Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
September 26th, 2006

The Speed of Change is Ever Accelerating

This week in New York I attended the OMMA Conference, produced by Media Post.  The acronym stands for On-line Media, Marketing & Advertising.  Basically this was a gathering of those who work in the Internet space and focus on delivering marketing messages to people.  The title of the conference was “The Internet:  Back on Speed”, which of course references the fact that we are now in the Internet 2.0 stage of development when broadband and video have started to deliver the promise of the Internet that was first glimpsed in the late 1990s before the bubble burst on Internet 1.0.  Because of that crash, there is still a bit of nervousness about the current explosive growth, but the general consensus, certainly seconded by this observer, is that this time it is not only for real but it is transformative.

A dominant theme put forth was the speed of change.  One of the most respected thought leaders in the industry, Rishad Tobaccowala, suggested  that making long range plans was no longer valid.  With a slide that showed everything that has happened in the last three years on the Internet, and then a slide showing all that has happened in the last three weeks, he made it clear that it is impossible to have a three year plan, let alone a five year plan.  Improvise, adapt and go with the flow is what is now called for to stay up with such rapid change.

This struck a particular chord with me.  Both in the book I am writing and a speech that I give called “The Speed of Change and Entering the Time of Shift” I suggest that the speed of change has accelerated so much that it has now become part of our environment. It is no longer linear but environmental.

Up until the beginning of the Industrial Age three hundred years ago it was often hard to experience the speed of change in a lifetime.  In the twentieth century, the speed of change accelerated greatly so that profound change occurred in one lifetime.  The world my father experienced as a senior citizen was vastly different that the one of his childhood.  Radio, TV, atomic energy, satellite communications, cable television and the ascendancy of the United States into the most powerful country in the world all occurred during his lifetime of 85 years.  In spite of all this change, the speed of change was still linear.  One change lead to another, which was the catalyst for yet something else to follow it, which then was the beginning of something else; all sequential.

In 1985 we entered the beginning of what I call The Threshold Decades, a time between what was and what will be.  In 1985 we had begun to fully enter the Information Age, but the values and thinking of the developed countries of the world was still Industrial Age.  At the end of the Threshold Decades, in 2005, we were fully in the Information Age.  These 20 years were the start of a 50-60 year period of transformative change similar in impact to the 50 years after Gutenberg’s invention in 1455 and to the 50 years after the commercial introduction of the steam engine in 1770.  The Threshold Decades saw the birth and incredible growth of cell phones, the growth and then maturation of cable television,  the explosive growth of the use, power and market penetration of the PC and of course the Internet.  In this one short period the world changed and we all started to feel the speed of change dramatically accelerate.  We could see profound change in many aspects of our lives within the course of just a year.

What now follows the Threshold Decades?  The Age of Shift.  Everything is shifting, and quickly.  One of the key characteristics of this new time is that the speed of change is perceptually constant.    It is no longer sequential but constant and environmental; we feel it as part of our world.  The Internet of course is the prime accelerator of change in addition to being the prime force of disintermediation.  From this vantage point it makes perfect sense that a three year plan is an anachronism.  If you are a marketer you must develop a full understanding and emotional content of your brand, know its value and then hold onto that value as you navigate, adapt, adjust, collaborate, and redeploy in this world of constant change.  Know who you are, know what your brand stands for and then go with the flow and not worry about the fact that last year’s plan seems to be out of date and the three year plan is laughable.

Accept that tomorrow will be different than today, that your cool new technology purchase will seem very dated in 2-3 years, that you have no real idea of the market forces that will affect your business in the next 4 years and that you, as a human are rapidly becoming the slowest part of this rapidly changing connectivity.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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