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Waiting for change: driving change

I am writing this on Election Day 2008 in the United States. For me, Election Day has stirred up a lot of thinking about change. The sense of my professional futurist community is that this election offers the opportunity for sweeping change for US society, with global implications. For some it is a make-or-break moment. Why is it so important?

As futurists we always focus on change, and on how to foster change. In the past few months, I had become frustrated that in the U.S., change seems to have to slow or stop to wait for new leadership. For example, the global financial crisis had analysts saying that “whoever the next president is will have to ….” But why wait?
It seems that we have to wait for the election to get critical change going. Isn’t that a waste of time, a missed opportunity, and sometimes, e.g. in the case of the unfolding economic crisis, dangerous? Like a lot of futurists, I am impatient with a slow to change or unchanging system. And I know that the same thing happens in business.
But I recognize that we will always have ebbs and flows in action as a national and global society and in our organizations. We have to accept that, and expect our new ideas to build up, waiting for their moment. It is a lot like what evolutionary biologists call “punctuated equilibrium”. While change is continuous, big change—like the emergence of a new species—often comes in bursts (punctuation), after long periods of little change (equilibrium).
We can accept the tendency of human systems to be stable for a long time, and prepare for when there is an opening for big change. Using foresight, we can build the vision of where we want to go, and the rationale for change. We can match that vision with an identification of the gaps and pent-up need for change. We can help people explore the possibilities and get ready for change by creating scenarios of positive futures. It may be more effective to drive big new, initiatives, rather than to try to nurture slow evolutionary change to reach the same result.
Most human systems probably do this best as a cycle of renewal. If we prepare the way, create good, clear thinking about futures possibilities and goals, we can be ready when there is new leadership, a New Year with its resolutions, an organizational or personal crisis demanding change, after a strategy making session or planning cycle, with an acquisition, and so on. The pent-up demand for change or the pressures of a crisis can energize people.
I hope the new U.S. President has real vision and people with foresight skills close at hand, this is a moment of pent-up need for change.
Image: 416style, via Flickr
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