It’s easy to think that maybe all we need to do to survive this crazy world we live in is just grit our teeth a little bit longer and wait for sanity to return. The madness of the election cycle will soon be over, and a new parliament installed (you will have your own ideas about who you’d like to see there, and who you hope won’t survive the vote). The recession will soon be over too, with the dawning of a new economic upswing now appearing across the Western world. And then, so you hope, you can get back to “business as usual”.
But this is not going to happen. The signs are everywhere and they’re all pointing in one direction: we are living through one of those moments in history when all the rules for success and failure get rewritten.
About once every two centuries or so, history stops its relentless forward march, takes an abrupt turn and heads off in a new direction. This is often linked to a new technological development that changes how people live, interact and work. Think of what the world was like before the Industrial Revolution – and then after. Before and after electricity, indoor plumbing, trains and motor cars, telegraphs and telephones, and machines. These innovations all flooded into the world in a remarkable period in the latter half of the 19th century, and the world was changed forever.
We are living through one those times now. Ignited by digital technology, but fuelled by other significant megatrends such as increasing longevity, globalization, environmental and ethical issues and rapidly shifting social values, the rules for success and failure in society, industries and every organisation everywhere are being rewritten. It can be frightening and disconcerting for individuals and organisations alike. Disruptive change like this brings many threats as well as significant opportunities – but only for the brave, the bold and those willing to adjust their mindsets to a new world.
Back in December 1862, one month before finally signing the Emancipation Proclamation to free America’s slaves, President Abraham Lincoln beautifully summed up the times in which he lived in a message to Congress. The ending of slavery was but one example of the shifting times, and the changes to society’s rules for success and failure at the time. Lincoln’s words are as true and apt for us today as they were back then:
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
We too need to think anew. And act anew. And disenthrall ourselves from the dogmas of our past. Then, and only then, will we free ourselves up to accept the times in which we find ourselves, and make the kinds of decisions that will secure our futures. It’s time to rewrite the rules and embrace the new world that is emerging around us.
* This article was first published on Foundation Family Wealth