The Lines Of Our Times

The Lines Of Our Times


Eddie Obeng, founder of online business school Pentacle, says that parallax tricks exemplify what’s happening in the 21st century. Today, the pace of change is so fast that yesterday and today’s rules won’t apply tomorrow. Forecasts can’t keep up either.

The world today, in engineering speak

The reason many ideas, strategies and businesses fail is because they can’t keep up: Cyberspace moves at the speed of light, technology accelerates exponentially, and interconnectedness has gone global, but we’re still playing by yesterday’s rules.

Obeng describes the phenomenon using laminar and turbulent flow experiments. “Take a clear pipe and set the flow of water. Now inject coloured ink and it forms a line. Add more flow and the line appears to stay the same. As you increase flow the ink line starts to flicker and then break into eddies and whirls before being violently dispersed and diluted as the colour disappears.”

What’s happening in today’s business world is that the rules have changed from laminar to turbulent but we’re still using laminar learnings. In today’s world, turbulence brings opportunities but they operate by new rules.

So how do you cope?

While you could try to learn to keep up, correct answers don’t last forever because the rate of change has overtaken the pace of learning. So instead of doing things the old way by seeing things, understanding them, and taking time to put them into practice, think about whether the problem you’re solving is going to deliver in tomorrow’s world.

Iterate, iterate, iterate. After all, statistically only one in 100 000 business ideas are still in existence and making money two years after inception.

“Creativity and ideas are golden words but from the mouth of a CEO saying, ‘Take risks and be creative!’ to the ears of staff hearing ‘Do crazy things and I’ll fire you,’ something is going awry. Why? Because in the old world getting stuff wrong = failure.

There are only two ways to fail

“Here’s what’s great in the new world,” says Obeng. “There are only two ways to fail: One, you do something you should follow a procedure to and you do it sloppily — for that you should probably be fired. Two, you do something new that no one’s ever done before, and you get it completely wrong — you should get free pizza! Why? Because it’s smart failure: It’s about doing things differently enough that when you inject ink into the flow it changes the colour.“

So the next time you’re making an absolutely sensible and rational decision based on the past, think about whether it will make sense in tomorrow’s world.

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Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.