The More Things Change…

The question is no longer whether the things are changing fast; it’s whether they’re changing faster.

According to Thomas Friedman, it’s the latter. Writing in the New York Times on Sunday, Friedman stated that a technology revolution is “taking the world from connected to hyperconnected and individuals from empowered to superempowered.”

Echoing themes from his latest book, he added: This latest technology revolution is “going to change everything about how companies and societies operate” and will be “speeding up everything — innovation, product cycles and competition.”

But how much bigger and faster are these big, fast changes really? In a 1955 talk to IBM executives that we recently discovered and will soon be adding to our archives, Peter Drucker anticipated drastic change on the horizon. “We are at the beginning of a period of extreme flux, of extreme change and great competitive pressure in which traditional ways of doing things, traditional products, traditional processes will be challenged on all sides,” Drucker told his audience.

Image credit: Herbert Bayer, 1959

“All you have to do is pick up any copy of such a magazine as Scientific American and look at the ads, and just see who is looking for what kinds of technical people,” Drucker added. “The companies that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago are looking for people that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.”

As it turned out, though, Drucker later came to feel that forecasts of extreme change — including, presumably, his own — had been exaggerated. “In the 25 years after World War II, a continuous refrain was the acceleration in the speed of technological change. But this was largely a misunderstanding,” Drucker wrote in Managing in Turbulent Times. “What actually accelerated was the awareness of technological change. Technological change itself probably did not speed up at all; it may even have slowed down. Certainly there was nothing between 1945 and 1975 comparable to the technological changes of the 60 years between 1856 and World War I.”

[EXPAND More]By the mid-1970s, Drucker saw a new rapidity on the horizon once again. “Now,” he wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “we may be entering a period of rapid change more comparable in its basic features to the closing decades of the 19th century than to the immediate past with which we are familiar.”

What do you think: Is the speed of change really accelerating—or is this view overblown?[/EXPAND]