – navigating it, decoding it, resisting it or dealing with others who are navigating, decoding or resisting it. Long before we get to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s predicted singularity, we have to muddle through our very real present: this particular moment in time that involves understanding where people are on the continuum of change wave.
Much of what is written about change and the pace of change is written from a management perspective, using the premise that executives and leaders confront the problems we face and try to chart a course through the water for their people. While that is sometimes true, it feels like a partial model. The fact is, we are suspended, together, in an environment of change. It doesn’t start at the executive floor and work its way down -- it works its way through an organization with any one team member likely to have to navigate a particular change problem as another.
A few short years ago, you had to manage up and manage down and you could observe pretty clear generational differences especially with regards technology. But as quickly as your parents migrated to Facebook, the challenges are suddenly more psychographic than demographic.
There are those who thrive, invigorated by the current environment and inspired to try new approaches. Others who spend their time denying that today is any different from April 28, 1990. Still others are overwhelmed by what they’re being asked to absorb and are in various states of shut-down. And so on. As anyone knows who has pitched a new idea recently, these types are randomly dispersed, across reporting lines and levels of seniority.
Now, you are more likely required to figure out where your boss is on the change wave, where your suppliers, partners, clients or agencies are, where your customers are and where your employees are. And it’s not a given that one group will be ahead of the other. It’s no longer that traditional HR problem of how to get an organization to embrace change.
Today it’s a strategy of synchronized surfing.
I like the Eric Hoffer quote: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” And we have written about the challenges ahead for education on this blog.
But this particular problem is different – it’s a question of gathering up a group of people who are at different stages of learning and harnessing them, across their evolutionary states, for effective results. It’s about developing compelling narratives that speak across these divides to engineer understanding, new frameworks or at least willingness to move forward. And it’s about developing metaphors that help us chart the unknown waters – those conceptual metaphors about which Steven Pinker writes so eloquently. None of this is easy.
That’s why the idea of “new rules” for new times is simply a trap. Fixed point shortcuts are useless in a liquid environment, like writing rules for evolution by assuming it is a linear process.
Social and business practices are currently straining to respond to the pace of change. But like in surfing, searching for stability may be moot -- to keep your head out of water, it’s all about balance.