The rate of change, the number of sources of change and the impact of change are at an unprecedented level in human history. Has it now reached such a pitch that change itself is a paradigm changing phenomenon, regardless of the content of the change? Is it a permanent phenomenon? Let’s take a look.
Acceleration Of Change
One can reasonably assert that over the course of history there has been a tendency for the rate of change to increase, albeit in fits and starts. So in general that’s going to be true at any one time.
Quite a few people have suggested that an increase in the rate of change is always associated with advances in communication capabilities. It’s certainly true that in the recent past there has been a dramatic increase in the ease and therefore quantity of communication on a global scale. It stands to reason that innovative ideas are more likely to take hold and spread, if more people get to hear about them more quickly. And not just the ideas but the tangible results of those ideas are more likely to succeed if more people become aware of them and start making use of them in a shorter time frame.
Then there’s the ongoing economic depression. Huh? Why would a shortage of spare cash encourage innovation? Well, it all has to do with vested interests. Vested interests don’t like innovation. It’s not good for their business model. They’re doing very nicely thank you and will actively resist anything that will cost them money (or votes) until forced by economic or social forces to change their position. That’s why we call them vested interests. If you’re making money hand over foot just doing what you’ve always been doing, why change? Only the very far sighted company will actually risk undermining its own value proposition to stay ahead of the competition – or to do something it believes in.
In a depression that changes. Existing enterprises are driven to find new sources of revenue or to reinvent themselves entirely. Some will go out of business altogether. That in turn creates space for new enterprises, innovative technologies and perhaps even new organization models.
To some extent this is just an example of “creative destruction” but in the current depression we’re seeing a lot more than the simple weeding out of the less robust enterprises suggested by the classic definitions of the term.
Sources Of Change
One result both of the creation of space for new (small and numerous) enterprises and of the development/adoption of new organization models is that there are now many more sources of change – both external to and within any one organization. That’s the second element in the argument. Change is coming at us from more directions, a lot of which are not predictable. Globalization adds to this.
Some of that change is innovation but by no means all of it. We are constantly subject to economic, environmental and political change; to changes in the availability of natural resources; to the emergence of new competition and threats. There are also a lot more countries and therefore enterprises not merely involved in but owning the (global) means of production than there were even ten years ago. All the economic, environmental and political factors that affect each of them and all the innovation that emerges there, have at least an indirect effect on all of us.
Impact Of Change
The impact of all this change is also increasing, because so much of it is disruptive – within and across segments. The rapid evolution in communication hits not only traditional communication providers but also their customers, who typically have significant investments in and commitments to what only a few years ago were the sharp end of the communication world, IP PABXs for example. The new communication channels give rise to new habits in communication and these too affect enterprise communication strategies. Apple’s iPhone and subsequent iPad disrupted the business models of communication providers but they also started a desktop revolution that has been consolidated by Google and Samsung. That in turn is massively disruptive to Microsoft’s business model, which brings us Microsoft’s response in Metro and the Surface. So not merely are tablets starting to displace laptops in the enterprise world but suddenly there’s a real decision to be made about desktop operating systems, because the Windows hegemony has been broken by, amongst others, Microsoft themselves. Or maybe decisions about desktop operating systems simply shouldn’t be made but left to the user. And that’s disruptive for the operating model of most IT departments and is both a challenge and an opportunity on the security front. And so it continues.
Change As A Way Of Life
Can we know whether this situation is permanent (or at least not likely to decrease in intensity) and, if so, what should be our response to it? Are really heading for the great reset?
The appearance of new organization models is not a feature of classic creative destruction. Far from it. But today we see, outside of “legacy” organizations, new business models already operating. Even inside some established organizations it’s starting to happen.
What happens, if this just turns out to be an unusually severe cyclical downturn that results only in classical creative destruction. Should we care? If the end result is a return to long term prosperity and relative stability, that would make all our lives (even enterprise architects’) easier now wouldn’t it?
Let’s be clear, we can’t know anything for certain. Beware of false prophets and beware in particular of historical determinism. Nothing is inevitable. If the current crisis is not leading to the great reset and everything sorts itself out (with the necessary casualties), will the new vested interests put a brake on effective innovation?
Even the fact that we don’t know is an indication of uncertainty and nobody in their right mind is sitting around just waiting to see what happens. Everyone, every organization and enterprise needs to make some kind of decisions about how they’re going to deal with the recession for as long as it goes on. So one way or another we need to implement those mechanisms that allow us to deal with change and uncertainty as a way of life.
That, folks, was my brief justification for this whole series of blogs. Well, that and the fact that it’s damn interesting and fun and gives me some hope for the future. Fun is good. Hope is good. There should be more of both of them.
“Ring the bells that still will ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”