In addition to the unique challenges that exist for every situation there are challenges that affect almost all people, teams, and organizations.
Change, complexity, confusion, and chaos
The modern world is a constantly changing environment and in many aspects the rate of change is increasing. One of the greatest sources of change comes from technology which has created an ever-expanding digital domain and interconnectivity between previously isolated systems. In some cases the rate of change of technology has exceeded people’s capacity to cope with that change. Even for those who have somehow managed to avoid the direct reach of technology, environmental and climate change is an unescapable reality that has been accelerated by the mere presence of humans on our planet as well the technology we have created. Whether it’s sociological, geopolitical, technological, or in any other form, change is constant in this age of acceleration.
With constant and accelerating change comes increasing complexity. Growth in population, population density, connectivity, and diversity are just but a handful of factors that have made the world more complicated. In many situations we now have a larger and more diverse set of options to consider when making a decision. For example, we’re often overwhelmed with choices when considering the purchase of a commoditized item and these myriad options can make the decision a complex one. In the big data era, the volume and availability of data has increased exponentially and trying to sort through all that data to locate what we seek and verify its accuracy and relevancy has become so much harder.
When change is erratic, we find volatility. When information we require is not available or can’t be predicted, we face uncertainty. When the information we need is available but still can’t be understood due to a lack of clarity, we encounter ambiguity. Combine this troublesome trio, along with the aforementioned complexity and you have VUCA, an acronym coined in the U.S. Army in the 1990s to describe the post-Cold War world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. VUCA can cause confusion and the resulting indecision, disorientation, disorganization, and fatigue is often the most direct path to the chaos that we often must face in our daily lives and work.
When big is bad
Growth is a common goal for most initiatives and organizations. Getting bigger, taking it to the next level, increasing the audience, the user base, or the market are all typically viewed as worthy pursuits. Growth hacking is now considered both a science and an art of sorts. Hypergrowth is now the target for many early-stage companies. Yet an analysis of big companies shows that 50% of the S&P 500 companies were replaced in the last 10 years and only 10% of the Fortune 500 in 1955 still exist today. The same analysis predicts that 75% of today’s S&P 500 companies will be gone in the next 10 years. The lifespan of companies is decreasing while the rate of disruption is increasing. This begs the question of whether growth is good or whether it’s bad to become big.
Me, my selfie, and I
Every activity at scale requires teams and teams of teams where individuality and collaboration must be balanced. Greater scale naturally requires deeper collaboration. Yet a look at global social trends reveals higher divorce rates, an increasing proportion of people living alone, a greater preference for friends over family, a growing priority on independence and uniqueness as cultural values, rising personal wealth (and the desire to maintain it), and increasing narcissism and self-promotion and self-portraiture (AKA “selfies”) on social media. While creativity at scale absolutely relies on the leverage of individualism, the human population is becoming increasingly individualistic and the resulting downsides are a threat to collaboration, teamwork, unity, and alignment.
The world is awash in BS
We live now in a world in which:
- Fake news is becoming more prevalent
- Time-to-announce is taking priority over quality of content
- Sheer quantity of information is often used to overwhelm targets into submission
- Loudness and extremism are used to draw attention and distract
- Fancy words, statistics, and charts are used to persuade by impressing
- Transformations are often a pointless exercise in reassembling the same pieces
- Facts, truth, and logical coherence are losing value
Although bullshit is not a new thing, we’ve been overwhelmed with it in recent times. Technology now allows bullshit to spread with alarming, viral speed. Furthermore, as Albert Brandolini, an Italian programmer, declared through his “bullshit asymmetry principle” (also known as “Brandolini’s Law”): “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it” which means that undoing the damage caused by bullshit can be very difficult. Learn about detecting and calling out bullshit.