We’ve all been there….change is hard. Even good change is hard (anyone want to say that the first year of marriage is easy?) Some of us like to believe “we’re good at it”, and “we like change.”  I get it – I feel the same way….about the changes I know are coming and can think about, as well as those over which I feel as though I have some semblance of control.

Personal change is one thing – but the kind of changes we are faced with today offer no comfort. There is really no way to really comprehend what’s next. Our country is certainly in unchartered waters politically these day – and that is all I will say about politics. But what about the changing nature of the world in terms of technology, and the future of work? Of course, the political environment impacts these changes, but regardless of who is President – the world is changing quickly and even the smartest among us are challenged.

Think about this:

–         Not too long ago there was no such thing as Cyber Security. According to the Info Security website, the first computer “worm” was created in 1989. They slowly started to gain momentum when the first viruses were found in the 1990’s, and the first credit cards under attack happened between 2005-2007. Think about that – a mere 10 years later we have an entire industry, new careers and secondary and post-secondary degrees focused on something that didn’t even exist a quarter of a century ago.

–         The first smartphone was released to mass adoption in 1999 by the Japanese firm NTT DoCoMo. They didn’t become widespread until the late 2000’s. In the third quarter of 2012 one billion smartphones were in use worldwide. Today, how would we conduct business without our smartphone? Forget business, how would we do anything?

–         I know a little something about online education, having worked at Apollo Education Group (University of Phoenix “UOPX”) for seven years. Proudly, UOPX Founder, Dr. John Sperling, “invented” online education in 1976 via a dial-up modem – giving working adults the flexibility to higher education options. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 1990’s when these options started to pick up – and it was in 1999 when Blackboard and eCollege were introduced. A mere 15 years later, in 2014, 98% of public colleges and universities offer online programs. The disruption of higher education continues fast and furiously.

So, what’s the point? There are several points ….change is here. It starts slowly, giving us humans time to react in one of three ways: (adopted from The Five Stages of Technology Adoption – Everett Rogers)

1)     Jump on the train quickly and become part of the change. This group is considered either innovators (2.5% of the population) or early adopters (13.5% of the population.) It seems that many of us like to consider ourselves as part of this group. And maybe, sometimes we are – after all, we all had smartphones long before the late 2000’s right?

2)     Wait and see, and then jump on the train when it seems that all the “cool kids” are doing it. Rogers referred to this group as the early majority (34% of the population). This is the group that spends the time thinking about the change, overcoming their own objections and understanding their personal context in which the change makes sense. This is the group we as OD practitioners are trying to impact – the group that will be, as Malcom Gladwell referred to as, the Tipping Point.

3)     Head shaking, finger pointing, foot-stomping, “I’ll jump in front of the train if I have to!”  We’ve all seen this in action – starting with toddlers and working all the way up to arms crossed stubborn adults refusing to see a different perspective. Although this can look different too – these resistors (which Rogers calls the Late Majority – 34% of the population or Laggards – 16% of the population) can also look like ostriches – with their heads buried deep in the sand, or bobbleheads – agreeing with the change with their outside voice, but with their inside voice screaming “nooooooo.” The covert resistance in this form can be a much more dangerous way to resist change – since head nodding with the absence of any behavior change can easily be construed as acceptance.

In any case, it’s time we are aware of some of the changes that are coming because like some of the disruptions I mentioned earlier, these are coming slowly now – but they are picking up steam and will be here before we know it. Are we ready to deal with some of the changes that are coming to the way we work? We at Medius Advisory Group have been doing a lot of speaking lately about The Future of Work. We run an exercise that asks leaders to sit together and make sense of some of the trends that are out there today – and imagine a world where these trends become more mainstream. What does the world look like and what are the implications to how we run businesses today?

Lots of people – not just us – are talking about these trends. We didn’t make them up, if you read at all about the Future of Work you will find them. They include:

In as little as 3 years, somewhere between 40-50% of a company’s workforce could be freelancers.

  • The implications of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality on, well, on everything. What will it look like, how do we prepare for it?
  • Machine learning and the implications of that on jobs – what’s left for the human to do?
  • With the continued disruption of higher education, how will the HR departments find talent? What if people actually stop getting their MBA?
  • What will work look like with four very different generations in it? About 10,000 baby boomers a day are retiring – what are the implications of that? Are the Millennials prepared to lead? What does the next generation (Gen Z) need for success?

Overwhelming? Yes. And yet we are seeing the same reactions across the board as I wrote about earlier. A small percentage of those we talk to about are truly excited – a little anxious maybe, but excited about what comes next and how that will play out for them personally. Many of those we see are in the second group – listening with some anxiety yet we can see the wheels turning inside their head – trying to make sense of it inside their personal context. And of course, we also see those that refuse to believe any of this is true – the leaders inside companies that are ignoring the signs, not preparing themselves and moving forward with “business as usual.”

Let me tell you something – even the smartest among us are not immune to the scariness of the impending changes. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.

These days, the most marketable skill is called Learning Agility.

Bersin by Deloitte defines learning agility as: “a competency or capability which describes a person’s speed to learn…People with strong “learning agility” can rapidly study, analyze and understand new situations and new business problems.”   In a recent article on CNBC.com (dated July 7, 2017) entitled “Small Business Owners don’t like to use Freelancers. Are they Wrong?”  had this to say:

“Out of more than 2,200 small-business owners recently surveyed by Manta, only 36 percent currently use contract workers. Eighty-five percent, meanwhile, said that they have no intentions of hiring any contract workers this year. The reasons for this hiring reluctance range from general employer-staff relationship fears to legal and compliance worries. (for more on that article, click here)

So, fear exists – there is a huge, relevant body of work on the neuroscience of leadership and why this fear exists in all of us. Our brain is actually designed to relish and relax in the status quo – so it makes sense that we as humans would try to do just that. (There are hundreds of references to the Neuroscience of leadership – here is a link to one of the articles.) But what are the implications to ourselves, to our businesses and to our society if we give in to that temptation? Learning agility helps; a lot. So does perspective and mindfulness to quell the honest anxiety that comes with change.

What will you do? How will you help to drive these changes, overcome the fear and ready yourself and your organization? We know that to resist change is indeed human – yet time, and with it progress, marches on and hopefully, you’ll be marching right along with it.

* For more information on an assessment to measure learning agility as part of the hiring or development process, contact Alicia Mandel.