01.05.18

Our greatest challenge - the pace of change

Written By Stephen Ardern
13 mins read

A new era in globalisation and new technology has transformed every aspect of our daily lives. Fuelled by advancements in science and technology, and an obsession for continual economic growth, we are facing our greatest challenge in business for a generation – the pace of change.

In our poll of Fortune 500 CEOs, the 'rapid pace of technological change' got the most mentions as the 'single biggest challenge' facing companies.
Fortune

The pace paradigm

The pace of change is no new phenomenon. The birth of the internet created a new industrial revolution and ever since, we have seen production increase dramatically.

In the 19th century, it took Britain 150 years to double its GDP per capita. In the 20th century, it took the US 50 years. In the 21st century, it will take China and India just 15 years.

When looking at the adoption of new technologies, it took 50 years for 1 in 4 Americans to adopt electricity, 30 years for the same number to adopt radio, 18 years for colour TV, 13 for mobile phones, and only 7 for the world wide web.

Today, new technology looks to disrupt every part of our daily lives. We used to visit a travel agent to book a holiday, speak to friends to find a good restaurant, pay bills by visiting our local bank, or hail a cab by stretching out our arm. Now we pick up our phone. The world is available to us at any time and almost any place; people, products and services, even profits. The smartphone has become so central to our existence, we spend ⅙ of our lives glued to it, over 4 hours a day, and this excludes the time we stare at other devices.

If technology is our new sports car and the internet its fuel, then the customer is firmly in the driving seat, pushing the accelerator as hard as possible. It’s now a race to understand how technology can satisfy our every desire. And, if you see an opportunity to create something new; an experience, a product, a game, or a service, you can set up a business tomorrow and be selling globally by end of the week.

Air Swimmers made its YouTube debut in July 2011, recording a whopping 2.1 million views in five days. The viral success of the instructional video caused the demand for the innovative toy to skyrocket, selling huge amounts of product across the globe.

As technology evolves more quickly, so too does human behaviour, creating a cycle built around increasing expectations. We want our lives to be better, so we search for  ways to create meaning through new technology. We find those products and services and are temporarily satisfied – then we quickly want more. The cycle continues.

Whether we’re using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Aristotle’s Seven Causes for Human Action, we know that human progress is rooted in basic needs and desires. It’s a drug that we constantly crave; it makes us feel that we belong, and that we matter. Most importantly, it leaves us wanting more.

The reality of this is continual introductions to new products and services. And, as we’re exposed to more and more new innovation and dazzling customer experiences, we’re quick to judge by our newly-raised expectations. For those brands that look to continually thrive, they must adapt and understand how consumer behaviour is changing, and the huge effect it’s having on our economy.

In an expectation economy that is customer-led and data-driven, disruption and innovation have ceased to be a 'nice-to-have' or 'some other company’s job.' As far as consumers are concerned, the measure of value of any brand is how seriously it takes its responsibility to make their lives better or easier. Constant change for the better is now unconditionally expected.
Ian McCaig, CMO of Qubit

While expectation may be silent, demand is loud. Next day is now same day, and is quickly becoming same hour. It’s incredible how much more demanding and less patient we’re becoming. We experience the world and move on at lightning speed, and, for those brands that don’t hit the ever-rising benchmark, their fate is sealed in a barrage of tweets, shares and comments. The imperative for all brands is clear: if you want to win consumer love, you’ve got to show up, keep up, and never stop impressing the hell out of them.

But what is the price of progress? 

The progress paradox

The progress made by humankind over the last 30 years is unprecedented. The amount of people now connected, empowered, and interconnected around the world is almost infinite. We have lifted a billion people out of poverty, basic education and literacy has exploded, democracy has rapidly spread around the world, vaccination against some of the worst killers in human history has become almost universal, and child mortality has reduced by 10-fold over the last two centuries to less than 5%.

Data even suggests that happiness and life satisfaction are increasing globally, especially in countries that have experienced significant economic growth.

Countries that experience economic growth also tend to experience happiness growth across waves in the World Value Survey.
Esteban Ortiz-Ospina & Max Roser, Our World in Data

However, the same progress that has changed the world for the better has caused some shocks along the way; the Arab Spring, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and the rise of anti-establishment politics. These shocks indicate that progress doesn’t come without cost.

Established societal systems such as politics, education, health and economics have developed over a long period of time and are rooted in traditional models, processes and mediums. Many of these systems are now struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change. In order to stay relevant, some need rethinking. Others need complete reform.

In 2011, a wave of revolutions emerged across a number of countries in the Middle East. The cause of the revolutions were attributed to a number of complex political, economic and social issues however, the unprecedented levels of support were triggered by social media and other digital technologies.

This shows how new technologies provide a platform to connect and empower individuals and small groups, giving a voice to a new generation of political activists. The flow of information across social media mobilised huge swathes of people and was impossible for the existing political regimes to control through traditional channels. It was a clear indication that politics in its current form is now under threat, and that the threat could be so great as to topple governments.

The results of this study underscore the central role that social media, particularly
Facebook and Twitter, played in the protests leading up to the resignation of Egyptian
President Mubarak in February, 2011.
Zeynep Tufekci & Christopher Wilson, Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square.

