Why is the Rate of Change Accelerating and What Does it Mean to Us?

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When you compare life today to the way our grandparents lived it is clear that the rate of change in our lives has increased, but what is causing this increase in the rate of change, and what does this mean to us?

In this insight, we answer this question by examining the role of interdependency and how it is connected to change.

How does dependency affect change?

If you do not depend on the train to take you to work -- say if you worked from home -- then any changes to the train schedule would not create change in your life. The moment you start to depend on the train, however, any changes in the train schedule would require you to change your behavior.  

If you were to cut yourself off from the world so that you would no longer be dependent on anything, perhaps by hiding in a well-stocked cave somewhere, you would quickly experience a significant decrease in the rate of change. The changing world around you would not affect you because you would not be reliant on it.

 If you depend on one factor, there will be some change in your life every once in a while, when that one-factor changes. But if you depend on a thousand factors, the probability that more than one of those thousand factors will change is significantly increased. Thus, the more factors you depend on, the higher is the rate of change. 

How does an increase in the level of interdependency accelerate the rate of change?

In today’s global world we are not just dependent, we are interdependent. We depend on others and others depend on onus. 

Now let us look at interdependency and see how that accelerates the rate of change.

A few hundred years ago, farmers who lived on the frontier grew their own food, made their own clothes, and governed themselves. These farmers only depended on their land and the weather, thus the rate of change was only determined by the land and the weather. When these farmers decided to move beyond subsistence farming and started selling their produce, they became dependent on the market. This created a new factor -- the price they could get for their product in the market. This price was determined by multiple variables -- the people who bought their produce, their changing tastes, and the actions of competing farmers. The increase in the number of factors that could potentially change increased the rate of change in the farmers’ lives. 

A generation later, the farmer has become extremely specialized, producing a very limited variety of produce. This has made the farmer more efficient, and more able to compete in a global marketplace, but now he can no longer live off of his production alone. He is now dependent on other farmers. Additionally, the farmer depends upon a slew of organizations to provide him with seeds, fertilizer, machines, fuel, storage facilities, transportation to market… even clothes. At the same time those people and organizations that create the seeds, fertilizer, machines, fuel, storage facilities may depend on that very farmer for their products. This has created interdependency. People depend on him and he depends on others.

We are all linked together in an elaborate web of interdependency. 

Interdependency creates a feedback loop that further increases the rate of change. What does this look like? 

When the people we depend on change, we must change. This requires the people who depend on us to change and so on until this wave of change feeds all the way back to us. This feedback loop significantly increases the number of variables to which we have to adapt.

Thus, the higher the level of interdependency the higher the rate of change.

What does an increase in the level of interdependency/rate of change mean to us?

This increase in the level of interdependency is both an opportunity and a threat. 

Interdependency is an opportunity because it allows us to specialize in our respective fields. It allows for innovation. After all, if everyone were required to grow their own food and sew their own clothes, we would never have discovered the secrets of electricity and the computer.

Yet interdependency is also a threat because it causes us to have more complex problems more often. 

The problems are more complex because we need the cooperation of more (interdependent) people to solve them. Different people have different opinions and different self-interests that will be affected by the solutions to the problems. This adds to the complexity of managing change. 

 

These complex problems arise more often because there is an increase in the rate of change and when there is change, things (people, cultures, values, systems, structures) change at different speeds, disintegrating, (falling apart) manifested by what we call  “problems.”  

We can see this in our world today. In societies with high rates of change, like the West, you will see a higher rate of things such as divorce, depression, crime, and obesity, than in societies with little change, like communist Cuba, a country that has reduced its rate of change by cutting off its interdependency with much of the world. 

In summary, what is causing this increase in the rate of change? It is the increasing level of interdependency. What does this mean to us? Greater opportunities for specialization and innovation but also more problems with increased complexity.

Watching world events, it is becoming clear that the rate of change is fast approaching a point where we can no longer solve our own problems. The world is spinning out of our control and we must look for new managerial tools to deal with this dangerous development. To help us understand these new tools let us turn to nature.

A few billion years ago single-cell organisms populated our planet. Each single cell organism was autonomous. At a certain point, those single-celled organisms formed communities and interdependencies. Volvox and Cyanobacteria are examples of communities of single-cell organisms that still exist today. 

 "Within the Volvox, colony there is some division of labor among cells....cells are so dependent on one another that they cannot live in isolation; the organism dies if the colony is disturbed."  Additionally "many kinds of cyanobacteria remain together after cell division, forming filamentous chains that can be as much as a meter in length. At regular intervals along the filament, individual cells take on a distinctive character and become able to incorporate atmospheric nitrogen into organic molecules. These few specialized cells perform nitrogen fixation for their neighbors and share the products with them." (Source Molecular Biology Of The Cell. 3rdedition. Alberts B. Bray D, Lewis J, et al. New York: Garland Science:1994) 

As these communities of single-celled organisms evolved, the cells became more specialized and interdependent. The more complex the interdependencies became, the faster the rate of change that each individual single-cell had to deal with. At some point, the complexity became so high that in order for the colony of single-celled organisms to survive an evolution in consciousness had to take place. The colonies changed from communities or organizations to organisms. Their consciousness changed from "Me" to"We," from mechanistic to organic; creating the multi-celled organisms we know today as plants and animals.*

 

 

This change in consciousness, or self-awareness, allowed the community of single-cell organisms (now plants and animals) to drastically increase the rate at which they were able to adapt to change. Conscious of the greater common interest, each individual cell was able to subjugate its short-term self-interest for the greater long-term interest of the totality. 

Clearly, the self-interest of a single-celled organism is infinitely less complex than the self-interest of a human being or even of a nation, but if we are to overcome the massive challenges that we face as an ever-increasing interdependent society, a similar change of consciousness will have to take place. We will have to be conscious of the fact that we are part of something greater than ourselves alone. 

Introducing the "I" role of Management.

In the Adizes methodology, this is called the "I" role of management. In our lectures, we describe this "I" role by proposing the following mental experiment. Imagine for a minute that I am late for a meeting across town, and there is an unlocked bike here in the corner of the room. Imagine that in this society there are no rules, no laws, no police, no prisons, and no 10commandments to tell me that I should not steal this bike. What will stop me from stealing the bike? The only reason I will not steal this bike is if I am conscious of the fact that by stealing the bike I am not stealing from"him" but I  am stealing from "myself", because"him" and "me" are the same, we are part of the same system, we are integrated. 

It is precisely this change unconsciousness, from me (self-interest) to we (common interest), that allows organizations to act like organisms, adapting to change significantly faster than any sum of individuals could and it is this change that the Adizes methodology assists organizations in achieving.

In summary, with increased levels of interdependency, the rate of change and the number and complexity of problems is increasing. If we are to keep up with this increase in the number and complexity of problems we must learn from nature and change our organizational consciousness. Assisting organizations in making this transition is the goal of the Adizes Program for Organizational Transformation.

Written by
Shoham Adizes
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