Tag Archives: As the Future Catches You

“You Don’t Need to Embrace Change” – Some Advice You Won’t be Reading These Days

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan: The Times, They are a Changin’


The jury is in.  There is true consensus.  The times, they are a changin’…  and because they are, everyone in business; everyone with a career; everyone! has to change a little (or a lot) to keep up.

Business books, plural, all seem to find a way to say this.

In Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we are reminded that we live in a VUCA world:
the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):  Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity.

In As the Future Catches You:  (How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health, and Wealth), Juan Enriquez:
If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming.  Your genetic code will be imprinted on an ID card…  For better and worse.  Medicines will be tailored to your genes and will help prevent specific diseases for which you may be at risk…  It all starts because we are mixing apples, oranges, and floppy disks.
Many are unprepared for…  the violence and suddenness with which…   new technologies change…  Lives…  Companies…  Countries…  Because they do not understand what these technologies can do.

In The Extreme Future: The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years by James Canton, CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures:
Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.

And, to look at a direct “holy mackerel, what’s going to happen to my job?” concern, in Innovation Is Everybody’s Business:  How To Make Yourself Indispensable In Today’s Hypercompetitive World by Robert B. Tucker:
Simply working harder will not be enough.  Relying solely on your functional skills and expertise will not be enough.  And even accumulating more years of experience on the job will not be enough.
The underlying issue is this.  The system wants to eliminate your job.

I could go on and on. I’ve read hundreds of business books over the last 13+ years, and not once have I read a book that says this:

“You don’t need to embrace change.  Just keep doing what you’re doing, the way you are doing it now, for the next few years.  You’ll be fine.”

Not once.

And I am ready to state something close to an absolute:  if you think your job, your career, your company, your organization, will stay pretty much the same; or, if you think you can do what you need to do to be successful in your job without learning anything new, without preparing yourself for pretty unsettling change(s) – then you are living in fantasyland.

The jury is in. The times, they are a changin’.  And the more we get with that program, the better off we will be.

But, oh, we do not like change.  We do not like preparing for change.  We do not like acknowledging that change is necessary.  We do not like admitting that change is upon us.

But it is.

The times, they are a changin’…

“The United States Will Not Exist As A Nation” – And Other, Less Wild And Scary Thoughts About The Future

“We would rather be ruined than changed…”
W. H. Auden, quoted by Juan Enriquez, The Untied States of America


It really is breathtaking…just how fast we adapt to the new world, and how quickly we abandon, and forget, the old.

Think:  how could we live without our cell phones?  Yet, for the history of the telephone up until the new “now,” such convenience and multi-use function would have been unthinkable.

Do you have a DVR?  I do.  And I can barely remember life before I had it.   And, by the way, I’m old enough to remember when I had to stand up, walk across the room, and put my hand on the actual television set to change channels.  A remote control was a full size umbrella, and you could use the end of the umbrella to reach across the room and change the channel.  (Do you remember those days?)  (By the way, I think that there is a clear connection between size of the ever-growing waistline in the United States, and the arrival of the remote control!)

So, the changes come, and we adapt, embrace, and forget.  Before they come, we can’t quite conceive of the world that is to come.  After they arrive, we wonder at what life was like before.

Or, to put in another way – with modern life, we all live pretty much better than royalty just a few generations back.  (running water, hot water, air conditioning!, Starbucks! – what did they do, how did they survive?)

So…  with all of this in mind (have you got it in mind?  Think about it… – can you grasp that life truly has changed, over and over again?!)

Now, read this…

As you guys were talking, I felt my stomach flutter in terms of where America sits in all this.
Saffo: This will sound pessimistic, but I think it’s a better than even chance that the United States will not exist as a nation by midcentury.

