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I Put a Spell on You: Nothing Is Normal in a Time of Change

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I Put a Spell on You: Nothing Is Normal in a Time of Change

We went to see the new movie “I, Tonya”. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rubbernecking a car crash: The mustachioed...

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We went to see the new movie “I, Tonya”.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of rubbernecking a car crash: The mustachioed Jeff Gillooly beating bloody his talented young wife. Trenchcoated Tonya “bodyguard” Sean Eckhard and his inept, truncheon-wielding thugs. The stage-mother figure of Mrs. Lavona Harding constantly showering Tonya, her coaches (and the film-going audience) with trashy variations of the F-word. And, of course, young Tonya herself, and her broken skate-lace at the Lillehammer Olympics, bawling to the judges “It’s NOT my fault!” It was a great movie.   

But I felt like I needed a shower after watching it. If you’re old enough to remember those days in the early 1990s, you might have the same feelings I did remembering the whack-attack on Nancy Kerrigan. A feeling I’d sum up as: “Nothing is normal about any of this”.

Let’s review a small sample of sensational, zeitgeisty headlines and soundbites in the years since that opening salvo on Kerrigan’s knee:

  • OJ Simpson Accused of Killing Wife and Friend (“But the prosecutor’s new hairdo!...”)
  • President impeached over affair with intern (“Depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is...”)
  • Massacre at Columbine High School (“What *is* the Trench Coat Mafia? News at 11...”)
  • Election headed to Supreme Court (“The Hanging Chad vs. the Pregnant Chad as a sign of true voter intent...”)
  • Twin Towers and Pentagon Attacked by Terrorists (“Search on ‘Building 7’ and you’ll know the real truth...”)
  • Coalition of the Willing to Cleanse Iraq of WMD (“Wait on Blix till summer? You’re joking! Our troops can’t fight in that desert heat in protective chemical suits...”)
  • Apple Unveils iPhone (“Tim Cook: 'I don't want my nephew on social media'...”)
  • Ambassador Killed in Benghazi, Libya (“They were enraged by a video...”)
  • Donald Trump Elected 45th President of the USA (“But, her e-mails!...”)

Uncool. And on and on it goes.

When you look back to 1994 and the beginning of the “Nothing is Normal” era, it’s almost as if it were a moment when someone (or something) cast a spell over the world.

Yes, a “spell”. Let that sink in. What’s the common denominator? The 24-hour news cycle? The median wage gap? The Internet? Is it possible that we’ve “disrupted” the last 25 years?

More importantly, what does the last quarter century of change mean for work, business, and our lives today and the future of work tomorrow?

As we wrote about in in our piece “The Work Ahead: Mastering the Digital Economy”, today’s quickening pace of change has something in common with Ernest Hemingway’s description of bankruptcy: It occurs “gradually, then suddenly.” On the route to digitization, many industries are approaching their “suddenly” moment.

While it may have been credible to argue that digital transformation was an issue for some businesses and industries in the past, that’s no longer a sustainable point of view.  Today, the imperative for change is something everyone needs to master.

Which brings us to 2018. It’s the fourth week of January, and we’re settling in nicely to the New Year, don’t you think? (Maybe not: “Hey 1993 – 2018 called and said the crazy dial went up to eleven”).

So far we’ve had the “EssHole Shutdown”, “Inbound Ballistic missile alerts in Hawaii and Japan”, “the Saga of Stormy”, “Secret Societies” and so much more it’ll make your head spin. A sampling of the more poignant, provocative, and preposterous from recent weeks:

Lest he be forgotten, former president Obama – in a motif he explored in his farewell address – in the last couple weeks had this to say: "One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases... On the internet, everything is simplified. When you meet people face to face, it turns out they're complicated... The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn't lead to a Balkanization of society."

They say it takes a while for a decade to settle in: The Fifties didn’t really get going till Ike got elected (probably delivering the country from the maniacal McCarthy). The `60s weren’t “The Sixties” until the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan in Feb 1964. The 2000s didn’t really get going – sadly – until 9/11. More likely, it’s totally plausible that “Nothing is Normal” has become the defining zeitgeist of our age, heralding exponential change that’s coming -- fast.

And here we are, pushing the back end of the 2010s, and there’s signposts aplenty that a complete, undeniable, and incontrovertible characteristic of our decade – if not our epoch – is the notion of accelerating at a breakneck pace.

One of the most poignant questions I’ve ever gotten was from a client back when I was an analyst at Gartner: “When is all this change going to stop?” Sir, I hope you’re sitting down. Or, better yet, consider this quote, attributed to Graeme Wood and recently restated by neuroscientist Dr. Vivienne Ming: “The world has never changed this fast, and will never be this slow again.”  

If the pace of change of disruption continues (and by the signs, it’s not “if”... it’s happening) to quicken, my only hope is that instead of simply weird, wacky and saying “This is not normal – it’s a spell!” we might be able to say of signposts that are profoundly positive for all: “This is not normal, but more of it please -- it’s cool!”


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