We all seem to be living through a time of rapid change.
Part of these feelings of experiencing rapid change comes, no doubt, from careful attention to news media, alerts we receive on our mobile phone, the ubiquitous “Breaking News” moniker on every screen. We now learn of a bus accident that killed three people in a remote rural area of a country far away from us, complete with pictures, within hours of the event. With such connectedness, there is a lot to cover, and we can literally see it all with a few clicks on a mobile phone. So, it seems that events are occurring faster and faster because we can follow so many events simultaneously.
Immediately after the 9/11 events, I mounted a repeated survey of a national sample of adults, containing a battery of self-report psychological health measures. We tracked such self-reported well-being over time as the days and weeks passed. A finding I will always remember is that those respondents who kept close attention to the media stories of the events after the attack, suffered from reduced well-being for a much longer period of time, relative to those who paid less attention to such media. Such attention seemed to keep the psychological wounds fresher for longer periods of time. Based on this finding, one wonders how much of a sense of living in a moment of rapid change is a function of how much attention is paid to very short cycled new media.
These thoughts may also apply to anyone in a work organization or some institution that also is undergoing change. For example, US universities are facing threats to Federal government financial support and increasing costs from demands for new academic programs, facilities, and student services. Just as economic inequality is a concern among US households, inequality in financial resources among elite private universities, state universities, and small liberal arts colleges is inducing change in the eco-system of US higher education. Further, the coming cohorts of students will come from life experiences very different from those of the last two decades. To optimally serve those students, changes in US universities must occur.
Similarly, in private sector organizations, externally influenced changes abound. Retail stores of a “brick and mortar” type and small businesses are being rapidly affected by internet-based consumption. Shopping malls, once thriving, are filled with empty storefronts. Some close completely. Department stores, offering large inventories of diverse products, are most vulnerable. Generational effects in consumer behavior seem large; younger shoppers claim never to visit stores except virtually. The manufacturers to the retail sector, once a stable industry, are undergoing real change.
With such rapid changes externally induced on organizations, one wonders how it affects the taste for voluntary change within the organizations. In this context, are proposals for change within organizations affected by the general feeling that the rate of change in the larger society is rapid, out of one’s control, and filled with fearful consequences? Do more and more people tend to seek stability in their social worlds (which they partially control) and in their work organizations, in reaction to the feeling of overwhelming rapid change in the larger world? Alternatively, do the feelings of unrelenting change in the external world spur a sense of need for innovation in other aspects of their lives?