Change is Coming

In business, adapting to change should be embraced. But it's not just about adopting new tech, but new perspectives, attitudes and leadership skills too.

Future of Work

Bear with me for just a paragraph…

  • Between 1950 and 1987 the world population doubled. For context, it took nearly seven centuries for the population to double from the early 9th century to the middle of the 16th century.
  • Research shows that the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 has gone from 33 years in 1964 to 24 years in 2016. By 2027, it’ll sit at around 12 years.
  • A decade ago the thought of sharing homes, clothes, cars, bikes, jets… even our pets, with strangers would have been a joke.
  • Last year, a small but hugely telling piece of data hit the headlines. US sales of yoga leggings outsold denim jeans for the first time ever.

I wanted to document some of the changes that have happened in the world because without them, you don’t really feel the full weight of what I’m about to say next.

A lot has changed.

If you feel like you’re caught in a whirlwind, rest assured, it’s not just you. Change has never come at us so fast, and it’s unlikely it’ll ever be so slow in our lifetimes again. It’s for this reason, creating and embracing strategies that allow you to adapt and thrive in a (ever) changing world is the very first skill proposed for surviving the future work and marketplace.

Adapting to change isn’t just about making observations to the latest technological developments. While this is a useful activity, what’s more insightful is noticing and reacting to the shift in perspectives and really seeing how people appropriate technology in their lives. This is the most fascinating kind of change, not only because you get to watch social norms mould into something new but because you get to witness what emerges between the change-makers and the change-haters: a buyout, a law suit, a compliance disaster, name-calling. Change does strange things to people.

When you apply the pressure of the new, you’re able to separate people into roughly two camps: the brave and the too-scared-to-move. There is a great piece of data published in MIT Sloan Review last year that demonstrates this. Research from September 2017 shows that almost 85% of business executives believe that AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage but only about one in five companies has incorporated AI in some offerings or processes. 85% acknowledge change is coming, only 20% have sort of done something about it. And herein lies the paradox; despite wanting and needing new ideas to support us through change, we have a negative bias towards creativity. Why? Because change plus creativity equals uncertainty and if there is anything we dislike more than change, it’s uncertainty.

In the face of change, uncertainty and ultimately risk, it not only takes true leadership to try something new but it requires a review of what it means to be a leader. Released earlier this month, research led by Dr. Ritta Lumme-Tuomala, Head of Growth, at Aalto University Executive Education, looked at traditional leadership styles and reviewed them in light of today’s culture and demands in the workplace. While the study was conducted within the humanitarian aid sector, the conclusions are applicable across a wide-variety of industries and markets; skills and competencies that were once markers of success in the past are no longer valid for the future. The researchers found that organisations are wrongly prioritising experience over potential. This includes demonstrating skills such as adaptability, high learning agility, building and maintaining long-term relationships, and sustaining the long-term health of communities. So in short, people who have a healthy relationship with change are fundamental to future success.

In nature, ecological resilience refers to the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. In business, it’s no different. Adapting to change should not only be expected, but embraced, because the alternative is extinction.

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