More recently, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has provided insight into how the political system could be responding to the rise of technology. Are we entering a time when the electorate’s digital profile is more valuable than their vote? Is political influence moving to those who create algorithms rather than manifestos?

The question of how algorithms will change the world is also interesting when it comes to the jobs market. From the use of animals to power farming machinery, to steam powered mills, through to the information age, technology has always been prevalent in the evolution of employment. However, with the latest advances in artificial intelligence taking computer algorithms beyond human intelligence in some capacities, mass automation threatens to transform the world of work.

In a recent research report from McKinsey, the predictions are startling:

Very few occupations—less than 5 percent—consist entirely of activities that can be fully automated. However, in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers. All this is based on our assessments of current technological capability—an ever evolving frontier.
McKinsey; Jobs lost, Jobs gained

Progress here is bringing with it some huge challenges for us all, employees and employers alike. Shifts like this can have devastating consequences. If we take a lesson from history and look back to the last industrial revolution in England, average wages remained stagnant for decades, even as productivity rose. 

To go one step further, what if we look to a future ruled by algorithms and one where a huge percentage of humans become the ‘useless class’. This prediction isn’t too unrealistic.

In Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus, he creates a scenario where the world is no longer ruled by humans, but algorithms.

What will happen once algorithms outperform us in remembering, analysing and recognising patterns? The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.
Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus

If we’re highlighting how progress may not necessarily be the improved destination we’d hoped for, we have to reference the environmental cost. A more prosperous, healthier humankind has meant population rates have increased exponentially over the last 50 years. And, more people in an age of mass production, consuming more things, is depleting natural resources at an alarming rate, and creating more waste than we know what to do with. We’re poisoning the planet and radically changing our climate. Many scientists believe this is humanity's greatest challenge and that we’re beyond a point of no return.

How can we harness the pace of change for positive impact? How do we create new technologies to stall or reverse the impact on the devastation humans have caused? How might we ensure progress moves towards an improved condition?

On demand is making us demanding, automation is replacing human interaction and polls can no longer predict political outcomes.The post information age is saturating consumers with huge amounts of information on one hand, whilst trying to hide it on the other. How can we take these shifts – shifts in ourselves, our environment, our systems – and make them meaningful?

If change is now constant, making change meaningful is the only way to capitalise in the future and avoid becoming a paradoxical progress statistic.

Meaningful change

In the emerging global market, rife with surprise and discontinuity, the brands most able to exploit possibility will be those that are most resilient to continual change. The ability to adapt in changing conditions, persevere in unexpected adversity, and take actions to respond quickly will be essential for capitalising on new opportunities. These are the key attributes needed to make meaningful change.

Part of the challenge is understanding the key drivers for change, and, being able to focus on the huge amounts of information available to us when making vital decisions. This is where the power of design can be fundamental for any business. Design is the process of solving problems to transform need into demand and should be used at every level of your organisation. We believe design is the most important catalyst for meaningful change.

To help our clients thrive in an era of continual change, we have identified three key drivers that support decision making and identify areas of focus

1. Technological change and digital disruption
Technology is becoming invisible and seamlessly integrated into our lives. It is connecting people like never before and responsible for creating, deeper, lasting relationships. As algorithms learn more and adapt to our needs, technology is creating experiences that are bespoke and personal, polarising individual opinion and state of mind. We’re reaching a point in history when the machines are now outsmarting humans, and we can simply outsource our thinking and huge amounts of automation. Technology is allowing us to be disruptive, rethinking traditional ideas of control.

2. Changing consumer behaviour
Consumers are becoming dissatisfied through rising expectations and a demand for everything, all of the time. They crave authentic, meaningful products, services and experiences, embracing imperfect, but honest brands that show their real self. The demand for transparency also drives a need to be more empowered and in control, no longer are reviews a one way street. And, as our lives become busier, consumers are becoming more discerning, often making decisions by feeling, or mood.

3. Shifts in creative thinking
Creativity has never been more important, which is why we see it as a key driver for meaningful change. We have identified four characteristics to driving successful creative thinking.

Share your thinking place emphasis on the journey, the process is as meaningful as the outcome. Work with others and co-create, a broader perspective will allow you to understand the complex world we live in and the growing list of consumer needs. And, work iteratively, taking as many people with you as you go.

Demand attention Take time to understand your audience so you can personalise their experience, Focus on the essential, anything else is simply a distraction in an increasingly cluttered world. Keep ideas simple, in a world ruled by technology, there’s always a danger to overcomplicate. And, curate a meaningful experience that is true to your brand and to your consumer.

Think ‘always unfinished’ retain a growth mindset and continually learn. The pace of change is real, so better to test and iterate than create perfection first time round.

Accept there is no normal – don’t make too many assumptions and work beyond theory to establish your own insights. Behaviours are changing and lines in audience segmentation are blurring. Break the rules, not just because it’s fun, but because disruption leads to breakthrough.

The world is changing at such a rapid pace, creating our greatest challenge in business today. However, great challenges, almost always come with even greater opportunities and the pace of change is no exception, the big question is whether you’re making the meaningful changes that are necessary in order to keep up?

Uniform will be sharing more thought pieces on meaningful change on our website and across social media. For updates on latest content, please sign up to our newsletter below.

 

Image by @JonathanFormento

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