The Throes of Change – and the Unsettledness of an Era
throes: A condition of agonizing struggle or trouble
Last night, at a business gathering, a woman said to me, in the context of the upheaval of our era, that she thinks we are living in the end times. She admitted that other generations have felt the same way, but she really thinks this is it.
Yes, this is the feeling of many people in many different generations. And I know too much history, and so I’m a little reluctant to jump on that bandwagon.
But do you get the feeling that everyone seems a little insecure, maybe more than a little nervous – as though we are in the midst of, in the throes of, some kind of wrenching, agonizing change? I do.
In The Future of Management, Gary Hamel hints at such unease:
Unlike the laws of physics, the laws of management are neither foreordained nor eternal… Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, rebellious shareholders – these 21st- century challenges are testing the design limitations of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times.
I think he is right. There is a great inadequacy of models – management models, governing models… The models we have seem to be lacking, and seem to not be working. It all seems so unsettling.
Recently, on one of the many blogs I read (this one a political blog), I read this quote. The author is Daniel Quinn from his book Beyond Civilization. Here’s the quote:
No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one. It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle Ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the ‘middle’ of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living to the end of time. Even if you’d managed to persuade them that a new era was just around the corner, they would’ve been unable to tell you a single thing about it – and in particular they wouldn’t have been able to tell you what was going to make it new. If they’d been able to describe the Renaissance in the fourteenth century, it would have been the Renaissance.
We’re no different. For all our blather about new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us. Their gadgets, fashion, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical – because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have. But in fact, if we actually manage to survive here, it will be because we’ve moved into a new era as different from ours as the Renaissance was from the Middle Ages – and as unimaginable to us as the Renaissance was to the Middle Ages.
I think we are in the throes of an agonizing change: a shift, a true shift. We think we know some of the causes, but we may be fooling ourselves if we think we know where it is all going. But – I think the shift is coming. Don’t you?
You can purchase my synopsis of The Future of Management, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.
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