How different the world looks today compared with twelve months ago. Who could have dreamed that our lives could be so quickly and so comprehensively turned upside down?
In 1970, Alvin Toffler published “Future Shock” in which he proposed that we are moving from being an industrial society into being a super-industrial society. He argued that the speed of this change is both accelerating and overwhelming – hence the term ‘future shock’. Maybe he was right. Within the course of just over a decade, we’ve experienced two huge upheavals; the world banking crisis and the global pandemic. Maybe the nature of change really is changing.
In January 2017, Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Bank said “We are living in a world no longer driven by linear change, but rather exponential change occurring simultaneously in all fields. This is creating extreme volatility, uncertainty and, as a consequence, an understandable nostalgia to “turn back the clock”.
Schwab’s proposal is that increasing environmental complexity is generating a new form of change – non linear change. Change that is unpredictable, chaotic, and often catastrophic. This year, we’ve all made changes that would have seemed impossible eighteen months ago. I think we all now know what non-linear change feels like.
So just how do people and organisations cope with non-linear change? I‘ve witnessed three kinds of organisational response that I would summarise as follows:
1) Simplify: reduce complexity in organisational structures, processes and supply chains.
2) Control harder: more and better planning, tighter restrictions, decreasing freedom of choice.
3) Get agile: draw upon the properties of complex adaptive systems, particularly agility, emergence and learning.
Which approach has your organisation adopted? How successful has this been? Which do you believe to be the best way to prepare us for the next ‘future shock’.
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