I am what might be termed web 2.old. I remember when pocket calculators were bulky and cost an arm and a leg. I remember when personal computers just started becoming ubiquitous. And I remember a time before the internet. It wasn’t all that long ago; yet the march of technology has changed everything. I read somewhere that we have reached the end of one era and are into the next, except that it’s not just the next era so much as it is several eras together. A multitude of eras as one. Something akin to a time compressed, amorphous, ambiguous, constant change kind of era. I can remember a time when thinking you can predict outcomes was considered rational. Not anymore. The rate of change, as well as the accelerating volatility in business1 is making what was once manageable and knowable now neither controllable nor foreseeable.2 Reality is stretching, increasing the strain on traditional ideas until the dam of convention breaks, letting loose the muddy waters of today. Everyone seems to be struggling with today’s complex issues: our educational systems are stuck in yesterday’s linear thinking,3 our governments are grinding in gridlock, all while businesses are thrust into a global competitive system which takes no prisoners. What’s missing is the wisdom to navigate the chop. Anyone want to join me for a drink?4 Better yet, join me at Big Sandbox and let's quench our thirst for something far more satisfying.
1 In the book It’s Alive by Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis, they highlight some compelling statistics regarding both the exponential nature of change and the volatility within business:
The number of Fortune 300 CEOs with six years tenure decreased from 57% in 1980 to 37% in 2001.
In 1978 about 10,000 firms were failing annually. By 1986 about 60,000 firms were failing. By 1998 that figure had risen to over 73,000 annually.
From 1950-2000 variability in S&P 500 stock prices increased more than 10-fold; from 1950 through the 1970s, days on which the market fluctuated by more than 3% happened less than twice a year, whereas in the last few years it has happened twice a month.
The number of firms that take “special items” in their accounting has grown dramatically; for instance, “special losses” from S&P 500 firms grew from 68 in 1982 to 233 in 2000. (Special Items are, by definition, an admission of being caught flat-footed by change more volatile than the normal course of the business cycle.)
2 Strategic planning as practiced in years past is being rethought by major corporations. British Petroleum (along with Shell, Aramco and Gulf) pioneered strategic planning in the 1940's and 50's as a way of looking out years into the future and planning accordingly. Strategic planning is now more a function of strategically forming, sensing and responding quickly as things happen. The old assumptions of being able to identify outcomes one wants to see occur, and concurrently that one can control the processes of how one gets from where you are to where you want to be no longer apply in these uncertain times, and brings to mind the old Chinese proverb “May you live in interesting times.” 3 In America, standardized testing and the ACT/SAT are but two examples which illustrate how our entire educational system is geared toward finding the right answer. And this week, on the radio, I heard the Philadelphia school system is proposing a minimum score of 50 for all students on all tests, whether or not the pupil answers any questions correctly. In an age whe