Change is the Only Constant
“We live in exponential times” one of the recent viral videos proclaims, referring to the rate of change. Is that exponential? It does not matter. Change seems to be accelerating. Is already happening too fast? That depends on what you want and need. If you see online education as a threat to the teaching profession, then the internet of services may be changing life too fast. If you live in a country without a secure supply of safe drinking water, then this probably changes too slowly.
Change as a fundamental concept has attracted bright minds at least since Heraklit ( * ca.520 BC; † ca. 460 BC), who supposedly formulated panta rhei (Greek πάντα ῥεῖ, “everything flows”.) We all change. Technology changes, society changes – because we create both of them. The degree to which an individual, or an organisation, can reach full potential is directly related to the ability to adapt to change in the physical, intellectual, cultural environment. The abiliy to proactively anticipate or even initiate these changes determines degree of this self-realisation. Yes, even the degree to which society can achieve its aspirations depends on its ability to embrace change.
Change often raises concern, maybe the fear of the unknown. There is our natural curiosity to keep the fear in check. Without that we might still live in caves. Clearly the fastest paces in changes are “man made” – they are technology “induced”. Neither the dogmatic “evil technology versus good humanity” dispute nor the “technology is progress and therefore is good” push are adequate perspectives to deal with change. Change has a driver – e.g. technology – and there is a current system which is the subject of the change, a system that may suffer during the change, but which may be much improved, or be replaced by an improved one. To be sustainable this change must ultimately provide value to to the affected individual or community.
Every person himself or herself is at every point in time the result of a continuous change, from young to old, from beginner to expert, or from dependence through independence to interdependence, as Stephen Covey so aptly describes it in his Seven Habits.
Organisations also change in a similar fashion, and the changes become interwowen with the changes of the people involved. Organisations are “alive“and also follow Covey’s three stages. Yes, even the changes in society can be described using Covey’s terms.
Learning to change would be beneficial – how do we do that? Generally we learn through trial and error. We change after we have been forced from a position of wanting to safeguard a status quo to a position of “suffering” change.
So, accepting, exploring and orchestrating change is an underlying competence we should have as individuals, for our organisations, for society at large. Embracing change can be learnt. Many useful and proven frameworks and techniques exist, most of them addressing very specific challengnes. We need to be able to use them, combine them, adapt them and exchange our experience and learn from each other at all of the levels to ease change and ensure it delivers value and is sustainable. This requires being “open” to the need for change, and to each other,
“Open” is one of the key words. It is interesting that dealing with that technology, which has no physical properties as such – software – has emphasised this “openness”: Open Source Software. Openness requires a form of trust and this leads us to the notion of community. Open source has shown that building the trust required to achieve openness is founded in a common purpose. Ackoff recognised that social systems do not abide by the second law of thermodynamics – increasing entropy – exactly when and if they are purposeful. We call such a purposeful social system, group, network – a community.
We are trying to build such a community, one that helps to embrace change, lead change, inspire change – sustainable change for the better.
This is not just about software, although the initial promoters come from this domain. Software is pandemic, it affects – infects? -everything it can. It is a carrier of change in itself and through the systems created through it, such as the internet.
Panta rhei – πάντα ῥεῖ