This is the most provocative line in the terrific think piece on The Daily Beast: 3 Ways to Reinvent America by Randall Lane.  Here’s the intro:

What will drive innovation in the next decade? The Daily Beast’s Randall Lane brought together preeminent business thinkers John Kao, Paul Saffo, and Tim Brown for ideas—from “pro-sumers” to designing living organisms.
With President Obama set to unveil his blueprint to kickstart innovation in America, The Daily Beast’s Randall Lane brought together three of the country’s top business thinkers—John Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, Paul Saffo, managing director of Foresight at Discern Analytics, and Tim Brown, president of IDEO—together for a roundtable on how to reinvent the American economy.

The full article is worth reading, but it is the quote above that I keep going back to.  Think about the idea that the United States will not exist as a nation by mid-century.  It seems impossible; unthinkable; mad…  or does it?

I don’t know what tomorrow will hold.  Oh, I think I get the trajectory, in some ways:  with our DVRs and our cell/smart phones, I have the hunch that “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”  But the changes that are tougher, a little more frightening, they too are probably coming at us.  Maybe faster, more dramatic, by the year/decade…

It sort of reminds me of the book The Untied States of America:  Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future, by Juan Enriquez.  (Jim Young put me onto Enriquez years ago, with his earlier book As the Future Catches You).  The Untied States of America starts with these words:

Countries, like marriages, companies, and people, Oft reach a break point, and split or die.  We watch as it happens to others, but we rarely ask ourselves…
Could it ever happen here?  Because most of us truly love the country we live in.  Yet country after country disappears, splits, secedes.  Turns out, regardless of pledges, nations are divisible…

Maybe the USA will be just fine – but which company, that you have always counted on, will disappear.  Anybody remember these now defunct companies:  Bethlehem Steel; Circuit City; Penguins Frozen Yogurt?  (at least in Texas – it looks like it is still alive in California!)

But/and, what new things will come.

In the article/roundtable led by Randall Lane, the three experts say these things:

• (Kao):  the issue of how to orchestrate resources and how to be good at the process of innovation within the technology-enabled global environment is, I think, the secret sauce for our country.


• (Brown): It takes us from a world that’s clean to a world that’s messy, from a world that’s top-down, where we think about everything in its completeness, to a world of bottom-up, where ideas emerge, where new ideas and new practices emerge, and they are iterated to what is ultimately sort of their mature version. We only need to think about social networks—they’re not things, they’re behaviors.


• (Saffo):  There’s a transformation already under way, so this isn’t even a forecast, it’s a description. Nov. 17, 2008, was not just a very bad day and a very bad week, it was also the moment in which the last economy died and a new economy is emerging. That new economy—yeah, we all talked about it through the ’90s, with the Internet, a happy face notion of what would happen—turned out to be a lot more complicated but also a lot more interesting.
We’re now into the new economy and the new central actor is not the worker, the person who produces, nor the person who consumes, but a new economic actor who does both things at the same time. Now there are words like pro-sumer and everything else out there—my preferred term for it is ‘a creator economy.’

But it’s the line about the United States that I keep pondering the most…

(The Woes of MySpace) The Future is Utterly Predictable — it is a Future of Constant Innovation

Boy, those old staid companies sure do get in trouble because they fail to innovate.  Yes, the times are changing, and companies better learn how to stay fresh, keep improving, keep changing.  When they’ve been around forever, it is awfully easy to get set in their ways, and watch the competition sweep right on by them.

Take that old venerable company known as MySpace.  It has been around forever.  It was way back in August, 2003 when they launched.  Times were different then.  And what they set in place back in those long-gone days just doesn’t seem to work anymore.  So the CEO Owen Van Natta, in a letter to his employees in which he announced and explained the decision to lay off 30% of their workers (400 workers), included this sober assessment:  “We need to become a more innovative company.” (read about the layoffs here, and the entire letter from the CEO here).  (Here’s a little more of his letter:  “The future success of MySpace is dependent upon us operating as a nimble and entrepreneurial company with the adaptive mentality of a start-up…  I believe this is the first difficult step toward a major turnaround – a step that will not only shore us up in the short term, but position us for long term success. We need to become a more innovative company.  Becoming more innovative is an ongoing responsibility for all of us, not a one-time effort”).

