In the early 1990’s, Frank C Nahser, Inc., an advertising company based in Chicago, did a 450 page study entitled “What’s Really Going On?” – the study was designed to provide business with a new method of determining what’s really going on in the face of information overload. Recognising the need for and value of interpretation, they conducted a wide-ranging survey of more than 6 000 books, monographs, articles and personal interviews to discover some of the surprising facts and salient trends of that time as well as some of the longer-term trends likely to define and inform the early decades of this century. Outlined by F Byron Nahser in his summary: “A Basis for Pragmatism: What’s Really Going On?”, the eight key trends that run through the study are interesting and suggest the direction of change in our time (my comments in italics):

  • The movement toward taking back responsibility, by students, workers, patients, citizens, womenthis has been so evident in the past 20 years in demands for information and reform, protests, riots and the institution of interim governments, attempts at raising/removing the glass ceiling, etc.
  • The movement toward reclaiming and internalising authority, as respect for external authority figures and “experts” declineswith easy access to information, many are “working it out on their own”.
  • The movement from domination to dominion, as power is being feminised and autocracy cedes to democracypeople have come to recognise that the empowerment of others is the real way to manifest personal power.
  • The shift in thinking about time, from human to natural, human-scale to computer nanosecondsthe concept of “time” already is something different to what it used to be. Business needs to adjust and focus more on long-term planning.
  • The growing recognition of interconnectedness and convergencethe complexities of this interconnectedness need more thought and careful planning as marketplaces become more competitive.
  • The shift of stress from tangibles to intangibles – trends in the informationalisation of money (intellectual or designer currencies) and the growing interest in frugality and voluntary simplicity. Amongst other issues, there is a blurring of distinction between banks and other financial services.
  • The growing appreciation of the femininethe growing numbers of women in leadership positions, the adopting of female emphases (e.g. more robust caring contexts) and the meeting of female needs in the workplace.
  • A rethinking of some of our basic assumptions about the world – amongst others, the challenges include the concept of “national sovereignty”, work as a pay-cheque, male as normal, matter as reality, national defence as military might, intelligence as verbal and mathematical skills, health as non-illness and the role of business as only making money for shareholders. These are but a few of the past paradigms that are being challenged and changed as the perceptual revolution that is part of the new set of assumptions takes hold.

It is commonly accepted that we live in changing times. Some see that this is a period of paradigmatic change, not simple change. In other words, the past four or so decades have brought about changes in pervasive, foundational and irrevocable ways that present challenges to the very basic belief and value structures and roots of being a human being. For business, particularly for leadership in business, this means not only a rethink of the products we make, the services we offer, our advertising and marketing strategy, how we do business in terms of distribution, etc., but more importantly, treating employees, clients, suppliers and other key stakeholders holistically, understanding them in their respective contexts and doing business “as if people matter”.

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