“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”
In the middle of a meeting with a few colleagues I caught myself saying, “Once we get through this crazy period and things get back to normal…” Then it hit me. I had been saying something like that for at least a year or two. As we scrambled to move into a strong market leadership position we were initiating endless waves of changes and (we hoped) improvements throughout the organization. I interrupted myself with the question, “Do we seem to be consistently talking about change as if it’s a temporary condition to be endured until calmer times return?”
“Yeah, it’s as if we’re battening down the hatches and waiting out the storm.”
“But,” another colleague observed, “We’ve got to learn how to work in the driving rain and high seas because things aren’t going to slow down unless we scale back on our vision, goals, and rate of growth.”
“And that could be deadly in today’s fast moving market.”
“We’d be following and trying to keep up rather than leading and setting the pace.”
The discussion went on to mark a turning point for many of us. We began to realize we needed to accept that our frenzied pace of change was the new “normal.” Then we had to do a better job of helping others in our company understand why that was the case and become energized by the exciting possibilities offered by the changes.
The Change Paradox: Same Tune, Frantic New Beat
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible that you haven’t grasped the situation.” — Jean Kerr, American playwright
In what time periods do you think the following statements were made (extra bonus points if you can identify the speakers as well)?
- “A new factor, that of rapid change, has come into the world. We have not yet learned how to adjust ourselves to its economic and social consequences.”
- “The world is too big for us. There is too much doing, too many crimes, casualties, violence, and excitements. Try as you will, you get behind the race despite yourself. It is an incessant strain to keep pace and still you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world witnesses new scenes so rapidly that you are out of breath trying to keep up with them.”
- “All is flux, nothing stays still.”
Sound familiar? These remarks could have been said last week couldn’t they? Certainly, they might have been uttered within the last decade. The first comment was written in the page of Harvard Business Review by Wallace Donham in 1932. The second one comes from the Atlantic Journal in 1837. The last remark was made by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, 500 years before the birth of Christ.
So down through the centuries many people believed they were living in times of rapid change. Speaking at a planning conference, author, researcher, and professor Warren Bennis said, “I can’t recall a period of time that was as volatile, complex, ambiguous and tumultuous.” He then quoted Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, “If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” See, you do know what’s going on!
Futurists like Alvin Toffler show that we’re now in a period of unusually rapid, and significant change. In his book, Powershift, he provides powerful arguments to show that the period of time from the mid-fifties until about the year 2025 is one of those extremely rare pivotal moments in the centuries of earth’s history where everything about the way our world works radically shifts. He calls it a “hinge of history.” And, he’s found, “What is emerging is a radical new economic system running at far faster speeds than any in history.”
So things will settle into a more predictable and calm pace about the time most of us are long gone from our work…or long gone.