Categorizing Change in Society

Disclaimer: these are thoughts stewing in my head for a little bit. This can eventually become a white paper by refining the following ideas and adding modes of dealing with each.

Change tends to sweep in at different speeds depending on the trigger. A rough way to categorize it is the following:

  • Evolution- this is small, continuous change that happens in systems over long periods of time. Depending on the system being examined evolution plays out over decades and centuries.
  • Reform– this takes generations before it is fully entrenched in peoples mind-sets (a generation is around 20-25 years long). One generation is enough to implement changes and it takes about another generation before the memories of “before” are mostly gone, or at least irrelevant. This tends to start at the top; it requires strong leadership with a long term vision, adequate planning and implementation. This is a proactive role that is necessary to ensure a smooth transition from one status quo to the next.
  • Revolution– this takes years to achieve. This is a word that most governments fear as it is usually assumed to be violent. The connotation is that change will OVERTHROW the status quo. Revolutions are often bottom-up and occur when the status quo gets too oppressive and there is apparently (too) little happening at the top. The conditions for revolution fester when reform is not iterative and the status quo stagnates in a bad place.
  • Crisis– this takes weeks to months to play out. It can cause serious (sometimes irreparable) social fractures. How it is dealt with often sets the tone for other scenarios to play out as they are invariably the catalyst for other types of changes. What is interesting about crises is that they are a consequence of the interaction between internal and external factors. Inadequate anticipation, ignoring causality and avoidance of feedback tend to aggravate crises.
  • Catastrophe– these happen in days to weeks and are often precipitated by external factors. There are limited response options available once events have started playing out.

Each of these modes of change is roughly an order of magnitude smaller than the previous one in the list (decades, years, months, weeks etc).

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