FUTURE SHOCK

In 1970, the futurist Alvin Toffler, a bit of a technology guru, predicted a time to come in his book ‘Future Shock’.

He described how society would develop in such a way that we might not be able to handle….information.

The day would come when we would receive, constantly, so much information and at such speed that we would not be able to deal with it. Or ourselves. Society would morph into an anxiety driven mess.

He wrote Future Shock in 1970.

(One or two predictions were a little weird. Can we say disposable clothes have caught on in any significant way? Disposable fashion seems to be quite a different thing).

Amongst the changes he saw developing was the notion of an ‘adhocracy’ – that businesses and enterprises would become self-organised in a more fluid and adaptive and –adhoc -way.  This would be a part reaction to the need to respond in a more agile way to so much ‘input’.

While the ‘too much information’ has certainly arrived, what about ‘adhocracy’?  Has that happened?

Oddly, no.

The more that information sources multiply (authenticity unknown) the more ‘overload’ seems to encourage surprising behaviours. And most surprising is the effect on that instinct towards structure and control.

From working across different organisational cultures, of different sizes, it looks suspiciously as if there is a pretty linear relationship between information overload and… LESS ‘adhocracy’.

The more teams I see, the more clear the pattern becomes.

What looks on the surface like a relaxed new way of being (casual dress, first names used, less formal language around the business and what needs doing) emerges as a thin disguise for less autonomy, and for responsibility and authority to be taken to ever more centralised and senior levels.  Sometimes this rigidity and control may now exceed anything experienced before the accurately predicted information overload.

Come back Alvin – help us understand.

How did this happen?

And how do we make it stop

IS ‘BEST PRACTICE’ JUST ‘OLD PRACTICE’?

If the business you are in involves life and death and safety, then it will be hard to laugh at the words ‘best practice’.

Health care, transport, looking after small people, for example, bring such responsibilities that the need for some place-marker for standards of professionalism and necessary achievement seems obvious. Of course it does.

The question is whether ‘best practice’, which sounds so desirable, is a sufficient place marker: whether the beliefs and assumptions it drags in its wake are ….damaging.  These assumptions include-

  • what works in one place will work in another,
  • everyone operates in an identical way,
  • that proven success in certain contexts means success in all contexts,
  • that following an agreed process trumps responding to an unprecedented situation in a new way.

Its machine thinking, isn it?

Yet when you learn something, and finally master it, has it not been adapted in some way and become your own? Have you not changed, and been changed by, this skill as you (unique you) practice and integrate it into how you operate?

The collision, leading to integration, between you and the skill generates something new.

The meeting of you, and the practice, is a productive meeting that generates outcomes and outputs that were not even imaginable before.

Best practice is about what has happened in the past.

Best practice is about replication.

Where is the possibility, the potential, for exceeding and improving?

When learning a foreign language we soon come across the concept of ‘false friends’ – words from the new language that sound familiar, but have a completely different meaning.

A lot of business speak is like another language. We can usually spot the mendacious or vacuous elements. They make us laugh.

Its these false friends that we should really watch out for.

They trap us in the past.