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Monday, June 04, 2018

People-paced Change

Most people have seen a chart like this showing the speed with which adoption of new products is taking place. We hear hear a lot about the "pace of change" and its dramatic increase.

But let me push back for a moment. Look around you at the way the average person spends their day. They get up, have their coffee (or tea), get ready for work (or get the kids to school), enjoy a day of productive activity (or not), and then come home to chores, homework, sports or rest. The patterns of a person's weekend are also fairly predictable.

People's lives are busy and they arguably are doing much more than is sustainable. But the average day is not speeding up exponentially. If it isn't, what is? A few things:

  1. The number of consumers participating in the global marketplace. We are seeing huge population growth in Asia and Africa that are driving millions more people into the marketplace of ideas, products and services.
  2. Advances in technology. The use of AI, along with other advances in tech, is making new tech breakthroughs possible without nearly as many hours of human labor.
  3. Media's ubiquity. By being alerted to very accomplishment, tragedy, natural disaster and pop-star foible, we feel like the world's happenings are whizzing past us like asteroids passing a space ship.  
We cannot deny that these, among other things are speeding our world up. But what we should question is how that speed should affect us and our decision making. Anyone who has tried to introduce change to an organization, city or household can tell you that while the world seems to be changing, people can remain surprisingly resistant to change. In fact the increasing changes around people may even be making them less likely to change. 

So what inevitably happens is that visionaries, entrepreneurs and project managers see evidence of the increasing speed around them and then create expectations of how fast those around them will also move. This leads to great frustration for those managing change and for those being asked to change. 

The mistake that many innovators make is to correlate the increasing speed of global adoption with speed of a group of people in a certain setting. In a setting, all that global change is not the major force at work. Instead other forces, such as fear, insecurity, tradition, culture, history, and distrust are just as powerful as the speed of the broader world. So visionaries see one set of forces but miss the other set completely. 

I love Stephen Covey's book "Speed of Trust." (Here is a simple overview/notes and the source of the image below.) His main point is that many of the forces that push against the speed of adoption among a specific group of people can be minimized with one simple ingredient . . . TRUST. He uses this simple diagram to explain:

I contend that "people-paced change" requires a balancing of the internal trust in a group and the global trends together. This means that we must look at the trust and relationship we have within the group we are leading through change and then look at the external forces that are demanding change to understand the real pace of change that we should expect and drive for. The result of that balancing act will be a unique determination on the speed with which we can introduce change. 

Are you only looking at the External Global Forces and creating expectations around only those factors? If you are, you will be disappointed in your results. Take time to understand the internal trust levels and relationship and then marry those to the external forces and your assessment is more likely to be accurate and helpful.

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