History

Reacting to change

On December 31st, 2018 an interesting article appeared in the New York Times. It was titled “Wielding Rocks and Knives, Arizonans Attack Self-Driving Cars“.  It wasn’t a lazy review of some crazy future book. The fourth industrial revolution is here and our tools seem to be testing us. And some of us are running out of patience. The world is reacting to change. Like in Arizona, people were pelting stones at driverless cars! Including one man who jumped in front of one driverless car and waved a gun at it saying, ‘he despises it’!

Energy Revolutions

Every revolution is about a shift in energy. From physical to mechanical. From mechanical to digital.

The first industrial revolution (sometime between 1760 – 1840 or so) had the power of ‘steam’ as its thrust area.  Steam. Steel. Machine tools. Industrial looms. And the like. 

The second industrial revolution a.k.a “The technological revolution”, is about scale. Electricity. Petroleum. Iron & Steel. Railroads. Turbines. Engines. Etc. And the like. Perhaps a mention of Fredrick Taylor and his management principles is due. The second industrial revolution happened between 1870-1914. 

The third industrial revolution is the giant shift from mechanical to digital. Commencing sometime from the late 50s when computers began to make their first appearance. An important marker on the ground was the movement of music from vinyl records to CDs in the 80s!

Some argue that the fourth is primarily a continuation of the the 3rd. Obviously, it’s not that simple. Wearable devices. Implants. Networked devices. Data. Robotics. Internet of things. All point to a fusing of the physical, biological and digital. 

Reacting to change

Example after example from history points to non linear change leading to a forceful response .  Every significant change that disrupted an existing status quo provoked people of that time. Be that a wave of dismissal, royal proclamation or violent protests! 

Is it different this time?

If change is natural, so must our reactions to it. Isn’t it? Only this time, the scale of change isnt quite the same. Changes that are reaching us are more intense, simultaneous, interconnected like never before.  Klaus Schwab, who wrote “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” speaks of the difference in terms of Scale, Scope and complexity. The fusion of physical, digital and biological worlds will break boundaries of a number of disciplines. From economics to research. From biology to technology. 

Artificial Intelligence is changing professions. Lawyers. Doctors. Construction engineers. Construction engineers. Armed Forces. You name a domain and a passing lark will point to how AI and related stuff is sitting outside the door. 

The ramifications of such sweeping change presents dilemmas at scale. Most of it dished out simulataneously. Complex and interwoven, mankind’s sense of preservation is being tested. The scenario of mankind not cherishing all the progress made by its own is real. Worse, it is already happening every day. 

There is something more 

The fourth industrial revolution has in it an innate ability to amplify and showcase the inequalities that are omni present in the world. These inequalities have been a result of a thinking that gave ‘Capital’ a lot more heft. Perhaps this time it will be a tad different with ‘talent’ getting more attention than before.  

The amplification of inequalities and the new opportunity to amplify independent voice is a different deal. This change is not the usual change! 

In search of new frameworks and new mental models

Ways of thinking and working that aided us all these years are coming apart now. Not because they are wrong but because, they were designed for a different era. The new age citizen needs a new assortment of skills and mind maps. Needless to say that holds true for leaders and leadership as well. 

Klaus Schwab notes, “We need leaders who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego. The digital revolution needs a different, more human kind of leadership”.

We need to keep thinking and talking about this. It is only in our interest to do the same.

Story power !

Oxfam is betting on a new way.

Imagine having to sell second hand goods. Say, used furniture. Or other items of daily use. Like sunglasses. Or combs. Or radios. Whatever.

That effort is not going to fetch anything more than a small sum, unless ofcourse those belonged to a celebrity.

Ofcourse, the celebrity quotient is comes from the story that can be told.

“This hair strand is from Elvis Priestly”.

“This coffee cup was used by Sachin Tendulkar”.

Surely, the strand of hair is not worth so much if its not associated with Elvis. Nor the coffee cup with Tendulkar. These are stories that give life to random inanimate objects.

So here is Oxfam’s very interesting game plan.

Second hand goods gain a meaning when they come with a story. If there was a way of sharing a story about a second hand product with a prospective buyer, well, the chases are more for a purchase. (Every item on second hand sale will carry a story along with it and tagged to the item using a QR code. Any prospective purchaser would get to know of the story behind the item on sale. )

“Someone might donate a record and add that it was the song that they danced to at their wedding to its tag,” The chances of a purchase brightens with the story! (Not that it would result in a purchase everytime).

Stories have great power in them. Almost magical. Every individual carries his or her own stories and it becomes easy to relate to other stories that are told .

The humdrum of everyday corporate life makes it difficult for us to take the time to listen to stories or narrate our own. But when we do narrate or when we find a patient ear, what a difference it makes.

Methodologies like Appreciative Inquiry, inherently seek story telling and can create organisation wide energy. Every story holds significance and the very act of both telling and listening to a story can be sources of great energy.

Unfortunately, language creates its own complications and the word ‘story’ can sometimes lead to the narrative being thought of as a flippant waste of time. Call them what you will, stories have in them an inherent quality that brings alive people.

Grandma and her tales !

Personally, many of us would have grown up with stories. As children stories fascinate us. For many years, I grew up with stories that my grandmother used to tell me. Those gave a huge fillip to imagination and also, in retrospect, brought a contextual understanding of morals and values that was required in the family. The best thing about them, was I always used to look forward to hearing those ‘stories’!

In the corporate world the power of stories is often underrated. Grossly.

There are exceptions though. Coca-Cola is one that I know. Coca-Cola Conversations, the blog that Coca-Cola runs is a fine example of how corporate stories build or augment a brand. Infact, Coca-Cola has a historian and archivist with them : Phil Mooney.

Only, in the modern times, technology has given consumers the opportunity of contributing their own story to the brand. That is not only more interesting, it is as authentic as it can get.

Blogs, wikis, tweets all are available for imaginative use.

Within the organisation stories from the organisations past : accounts of successes / failures / decision points etc when told with a degree of authenticity and simplicity not only aid a great deal in building a culture, they are extremely non-invasive and interesting for employees.

So much for stories ! And by the way, they work. Very nicely !