You are a guinea pig
In a time of high frequency change, we are all guinea pigs. All working tirelessly to interpret, codify and normalise new ideas, objects, media and behaviours. To lay down a shared set of rules for how these things should be discussed, applied, accepted or rejected.
It can be exhausting, even for those who relish the challenge.
Not everyone embraces change. There is even an argument for some conservatism in this period, a braking force to prevent us rushing headlong into an uncertain tomorrow. But this conservatism has to come from the right place. Objective caution is one thing. Forceful rejection of the loss of relative privilege is quite another.
Old vs young is an old story, most recently retold in the mauling of millennials over the past five years. This cohort born from 1980 onward has been accused of being workshy, over-sensitive and laden with excessive expectations. There’s little evidence that any of it is true — or at least more true than it was for previous cohorts. Certainly millennials don’t job hop any more than previous generations.
Millennials have come of age in a time where they are expected to pay their way up from a young age. Where a large proportion will enter the workforce already in debt. And where the work that they find is increasingly insecure. Facing all this perhaps they are entitled to ask for more than their predecessors?
But millennials have an advantage as guinea pigs that galls their seniors. They have had young minds, biologically more capable of adaptation, throughout the most recent periods of accelerated change. They have adapted their behaviours and working styles while others feel left behind.
Perhaps this drives some of the mauling they have received.
Another group that has been vilified over the past five years is scientists, and technologists. Yes, we celebrate the superstars of Silicon Valley (though they too receive their share of brickbats). But the scale and volume of the movements that reject science, in many forms, has been growing.
For a start, there’s the conspiracy theorists. The flat earthers, the climate change deniers, the anti-vaccination lobby. Those who prefer, for whatever reason, truthiness to truth.
There’s the alternative health lobby, determined to undermine empiricism to promote their beliefs or their products, whether it’s ‘superfoods’, supplements, or pointless — sometimes even dangerous — treatments.
Fear drives a lot of these groups. Fear of things they don’t understand. Fear of losing parts of their lives they value — even their livelihoods. There’s nothing wrong with fear — it’s entirely natural. But the right response to fearing things you don’t understand is to examine them. Accept your knowledge deficit and ask questions. Don’t hide from the facts, however uncomfortable they may be.
I caught up with Lorna Fitzsimmons of The Pipeline yesterday. Inevitably, we talked about gender in the workplace, and how we are still so far from addressing the equality of women.
52% of the (potential) workforce are still significantly disadvantaged, underpaid and under-represented. Yet we know — hard fact — that changing this has a range of benefits with which few can argue. Benefits to productivity, growth, profitability. Benefits to society.
Despite this, many men — and even women — are unaware of the situation or unwilling to act to change it. Some even aggressively resist it, knowing that though it may be in the company’s interest, it may not be in their own.
That self-preservation instinct is understandable. But ultimately, it’s unsustainable.
In a time of accelerated change, it’s OK to be scared — we naturally fear what we don’t understand. But it’s not OK to be wilfully ignorant. In the long term, it won’t serve you well.
This period of high frequency change is not a blip. It’s probably the new norm, at least for some time to come. No political battle is going to disconnect us from increasingly shared ideas, media, brands and channels of communication.
Unless you want to spend the next few years afraid and struggling against the tide, it’s probably time to embrace change. Or reject it, by all means. But if you do so, do it from an informed standpoint. Otherwise the tide is likely to wash right over you.