Business Transformation

How Does Business Survive The Accelerating Rate of Change?

The number of paradigm shifts that took place in 2020 will take place in the first three months of 2030, and in the first 45 days of 2040.


The last couple of years have had a lot of lessons to impart. Between the stress of the pandemic, the strain of the lockdowns, and the labour shortage brought about by the Great Resignation, businesses have had a lot to contend with – their survival in many cases being dependent on their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

But what a lot of people fail to fully appreciate is that the last couple of years were really just a part of a longer trend of acceleration – a trend identified decades ago by renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil and others.

To quote Ray Kurzweil

“We’re entering an age of acceleration. The models underlying society at every level, which are largely based on a linear model of change, are going to have to be redefined. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace." 

For many of us, 2020 was the year that this age of acceleration first became obvious. Across health, political and social spheres, significant once-in-a-lifetime events seemingly became commonplace.

For business, this often not only meant responding to the supply chain challenges of a global lockdown, but doing so within the shifting communications requirements of an ever-more socially aware market, and in the shadow of a divisive and historic American election. All the while, public sentiment has turned against what are perceived as establishment voices – a perception that often includes big brands – and employees have been evacuating the job market in pursuit of a less traditional work-life balance.

That sounds like the description of a decade’s worth of difficulties. But they were all crammed into the space of two years.

That might seem anomalous, but expert projections and historical trends paint the picture of an even more disruptive and unpredictable future.

 

Innovation and the evolution of ideas

According to some projections, the number of paradigm shifts that took place in 2020 will take place in the first three months of 2030, and in the first 45 days of 2040. While predictions can be easy to dismiss, these projections have accurately tracked the increasing pace of change for decades already.

Putting this acceleration into perspective, Kurzweil – in 2003 – said:

“We won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress (again, when measured by today’s rate of progress), or about one thousand times greater than what was achieved in the twentieth century.”

Essentially, humans evolve through ideas, rather than just biology – and ideas evolve fast and exponentially.

In fact, according to research on the technological trajectory of humanity, human progress and growth are super-exponential. And if we look at the graph below, we can quickly recognise the absurdity of the our technological development over just the past handful of decades.

Roodman_GWP_10,000_BCE-2019_1

Never before in history have we experienced change at the pace we are today, and today is nothing compared to what’s coming.

For the individual, this pace of change is going to be tough to keep up with. But for the business, trying to corral disparate and diverse groups of individuals and align many toward a consistent goal, in a world defined by impermanence, this evolution could mean extinction if they’re not fully prepared.

How can businesses survive a world of change?

To quote Kurzweil again:

“Organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.”

The shape of work is changing, and for organisations to survive and thrive, they must be as capable as possible of adjusting to the pace of that change. To make the most of the opportunities provided by tomorrow’s world of work, as well as to best avoid the pitfalls, organisations must:

  • Plan projects for tomorrow’s world, not today’s
    Many projects fail because of unfortunate timing – either they’re too early or too late to be profitable in the world as it is. But, more and more, projects should be planned for the future, and not the current environment. This means CEOs and other decision-makers have to be open to taking risks and gambling on well-researched projections of the products and services that tomorrow might need.
  • Prioritise learning
    In the future, if all a business can do is keep up, then it will actually be falling behind. You have to be able to distinguish yourself from the competition, and use knowledge of the market and current best practice to predict or innovate inevitable change.
  • Empower autonomy
    Even as automation picks up repetitive, easily codified tasks, human employees and partners will become more important as nodes in a semi-decentralised network of decision-making and accountability. Employee-employer dynamics may have to be reimagined to accommodate the gig economy and changing employee priorities.
  • Focus on agility
    The organisation that cannot adapt to the social climate or economic reality in real-time, to meet the expectations of consumers and other stakeholders, is the organisation facing an existential crisis is the working world of the future. Organisational or messaging changes shouldn’t be knee-jerk or uninformed responses. But it will become even more important than it is today that business has its fingers to the pulse of society and is ready and able to adjust as necessary.

Change the shape of work with Papillio

The Papillio Innovation Toolkit is an ever-evolving project implementation platform and virtual workspace. Developed to allow organisations to rapidly funnel unstructured ideas into operationalizable strategies, Papillio creates a collaborative digital environment for both collocated and distributed workforces.

Aiming to be the #1 business toolkit for empowering organisation-wide creative potential and rapidly adaptive capacity in the 21st century, Papillio integrates workflow, strategy and conceptualisation functionality that other platforms often only offer alone.

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