“To live in the midst of an era is to be oblivious to its style.”Spring Snow. Yukio Mishima
We are undoubtedly somewhere in a period of significant transition, though it is difficult to know how far in – The Begining? The Middle? It has been said that we don’t know we’re in the middle of a revolution until it’s over.
Wherever we are in it, it’s not like we couldn’t have seen it coming in some form. If we weren’t so busy trying to understand each piece as it makes itself felt – political rumbles here, business failures there, the social failures that lead to food banks in some of the wealthiest countries in the world – and we had stood still for a moment to join the dots of these changes, we wouldn’t be so surprised. We may not have been able to be precise as to the detail of change, but the trend would have come as less of a surprise.
What if we’re only just getting started? Whilst the change we’ve been seeing can be disorienting, I suspect it’s nothing compared to what is approaching us. The compound effect of artificial intelligence and concentrated wealth together with declining natural resources and increased population makes for a heady mix.
“When hierarchy is the order of the day, you are only as powerful as your rung on the organisational ladder of a state, corporation or similar vertically ordered institution. When networks gain an advantage, you can be as powerful as your position in one or more horizontally structured social groups”The Square and the Tower. Niall Ferguson.
We are well into an age of networks, but only just beginning to see their power – not the populist stuff of social media, but of radical ideas and shared purpose.
This pattern has occured throughout history – periods of relative stability based on a currency of the time (from animals, to people, to land, to capital) interspersed by periods of rapid change as we transitioned from one to another.
In an age of networks, the power of a business sits at the front line, where the company meets the customer – in person, on line, or by reputation. Trying to operate the traditional hierarchy system most of us have been taught at business school, and in established companies is increasingly futile, and it changes everything.
Concepts like leadership and engagement become not desirable, but critical to survival. Awareness of the wider environment crucial, and the ability to think systemically, about second order effects, vital.
And the timing is now.
Waiting for best practice is likely to be fatal. By the time best practice is established, we are likely to be the history that is part of its evidence base.