Can Society Adapt to an Accelerating Pace of Change?


Updated December 15, 2017

Thanks to Parthasarathi V for his thought provoking comment on LinkedIn, and a link to a relevant article from Clay Shirky on the Collapse of Complex Business Models. His comment:

“We are having super abundance of everything – capital, talent, resources. The previously known scarce resources (e.g physical world scarcity, natural resources) are also abundant now thanks to technology. With every abundance there will be new scarcity that will be the point of friction. With every node of regulation we remove to promote innovation, new set of problems will emerge that needs to be regulated otherwise system will collapse.”


I am often asked for my perspective on the societal implications of a rapidly approaching future. More recently, that question has centered on Government and our economic system. My views are somewhat captured by this comment from Phil Tanny – an active participant on my Blog:

“There is a limit to how much social change human beings can successfully manage. What exactly those limits are is unknown, but it seems beyond obvious that our ability to adapt to change is not infinite. Thus, there is a collision coming between the exponential rate of knowledge development and the incremental ability of humans to adapt to the social change generated by the knowledge explosion.”

Said another way, we now live in an exponential world, while the linear nature of humans – and structures that were built for a different era – have not changed. The governance mechanisms of our past -at some level – managed the pace of change. Those mechanisms are gone. I have argued for balance – while others argue for mechanisms that slow the pace of innovation.

My reason for balance lies in this often shared visual representing the two sides of the pace phenomenon. Case in point, at this Health Summit in Washington D.C, the many health challenges that we face as a society were on display. Innovators will one day solve these grand challenges – and I for one do not want to see the pace of realizing these and other societal gains altered. But the concerns that people like Phil Tanny raise are real concerns – and the risk of unintended consequences is very real.

The building blocks to both enhance and/or diminish humanity are there – it’s a question of how we as a society manage this exponential world. Here are my thoughts on the question of Government at the previously mentioned health summit.