Any business that ignores these transformations does so at its own peril. Despite recession, currency crises, and tremors of financial instability, the pace of disruption is roaring ahead. The frictionless spread of information and the expansion of personal, corporate, and global networks have plenty of room to run. And here’s the conundrum: When businesspeople search for the right forecast–the road map and model that will define the next era–no credible long-term picture emerges. There is one certainty, however. The next decade or two will be defined more by fluidity than by any new, settled paradigm; if there is a pattern to all this, it is that there is no pattern. The most valuable insight is that we are, in a critical sense, in a time of chaos.
Nostalgia is a natural human emotion, a survival mechanism that pushes people to avoid risk by applying what we’ve learned and relying on what’s worked before. It’s also about as useful as an appendix right now. When times seem uncertain, we instinctively become more conservative; we look to the past, to times that seem simpler, and we have the urge to re-create them. This impulse is as true for businesses as for people. But when the past has been blown away by new technology, by the ubiquitous and always-on global hypernetwork, beloved past practices may well be useless.
This strategy also had a practical side, of course. There are many fewer universals than particulars, and you can often figure out the particulars if you know the universals: If you know the universal theorems that explain the orbits of planets, you can figure out where Mars will be in the sky on any particular day on Earth. Aiming at universals is a simplifying tactic within our broader traditional strategy for dealing with a world that is too big to know by reducing knowledge to what our brains and our technology enable us to deal with.
The pragmatic course is not to hide from the change, but to approach it head-on. Thurston offers this vision: “Imagine a future where people are resistant to stasis, where they’re used to speed. A world that slows down if there are fewer options–that’s old thinking and frustrating. Stimulus becomes the new normal.”
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