It does sound a little ludicrous, doesn’t it?  I mean, I can understand that a company as old and established as GM might get a little behind in the innovation contest.   But MySpace?  This company is only six years old.  It’s been less than six years ago that you could not have built your own MySpace page.  And yet, here it is in stark, sobering words:  “We need to become a more innovative company.”  Competitors like Facebook, and now Twitter, have just swept right on by MySpace because they are more innovative.  Who would have thought?

We should have known it was coming.  We’ve been warned.  The business books of the last 12 years have all said it, loud and clear.  The future is coming, and it’s going to be different from the past.  Constantly different.  Perpetually innovating.  The world is changing faster and faster and faster…  Here’s just a sampling of quotes:

“If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming…  Technology is not kind.  It does not wait.  It does not say please.  It slams into existing systems, and often destroys them – while creating a new system.”  (Juan Enriquez, As the Future Catches You).

“It’s finally happened.  I’ve seen a company where I can imagine working!”  Innovation is it, for the foreseeable future…”  {Tom Peters, from the foreword}.  (Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation:  Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm).

“You want to wake up your organization to the need for a strategic shift and a break from the status quo.”  (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne,  Blue Ocean Strategy:  How to Create Uncontested Market Space and make the Competition Irrelevant).

“Even the world’s “most admired” companies aren’t as adaptable as they need to be, as innovative as they need to be, or as much fun to work in as they should be…  To put it bluntly, management innovation pays…  Remember the old saw about the tendency of generals to refight the last war rather than the one at hand?”  (Gary Hamel, The Future of Management).

“The premise of this book is a simple one:  that breakthrough innovations come by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies.  The implication, recalling William Gibson, is that the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed.”  (Andrew Hargadon, How Breakthroughs Happen:  The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate).

“When it comes to thriving in a hypercompetitive marketplace, “playing it safe” is no longer playing it smart…  the more you do something, the more important it is to challenge the assumptions and habits that built your success so as to generate a wave of innovations to build the future…  Remember, the most effective leaders are the most insatiable learners. (William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre,  Mavericks at Work:  Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win).

“To change is to take a risk – to give up a current state in an attempt to reach a potentially more desirable one.  We tend to resist change…  In this new (postmodern or post-Web corporate world) hypercompetitive environment, market transitions are a lot faster, and the cycle of innovation has gotten increasingly shorter…  new products and services started appearing more and more frequently, resulting in even more competition.  (including:  real-time information).  Reengineering found itself outdated.”  (Benham N. Tabrizi, Rapid Transformation:  A 90-Day Plan For Fast And Effective Change).

“I held only positions that did not exist before I had them…  Conceptualizers see the future.”  (Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness).

Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness…  The coming Innovation Economy will herald an age of rapid, dramatic change, one in which ideas that create value, offer solutions, and fulfill needs will thrive, sweeping into the recesses of memory the comparatively primitive ideas, products, services, and processes that came before.  Innovation will be the prime source of productivity, prosperity, competition, and potentially even peace.  Innovation will be recognized as an empowering force that will drive individual prosperity and global competition.  (James Canton, Ph.D., CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures, The Extreme Future:  The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years).

“Never get comfortable with where you are.  Anticipate the inevitability of having to modify or change how you do business to meet your customers’ needs…  Organizations that refuse to change their methods to meet demands are likely the same stubborn organizations that are slowly going out of business.  Change is never over, said Jack Welch.”  (Ron Hunter Jr. & Michael E. Waddell, Toy Box Leadership:  Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child).

So, let’s all let the MySpace story be an object lesson for us all.  If we are not constantly innovating, the competition will simply pass us by.  Remember the warning from Gary Hamel:”  Every business is successful — until it’s not.”

(To purchase my synopses of many of the books quoted, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).