‘Change is inevitable. Change is constant.’ – Benjamin Disraeli.
Change is a fact of life that individuals, organisations and nations alike have no choice but to deal with. Those who are able to acknowledge this fact and cope with change will survive. Those who are able to seek out change and actively embrace it will thrive.
But to complete Disraeli’s statement we need to add one further critical observation – the pace of change is accelerating.
The changes we will all have to face in the next 20 years may just blow our minds. As individuals and as leaders, we will need to be ready.
Live long… and prosper?
Due to advances in clean water, nutrition, antibiotics and disease eradication, average worldwide life expectancy has skyrocketed. As recently as 1900, humans lived on average a mere 31 years, according to the WHO. Today, the worldwide average life expectancy is 71.4.
For a quantum leap in human lifespans, turn to the mysterious world of biotechnology and genetic medicine. Revolutionary advances in these fields look set to push the limits of human life expectancy well beyond its current level. Has the first person who could live to 200 already been born?
Gaia strikes back
Climate change will inevitably become one of the world’s biggest challenges, exacerbated by the election of a small, but increasing, number of Western politicians who are climate science sceptics or deniers. And yet the science is clear.
“Continued emission gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” says the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report.
Water will be the new wealth
The Oil Age will end when oil is no longer an expensive commodity – once long-term supply significantly exceeds long-term demand. It appears that this day may arrive much sooner than we thought. Oil-producing countries are now desperately trying to transform their economies, which will in turn alter the economic and political landscape of the Middle East, central Asia and Latin America.
So while oil may become plentiful and cheap, water is likely to become scarce and, until we work out how to manufacture it efficiently and at scale through the fusion of hydrogen and oxygen, the most highly valuable commodity of all. Future wars are unlikely to be waged covertly over oil – they are likely to be waged overtly over water.
The processor in your iPhone is more than 30,000 times faster than the computers that NASA used to put men on the moon in 1969.
It was not even 25 years ago that the internet tiptoed out of the US military and was introduced to the world. The internet today is the backbone of just about everything – many of the world’s largest companies only exist because of it.
The rise of the machines
Artificial intelligence still has a long way to go, but machines that can learn and adapt have already arrived. Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, predicts that by 2029 “the manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation sectors of the economy will be almost entirely automated”.
Mind the gap
Wealth inequality is worse than it has ever been, with the top one per cent possessing 40 per cent of the US’s wealth, according to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address. The widening gap between the haves and the have-nots has already triggered political reaction in the West, from support for Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-establishment messages to the surprise Leave EU vote and the election of President Trump. Will widening wealth and income gaps trigger an increase in civil disorder?
Political change… for the better?
Politically, the European Union is bound to undergo fundamental change, triggered by the aftermath of the UK’s departure. But it will not be an easy process. It appears that the world is becoming a more dangerous place, fuelled and perhaps caused by a 24/7 media with an increasing abrogation of responsibility for the effect of its sensationalist reporting.
Western politics appears to become more insular with every news bulletin, due to a combination of factors including the ill-considered implications of globalisation and an apparent rise in militant religious fundamentalism.
A number of politicians are deepening the latent divisions within our society, fuelling people’s in-built tribal fears and xenophobia. This is threatening to roll back economic progress, international cooperation, humanitarian aid, trade and open borders.
Enter the entrepreneur
The ‘job for life’ days are long gone. 30 years ago, your CV needed to show stability – the fewer employers the better. Today, that would signify a lack of drive.
Home working is predicted to rise – given the advent of the internet and cloud computing. The impact of this on local communities will be positive, but perhaps negative on commercial real estate. The future will see more part-time work, more contract work. Even more of us will be self-employed.
Change: just embrace it
I have really only scratched the surface with all of the above. The future is shaping up to be like nothing that our species or our planet have ever experienced. The way we work, the way our organisations work, the way our governments work will all change – and the changes will be dramatic. So, as individuals and as leaders we have a simple choice:
- We can be ostriches – shove our heads deep into the sand and pretend that change isn’t going to happen, or…
- We can be lionesses – meet the challenge, embrace change, find opportunities, fight to make the future a better place.
But we must first fully appreciate what we are up against. We need to understand why successful change is so difficult to instigate.
We need to understand why 88 per cent of change initiatives fail.
This is an edited extract from The Change Catalyst: Secrets to Successful and Sustainable Business Change by Campbell Macpherson (Wiley, 2017), available now on Amazon.
Campbell Macpherson is CEO of Change & Strategy International (www.changeandstrategy.com), business adviser, author and speaker.