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Understanding the balancing act of change

SOME time ago, Charles Darwin made the point that it was not the biggest or the fastest that were most likely to survive change, it was the most adaptable. This is a line that has proven very popular among the swag of writers advocating the need to constantly adapt to the changes we are currently facing.

But change is never easy and rarely comfortable, either indi-vidually or as a community. Ted Saffo, from the Institute of the Future, says that, in adapting to change, societies work on a 30-year rule.

Based in San Francisco, Mr Saffo argues that the decade between our 15th and 25th birthdays is the most intellectually influential. He says that, while there are all sorts of basic and critical things we learn before then, most of our values and fundamental ideas are shaped through this time.

It then takes us a further 30 years, until we are between 45 and 55, to rise to jobs that have sufficient influence so we can put these ideas into operation. Hence the 30-year rule.

So if Mr Saffo is right, today’s leaders – in politics, business, the media, wherever – are being guided by the world view they discovered, or dreamt up, in the 1960s and 70s. A quick scan of the latest film and music releases or television programs certainly confirms that recycling is very fashionable.

It doesn’t take any great insight to observe that the world was a very different place, but how often do we see echoes of the ’60s and ’70s being applied in trying to find solutions to today’s problems.

In terms of the mass of changes that have occurred socially, technologically, economically, en-vironmentally or politically over the past 30 years, a mindset stuck in the 1960s or 1970s is likely to be more of a hindrance than an asset.

But obviously none of us lives in a complete vacuum as we work our way up the slippery pole. Attitudes change, as do our most basic understanding of how systems work (in some cases

far more slowly than others).

This is not to say that there is value in change for change’s sake. As human animals we gain a lot of comfort from the old and familiar, in fact an entirely uncertain world would send us off the deep end.

The challenge for any leader is to understand this balance between the new and different and the old and familiar and what are the crucial elements of each. Taking the wrong path way direction makes that person a part of the problem rather than an aid in finding the solution.

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