How Change Happens Quickly  


The big question, in this era of rapid change, is: Can we prepare our young adults to orchestrate the change, to make the right adjustments as they lead the way into the future?

Have you stopped to think how quickly life changes in our day? A decade ago, people didn’t have social media at their fingertips to connect with information and news each day. Now, many of us can’t imagine life without it. Back then, none of us read a book electronically. Now, about half of all readers do. The Google world is replacing the Gutenberg world. Today’s freshmen in high school are learning about the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as a piece of history. They weren’t even around when it happened. In fact, most K-12 students have no memory of the 20th century at all.

If you’re like me — you probably find yourself feeling like an immigrant interacting with natives in a new land. You feel the world is a bit strange and you’re predisposed to talk about life as it was back in the “old world”.

How did change happen so fast?

When Change Happens Within a Generation

You and I don’t merely live in an era of change — but in an era of rapid change. Often, we see change happen in a matter of months or years, instead of decades or centuries as it once was. The questions that loom in my mind as I attempt to lead students are:

-- Am I keeping up with the necessary changes to connect well with them?

-- Am I able to not merely cope but lead into the changes that are necessary?

-- Am I behind the curve or ahead of the curve as I attempt to lead well?

Allow me to remind you of the obvious.

Those of us who lead must not only keep up with today’s changes, but lead those necessary changes over the next 20-30 years. As the saying goes, “The winds of change are already blowing.”

The big question is — can we prepare our young adults, to orchestrate the change; to make the right adjustments as they lead the way into the future? I have benefited from the foresight of anthropologist Margaret Mead. My friend Chad Causey reminded me of what she wrote prior to her death more than 35 years ago. Mead helps us consider how change takes place in history, and how we can thrive in an era of rapid progress. She notes that when change occurs quickly—and shapes us within a single generation—one or all of four realities exist.

When Change Happens Within a Generation, Look for These Realities:

  1. The recognition of an imminent threat.

Contemporaries identify dangers that could damage or destroy what we enjoy. If we feel we are about to lose something precious, we are more apt to adjust to new realties, better ways, or to invent solutions. This has led to the discovery of insulin, penicillin, and other medications or vaccines in the field of healthcare.

  1. The abandonment of an old practice.

When people naturally migrate to a superior method for making progress, we tend to shift within a single generation. For centuries, humans used horses for transportation, but it took cars only a generation to replace them. At first, cars were called “horseless carriages” because we only saw them as replacements.

  1. The introduction of new technology.

This one’s easy. As new technology is created, people can change within a single generation when they see it offers a better way to reach a goal. There was a time we didn’t know we needed a smart device in our hands to make progress and connect with people. Now we can’t imagine life without them.

  1. The presence of rarely gifted leaders.

The final shaper of fast change is the introduction of persuasive and brilliant leaders who influence us to do what we might not have done otherwise. I think of Winston Churchill, or Susan B. Anthony; Martin Luther King, Jr. or Steve Jobs. These leaders made us think differently, quickly. They had rare gifts.

The question I am pondering is this: can I help the people around me with any of these four realities? Do my colleagues and friends recognize an imminent threat to healthy living? Are they ready to abandon an old, irrelevant practice? Do they experience enough new technology that enables them to achieve their goals in a superior fashion? Are there any leaders they’d listen to that would help them “adjust their sails”? We have to figure this out.

Question: Which of the four items above are you experiencing?


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