So, change is not accelerating. But change isn’t a constant either.
In modern history, the most accurate graph to illustrate societal change consists of continuous or overlapping S-curves.
Like this, more or less:
There are periods of frenzy; and then we have the quiet periods.
The periods of frenzy are the so-called industrial revolutions. The first one from 1784 to 1820. The second from 1870 to WW1. The third from the 1969 to 2000. And the fourth one right now.
Are we missing the point?
As it happens, we tend to focus on these periods where there’s rapid technological and institutional change.
But are we right to do that? Are we missing the point?
According to Chris McKenna of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School that is certainly the case:
“From my perspective, I actually think we should spend more time asking questions like: What happens when there’s a pause? Pauses are as important as periods of acceleration.”
There are two reasons for this:
- Many important developments have happened during the pauses. For instance, nuclear energy (and the nuclear bomb) was developed between the second and the third industrial revolution. So was television and air conditioning. Today, those three developments still play a vital role in our lives.
- The real work takes place in the pauses. You might have e.g. rapid evolution of robotic technology. However, the most important thing is not the rapid evolution, but the subsequent application for thirty years or so. Another example is chemicals: The development of e.g. DDT is one thing, but it’s the issues that arise later on when you dump it which will determine its importance long term. The issue is not just the development. It’s the relationship to society.
So, as stated in my previous post, we shouldn’t fetishize the second derivative, i.e. the rate of change. We shouldn’t overlook the pauses.
It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the moment when the curve is steep and an industrial revolution is raging. But in the long run, the quieter periods are equally important.
Why boring will win
That could soon be – and to some degree it already is – the story of business today. And it is set to be the real story of business in the next couple of decades.
We have all these new technologies at our disposal. Right now, most of us are trying to understand what they are, how they work etc. But soon these new technologies will loose their luster.
That’s when the real and boring work begins. And that’s when businesses should stay focused – when the initial appeal and sexiness is long gone.
In short: The boring companies will be the winners of tomorrow.
That’s why you should mind the pause.
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