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).

2009 Gloom & Doom update: a spot of advice for 2009

Disclaimer: This post in not meant to be a downer, just an assessment of the past few years based on indicators that I have been watching since 2003. It was obvious in 2003 that the global financial markets would collapse within 5-10 years. By 2006 it was clear that 2008 was going to be a major eye-opener for everyone (even those not watching indicators). The question now is how low will it go? Will *ALL* the systems come crashing down at once? Or will they follow each other? If all at once, the low will be VERY low. If they follow each other, then the low will not be as bad however the misery will last longer. 

To recap:

2007 was a year of disappointment for many. Financial expectations, business growth and life in general did not work out as planned. The global economy had started to slow but people were mostly not paying attention to the indicators. It was just a few that were starting to face resistance after years of ease. The savvy were pulling out to capitalize on their gains from the previous years. There were a few bankruptcies, several near bankruptcies and some merger attempts.

2008 was a year of transition for many. The market visibly tanked and the global markets were hurt. No one needed indicators any more as we all either faced hardship or knew someone starting to face hardship. Major international conglomerates laid off workers and instated hiring freezes. People who were unemployed were looking and not finding anything. Next years graduates saw a huge decline in interviews and offers. Suicides rates went up.

Moving forward:

2009 will be a year of despair for many.

The upcoming year is going to be hard on many people. The global financial situation is going to get worse before it gets better. SAVE! SAVE! SAVE! Everything you save will be needed later. If you have a miserable job, don’t quit yet. If you do not have a job, grab what you can. It will be worse than many of us remember. None of the indicators are pointing towards anything good.

Expect an escalation in crimes like theft. Expect an increase in riots and protests in various Asian hotspots. Expect growing unrest in Europe. North American social welfare systems will get taxed to their breaking point.

Cracks will emerge that will over the next 5 years result in the changing of some national boundaries.

And thus we continue our journey in life.