According to Charles Darwin the success of species is not determined by their relative strength or intelligence, but by their ability to adapt to change. It is in this area that our species – homo sapiens – has done really well. Not only were we able to adapt to the rapidly changing environments created by a succession of ice ages, we were progressively able to change the environments in which we lived.
This is what business management experts would call our species’ critical success factor.Instead of having to adapt to new environments through the painfully slow process of natural selection our ancestors were able to cut right to the chase and quickly adapt the environments within which they lived:
- When our environment became too cold we learned how to change it by using fire; by covering ourselves in animal skins and by building increasingly elaborate shelters.
- When our environment failed to produce sufficient food, we learned how to develop our own food resources by cultivating crops and by domesticating animals.
- When we were threatened by wild animals and by marauding enemies, we learned how to make weapons and to build palisades and walls for defence.
Our ability to manage change continues to be the key to success today for individuals, for companies and for countries. It will also determine the success of everyone at this conference.
In many respects, the ability to manage change has become the core task of leaders – not only of countries – but of companies.
However, change isn’t what it used to be. The nature of change itself is changing:
- it is accelerating;
- it is fundamental; and
- it is increasingly unpredictable.
During the past century – and particularly since World War II – there has been an exponential acceleration in the pace of change. Our society probably has changed more during the past ten years than it did in the first hundred thousand years of our development as a species. The flint hand axes that were made by our homo erectus ancestors 1.5 million years ago were indistinguishable from the hand axes that they were making half a million years ago – for a million years there was no advance in our technology.
It is said that the sum total of human information is now doubling every five years – and Moore’s law relating to the doubling of computer capacity every two years, is still right on track. The size of the worldwide web is doubling every two years. More than 3.4 million e-mails are sent off every second – and every two to three seconds the worldwide web processes more than twenty terabytes of information. This is equal to all the information stored in the Library of Congress – which is the biggest collection of hardcopy information in the world.