How To Identify Massive Change

Question: How do we spot an inflection point?

 

Alan Webber: That’s such a great question because you’re right, the assumption is this must be what change feels like. I’m not sure about the question how do you know whether we’re in the middle of massive change or is this what massive change is supposed to feel like. We have a kind of a dashboard of change in our heads, in the way we receive information in daily conversation, in just the way we make sense out of the world. And when you see massive economic shifts, when you see people suddenly having to abandon long held standard ways of acting, when the old model doesn’t work anymore, you pretty much have to assume that this is what a transition period or what Andy Grove used to call an inflection point feels like.

And his definition of an inflection point; he was applying it to companies but he said that it’s that moment in time when the old assumptions and the old rules don’t apply anymore and if you simply keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you don’t get the same results and in fact, you get worse results. And so you’re a diagnostician and you’re looking at your company or your career, your country, the world you live in, and the vital signs that used to be able to be depended on for a certain set of frequencies or data points coming back to you aren’t coming back the way they did, number 1.

And number 2 then, the interventions that used to be enough to return them to what we would consider normalcy of the status quo don’t work. So you don’t get predicted results from predicted interventions and that’s a pretty good sign that the game is changing and that the old rules don’t quite apply the way they used to.

 

Question: How can we make the most of this current moment of change?

 

Alan Webber: Well, it’s only that I’m a different person which is probably the same thing ‘cause the world we experienced and make sense of is a conversation with the world and it’s not all just data but I think you’re right.

I wouldn’t quibble but; little more information about what was going on with my head in 1995, I had been to Japan in 1989 courtesy of the Japan Society of New York. I’m not sure if you remember the name Ezra Vogel but Ezra wrote “Japan as Number One,” Harvard Professor, brilliant sociologist and Japanafile. And he had nominated me for this fellowship to go to Japan at the peak of the Japanese bubble when Japan was buying up America, we were worried about our competitiveness, that was when the auto industry was threatened yet again or for the first time, so I spent 3 months over there and when I came back I sort of sounded like all those people who go to another country and come back and say, “I’ve seen the future and it works.”

I saw the future of competition, of business, of work, of technology and I came back with a perception that the world was profoundly changing, that globalization, technology, generational shift, and a shift in a kind of human capital how you create value, was going to change the world.

Globalization wiped away boundaries in national terms, technology wiped away boundaries in terms of how information can travel, generational shift meant people were no longer worried about putting food on the table, they were interested in how do you make meaning with your life, it was a generation that wasn’t brought up in the Depression, was brought up in plenty and so took, pretty much for granted, that we could make a living, the question was how do you make a difference.

And then a shift in, a kind of a, demographic composition, women, minorities, people who are not white men are suddenly running the world and playing key and important roles. And that was really the origin of Fast Company and what is the same today, I think, is a kind of a, not to be brutally book pluggish about it but when I started writing back then without even knowing it or knew rules of thumb for how the world was going to work.

Today, I would say the new rule of thumb, if I were going to start a project that was Fast Company-like, the rule of thumb is if you want to change the future, you have to change the conversation and that’s what you’re all about and that’s what your project is all about, that’s what Big Think is all about, can we get the voices of our time in all different spheres and zones of activity, engaged in a conversation that will ask new questions reflect differently on the moment we’re in and in the process of changing the conversation, change the trajectory of public and personal events. That to me is the work of the moment, that people are worried about will America, will the economy get through this problem? I’m convinced that we’re going to get through the problem, the questions are will we learn anything from it, will we have the kinds of dialogues and platforms for dialogues where we don’t just reflect on the moment of change but how to arrive at the end of the moment of change, having learned something that’s really worth learning.

 

Recorded on: April 23, 2009

 

The business expert talks about nailing down just what change feels like and how to leverage it.

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less
Photo: Shutterstock / Big Think
Personal Growth
    • A recent study from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 80 percent of Americans don't exercise enough.
    • Small breaks from work add up, causing experts to recommend short doses of movement rather than waiting to do longer workouts.
    • Rethinking what exercise is can help you frame how you move throughout your day.
    Keep reading Show less
    Politics & Current Affairs

    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
      Patriotic.

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.


    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.