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The Social Space of Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

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In 2010, I wrote a post, Change: No Lines, No Waiting, where I stated the following.

Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. ... (I learned that) how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

As I edited and republished that post last night, I began to think about the "speed of change" phrase.

Two images come to mind.

Image One.

Change is like a wave.

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A large wave. It comes at you, and if you are standing still it hits you - Whappp! - then drags you in its wake until it has moved on, and you are left gasping for air. Then the next wave of change comes along, hits you, and instead of being the master of change, you are hanging on for survival.

Instead of standing still and being hit each time by change, you have to climb on top of it and ride it until it begins to run out of steam, you curl off of it, to prepare for the next wave.

This is the kind of change we are all in today.

I'm no different than the rest of those who have been run over by a wave of change that came out of nowhere, doesn't even have a name, and is gone.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that what we once thought of as stability, consistency, and continuity in life was just our experience of the slowness of change. There has always been change, but it just never reached the level of a hurricane storm surge. Until now.

What is it about us as human beings that we want to remain where we are?

Why is change what we resist instead of boredom and unfulfillment?

Why are we willing to make our world small and confined just so we can feel in control?

If it sounds like I'm calling for us to give up on our commitments and do whatever is before us, that would be wrong. That is not the point, at all. Instead, it is questioning what we mean by commitment, focus and staying the course through to the end. It is questioning what we think it means to be effective and successful.

Life today is not a placid pond where we can gently float through our days.

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Instead, life has become an endless series of big waves, roaring down a mountain river full of rocks, whirlpools, massive amounts of water in your face, with no place to escape, it seems.

One after another we are seeing changes happening in our world that are totally disruptive to everything we have told ourselves is the way the world is.

Change forces us to simplify. We simplify by being clear about our values, and clear about the impact we want to have. Too many of us are more committed to the processes of our work than we are to the impact. When process takes precedence, we become disconnected from the outcome of the process. I know I live in a world where process is everything, and hardly anyone can say what the outcome of our work is.

The speed of change magnifies the problem because an overly process-centric organization cannot maintain former process levels when things speed up. The wave of change crushes processes. Instead, we need to know how to trim back the process, and move to knowing how to create impact in the moment as the opportunity presents itself. That is how to ride the wave of change.

Image Two.

Change is a door, a threshold, to what is next.

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Showing you a door is misleading. It suggests that we enter, and we stay awhile, but that doesn't get at the real issue at the heart of the speed of change.

Instead, let's see change as a series of doors in an endless progression, coming at us an increasingly level of speed.

Between each door, we enter a specific context or situation that demands that we perform at our best. As I was thinking about this, this scene from Monsters, Inc came to mind.

This is what change is like. Moving from one context to the next, without continuity, and, at a pace that does not allow us time to think through every single possible option.

The speed of change requires us to think fast, decide fast, act fast and move on fast. 

It means that we need to have more than tactical skills for change, and, more than a long range strategy for impact. It means we have to be prepared to be the person who can walk into the room and know what we have to offer to whomever is there.

This means that we have to simplify our lives, become more clear about who we are, who we are not, and, what we want from the life and work that gets offered to us on the other side of every door.

Even this picture doesn't fully get at the real issue we face with the increasing speed of change. There is something deeper, more personal at work in this context of change.

The modern world has robbed most of us of the confidence that former eras had from doing, making, creating and crafting things. Today, we are manipulators of objects, processes, financial resources and people. We do one thing, but we rarely see the outcome of that one act of work. The result is a vague sense of accomplishment, or, none at all.

Today, we find our confidence in our affinity towards ideas or symbols. For example, most people I know who are die hard Democrats or Republicans find it easier to tell you why they are not members of the other party, than their own. Their affinity is not to the outcome of the party's policies, but to the culture of symbols that the party claims as their distinctive value.

Same with sports teams. I have been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life. Not because they won, but because I started following them as a kid, and still do. People follow the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team, because they symbolize something specifically American in the minds of many fans. 

The confidence that we find in these associations is not the kind of confidence that makes it easy for us to deal with an increasing speed of change. We look for strength and security in our affinity associations. It is why fans are fickle, faithful until a rainy day spoils the parade to the championship or election.

To gain the confidence that we need, we have to be able to quickly move into a new space, and, know what our contribution can be.

This is what I mean by having a story that we tell ourselves.

We enter a room. We don't know these people. They may be Yankee fans or hate football. There's no affinity. Yet, we have to deal with the situation as it is presented to us. The story we tell ourselves is of the impact that I can have with at least one person. Just one person is enough. Maybe two is better, but one is enough. Because one can lead to more.

We are not thinking about how to fit in the group. We are thinking about how I can connect with these people so I can make a difference in their lives right now. Making that connection is essential to finding what it is that we can do to create some good in the moment that we are there.

There are three things we need to recognize every time we pass through a new door.

Context: We need to be able to see the social, relational, cultural and organizational context quickly.

We need to be able to assess what is going on, so we can move into action. We cannot assume that what is on the other side of the next door will be the same as the last two or ten doors. We must develop the capacity to understand what is going on as quickly as possible so we can move to begin to make a difference.

Content: We need to have something to offer people.

This is the content of our thoughts and character as a person. We enter into these situations confident that we have the substance to make a contribution that means something to someone or the group.

This content is best presented as a story. It isn't the story I'm telling myself, but the one that I've prepared to tell others. To not have a story is a lack of confidence. To have a story is not egocentric or arrogant. It is rather being prepared to connect with people at a deeper level than is typically happening at the moment of introduction.

Connection: We establish connections with the people because it will be these relationships that move with us through the change we experience.

As we encounter the speed of change, we need to move more quickly than we have in the past. We will find when we do, that much of what we are now doing is adapting to changing circumstances. The quicker we do so, the better off we will be.

This is what I've learned. I no longer fret over change. If anything, when I see change that needs to be made, I'll become more impatient, ready to move through the door and catch the wave as it moves forward.

Resistance to change has as much to do with our lack of confidence as it does with the change itself. Fight the resistance. Be clear about what you stand for as a person. Keep telling yourself your story.

Look for the opportunities to make a difference, do it, and move on. What we'll find is a new set of patterns in our life and work will emerge. This is the truth I have found, and so can each of you.

Many thanks to David Pu'u for the wave pictures. Check out his pictures, videos and blog at www.davidpuu.com.

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