The Transition Will Not Be Televised

It seems everyone, including myself, is talking about how the world is in transition. Everything is being disrupted – or should be – and creative destruction, Schumpeter‘s famous term for the old giving way to the new, is happening all around us.

Obviously, something is going on. Within 20 years the way we communicate and coordinate with each other has been completely revolutionized. The telephone book is like a thing from the stone age. Walkmans, CD-players, point and shoot cameras, paper maps, etc. have all been replaced by the smarthphone, a single device that can do a million more things, and only exists for just over a decade.

Video rental has all but disappeared, Uber has disrupted taxi companies worldwide, digital media has turned the tables on print media. Facebook has 1.7 billion active users. Google processes 1.2 trillion searches per year.

The speed of change is incredible. Even for professionals like me, it is hard to stay up to date. For everyone else, it’s basically impossible. That means that we will be surprised a lot. It also means that at some point some of the change will be a bad surprise. It will be something we didn’t anticipate, and that catches us flatfooted.

So what can you do against that? Here are some thoughts about what you can do today, to be better prepared for the changes coming tomorrow:

  • Know your own mission. Make sure you know why you do what you do, and why it is important. When your business model or competitiveness is challenged, stick to your (own) mission, but try phrasing it in a different way and see if that opens up new strategic directions. You’ll be surprised.
  • Increase the size of your business and social networks and become an active participant. Networks provide insight, knowledge, opportunities, feedback and more. If your industry or your business is being disrupted, an active network will help you weather the change.
  • Find and connect with change makers: people who do things differently. Look for common objectives and try to experiment with different ways of doing, thinking and organizing.
  • Practice your switching skills. There usually is no reason to change, until it is inevitable to change. But by then it might be too late. Be smart and avoid the ‘Turkey problem‘ (see diagram below).

turkey taleb

*The title of this blogpost is referencing the song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by hiphop pioneer Gil Scott-Heron, in which he observes that what happens on TV is not the real world, and we’d be mistaken to only believe the media explaining us what is going on around us.