Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


Adapting to change in an age of acceleration

Heavy fog found me sitting in a crowded Sydney airport lounge recently, when two men asked if they could join me at my table. It’s very hard to say “no” when there are three seats and you’re the only one the sitting there!

As Tony, Carlo and I introduced ourselves our conversation surprisingly turned to anxiety, especially anxiety in young people and students related to their career choices and the future of work. This quickly led to a discussion on the pace of change and its pervasiveness!

Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, states —

We’re entering an age of acceleration. The models underlying society at every level, which are largely based on a linear model of change, are going to have to be redefined. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the twenty-first century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organisations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.[i]

Whether you are a senior leader or manager working in an organization that is focused on growth, preparing for a merger or acquisition, planning for succession, requiring a new level of competency to remain competitive, change is one constant and people are core to its success.

To help us understand the enormity of change and the urgency it creates for us to adapt, Thomas Friedman applies Moore’s Law when contrasting the processing power of Intel’s microchip and the Volkswagen Beetle. In 1965, Intel cofounder, Gordon Moore, believed that computational processing power would double roughly every two years.

If you take Intel’s first-generation microchip from 1971 and the latest Intel chip on the market, the latest chip offers 3,500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more energy efficient, and about 60,000 times lower in cost. If you apply this same principle of change against a VW Beetle under Moore’s law, the Beetle would go about 300,000 miles per hour, get 2 million miles per gallon of gas, and cost 4 cents! If fuel efficiency improved at the same rate, you could drive your car your entire life on one tank of fuel!

When the rate of change exceeds our ability to adapt, we get ‘dislocation’; when everyone feels that they can’t keep up with what’s going on.[ii] If change is “doubling or tripling or quadrupling”, as suggested by Thomas Friedman, how do we adapt to it and help others to adapt? It is not only the pace of change we must adapt to, but the compounding nature of it.

First, identify what you can control and what you can’t; what you can influence, and what for the time being you are unable to. Stephen Covey refers alludes to this in his ‘Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence.’ Change takes energy. Focus on the relationships and activities that energize you the most. Not only will they energise you, but they will keep you grounded about what is really important in life. At work, this will mean forging alliances and connecting with those who will journey with you through change, rather than become isolated by it (take a look at Daniel Goleman’s 'Empathy Triad' in Focus: The Driver of Excellence).[iii]

Next, reflect on the possibilities of what change will bring. Tell stories to yourself of what you can expect to see. Rather than focus on the problem or the actual change itself, anticipate different things that might happen and how you might respond to them. This creates what psychologists call, “mental models”.[iv]

If you are the one leading the need for change in an organization, there is the need to articulate a vision for change with messaging that is clear, concise and consistent. Inconsistent messaging breeds confusion that leads to staff becoming more anxious, often causing them to detach themselves from the meaning behind the change.

One think to keep in mind is that, “organizations don’t think or act; people do … but both individual leaders and collective leadership need to be proficient at managing people.”[v]


[i] Friedman, Thomas L., Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (New York, USA: Allen Lane, 2016), 187.

[ii] Ibid., 28.

[iii] Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), Kindle Edition, Loc. 1284.

[iv] Duhigg, Charles, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (New York, USA: Random House, 2016), 88.

[v] Ulrich, Dave, The Leadership Capital Index: Realizing the Market Value of Leadership (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015), 101.


To leave a comment, login or sign up.