A Look Back: Futurist Joel Barker on the Challenge of Change

A Look Back: Futurist Joel Barker on the Challenge of Change

Manager-leaders must learn how to monitor what is happening outside the boundaries of their business, because often that is where radical change originates.

Editor's Note: In 1995, IndustryWeek asked 25 of the leading CEOs, management gurus and futurists what they saw coming for their companies, their jobs and their life between 1995 and 2020. While we are still five years away from 2020, we nevertheless are going to revisit those reflections, opinions and predictions in the coming weeks and months and see how well are they holding up. The first of the 25 trail blazers into the future (presented in alphabetical order) is:

Joel A. Barker, Futurist

In the last 25 years, managers -- and management philosophy -- have come to understand that there are multiple modes of change. One is what I call "paradigm enhancement," which the total-quality, continuous-improvement message has been all about.

The other is radical change -- or paradigm-shift change -- which is unlike any other kind of change that you must deal with as a manager.

... I think the challenge for management in the future is to substantially improve its ability to anticipate change. And there are two aspects of that:

One is to be able to spot a paradigm shift in its early formation -- because there is usually a five- to 10-year developmental life before it hits you between the eyes. Manager-leaders must also learn how to monitor what is happening outside the boundaries of their business, because often that is where radical change originates.

If you don't take the time to think about the long-term implications, you will be seduced by the short term.

The typical manager reads inside his profession; but that's not where you find the future. My rule is to get into areas that you're unfamiliar with and look around and see what is going on. When I work with corporations, I set up teams of 50 people, having each person read five different magazines. So yon have 250 periodicals covered every month -- and they are all reading outside the boundaries.

The second thing is to understand the long-term implications of a new change when you find it. There are first-, second-, and third-order implications, which may be either positive or negative, and you have to discuss them in a patterned way.

If you don't take the time to think about the long-term implications, you will be seduced by the short term.

... The ability to understand the long-term positive and negative implications of potential decisions, before they are made, is the new frontier. And the responsibility we have for doing that is growing every day, because our information technology is so much more powerful than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

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