Human existence has gone through many ages. We had the stone age with the hunters and gatherers where life was uncertain and short. The Agrarian revolution transformed uncertainty into something with much more planning and stability. The Industrial Revolution went a step further and reduced our dependence upon nature and the seasons. Since then we have had the Knowledge Revolution or the Information Age where the pace of knowledge development has gone from doubling every century prior to 1900 to every year now! In the Future this will be every 12 months.

Alvin Toffler predicted that the pace of change was going to increase exponentially. This would mean we would suffer systems or disorientation similar to culture shock. I believe most of us would agree that we are feeling the effects of the increased pace. It has affected all aspects of our lives – and caused considerable pressure. To survive and even thrive in such an environment we need to develop new skills and attitudes.

In an environment that is uncertain, constantly changing and often not understood we either “cop-out” or learn to adapt by developing agile practices that allow us to deal with it. This is a fact of life in most organisations today. The pace of change is increasing and there is no indication that it will let up. Most of the changes we notice have to do with technology. I remember from predictions in the 1970s the increasing use of technology was going to mean that we would have an abundance of leisure time that would become problematic. (I don’t know anyone who is having this problem.)

There are changes in our institutions. This includes our family structure which is not directly related to the use of technology. However, these family structures do have a direct bearing on our sense of wellbeing. This is a topic for another conversation – today I want to focus on change in the workplace and how can we thrive in the current environment.

We constantly hear it said that today’s workplace requires agility and responsiveness. What do we mean by this? Agility is our capacity to be consistently and constantly adaptable. It is our ability to, and our efficiency in responding to the state of nonstop change. This is what our workplace teams need to survive in the work world.

In workplace practices, this is translating as flexible work hours, flexible workplaces, colliding with diverse cultures as work takes us to different countries, project teams, short term planning, consultancies….and the list goes on. As an individual, it means that we must adapt and adjust quickly when things are not going as planned. In some ways, we are suffering from the same uncertainty as our stone-age predecessors. We need the skills of anticipation and the ability to change direction.

Agile professionals need processes, and systems to develop the organisation’s strategies to deal with the changing circumstances. They need to be highly adaptable as a matter of course. Agility allows team members to build into everyday practices an ability to nimbly respond to changing circumstances and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

It would seem today that those people who are driven by a desire for certainty and routine are afflicted by stress and anxiety. When individuals resist change, the efficiency with which they can adapt is reduced because a part of their attention and time is spent moving away from the direction of progress.

In the education and training space, we need to find ways to develop adaptable people and agile process that can make our survival certain. In many ways, we are like our stone-age forebears. We are affected by our changing environment. We must respond to that environment in a way that is efficient and productive. The work environment is constantly changing, like shifting sands and we need to zig and zag to stay on the path.

Write up by Sandra Robinson

Director, Skills Strategies International.

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