Buckhead, Atlanta, GA. We are evacuees from Sarasota, fortunate enough to be invited by friends to stay here with them while Hurricane Irma pursues her disruptive, erratic course through Florida. We had 18 hours to decide what objects/files/apparel would fit into our two cars, pack, and drive tandem to Atlanta, taking 12 hours in dense traffic to make what is usually a 9-hour drive.
The most important life practices for all of us in these circumstances are adaptability, agility, low levels of emotional drama, and dedication to paying attention only to the important things we can think and do as opposed to loudly thrashing around while wishing things were different. It all takes me back to the first part of Reinhold Neihbur’s Serenity Prayer:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
The wisdom to distinguish and think/act accordingly may well be the cornerstone of agility and adaptability. High levels of resistance and drama may be easier and momentarily satisfying, but they don’t get the job done in the end.
For someone who researches and writes about continuous change (Old Normal) and discontinuous change (New Normal) in our lives and society, this is like awakening to find myself at the center of a petri dish in the middle of a huge social science experiment. Both continuous and discontinuous change have always been with us, but continuous change dominated. Until recently. And discontinuous change is the elephant here in the petri dish with us right now.
For most of our post-WWII lives, continuous change/Old Normal has dominated, characterized by:
- We could usually see it coming and work with it. It was some adaptation of what we already knew.
Examples: cassette tapes to dvd’s to live streaming; land line phones to cell phones to email to texting
- Strong preferences for long term planning, time management, logic paths, goals, measurability, problem solving, rules and norms, specialized professional advice, and reliable institutions.
Examples: business plans, financial advisors and estate planning, bucket lists, career planning, climbing the professional ladder, college degrees as long term guaranties of employment, retirement/golden years of leisure, home ownership, and social security.
- Reliance on simplistic, binary thinking, language, metaphors, labels, and images.
Examples: Yes/No, Conservative/Liberal, Black/White, Immigrant/Citizen, Republican/Democrat, Safe/Unsafe, Friend/Enemy, Success/Failure, Old/Young.
- High levels of control based on plans and staying on plan.
Example: achieving financial business goals.
Continuous change, and the associated tools, are NOT going to go away. We will have to continue to be adept at managing Old Normal/Continuous Change.
However, Discontinuous Change/New Normal is now dominating. It requires different thinking and tools than our comfortable, familiar old normal ones. This means:
- We have 2 concurrent normals, Old and New
- If we are unable to distinguish between the two, situation by situation, we are lost
- If we are unable to distinguish between the two, situation by situation, AND are adept with the tools and approaches that belong to each we are doubly lost
New Normal/Discontinuous Change, as we have already seen, is characterized by:
- Unpredictable and unfamiliar.
Examples: the eerie and vaporous disjuncture between our three houses of federal government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
- Game Changing.
Example: impact of discontinuous technologies on employment, employability, and financial futures
- NOT subject to problem solving, especially problem solving that creates permanent outcomes and we never have to worry about that again.
Example: The dramatic change in who really heads American households, who really brings in the income, who our college students really are/how old they are.
- Not an extension of some other change already in motion.
Example: The financial, social, and business impacts of our oncoming longevity explosion.
- Keeps you guessing. Inconsistent. No clear logic or predictable path.
Example: Mr. Trump’s positions-of-the-moment.
- Systems thinking is required to grasp and work with it.
Example: Global warming. It isn’t good enough to believe or not believe in it. What’s good enough is to really understand what it represents, predicts, and how we are going to be sustainable individually and collectively long term.
- Absence of guaranties.
Example: A college degree is no longer the big predictor what we will do professionally for the rest of our lives. The shelf life of knowledge and expertise is so shortened that lifelong learning/regular certification in new disciplines will be a major ingredient of our personal and professional futures.
Enter Hurricanes Harvey/Irma/Jose, and Mr. Trump. See the list of characteristics. This is not a political statement or approval or disapproval. It is a statement of how discontinuously they operate. What do we frequently complain about? The lack of predictability and consistency. What would we better off focusing on? How to understand and work with discontinuous ways instead of doing so much wheel spinning while we complain that we want our familiar Continuous Change back. Or worse, we don’t can’t see the difference between Continuous/Old Normal and Discontinuous/New Normal. They are both alive and well today. Discontinuous is now dominant. How ill prepared and unaware are we given the shift in dominant normal? I think very.
Close your eyes. Imagine a garden from your childhood. See it in each season. Make the visual rotation through the four seasons at least twice. New and different flowers may appear from time to time, but the garden remains the same and yet different, too.
Close your eyes again for a moment. See yourself looking thru a kaleidoscope to the configuration of colors. Rotate the barrel of the kaleidoscope and see the arrangement of the colors. Do it again. The same configuration doesn’t reoccur. You can’t predict what it may look like at the next rotation. We aren’t in even modest control. This is much more about discontinuous change than about anything else.
Sometimes I think of myself as Paul Revere. If I could tell all of this in cute, short anecdotes, I would do so. What we need to understand is much bigger than that. Because of my research and writings, I am increasingly being asked to speak to groups of individuals/couples, professional advisors, and business leaders. This makes sense. We need to be adept in our own lives. Our professional advisors need to be adept or run the risk of advising us into significant trouble. Business leaders who don’t understand the difference can’t possibly lead if they are blind to other ways of thinking, behaving, and leading.
Our evacuation to Atlanta has been a great learning experience about agility, adaptability, levels of control, and an intelligent balance of planning and action. In a strange way Hurricane Irma forced our hands with disruptive change. It has gone from theoretical to well embedded in our biography. We now know from experience that we are both more agile and adaptable than we might have thought.
What are you doing to make sure you are aware, alert, adaptable, and able in both the Old and the New Normals with continuous and discontinuous change?
How having this set of competencies making a difference in your professional and personal lives?
We don’t, as of this moment, know if our house will still be there on Monday. We aren’t the only ones, of course. Our thoughts and prayers – for personal safety and remembering what’s most important in life – go out to everyone affected by Harvey and Irma.
Let me know so I can share your experience and wisdom with other readers and seekers.